Diamondbacks Walk It Off — Literally — against Nationals

Christian Walker scores the winning run for the Diamondbacks against the Nationals as Alek Thomas leaps in jubilation.
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Diamondbacks 8, Nationals 7

PHOENIX, May 6 — Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went 4-for-5 with the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth, an RBI, and two runs scored, and Pavin Smith drew the game-winning bases-loaded walk in the same frame to save the game for the Arizona Diamondbacks, 8–7, over the Washington Nationals Saturday night.

This came in a messy final three half-innings where the teams combined for ten runs, including five in the top of the ninth by the Nationals. Both closers appeared in the game, combining to record one out — and that out came on a play where the offensive team did it on purpose. The final four plate appearances of the game were unofficial at-bats — a walk, a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk, and the game-winning walk. And the two teams combined for three homers in the ninth inning.

“We didn’t come close to drawing it up like that,” a relieved but energized Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo exhaled after the game. “This game is awesome. It teaches you lessons every single day. Every single pitch, every single inning.” He abruptly shifted gears, saying, “We won the game. I’m very pleased with that.”

Diamondbacks Score First, Nationals Respond

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The Diamondbacks got on the board first. It came when third baseman Emmanuel Rivera lined a one-out homer to left in the bottom of the first. The Nationals snatched the lead away in the top of the fourth. With one out, second baseman Luis Garcia notched his team’s first hit of the evening with a single to center. He advanced to second when designated hitter Joey Meneses also singled to center. Catcher Keibert Ruiz drove both in with a double to the left-field corner, a high bounce off the fence giving Meneses time to score. Ruiz advanced to third on a follow-up single by left fielder and former Diamondback Stone Garrett, who subsequently stole second. With a drawn-in infield, first baseman Dominic Smith hit a grounder directly to second, holding the runners. Alex Call, pinch-hitting for center fielder Victor Robles, struck out looking, retiring the side.

Henry got into another jam in the fifth. A fly to right by third baseman Michael Chavis and liner to right by right fielder Lane Thomas sandwiched an infield single by shortstop and former Diamondback Ildemaro Vargas. Garcia dumped a single to shallow center. Vargas rounded second and headed for third. The late throw to third allowed Garcia to advance to second. Up came Meneses with runners on second and third, but his grounder back to the mound stranded the runners with the Nationals leading, 2–1.

“I thought Tommy threw the ball very well,” Lovullo said. “Six innings, quality start. At times, he looked like he got in a really good rhythm, looked like he’d come out of it. He was able to take a deep breath, regulate, and start to make pitches again.”

Diamondbacks Mount Rally

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Left fielder Gurriel and first baseman Christian Walker led off the bottom of the sixth with consecutive singles to right. Walker’s was a flare that landed inches fair in the Bermuda Triangle behind first, allowing Gurriel to reach third. This was key during the next at-bat. On the fifth pitch to third baseman Evan Longoria, a ball in the dirt trickled to the right of Ruiz. Gurriel bolted for home, diving in inches ahead of the tag from Gore. With the game now tied, Longoria ultimately walked. Right fielder Dominic Fletcher bunted the runners over. Gore got out of it with the game still tied, whiffing shortstop Nick Ahmed and catcher Gabriel Moreno to end the inning.

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Both Henry and Gore exited after the sixth, and both put in quality starts. Diamondbacks reliever Jose Ruiz pitched a 1–2–3 top of the seventh. Nationals reliever Carl Edwards Jr. did not fare as well, coughing up a leadoff triple to center fielder Alek Thomas. Marte plated Thomas with a single to center, giving the Diamondbacks a 3–2 lead. Edwards escaped further damage thanks to a 6–4–3 double-play groundout by Rivera and grounder to short by Gurriel.

Taking a Comfortable Lead

Ruiz and lefty Kyle Nelson combined to pitch a perfect eighth for the Diamondbacks, Ruiz locking up Thomas with a curveball before giving way to Nelson. Mason Thompson pitched the bottom of the eighth, surrendering a leadoff infield single to third by Walker. Corbin Carroll, pinch-hitting for Longoria, scored Walker with a single to center, extending the Diamondbacks lead to 4–2 while running his hitting streak to 11 games. Fletcher kept the merry-go-round spinning with a sharp single to right, advancing Carroll to second.

Geraldo Perdomo, hitting for Ahmed, tried to bunt his way on, but the throw to first got him by a narrow margin. It ended up as a sacrifice, putting runners on second and third for Moreno. He hit a grounder toward short with a drawn-in infield, where Vargas couldn’t come up with it. On the fielding error, Carroll scored as Fletcher advanced to third. Thomas grounded a single through the hole on the left side, bringing in Fletcher for a 6–2 lead.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez took the ball from Thompson and gave it to Thaddeus Ward, who stopped the bleeding. After a grounder to second by Marte, Josh Rojas — pinch-hitting for Rivera — grounded to short, retiring the side.

Ninth Inning Nightmare

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Scott McGough — who hadn’t pitched since Tuesday, prompting Lovullo to get him some work with a big lead — took the mound in the top of the ninth in a non-save situation. Keibert Ruiz welcomed him with a deep homer to right, cutting the lead to 6–3. After Garrett struck out and Smith grounded to short, Call drew a game-extending walk. The crowd grew hostile and booed angrily as Call trotted to first. In came Andrew Chafin with a save opportunity, an obviously frustrated McGough punching his glove as the crowd loudly cheered Chafin’s entry.

