But that all gets thrown out when your rookie second baseman sits on a first-pitch fastball, crushes it off the other team’s best reliever and then stands a foot outside the batter’s box, almost posing, while a go-ahead two-run homer sails way over the right field wall. That’s what happened for the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, when Luis García, at 20 the youngest player in the major leagues, delivered a 4-2 win in 10 innings over the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
Daniel Hudson had blown his second consecutive save opportunity just minutes earlier in the ninth. But García took Carter Kieboom, the automatic runner, and told him to jog home. García was right behind him, drifting toward the plate and then into the dugout for a small celebration with his teammates before Kyle McGowin struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th.
The Nationals are now 18-29 because of García’s bat. They left Tampa with a glimpse into their future.
“What a great kid,” Manager Dave Martinez said of García, who debuted in mid-August after Starlin Castro broke his wrist. “I’ll tell you right now, he has no fear. He’s going to give you everything he’s got. He goes out there and has fun playing the game.”
Before the game reached extras and gave García his shot, Austin Voth corrected an issue that has plagued him all summer. The starter hadn’t completed five innings since Aug. 8, seven starts and many earned runs ago. He had a 10.72 ERA in his previous six outings, inviting questions about whether he should be in the rotation at all. Martinez, though, wanted to keep watching Voth. He wanted to see whether the 28-year-old could fix himself on the fly. And finally, with next to no shot at the playoffs now, something clicked.
Voth hit trouble when he plunked Randy Arozarena with two outs in the first. The next batter, Nate Lowe, punched a double to right, and Arozarena wheeled around from first. It hinted at more of the same from Voth, who too often has left the Nationals behind in his starts. But this time he recovered quickly, leaning heavily on his four-seam fastball.
The pitch brought 28 swings, 10 whiffs and four called strikes. He spotted it on the low-and-outside corner and ran it up in the zone. When Voth is at his best — a form the Nationals have seen in quick flashes — he throws his fastball at will and lets his curve play off it. On Wednesday, five of his season-high six strikeouts came with a batter swinging through his fastball. The other was on his cutter, another pitch that improves when his fastball is commanded well.
So Voth showed Martinez what he had yearned to see: some length, steady velocity, even a few 94s on the radar gun before he exited at 88 pitches. In his second trip through the order, which has been a nightmare for him, Voth allowed one hit and one walk and issued an intentional pass to the red-hot Lowe. He then finished his outing by stranding runners on first and second.
“It was huge,” Voth said of trending in the right direction. “Just to be able to come out here and throw the way I did today, I’ve been working hard week in and week out, and it seemed like I hadn’t been getting progress for the longest time.”
“The main thing for me is I was using my legs properly,” he added of the success with his fastball. “I felt like I still had energy and stuff left in the tank in the fifth inning.”
That was enough to hand the bullpen a slim lead. And while most of it excelled — with scoreless innings from Wander Suero, Kyle Finnegan and Will Harris — Hudson kept struggling. He allowed the tying homer to Brandon Lowe with two outs and two strikes. It came off an inside slider that Hudson left too high around Lowe’s thighs. This was five days after Hudson blew a three-run save against the Atlanta Braves, an outing in which he had also recorded the first two outs of the ninth.
But just like in that game, the Nationals endured in extras. This time, Hudson had García to thank. García met a 5-for-30 slump beginning in late August after a solid start. Since then, he had been mostly average, learning to face major league pitchers and adjusting in the field. But he had four hits in seven at-bats in his previous two games heading into this one, leading him to a matchup with Rays closer Nick Anderson. And that’s when his lack of fear kicked in.
“One thing my dad and I always talked about is that players always seemed afraid, a little bit, when the game got too, too big for them, once they first got to the big leagues,” García said in Spanish through a team interpreter. “And we would talk about how it was weird, that that’s where you want to be and yet at the same time you’re a little afraid of that moment. And it shouldn’t be that way.”
Anderson entered the game with a 0.00 ERA in 12 innings. He left it with one earned run on his season line, put there by the second homer of García’s young career. García may never return to the minors beyond this year. But on Wednesday, in the twilight of a season short on bright spots, it mattered only that García was here right now.