Winker ties it in 9th, but Nats ultimately fall to A's in 10th (updated)

OAKLAND, Calif. – As the Nationals looked up at the massive scoreboards at Oakland Coliseum, they saw the number one listed in the Athletics’ hit column most of the night. It would be changed to a two late in the evening, but that’s not exactly a big number, either.

And yet here the Nats were, coming up to bat in the top of the ninth, trailing the game because one of Oakland’s hits off Jake Irvin was Lawrence Butler’s third-inning homer and none of their own hits had produced a run.

Jesse Winker, at long last, took care of that annoying situation.

Winker’s leadoff homer in the top of the ninth off A’s closer Dany Jiménez finally got the Nats on the board and Irvin off the hook. But when they couldn't take the lead, the game moved into extra innings, at which point Trey Lipscomb made a baserunning blunder and Kyle Finnegan surrendered a walk-off single to Lawrence Butler for a tough 2-1 loss.

"We created some opportunities; just couldn't get that run in," said manager Davey Martinez, whose team went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. "Winker was our offense today."

Winker already had three hits on the night before he battled his way through a seven-pitch at-bat against Jiménez, finally launching a 3-2 slider to right for the game-tying homer. The sizeable contingent of Nationals fans among the announced crowd of 5,777 roared with delight.

"I was really just trying to put together an AB and see some pitches, get on," Winker said. "And then at the end, just happened to barrel up a ball in the air and it got out. Pretty happy about that."

That blast only tied the game, though, and still gave the A's a chance to win it in the bottom of the inning. Their rally was jumpstarted by an error on Nasim Nuñez, who had pinch-run for Luis García Jr. in the top of the inning and then took over at second base. Zack Gelof, who reached on the error, then stole second to put himself in scoring position. But when Hunter Harvey got out of the jam, the Nats went to extra innings for the first time in 2024.

The top of the 10th was over in a flash when Lipscomb (the automatic runner) was thrown out trying to reach third on CJ Abrams' grounder to first for a 3-5 double play and Lane Thomas popped out moments later.

"I kind of froze in the moment," Lipscomb said. "It was a short-hop to the first baseman, and when I took another step, I felt like I was in no-man's land. It was either go back to second base or go to third. I've got to realize the situation: You've got to let your hitters hit."

"That was a tricky play," Martinez said of his rookie infielder. "As soon as he didn't get a jump on the first baseman - he didn't know if he caught it or not - just stay there. He's in scoring position. We had two more chances there to drive him in. I think he was just trying to be really aggressive. At that point, just stay and hold on there."

That left the bottom of the 10th in the hands of Finnegan, the longtime A's minor leaguer who never made their 40-man roster and signed a major league contract with the Nationals in 2020, only to develop into their closer. Also dealing with the automatic runner, Finnegan managed to strike out Tyler Nevin but then surrendered a soft line-drive single to left to Butler, with pinch-runner Max Schuemann easily scoring from second to win the game.

"I thought Finnegan was throwing the ball really well," Martinez said. "Didn't get the ball quite high enough for that last pitch. But that guy did a pretty good job of just making contact right there."

Winker’s homer saved Irvin from becoming only the third starting pitcher in Nats history to be charged with a loss after allowing only one hit, a list that includes only the odd couple of Stephen Strasburg and Odalis Perez.

Irvin had to come into this start knowing he would need to be on his game, considering Paul Blackburn’s outstanding opening act to his season (13 consecutive scoreless innings). And he was, retiring the first seven batters he faced, three via strikeout.

Then came a 2-1 cutter to Butler, and Irvin left it on a platter for the A’s No. 8 hitter. There was no doubt where the ball was headed when it left Butler’s bat, only how far it would fly. The answer: 445 feet to right field for a no-doubt homer and a 1-0 Nats deficit.

"It was just right down the middle, man," Irvin said. "He hit a bad pitch. It's mistakes like that that I'm trying to shore up."

Irvin, though, shook off the blast and got right back to work, retiring the next five batters he faced after the home run. He walked a pair of batters in the fifth, forcing him to pitch out of the stretch for the first time, but had no trouble pitching his way out of that jam, striking out Ryan Noda and getting Nick Allen to ground out to third to end the inning.

And when he retired the side in the sixth, Irvin had wrapped up by far his best start of the young season: one hit allowed (unfortunately, that home run) over six innings on a mere 74 pitches. That the right-hander was in line for the loss felt like a cruel joke.

"My job is to go out there and challenge those guys, keep us in the game," he said. "That's what I was doing: Giving us a chance to win. Blackburn's been throwing the ball great this year, so you know that you're in for it. You know at the start of the game you're in for a battle."

The Nationals indeed couldn't do anything at the plate against Blackburn. Not that they were alone in that department in 2024, because nobody has scored yet off the Oakland righty.

There were chances, though, actually more chances than the A’s had against Irvin.

The Nats thought they had scored in the top of the second, when Joey Meneses took off for the plate on Riley Adams’ grounder to third. Plate umpire John Libka initially ruled Meneses safe, believing his hand just barely beat catcher Shea Langeliers’ tag. A lengthy replay review, though, overturned the bang-bang call and took the run off the board.

The Nationals had another scoring opportunity in the fourth when Winker doubled with two outs. But Eddie Rosario grounded to first, and that killed that potential rally.

There was another chance in the sixth, when Lane Thomas ran hard out of the box on his popup in front of the mound and actually wound up standing on second base when Blackburn and Noda nearly collided and let the ball fall harmlessly to the ground. But Joey Gallo (who would be ejected arguing a strike three call in the top of the eighth) and Meneses each grounded out, Meneses falling to 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position on the season, a stark departure from his .363 batting average in such situations last year.

And then there was yet another opportunity in the seventh, with A’s manager Mark Kotsay opting to pull Blackburn with one on and one out and his pitch count at 90. Reliever Austin Adams (briefly a National from 2017-19) proceeded to give up a single to Riley Adams and walked Lipscomb to load the bases and prompt another pitching change. This time, lefty T.J. McFarland struck out CJ Abrams on four pitches to leave the visitors scoreless on a night when one run – any run – was precious.

"These are the games we should try to scratch and claw, get one more run than the other guys," Martinez said. "It didn't happen."

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