On Tuesday in a tie ball game, Nationals manager Dusty Baker went with left-hander Sammy Solis for the final two innings. Solis allowed an Albert Almora Jr., RBI double in the ninth to lead the Cubs past the Nationals 4-3.
Then in the finale Wednesday, the Nats held a 2-1 lead heading into the top of the ninth. Kris Bryant led off with a double off of right-hander Matt Belisle, who was making his first appearance since being activated off of the disabled list.
Anthony Rizzo followed with a two-run shot off of Oliver Perez. Suddenly a save situation was blown. The Nats were looking up at a 3-2 deficit.
The Nats eventually rallied, however, for a 5-4, 12-inning win.
The bullpen by committee strategy did not work well for the second game in a row.
Is it because they were facing such a good team in Chicago? Or are the Nats in trouble without closer Jonathan Papelbon for at least two more weeks?
“We were without Pap, we were kinda bullpen by committee,” Baker explained. “We were trying to get one out with Belisle and go to Perez. And then if we had to after that go to (Shawn) Kelley. It really didn’t work because the last thing we expected was for (Rizzo) to hit a home run off Perez. He’s hit one home run off of him, but he’s handled him pretty good.”
The Nationals used up five of their relievers in the four-hour, 17-minute marathon. Only Blake Treinen and Solis were not out in Wednesday’s extra-inning thriller.
Next, the Nationals play 10 games on the road in San Diego, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. They will have to find a way to get guys out in the ninth inning. Having a taxed bullpen and going by committee is a combination the Nats most likely don’t want to continue indefinitely.
Kelley could be the answer in the interim. He pitched 1 2/3 innings and allowed no hits and no runs, with one walk and one strikeout.
Meanwhile, the bench continues to be one of the major strengths of this team. Stephen Drew slapped a go-ahead solo homer while Michael A. Taylor had a game-tying RBI single and scored the game-winning run.
Baker shared his thoughts on having Drew on his team.
“It happened so long ago, it seemed like it was yesterday, but Stephen Drew has come through with some big hits,” Baker said. “And that’s what we were told. I wasn’t here when they signed him yet. Mike Rizzo knows him, had him in Arizona. He’s come through with some big, big hits for us. Huge hits.”
Drew said he has been on a nice clip recently because he has found something that he can repeat in his approach, even as a bench player.
“I got a good rhythm right now with my swing,” Drew said. “Just trying not to do too much, really not. Just trying to get a good pitch to hit and get it in good counts. I was able to do that.”
But why all the homers? Drew has six so far in just 65 at-bats.
“I really don’t try to hit homers,” Drew said. “Overall, just in my whole career, I’ve been able to come up with some homers. I just try to get back spin line drives and they carry for me. Like today, just trying to get a good pitch to hit, got in a good count, didn’t miss the pitch.”
Taylor came through was some big plays late after coming in as a substitute. His base hit in the 12th tied the game at 4-4.
“Just going up there, trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Taylor said. “Danny (Espinosa) did a good job to get to second right there. Right there, I’m just trying not to get outside of myself, and just get it to the next guy.”
Taylor, Drew, Clint Robinson and Chris Heisey all played. Baker even admitted that Jose Lobaton was going to play third base if the game had gone into the 13th inning. It is bench with depth and versatility.
“I think everybody just picks each other up,” Drew said. “We are not just one. We are a whole team. The guys that are not playing we trying to pick up the guys that are. It’s funny how that works. You pick somebody up and next thing you know you get a chance to win a game and they are picking you up. It’s a team game. You can see it in this series right here with the way it was tonight.”
Jayson Werth has come up with some clutch hits recently. Two walk-off hits in a four-day span does that to a guy.
Werth said one reason he has been on this clip recently is he diagnosed a hitch in his approach.
“Didn’t like how I was going about it and what the results were but my cage work and my drills and all that stuff the whole time has been good,” Werth said. “In the game I noticed I had a little leak with my direction. Those things are tough to fix on the fly. Your at-bats pile up pretty quick on you. It’s hard to change a bad habit, a bad habit at that. One swing can change your season.”
Did he ever believe he would not be able to figure out his batting issues as the season accelerated along?
“You’re playing a game where if you make an out seven out of 10 times you’re good,” Werth said. “So you are borderline delusional anyways. But yeah, never a doubt. That’s how you got to go about it.
“You got to think that you’re the best player on the field when you are 0-for-4 with four punch outs going into your last at-bat, in a slump, it don’t matter. One swing can change your life. I never doubted it.”
Neither did Baker.
“The guy is a clutch man,” Baker said. “He’s a big game guy. He’s been that since he’s been here. That’s what I learned about Jayson. He wants to be in that situation. Every time he comes through, that makes it easier in his mind and our mind for him to come through in the future, and that’s why I didn’t take him out of the game.”
Baker spoke postgame about how he controls his emotions during the ebb and flow of comebacks or the fight to try to tie a game in your last at-bat. Baker said the game doesn’t speed up during those strenuous moments.
“It’s pretty slow for me,” Baker said. “I try to slow things down. You slow things down, you try not to get caught up in the emotion of what’s going on. That’s why I wasn’t real real happy when Drew hit the home run. I gotta think about what’s coming, like who I’m going to use, who I’m going to save, the matchup the next inning.
“The games since I was a player has been kinda slow in my mind. I remember talking to (Nippon Professional League player and manager) Sadaharu Oh and he says you have to have the presence years ago. From being a clutch man, your heart’s beating fast, but your mind has to be slow to control your heart, cause your heart can get you in trouble.
“You gotta have the presence of mind to control your emotions and your heart. I was sweatin’, I ain’t gonna lie.”