Unbeaten Strasburg, Nats down Marlins in doubleheader opener

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WASHINGTON (AP) Stephen Strasburg remained undefeated and struck out seven over six innings in his first start since signing a long-term contract and the Washington Nationals defeated the Miami Marlins 6-4 in the opener of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader.

Strasburg (6-0) allowed three runs and five hits for his second victory over the Marlins this season. The right-hander agreed to a seven-year, $175 million deal Tuesday.

Washington has won three in a row, including two straight to open the four-game series with Miami.

Jayson Werth‘s RBI single capped a three-run first inning for Washington off Justin Nicolino (2-1). Wilson Ramos hit a solo home run in the sixth as five Nationals drove in at least one run.

Christian Yelich homered and drove in two runs for Miami, which has lost five of seven.

Jonathan Papelbon, one of three relievers backing up Strasburg, pitched the ninth for his 11th save.

Though not sharp, Strasburg never surrendered the early lead despite the Marlins’ peskiness. He matched his season-high with three walks and allowed at least one base runner in every inning.

Nicolino allowed four runs on five hits with five walks – including the first three batters faced – in 4 2/3 innings.

Staked to a 1-0 lead on Yelich’s homer, Nicolino’s inability to find the strike zone cost him immediately.

After he walked Bryce Harper to load the bases, sacrifice flies by Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman drove in runs. Harper stole third base and scored on Werth’s single for a 3-1 lead.

Miami scored single runs in the fifth and sixth only for Washington to counter in the bottom of both innings as rain fell, eventually turning the infield muddy.

Yelich homered center field wall in the first inning and then peppered the left field wall for an RBI double in the fifth.

Michael Taylor reached base four times with a double, single and two walks for the Nationals. He also scored twice and stole a base.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Nationals: Washington rested outfielder Ben Revere for the opening game with Taylor starting in center. … Outfielder Matt den Dekker was added from Triple-A Syracuse as the 26th man for the doubleheader. He pinch-hit in the eighth, reached on an error and scored on Taylor’s double.

UP NEXT

Miami RHP Kendry Flores was scheduled to make his 2016 debut in the second game of the doubleheader. Flores, called up Saturday from Triple-A New Orleans as the Marlins’ 26th player, posted a 4.97 ERA in seven games with Miami in 2015. RHP Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.03) starts for Washington.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.