Nats come back, but Franco finishes it with walk-off homer

PHILADELPHIA - The Nationals came back again Sunday afternoon, rallying from a deficit late, but this time it was the Phillies that had the final answer.

Maikel Franco got a hold of the first pitch from reliever Matt Grace in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Phillies to a 4-3 win before a sellout 43,075 at Citizens Bank Park, preventing the Nats from their sixth sweep of the season.

Franco grooved a 93.2 mph sinker from Grace well into the left field stands for his second career walk-off home run. Grace has allowed seven homers this season, marking the third time this season the Nats were walked-off. Franco had six hits in the series.

Matt-Grace-Dejected-After-Walk-Off-HR-Gray-Sidebar.jpg“Missed execution,” said Grace of the pitch. “That’s what happens. Just got to make a better pitch in that situation.”

“Obviously he’s looking to launch in that situation, 0-0 in a tie game,” Grace explained. “That’s what he is looking to do so if you give him an opportunity to do it, then he just took advantage of it.”

The inning had started off well for Grace. With the scored tied 3-3, Grace struck out Jay Bruce with a slider. But then Franco went after the first-pitch sinker and the game was over.

“He tried to get the ball in and it just ran over the plate,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “Ball up on him, he’s been swinging the bat well, ball up to him is not good.”

But big picture, the Nats still won the series over the Phillies, their sixth series win in their last seven. They head to Baltimore to begin a two-game set at Camden Yards Tuesday night. Martinez was disappointed in the loss, but down 3-1 liked the way the club battled back to tie the game in seventh.

“We don’t quit,” Martinez said. “That’s one thing I’ve said before, they don’t quit, they keep battling, just today was just ... you’re playing a good team over there, with good players. Like I said, it was just unfortunate the game ended that way, but I loved the way we’re playing and we have a day off, come back strong against Baltimore.”

Jake Arrieta did not nice job of methodically mixing his pitches. The Nats were unable to put together any big rallies against the Phillies veteran. In the fourth, Anthony Rendon doubled and Matt Adams brought him home with a single to right field giving the Nats a short lived 1-0 lead.

The Phillies got to Aníbal Sánchez three innings in a row, with single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth frames. J.T. Realmuto led the way with a solo homer and an RBI single. Jean Segura also provided a run-scoring single.

Sánchez pitched six innings, allowing three runs on six hits with two walk, one intentional walk and two strikeouts. He threw 88 pitches, 52 for strikes. It was only the second time in his last eight starts he had allowed more than two runs in a start.

In the fifth, Sánchez got out of a big jam. After allowing a run he intentionally walked Bryce Harper to load the bases. He then got Rhys Hoskins to fly out to end the threat.

“I think today, my command early in the first inning was really good, and later on I (fought) with the command,” Sánchez said. “But at the end, I just used the right pitch to get out of the jam, especially with runners in scoring position.

“Bases loaded, two outs, as soon as I am able to get out of those innings is good. It could be worse,” Sánchez said of the Hoskins at-bat. “But I tried to execute the pitch because if it’s close, I don’t want to leave anything there, he’s got power, he can change the game with one swing. I just tried to keep the ball down and away.”

The Nats rallied again. This time with two runs in the seventh off of Phillies reliever J.D. Hammer. Trailing 3-1 with one out, Kurt Suzuki and Victor Robles walked. Pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner dropped in back-to-back RBI singles to tie the game at 3-3. It was only his second base hit in the three-game set.

“I felt like I was seeing the ball good over the last few days I just wasn’t able to kind of put the bat on the ball,” Turner said. “I felt like it was only a matter of time before stuff starts going better. I thought I had better at-bats today.

“Should have probably walked in the first at-bat and then had the other walk and then got the hit as well. So, trending in the right direction.”

Despite Grace’s final pitch, the bullpen was solid again.

Tanner Rainey, with heavy use of his slider, threw strikes and netted three swinging strikeouts in an emphatic 1-2-3 seventh inning. Wander Suero then got Harper to fly out to begin the eighth, and finished off a three-up, three-down inning with a strikeout of Realmuto. It was Suero’s third appearance in the series.

“He’s been really, really good,” Martinez said. “If we can continue to keep him like that, we’ll be in good shape. He’s a big part of our bullpen.”

Martinez decided against employing Sean Doolittle, deciding to rest his closer and prepare for the Orioles.

“We talked, he came to my office, and as we always do we had conversations, and he was down,” Martinez said. “I thought, you know, him being down two days off, we’ll get him back up and ready for Baltimore.”

The Phillies bullpen stepped up in the late innings. Adam Morgan and Héctor Neris combined for six strikeouts in a row to finish off the possibility of another Nats’ game-winning rally.

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