KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Luis García stepped to plate to begin the top of the sixth tonight at Kauffman Stadium, hoping to jumpstart a Nationals lineup that to that point had been shut down by, statistically, the worst pitcher in the major leagues. He promptly doubled to deep left.
Some 19 minutes later, García was back at the plate, batting for the second time in an inning that had now turned into one of the Nats’ best sustained rallies of the season. He promptly doubled down the left field line again, this time driving in two runs.
In becoming the first player in club history to record two doubles in the same inning, then later becoming only the second player in club history to record six hits in a game, García became the focal point of an eight-run rally that propelled the Nationals to what should’ve been an easy victory against a Royals team that owns the second-worst record in the majors.
Instead, the Nats needed every one of the eight runs they scored in the sixth – not to mention the three they added in the eighth – to escape with a wild, 12-10 victory that got way too close for comfort when Erasmo Ramirez imploded in the bottom of the seventh, spoiling what would’ve been a quality start by Patrick Corbin.
"It feels great, especially when my teammates are battling every at-bat," García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "We never got down at all, stayed focused and battled every at-bat. It's a great feeling."
In the end, the lineup helped make life a little easier for Davey Martinez by tacking on three key insurance runs in the eighth – a rally started, of course, by García with the fifth of his six hits. His ninth-inning single officially made him 6-for-6, matching Anthony Rendon's club record from 2017.
"That says a lot," García said. "My approach every at-bat is to try to stay up the middle, and go the other way as well. I think it talks a lot about my body positioning, having good balance. That's what I'm trying to do every at-bat."
Even those six hits, though, were barely enough. With Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey both unavailable after pitching the previous two nights, plus Andres Machado and Thaddeus Ward also down due to recent workload, Martinez instead asked Carl Edwards Jr. to get out of the seventh-inning jam created by Ramirez and then return to start the eighth. And when Edwards couldn’t finish that inning, Martinez turned to former No. 5 starter-turned-long reliever Chad Kuhl to get out of an eighth-inning jam and then pitch the ninth for a most unexpected save, the first of the 30-year-old's career.
"It's a big spot in the game; your mistakes are maximized," said Kuhl, who moved to the bullpen after posting a 9.41 ERA in five starts and then landing on the injured list with a foot ailment. "It just takes a really special player to be able to do that, and to do that consistently. It just makes me more thankful for the guys we have. They do an unbelievable job, and give all the credit to those guys for what they do on a nightly basis."
"We used all the guys we thought would be available today," Martinez said.
None of this should ever have needed to be contemplated by the manager of a team that produced an eight-run rally in the sixth, its largest of the season.
There were several contributors to the rally. Joey Meneses doubled in one run and then singled in two more. Corey Dickerson’s three-run homer to right knocked Jordan Lyles from the game and gave the Nats the lead for good.
But at the end of the night, it was hard not to focus on what García did. Not only during that marathon top of the sixth, but in his first two plate appearances (each of them resulting in singles), his final two plate appearances (each of them resulting in singles) as well as in the field (where he made several nice defensive plays to help out Corbin).
"It actually wasn't the offense, the at-bats. It was more the defensive side," García said when asked when he realized this was turning into a special game for him. "When I was out there and just fielding balls, that's special."
The Nationals, though, still found themselves entering the sixth trailing 2-1 to an opposing starter who entered 0-8 with a 7.15 ERA, his team having gone winless in all 10 of his outings this season. That’s when García ripped his first double, bringing the visiting dugout back to life.
Dickerson’s three-run blast to cap a seven-pitch battle with Lyles gave the Nats the lead. And then García put a definitive stamp on the rally when he came up to bat again, this time against reliever Josh Staumont, and ripped another two-run double down the left field line.
García's leadoff single in the eighth ignited another big rally, with Jeimer Candelario tripling home a pair of runs and Stone Garrett singling home another to extend the lead back to four runs and at least provide the bullpen a bit of breathing room.
"Our offense woke up there. We started swinging the bats," Martinez said. "Luis had a great day. We scored some runs."
All of this came after six strong innings by Corbin, who put himself in position for his seventh quality start in eight outings. But with a large lead and his starter’s pitch count at 92, Martinez let the lefty retake the mound for the seventh.
That proved near-disastrous. Corbin faced four batters, allowing three to reach. So with the heart of the Kansas City lineup coming up, Martinez pulled his starter and called upon Ramirez with the bases loaded.
"I would've liked to finish the seventh there, even give up a couple (runs) to try to keep the lead there," Corbin said. "I guess that's the one thing looking back, just trying to get through that inning. You always try, especially in those games like that, try to give the bullpen a break. But the guys that came in kept the lead. And the offense tonight was amazing."
The removal of Corbin really proved disastrous, because Ramirez served up a two-run double on his first pitch to Salvador Perez, then a three-run homer on his fifth pitch to Bobby Witt Jr. (his second homer in as many innings).
Up in smoke went Corbin’s quality start. And into the fire went a severely depleted Nationals bullpen that never imagined it would find itself in this scenario tonight.
That only made the end result sweeter for those who were able to make it possible.
"As soon as the game ended, I said: 'It's really nice to be on this side,'" Kuhl said. "Just one of those games you're really thankful you came out on the winning side."