Scott Hairston

Bryce Harper

Nationals’ nine-game winning streak is “absolutely epic”


This shouldn’t be happening, not like this. It’s not that the Nationals have won nine straight games. And it’s not that they’ve won in walk-off fashion four of the last five nights. It’s that they’ve won three of the last four nights after blowing a lead in the eighth or ninth inning.

Really, who does this?

“I mean, just absolutely epic,” Bryce Harper said. “That’s the best word I can put on it for you. It’s been incredible.”

The events taking place each evening on South Capitol Street are beginning to defy explanation. Four nights after rallying from 3 runs down to beat the Pirates, three nights after watching Rafael Soriano melt down in the ninth before they came back to win in the 11th, two nights after watching Tyler Clippard blow his own ninth-inning lead before they again came back to win in the 11th, they did it yet again.

Leading by two runs in the eighth, the Nationals saw Clippard surrender another game-tying homer, only to pick up their All-Star reliever by producing another winning rally in the ninth, beating the Diamondbacks 3-2 for their ninth consecutive victory.

At this point, it sure looks like Matt Williams is drawing them up this way, going for maximum drama at the expense of everyone’s blood pressure.

“No, no. Not even close,” the rookie manager insisted. “That’s not the way you draw them up. But they don’t stop fighting, that’s for sure.”

The Nationals find themselves in this position — winners of nine straight, owners of a 7-game division lead, an NL-best 19 games over .500 — thanks to an elite rotation (starters have given up 10 total earned runs during these nine games) and an opportunistic lineup that thrives in pressure situations late (they’ve scored 27 runs from the sixth inning on during the streak).

They got both Wednesday night, with Tanner Roark tossing seven scoreless innings despite some early command struggles and then Harper, Kevin Frandsen and Anthony Rendon combining to produce the winning rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Harper ignited things with a base hit up the middle (his third of the game) after battling Arizona reliever Evan Marshall to a full count.

“Great at-bat,” Williams said.

After Wilson Ramos struck out on three pitches, Frandsen sent a sharp grounder up the middle, just past Aaron Hill’s diving attempt. Harper, seeing the ball trickle into shallow center field, never broke stride and wound up on third base without drawing a throw.

That brought a familiar face to the plate in an unfamiliar role. Rendon was supposed to have the night off after 62 consecutive starts at either second or third base, but here was the 24-year-old being asked to pinch-hit for the first time this season, with the game on the line.

Rendon had spent the evening shadowing Scott Hairston, watching how the veteran bench player prepared for the possibility of late action.

“I followed Scotty throughout the whole game pretty much,” Rendon said. “I was like: ‘Alright, what do I do? Do I do this? Do I do that?'”

Rendon also remembered advice he got earlier this summer from former teammate Greg Dobbs, a pinch-hitting specialist for many years.

“He said to just get up like it;s your first at-bat of game. That’s what Dobbs told me,” Rendon said. “And that’s what I actually remembered from earlier in the year. So I was like: ‘Alright, I’m going to go up like it’s my first at-bat of the game and go up there and try to barrel the ball like I always do.'”

Rendon took ball one from Marshall, then turned on the next pitch. The ball was scorched down the third-base line, giving Harper a leisurely stroll home with the winning run while everyone else mobbed Rendon near first base, impressed (but not surprised) by his latest offensive exploits.

“A lot of guys around here will sing his praises all the time, because he is so levelheaded,” Frandsen said. “For him to finally get a day off today, you’d never know, because he was out there doing everything, coming off the bench. There’s one thing I think he was born to do, and it’s hit.”

And there appears to be one thing these Nationals know how to do right now: Win ballgames, no matter how much drama it requires.

“For me, it’s just a very good ethic that these guys have,” Williams said, who with one more win Thursday would have to make good on his pledge to break out his old Babe Ruth impersonation. “They believe in each other. They believe that we can stay in a game, that we can win a game, that we’re never out of a game. That’s a trait that you can’t force on folks. They get that amongst themselves in that clubhouse, and it’s enjoyable to watch. Sometimes it’s not a whole lot of fun, but it’s enjoyable to watch the way they go about it. So I’m proud of them.”

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

Lloyd McClendon, Tony Randazzp

Mariners 8, Tigers 1: Chris Young continues a nice stretch of pitching, putting up six shutout innings helping the M’s to the series victory against their strongest competition for the wild card. Kyle Seager drove in three.  Lloyd McClendon was ejected by umpire Tony Randazzo for the second game in a row because, in Randazzo’s words, McCleandon “took his hand and shooed away my call.” In other news, if Tony Randazzo is so easily upset, he is a big friggin’ baby who probably doesn’t have any business umpiring at the major league level.

Brewers 7, Dodgers 2: All the smart kids have been assuming the Brewers were just gonna stop playing well eventually, but they haven’t. To the point where now they’re sending messages about potential October playoff meetings with teams like the Dodgers, sweeping them in this three-game series. And still, I guarantee, sometime in the next week someone will ask me when the Brewers are going to turn into a pumpkin. Welp, maybe they’re not?

