All four of the Nationals’ eligible players appeared in tonight’s All-Star Game, and three of them did their part to try to help their league emerge victorious. The fourth, unfortunately, came up short in his one key at-bat, and the rest of the National League squad didn’t have enough offense to overcome a tough American League team that took an early lead and held on to win 4-2 in San Diego.
Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy combined for three hits, and Max Scherzer dominated during one inning of relief. But Wilson Ramos’ strikeout with two men in scoring position and two out in the top of the fifth came at a particularly bad time for the NL, which lost the Midsummer Classic for the fourth straight year and thus lost home-field advantage in the World Series.
Harper, the lone member of the Nationals voted into the starting lineup by fans, broke his bat and grounded out on the first pitch he saw from dynamic White Sox left-hander Chris Sale in the top of the first. He battled back two innings later against longtime foe Cole Hamels, though, roping a line drive past a diving Jose Altuve at second base and then hustling his way to a double.
It was Harper’s first career hit in eight All-Star at-bats, a long-anticipating moment for the 23-year-old slugger, who was playing in his fourth Midsummer Classic in five seasons as a big leaguer.
Murphy, meanwhile, reached base three times, though the first occasion required an overturned call by replay officials in New York. Originally ruled out on his sharp grounder to second that Altuve bobbled, Murphy ultimately was proven safe on replay. Altuve was charged with an error on the play.
That started a potential rally for the NL, which already trailed 4-2 at the time, and eventually set the stage for Ramos to possibly tie the game with a two-out single. But the Nationals catcher, in the first All-Star at-bat of his career, struck out on three pitches from White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, a rare occurrence this season for a guy who currently sports a .330 batting average and a career-low 13 percent strikeout rate.
Ramos didn’t get another chance to bat in the game, but Murphy did. With one out in the seventh, he sent a sharp single through the right side hole off Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances. That was Murphy’s first hit in three career All-Star at-bats.
And he wasn’t done. Murphy got a chance to bat again in the top of the ninth, leading off against Orioles closer Zach Britton, and proceeded to battle his way to a full count before sending a base hit up the middle with the same kind of controlled swing that has carried him to a league-leading .348 batting average this season.
Scherzer was thrilled last week when he found out he had been named an All-Star for the fourth consecutive year (as a replacement for teammate Stephen Strasburg, who sat out the game for precautionary reasons after recently returning from an upper back strain). And the right-hander made it clear he wanted to pitch in the game for only the second time.
NL manager Terry Collins summoned Scherzer for the bottom of the sixth, and everyone in attendance at Petco Park and watching at home on television saw just how fired up the right-hander was to take the mound. Scherzer retired the side on 18 pitches, getting Eric Hosmer to ground out and Carlos Beltran to fly out before blowing away Matt Wieters with a 98 mph fastball.
That last pitch actually was down a tick for Scherzer, who hit 99 mph three times in the inning, the three hardest pitches he has thrown all season, according to MLB.com’s Statcast.