LaRoche's walk-off hit saves Nationals from sweep vs. Angels

LaRoche's walk-off hit saves Nationals from sweep vs. Angels
April 23, 2014, 10:30 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Trying to avoid an interleague series sweep, the Nationals needed a good start from Gio Gonzalez. They got one, but that still wasn't good enough. Until some high drama in the bottom of the ninth.

Cruising for five innings, Gonzalez quickly got into trouble in the sixth when he walked Mike Trout and gave up an RBI double to Albert Pujols. The game tied 1-1 at that point and Gonzalez sitting on only 83 pitches, he surprisingly was pulled by manager Matt Williams in favor of rookie Aaron Barrett. Barrett wound up allowing the inherited runner to score, so Gonzalez suddenly was on the hook for the loss.

It might have been a moot point had the Nationals been able to produce more at the plate. But they managed only one run against veteran Jered Weaver, getting a bunt single, a stolen base and an RBI single (from Gonzalez, of all people) in the bottom of the second. They attempted three bunts (including one by Bryce Harper in a highly unusual situation) but couldn't manufacture anything more than that one early run until the bottom of the ninth.

That's when the Nationals somehow managed to flip the switch. Jose Lobaton homered off Angles closer Ernesto Frieri, who then put two more men on. Jayson Werth delivered the game-tying double, then scored the game-winner on Adam LaRoche's walk-off single to left-center off Fernando Salas.

Just like that, the Nationals had another come-from-behind win, their most-dramatic to date.

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HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Stymied most of the night, the Nationals suddenly sprung to life just in the nick of time in the bottom of the ninth. Lobaton got things started by drilling his first homer of the season. A single by Denard Span and a walk by Anthony Rendon brought Werth to the plate representing the winning run. Frieri fell behind in the count 3-0, and given Werth's propensity for attacking that pitch, you had to think something big was about to happen. It did. Werth roped a double down the left-field line, bringing both runners home, tying the game and setting the stage for LaRoche. The veteran first baseman immediately pounced on Salas, delivering the game-winner to send the crowd into a frenzy.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first, Gonzalez absolutely cruised. He retired 11 in a row at one point, exhibiting command of all his pitches and striking out five. And then ... well, what exactly happened in the top of the sixth? Gonzalez walked Mike Trout to lead off the inning (certainly not something you ever want to do, but hardly a disaster against arguably the best player in the game right now). He then served up Albert Pujols' RBI double down the third-base line. And then? Here came Williams asking for the ball from his starter after only 83 pitches. Did Williams see something he didn't like? Did Gonzalez note some kind of discomfort that alarmed the coaching staff? Whatever the case, he didn't look too pleased leaving the game.

KEY STAT: Mike Trout went 5-for-14 with three runs scored in the series. Bryce Harper went 1-for-11 with a walk. 

UP NEXT: This season-long homestand wraps up with a four-game series against the Padres. Jordan Zimmermann faces left-hander Eric Stults in Thursday's opener at 7:05 p.m.