It took just about every ounce of intestinal fortitude the Nationals had in them just to get into position to win this afternoon, whether overcoming an early six-run deficit, asking their three youngest players to ignite a rally with a historic trio of homers or asking a couple of longtime rotation prospects to deliver a bunch of scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
It was an impressive display of gumption on the Nationals’ part. But it still left them in an uncomfortably familiar position: Stuck in a tie game late, and desperately needing to come through in a key spot to pull out a much-needed win.
And then Matt Adams came through in a big way.
The big slugger, the new everyday first baseman with Ryan Zimmerman on the injured list, launched a walk-off homer into the third deck down the right field line to lead off the bottom of the 11th, completing the Nationals’ impressive comeback to beat the Padres 7-6 in 11 innings.
“If you can talk about a team win,” said Erick Fedde, who churned out four scoreless innings hours after he was promoted from Double-A Harrisburg, “this is probably as good as it can get.”
A wild ballgame that saw both teams score six early runs before the bullpens clamped down saw the Nationals make history when Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom became the first trio of teammates 21 or younger to homer in the same major league game, according to Elias Sports.
“I sat there and I go: 20, 21, 21 ... that’s pretty cool,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I started thinking: Has that been done before?”
It saw the just-promoted Fedde come out of the bullpen to throw four scoreless innings and keep the game within reach, beleaguered setup man Kyle Barraclough strike out three batters from the heart of the San Diego lineup in a scoreless eighth inning and Joe Ross (making back-to-back appearances for the first time in his career) post a zero in the top of the ninth.
It saw the bullpen collectively throw eight scoreless innings, even with closer Sean Doolittle unavailable after pitching the previous two days.
“For these guys to bounce back the way they did, outstanding,” Martinez said. “Like I told them, I know they can do it. Let’s build off that. I told ‘em all after the game: We’ll build off of that and move on. And here we go.”
It saw Manny Machado, moments after taking over at shortstop when Padres rookie sensation Fernando Tatis Jr. injured himself trying to do the splits to catch the throw from his pitcher, make a great play to rob Howie Kendrick of what would’ve been the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th.
And then it saw Adams take a huge hack against on a 2-1 fastball from Padres right-hander Matt Wisler, left in to face him instead of lefty Robbie Erlin, and launch the ball into the third deck to win the game.
“It feels pretty good to hit one up there,” Adams said. “I didn’t know if the wind was going to end up blowing it foul. It started out way fair and then got close at the end. It stayed fair, and it ended the day pretty good.”
It’s only the seventh home run to reach the third deck in right field at Nationals Park. The blue seats that the previous six landed on have since been painted red, with plaques denoting the specific details. Now there will be a seventh seat painted red, with Adams’ name on it.
“That’s something to look forward to there,” he said with a smile.
The day began in inauspicious fashion, from the pregame announcement Zimmerman was going on the IL with plantar fasciitis in his right foot to the news Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup for the sixth time in seven games. And then the game started and things got even worse.
Tatis nearly hit Jeremy Hellickson’s very first pitch out of the park. The Padres leadoff man didn’t quite get enough, but the guy right behind him in the order did. Greg Garcia sent Hellickson’s fifth pitch of the game into the right field bullpen.
And that was just the beginning of a string of loud contact against the Nationals starter, who played with fire throughout his three innings on the mound. The Padres got another run in the second, then came the big blast in the third: Eric Hosmer’s three-run homer to left, leaving the home team in a 6-0 hole and many in the home crowd booing that fact.
For all their issues, though, Martinez continues to praise his team’s ability to keep battling. It may not always result in victory, but it does suggest these players refuse to give up, even when things look bleak. So in some ways it shouldn’t have been all that shocking for anyone to watch the Nationals claw their way back into this game, with the kids leading the way.
The rally was ignited by 21-year-old Robles, who beat out an infield single to open the bottom of the third (even if he nearly had his hand stepped on when he slid headfirst through the bag).
“What inspired me is trying to get the team back in the game any way I could,” Robles said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “And at the same time, I felt that if I ran through the bag, the pitcher was going to probably run into me. So I think it was smart of me to dive and avoid him, as well.”
The big jolt came two batters later when the 20-year-old Soto’s eyes lit up upon seeing a 2-0 fastball from Joey Lucchesi. He promptly drove it to center field for a three-run homer that brought the crowd back to life.
That completed a four-run rally to mostly erase the six-run deficit. The Nationals fully erased it with a pair of blasts the next two innings.
Robles opened the fourth with a deep fly ball to left that clipped the top of the wall and caromed over for his fourth homer of the season. Then the 21-year-old Kieboom, who had already driven a ball to the warning track in his first at-bat, put one into the stands in the bottom of the fifth to remarkably tie this game and etch the Nationals’ trio of young guns into the history books.
“It’s amazing. That’s amazing,” Soto said. “Like last year, everything I do and every record I break, I feel amazing and pretty happy with that. And I just thank God that I’m part of this.”
It was an impressive feat, scoring six unanswered runs to tie the game in the fifth. But all it did was bring the Nationals back from the dead. They still need to get six innings out of their bullpen and produce more at the plate to emerge victorious.
Fedde did his part, and then some. Called up from Double-A Harrisburg this morning specifically to serve as a long reliever if needed, the right-hander cruised through four scoreless innings on 49 pitches, striking out three and showing off an impressive repertoire along the way.
“I think today I tried to treat it as a start; I knew the bullpen had been kind of beat up,” Fedde said. “So I told myself: No matter what, it’s probably my job to get through four, five, six, whatever it might be. And the guys battled back and got it to the place where we were able to win.”
It was the Nationals’ sixth come-from-behind win already this season, their third walk-off win. They’ve also lost eight times after blowing a lead. It’s still only April 28.
“We never give up,” Soto said. “That’s one of the words I always repeat in my mind: Never give up. The team always comes back like today. Never give up.”