WASHINGTON, D.C. — It doesn’t usually happen like this. October is the month in which misfortune attaches itself to the Washington Nationals. They are the ones who lose in the postseason in excruciating fashion. Games like Tuesday’s National League wild-card barnburner happen to them, not in their favor.
Maybe, then, this is a different Nationals team. All it took was a hit by pitch, a broken-bat single, a walk, a single and a timely error by the Milwaukee Brewers, all in the eighth inning, to erase a two-run deficit and send the Nationals to the division series with a 4-3 victory in front of 42,993 at Nationals Park. They advance to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, with left-hander Patrick Corbin expected to start Game 1 on Thursday.
For seven innings, the Nationals’ offense was inert against the Brewers’ stalwart pitching. When Milwaukee closer Josh Hader entered for a two-inning save in the eighth inning, it looked as if more of the same would come.
Then pinch hitter Michael A. Taylor reached on a controversial hit by pitch that looked as though it might have hit his bat before his wrist; pinch hitter Ryan Zimmerman poked a single into center as his bat shattered; Anthony Rendon drew a full-count walk; and 20-year-old Juan Soto stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
Soto ripped a single into right field that was certain to score two runs. Rookie right fielder Trent Grisham — in for injured reigning MVP Christian Yelich — charged the ball and missed it. Rendon hustled home, staking the Nationals a 4-3 lead.
For the fifth time in eight seasons, the Nationals earned a playoff berth. The previous four times they had lost in the division series after winning the NL East. Their first wild-card game didn’t exactly start as desired, either.
Only seven pitches into the game, the Brewers took a 2-0 lead on a Yasmani Grandal line-drive home run to right field off Max Scherzer. They tacked on another run the next inning when Eric Thames homered to center.
The Nationals answered back in the third, when Trea Turner pummeled a 98 mph fastball from Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff into the Milwaukee bullpen in left-center field. It was the closest Washington would come all night to hitting the Brewers’ relief pitchers — until the eighth.
Soft-tossing left-hander Brent Suter worked out of a two-on jam on the fifth inning. Lefty Drew Pomeranz, acquired at the trade deadline, worked a pair of scoreless innings. On came Hader, hoping to send the Brewers to Los Angeles for a rematch of last season’s NL Championship Series.
Instead, it was the Nationals — finally the Nationals — doing the celebrating.