Taylor sends Nats to walk-off win with arm, bat

Center fielder hits game-winner in 9th, throws out runner in 6th

May 23rd, 2018

WASHINGTON -- He stood at second base with his back toward the plate, a blank expression on his face as he awaited the pummeling coming from his teammates in celebration of his game-winning hit. It was in part a sigh of relief for Michael A. Taylor, who swatted a double off the wall in center field, allowing Juan Soto to score the game-winning run in the ninth for a 2-1 walk-off victory over the Padres on Tuesday night.

"Like a weight was being lifted off," Taylor said. "It's been a rough stretch for me. I took a deep breath. I've been waiting to have something turn for me."

Washington has won the first two games of this series at Nationals Park and will try to complete a three-game sweep on Wednesday. And no batter in the Nationals' lineup could have used the positive momentum from this walk-off hit more than Taylor.

Taylor has scuffled at the plate, posting a slash line of .190/.254/.319 this season. That made his all-around standout night that much sweeter, culminating with an eight pitch at-bat against left-hander in the ninth. Combined with an outfield assist in the sixth inning to throw out a runner at the plate, and this was the kind of game that could reverse Taylor out of his slump.

"It was huge," manager Dave Martinez said. "Not just for Michael, but for our team. So happy for him. He's been working diligently to get his swing right. And the last two days, he's swinging really well. Before that, the throw he made home, incredible. This was Michael's day. Proud of him."

The game was tied at 1 leading up to that point, with the Nationals getting on the board in the fifth inning thanks to 's National League-best 15th home run of the season, hammered to straightaway center field. It was Harper's second consecutive game with a home run.

The Nats also enjoyed another strong outing from right-hander , who tossed 5 1/3 innings until a blister issue on his right hand forced him to exit the start prematurely. He gave up just one run -- a solo homer to in the fourth -- on five hits with five strikeouts.

Bridging the gap between the starters and the back end of the bullpen has been an issue for the Nationals, especially considering right-hander is on the DL with a strained pectoral muscle. But they turned to right-hander on Tuesday, and he recorded five huge outs to keep the game tied and turn it over to and , who tossed a scoreless eighth and ninth, respectively.

That set the stage for Taylor, who collected his second career walk-off hit. His focus, he said, was on not chasing pitches out of the strike zone and trying to wait for something worthwhile to hit. And even as he launched his double 409 feet into center field, he was not sure it would fall to the ground until it did, when finally he could exhale.

"It's awesome to see," Hellickson said. "He works hard. That throw from center is pretty impressive. You save a run in the field and hit the game-winner, can't get a better game than that."

Hellickson snares liner with effortless grab

SOUND SMART

Soto reached base in all four plate appearances during his second career start, going 1-for-1 with three walks. A day after he hit his first career home run, the Padres mostly avoided pitching to him, and they did not tempt the 19-year-old to chase out of the strike zone.

"Not much, because I know the strike zone, and the umpires are better here," he said. "So I take advantage of that. I know they don't want to throw me a pitch to hit too hard. Maybe just be patient and see my pitch."

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY

Taylor -- who was a pitcher for a bit in high school and said his velocity topped out at 94 mph -- uncorked a throw much harder than that in the sixth inning. tried to score from second base on a single from , but Taylor unleashed a rocket from center field, measured at 98.8 mph by Statcast™, right to catcher , who applied the tag. The initial call on the field ruled Pirela safe at the plate, but the Nationals challenged.

"I got excited when I saw Seve's reaction," Taylor said. "As soon as he made that tag, he was laying down, telling him we got him. I believed him."

The call on the field was overturned and Pirela was ruled out, keeping the game tied and showing off another aspect of Taylor's game.

"He knew what he had to do," Martinez said. "He knew it was a big moment. He came, gathered himself, went through the ball and made a perfect throw. ... For a second there I thought, 'Well, if we need someone to pitch, it might be Michael.'"

UP NEXT

The Nationals and Padres will meet at 4:05 p.m. ET for Wednesday's series finale at Nationals Park. Washington has yet to reveal its starter, although right-hander , the team's top pitching prospect, would be on schedule if he is promoted from Triple-A Syracuse. will take the mound for San Diego.