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Looking back on a classic Nats extra-inning win
The Nationals are headed for the National League East championship with a possible Division Series matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are currently three games up on the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.
It was a little more than two years ago, as the Nats were rolling toward their most recent division title, that they clashed with the Dodgers in perhaps the two teams’ most memorable regular-season contest, an 8-5 Nationals victory in 14 innings. The five-hour, 31-minute marathon at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 3, 2014 was, at the time, the longest regular-season game by time in Nationals history, to be topped by this season’s 6-5, 15-inning win over Minnesota, which clocked in at 5:56, and an 18-inning loss this year to Pittsburgh, which ran 5:48.
The Nats and Dodgers had split the first two games of the series and were set for a getaway day matinee, with the Nats heading home after a nine-game bi-coastal road trip. Playing with expanded rosters, Nats manager Matt Williams used a team record 26 players, while the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly used 25.
With Jordan Zimmermann on the mound for the Nats against LA’s Carlos Frias, the early innings went fairly efficiently, but the Dodgers broke through against Zimmermann on Justin Turner’s two-run homer.
But the Nats had a chance to win it in the ninth. After Bryce Harper led off with a single against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, Adam LaRoche, who had the day off because of a stiff back, came off the bench to tie it with a two-run homer. Denard Span then singled home pinch-runner Danny Espinosa for a 3-2 lead.
However, Rafael Soriano, who had notched his 31st save of the season two days earlier, surrendered a one-out walk to Andre Ethier, and Jayson Werth, battling the sun, dropped a two-out fly ball by Turner, allowing the tying run to score. Soriano got Joc Pederson looking to end the ninth, but it would be the beginning of the end of his tenure as closer. He would tally just one more save the rest of the season.
Things got really weird in extra innings. The Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the tenth against Craig Stammen, but Xavier Cedeneo struck out Adrian Gonzalez, and Aaron Barrett fanned Juan Uribe to end the threat.
Jerry Blevins engineered his own escape in the 11th, as Crawford and Turner singled, and Pederson executed a sacrifice bunt, putting runners on second and third with one out. After he walked Matt Kemp intentionally to lead the bases, Blevins got Drew Butera to pop up weakly to third, then struck out Dee Gordon for the third out.
LaRoche put the Nats ahead in the 12th with single for this third and fourth RBIs of the game, but Crawford tied it for the Dodgers in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer off Tyler Clippard.
The Nats finally broke through in the 14th against Brandon League, when Ian Desmond reached on a one-out error and Harper walked. Up came LaRoche again, and this time he came through with his legs, beating out a double-play ball that allowed Desmond to score the go-ahead run. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a two-run homer to put the game out of reach.
Blake Treinen worked around a one-out single to Gonzalez to complete two scoreless innings for the win.
LaRoche would play five innings off the bench and go 3-for-5 with 5 RBIs in one of the biggest games of his career.
The Nats would go on to play San Francisco in the NLDs, losing in four games, including an 18-inning affair that lasted 6:23. Perhaps the 2017 postseason will bring the same level of excitement.