Speedy Nuñez keys late rally to lift Nats in Chicago (updated)

CHICAGO – Nasim Nuñez sat on the bench on a cold, windy Chicago afternoon for seven innings. Which is nothing new for the rookie infielder. The Nationals’ Rule 5 draftee is going to remain on the roster the entire season for one reason: He’s the ideal pinch-runner.

Nuñez has appeared in only 10 of the Nats’ first 40 games this year. Six of those have come as a pinch-runner. And none of the first five was as meaningful as this one, in which the 23-year-old’s baserunning skills directly set the stage for his team to produce a three-run rally in the top of the eighth and ultimately defeat the White Sox, 6-3, in the opener of today’s doubleheader.

Summoned off the bench to run for Joey Meneses, who had just completed a 4-for-4 afternoon, Nuñez took off on John Brebbia’s pitch to Luis Garcia Jr., watched third baseman Zach Remillard field a grounder and throw to first for the out, and then just kept on going.

"They told me I should go, and it was a perfect situation," he said. "When I got to second and looked up, the third baseman was kind of lackadaisical. He was slow. So the opportunity just presented itself."

Nuñez slid in safely at third base, having just advanced 180 feet on a groundout, and having done it in part while carrying his helmet after it came flying off his head.

"I can't even tell you. I don't remember, honestly," he said with a laugh. "I just know it wasn't on my head when I was going to third, and I was hoping I didn't get hit in the head with the ball."

Two batters later, Davey Martinez sent Keibert Ruiz to the plate to pinch-hit for Riley Adams, and Ruiz responded with a base hit to right, scoring Nuñez to give the Nationals the lead. It was only Ruiz’s second RBI since March 30.

Nuñez, meanwhile, now has more runs scored in the major leagues (four) than plate appearances (three).

"That's kind of crazy," he said. "But the opportunity presents itself. And I'm always going to be ready."

The Nats didn’t stop there. Trey Lipscomb singled to center to score Nick Senzel. And then Victor Robles lofted a deep fly ball to left for the sacrifice fly that scored Ruiz and completed the three-run rally.

The bullpen took care of the rest, finishing off the victory to lift the Nationals back to the .500 mark, with a chance to end the day with a winning record should they prevail in the nightcap.

Trevor Williams took the mound this afternoon hoping to do what he’s done so well this season: Keep the ball in the park. The major league leader in home runs surrendered in 2023 had yet to give one up through his first seven starts of 2024.

The odds of that streak continuing forever, of course, were slim. And sure enough, when he left an 88-mph fastball waist-high to Eloy Jimenez in the bottom of the second, Williams spun around and watched helplessly as the ball carried over the fence in left-center for a 1-0 White Sox lead and an end to the streak.

"I'm thankful we were having the early success we were having," he said. "We talk about pitch execution, and that's one I didn't execute today. Eloy is a tremendous hitter. He's going to hit the mistakes, and he did that today."

That was the only real damage inflicted upon Williams through his first four innings, yet he was still in line for the loss at the time because the Nationals lineup couldn’t push across a single run despite several opportunities. The Nats went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position through the fourth, failing to take advantage of three runners that reached at least second base.

They were about to do it again in the fifth, with runners on second and third and two out after Jacob Young popped up to the first baseman. But Eddie Rosario, suddenly one of the hottest hitters in the sport, ripped an RBI single to right to get his team on the board. And moments later, Meneses sent a groundball single through the left side to bring home two more and leave the cleanup hitter 3-for-3 on the day (with one more hit still to come).

It was a much-needed rally for the visitors, who had been held to two runs a piece in their previous two games in Boston. And it gave their starter a chance to retake the mound for the bottom of the fifth with a 3-1 lead.

Alas, that lead disappeared via three singles and three defensive plays not made. Lipscomb couldn’t handle a chopper to third, nor a bounced throw from Rosario in left field. Adams couldn’t catch a pitch that hit his mitt, then compounded matters by throwing the ball into center field. By the time the inning ended, two runs scored (both unearned), the game was tied and Williams’ day was done after 81 pitches.

"Part of baseball is picking teammates up, and today I didn't do that," he said. "But at the end of the day, we won the game."

Indeed, because the Nationals had another three-run rally in them. One keyed by the least-used player on the roster, who finally got his opportunity to show why he’s here in the first place.

"A lot of the coaches and teammates help me," Nuñez said. "They kind of mentally help me. Let me know certain situations in the game I should start reading. I play "MLB The Show" a lot, so I kind of play the Davey role a little bit."

Game 41 lineups: Nats at White Sox
Tonight's Orioles-Blue Jays game postponed due to ...

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