Chavis stretched out with every inch of his 5-foot-10 frame to make a diving stop with runners on the corners in the 11th inning of a one-run game against the Milwaukee Brewers. He tagged first base, then threw to home to catch William Contreras between third and home. Drew Millas chased Contreras back toward third and applied the tag, and the Nationals celebrated a 2-1 win.
“That’s kind of been my role the entire year,” Chavis said. “That’s something I take pride in, staying available. It’s something that kind of goes unnoticed for sure. But I’m trying to keep my body loose and my head and do whatever I can so that when my name is called for pinch-running, for defense, whatever the situation is, I’m just as ready as I can possibly be.”
Chavis, the former Boston Red Sox first-round pick turned utility player, got a hug from Robert Garcia, who earned the win in relief. The Nationals salvaged a 2-5 road trip — and ended a five-game skid — with Sunday’s win, one that seemed unlikely given how many opportunities they squandered an inning earlier.
“Great win,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “The guys battled. We battled yesterday as well. We’ve been in a lot of these games, and to finish the series like this against a really good team feels gratifying. Let’s go home feeling good about ourselves and come back tomorrow and do it again.”
Neither offense did much in the first six innings. Luis García hit a solo home run in the second to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. He had two of the Nationals’ four hits Sunday.
Patrick Corbin, meanwhile, held the Brewers at bay. He allowed only six base runners over six innings, and two of them were quickly wiped away by double plays. But the Brewers tied the game in the sixth when Mark Canha singled, stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Carlos Santana’s sacrifice fly.
The Nationals had plenty of chances late. In the eighth, CJ Abrams grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners. García grounded out to first with two runners on in the ninth. And even with García on second to start the 10th, the Nationals couldn’t get him home after Abrams flied out to left field with two outs.
Fortunately, the Nationals’ bullpen held up. Hunter Harvey pitched two scoreless innings. Kyle Finnegan, who took the loss Saturday, stranded a pair of runners in the ninth. And in the 10th, after Garcia loaded the bases with one out, the Nationals turned to a five-man infield, and he escaped with a pair of groundballs.
“I did a lot of watching, and I noticed that this team doesn’t expand very much,” Garcia said about the Brewers. “They’re very disciplined in the zone, and so I knew, back against the wall there with bases loaded, they may not chase, so you may only have one shot. So you got to make good pitches in the zone and trust your stuff. I felt like I did that very well today.”
Joey Meneses hit a flyball to shallow center with one out in the 11th. Few would have questioned had third base coach Gary DiSarcina held the runner at third. But that runner was Abrams, the quickest player on the team, and he scored to give the Nationals the lead without a hit.
“[Abrams] was going all the way,” Martinez said. “We were taking our chances there, and it worked out.”
Chavis entered to pinch-run for Dominic Smith in the ninth inning, an overlooked moment in a frantic late-game sequence. Martinez was sacrificing defense and hitting for speed. And yet it was Chavis’s glove that saved the day.
“I tried to go through every possibility of the ball coming to me so that I’d know what to do no matter what,” Chavis said. “It’s a pretty big play.”
That it was. If the ball went to his right, Chavis said, he was going straight home. If the ball went to his left, Chavis said, he would step on first base and then go home. The play unfolded like he imagined, and Chavis, who has had few big moments, made the most of this one.
“Honestly, when I was thinking about it, I thought it might be the most fun one,” Chavis said. “I was kind of glad that it worked out way. … I think that’s one of those cases where the preparation really pays off.”
Note: The Nationals recalled Cory Abbott from Class AAA Rochester before Sunday’s game and optioned Amos Willingham in a corresponding move. Willingham threw 43 pitches in one-plus inning Saturday, so the Nationals needed another option out of the bullpen. The Nationals are in the 11th game of 18 straight before a day off. They now have some length in their bullpen with Abbott and Thaddeus Ward, who was reinstated from his rehab assignment Thursday. Abbott has a 7.48 ERA in 16 appearances this season with Washington.