CLEVELAND - The new-look lineup produced some early runs, knocking out a tough opposing starter. The erratic lefty bounced back from a shaky first inning to turn in a quality start. All the Nationals needed was for the back end of their bullpen to close out the opener of a tough road trip.
Which that much maligned unit once again could not do.
Jonathan Papelbon blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, suffering his second loss in as many games as the Nationals were left stunned by the Indians, who walked off to a 7-6 victory at Progressive Field.
Pitching for the fourth time in five days (and only recently removed from the 10-6 loss he took Sunday against the Padres), Papelbon immediately got himself in trouble, walking leadoff hitter Jose Ramirez. Tyler Naquin then laced an RBI double to left-center, trimming the deficit to one.
Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt let the tying run score, and then after an intentional walk and a bunt single, Dusty Baker had no choice but to yank Papelbon from the game and ask Oliver Perez to somehow escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam.
Perez wasn’t up to that near-impossible task. Though he got Jason Kipnis to line out to left for the first out, Francisco Lindor was able to send the game-winning single past the drawn-in infield, bringing the final run home and leaving the Nats to walk off the field in stunned silence..
The Nationals had put Papelbon in prime position to earn the save, opening up a 6-4 lead thanks to the production of their reconfigured lineup.
Rendon broke open a tie game with his two-run blast to left-center in the top of the fourth, one of a host of well-struck balls against Cleveland’s Danny Salazar, who entered with an 11-3 record and 2.75 ERA. The Nationals knocked Salazar out one batter into the fifth inning, the young right-hander’s shortest start of the year.
Ramos’ homer came in the sixth, off reliever Jeff Manship, but it continued another strong night at the plate for the All-Star catcher. Ramos also recorded a double and scored twice, taking full advantage of his position as the cleanup hitter in tonight’s reconfigured lineup.
The most dramatic changes to Baker’s batting order came at the top, with Trea Turner leading off and making his first career start in center field. Slumping Bryce Harper also moved up to the No. 2 spot, with Ben Revere relegated to hitting ninth in the AL park.
Turner did his part to contribute, beating out an infield single, drawing a walk, stealing a base and making a nice catch on a drive to deep right-center
Gio Gonzalez got off to a rocky start, giving up two runs in the bottom of the first in part because of a pair of four-pitch walks and a cross-up with his catcher, Ramos, who was charged with a passed ball on a pitch that wound up scoring a run.
Gonzalez, though, settled down nicely as his evening progressed, keeping Cleveland from scoring again until the seventh. The left-hander finished with three runs allowed (two earned) on five hits in 6 1/3 innings.
The first of Werth’s two doubles extended his streak of games reaching base to 29, matching the career-high he set last September.