GAME IN A NUTSHELL: At the end of a long roller coaster of a road trip, the Nationals needed to beat the Dodgers to capture their second straight series out west against a contending opponent and salvage a 4-5 record overall on a 10-day jaunt that began with a surprising sweep in Philadelphia. But they found themselves embroiled in another tight pitchers' duel, with veteran Jordan Zimmermann matched by rookie Carlos Frias, before this game was handed over to both bullpens late, setting the stage for drama the likes of which we hadn't seen all year.
Zimmermann dominated for six innings but then made one bad pitch in the seventh: a 3-2 fastball down the middle to Justin Turner, who belted it to center field for a 2-run homer that put the Dodgers on top. Unable to do much of anything against Frias, the Nationals were left to try to mount a rally against the Los Angeles bullpen. They couldn't do it in the top of the eighth, but given one last chance in the ninth against Kenley Jansen, they got perhaps their biggest hit of the year.
Adam LaRoche, battling a bad back for more than a week that forced him out of the lineup the last two days, clubbed a stunning, pinch-hit home run off the top of the left-field fence, bringing the Nats back from the dead and tying the game. Moments later, Denard Span roped a base hit to bring home the go-ahead run and give his team the lead for the first time all afternoon. Who knew that would become an afterthought hours later?
Rafael Soriano was on the verge of doing what Jansen could not: close this game out. But with two outs and a man on first, Turner lofted a flyball down the right field line that Jayson Werth dropped, letting the tying run score, letting all of the air out of the Nationals' balloon and sending this game into extra innings.
Craig Stammen loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th, but Xavier Cedeno and Aaron Barrett came through with huge strikeouts in succession to keep the game alive. Jerry Blevins then duplicated that feat in the 11th, also stranding the bases loaded and giving his teammates another chance to win it at the plate. And who delivered once again? None other than LaRoche, whose bases-loaded single in the top of the 12th gave him four RBI in a game he didn't enter until the ninth inning.
All the Nationals needed were three outs from Tyler Clippard, their ninth pitcher of the afternoon. Clippard, though, could only record two outs before allowing a groundball single and then a soul-crushing, game-tying homer to Carl Crawford. The third blown save of this game kept it going deeper into the late afternoon.
By the time the 14th inning rolled around and Matt Williams had used a club record 26 players, the Nationals took the lead one more time, thanks in no small part to the hustle of Ian Desmond (who took third base on a ball in the dirt) and none other than LaRoche (who, bad back and all, busted down the line to beat out a potential inning-ending double play that allowed the go-ahead run to score). Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a towering, 2-run homer, giving Blake Treinen some extra cushion.
The rookie right-hander finished it off in the bottom of the 14th, sealing one of the most dramatic wins in Nationals history, sending his team home exhausted but happy to have maintained its 7-game lead over the Braves while lowering its magic number to clinch the NL East to 17 with 24 games to play.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: How improbable was LaRoche's game-tying homer? Well, he had been 1-for-23 on the road trip, admittedly hampered by a bad back that forced him out of the lineup three times. He hadn't homered in his last 51 plate appearances. He had hit only three opposite-field homers all season, and all of those landed closer to center field than left field. Jansen had allowed only two runs over his previous 25 2/3 innings. So how did he launch that ball off the top of the left-field wall? LaRoche did what you're supposed to do with an outside fastball: Go the other way. He managed to get just enough of it, setting off a wild celebration in the Nationals dugout and surely leaving Vin Scully up in the broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium wondering if, 26 years later, "the impossible" had happened once again. Little did anyone know at the time it would only be the beginning of LaRoche's team-carrying performance. He wound up with five RBI in a game he didn't enter until the ninth inning.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It was an afterthought at the end of the day, but this might well have been the best Zimmermann has looked all season, yet he ultimately departed in line for the loss after serving up a crucial, 2-run homer in the seventh. Prior to that point, the right-hander was in complete control, throwing darts and commanding his fastball as well as he has in a long time. Zimmermann struck out eight batters, several of them on 95-mph fastballs just on the inside corner, a fantastic weapon all afternoon. So what happened in the seventh? Carl Crawford blooped a 1-out double into shallow right field. Then, with the count 1-2 on Turner, plate umpire Paul Schrieber called time seemingly after Zimmermann had begun his delivery. The pitch was a perfectly placed fastball at the knees, but it didn't count. A few moments later, with the count now 3-2, Zimmermann grooved a fastball right down the pipe, and Turner launched it over the center-field wall, bringing an abrupt end to what had otherwise been a fantastic outing.
KEY STAT: The two teams combined to throw 467 pitches in this game.
UP NEXT: Their road trip complete, the Nationals finally get to head home and enjoy Thursday off. Everything from this point on is against the NL East, beginning Friday night when the Phillies come to town. Stephen Strasburg faces Jerome Williams (a member of the Nats' rotation a lifetime ago) at 7:05 p.m.