The slugfest in this one started early on.
The rested Mudcats jumped out on top early on in the first inning, scoring six runs off of Nationals starter Brian Rauh, highlighted by the second grand slam of the season by catcher Jeremy Lucas, his ninth shot of the 2014 campaign. Ruah went two-thirds of an inning, allowing five hits, six runs (five earned), striking out two and walking two. Rauh, who had been good through his fast few starts, could not locate the zone, walking Yandy Diaz, scoring the first run of game in Todd Hankins.
The tired Nationals came back in the bottom of the first with four runs, as Shawn Pleffner hit a double to center field, scoring Tony Renda, and opening the scoring for the Potomac Nationals. The very next batter, Oscar Tejada, hit a liner to left field scoring Pleffner. After Stephen Perez grounded out to third, Randolph Obuder delivered the highlight of the inning, driving the ball to deep center field. After it hit off of the glove of Mudcats' center fielder Todd Hankins, Oduber raced around the bases, hitting a two-run inside-the-park home run to make it a 6-4 game.
Washington Nationals number eight overall prospect, catcher Pedro Severino, added to the scoring himself, hitting a solo shot to center field, cutting Carolina's lead to 6-5. And after Khayyan Norfork hit a double in the fourth that scored Oduber, it was a brand new ballgame, tying the game at six apiece. Nationals reliever Kylin Turnbull shut down the Mudcats for four fantastic innings, and although he allowed six hits, he did not surrender a single run.
The Mudcats battled back in the sixth inning, loading the bases off of Nationals pitcher Cody Davis. James Roberts, the second baseman, hit a hard ground ball right back up the middle, on which Stephen Perez made a fantastic stop. However, the ball got stuck in the webbing of Perez's glove, and he could not get the ball cleanly to second baseman Tony Renda. The grounder was scored as a hit. The very next batter, Luigi Rodriguez, hit a grounder to the pitcher Davis, who flipped to first for the second out, scoring Jeremy Lucas. Davis ended the threat by getting Todd Hankins to ground out to shortstop.
By the middle of the sixth inning, the crowd of 3,084 had already seen 14 runs, 21 hits, and 26 base runners. Mudcats starter Ryan Merritt went five plus innings, allowing seven earned runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out five. Merritt has been a stud for the Mudcats all year, coming into the game 10-3 with a 2.13 ERA. However, he did have a 3.38 FIP coming into this game. His ERA ballooned to 2.55.
The oscillation in this game continued in the bottom of the sixth. The Nationals battled back once again, as Randolph Oduber recorded his third hit of the evening, driving in Stephen Perez, cutting the Mudcats lead to 8-7. He advanced to second on the throw. After Khayyan Norfork grounded out, advancing Oduber to third, right fielder Justin Miller hit a screamer back to pitcher Ben Heller, who snagged it and doubled off Oduber at third base, ending the seventh inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, Pedro Severino hit a hard ground ball to second baseman James Roberts, who fielded the ball cleanly, but threw the ball into the crowd, allowing Severino to advance to second on an error. He was given an infield single. The next batter, Issac Ballou, hit a RBI double, tying the game once again. The see-saw battle continued. Ballou was able to score on an infield single from Shawn Pleffner, who got to second base on an error. Pleffner stole third base and scored on a double from Stephen Perez, pushing the Nationals lead to their largest of 10-8 at the end of the seventh inning.
Cody Davis took the win in this one, pitching two and a third innings, allowing two runs on four hits, striking out and walking one. Davis' record improves to 1-0. Rob Nixon took the loss, pitching the bottom of the seventh. He was charged with only one earned run, but three scored while he was on the mound for only two-thirds of an inning. That was his second blown save of the season as his record becomes 1-5.
Bryan Harper, the older brother of Nationals outfielder Bryce, tossed a scoreless eighth inning, retiring the Mudcats' six, seven, and eight hitters in order, striking out one.
The Nationals threatened again in the eighth inning, as with one out in the inning the right fielder Justin Miller hit a double. Pedro Severino got hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Then, after a wild pitch, Miller moved to third and Severino followed him up at second. After Issac Ballou was retired, another wild pitched scored Miller, extending the Nationals' lead even further to 11-8.
Harper came back out for the ninth. Luigi Rodrguez, the leadoff batter, grounded to shortstop for the first out. Todd Hankins followed Rodriguez, who hit a high fly ball to first base in foul territory for the second out. Then came Yhoxian Medina, the shortstop. Medina hit a hard grounder to hard to the first baseman Pleffner, who recorded the final out of the ballgame. Harper, with his two scoreless innings, recorded the save. This is the largest deficit overcome by the Nationals this season, as they best their previous record of five runs on two occasions.
"The guys just went out and they competed throughout the whole game," Harper told me after the game. "Obviously with the six spot coming in the first inning, they gotta come back and battle back. It was great. I just had to do my job and come in and throw a couple zeros and we were fortunate enough to get the win."
This is Harper's third save of the year. While he has appeared in many roles this season, he just does what ever needs to be done.
"I've kind of done everything this year. I've set up, I've closed obviously, this is my third save of the year. I just do what needs to be done. I truly enjoy everything. As long as I'm throwing, I'm happy being out there."
The Nationals will continue the three game series with the Mudcats tomorrow. But for now, their resilience and perseverance will net them a "w" for tonight. And it could not have come in any better fashion - with a good old comeback victory.