In seesaw offensive affair, Papelbon finally saves the day

CINCINNATI - After a seesaw battle that saw the Nationals get down early, battle back to take the lead and watch the Reds cut it to one, they finally earned the elusive last out.

The Nationals trailed 5-0 and then tied the game at 5-5. They went up 10-5 only to watch the Reds cut it to 10-8.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon arrived in the ninth inning to try to get three outs. It was not easy.

Tyler Holt started the rally with a single. Joey Votto walked. Brandon Phillips doubled down the left field line, scoring Holt, and suddenly the Nationals’ lead was 10-9.

Jay Bruce, who had a three-run homer earlier, was intentionally walked.

Papelbon-throwing-gray-sidebar.jpgThe bases were loaded. No one was out. And the Nats’ lead was just one run.

Papelbon, who had struggled in the beginning of the frame, finally found a way out.

Adam Duvall popped out to short. And pinch-hitter Zack Cozart struck out.

With two outs, Papelbon induced a long fly ball to center field by Ivan DeJesus Jr. Michael A. Taylor went back on the ball near the warning track and made the catch to end the game.

The Nationals had somehow escaped with their first win in the series.

“I was trying to remain cool and think positive,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s what you got to do. This is similar to one we let get away in Miami. Bases loaded, nobody out. Boy, that was some game.

“Pap got (that one strikeout) when he needed (it) and long fly ball, and you could tell Michael had a beat on it and you just didn’t want it to get in the sun or hit off the wall or anything like that.

“Boy that was an exciting game,” Baker said.

The 10-9 victory snapped a two-game skid and was the Nationals’ first win in Cincinnati since July 27, 2014, after five consecutive losses at Great American Ball Park.

Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux went out to meet Papelbon in the ninth during the rally attempt.

“We talk a lot about coming into ballgames and trying to stay in the moment and always know that you’re only one pitch away from getting out of the inning,” Papelbon said. “I think my motto has always been bend but don’t break. He came out there and told me, ‘We bend, but we don’t break.’ “

But hits by Holt and Phillips made it too close for comfort. How did Papelbon settle down as the inning progressed?

“I didn’t have a feel for my slider early on in the inning,” Papelbon said. “I think as that inning progressed I started to get a better feel for it and better feel for my pitches. That’s just how it goes sometimes in my role.”

Baker opted to intentionally walk Bruce. That loaded the bases with no one out. Baker did not want to allow Bruce to swing away after the earlier home run.

“Yeah, it was a tough call, but that was the only call we had,” Baker said. “Bruce has been hot and you don’t really want to face (Adam) Duvall because he’s been hot, too, he just kind of walked us off last night. Pap made a bold pitch in a perfect spot.”

Papelbon somehow found a way to earn his 15th save in the wildest, most cliff-hanging of ways.

Down 5-0, left-hander Sammy Solis (1-1) allowed the Nationals breathing room with three scoreless innings in relief of starter Tanner Roark, who lasted only three innings.

Solis delivered a career-high six strikeouts as the Nats started their comeback. He said the big key was his ability to get outs with his off-speed pitches.

“I think moving the ball around, especially changing speeds, up and down, in and out,” Solis said. “Everything seemed to be working. Tough first inning, but worked out of it and then found my groove after that.”

Daniel Murphy led the middle of the order in the comeback with three hits, including a two-run shot, and three RBIs. Bryce Harper had three hits and two runs scored. Wilson Ramos added three hits, one a solo shot, and three RBIs.

“From an offensive perspective, I thought we just stacked good at-bats on top of each other,” Murphy said. “We turned 5-0 into 5-5 and then kinda doubled down on that and turned it into 8-5 the next inning, a really nice day by the offense. I thought we grinded out some good at-bats today.”

But after all that, the swings of emotions back and forth, the crazy ninth inning rally that was cut short by Papelbon, the Nationals somehow found a way to get one win in Cincinnati and avoid the sweep.

“That game was huge coming out here with at least one win,” Papelbon said. “We didn’t play as good the first couple games. At least coming out of here and not getting swept, I think it can come back and be a positive for us later in the season.”

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