MILWAUKEE — The manager counted more gray hairs, the players rearranged travel plans and everyone else tried to unpack what happened Sunday afternoon at Miller Park. The Washington Nationals trailed by four runs after seven innings and by two after eight. They scrapped. They kept coming. They again found a way to win a game that convention dictated they lose, another delirious layer in a season verging on fantasy.
The goats and heroes stacked up like cordwood after the Nationals had defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 11-10, in 11 zany innings. Michael Morse overshadowed them all. After he crushed a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth inning, he ripped a two-run double off Jose Veras in the 11th. Morse blared hip-hop in the clubhouse as the Nationals packed for home. They concluded their trip at 6-1, pushing them to 21 games over .500 for the first time.
The Post Sports Live crew debate how the Nationals should handle the starting rotation with the expected shutdown of ace Stephen Strasburg looming.
The Nationals took their first lead when Steve Lombardozzi smashed a home run to lead off the game, and they did not lead again until Morse’s double in the 11th. In between, they had so many chances to win and so many reasons to lose. They squandered rallies and blew leads, issued a bushel of walks and threw a gaggle of meatballs. But they also redeemed teammates’ mistakes and clawed until they didn’t have to anymore.
“I don’t know about you, but I got a few gray hairs,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That was a wild one. I’m telling you, I’m worn out. I’m glad we got tomorrow off for me, not for the guys.”
Even after Morse gave the Nationals the lead, they still swerved into every pothole. They loaded the bases with one out, then stranded all three runners on Jesus Flores’s strikeout and Corey Brown’s fly to right. Tyler Clippard surrendered a leadoff home run to Corey Hart in the 11th, slicing the lead to a measly run. But Clippard secured his 20th save with help from shortstop Danny Espinosa’s diving play and rocket throw for the second out.
Solid all season, Ryan Mattheus imploded with one of the most disastrous relief appearances imaginable. He allowed four runs and three homers in 12
3 innings, stretching the Nationals’ deficit to 7-3 in the seventh and then turning a tie game into a two-run deficit in the eighth. Craig Stammen kept the Nationals alive by retiring seven consecutive batters across the eighth, ninth and 10th innings.
In the top of eighth, the Nationals took advantage of the Brewers’ land-mine bullpen, scoring four runs off Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford to tie the game. Roger Bernadina gave the Nationals new life with a two-run, opposite-field homer. Flores ripped a single and Brown pounded a double. Lombardozzi scored Flores with an RBI groundout, and Brown scooted home with the tying run when Axford threw an inside fastball for a wild pitch.
The Nationals survived an uneven start from Gio Gonzalez, who lasted six innings despite some of his worst control problems of the season. He allowed five runs, four of them earned, while pitching around five walks, two hit batters and five hits while striking out four. He hinted some of his control problems may have arisen from a tight strike zone.