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Instant analysis: Nats 6, Giants 5

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Instant analysis: Nats 6, Giants 5

Game in a nutshell: On Turn Back the Clock night, the Nationals and Giants staged a tense battle not all that unlike Game 7 of the 1924 World Series. Right down to the home team rallying to win in walk-off fashion. Ross Detwiler labored through five innings and was probably lucky to escape allowing only three runs. Matt Cain, meanwhile, was in complete control for six innings, baffling the Nationals' hitters with his impressive arsenal. All of a sudden, though, the Nats lineup came to life in the bottom of the seventh, with Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa clubbing back-to-back homers and Bryce Harper delivering a two-out, RBI double to cut the Giants' lead to one. It remained a 5-4 game into the bottom of the ninth, at which point the Nationals staged their winning rally off closer Santiago Casilla. Tyler Moore kicked things off with a double to deep left-center. Casilla then couldn't field Steve Lombardozzi's sacrifice bunt attempt. Harper grounded into a forceout at the plate, and Adam LaRoche grounded into what looked like a 4-6-3 double play. But Brandon Crawford's relay bounced and Brandon Belt couldn't make the scoop. Harper came in to score and the Nationals pulled off a wild, 6-5 victory.

Hitting highlight: Say this for Harper: He battles through at-bats with the best of them, even if it doesn't always result in a hit. The rookie fouled off five straight 2-2 pitches from Cain in the bottom of the sixth, ultimately grounding out but drawing several ovations from the crowd of 29,819 which appreciated the effort. One inning later, Harper came up to bat against tough lefty Jeremy Affeldt in a big spot with two on and two out. He was called for a borderline check swing with a 2-0 count, but brushed it off and roped an opposite-field double on the next pitch to drive in a key run. Then he did it again in the bottom of the ninth, sending a run-scoring single to right off Santiago Casilla to lead the game-winning rally.

Pitching lowlight: It was a strange night for Detwiler, who only gave up a handful of hard-hit balls yet gave up 11 base hits. Many of them were groundballs that found holes. Detwiler didn't pitch particularly well, but he did come through with some big outs when he needed them. In the end, the best thing the left-hander did was make it through five innings having allowed only three runs. On a night like this, that actually was something of a minor miracle.

Key stat: The teams with baseball's best records in 1924: the Giants, Nationals, Dodgers, Pirates and Yankees. The teams with baseball's best records in 2012 (entering tonight): the Rangers, Yankees, Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers and Giants.

Up next: The final series of the season's first half begins Friday night when the Rockies come to town. Stephen Strasburg faces lefty Drew Pomeranz at 7:05 p.m.

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With Melancon in store, what do Nats do with Papelbon?

With Melancon in store, what do Nats do with Papelbon?

For the Nationals to bring in Jonathan Papelbon last July in a trade with the Phillies, he had to first waive the no-trade clause in his contract. He accepted the move to leave Philadelphia with the understanding he would be the closer in Washington. Drew Storen was moved to the eighth inning and, for a variety of reasons, the trade blew up in the Nationals' faces.

Now they have done the same to Papelbon. They traded for All-Star closer Mark Melancon on Saturday in order to solidify the ninth inning and Papelbon has been replaced.

The question now becomes not only what the Nats do with their embattled reliever, but also how he reacts. As evidenced by his comments last July right after he was traded to the Nationals, being a closer means a lot to him:

''For me I'm getting up there on the all-time closing list and that's important to me. When Theo (Epstein) had me as a young kid in Boston and he wanted to start to me and I said, `No, I'm a closer, that's what I want to be, and that's who I am.' This is what I envisioned. I envisioned chasing Mariano. I've told Mariano that at many All-Star games, `I'm coming after you.' So that's part of it," Papelbon said.

''Ego may be a part of it or whatever you want to say, but for me it's a path that I started 11 years ago and now I'm trying to do everything I can to continue that and win championships as a closer."

Until Papelbon speaks on the subject himself, there's no reason to believe he won't accept the demotion. And truthfully, there are plenty of reasons why he shouldn't have a problem with it.

