- The Washington Times
Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tanner Roark had thrown seven shutout innings or more six times this season — the most in Major League Baseball — entering Sunday afternoon’s rubber match against the San Francisco Giants.

With a little help from center fielder Ben Revere, the Washington Nationals right-hander made it seven times thanks to a 1-0 victory that clinched the season-series over the first-place club in the NL West.

“He pitched out of trouble all day,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said of Roark, who struck out five and left nine men on base Sunday. “This guy…he’s not amazing us anymore. We’ve come to expect it.”

Allowing five hits and three walks put Roark in those jams, none more pressing than in the top of the seventh. With two outs and runners on second and third, Roark dealt a 2-2 curveball to Brandon Belt.

The Giants’ first baseman launched the ball deep to center field, but had his chance at breaking open a scoreless game thwarted by a mesmerizing over-the-shoulder snatch by Revere.

“I didn’t even see it,” Roark said. “I looked up in the sky and just thought, ‘Oh man.’ Then I just saw Ben [Revere] racing back and he made that over-the-shoulder catch. It was a heck of a play. Unbelievable.”

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“That catch saved the game for us,” catcher Wilson Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez.

Revere said the grab reminded him of when he ran football plays in his driveway as a kid with his father, who used to be a wide receivers coach.

“Like I always say, defense wins championships and Tanner [Roark], he pitched one heck of a game,” Revere said. “He’s the player of the game in my book. I was just trying to help him out the best I can.”

The stellar defensive play preceded the day’s lone spark from an otherwise dormant Nationals’ offense.

Ramos hit his 18th home run of the season off an 0-1 slider from Giants ace Madison Bumgarner to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning. Two days after setting a career high in home runs, Ramos’ fly to right field drifted just beyond the wall and held as the game-winner.

“I was trying to stay relaxed, I knew Bumgarner was throwing a real good game, and I was trying to sit on one particular pitch,” Ramos said. “I was fortunate enough to get that pitch in the zone and was able to connect on it.”

Reliever Shawn Kelley replaced Roark in the top of the eighth. His one-two-three inning, where he struck out one, kept the Nationals’ fragile lead intact for closer Mark Melancon in the ninth.

Melancon — acquired last week in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Felipe Rivero and Single-A left-hander Taylor Hearn — picked up where Roark and Kelley left off.

The 31-year-old right-hander retired the side with ease, recording two swinging strikeouts with strong off-speed pitches for his first save in a Nationals uniform and 31st save of the season.

“Melancon really was psyched to come in that game,” Baker said. “It’s hard to win a game 1-0. A lot of things have to go your way.”

The Nationals now move to 66-45 on the season and continue to sit atop the NL East by 7 1/2 games.

Baker acknowledged the importance of capturing the series victory over his former team as the ball club begins to look toward October.

“[Winning the season series] is really big,” Baker said. “We lost the season series to the [Los Angeles] Dodgers and the [Chicago] Cubs so we really needed this one because we could very well see San Francisco again.”

Harper out Sunday

Right fielder Bryce Harper was pulled from Friday night’s 7-1 loss to the Giants after the sixth inning with what Baker called a “stiff neck.”

Harper did not start Sunday afternoon and was replaced in the outfield by Chris Heisey, who batted seventh.

“I was hoping not to use [Harper] today,” Baker said after Sunday’s game. “With yesterday’s half game off, today’s game off, tomorrow’s off and then Tuesday being a night game that gives him almost three and a half days to worry about himself…I’m sure he’ll be fine by Tuesday.”

The 23-year-old 2015 National League MVP is batting .233 this season — just seventh-best among Nationals hitters – with a .374 OBP and 20 home runs.

• Mark Eisenhauer can be reached at meisenhauer@washingtontimes.com.

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