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Down 6 in 9th, Nats pull off 'the craziest' walk-off

@JamalCollier
September 4, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The ball had barely been launched into the air, but Kurt Suzuki knew it right off the bat. He immediately turned and pointed toward his dugout, where his teammates had already begun jumping up and down, spilling out onto the field and erupting with joy. When Suzuki’s walk-off,

WASHINGTON -- The ball had barely been launched into the air, but Kurt Suzuki knew it right off the bat. He immediately turned and pointed toward his dugout, where his teammates had already begun jumping up and down, spilling out onto the field and erupting with joy.

When Suzuki’s walk-off, three-run homer off Edwin Diaz landed in the left-field seats, it completed the largest ninth-inning comeback win in franchise history, an improbable victory after the Nationals trailed by six runs entering the frame. Washington rattled off seven hits and seven runs in the final frame to pull off a stunning 11-10 victory over New York on Tuesday night, storming all the way back to seal one of the wildest finishes in club history.

Box score

“Boom,” manager Dave Martinez said to begin his postgame press conference as a group of fans sitting in the club seats behind home plate cheered. “What do you want me to say? Boom.”

Or take it from first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has played in more games than any player in Nats history: “The craziest. I don’t know if it’s a record or not, but it’s got to be pretty close. It’s been a crazy year. That’s the only way to kind of sum it up, for me, for the team, for everybody.”

These Nationals are starting to make a habit out of overcoming adversity, whether it’s rebounding from a slow start to the season or erasing countless bullpen meltdowns. And yet, nothing compared to what they pulled off Tuesday night.

They won this game after giving up five runs during a disastrous top of the ninth, which included a mental lapse from shortstop Trea Turner, who failed to turn an easy double play because he forgot there was only one out. Even Max Scherzer, who started the game and gave up four runs in six innings, admitted he had stopped watching the ninth inning from the video room after his start. And who could blame him? Teams leading by six runs or more entering the bottom of the ninth had been 274-0 this season.

“Let’s be honest, I don’t think we thought it was going to happen either,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of us have been around baseball for a long time. Once it starts going, the pressure shifts obviously squarely on their shoulders. Stuff like that is not supposed to happen. It’s a crazy sport. Crazy things happen.”

But in the dugout at the start of the ninth inning, Martinez never panicked. In fact, he was so calm before the inning began that second baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera wondered what was up. Stay positive, the sometimes overly-optimistic Martinez reminded him. And then the hits began.

“I think that's when I started believing we can come back,” Cabrera said.

Victor Robles started the inning with a single against Paul Sewald. After Howie Kendrick flied out to right field, Turner began to atone for his mistake with a run-scoring double. Cabrera and Anthony Rendon collected back-to-back singles, which knocked Sewald out of the game. He was replaced by lefty Luis Avilan, who didn’t fare much better. Juan Soto singled through the right side of the infield, ending Avilan’s night and loading the bases. Then came Diaz, who surrendered a two-run double to Zimmerman, which set up Suzuki for one of the biggest hits of this Nationals season.

“With the at-bats everybody was putting on in that inning, I didn’t want to be the guy to kill the rally,” Suzuki said. “I wanted to come through just like everybody else. I think hitting is contagious, and when you see these guys putting up quality at-bats when you’re down by six runs, it makes you want to go up there and keep the line moving.”

“When I came in here, I didn’t really know what just happened,” Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo said. “It kind of just seemed like a bad dream. That’s hard to do even in a Little League game I feel like, to come back from seven runs down in the bottom of the ninth against guys throwing 99 miles an hour. I don’t really have words for that.”

Suzuki ripped his helmet off and threw his hands up into the sky as he rounded third and headed toward his teammates, who were waiting to dogpile him at home plate. It was his third career walk-off home run and his first since 2008. After he emerged from the mob, one of the first people he found was Turner, and they shared a huge embrace behind the plate.

“I’ve been in that spot, and you feel like you’re on an island by yourself,” Suzuki said. “It’s horrible. Trea’s one of the best players in the game. Things like that happen, and that’s what teammates are for, to pick each other up and move forward.”

The Nationals created T-shirts early in the season with the phrase “Stay in the Fight” written on the front, their reminder to play out each game, inning and season until the final outs have been recorded. On one hand, the sentiment is cliche. Every team tells itself to keep fighting until the end, but few do it as relentlessly as Washington, which never seems to get the memo to throw in the towel.

“The boys are still in there jacked up,” Martinez said. “I had to remind them we've got a day game tomorrow. Go home.”

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.