WASHINGTON (AP) — The Nationals assured themselves of hosting the NL wild-card game by holding on to beat the already-eliminated Cleveland Indians 10-7 Saturday with the help of a grand slam in a nine-run second inning from Gerardo Parra, whose dugout dancing and “Baby Shark” walk-up music have become trademarks of Washington’s turnaround.
Nationals Park will be the site of a win-or-go-home game Tuesday night between Washington, which will send three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to the mound, and either the St. Louis Cardinals or Milwaukee Brewers. One of those clubs will be the NL Central champion; the other will be the league’s second wild-card entry.
Asked before Saturday’s game about the importance of clinching home-field advantage, Scherzer said: “Would it be nice? Yes. But is it imperative? No. We’re ready to play anybody, anywhere.”
Sure looks that way at the moment. Washington extended its winning streak to seven games, the longest run this season for a team that was 19-31 before heading in the right direction.
The lone bit of bad news for the Nationals on Saturday was the way starter Patrick Corbin got hit around, giving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings — on three homers.
The Indians, meanwhile, have lost four in a row. An 8-2 defeat at Washington on Friday eliminated them from the playoff race after Cleveland won the previous three AL Central titles.
Playing in place of an ill Victor Robles, Parra drove in four runs Friday — with a homer, a double and a sacrifice fly — and continued his surge Saturday, going 2 for 2 in the second inning alone.
That included his second grand slam with Washington, which signed him in May to a deal worth the $555,000 minimum after the 32-year-old outfielder was designated for assignment by San Francisco.
Parra’s most notable contributions to the Nationals, though, would have to be the post-homer dance line anyone who goes deep has to participate in and his choice of a repetitive children’s song to precede his at-bats. Nationals fans have taken to vigorously clapping along whenever “Baby Shark” plays, and they certainly were loud Saturday.
Daniel Hudson (3-0), the fifth of six Washington pitchers, struck out two in a perfect eighth.
Cleveland’s Adam Plutko (7-5) lasted 1 1/3 innings, his shortest start in the majors, and was charged with eight runs and seven hits. Parra’s slam came off reliever Hunter Wood.
Corbin drove in Washington’s first run with a bases-loaded single in the second, and Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Asdrúbal Cabrera also tacked on RBI hits as the Nationals built a 9-0 lead.
Catcher Eric Haase, also in the fourth, hit a long three-run homer to center. Haase has hit 130 homers in the minors for the Tribe. This was his first one in the big leagues. Could he be Roberto Perez’s backup next year?
“So just to get that one out of the way, it’s great,” said Haase. “Most of my at-bats have been coming off the bench and it’s hard not to try and do too much.”
Jefry Rodriguez relieved Wood and pitched two decent innings against his old club. In particular he had an interesting duel with Yan Gomes in the fourth inning. The Indians traded Gomes to the Nationals in November in a salary dump. Rodriguez was one of the three players they received in return.
Rodriguez bailed the Tribe’s rotation out of trouble early in the season when it ran into injury problems. Then he went down with a right shoulder injury. But he looked good Saturday, retiring Gomes on a fly to left to end the fourth.
“When he gets a win under his belt, and works on his mechanics, gets healthy and sees some of that velocity creep back into his delivery," said Francona, “he’s going to be a very interesting guy.”
Bradley Zimmer, the Tribe’s opening day center fielder in 2018, made his first start since rejoining the Indians earlier this month. He batted leadoff and went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Zimmer has a new stance at the plate and it’s probably unfair to judge him this late in the season after he missed most of the year with shoulder and oblique problems.
Mike Freeman, who has been a pleasant surprise in the utility role, entered the game as a pinch hitter in the third. He went 2-for-4 and it should be remembered that while most of the Tribe’s more celebrated hitters went cold on this critical swing through Chicago and Washington, D.C., Freeman was the one player who continually made solid contact.
“If you ask him, I’ll be he’ll tell you this is the most trust anyone has shown him in the big leagues,” said Francona.
Francona started Franmil Reyes in right field and the big man did OK. He also hammered a two-run homer in the fifth off Corbin. It was his 10th homer with the Indians and 37th of the season.
“It felt good,” said Reyes, about playing right field. “The adrenaline was different. When you go down there, you make good plays, the adrenaline is different when you come to hit than just sitting there (as a DH). It’s not the same.”
Francona has said that he doesn’t want Reyes, 24, to be strictly a DH and that will be a topic of discussion this winter leading into spring training. Reyes is in favor of that.