Washington D.C., this is what October elation feels like.
The Washington Nationals pulled off an unbelievable eighth-inning comeback to down the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night at Nationals Park. The usually potent Brewers bullpen — specifically their ace reliever Josh Hader — faltered at the worst possible time, as the Nats used a hit by pitch, bloop single and walk to overcome a 3-1 lead.
It was young star Juan Soto, still just 20 years old, who delivered the decisive blow. Final score: Nationals 4, Brewers 3. A date against the Los Angeles Dodgers now awaits in the National League Division Series.
After Michael A. Taylor was hit, Ryan Zimmerman came up as a pinch hitter and looped a single into centerfield. Nats star Anthony Rendon came up with two outs and Hader’s pitch count climbing. Rendon worked a walk, which brought Soto up with the bases loaded and a Nats lead one swing away.
Soto delivered with a single into right field that was misplayed by Trent Grisham, which allowed the Nationals to score three runs and take a lead.
The Nats had seemed to be headed for another October disappointment after ace Max Scherzer gave up three runs in the first two innings — including homers to Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames. Scherzer settled down, but the Nats’ offense had a tough time cracking the Brewers bullpen.
But baseball once again proves there’s nothing a well-timed rally can’t overcome.
WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE
• Stephen Strasburg: There was some question about whether the Nats should have tapped Strasburg to start the game instead of Scherzer. There was a case to be made, but he also gave the Nats the security they needed once Scherzer was out. Strasburg threw three scoreless innings, allowing two hits.
• Ryan Zimmerman: Soto gets the headline credit here, and deservedly so, but a lot of credit should also go to Zimmerman. The Nats legend looked like he was going to pinch hit on a number of occasions, but when he finally got the call, he made the most of it with the single that moved the eighth-inning rally forward.
• Brandon Woodruff: Matched up against Scherzer, Woodruff looked like the better pitcher at the start, so he deserved a honorable mention here. The Brewers weren’t looking for seven innings from him, but he gave them exactly what they wanted — four solid innings, allowing two hits and one run. It was enough to turn it over to Milwaukee’s usually dominant relief corps.
It was all Soto, who delivered easily the biggest moment of his young career. It gave the Nats their first win in a do-or-die playoff game since 1981.
WHAT THEY’LL BE TALKING ABOUT
Can the Nationals now hang with the Dodgers in a short series? Burning Scherzer and Strasburg wasn’t ideal if you’re preparing for a five-game series. The Nats did what they had to do, but it will be interesting to see what happens with their starting pitching in the NLDS. Patrick Corbin is lined up to start Game 1, but what happens in Game 2?
The Nationals now advance to the NLDS, where they’ll face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Game 1 is set for Thursday night in L.A.
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