Thomas' risky double play set up walk-off celebrations

Saturday was full of celebrations, fanfare and big moments. Both on and off the field.

The 2019 World Series championship team was in attendance for the Nationals’ second game against the Astros. Former players were recognized before and during the game for their heroics five years ago.

Then the current Nationals squad showed the old guys they have that same “finish the fight” attitude as the 2019 team. Jesse Winker hit a two-run single to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning. And then Joey Meneses walked it off in the bottom of the 10th with a first-pitch single to deep center field.

More hugs, high fives and a Gatorade bath ensued.

But one huge play may have gotten lost in all of the celebrations. One defensive play in the top of the 10th that set up Meneses’ big swing.

Lane Thomas delivered perhaps the Nats’ most clutch defensive play of the young season in the form of a 9-2 double play to keep the Astros from taking a lead and bringing Meneses to the plate with the game still tied.

With automatic runner Jose Altuve on third with one out, Thomas came charging in on Alex Bregman’s fly ball in foul territory in shallow right field, made the catch and then threw a dart to catcher Riley Adams to tag Altuve out at home.

“I think obviously knowing it's foul, if it falls, it's not really going to hurt you,” Thomas said after the 5-4 victory. “So yeah, I was just trying to make a good play.”

If Thomas had let the ball drop, it’s a dead ball. Altuve cannot tag up and go home. But if he does play it – or even make contact with the ball before it hits the ground – then Altuve would have been free to scamper to the plate.

In the moment, it seemed like a gamble. It’s a tough play to make with the wall along the stands making a sharp V shape into the field. But with Thomas’ speed, athleticism and arm strength, it was a pretty good bet to make.

“I don't know if I ever want to let it drop,” he said. “There's not enough room over there, I feel like, to let anything drop, just because anything that's far would be in the stands right there just for that V is. So yeah, I just tried to make a good throw and hopefully he got a bad jump. I don't know if he got a bad jump or it was just close. I couldn't tell. But it worked out.”

“You have to think about, one, where you're at, and, two, the foul ball,” manager Davey Martinez said. “You definitely want it to drop to give Bregman another chance to hit. He was pretty shallow, where I really felt like, OK try to catch to try to throw him out. I know he ran a long way, but Lane's really good about getting behind the ball and making a good, strong throw, and accurate throw. So I thought he did a great job.”

That part gave Thomas the advantage. When he’s coming in on a ball, Thomas is one of the best outfielders the Nats have in making a catch and a strong throw. That’s why when he committed to making that play, everyone thought he had a chance.

“Absolutely,” Martinez said. “You know what, when I saw where he was at, I really believed. I said, ‘OK, he's got a chance to throw him out right here.’ Like I said, he made an unbelievable throw. Right on the money.”

Well, almost everyone thought he had a chance …

“Between me and you, I was kind of hoping he would drop the ball so that maybe we would eventually strike him out or something to that effect,” Meneses said via interpreter Octavio Martinez while having played some in that right field corner at Nats Park himself. “Just because I knew it was gonna be a tough play for him, even though he does have a great arm. But I know it was a tough play, tough angle. And in a way, I guess deep behind my head, I was like, ah, maybe he drops it so we can get that strikeout somehow.”

Would Meneses have let it drop?

“I think so because I don’t have his arm,” he said with a laugh.

Thankfully, it was Thomas in right and he was able to make the play. While not the game-winning hit, it was definitely the game-saving defensive play that sent everyone in the stands – members of the 2019 team included – home happy.

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