Monday, August 18, 2014

Game of the Day (8/17/14)

Nationals 6, Pirates 5 (11). Washington started Doug Fister, who was dumped by the Tigers this offseason and has been better than ever. Pittsburgh opposed him with Edinson Volquez, who is painfully familiar with the feeling of being dumped by a team, but has actually been pretty respectable this year as well.

Fister was perfect in the first; Volquez allowed an Anthony Rendon single and walked Adam LaRoche before stranding them both. Fister retired the Pirates in order again in the second, while Volquez allowed a single to Michael Taylor and wild pitched him to second before ending the inning. Ike Davis walked and advanced on a wild pitch in the third, and was the only runner on either team to reach in the inning; the starters followed that up by keeping the bases completely clear in the fourth.

Starling Marte and Travis Snider both singled in the fifth, and moved to second and third on a flyout, but Fister coaxed a flyout from Volquez to end the inning. Volquez set the Nats down in order again in the fifth, and the Pirates finally opened the scoring in the top of the sixth. Gregory Polanco led off by reaching on an Ian Desmond error, and Josh Harrison singled him to third. Neil Walker grounded back to the mound, and Fister caught Polanco halfway between third and home; he threw to Rendon at third, Polanco ran home, and Rendon's throw escaped catcher Wilson Ramos to allow Polanco to score. Russell Martin followed with a single that brought Harrison home for a 2-0 lead. Pedro Alvarez singled as well, loading the bases, but Fister induced forces at home from both Marte and Snider, then drew a flyout from Davis to end the inning without further scoring.

Washington recovered half of the deficit in the sixth on a Rendon single, a LaRoche walk, and a Desmond RBI single; Bryce Harper then flied out to leave the tying run at third. After a spotless seventh from Fister, the Nats struck again in the seventh. Taylor was hit by a pitch with one out, and Volquez then allowed singles to pinch hitter Kevin Frandsen and Denard Span, loading the bases. Jared Hughes was summoned from the bullpen and got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground to first, but Davis threw the ball away going for a forceout, and two runs came across to put Washington in front for the first time in the game. Rendon grounded to third, and Pedro Alvarez committed a throwing error of his own to let another run score; LaRoche then hit into a double play to close out the inning.

Tyler Clippard allowed a Walker single in the top of the eighth, while John Axford walked Harper in the bottom of the inning; both runners were removed on double plays, and Rafael Soriano came on with a 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth. He promptly hit Marte with a pitch, allowed a single to Snider, and threw a wild pitch that brought Marte home from third. Davis walked, Gaby Sanchez pinch hit into a force at third, and Polanco doubled in both runners to take a 5-4 lead. Matt Thornton replaced Soriano and allowed a Harrison single; Polanco moved to third, and Harrison was thrown out trying for second. Walker grounded out to end the inning.

Mark Melancon took the mound in the bottom of the ninth hoping for a better result than his closing counterpart. He got one... sort of. Jayson Werth drew a one out pinch walk and came around to score the tying run on singles by Span and Cabrera, but Melancon then retired Rendon and LaRoche to at least salvage a tie.

The game was turned over to a pair of sometime starters as it went into extras. Washington's Ross Detwiler (who hasn't made a start this year, but spent a few previous seasons making plenty) worked around a Marte single in the top of the tenth, while Pittsburgh's Brandon Cumpton (making his second relief appearance of the year against ten starts) did the same with a hit by Ramos. Detwiler retired the Pirates in order in the eleventh, and Werth led off the bottom of the inning with a double, moved to third on a groundout, and came home on a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Scott Hairston to end the game.

The two teams were remarkably even in this game - they had the same number of hits (and the same types - 9 singles and a double apiece), committed the same number of errors (two), hit the same number of batters (one), and threw the same number of wild pitches (two). Washington drew two extra walks, but the Pirates turned one more double play - and that was about all that separated them.

So it's not terribly surprising that the game was a closely contested, see-saw battle - but the excellence of the twists and turns should still be highlighted. Both starters were dominant early, and both cracked starting in the sixth; the Pirates led 2-0, then the Nats went ahead 4-2... and then both teams blew saves in the ninth, sending it to extras, where Washington finally came out on top. It's one of the ten best outings of 11 or fewer innings so far in 2014, and it easily deserves that designation.

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