WASHINGTON -- Public address announcer Jerome Hruska dropped his tone to introduce the Nationals in Nationals Park on Wednesday.
This is typical treatment for the “visitors” in a major-league game on South Capitol St. Hruska quietly speeds through the names of the opposition. No background noise accompanies the introductions, no fervor, no bells and whistles.
The Nationals received the treatment in their own park Wednesday because this is 2020. Upside down is the norm -- if there even is such a thing -- which means the team from Canada receives the rah-rah treatment to start a two-game “home” series in Washington.
The Blue Jays wore their home whites. The Nationals dressed in gray pants and blue road tops. A pro-Toronto hype video ran pregame. The north-of-the-border classic “OK Blue Jays” played in the seventh inning. Blue Jays players came to the plate buttressed by their walkup music. Trea Turner walked to the box accompanied by silence to lead off the top of the first.
Quiet followed at the plate most of the day because Max Scherzer and Nate Pearson were pitching. An unlikely triple by Asdrúbal Cabrera hours served as the lone offensive jolt. It produced a needed 4-0 win for the Nationals.
Scherzer turned 36 years old two days ago. Pearson will turn 24 years old Aug. 20. Scherzer had struck out 2,703 major-league hitters by the time Wednesday’s game started. Pearson was making his big-league debut after being picked in the first round of the 2017 MLB draft.
“Man, I'm just getting old,” Scherzer said. “I just had my birthday, I'm 36. I'm an old guy in the league now, it's official. They try to get rid of 36-year-olds now.”
They strode along together for five innings. Pearson topped out at 99 mph. A snappy slider joined his fastball for five strikeouts, two hits, two walks and no earned runs. Doses of luck -- like a Starlin Castro line drive right at second baseman Cavan Biggio with a runner on third -- combined with his powerful stuff to create an ongoing problem for the Nationals, who remained short-handed.
Juan Soto is still not with the team. Howie Kendrick was scratched because of upper back stiffness three hours before the game began. The offense is creaking along to start the season.
So, Scherzer grappled with the free-swinging Blue Jays into the eighth inning and for 112 pitches while the offense stagnated. His final pitch was a changeup in the dirt to walk ninth-place hitter Derek Fisher with one out in the eighth inning. A bad pickoff throw to second by Scherzer had put the go-ahead run on third before the walk to Fisher. Scherzer exited. Daniel Hudson entered. The infield sucked in.
Teoscar Hernandez’s sharp ground ball was stopped by a diving Trea Turner to start a 6-4-3 double play. It’s the kind of play the Nationals were not making in the first five games en route to a 1-4 start.
But, they couldn’t score against Pearson or anyone else the Blue Jays sent to the mound before extra innings. Hudson went back to the mound in the bottom of the ninth to start what could be an ignominious process: being walked off in your home ballpark. Instead, he briskly worked through the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup, which kicked in the new extra-innings rule.
Emilio Bonifácio started on second base. Carter Kieboom was at the plate. He walked. Andrew Stevenson walked. Bases loaded, nobody out, for a team desperate for a win or even a run.
Victor Robles struck out. Trea Turner struck out. Adam Eaton’s ground ball up the middle hit the pitching rubber and reached Biggio at second base. He dove to the bag, but Stevenson slid in just before. A review upheld the safe call. The Nationals led, 1-0.
Cabrera tripled to produce a needed dam break. He is 34 years old, has played 14 years and does not triple often. He tripled once in 514 plate appearances in 2019. He has another in 23 plate appearances in 2020, the 26th of his career.
Tanner Rainey finished the 10th. The Nationals are undefeated on the “road” in 2020.
They also feel better. When Cabrera’s hard ground ball made its way to the right field corner, the dugout found a celebratory groove. Frustration moved to elation. A brief exhale was available in the strangest of seasons. So much tumult, so much going on, and it’s only been a week, which allows a single win to have such a hug-worthy vibe.
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