Strasburg allowed one run over seven innings, and then he watched a victory slip away. Rafael Soriano blew a save in the ninth. In the 10th, Yunesky Maya, fresh from Class AAA Syracuse, allowed a gargantuan, two-run, walk-off homer to Pablo Sandoval. Both could have been avoided if Harper had overcome an instinct to recall last week. He thought about his frightening collision with the fence at Dodger Stadium as he pursued Gregor Blanco’s line drive over his head with two outs in the ninth. He did not stretch out his arm for the ball, even though the entire warning track lay between him and brick wall, and it fell for a game-tying triple.
“I don’t want to hit the frickin’ wall full-on,” Harper said. “Of course that crosses your mind after you jam into a wall. It doesn’t really feel very good. It [stinks] that I couldn’t make the play. I totally put that loss on me.”
The Nationals walked off the AT&T Park field with one game remaining in what has been a ruinous road trip. They have lost six of nine, including four straight, out in California and now stand 23-23 for the year — a World Series favorite sitting at .500. They were outscored by 17 runs in the previous two days. On this night, they could choose what hurt more: a late-game meltdown or going scoreless in the final nine innings despite ample opportunity.
The final blow came when Sandoval hammered Maya’s 14th pitch, a hanging changeup, 464 feet to right-center field. The crowd rose as the ball screamed through the air, never a doubt. One night earlier, Maya, the Cuban defector signed in late 2010, had been in Toledo, preparing for a start for the Syracuse Chiefs. Now, he walked off the field, eyes to the ground.
“I don’t feel good,” Maya said through teammate Fernando Abad, who translated. “I wanted to put up a zero.”
Overcoming an uneven beginning and offering further proof the rocky start to his season was a blip, Strasburg fired seven strong innings, allowing just one run in a duel with Giants right-hander Matt Cain. Strasburg struck out seven, including four of his final five batters. Giants clogged the bases for the first three innings as Strasburg adjusted to the wind, which wreaked havoc on his bullpen warmup. Then Strasburg retired 14 of the final 15 hitters he faced, including six via strikeout.