- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2019

Trea Turner thought he was in the clear, jumping out of the way of a congratulatory Gatorade bath. But teammates circled back, emptying the ice-cold contents of a cooler down the Nationals shortstop’s back.

“It was way too cold,” Turner said. “As you guys know, I’m a baby when it comes to cold.”

But there was no way the Nationals were going to let the 25-year-old’s heroics go unrewarded on Sunday — Turner finished with two home runs, including a walk-off in the ninth to lead Washington its first victory of the year, 6-5 over the New York Mets.

Washington blew a 5-2 lead in the eighth when relievers Tony Sipp, Trevor Rosenthal and Sean Doolittle all gave up hits that allowed the Mets to tie the game.

Turner’s homer saved the Nationals (1-2) from a three-game sweep ahead of Tuesday’s return to Washington of Bryce Harper, making his first trip to Nationals Park as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

“It wasn’t the (way) we scripted it, but we’ll take (it),” manager Dave Martinez said.

Turner is off to a strong start in the young season. Through three games, he has already stolen four bases — three on opening day — and he’s hitting .385. On Sunday, he went 2-of-5.

The Nationals toyed with the idea of Turner, who led the National League with 43 stolen bases last year, as their lead-off man to start the season, but ultimately decided he should bat second behind Adam Eaton.

That decision proved to be useful as Turner played a major role in providing run support for starter Patrick Corbin, the team’s prized free agent signing who signed a six-year, $140 million contract in December.

In the third inning, Turner bombed a three-run homer 480 feet deep to left field. He was set up by Victor Robles and Adam Eaton, both of whom quickly got on base against Mets starter Zack Wheeler.

Turner’s blast put the Nationals up 3-1 — giving them their first lead of the season.

The cushion was enough for Corbin. The 29-year-old lefty was far from dominant but made a solid debut.

In six innings, he allowed seven hits, walked two and give up two runs. Corbin, who had a career-best 3.15 ERA last season, used his slider to get Washington out of jams. Though he was often behind the count, he still struck out four batters.

The Nationals aggressively pursued Corbin this offseason because they were determined to upgrade their starting pitching. Last year, Washington’s starting rotation outside ace Max Scherzer was inconsistent while dealing with injuries and subpar outings. As a group, the Nationals’ starters finished 13th in ERA, down from fourth in 2017. Last week, Scherzer called starting pitching the “backbone” to any team and said Corbin could help them.

“My slider felt good today,” Corbin said. “I tried to get ahead of these guys. They’ve been pretty aggressive, some of their hitters. Just tried to make quality pitches. I thought when I did get into a couple jams, I was able to make pitches.”

Washington’s bullpen remains much more of a concern. Washington has now allowed eight runs in the eighth inning alone this year, and the group seemed depleted, despite a day off on Friday and Sunday’s game being just the third of the season.

Martinez elected to use Rosenthal again in the eighth despite saying throughout spring training his preference was to avoid using the 28-year-old veteran in back-to-back outings, given Rosenthal is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He walked back those comments before the game, telling reporters Rosenthal told him he felt good enough to pitch for the second consecutive day.

But Rosenthal, who gave up four runs on Saturday, was pulled after just one pitch giving up an RBI single.

Doolittle wasn’t much better. He got the first out, then gave up back-to-back singles for the Mets to tie the game.

“We were going all-in today,” Doolittle said. “We were pushing our chips into the middle of the table. … We feel like we have the weapons to do that. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out.”

Turner, though, bailed his teammates out. Facing a 3-2 count, Turner sent reliever Justin Wilson’s four-seam fastball 380 feet into the leftfield stands.

By the time Turner rounded for home, his teammates were waiting for him at the plate — all ready to celebrate.

“I think it says it perfectly: It doesn’t matter how we win, just as long as we do win,” Turner said. “We put ourselves in a tough spot, but we dug ourselves out.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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