Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 6-5 walkoff win over the Minnesota Twins in 16 innings on Sunday afternoon at Nats Park:
How it happened: Even when Bryce Harper is supposed to have the day off, he can still find a way to help his team win a game. On Sunday, the reigning MVP waited patiently all afternoon before his named was called to pinch-hit for Michael Taylor in the bottom of the ninth. The Nats slugger emerging from the dugout with his bat and helmet to a roaring applause from the 35,397 in attendance at Nationals Park. He then came through with a monster shot homer to center field against Twins reliever Kevin Jepsen. It was a solo bomb and it tied the game at 4-4. The big swing forced extra innings and set up the decisive blow, a walkoff homer by Chris Heisey off Michael Tonkin in the 16th. That came after the Twins went up a run in the top half of the 15th on a single by Miguel Sano, a run that was only made possible by a crew chief review to keep the inning alive. And it came after Danny Espinosa tied the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the 15th by scoring from second on a throwing error to first by Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy. At 5 hours and 58 minutes, it was the longest regular season game in Nationals history.
What it means: With the win the Nationals are now 14-4, which ties their 2012 start through 18 games. It also matches the best start for a D.C. baseball team since the Washington Senators began the 1932 season at 14-4. The Nationals have benefitted from an easy schedule so far, but they have had no trouble at all with the teams they have played. Up next is the Philadelphia Phillies, who come to town as one of baseball's early season pleasant surprises. The Nats, though, did take two of three against them just a week ago.
Replay burns the Nats: Sano's RBI single drove home Eduardo Nunez after the 15th inning at one point appeared over. Nunez singled to right field with two outs and then was initially called out on a steal attempt of second base. But a crew chief review overturned that call and award him second. Dozier then walked to bring Sano to the plate.
Strasburg cracks late: For most of the afternoon it looked like another dominant outing for a Nats pitcher against a beleaguered Twins lineup, but Strasburg couldn't finish the job in the Nats' win. Strasburg was cruising before the eighth on a day he struck out 10 batters and walked none. The Twins, though, were able to start a rally with Joe Mauer notching a pinch-hit single. Nunez then reached on an infield grounder - his third hit of the day - and Dozier cleaned it all up with his third homer of the season. Strasburg ended up charged with four earned runs which is the most he's surrendered since Aug. 30 of 2015. Strasburg, in fact, had allowed just four earned runs total in his previous five outings entering Sunday, in a stretch of 35 2/3 innings dating back to last year. Strasburg's 10 strikeouts, though, did give him his 23rd career start with double digit strikeouts.
Harper's 9th homer a big one: Harper had quite the battle with Jepsen, who threw him only fastballs in a seven-pitch at-bat. Harper fouled off three pitches before sending one out of the field of play. Harper now has a game-tying or go-ahead home run in the ninth inning in each of the last five seasons. No other player can claim that.
Another first inning run: The Nationals continued their early season trend of getting off to good starts. den Dekker's homer off Twins starter Tyler Duffey put the Nats up 1-0 in the first and gave them 25 runs in the first inning this season, more runs than any MLB team has scored in any inning. They still, however, have not scored in the second inning, which is a strange stat when juxtaposed with their first inning domination.
Wilson gets a walk: Wilson Ramos has been off to a very good start this season, as he entered Sunday's game batting .315 with two home runs. But, prior to this game, he had yet to draw a single walk. He was, in fact, the only qualified hitter without a true walk. Gerardo Parra had no walks, but did have an intentional walk entering Sunday. Ramos finally got his first walk, though, off Duffey in the fourth inning. Ramos also had a two-RBI double in the eighth inning to cut the Twins lead to 4-3, which allowed Harper to tie it with his homer.
Up next: The Nats have Monday off before they continue their homestand against the Philadelphia Phillies. Joe Ross was supposed to start the opener, but will now have his turn skipped due to the blister on his right hand. Max Scherzer (2-1, 4.32) will instead start opposite 23-year-old starter Vincent Velasquez (2-1, 0.93). Velasquez struck out 16 batters in a complete game shutout two starts ago.