Giants 5, Phillies 2: The Phillies had their chances early against a shaky Tim Lincecum, but he never did break. And then Michael Morse just kept doing what he’s been doing lately in getting on base. Indeed, he’s reached base in nine straight plate appearances. Don’t ask him what he’s doing though. His quote after the game was about how he’s looking for pitches to hit. Hope no one gets mad at him for revealing the innermost secrets of the hitting fraternity.

Rangers 3, Angels 2: Huston Street came in to lock down a 2-1 lead in the ninth but couldn’t get the job done. He gave up four straight singles in the ninth without retiring a batter, allowing Adam Rosales to get the walkoff RBI. He was pretty efficient about it, though. Only ten pitches to lose the lead and the game. I’m sure his teammates were grateful that he didn’t drag things out and allowed everyone to get to the airport in a timely fashion.

Cardinals 7, Padres 6: Matt Carpenter homered, doubled and drove in three and while Trevor Rosenthal tried his hardest to give up the lead in the ninth, the Cards held on. Adam Wainwright got his 15th win, tying him with Johnny Cueto for the league lead.

Royals 12, Twins 6: Seven runs in the second innings — invoking ATH’s patented seven-run inning rule — and five more for good measure for the Royals. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Josh Willingham homered, and Kansas City has now won 20 of 25. And their lead in the Central is now a game and a half.

Marlins 10, Diamondbacks 3: Giancarlo Stanton homered and drove in four. He has 32 homers and 88 RBI on the season. The homer total leads all of baseball. The RBI total leads the National League. He went 7 for 14 with four walks and six RBI against the Dbacks in the four game series.

White Sox 7, Blue Jays 5: The Chisox jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the first thanks in part to a Conor Gillaspie grand slam. The real hero of this game, however, was the throwback uni the Sox wore. Which are always awesome:

source: Reuters

Cubs 2, Mets 1: Starlin Castro hit a tiebreaking homer on the first pitch of the ninth inning to put the Cubs ahead to stay. And of course the game story is focused on how good he’d look in a Mets uniform because that’s how it always goes with New York teams for some reason. Yes, I get that the Cubs could deal Castro given the value he has now and given the infield prospects they have coming up through the system, but rarely do you hear such open covetousness about other team’s players for the non-New York teams.

Yankees 4, Rays 2: Hiroki Kuroda gave up two runs and four hits in six and two-thirds and Brett Gardner drove in two. The Yankees are three back in the loss-column from the second wild card. I keep figuring they’ll slide out of it, but they sort of keep hanging around. I figure we’ll start to see a lot of “Derek Jeter has willed a flawed team to stay in contention” stories soon. Can’t wait.

Astros 8, Red Sox 1: Jose Altuve hit a grand slam. He got the chance to do it because Xander Bogaerts fired the ball to first base early — before stepping on the second base bag — on what should have been a double play. Instead he only got the force out at first, leaving two men on with two outs. A walk later and Altuve went yard. After that the game was never close again. Oops.

Orioles 4, Indians 1: The O’s avoid being swept for the first time since May. Kevin Gausman allowed one run over six. Despite the bad overall weekend the O’s still sport a seven-game lead in the East.

Nationals 6, Pirates 5: Both closers — Rafael Soriano and Mark Melancon — blew leads in the ninth. Then pinch-hitter Scott Hairston hit a sacrifice fly with one out in the 11th to give the Nats the sweep. the Pirates have lost five straight. Pittsburgh is falling out of the NL Central race. And if they’re not careful, they’re going to fall out of the wild card race too.

Braves 4, Athletics 3: Just when I’m about to declare the Braves dead and start to transition into the acceptance stage of grieving this season they do something like sweep the best team in baseball, capped by defeating Jon Lester. That keeps the A’s — who have lost five straight — in a tie with the Angels. And keeps the Braves within a game and a half of the wild card. Not going to declare Atlanta alive or anything, but I suppose that’s not dead.

Rockies 10, Reds 9; Reds vs. Rockies: Colorado rallied for five runs in the ninth of game one, overcoming a 9-5 deficit with a three-run homer from former Red Drew Stubbs. Four of those runs came off of Aroldis Chapman, who didn’t record an out, walking all four batters he faced. Which, holy crap, that never happens. Three hits overall for Stubbs. The nightcap: Michael Cuddyer hits for the cycle as the Rockiesput up another 10-spot. In other news, Michael Cuddyer is still alive and playing.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

Mike Trout Bow and Arrow

Angels 6, Mariners 5: Fernando Rodney was called on for the five-out save. He got the first two to close out the eighth and even did his little bow and arrow thing. Maybe a bit too early there, Fernando. In the ninth Albert Pujols doubled home Mike Trout to tie it, and mocked Rodney with his own bow-and-arrow move when he pulled into second. Trout shot one back at him from the dugout. Then, after a Josh Hamilton single, a couple of intentional walks and a double play, Grant Green singled home Hamilton for the winning run. It was the Angels’ 30th come-from-behind win this season. The A’s may be handing out whuppin’s, but a win is a win no matter what the margin of victory and there the Angels sit a game and a half back.

