Right-hander Jonathan Papelbon allowed a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning by Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco.
Suddenly the Nationals’ early 3-0 advantage was gone. It was 4-3 Phillies.
But with Papelbon switching from a possible loss to his first win of the season, should there be cause for concern with the closer?
Papelbon admitted after the game that the pitch to Franco was a mistake.
“Totally bad executed pitch,” Papelbon said. “My opinion, most major league baseball players should hit that ball out. It was a very poorly executed pitch.”
Papelbon managed to get the next three outs, which was critical in setting the stage so the Nationals needed only one run to tie the game or two runs to win it.
Manager Dusty Baker agreed it was important that Papelbon didn’t allow the Phillies any more than that one run.
“As a kid, you always want that last at-bat, because you can walk off,” Baker said. “You’re just glad it didn’t happen on the road. Then my emotions were, ‘OK, Pap. We gave up one. Let’s not give up any more.’ Because we can come back.”
Papelbon explained how different his situation is in the ninth inning instead of being able to begin the game as a starter.
“I felt like I threw the ball pretty well,” Papelbon said. “That’s the life of my role. You’re not a starter where you have the opportunity to maybe go out there and feel your way through a ballgame, give up a run here and then take one back. You don’t have that luxury. My role: One pitch, one mistake could be the difference in the ball game.
“The last remaining outs of a ballgame are the hardest ones to get. At-bats change, approaches change. No one wants to make that last out.”
Papelbon still has 16 saves in 18 opportunities. But it feels like he was again that close to a loss after the home run in the ninth.
How does he assess his season to date?
“I feel like I’ve been as successful as I have been in many other years,” Papelbon said. “I haven’t been that great in tie ballgames this year, but when my number’s called for save situations, you know ...”
Interestingly, the run allowed by Papelbon in the ninth Sunday was actually the first he has allowed this season in a non-save situation.
And as bad as he might have felt, Papelbon then got to watch as his teammates came back and won the game for him.
“That’s what makes a good team. Guys are going to have to pick up each other and I’m going to have to pick up guys,” Papelbon said. “I’m going to be needed to be picked up some nights. That’s the sign of a good ballclub.
“Sometimes, throughout the season, you need situations like that to kind of show everyone on the ballclub that you are a complete team and today was a great showing that we are a complete ballclub.”
But even if Papelbon doesn’t feel it, there is something. He has not had many clean innings in his most recent outings.
In his last five appearances over five innings, including Sunday, Papelbon has allowed three earned runs on six hits, including one homer. His ERA is 5.40 over the past five outings. He has allowed at least one hit in four of the last five games.
To date, Papelbon has a 3.28 ERA in 25 games. He has allowed 25 hits, nine runs and two homers.
But the question remains: With the Nationals’ ability to put together comeback wins - they have 18 already this season - can the offense offset those times when Papelbon is not able to keep the Nats tied or in the lead?