Finnegan's mistake spoils rally: 'We had our best guy out there'

After Washington ties game in eighth, reliever allows decisive grand slam to Milwaukee

September 17th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- The Nationals were finally in the position they had been battling back for all night. 

After overcoming three runs from Milwaukee in the first inning and starter Trevor Williams’ exit after the second, Washington had evened the score at five apiece in the eighth inning to contend for its 30th comeback win of the season. 

On their fifth pitching change of the night, the Nats were able to call on in the eighth inning for, they hoped, two innings to close out a ‘W.’ 

“It shows character to do what we did today,” manager Dave Martinez said after the Nationals’ 9-5 loss to the Brewers on Saturday night at American Family Field. “… It stinks when you’ve got that feeling like, ‘We might come back and win.’ We had our best guy out there, and they beat us.”

Making his first appearance since Sept. 9, Finnegan came into the game with one out in the eighth inning in relief of Jose A. Ferrer. He allowed a double to Tyrone Taylor followed by an infield single to Sal Frelick. Finnegan got William Contreras to ground out for the second out, but a six-pitch walk to Carlos Santana loaded the bases.

The Nationals made a mound visit to strategize the approach against Mark Canha, a familiar face whom they had seen often over the past two seasons as a member of the Mets.

Finnegan went with his splitter. It landed right down the middle.

Canha rocketed a go-ahead grand slam a Statcast-projected 411 feet out to left field at 107.3 mph as the celebration lights flashed and the crowd erupted.

“I just didn’t execute the pitch,” Finnegan said. “My stuff was coming out pretty good today and had a little cut on it, which I should have recognized earlier. I threw a couple splitters before that that kind of cut back to the left. 

“After the mound visit, we thought that my matchup against him was a good splitter down and in, and I just didn’t execute it. It hung up, went over the plate. He put a really good swing on it and hit it out of the park.”

Finnegan had not allowed a home run since Aug. 20, against the Phillies. The grand slam was the second surrendered of his career, the first coming off the bat of Freddie Freeman on Sept. 6, 2020.

“I told myself to just let it rip,” said Canha, who hit .403 in 16 games against the Nats last season. “Sometimes when you tell yourself you’re going to swing hard, it doesn’t work out. I just connected with that one, and it felt good. You don’t do that very often.”

Finnegan entered the game ranked seventh among National League relievers with a career-best 25 saves. He also is the only reliever in the Majors this season with at least 25 saves and eight holds.

“That was a shame, because he was throwing 100 mph today, to lose like that,” said Martinez. “But the split’s been good, it has been good. At that point, he knows what he wants to do. He just didn’t get the ball down.”

Finnegan will learn from, but not dwell on, the loss. He and Martinez hope the Nats are in the position for him to take the mound for a save attempt in the series finale on Sunday.

“He’s got electric stuff, and he’s been pitching really well,” Martinez said. “He’s the backbone of that bullpen over there. We had our best guy out there, no doubt about it. Hopefully, we’ll have the lead tomorrow and put him back in there in the ninth and go from there.”