ATLANTA — From Nationals Manager Dusty Baker’s vantage point, it looked as if Chase d’Arnaud missed the Shawn Kelley’s slider in the dirt “by a foot.” Baker’s counterpart, Braves Manager Brian Snitker, was more measured: He thought his player missed it “by about eight inches.” Nationals catcher Matt Wieters, with the best view in all of SunTrust Park, didn’t specify the distance. He surmised d’Arnaud’s hack was off the mark “by a good bit.”
Plate umpire C.B. Bucknor seemingly agreed with them. He at least didn’t do or say anything to suggest he didn’t, so both teams assumed the game was over. Wieters met Kelley for a hug. The visitors’ dugout emptied and the traditional post-win handshake line was beginning to form to celebrate the 3-1 triumph. The Nationals had dodged another bullpen meltdown to give the Braves their first loss in their new digs. Or had they?
Something highly unusual then happened: At Braves third base coach Ron Washington’s urging, the umpires conferred to discuss whether d’Arnaud had foul tipped the pitch. The play wasn’t reviewable and they ruled he did after a brief chat. The game wasn’t over. Everyone, grounds crew included, had to retreat. The bases were loaded again with two outs and a 1-2 count on d’Arnaud.
“We were waiting in line to give everyone a high-five and were like, ‘What is going on? Where is everybody at? Is there a fight?’ ” said Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who tossed seven shutout innings earlier in the game. “Then we realized the game was still on.”
“It was just a mess,” Baker said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
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And because it was, the Nationals were back in danger of squandering another game late. It was on Kelley, who replaced closer Blake Treinen with the bases loaded and one out, to refocus and avoid making a mistake with the winning run at first base. Wieters told him to throw the same pitch — a low slider — that he just threw. Kelley threw it — he said as hard as he could — and beat d’Arnaud again with it. Wieters caught the ball cleanly, squashing any possible foul tip debate for the 27th out.
“Honestly, there’s no precedent for it,” Kelley said. “I mean, I was celebrating and happy and high-fiving everybody. And then when I saw the umps talking I said, ‘Okay I think this is going to go bad, we’re probably going to have to throw another pitch. So I kind of stepped back to the back of the mound for a minute while everybody was kind of getting back into position. Took a few deep breaths, tried to get a little adrenaline back and kind of get myself pumped back up. I was able to do it. I don’t know that I knew I could or if I ever tried it but I did.”
The Nationals were displeased with the umpiring crew’s reversal. Jayson Werth — already miffed with Bucknor’s strike zone — had some words for the umpire as he walked off the field. He had to be restrained.
“This is my like my 14th year in the big leagues,” Werth said. “You see a lot of things, but when it’s consistently not with the standards of the league, I think something needs to be done. I just can’t believe that every time it’s bottom of the barrel. Every time. I know I’m handcuffed here. I can’t say a whole lot. I don’t want to get suspended. But these games are serious. That’s the thing. These games mean a lot. The game is over there, and all of a sudden it’s not over. I’m not even talking about balls and strikes or anything else. It just blows my mind, that in a big league baseball game, that can actually happen.”
Werth later added: “What happens if that guy gets a hit and ties it up, and then we play all night? That affects the rest of the season. It just blows my mind, it really does. I can’t really say what I want to say.”
The Nationals still escaped. They snapped Atlanta’s five-game winning streak and Kelley joked that he had secured the first double save in Nationals history. It was an eventful start to a three-city, 10-day road trip and it could’ve gone worse.
“It wasn’t a foul tip where we were,” Baker said. “It was kind of a rough night all the way around.”