Would you believe me if I told you this morning that the Nationals would have a very good chance to sweep the Phillies in today's doubleheader after a COVID-19 outbreak in the visitors' clubhouse, trade rumors heating up about Washington's first starting pitching, an ominous forecast all day in Philadelphia and blowing a 7-0 lead in the second game?
Well, they did have a chance, but that's not what happened after the Nats followed up a strong win in the first game with a complete collapse in an 11-7 loss to the Phillies in the nightcap in front of 19,219 fans at a rainy Citizens Bank Park.
After squeaking out a win in a pitchers' duel between Max Scherzer and Zack Wheeler earlier this afternoon, the Nats exploded for an early seven-run lead, blew it, regained it in the eighth and then blew it again the 10th inning.
Still fresh thanks to Scherzer's six innings earlier today, the Nationals bullpen - without Brad Hand after an earlier trade with the Blue Jays - wasn't able to close out the win with a 7-4 lead and only two innings needing to be covered against a Phillies lineup that was mostly reserves after manager Joe Girardi emptied his bench.
Wander Suero got through a 1-2-3 sixth inning on 14 pitches. But then with two outs in the seventh, he gave up a single and a walk to bring on Tanner Rainey, who allowed an RBI single, a walk and another RBI single to send the game to the eighth tied at 7-7.
With Juan Soto as the automatic runner in the top of the eighth, Ryan Zimmerman delivered the go-ahead run with an RBI single up the middle off the mound. The Nationals would go on to load the bases, but could add on any more insurance runs.
Sam Clay took the mound in the bottom of the frame to try to record the final three outs and his first major league save, the same achievement Kyle Finnegan earned in the first game, albeit in a very different fashion. Clay loaded the bases with one out on a walk to pinch-hitter Aaron Nola (yes, a pitcher) and then ,after a very animated pep talk from manager Davey Martinez, served up a walk-off grand slam to Brad Miller.
"That's a tough loss," Martinez said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. "Can't walk guys in a crucial situation. The walks hurt us. And also, too, we had a chance to put them away with some big innings and we couldn't do it."
The mound visit didn't do the trick, even though the intent was to encourage Clay as opposed to chide him.
"I just told him, I said, 'Hey, you got great stuff. Go out there, make your pitches, get two strikes on him and just make a pitch, throw your slider,' " Martinez said of his conversation with the young southpaw. "He kept throwing sinkers, he threw one down and in where he's really good. The walk to the pitcher bunting, for me, that was the big part of that inning right there."
A bases-clearing double by Yadiel Hernandez got the Nats offense started what seems like ages ago. Hernandez wound up on third on an error by center fielder Luke Williamson and then scored on a deep double by Tres Barrera, who serving as the 27th man after being optioned to Triple-A Rochester this morning, to make it a 4-0 lead. All nine Nationals starters went to the plate before they took the field for the first time.
In the top of the second, cleanup hitter Josh Harrison, who finished with three doubles in the doubleheader, hit a two-run homer to make this one seem like an early rout. Then starter Patrick Corbin grounded into a fielder's choice that eventually led to Carter Kieboom scoring (after getting on base with his first big league hit of the season) on a Jean Segura throwing error.
"Just feeling good," Harrison said of his hot start to the second half. "That All-Star break was a four-day reset that I needed mentally and physically. Since we've come back, I just kinda felt like I didn't miss a beat. I won't say that I'm doing anything different than what I have been. Just knowing where I need to be physically and putting good swings on the ball."
After three innings, the Nationals had seven runs and the Phillies had three errors.
This all set up Corbin nicely with an opportunity to cruise through this outing with a seven-run lead in a scheduled seven-inning game. But like much of Corbin's last two seasons, the rest of this start didn't exactly go according to plan.
The left-hander got through the first two innings unscathed, but then between the third and fourth innings, gave up three solo home runs over four batters to Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen and Alec Bohm.
After back-to-back singles by McCutchen and Bohm made it 7-4 and brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the fifth, Corbin escaped the jam by getting Ronald Torreyes to fly out to shallow right field.
"Today, it was just a strange day I think from the (get-go)," Corbin said after his outing. "Just kinda out there battling all day. I don't think I had my best stuff. I felt a lot better last game. But trying to get through five (innings) there or deeper, like you said, knowing the situation with a couple of our bullpen guys not being able to come today. Today hurts. That's as tough as a loss can be and, yeah, just frustrating,"
Corbin finished five innings and was charged with four runs on eight hits with one walk and two strikeouts on 86 pitches, 58 for strikes. His ERA for the season is now at 5.78.
More changes are coming to the Nationals roster before tomorrow's 4 p.m. trade deadline. There is still a COVID-19 issue to deal with as they prepare to return to D.C. And now they have to sit on this devastating loss for the next 24 hours.
"I always just focus on the here and now. They're here," Martinez said when contemplating the idea that he could be without some of his significant players for the remainder of the season. "And you're right, in 24 hours, they might not be. I know (general manager Mike Rizzo) and our front office, they're working diligently. If they feel that they can get some good pieces to help us in the future, even help us in the near future, it's a possibility that we might lose some guys. But they're constantly working. I know Mike's been on the phone and he's talking to a bunch of different teams. So we'll just see what happens. For me and the coaching staff and the players that are here right now, it's business as usual, and we talk about that. Hey, you play for the name on the front of your jersey. And go out there and play well. And they understand that."