Rare bullpen collapse spoils Abrams' clutch homer (updated)

A game that looked like it might hinge on a controversial fan interference call then looked like it might hinge on a long-awaited clutch homer from the Nationals’ best all-around player. Until it ultimately hinged on the first runs scored off one of the most effective (but also most-used) relievers in the majors in a long time.

Today’s 9-5 loss to the Mariners included some wild swings of emotion over the course of the final hour of play. The Nationals looked lifeless most of the afternoon at the plate, then were brought back to life by CJ Abrams, whose three-run homer in the seventh put them in position to complete a weekend sweep of Seattle.

But Dylan Floro’s shaky top of the eighth – a rarity if ever there was one – flipped the script again and left the Nats to accept a tough loss, though still a series win before they hit the road for Atlanta.

"We put some good at-bats together late in the game," manager Davey Martinez said. "We just couldn't finish today."

Because he had enjoyed such a dominant opening month to the season, it was only natural not to make too big a deal out of Abrams’ miserable follow-up month. Make no mistake, though, Abrams was bothered by his complete drop-off in production from April (when he slashed .295/.373/.619) to May (in which he had slashed .209/.225/.481 entering today’s game.

So when the ball came off his bat true in the bottom of the seventh this afternoon and began its soaring path down the right field line, Abrams understandably stood there and admired it. He also had to make sure it landed fair, of course, but once it clanged high off the foul pole, the bat went flying and Abrams made his joyous trip around the bases.

"I was just hoping it stayed fair," he said, later adding of his recent struggles: "I can hit. Just keep going. Baseball's a game of failure. How you deal with it is big."

The blast, Abrams' first since April 29, completed a four-run rally during which the Nationals produced as many hits as they had the previous six innings against Seattle starter Bryan Woo. And it gave them their first lead of the day, much to the delight of the crowd of 25,935 (not to mention the home dugout).

"Obviously we all were elated," Martinez said. "But he was very excited. It's a good moment for him. Hopefully, this will get him going a little bit."

Uplifting moment or not, there were still six outs to get, and Martinez had an overworked bullpen to manage. Hunter Harvey, typically the choice for the eighth inning with a lead, had pitched the previous three days and was deemed unavailable. So Martinez turned to Floro, who had pitched the previous two days and had set a club record in the process.

"It's difficult," Martinez said of bullpen management during this stretch of 17 consecutive scheduled game days. "Our (starters) are pretty much going five or six innings. We've got to be real careful with our bullpen and how we use them. It's definitely manageable, but it's going to be difficult."

Saturday’s 1-2-3 seventh extended Floro’s streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 21 2/3, the longest single-season streak by a reliever in club history. That streak came to an abrupt halt today, with J.P. Crawford leading off the inning with a double, then taking third on a pitch Keibert Ruiz couldn’t block behind the plate and then scoring on Julio Rodríguez’s single to center.

Another single later in the inning by Ty France brought home another run, gave the Mariners the lead back and put Floro in line for the loss.

"This game's hard enough," said the veteran right-hander, whose only other run surrendered this year scored on April 6. "The best thing about it is, I get another chance. Hopefully I get back out there tomorrow and help the team get back on the W side."

Jordan Weems then surrendered three insurance runs in an ugly top of the ninth, leaving little chance for his teammates to rally in their final at-bat.

On the heels of his worst start of the season – though not his worst start of the last four seasons – Patrick Corbin took the mound today hoping for better results. Or, better yet, hoping to channel what worked so well for him last summer when he faced the Mariners on the road and tossed seven scoreless innings.

Alas, that was too much to ask. Corbin wasn’t awful, but neither was he all that effective, leading to what unfortunately has been too common a pitching line for the left-hander since 2020: six innings, four runs.

Corbin was victimized by the same thing that victimized him earlier in the homestand: the home run. He gave up three of them to the Twins on Tuesday night while getting torched for eight runs. Today, he gave up two of them during a nightmare sequence that opened the top of the fourth.

Trailing 1-0 at the time, Corbin’s first pitch of the inning was tattooed by Rodríguez, who drove the ball 423 feet to left-center for a leadoff homer. After walking Mitch Garver, Corbin then watched as Ty France clobbered a full-count cutter to left for a two-run homer. In the span of three batters, that 1-0 deficit had ballooned to 4-0.

"Just a long at-bat there, and that was the one mistake out of the eight pitches," Corbin said of the France homer. "He fouled off some tough pitches, laid off a slider and then got one (over) the middle."

It remained there until the fifth, when the Nationals finally got on the board against Woo thanks to Joey Gallo’s first homer since April 10. And it remained a 4-1 deficit at the end of the sixth after a controversial call that looked like it might decide the game for a few minutes.

With two on and two out, Luis García Jr. lofted a high fly ball down the left field line, pretty clearly headed for foul territory. Jonatan Clase ran a long way from his position to see if he had a chance at a play near the side wall but seemed to give up on that possibility as he braced for impact into the wall.

Except third base umpire Dan Bellino forcefully raised his arms and made a crossing motion, signifying fan interference on the play. Turns out a young fan (in Mariners gear, for whatever that’s worth) reached over the railing and caught the foul ball with his glove. In Bellino’s opinion, that constituted interference, so García was ruled out and the inning was over.

The Nationals challenged the call, but officials in New York ultimately ruled Bellino’s call stood. According to an "approved ruling" of Rule 6.01(e), "if a spectator clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out." The pertinent question on this particular play: Would Clase clearly have caught the foul ball if not for the interference?

"(The fan) reached over," Martinez acknowledged. "To me, it's a difficult rule. I think it should be clear that the guy can catch the baseball. I can tell you right now: He had no chance of catching that ball. His head was down. If you look at a left-handed hitter who slices the ball like that, I think that ball was going to hit the wall anyway. And it was in a bad situation. We had one of our best hitters up there with guys on base. Just a tough call."

Abrams’ clutch homer in one inning kind of made that controversy moot. But then Floro’s rare poor inning of relief following that made it all moot.

"I know Floro today was kind of in a tough spot there, three in a row," Corbin said. "Sometimes things like that happen throughout the course of the season. ... There's some really good pitchers in our pen. You can't blame anybody for wanting to bring those guys in. They've been great all season. Today's one game. It doesn't really change much."

With streak now over, Floro able to appreciate sco...
Winker sits with left quad cramp, Thomas back in D...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/