WASHINGTON -- During the middle of his nine-pitch at-bat with two outs in the eighth inning, Adam Eaton heard a few random scattered cheers from the crowd of 32,103 fans at Nationals Park. A few miles away at Capital One Arena in D.C., the Washington Capitals had just pulled off
WASHINGTON -- During the middle of his nine-pitch at-bat with two outs in the eighth inning, Adam Eaton heard a few random scattered cheers from the crowd of 32,103 fans at Nationals Park. A few miles away at Capital One Arena in D.C., the Washington Capitals had just pulled off an overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the NHL playoffs, but Eaton was only moments away from giving the home crowd even more reason to cheer.
He ripped a game-tying solo home run into the stands in right field, and then the next batter, Howie Kendrick, followed with a solo homer of his own, launching one into left field to transform a one-run deficit into a 3-2 Nationals victory on Saturday evening at Nationals Park.
“That’s pretty cool,” Eaton said. “First off, congratulations to [the Capitals]. ... Being up 2-0 on Carolina is awesome. Happy for them. I’m glad it kind of trickled down -- what are we, 1 1/2, 2 miles down the road from there? Pretty cool that both of us could pull it off today.”
Eaton and Kendrick’s heroics capped an exhilarating eighth inning at Nationals Park, a frame that had been a nightmare for Washington through the start of this season. A large portion of that blame falls on their bullpen, responsible for majority of the 20 runs the Nationals have surrendered in the penultimate frame. With Trevor Rosenthal struggling to begin the year, the Nats have been scrambling for options to pitch in front of Sean Doolittle.
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Justin Miller had been used in that role lately, but he was placed on the injured list Saturday morning with a lower back strain. So the Nats turned to Wander Suero, the hottest hand in the bullpen with four consecutive scoreless appearances, to pitch the eighth inning. He delivered a 1-2-3 frame to keep the Nationals within a run.
“This is a very strong team that we have here, and we feel like we're always in the game,” Suero said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “My job is just to make sure it stays that way.”
After Suero kept the Nationals close, their offense took care of the rest.
Eaton outlasted right-hander Richard Rodriguez in a nine-pitch at-bat and yanked 3-2 fastball 108.5 mph off the bat and into the seats in right field. On the next pitch, Kendrick followed a homer of his own, rocketing 108.8 mph off the bat into the left-center-field seats and igniting the crowd at Nationals Park.
“To follow [Eaton] up there, I was like, ‘I want to get a pitch I can drive,’” Kendrick said. “Wasn’t necessarily thinking trying to get a homer or anything. It just happened that way.”
After dropping Friday’s opener due to a bullpen meltdown, the Nationals were faced with the prospect of losing the first two games to open this series and needing to win Sunday to avoid a sweep. The eighth inning flipped that for Washington and led to another cabbage-related celebration, the remnants of which were still on the floor inside the Nationals clubhouse postgame.
“If we can keep the game close, with our offense, these guys always feel like we have a chance to win,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Being down one or two runs, they really feel like they have a chance to put some runs up.”
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.