PHILADELPHIA – On the final day of a 10-game road trip, at the end of a ballgame that started more than seven hours earlier, the Nationals were left with an exhausted bullpen and a weekend sweep at the hands of a division rival that has owned them all year long.
Forced to take over in the third inning for starter Aníbal Sánchez thanks to a three-hour, 36-minute rain delay, the Nats bullpen was battered around by the Phillies during a 7-5 loss that tested the patience of anyone who dared sit through the entire affair.
A game that began at 1:08 p.m. ended at 8:12 p.m., that extra-long rain delay throwing a wrench into everyone’s Sunday plans when it commenced prior to the top of the third inning. With no more trips to Philadelphia on the Nationals’ schedule, and the Phillies very much in the National League wild card race, this game was going to be completed, no matter how long it took.
The rain was an annoyance for fans and players alike, but its most tangible impact on the game itself was the manner in which it knocked out both teams’ starters after only two innings and put added strain on the respective bullpens to pitch the rest of the afternoon and evening.
"It's a good thing we've got a day off tomorrow, so we get to regroup a little bit," manager Davey Martinez said. "That's a lot, but both teams went out there and we battled. A home run just got us in the seventh."
Neither relief corps werer particularly effective, but the Nationals’ bullpen suffered more damage than the Phillies’ pen did, and paid the price for it.
"You've just got to try to stay locked in as best you can," closer Kyle Finnegan said. "It's a long day for everyone, a long rain delay, but it doesn't change the fact that we've got a game to play. You've got to do your best to get locked back in. We knew the bullpen was going to be asked to do a lot there at the end of the game, and we stayed in it til the seventh."
Erasmo Ramírez gave up three runs in the fifth, Hunter Harvey gave up a run in the sixth and then Finnegan gave up the decisive runs in the seventh on Alec Bohm’s two-run homer to right to snap a 5-5 tie.
Summoned to pitch that earlier inning against the Phillies’ 4-5-6 hitters, Finnegan (who suffered a blown save Wednesday in St. Louis before bouncing back in a setup role the following afternoon) again ran into trouble. He allowed a leadoff infield single to J.T. Realmuto, then left a 2-1 sinker over the plate to Bohm, who drove it 362 feet to right field for the go-ahead homer.
That was the Phillies’ 34th home run in 15 head-to-head games this season with the Nationals, who have hit only nine (none today).
"You're just trying to do what you can with your pitch selection and your location, and try to execute that as much as you can," Finnegan said. "Unfortunately, I executed to Realmuto there; he hits a ground ball just out of our reach. I tried to get right back in there, thought I could get a double play possibly, and it just didn't happen."
Both teams arrived at the ballpark this morning fully expecting a long day (and possibly night), but with the rain holding off initially, they were actually able to start the game on time, with Sánchez and Aaron Nola on the mound hoping to make lengthy starts.
That proved too optimistic, though, because within an hour it was raining too hard to continue. The teams were pulled off the field and the tarp was pulled onto the field before the top of the third inning could commence, and thus began the long wait, the Phillies leading 1-0 on Bryce Harper’s RBI double in the first off Sánchez, whose day ended after only 46 pitches.
"Once the delay was over about 50 minutes, we're not going to send our starter back out there," Martinez said.
The smattering of diehards who waited from 2:01 p.m. to 5:37 p.m. for the game to resume were treated to both football (Eagles-Lions) and baseball (Brewers-Reds) on the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard, then roared with delight when the grounds crew emerged to roll up the tarp.
What ensued from that point on was a back-and-forth affair, with no shortage of hits, baserunners and relievers who were trying to piece together the final seven innings.
The Nationals jumped out to a 4-1 lead with seven hits off Phillies lefty Cristopher Sánchez, including Luke Voit’s RBI double in the third and RBI singles by César Hernández, Ildemaro Vargas and Joey Meneses in the fourth.
The Phillies then got all three runs back on one swing of Rhys Hoskins’ bat in the fifth. The burly slugger took Ramírez deep to right on a 0-2 sinker over the plate, and just like that the game was tied again.
The Nats would promptly retake the lead when Israel Pineda (making his major league debut behind the plate) drew his first career walk and scored his first career run on Meneses’ 22nd career RBI in only 35 games since his debut last month.
But the Phillies would promptly tie it up again in the bottom of the sixth when they managed a couple of singles and a Hoskins sacrifice fly off Harvey, who was forced into the first two-inning relief appearance of his career.
So this game proceeded into the late innings, still undecided as day turned to night, gray clouds turned to black sky and two ballclubs with different motivations tried to make it all worthwhile.
"We showed it this road trip, staying with all these good teams," Finnegan said. "It just comes down to a game like this: Who makes the big play for their team?"