Nats' late rally for naught after Finnegan's rare stumble

May 19th, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- Right-hander entered Saturday’s game tied for most saves among all Major League relievers. So when the opportunity for his 14th save resulted in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Phillies, manager Dave Martinez did not put the onus solely on the closer.

“As good as Finn has been, I’m not going to fault him for today,” Martinez said. “He’s been outstanding.”

Washington had been 14-0 when leading after six innings. But when MacKenzie Gore (6 1/3 innings, two runs, three hits, three walks, three strikeouts) allowed a game-tying solo home run to Bryson Stott and evened the score at two apiece in the seventh, the division matchup became a back-and-forth battle.

A flurry of in-game substitutions in the ninth inning allowed the Nats to take a late-game lead and set the stage for Finnegan.

Riley Adams lined a one-out single into center field off right-hander Orion Kerkering. Joey Gallo was hit by a pitch, and the speedy Nasim Nuñez pinch-ran for Adams.

Eddie Rosario was tabbed to pinch-hit for Victor Robles, and he hustled down the first-base line at a sprint speed of 29.2 feet per second to advance Nuñez to third on a fielder’s choice (the call stood after an official review). Jesse Winker then drove in Nuñez for the go-ahead run on a ground ball to center.

“Him beating out that double play, that was outstanding,” Martinez said of Rosario. “He was flying. We scored a big run because of that. I love the effort.”

Dylan Floro, Robert Garcia and Hunter Harvey had held the Phillies scoreless out of the bullpen. Finnegan got two quick outs on four pitches against Stott and Nick Castellanos to begin the ninth. The "W" was within reach.

Lefty hitter Kody Clemens, who replaced Edmundo Sosa in the seventh inning, came up to the plate with two home runs on the season. Finnegan, meanwhile, had not allowed a home run since he gave up two on March 31 at the Reds. But a mislocated 98.2 mph fastball resulted in a game-tying, Statcast-projected 413-foot home run. The 106.6 mph dinger was the hardest-hit one of Clemens’ career.

“I was trying to go up in the zone; it didn’t get there,” Finnegan said. “I pulled it down into the zone, and that’s what he hits. He put a great swing on it. There’s not much more to it. I made a mistake, and he capitalized.”

After Washington didn’t score in the top of the 10th inning, Finnegan returned to the mound for the bottom of the frame, when he faced the top of the order with automatic runner Johan Rojas on second base. The Nationals intentionally walked Kyle Schwarber, and Finnegan induced a J.T. Realmuto flyout to center field on which Rojas tagged up and advanced to third.

That brought Bryce Harper to the plate with runners on the corners. In a 1-2 count with Alec Bohm on deck, Harper lifted a sacrifice fly to center as Rojas scored the game-winning run. Martinez opted not to walk Harper because of the favorable count and the fact that Bohm has a team-leading 37 RBIs this season.

“We have all the confidence in the world in every guy's ability in this clubhouse,” said Harper. “We just do a very good job of playing all 27 [outs], because anything can happen at any given time."

While Finnegan was assessed the loss, Martinez noted the missed opportunities earlier in the game. The Nats were 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position, including to end the eighth, ninth and 10th innings. They also left seven runners on base.

“We’ve got to capitalize early and don’t make it so close,” Martinez said, later adding, “When we get a guy in scoring position, just work good at-bats. We talk all the time about using the big part of the field. When we do that, we’re really good. We’ve got to get back to that as a group, as a whole.”

The Nationals are looking to avoid a series sweep on Sunday. Finnegan, whose stretch of 12 scoreless appearances ended, is hoping to play a role in that.

“It’s just upsetting that I wasn’t able to get those last three outs,” Finnegan said. “We played a great game, we deserved to win. It’s my job to go in there and just continue what we had already accomplished and get three outs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that tonight. It hurts that we had a chance to take the middle game here and a chance to win the series tomorrow, so I’m motivated to get back out there as soon as possible.”