Runs are not coming easily to the Nationals right now, which only compounds the pressure when they do actually give themselves an opportunity to push a run across the plate.
That made tonight’s game against the Padres something of an exercise in frustration for the Nats, who just didn’t give themselves that many opportunities and didn’t take much advantage of them either.
Until the bottom of the ninth, that is.
Stephen Drew, in his first appearance in six days after battling flu-like symptoms, roped a walk-off triple to the gap in right-center, bringing home Anthony Rendon with the run that gave the Nationals a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Padres.
Drew had been so sick in recent days, he typically didn’t even watch games from the dugout. But he recovered enough to be available tonight, and when manager Dusty Baker called upon him with the game on the line, the veteran infielder delivered.
Rendon opened the bottom of the ninth with a single off Kevin Quackenbush, who then struck out Danny Espinosa. Drew, pinch-hitting for Jonathan Papelbon, drilled a ball off the wall in right-center, then sprinted around the bases, watching as Rendon sprinted in front of him and scored the game-winner.
Papelbon, who pitched his way out of a jam in the top of the ninth, was credited with the win.
After a bit of a rocky start, starter Max Scherzer finished strong, keeping the Padres from scoring from the third through the seventh innings. He struck out 10 without any walks, the eighth time he has done that in the last two seasons, a mark bested only by Clayton Kershaw (who has done it 11 times for the Dodgers).
The temperature was a steamy 94 degrees, the heat index a steamier 103 degrees, when Scherzer toed the rubber at 7:05 p.m. These were not easy conditions in which to pitch, but the veteran right-hander showed early he could conserve both energy and pitches with a quick, 10-pitch top of the first.
Scherzer did run into trouble in the second when he grooved a 2-0 fastball to Ryan Schimpf and watched the ball soar into the second deck down the right field line. It was Scherzer’s league-leading 22nd home run surrendered this season, though he had improved in that regard of late, allowing only one dinger in his last four starts.
That was the lone blemish on the right-hander’s night, though. Scherzer proceeded to retire 13 of the next 14 Padres he faced. He also kept the ball over the plate, and thus kept his pitch count manageable, allowing himself to keep going on such a hot night.
The Nationals, meanwhile, chipped away at San Diego’s early 2-0 lead. They had opportunities to take down ex-teammate Edwin Jackson altogether, but they were left to settle for the two runs that tied this game after five innings.
Struggling leadoff man Ben Revere, who was talked up by Baker before the game, played a key role in both Washington runs. Revere drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the third, then went first-to-third on Jayson Werth’s single to left. That put him in position to score on Daniel Murphy’s sacrifice fly to right.
Two innings later, Revere drove in the run instead of scoring it. With one out and a man on second, he drove a double down the right field line, bringing Espinosa home and tying the game 2-2.
It would remain tied at two for quite a while longer.