WASHINGTON -- Trea Turner is often faced with a complicated dilemma at the plate. Some in the organization want him to utilize his elite speed and baserunning ability even more, laying down bunts for hits more frequently, or focus on hitting the ball on the ground. And then there’s Turner, who likes to think of himself as a pure hitter, perhaps with 20-plus home run power, and who just happens to be one of the fastest players in baseball.
It’s a quandary that makes games such as Sunday afternoon possible, when Turner went 3-for-5 with three runs scored, a stolen base, four RBIs and a pair of home runs, including a walk-off solo homer in the ninth inning to lead the Nationals to a 6-5 victory. It helped the club avoid being swept by the Mets to open the season, which would have been the first 0-3 hole to start the season for the Nationals since 2009.
Those heroics will help the Nationals head into an off-day Monday feeling much better about the start of the season, even if the opening series proves they have some work to do, especially in the bullpen.
“It feels good. I think it says it perfectly: It doesn't matter how we win, just as long as we do win,” Turner said. “We put ourselves in a tough spot, but we dug ourselves out.”
Washington’s bullpen put the team in a hole by transforming a three-run lead in the eighth inning into a tie game. Lefty specialist Tony Sipp began the inning with a 5-2 lead, but he surrendered singles to both left-handers he faced in Robinson Canó and Michael Conforto. He was relieved by Trevor Rosenthal, pitching in back-to-back games in his first appearances since undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2017. Rosenthal faced one batter, threw one pitch and gave up a run-scoring single to Amed Rosario. His day was complete as manager Dave Martinez gave him the hook, and Rosenthal is still yet to retire a batter in 2019 after facing five.
Martinez then called on his closer, Sean Doolittle, with one out in the eighth inning to attempt a five-out save. But Doolittle also failed to hold the lead, surrendering back-to-back singles to Wilson Ramos and Juan Lagares to tie the game. The aggressive managing by Martinez showed a sense of urgency for the Nationals, who wanted to avoid a sweep.
“I think it’s a combination of knowing we have an off-day tomorrow and having dropped the first two games of the series,” Doolittle said. “We were going all in today. We were pushing our chips into the middle of the table.”
It’s the second straight game this re-tooled Nationals bullpen has surrendered crucial runs late, a day after turning a 4-4 tie heading into the eighth into an 8-4 Mets lead by the end of it. Washington addressed its bullpen early in the winter, seemingly crossing off what has been an annual item on their to-do list, but if the opening weekend is any indication, they still have some questions.
“Yeah, I mean, we’re going to address a couple of things,” Martinez said. “But look, we’ve got a day off tomorrow, and we’re just now getting out of March. But I expect these guys to be ready to go again on Tuesday.”
The bullpen also overshadowed a sharp outing by Patrick Corbin, who made his Nationals debut after signing the largest contract of any free-agent pitcher on the market. Corbin turned in the kind of start expected from an ace trying to halt a losing skid, however brief it might be. Corbin scattered seven hits and a pair of walks across six innings of two-run ball, striking out four to limit the damage.
“I just wanted to go out there and give us a chance to win after those first two games,” Corbin said. “I’m not saying we had to win this, but I just wanted to go out there and do my best.”
And it was Turner who had put Corbin and the Nats in position to win the game in the first place.
With runners on the corners and nobody out to start the third inning, Turner considered whether he should lay down a safety squeeze. He was in a similar situation on Thursday, but he never got a bunt sign and decided to swing away, and Jacob deGrom eventually struck him out. He thought back to that moment again before his at-bat Sunday, even in the absence of a bunt sign once again. Turner decided to swing away, and launched a three-run homer into the biting wind in left field.
“[Turner] said, ‘I thought about bunting for a hit [in the third inning,]’” Martinez said. “I said, ‘Guess what? Your next four at-bats, think about bunting for a hit and keep hitting it the way you’ve been hitting it.’”