PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Alex Avila cleanly picked a pitch in the dirt with the tying run on second base and no outs in the bottom of the ninth, saw pinch-runner Travis Jankowski hung up between second and third and ran all the way out to tag him near shortstop.
Avila’s heads-up play thwarted a rally, Max Scherzer outpitched Zack Wheeler and Juan Soto hit a tiebreaking solo homer, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.
Rhys Hoskins led off the bottom of the ninth against Daniel Hudson with a double off the right-field fence. Jankowski ran for Hoskins but got picked off after a 2-2 pitch to J.T. Realmuto short-hopped Avila. The veteran catcher never let go of the ball and kept his mask on his face as he ran toward Jankowski, pump-faking once on his way to make the tag.
“I caught him in the middle there and usually you see the catcher throw the ball or the runner picks a base and takes off, but it’s a pretty fundamental play for the catcher to run at him,” Avila said. “You don’t see it (in the majors) because usually the runner takes off one way or the other. If he did, I would’ve given it up. It was a play we practice all the time in high school and college.”
Jankowski was clearly disappointed with his mistake.
“Trying to do too much,” he said. “I saw a slider in the dirt, expected it to ricochet and it hopped up in his glove. No excuses, a bad read. That’s on me.”
Scherzer (5-4) struck out nine in 7 2/3 dominant innings, allowing one run on five hits. The three-time Cy Young Award winner lowered his ERA to 2.22 with his seventh straight start yielding two runs or less.
Wheeler (4-3) gave up two runs and five hits, striking out eight in 7 1/3 innings.
Soto provided the difference when he crushed an opposite-field drive to left for a 2-1 lead in the sixth. It was his 11th homer in 80 at-bats in Philadelphia’s hitter-friendly ballpark.
After Jankowski’s blunder, Hudson struck out Realmuto swinging and Brad Hand came in to get Brad Miller on a shallow fly for his 10th save in 12 chances.
Scherzer watched the ninth from a television in the clubhouse, so there was a 15-second delay.
“I heard the dugout screaming and didn’t know what happened,” he said. “A two-unassisted, I’ve never seen it before. That’s a huge play. They were threatening with the heart of the order and that changed the whole complexion of the game.”
Wheeler didn’t allow a runner until he walked Trea Turner to start the fourth. With two outs, Josh Bell hit a bloop RBI double to left for Washington’s first hit and a 1-0 lead. Andrew McCutchen made a sliding attempt, but couldn’t make the grab.
The Phillies answered in the bottom half. Jean Segura led off with a single and stole second. Realmuto’s RBI single tied it at 1-1. After Miller walked, Scherzer escaped trouble when McCutchen’s grounder hit Realmuto for the second out. Alec Bohm struck out to end the inning.
Wheeler and Scherzer combined to retire the first 15 batters before Bohm led off the bottom of the third with an infield single. Ronald Torreyes followed with a drive that center fielder Victor Robles tracked down in right-center.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez won his 225th game, moving ahead of Davey Johnson for most wins in club history. He got a beer shower from the team.
“It’s awesome, but I didn’t do it myself,” Martinez said. “I have the coaching staff, the trainers. I appreciate them and I told the players I couldn’t do it without them.”
Scherzer cooled the Phillies off significantly after they scored 17 runs and hit seven homers in their previous game on Tuesday night at Cincinnati. They were rained out Wednesday and had off Thursday.
A crowd of 15,030 came out to Citizens Bank Park as the Phillies opened to full capacity for the first time in 614 days.
Nationals: LF Kyle Schwarber was back in the lineup after sitting out a game because his right knee locked when diving for a ball on Wednesday. He was 0 for 4.
Phillies: RF Bryce Harper (wrist) and SS Didi Gregorius (elbow) are making progress but they’re not ready to come off the injury list.
RHP Joe Ross (2-5, 5.40 ERA) starts for the Nationals and RHP Spencer Howard (0-1, 5.56) takes the mound for the Phillies on Saturday night.
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