WASHINGTON — Home-field advantage in the NL Division Series assured while his team’s game was in progress, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker called upon closer Mark Melancon in the eighth inning.
It was only the second time all season — and first since April — that Melancon was asked to get more than three outs for a save. Just getting prepped for what could happen in the postseason.
Melancon got the final four outs for his 46th save, Bryce Harper provided an RBI single and rookie Trea Turner hit his 13th homer and stole his 32nd base, helping the Nationals beat the Miami Marlins on Saturday.
“I haven’t done it much in the past,” Melancon said about his extended outing. “But I expect that to happen in the playoffs.”
Baker said his ace, Max Scherzer, came up to him in the dugout after Melancon was inserted with two outs in the eighth to protect a one-run lead.
“He goes, ‘I see what you’re doing.’ I said, ‘What you talking about?’ And he said, ‘I see you’re practicing for Game 1 of the playoffs’ — when, indeed, that same situation could come up,” Baker recounted.
NL East champion Washington’s third trip to the postseason in five years will begin Friday in the nation’s capital against the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers, with Scherzer slated to face Clayton Kershaw. Game 2 is the following day, before the best-of-five NLDS shifts to L.A.
The Nationals, it turned out, didn’t need to beat the Marlins. The Dodgers’ 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants, assuring Washington a better record than Los Angeles, was announced before the bottom of the seventh to the Nationals Park crowd of 31,635, which responded with a standing ovation.
While home field might not seem like a big deal in a short series, Baker figured it was important in this instance.
That’s because the Dodgers went 53-28 at home, a .654 winning percentage, but are only 38-42 on the road, .475.
“They’re under .500 on the road and way over .500 at home. So which one would you suggest?” Baker said. “I’m not a numbers man, exactly, but I think it would be to our best interest — give us the best chance — to have them come here, versus us going there.”
Roark (16-10), lined up to pitch Game 2 against the Dodgers, went 5 2/3 innings and allowed Miami only one run and three hits, including Chris Johnson’s RBI single to right in the sixth.
Turner singled and came around to score on Harper’s line drive up the middle in the first inning, then delivered a solo shot off Wei-Yin Chen (5-5) in the fifth.
Harper struck out twice, giving him six Ks in two nights after missing four games with a sore left thumb. Fans booed when he was walked intentionally in the eighth.
Marlins RF Giancarlo Stanton was out of the starting lineup Saturday, and will be on Sunday, too, manager Don Mattingly said, to make sure the slugger does not enter the offseason hurt. Stanton was sidelined with a groin injury into September. “He may get an at-bat, a pinch-hit, or something like that. He still wasn’t playing at 100 percent,” Mattingly explained, “and once the games were meaningless, it’s harder to take a chance on him having to rehab during the winter.”
Nationals: LF Jayson Werth was out of the lineup, a day after leaving the game because of a tight back that he said was not a serious injury. Baker called the decision to hold out Werth on Saturday “more precaution than anything.” … 2B Daniel Murphy sat out again with an injured glute muscle.
Marlins: Wrap up the season, sending RHP Tom Koehler (9-13, 4.15 ERA) to the mound.
Nationals: In what will be Washington’s first — and last — entirely meaningless game of 2016, RHP Scherzer takes a 19-7 record, 2.82 ERA and career-high 277 Ks into the regular-season finale, chasing an NL Cy Young Award to add to the 2013 AL honor he won for Detroit while going 21-3. “That’s been the pinnacle for pitchers ever since I was in the game — and long before me. It would be forever: ‘He’s a 20-game winner,'” Baker said. Expounding on how he views pitchers’ stats, Baker said: “People put a lot of emphasis on ERA, which is good, but I put emphasis on wins for a guy that knows how to win.”