WASHINGTON -- There was a message that needed to be delivered, manager Dave Martinez felt.
The Nationals had just blown a one-run lead in the ninth and fallen to the Phillies, 5-2, in ten innings on Wednesday at Nationals Park. It was their seventh loss in 10 games, and the disappointment of dropping another close one was apparent.
“I saw a couple of guys with their heads down, and I don’t want them to do that. I really don’t,” Martinez said. “If the effort wasn’t there, we would have had a whole different meeting. But the effort has been there, and they’re trying really hard. I tell them all the time: Let’s just go out there and have fun. This will turn around. I know it will. We’re too good, and we’re going to be good.”
Every at-bat makes a difference in a one-run game, especially for a team that has been struggling to produce offensively. In their previous six losses, the Nats had scored only 13 runs and batted just .143 with runners in scoring position.
Wednesday’s matchup between National League East rivals turned into a volley of hits and runs, the back and forth adding to the frustration of the end result. The Nationals fell to 13-19 and remain at the bottom of the division standings.
“I think Davey’s message tonight was really good,” starting pitcher Jon Lester said. “Just keep grinding, show up tomorrow and do it again. The chips have to fall on our side eventually. I like the way our guys are playing. I love the way we’re going about it. We’re just on the bad side of it now.”
Lester gave the Nationals a season-high six innings of one-run, six-hit, four-strikeout baseball to keep them within striking distance. He was assisted by longtime teammate Kyle Schwarber, who fired off a rocket to nab a sliding Odúbel Herrera at home plate in the fifth, and set the stage for a sixth-inning comeback. Schwarber’s 91.3-mph rocket from left field to catcher Alex Avila was Washington’s hardest-thrown assist of the season.
“Schwarbs, he once again picks me up,” Lester said. “I still don’t understand why teams run on him.”
Riding that momentum, the Nats climbed back with a two-run rally. Ryan Zimmerman opened the bottom of the sixth with his fourth double of the season. Starlin Castro, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games and went 4-for-5 on the night, plated Zimmerman for the game-tying run with a grounder to center field.
The ballpark erupted minutes later, as Avila sent a fly ball deep into right-center field, where Bryce Harper and Herrera collided on a defensive misplay. Avila recorded his ninth career triple, and Castro scored the go-ahead run.
“One hit here, one hit there and it’s a different game,” Martinez said. “Not only for us, but for them as well.”
Brad Hand looked for redemption in the ninth after earning a loss and blowing a save last weekend at Yankee Stadium. But the closer allowed a solo homer to Herrera to even the score at two apiece, forcing extra innings. After leading all of baseball with 16 saves in 2020, Hand is 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA and three saves out of five opportunities.
"This is the way I look at it -- we’re going to win together and we’re going to lose together,” Martinez noted. “Brad Hand did not lose the game."
In a night that was a seesaw of swings and scoring, the Phillies did their damage with a Rhys Hoskins single off Kyle Finnegan in the 10th. Hoskins drove in Andrew McCutchen, the automatic runner on second, for the go-ahead run. They plated two more to put the game out of reach.
Martinez noted that the Nationals are currently traveling on the bumpy roads he has spoken about so often. His outlook? "We'll get through it."
"This will turn," Martinez said. "And when it turns, it's going to be a lot of fun."