Rendon’s clutch doubles enough to lift Nats to win (updated)

The Nationals totaled only three hits tonight. Turns out that was enough, because two of them were Anthony Rendon RBI doubles.

The man who has made a name for himself with clutch two-baggers delivered the pair of clutch doubles his team needed tonight. The Nationals rode those RBI doubles, including the go-ahead hit in the bottom of the eighth, to a 2-1 victory over the Brewers on a night when they had to scrap and claw for everything.

“I tell the guys: ‘Hey, it only takes one more than the other guys. Just keep playing the game,’” manager Davey Martinez said. “They played the game.”

Yes, they did. And they really pitched all night. Six gutsy innings from Patrick Corbin, who wriggled his way out of countless jams, kept the Nats in the game. Scoreless innings of relief from Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland kept the game tied at 1.

Rendon-Runs-Blue-sidebar.jpgRendon then delivered at the plate. With one out and Trea Turner leading off second base, Rendon ripped a drive to right-center off Brewers reliever Junior Guerra. Christian Yelich raced back to the wall and tried to make a leaping grab, but the ball struck the fence and fell to the ground. Turner raced around to score and Rendon coasted into second base with his 32nd double and 94th RBI of a remarkable season.

“Same boring answer: Stay inside the ball and try to put the barrel on it,” Rendon said of his approach with the game on the line.

“But obviously, that competitive nature in me definitely wanted to get that hit,” the All-Star third baseman said. “So that’s a driving force, too.”

Even with Rendon’s go-ahead hit, the Nationals still needed a scoreless ninth from Sean Doolittle, and as has been the case lately, that didn’t come easily. The lefty closer issued a four-pitch leadoff walk to Keston Hiura to open the inning, bringing the meat of the Milwaukee lineup to the plate.

Doolittle, though, broke out his rarely used slider to strike out Yelich, then got Ryan Braun to ground out and Yasmani Grandal to fly out to end the game and bring a roar from the crowd of 30,091.

Does it say something about this team to be able to win despite totaling only three hits, while the opposition had runners in scoring position and big-name hitters at the plate all night long?

“Yeah,” Rendon said. “Our pitching’s awesome.”

The win, combined with the Braves’ loss to the Dodgers, moves the Nationals to within 4 1/2 games of Atlanta (only three back in the loss column).

As has been the case often this summer, the Nationals struggled to get much going at the plate against an unfamiliar opposing starter. In this case, that unfamiliar starter was Adrian Houser, who surrendered an RBI double to Rendon in the bottom of the third but barely anything else.

The Nationals have had a knack for figuring out this kind of starter and doing damage once they get a chance to face him a third time through the order. But that did not happen on this night, not even close. Houser retired all nine batters in the lineup the third time through, capping off a brilliant, two-hit performance.

“Houser was pretty good,” Martinez said. “Good two-seamer, curveball, and he started mixing up all his pitches as he went along through the game. Just one of those days.”

It was a slog for Corbin from the get-go. He simply couldn’t get enough fastballs over the plate (or couldn’t prevent the Brewers from putting it into play). He was forced to pitch out of the stretch in every inning except for the second, and he faced multiple runners on base in each of his final four innings.

And yet, Corbin had one effective weapon in his arsenal that allowed him to avoid disaster over and over: his slider. It’s been his best pitch all season, and he needed it a lot tonight. He wound up throwing it 40 times, and he induced 19 swings-and-misses off it. (For comparison’s sake, Corbin got only two swings-and-misses off his fastball all night, three off his changeup.)

“I was able to use it in big spots,” Corbin said of his slider. “Against these guys, when they do get some guys in scoring position, you don’t want to make a mistake there. Threw some tough sliders, and maybe threw more balls than I’d like to. But sometimes against these guys it works out that way.”

The Brewers got on the board first when Orlando Arcia connected on a fastball for a leadoff homer in the third. They would spend the rest of the game putting Corbin into jams but unable to cash in.

Corbin’s final pitch of the evening might have been his best. With two on and two out in the sixth, his pitch count about to reach 110 and Yelich looming in the on-deck circle, the lefty got Hiura to swing through yet one more slider.

The crowd roared with approval as Corbin walked off the mound. It was by no means his best, and certainly not his prettiest, start of the year. But it was effective, and it gave his team a chance to win yet another game that entered the late innings completely up for grabs.

“He’s very poised,” Martinez said. “Nothing really rattles him out there. He knows when to step off. He knows when to take deep breaths. He knows when to slow down. But he’s a gamer. We talk about the Scherzers and the Strasburgs, but he’s just as competitive as any of them. When guys get on base, that’s when he becomes nails.”

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