Thursday, September 4, 2014

Game of the Day (9/3/14)

Nationals 8, Dodgers 5 (14). Well, yeah. Washington ace Jordan Zimmermann faced LA's Carlos Frias, who was making his first major league start. Not exactly what you'd anticipate to be an even pitching matchup.

Frias worked around a walk in the first, while Zimmermann retired the Dodgers in order. Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore singled and were stranded in the second, and the same happened to Justin Turner in the bottom of the inning. Jayson Werth singled in the top of the third, and nobody else reached for either team until Joc Pederson walked in the bottom of the fifth; like every other runner so far in the game, Pederson was left on.

Frias worked a spotless sixth and was then pulled for pinch hitter Darwin Barney, who led off the bottom of the inning with a walk. Dee Gordon lined into a double play, defusing the rally in advance of Yasiel Puig's single. JP Howell worked around an Asdrubal Cabrera single in the top of the seventh; Zimmermann recorded the first out in the bottom of the inning, but then allowed a double to Carl Crawford and a two-run homer to Turner to put the Dodgers on the board. Matt Thornton relieved and finished the inning with no further damage.

Washington got walks from Denard Span and Werth in the eighth, but Ian Desmond lined out to strand them both. Gordon singled in the bottom of the inning, but was caught stealing. In the ninth, Kenley Jansen (who had entered to record the last out of the prior inning) allowed a leadoff single to Harper. Adam LaRoche was summoned to hit for Moore - and swatted a game-tying two-run homer. One out later, Jose Lobaton singled, and pinch runner Danny Espinosa stole second, then took third on a groundout. Span then singled Espinosa home with the go-ahead run.

Rafael Soriano relieved in the bottom of the ninth and sandwiched the first two outs around an Andre Ethier walk. Turner then flied to deep right - and Werth dropped the ball, allowing Ethier to scamper around from first with the tying run. Pederson struck out to send the game to extras. Pedro Baez was perfect in the top of the tenth; Craig Stammen did not match him, allowing a one-out AJ Ellis walk followed by singles to Gordon and Puig that loaded the bases. Xavier Cedeno struck out Adrian Gonzalez, and Aaron Barrett struck out Juan Uribe to end the threat.

Jamey Wright hit LaRoche with a pitch to open the eleventh. A sac bunt, a walk, and a groundout later, the go-ahead runs were in scoring position with two outs, but Span grounded to first to leave them there. Crawford and Turner greeted Jerry Blevins with singles in the bottom of the inning, and Pederson bunted them to second and third; Matt Kemp was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Drew Butera popped up and Gordon struck out to strand all three men.

Brandon League took the mound in the twelfth, and opened the inning by walking Anthony Rendon and allowing a Werth single. One out later, Harper singled as well, loading the bases, and LaRoche followed with a go-ahead two-run single.  League retired the next two hitters, and Tyler Clippard worked through the first two Dodgers in the bottom of the inning with no trouble. Juan Uribe then singled - and Crawford homered to tie the game at 4.

Kevin Correia retired the Nats in order in the top of the thirteenth; Blake Trienen allowed a leadoff hit to Pederson and saw him move to third on an errant pickoff throw and a groundout before Gordon failed to reach safely on a bunt, ending the inning with the winning run 90 feet away. That sent the game to a fourteenth inning, in which Desmond reached on a one-out Turner error. Harper walked, and a wild pitch moved Desmond to third; LaRoche then hit into a force that brought Desmond home with the go-ahead run, and Cabrera padded the lead with a two-run homer. Treinen worked around a Gonzalez single in the bottom of the inning to bring the game to a close.

So... that was a good game. Let's start with the individuals. Adam LaRoche tied an obscure major league record - most RBI in a game that the player enters in the ninth inning or later. The five runs he drove in were exquisitely timed - a game-tying two-run homer in the ninth (the second pinch homer of his career), a go-ahead two-run single in the twelfth, and a go-ahead RBI forceout in the fourteenth. Throw in a leadoff HBP in the eleventh, and LaRoche put up a rather astounding +.817 WPA, easily the best of his career to date.

And yet, LaRoche didn't even have the highest WPA in this game. Justin Turner didn't set any records - but he did have a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh, hit into a game-tying error with two outs and a runner on first in the ninth, and single to put the winning run in scoring position with nobody out in the eleventh. Those events add up to a +.851 WPA, which is his career high by a much wider margin than LaRoche's (and remains so even if you penalize him for his key error in the fourteenth).

Any game that establishes multiple WPA career highs (there were technically three among the hitters, but mostly because Joc Pederson's +.056 came in the third game of his career) is likely to be a great one, and this is no exception. The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead into the ninth, and both teams proceeded to blow leads in the final regulation inning. LA loaded the bases with one out in both the tenth and eleventh innings, failing to score each time. Washington took a two-run lead in the twelfth, and the Dodgers rallied to tie, then left the winning run at third again in the thirteenth before the Nats finally put it away an inning later.

Fourteen innings, three last-chance rallies and two golden extra-inning opportunities wasted (plus at least a copper one, as the Nats had two on and one out in the eleventh and didn't capitalize). That adds up to a striking WPL of 7.94, the sixth-highest of the year to date - and that's without any bonus for the game featuring the NL's two best teams. Anyone else up for a rematch in the NLCS?

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