A Wild Nats Win in a Wild Card Game

In the Nationals recent playoff history they have had trouble advancing past the first round. Winning a wild card game in a one game playoff may not count as advancing, but the Nationals will take any win they can get. They got two clutch hits from two of their clutch players, Juan Soto and Ryan Zimmerman in the 8th inning to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3. Many strange events occurred in that inning, but myworld will detail them below.

Max Scherzer got the start over Stephen Strasburg in this game. That was one of the big questions in D.C., who do you start in a must win wild card game? There was no consensus among the Nat fans. The Brewers chose to start Brandon Woodruff. He started 22 games in 2019. This is his third season and while he has lots of talent, he is not considered an ace in the mold of Scherzer or Strasburg.

The game did not start well for Max. He appeared too amped up, his fastball getting to the plate at 97-99 miles per hour. Normally he is at 95-97. Many may think faster is better, but Max could not find the plate. He walked leadoff hitter Trent Grisham on a 3-2 count. Yasmani Grandal then took his first pitch and sent a line drive into the left field bullpen. Nats fans were stunned.

In the second inning Max got behind the first hitter Eric Thames 1-0. Eric drove the next pitch from Max high into right center and just reaching the bleachers to give the Brewers a 3-0 lead. In his second at bat in the fourth inning Eric would send a high fly to left field that just fell short of being a homerun. Juan Soto lept for the ball at the fence, but it fell behind him and Eric cruised into second with a double. There were a lot of discussions in the stands about starting Strasburg instead.

Max only worked five innings before being pinch hit for Brian Dozier in the bottom of the fifth. Stephen Strasburg came on in relief for the first time since he was the closer his freshman year at San Diego State. He pitched three brilliant shutout innings, dropping his playoff ERA to 0.41. If the game had turned differently there would have been some serious Monday morning quarterbacking about who should have started the first game of the wild card.

Brandon Woodruff pitched well for the Brewers. Myworld did not think he threw as hard as he did, but his fastball was hitting 99-100 miles per hour. He was only supposed to be used as an opener but he pitched so well the Brewers extended him for four innings. Trea Turner tagged him for a solo shot in the third inning, a line drive that found its way into the left field bullpen. He gave up only one other hit in his four innings of work.

The Brewers went with little used Brent Suter and Drew Pomeranz to shut down the Nationals the next three innings. For the eighth Josh Hader was called on to get a two out save. He struck out leadoff hitter Victor Robles. The Nats called back Ryan Zimmerman from the on deck circle and instead went with Michael Taylor. It was the second time Ryan was called back from the on deck circle as a pinch hitter. Myworld questioned the move thinking this was a strikeout waiting to happen.

For the Brewers it was the start of a chaotic eighth inning. On a 3-2 pitch a Hader fastball came inside and hit Taylor. Or did it hit the bat? I did not see where the ball landed after Taylor was hit but the Brewers threw to first and then appealed the ruling saying the ball hit the bat before it hit Taylor. Video replays were not conclusive and the call stood. Trea Turner then struck out and it was two down.

Dave Martinez finally chose to use his ace to bat for Adam Eaton, trying to take advantage of the lefty/righty split. Hader had trouble throwing strikes, running the count to 2-1. Zimmerman was jammed on the next pitch and his bat split as he plunked a pitch into center field. Lorenzo Cain was playing him deep and the ball fell in front of him. Lorenzo was questionable for the start of this game because of a sprained ankle. Was his ankle bothering him as he charged the ball? Andrew Stevenson pinch ran for Zimmerman. The bat died a happy death.

Anthony Rendon worked the count to 3-2 and walked to load the bases. Up strode the young but confident Juan Soto. Hader is a killer against lefthanders. They are hitting just .143 against him. Soto was not deterred. He lined a 1-1 pitch into right field. Pinch runner Stevenson was being waved home. It appeared a close play at the plate was in the future, but the ball skipped past the glove of right fielder Trent Grisham as he tried to charge the ball to make the throw. Now Rendon was being waived home and he scored easily for the go ahead run. Soto was thrown out at third, stopping before he reached the base and being tagged in the run down. Normally Christian Yelich plays right field, but a fractured knee cap ended his season in September. Would he have made the play?

The Nationals went with Daniel Hudson to close out the game. The same Daniel Hudson that had been released by the Los Angeles Angels during spring training this year and traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Nationals for a song. He had also pitched in 40 games for the Dodgers in 2018, but they chose not to resign him. He gave up a one out single to Lorenzo Cain, but retired the next two batters, the last on a deep drive to center by Ben Gamel that Victor Robles caught short of the warning track. The celebrations began, something the Nationals had not done in the post season. Now it’s on to L.A. where the Nationals will face the Dodgers. Daniel Hudson is probably looking forward to it.

Game Notes: On the video board before the game the Nationals had clips of Morgan’s Minute, as Morgan, a young girl interviewed various players and people in the Nationals organization. She did a good job and has a future in the broadcasting industry. Myworld enjoyed the interviews…Aaron Barrett threw out the first pitch for the Nationals. He made his first appearance with the Nationals this year after Tommy John and a fractured elbow took him four years to recover, then had an emotional scene in the dugout weeping over his first appearance since his struggles. Good luck to him next year…There appeared to be a power outage somewhere in the Nationals stadium, with fire alarms going off in the distance and the stadium without sound for a half inning. The racing Presidents ran in silence and then did a dance with no music from the loud speakers…This was Juan Soto’s first playoff appearance. Perhaps his clutch hit will change the narrative of the Nationals performing so poorly during playoff games. He was 0 for 3 with two whiffs before his clutch hit against a tough pitcher…It was an emotional night for the fans in the stands. There was a lot of hugging among strangers and high fives as people were leaving the stadium. In Panama it is tradition that when the home team wins beer is thrown in the air in celebration. Of course, beer in Panama is only $1 per cup while at Nats stadium they charge about $9. There were reports of a lot of beer raining down on the stadium after the win. The 50-50 winner also came home $27,000 richer. Perhaps he or she will buy the next beers after a Nationals victory…The Nationals had gone 8-0 in their last home stand. Losing a home playoff game after that 8-0 finish would have been tough to deal with.

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