Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Game of the Day (8/18/14)

Nationals 5, Diamondbacks 4 (11). Arizona's Vidal Nuno, who has thrown less than 150 innings in his major league career, took on Washington's Jordan Zimmermann, who has thrown 150 or more in each of the last four years (including this one), with an ERA+ of 116 or better each time.

Zimmermann and Nuno both faced the minimum in the first despite allowing leadoff walks - Zimmermann removed Ender Inciarte on a double play, while Denard Span was caught stealing. Both starters were perfect in the second, and both worked around singles in the third; Didi Gregorious was erased when Nuno bunted into a double play, while Asdrubal Cabrera was merely forced out on Zimmermann's bunt, and Span grounded out to strand his pitcher. Zimmermann was spotless again in the fourth, while Nuno permitted only a Jayson Werth single.

The Diamondbacks opened the scoring in the top of the fifth on a walk by Mark Trumbo, a single by Miguel Montero, a Jordan Pacheco sacrifice bunt and a Jake Lamb sacrifice fly. Nuno gave up a Wilson Ramos single in the bottom of the inning, but nothing else, and both starters were flawless once more in the sixth. Zimmermann then worked around a Montero single in the top of the seventh.

Washington finally joined in on the scoring in the bottom of the seventh when Ian Desmond walked and Ramos homered, putting them in front 2-1. The Diamondbacks responded in kind, as Lamb drew a walk to start the eighth and Gregorious homered to retake the lead and chase Zimmermann. Matt Thornton recorded the next three outs in routine fashion.

The Nationals faced Brad Ziegler in the bottom of the eighth and rallied once more. Span doubled with one out, and Anthony Rendon followed with a game-tying triple, then scored the go-ahead run on Werth's sacrifice fly. Tyler Clippard relieved in the top of the ninth and was greeted by a game-tying homer from Daniel Peralta; he also allowed a Montero single, but stranded the runner to keep the tie in place. Oliver Perez finally calmed the madness, recording a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth and sending the game to extras after a stretch of three lead changes and a game-tying rally in four half innings.

Drew Storen allowed a double and steal to Inciarte in the top of the tenth, but left him at third. Matt Stites responded with a perfect bottom of the inning. In the top of the eleventh, Craig Stammen allowed a Trumbo single, walked Montero, and gave up a hit to Pacheco to load the bases with nobody out. He recovered nicely, however, striking out Lamb and Gregorious, then inducing a groundout from pinch hitter Cliff Pennington to end the inning. Will Harris quickly notched the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, but Adam LaRoche them homered on a 3-1 pitch to end the game.

This was... a good game, if you're into understatement.  It had two obvious phases. The first was the pitcher's duel between a borderline ace and a borderline major leaguer, during which the Diamondbacks held a surprising advantage. And the second was the absurd win expectancy yo-yo that began bobbing up and down in the bottom of the seventh as the teams exchanged the lead in three consecutive half-innings, then went to extras, in which Arizona got the go-ahead run to third twice (once with nobody out) and failed to score it before Washington finally ended things. It had something for everyone - excellent pitching, key home runs, rallies that came through, rallies that failed. And every single run that was scored either tied the game or broke a tie.

That is a highly effective way to produce an excellent game of baseball.

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