This one allowed another run to score. The Nationals handed a two-run lead in the ninth inning to Rafael Soriano, the man signed for $28 million this winter to replace Storen as the Nationals’ closer. Shin-Soo Choo greeted him with a leadoff homer, crushed to right field. With one out, Joey Votto pounded a triple high off the left field fence. On the next pitch, Soriano yanked a slider that bounded past Ramos and skipped to the wall. Votto slid home to tie the game.
“Bad game,” said Soriano, who belied his reputation for dodging reporters after blown saves. “I’ll come back tomorrow. I feel happy because the team won.”
Stammen survived the 10th only after Denard Span, with a man on second and one out, chased down Mesoraco’s drive to the warning track and caught it at the fence. Desmond led off the 11th. He took two balls, fouled off a pair of fastballs.
“I’m not going up there thinking about the errors,” Desmond said. “I’m trying to focus on my at-bat and get a good quality at-bat. I think in the past, I would have let that carry over for days and days.”
Hoover came back with a curveball. Desmond hammered. The crowd gasped, and the ball landed 439 feet away from home plate.
With one out, Ramos stepped to the plate. Earlier in the day, Johnson had joked with him to let the bat boy scoop up any passed balls — on May 12 last year, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee chasing one down. Ramos had told teammates, “This is the ballpark where I got hurt.”
“I’m excited to be back here again,” Ramos said. “I’m not thinking about it. I know I got hurt here, but I forget about that.”
He had already drilled one homer when he came up in the 11th, looking for a fastball from Hoover. When he got it, he did not miss. With his new stance, more crouched than before, he clobbered the ball some 430 feet to dead center.
Stammen remained the Nationals’ best option in the 11th. He walked Votto with two outs on a pitch many Nationals thought was strike three. “But he’s the MVP,” Stammen said. “And I’m not.”
Phillips kept the game alive with an RBI double. Suddenly, the tying run had reached scoring position. Jay Bruce walked to the plate. Stammen started him with a sinker for strike one, then decided he would get beat only on his best pitch. “I was going to throw curveballs until I died,” Stammen said. “And hopefully, I got him out somehow.”
Bruce swung and missed at one curve. He foul- tipped the next. Ramos squeezed it in his mitt. On the mound, Stammen pumped his fist as teammates flowed to the mound. Stammen grew up in tiny, nearby North Star, Ohio. As he shook hands, he could hear his 20 family members from the crowd.
“They were the only ones cheering,” Stammen said.