The Nationals staged an epic comeback Tuesday night, opening the seventh inning losing to the Cardinals 6-1 and closing it with an 8-6 lead. It was the largest comeback of the season for the Nationals and featured more than one spectacular battle between the Cardinals pitchers and a Nationals batter.
It gave the Nationals the lead, allowed for Jayson Werth to drive in one more insurance run behind him and put the Nationals in a position to turn to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen for the eighth and ninth innings once again.
And that’s where the other “biggest” inning for the Nationals comes in. The bottom of the ninth with Storen on for the save and the knowledge that — if anyone gets on — Albert Pujols would be striding to the plate. Which is exactly what happened after Ryan Theriot walked. Two outs, one on, two-run game: Pujols vs. Storen.
(Which, by the way, is the same matchup that got Storen his first career blown save)
That wasn’t going to happen this time, even with Lance Berkman coming up behind him.
“I kind of made up my mind as we were coming back into the game that, regardless of the situation, I wasn’t going to let him beat us,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman of the Cardinals’ feared slugger.
“It doesn’t necessarilly work — Berkman’s a great player, he’s a great hitter, but we were going to play so deep on him that a double was not going to score Pujols unless it was just freakish. It was going to allow us to get the ball back into the infield if he hit as much as a double so that Pujols wouldn’t score and that was the plan.
“Pujols is that guy, you know. It’s what you had to do with Bonds years ago. Albert’s done it to us, he’s done it to other clubs and I just wouldn’t have slept good at night if he homered there. I know Drew wanted to pitch to him but I just didn’t want that to happen.”
Storen smiled when asked about the decision. “As a competitor,” he said, “of course you want to face one of the best hitters ever. But obviously it’s a smart baseball decision. He can make you pay for a mistake right there.”
Berkman, who then came to the plate as the winning run, lined a bouncer back to Storen which he threw to first for the game’s final out and Storen’s 16th save of the season.
“There’s always one, two guys on the other team that you’re going to say: ‘I’m not going to let that person beat me,’ or ‘I’m not going to let that person have a chance to do something to drastically affect the game. Obviously, that’s Pujols. It’s tough with their lineup, because they’ve got a guy behind him that’s been swinging the bat as well as anyone. And usually when (Matt) Holliday’s in there, you have another guy. They have a really deep lineup, they can hit the ball. But Drew’s been great this year, and we have all the confidence in the world in him.”
– Rick Ankiel strained his left intercostal muscle on the first play of the game Tuesday night, running to catch Ryan Theriot’s fly ball in center field. He stayed in to play the first and second innings in the field but was replaced with a pinch hitter in Roger Bernadina before his first at-bat in the third.
Ankiel said Tuesday night that he was all right and didn’t expect the injury to hamper him significantly but Riggleman said he would not play in Wednesday’s game. Intercostal strains can be difficult to come back from. Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz missed two months earlier this season with the same injury, though I’d imagine it’s more difficult for a pitcher to cope with, and Zimmerman missed the final 10 games of the 2010 season with one as well.
He’s listed as day-to-day currently.
– The Nationals will have a decision on their hands soon about what to do with Yunesky Maya. Tom Gorzelanny pronounced himself healthy enough to return to the rotation when his next turn comes up but Riggleman said that his return date had not yet been decided on.
If Gorzelanny and Maya is a one-for-one swap, Maya would simply go back to Triple-A and side from one start in San Francisco, he hasn’t done much to warrant remaining on the roster as a starting pitcher to this point. Last night the Nationals won almost in spite of him, after he allowed six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings last night.
His next turn comes up on Sunday so the Nationals will make a decision at some point this week who will be that starter.