Athletics 10, Orioles 2: Here’s that whuppin’ I was taking about. The A’s have delivered a lot of whuppin’s this year. This was their 12th win by eight or more runs so far this season. No one else in baseball has more than five.

Rays 5, Twins 3: Five straight wins for the Rays and 14 of their last 18. Which is either just good enough to mess up the front office’s plans to trade David Price and Ben Zobrist by making the fans think the Rays have a chance or just good enough to enhance those plans by giving the front office some “well, we may not trade him after all . . .” leverage with potential trading partners. I have no idea how that all works. For all I know they make trades in the big leagues via some computerized system in which they get emails telling you “Congratulations: [Team] has accepted your offer.”

Astros 11, White Sox 7: A 17-hit attack by Houston. They had a 4-0 lead and then watched as the Sox tied it at seven but then they pulled away. This snaps a losing streak of four for Houston. Three games and that trainwreck of a draftee signing deadline on Friday afternoon.

Pirates 5, Rockies 3: Aggressive baserunning helped the Pirates as, on three occasions, a base runner took an extra base and then ended up scoring. Also helping: the fact that they were playing the Rockies. Following this sweep someone had better take Dick Monfort’s iPad away from him.

Nationals 5, Brewers 4: Milwaukee tied it in the top of the ninth but then Werth walks ’em off with an RBI double. After the game Werth talked about situations where runners are in scoring position and the game is on the line:

“That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s why we do this. If you find yourself in that situation and you don’t want to be there, I think you’re in the wrong line of work.”

Upon hearing that teammate Scott Hairston (.071/.118/.071 with runners in scoring position all year) turned in his bat and applied to grad school.

Red Sox 6, Royals 0: Jon Lester with eight shutout innings and eight strikeouts. That’s the third time in his last four starts he’s allowed no earned runs. He and the Red Sox may not be negotiating about his contract anymore, but he’s definitely making statements about it.

Braves 8, Phillies 2: Tommy La Stella drove in three runs and Chris Johnson hit a two-run homer. Dan Uggla watched the game with increasing anger from his couch, flexing his biceps and thinking about what could’ve been, probably. Of course he also spent some time thinking about how he’ll spend the $19 million he has coming from the Braves for the next year and a half, so it’s not too bad.

Yankees 3, Reds 2: Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Skip Schumaker were converging on a pop in shallow right. Two of them were playing positions they really probably shouldn’t be playing. The other one — Bruce — is a pretty nifty right fielder but had the farthest to go for the ball. Guess what happened? Yankees walk off and Brian McCann is credited with an RBI single off the nastiest lefty reliever going. Baseball is cool sometimes.

Tigers 5, Indians 1: Miguel Cabrera was 3 for 5 with a homer and three RBI. Drew Smyly allowed one run on four his over seven innings. Between this game, the Reds game and the birthday party I misguidedly held in my home for my nine-year-old son yesterday (eight additional nine-years-olds attending) it was just a horrible day for people from Ohio. I probably got the worst of it, though.

Marlins 3, Giants 2: Tim Lincecum threw great but he bounced one in the dirt in the seventh allowing the go-ahead run to score. Casey McGehee hit a homer. It was only his second of the year, but the two-run shot gives him 56 RBI on the year. That’s a pace of 94 RBI and only three homers. Which is pretty trippy. In 1957 Mickey Mantle drove in 94 homers with 34 homers. In 1960 he drove in 94 RBI with 40 homers. The takeaway: Casey McGehee just knows how to drive in runners better than Mickey Mantle ever did.

Blue Jays 9, Rangers 6: Melky Cabrera hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh and was 3 for 5 with three RBI overall. He was 3 for 4 the day before. The Rangers scored a run on a balk in the sixth in which Mark Buehrle slipped and fell down. I bet the time it took him to set for that pitch, fall, get back up and deliver the subsequent pitch was still less than it takes half the guys in baseball to throw a single pitch.

Diamondbacks 3, Cubs 2: Not gonna say the Cubs are historically unlucky, but in this one the go-ahead run scored when Anthony Rizzo made an awesome catch on a foul ball. Except the catch took him and the ball out of play. Problem: there was a runner on third and when the defender takes the ball out of play, the runners are awarded a base. In this case, home.

Padres 2, Mets 1: Odrisamer Despaigne didn’t allow a hit until two outs in the eighth. Not bad for a guy who throws more junk than Lamont Sanford. After five starts he has a 1.31 ERA, though, so it’s not like it ain’t workin’.

Dodgers 4, Cardinals 3: Peter Bourjos hit an unexpected homer to tie it in the sixth off of Clayton Kershaw of all people, but then the Dodgers plated the winning run in the ninth rallying against Trevor Rosenthal. Kershaw’s run of seven starts allowing one or fewer runs comes to an end but a win makes everything shiny.*

*note: I watched “Serenity” again last night so I’m going to be sprinkling that stuff in for a few days. Can’t help myself.