January 29, 2023

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Stunned by old friend, Nats aim to turn page

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ANAHEIM — Pulling off a winning road trip was within the Nationals’ grasp. After powering their way to a win on Saturday, the Nats relied on small ball in the series finale at Angel Stadium on Sunday, scoring four runs on 11 singles and holding the lead right up until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

But Los Angeles rallied to tie it, and former National Anthony Rendon hit a line-drive RBI single to center to finish off the Angels’ 5-4 comeback win. The loss dropped the last-place Nationals to 4-5 on their nine-game road trip, and to 10-20 overall.

Though the walk to Luis Rengifo started things rolling for the Angels, the gut punch came from Rendon, who is still beloved in Washington’s clubhouse.

“He’s a good hitter, we know that,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We did well against him all series long, but in a moment like that, high-leverage situations, with those big hitters, you got to make pitches and that was the key.”

Right-hander Tanner Rainey took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, with Washington leading the Angels by 2. The inning got off to a good start when Rainey sat down Jack Mayfield on four pitches via a swinging strikeout for the first out.

But the situation went awry when Rengifo earned a walk on five pitches.

“For me, it’s the walk to Rengifo,” Martinez said. “To me, that was the killer. But I thought we did well pitching to those guys all series. You’re playing with fire with those guys when they come up in that order. You saw what they can do really quickly.”

After the walk to Rengifo, Rainey allowed a single to Taylor Ward. Rainey then struck out Mike Trout, blowing a 97.1 mph past the three-time AL MVP for the second out of the inning, inching him closer to escaping the jam.

But Shohei Ohtani had other plans. His double to center field tied the game at 4 and set the stage for Rendon to deliver the final blow.

“I didn’t make the pitch. I was trying to go up, but didn’t quite get it up enough,” Rainey said of the pitch to Rendon. “I left too much on the plate. He’s another guy that you just can’t mess with. That whole lineup is tough. You miss too much on the plate and they do damage.”

As a hitter, Rendon was unfamiliar with the movement of Rainey’s pitches. Rendon had certainly heard of the devastating slider when Rainey was coming up in the Nationals’ farm system, though, and he’d witnessed how the fastball left hitters stunned as a position player.

“This is why we play 27 outs,” Rendon said. “We’re here to play a game until the last out is made.”

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