For one, it is just for a few months. He is an impending free agent and will be able to seek a closer role with another team. If Papelbon turns his season around and becomes an effective setup man or seventh inning guy, he could be paid handsomely this winter.

Papelbon does also kind of owe the Nationals one, doesn't he? For all they put up with last year with the Bryce Harper incident and the suspension and contract grievance that followed, the Nationals have treated Papelbon much better than many teams would if presented the same circumstances. They brought him back this season as a reclamation project and until Saturday had shown plenty of patience with his actions both on and off the field.

Exactly how they will use Papelbon is unclear. Whether the Nats trust Papelbon more than other options like Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis is hard to tell. And whatever their plans are, the Nats may not outline them publicly, as manager Dusty Baker has been reluctant to discuss specific bullpen roles this season. 

A Papelbon-Melancon combination doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but the potential is there for a lethal eighth and ninth inning duo, if they choose to go that route. Both would bring experience and toughness to the pennant race and beyond.

Papelbon still provides value and the Nats can very much still use him. What they do and how he feels about it, though, are real questions at this point.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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Nats pull off impressive trade to land closer Melancon from Pirates

Nats pull off impressive trade to land closer Melancon from Pirates

The Nationals addressed their most pressing need in a big way on Saturday and they didn't have to give up one of their top prospects to make it happen.

The Nats acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates for lefty reliever Felipe Rivero and prospect Taylor Hearn, CSN Mid-Atlantic has confirmed. FOX Sports was first to break the news.

Melancon, 31, joins the Nationals for the remainder of this season as an upcoming free agent. The right-hander holds a 1.51 ERA and has 30 saves in 33 chances. 

Melancon has been an excellent closer for years with a 1.80 ERA and 130 saves since he joined the Pirates before the 2013 season. Three times during that stretch he made the NL All-Star team and he finished eighth in Cy Young voting in 2015.

Melancon will close for the Nationals, which begs the question of what to do with Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon joined the Nats last summer with the understanding he would be their closer and has spoken before about his quest to challenge Mariano Rivera's all-time saves record. Regardless of how Papelbon reacts, the Nationals have found a better option for the ninth inning in Melancon.

Melancon has three years of postseason experience, as well. He has appeared in six playoff games with four earned runs across 5 2/3 total innings allowed.

Rivero, 25, leaves for the Pirates with a 4.53 ERA in 47 appearances this season. He is under team control through 2021. Rivero throws 100 miles per hour and has flashed potential through his two years in Washington, but remains a raw talent.

Hearn was a fifth round pick out of Oklahoma Baptist in 2015. He posted a 3.18 ERA in eight games at Single-A Hagerstown this season.

Both Rivero and Hearn are intriguing young pitchers, but overall this trade looks like a steal for the Nationals, especially considering what the Cubs gave up for Aroldis Chapman and what the Yankees have reportedly been asking for with Andrew Miller.

The Nats did not have to part with any of their top prospects to land Melancon, who leaves a Pirates team that is only three games out of a playoff spot. That last detail could be something to keep in mind down the stretch of this season.

Why did the Pirates let Melancon go? It is not often you see a team in their position trade their lockdown closer and strengthen another team in their league at the same time. It's a strange decision, but the Nats will take it.

[RELATED: Scherzer, Werth shine in Nats' thrilling win at Giants]

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Report: Nats make deadline trade for All-Star closer Melancon

Report: Nats make deadline trade for All-Star closer Melancon

The Nationals have found their new closer.

According to a report by FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Nats agreed on a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday afternoon for All-Star closer Mark Melancon.

The Nats sent lefty reliever Felipe Rivero to Pittsburgh along with prospect Taylor Hearn, another lefty.

Melancon has a 1.51 ERA and 30 saves this season. He saved 51 games last year and finished eighth in NL Cy Young voting.

More to come...

[RELATED: Scherzer, Werth shine in Nats' thrilling win at Giants]

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