TORONTO - The Nationals put themselves in a position to win tonight’s series opener at Rogers Centre with a late rally, but it would have required spotless relief and airtight defense, and they received neither.
A misplay in right field by Adam Eaton in the bottom of the seventh turned a routine fly ball into a costly double, and Justin Miller’s first poor relief outing in the majors or minors this season turned the game into a 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays.
Summoned to try to pitch out of a jam created by Gio Gonzalez and Eaton, Miller surrendered the go-ahead sacrifice fly and then a two-run homer to Yangervis Solarte (his second of the game), turning a tie game into a three-run deficit in a matter of minutes.
The Nationals did get two runs back in the top of the eighth, with Daniel Murphy finally delivering his first hit and RBI since making his season debut Tuesday night. But they couldn’t push across the tying run in the ninth, stranding Wilmer Difo on third base with one out, and thus were dealt a frustrating loss to open this weekend interleague series.
Adding injury to insult, the Nats also lost Matt Adams after the big slugger took a pitch off his left hand in the top of the second and had to depart.
The Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two innings, thanks to a combination of speed, contact and power. Bryce Harper got things started by drawing a two-out walk in the top of the first, stealing second, then scoring on Anthony Rendon’s soft single to right. One inning later, Juan Soto just missed his third home run in as many at-bats, settling instead for a double off the wall in center field. A groundball to the right side by Difo moved Soto to third, and Pedro Severino’s broken-bat single to left brought him home and gave Severino his first RBI in a calendar month.
But that lead came at a cost when Adams led off the top of the second squaring around to bunt and taking a pitch off a combination of his bat and the first two fingers on his left hand. Though he stayed in the game, Adams was shaking his hand after striking out, then again after catching a throw from Rendon in the bottom of the inning.
By the time the bottom of the third arrived, Mark Reynolds had taken over at first base and Adams presumably was headed for X-rays, the Nationals praying they didn’t just lose yet another key member of their lineup to a significant injury.
Making matters worse, Gonzalez immediately gave back both runs, plus another to give the Blue Jays the lead via a rarity: a pair of home runs. The left-hander has been one of the majors’ best at keeping the ball in the park, with a rate of 0.85 homers per nine innings. But he surrendered two of them in the third inning: a solo shot by Devon Travis, then a two-run blast by Solarte.
Gonzalez managed to keep the Blue Jays from adding any more runs through the sixth, but having never looked firmly in control and with his pitch count at 94, it appeared his night might be over. Instead, Davey Martinez sent the left-hander back to the mound for the bottom of the seventh in what was now a 3-3 game, and disaster ensued.
Gonzalez gave up back-to-back hits to open the frame, though the second one wasn’t his fault. Eaton lost Teoscar Hernandez’s fly ball to deep right field in the twilight, and it bounced over the fence for a double.
That forced Miller to enter in a no-room-for-error jam: second and third, nobody out. He got Justin Smoak to fly out to right, but that brought home the go-ahead run. Moments later, Solarte destroyed a 3-1 pitch to right field to extend Toronto’s lead to 6-3 and hand Miller his first run allowed in 24 2/3 combined innings between Triple-A Syracuse and Washington this season.