When the ball left Brandon Nimmo’s bat and started rolling toward the second base position, Jake Irvin could’ve been excused for believing he had just escaped a fifth-inning jam and was about to head back to the dugout having completed yet another impressive outing in this most unexpected run of them.
If Luis García fields that routine grounder and starts a 4-6-3 double play, the inning is over and Irvin is done for the day, the proud owner of a sparkling 0.67 ERA through the first three starts of his career, best in Nationals history.
Yes, better than Stephen Strasburg, who had a 1.86 ERA in his first three career starts. Yes, better than Max Scherzer, who had an 0.83 ERA in his first three starts as a National.
That grounder toward second, though, did not turn into a 4-6-3 double play. García was shaded a bit toward the hole and couldn’t get there, so the ball rolled through for an RBI single.
And then the wheels fell off, both for Irvin and for the Nationals, who would ultimately suffer an 8-2 loss to the Mets that could’ve produced a far different outcome with just a little bit of better luck for the home team in the second half of a pseudo Mother’s Day doubleheader.
"For sure, when you get a ground ball in that situation, one out, you're definitely hoping it's a double play," Irvin said. "Especially the way the defense has been playing behind me for the first couple outings."
What was a highly competitive game, a pitchers’ duel between Irvin and Scherzer in fact, turned disastrous for the Nats in the top of the fifth. Eight runs would cross the plate before the inning finally ended, with Mason Thompson having relieved Irvin and poured plenty of gasoline on an already smoldering fire.
Whether the Nationals would’ve won this game is very much up for debate. Despite putting plenty of early pressure on Scherzer, they managed only one run off their former staff ace via CJ Abrams’ two-out double in the bottom of the second.
Abrams, in fact, drove in the team’s only runs of the day, with all three RBIs in the Nats’ 3-2 victory in the completion of Saturday’s suspended game, then both RBIs in the nightcap. The rest of the lineup went 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position across 16 innings of baseball.
"I love the base hit there at the end. He didn't give an at-bat away against a lefty, drives the ball the other way, picks up another RBI, which is great for him," manager Davey Martinez said of Abrams, citing his eighth-inning RBI single. "He's being on time, and he's staying on top of the baseball, which is what we've been working on with him. He had a really good day today. We've got to keep him going."
Scherzer, in his return to the mound following his latest bout of neck spasms, gutted his way through five innings, but Irvin was there with him pitch-for-pitch until the fateful fifth. The 26-year-old rookie, who allowed one run to the Cubs in 4 1/3 innings in his major league debut and then shut out the Giants over 6 1/3 innings Monday night, kept the Mets off the board through his first four frames today.
Irvin did so by twice striking out Pete Alonso, once with two outs and a man in scoring position. He also struck out Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte, Jeff McNeil and Francisco Álvarez, giving him six total in the start against only one walk.
Then came the top of the fifth. It did not include that much loud contact; nobody produced an exit velocity over 99 mph in the inning. But it did include plenty of well-placed contact, and some bad luck on top of that.
The shutout ended on Mark Canha’s RBI double to left, scoring Marte. Irvin then walked Tommy Pham on five pitches but battled back to strike out Álvarez and give himself a chance to get out of the inning with one more quality pitch. And he made that pitch, inducing Nimmo’s grounder toward second. Alas, García was positioned too far to the left to get there in time, bringing home the go-ahead run.
Irvin still managed to strike out McNeil and again leave himself one pitch away from ending the inning with minimal damage. But Lindor singled home a run on a dribbler near the mound on a 3-0 pitch, and then Irvin plunked Alonso to load the bases and bring Martinez out of the dugout.
"I think he just lost the strike zone there for a minute," Martinez said. "The ball started getting up on him a little bit, and they started squaring some balls up. But the first four innings, he was really, really good. He just started getting a little bit ahead of himself. I still thought he did well, other than one inning."
Tasked with keeping the deficit at 3-1, Thompson suffered the latest in a string of shaky appearances. He walked Brett Baty on four pitches. He surrendered a bloop, two-run single to Marte. He watched as Marte stole second and Riley Adams’ throw got past García, allowing Baty to score from third. He surrendered another RBI single to Canha.
"Just not getting the ball to where I need to get it right now," said Thompson, who has given up runs in five of his last six appearances after posting an 0.96 ERA through his first 10. "Just leaving too many pitches over the plate, and they're taking advantage of it."
Just like that, it was 8-1 Mets, the first six runs charged to Irvin. His ERA prior to that sequence was 0.67. His ERA at the end of the carnage: 4.11.
"When things are going well, it's easy to look at the good," the right-hander said. "And it's definitely good to look at the good. But when things like that happen, the game kind of challenges you a little bit. It's definitely good to reflect and try to be as good as possible moving forward."
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