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Chavis — the first batter Chafin faced — cracked a single to right, advancing Call to third. Up came Vargas as the tying run. His single to left made it 6–5. Gurriel fired an off-target throw that allowed Vargas to advance to second. Thomas rendered the base Vargas reached irrelevant with a no-doubt homer to left, giving the Nationals a 7–6 lead. Garcia put the insurance run in scoring position by lacing a double to the left-field corner. Exit stage right for Chafin, who let in an inherited runner and three runs of his own without recording an out. Enter Miguel Castro to pitch to Meneses, the ninth batter of the inning. On 1–2, Meneses smashed a 107-mph liner to the hole on the left side, but Perdomo made a diving catch for the third out, saving another run.

Diamondbacks Take Game Back from Nationals

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Going into the bottom of the ninth, the mood was “emotional” with “a lot of frustration (and) anger,” according to Lovullo. “There was not one person who was happy in that dugout,” Lovullo said, “and I’m talking about the bat boys, too. It didn’t matter.”

Nationals closer Kyle Finnegan took the hill in the bottom of the ninth for a save opportunity that seemed to be a pipe dream mere minutes earlier. Gurriel sent his first pitch high in the air and deep to right. It landed in the glove of a fan in the front row, about a foot above the glove of a leaping Garrett. The umpires ruled it a home run and confirmed it after replay review.

“We went to our replay (official), and he said it was a home run. So I felt very comfortable — he doesn’t get a lot of them wrong. I was just hoping New York saw it the same way.” Lovullo added that all he’s allowed to watch is what’s on the Jumbotron, and the replay office in New York has different angles. Lovullo continued, “So it looked like Garrett made a good play on it, but probably wouldn’t have caught it. I think if the fan to the left had caught the ball, it would have been a different story. But the fan that was standing a little bit higher. So it worked out.”

Relentlessness Paid Off

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Play resumed with a single to center by Walker, who advanced to second on a walk by Carroll. With runners on first and second and no outs, Fletcher laid down his second sacrifice bunt of the game, nearly beating the throw to first. That brought up the red-hot Perdomo with runners on second and third and one out. Martinez, as any manager would have, put up four fingers — the signal for an intentional walk. That loaded the bases for Pavin Smith, pinch-hitting for Moreno. Finnegan missed with the first three pitches before landing a sinker in the zone for a strike. The next pitch — also a sinker — missed several inches inside, forcing in the winning run.

Lovullo loved that his team “kept their foot on the gas offensively late,” in the words of a reporter, but did not like the missed opportunities. “I want consistent drive (and) consistent focus,” Lovullo nodded. “We had some opportunities to break the game open, and we came close —had some runners at third base, less than two outs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t scratch those runs across. It was shaping up like a 4–3 game to me. The fact that it wound up — what was it, 8–7? — I would have never predicted in the sixth or seventh inning. It was moving quickly, and guys were getting after it. I’m just proud of the way we won this game and … stayed after it.”

More on Not Giving Up

“There are a few things we’ve got to be better at, and you guys (the assembled reporters) know exactly what they are,” Lovullo said. “You’re watching the same game. But I was proud of the way we fought. It’s not anything you predict, giving up five runs in the top of the ninth where the opposing team takes the lead. You’re managing frustration, managing your own personal emotion, and pull it together to have a quality at-bat, hit a solo home run. Then you piece things together slowly, piece by piece by piece.

“I was really proud of the way we fought, because we could have collapsed, fallen completely apart, and lost this game by one run, woken up tomorrow feeling sorry for ourselves. So we got to turn the page. I say it every night. Night game, day game, turn the page. Understand what we did right, understand what we did wrong, and onward. We got to come out, play our best game tomorrow, and try to win a Sunday day game.”

Concern about Overuse

“Andrew Chafin is our closer,” Lovullo said, later adding that he’d use Miguel Castro against the right kind of matchup. “It was a save opportunity. We needed one out to win the baseball game. I know he had been worked a little but, but he felt good.” By sending in McGough, Lovullo was trying to protect Sunday’s game, since using Chafin would have made him unavailable. But Lovullo added, “I’ve got to think about today and win the game and then a little bit tomorrow.”

Chafin has now made 16 appearances in 33 games. Lovullo admitted that 50% is too high. “That’s way to much,” he said with his eyes open wider than usual. “That means he’s going to throw in 80 games. I don’t want Andrew Chafin to throw in 80 games. No way. So I have to be mindful of that.” Lovullo went on to say that somewhere between the high 50s and mid 60s would be better. “We’re having a good year if we get to that point,” he said. “We’ve got enough back there to give him days off.”

Another concern with Chafin is that he has now let six out of ten inherited runners score. Lovullo feels that Chafin prefers to start an inning but added that the team must be good in all areas. This includes stranding inherited runners.

Looking Ahead

Castro (1–0), who threw two pitches, notched a relief win, while Finnegan (1–2) took the dreaded blown save–loss double whammy. The Diamondbacks (19–14) and Nationals (13–20) play the third and final game of the series Sunday afternoon at Chase Field. Right-hander Trevor Williams (1–1, 3.41 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Nationals against Diamondbacks right-hander Ryne Nelson (1–2, 6.39 ERA). First pitch will be at 1:10 pm Arizona Time.

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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