For seven innings, the much-hyped Washington duo of Stephen Strasburg & Bryce Harper held up their end of the deal. In front of a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium, Strasburg whiffed nine without allowing a walk, while Harper made his debut a memorable one by doubling off the wall and throwing an absolute laser from left field to the plate that would have nailed Jerry Hairston at the plate had catcher Wilson Ramos only been able to hang on to the perfect throw. Ramos’ inability to complete the play meant that Strasburg would leave after 101 pitches with a 1-1 tie, and that’s not to be taken lightly: Chad Billingsley may not have been as outright dominating as his Nationals counterpart, but when you can stay in the game for seven innings and leave standing tall against the great Strasburg, that’s an achievement not to be overlooked – although with the way the ninth inning unfolded, it almost certainly will.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the 2012 Dodgers if the game didn’t stay close into the late innings and… well, look. Sooner or later we’re going to have to acknowledge that Javy Guerra is just a mess right now, right? You can argue that he got spooked by taking a Brian McCann liner off the face the other night, but that was hardly the start of his troubles; he’s blown something like 37 games over the last two weeks. Entering in the 9th after Scott Elbert allowed a LaRoche single and induced Rick Ankiel to eliminate LaRoche via sacrifice bunt – and for the record, I have absolutely no idea why Don Mattingly yanked Elbert after just five pitches – Guerra allowed a single, a sacrifice fly, and another single, pushing two runs across and putting the Dodgers down 3-1. You can argue that Guerra is getting BABIP’d to death with all the singles if you want, but if you plan on being a late innings reliever in the bigs, you need to miss some bats, and Guerra simply has not been doing that lately. (Is that… Shawn Tolleson‘s music I hear? No, of course not.)
But that was far from the end of it. Surprisingly, the bottom of the order showed some life in the 9th, with Mark Ellis & James Loney leading off with two singles, followed by a Juan Uribe ground rule double which plated Ellis. Henry Rodriguez, touching triple digits, blew away A.J. Ellis and got the utterly useless Adam Kennedy to ground into a fielder’s choice… and then things got weird.
With two out, Rodriguez uncorked a 102 MPH wild pitch, scoring Uribe to knot the game at 3 and pushing Kennedy to second. Dee Gordon followed, feebly striking out against Rodriguez’ overwhelming heat to end the game… except that the third strike also went to the backstop, allowing Gordon to reach first and the game to continue. Tony Gwynn attemped to walk off against reliever Tom Gorzelanny, but lined out to LaRoche to end the frame.
Jamey Wright set the Nats down without trouble in the top of the tenth, and that brought Matt Kemp to the plate. Kemp crushed a Gorzelanny pitch into center for the walkoff win, and what else can you really say about Kemp? (Other than, “why in the hell would the Nationals even pitch to him there?”) Harper’s debut brought the spotlight to this game, but Kemp reminded everyone that for all of the potential about what Harper might yet be in the future, the present belongs to Beast Mode.