In the script, Rafael Soriano would have played the villain. The Los Angeles Dodgers, the home team, had scrapped back into the game in the ninth inning. Joc Pederson, the baby-faced, long-awaited rookie making his big league debut, stood at the plate as the go-ahead run. The crowd roared. The count ran full.
The Dodgers may play in the shadow of Hollywood, but no one is more at ease with drama – both creating and diffusing it – than Soriano. In the movie, the bad guy doesn’t break off a 3-2 slider that snaps over the outside corner. The kid doesn’t freeze and take strike three.
Back in Washington, Nationals fans watched the ending of the Nationals’ 6-4 victory through their fingers. The final pitch was breathtaking, a savvy pitch made with a sniper’s precision. Soriano again had managed to inject tension into the ninth inning before he ripped out his shirttail and the Nationals won.
“It’s the last out, and we got it,” Manager Matt Williams said. “That’s what matters. They put some good at-bats together in the ninth. Sori got two quick outs. But he got the last one. That’s all that matters.”
Soriano notched his 31st save in 35 chances, but his saves lately have grown increasingly shaky and made the prospect of another month or two of him sealing victories feel downright horrifying. Williams isn’t about to turn away from him.
“We’re going to give him the ball,” Williams said. “He’s our closer. He’s been our closer all year. He’ll continue to be. There’s situations where we’re going to use other guys, but it depends on his pitch count and his workload, too.”
Monday night, Soriano inherited a three-run lead. He struck out Matt Kemp and induced a weak fly to center from Scott Van Slyke. He was throwing 93-mile-per-hour fastballs. He was rolling. And then he wasn’t.
Soriano walked Yasiel Puig. Juan Uribe threaded a five-hop RBI single through the middle, weak contract that still extended the inning. Carl Crawford pinch hit and smoked another single to center.
Pederson electrified Dodger Stadium with a rocket of a foul ball, but Soriano introduced him to the majors with that vicious slider, and that was it.
Still, Soriano’s performance of late has inspired little confidence with the stretch run and October on the horizon. Soriano should have been an all-star after a dominant first half. But since the break, he has been far from dominant, even when he gets the last out.
In 19 games, Soriano has a 6.11 ERA while allowing 24 hits and six walks over 17 2/3 innings. He’s faced 83 batters and allowed 30 to reach base while striking out 16. He’s had six clean innings during that span, one of which came in a 14-6 victory.
Given that information, what should Williams do? Nothing.
Matt Thronton has been a beast since arrived, and Drew Storen has been dominant ever since he returned from Class AAA Syracuse in August 2013. But thinking about replacing Soriano after one rough pocket would be panic. As his at-bat against Pederson showed, Soriano possesses the stuff and savvy to close games.
Is he really the pitcher with a sub-1.00 first half ERA? No. But he’s not the near-disaster he’s been the past month, either. The Nationals brought Soriano to get the last out not only of games, but the entire season. Barring significant further struggles this month, Soriano needs to be the Nationals’ closer.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Buffalo 8, Syracuse 2: Greg Dobbs went 2 for 4 with a double. Destin Hood went 1 for 4 with a double. Aaron Laffey allowed six runs in four innings on 13 hits and no walks, striking out three. Matt Grace and Rafael Martin threw scoreless relief innings, lowering their respective ERAs at Syracuse to 1.30 and 0.80. Syracuse will open its playoff series Wednesday in Pawtucket.
Harrisburg 3, Portland 0: Matt Skole went 0 for 3 with two walks and a strikeout. This season, he hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 homers and 68 RBI. Paul Demny allowed no runs in three innings on two hits and no walks, striking out two. The Senators finished 53-89.
Potomac 6, Frederick 1: Ike Ballou went 1 for 5 with a double. Estarlin Martinez went 3 for 4. Randolph Oduber went 2 for 4. Matthew Spann allowed no runs in three innings on no hits and one walk, striking out none. Potomac went 78-58. Their playoff series will begin Wednesday night in Potomac.
Lakewood 9, Hagerstown 8: Rafael Bautista went 2 for 4 with a double. Spencer Kieboom went 2 for 3 with two home runs. James Yezzo went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run. The Suns finished 89-53. Their playoff series will begin Wednesday in Hagerstown against Greensboro.