- - Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Washington bullpen had stabilized of late, not allowing a homer over a span of 14 games since June 23.

But with closer Sean Doolittle unavailable, fellow lefty Matt Grace came on in the last of the ninth and gave up a solo, walk-off homer to Maikel Franco with one out, giving the Philadelphia Phillies a 4-3 win over the Nationals here Sunday.

“Obviously he is looking to launch in that situation in a tie game,” a downcast Grace said of Franco, who hit the ball 422 feet to left. “You have to make a better pitch in that situation. I wanted to stay on the attack.”

Doolittle, the lefty closer, had pitched the previous two nights as the Nationals took the initial two games of the series.

Washington reliever Tanner Rainey struck out all three batters he faced in the seventh and Wander Suero got three outs on just eight pitches in the eighth.

But Grace allowed the first homer by the Washington bullpen in more than 38 innings. During the Nationals’ shutdown streak, the other 29 bullpens in the majors yielded 243 homers in this record-setting long ball campaign.

“I like Matt in that spot right there,” manager Dave Martinez said of Grace in the ninth. “He tried to get the ball in; it just ran in over the plate” against Franco.

The second-place Nationals (49-43) had won the previous five games against the Phillies.

Despite the loss, Washington is 30-12 since May 24 for the best mark in the majors. The Nationals began the day six games back of first-place Atlanta, which played at San Diego.

“Hopefully we can win 30 out of the next 40,” Nationals shortstop Trea Turner said. “We gave ourselves a chance to sweep these guys. That is all you can ask for.”

Washington starter Anibal Sanchez allowed three runs in six innings but did not figure in the decision. He has not lost since May 10.

“A tough series but a good series,” Sanchez said.

Trailing 3-1, the Nationals scored two runs in the seventh and they have now played 22 games in a row in which they were tied or leading in the seventh inning or later.

Pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick and Turner had RBI singles with one out off reliever JD Hammer to tie the game 3-3. But the Nationals left two runners on base as Kendrick was retired at home on a fielder’s choice and Anthony Rendon popped out to end the threat.

The Phillies assumed a 2-1 lead in the fifth as Jean Segura had an RBI single.

Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto, who came off the paternity list Saturday, hit a solo homer off Sanchez for a 3-1 lead in the sixth.

Rendon led off the top of the fourth with a double, went to third on a groundout and scored on an RBI single by Matt Adams to make it 1-0.

The third-place Phillies (48-45) tied the game in the bottom of the fourth as Jean Segura also had a leadoff double and scored on a single by Realmuto.

The Nationals beat the Phillies 4-0 on Friday then won 4-3 on Saturday night as Juan Soto hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth off Phillies closer Hector Neris with two outs. It was the third go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later in the young career of Soto — all against the Phillies.

“I can’t say enough … being 20 years old and doing the things he does,” Martinez said of Soto. “I am just glad he is on our team.”

Grace tried to look on the bright side after Franco hit his 15th homer of the year.

“A series win; we are rolling and we are going to keep going,” said Grace, who is 0-2 with 6.09 ERA.

The Nationals are off Monday, with Austin Voth (0-0, 5.52) slated to pitch Tuesday at last-place Baltimore. He takes the spot of ace Max Scherzer, who went on the Injured List Saturday with a midback strain.

“Go to Baltimore and try to win that first game,” Martinez said before the bus ride down Interstate 95.



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