By David Driver, The Sports Xchange
WASHINGTON — Robinson Chirinos certainly knows how to take advantage of his limited opportunities.
A backup catcher, Chirinos came through with his second late-inning homer in four days on Saturday afternoon.
Chirinos hit a three-run homer with two outs in the top of the 11th inning on a 2-2 pitch from Shawn Kelley as the Texas Rangers beat the Washington Nationals 6-3. The veteran, who backs up All-Star Jonathan Lucroy, hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning Wednesday against the New York Mets two days after he turned 33.
“It was an amazing win for us. It was really good,” Chirinos said. “I stayed short and put the ball in play. Thank God it went out of the ballpark. I was trying to put a good swing on it.”
Chirinos now has seven homers in just 76 at-bats and that production is not lost on teammate Delino DeShields, a center fielder from Maryland who had two hits for the second day in a row.
“Robby is probably one of the most prepared guys I have ever been around. He continues to believe in himself,” DeShields said.
The loss exposed more bullpen problems for the first-place Nationals, who learned after the game that closer Koda Glover has been experiencing some back issues. Glover gave up three hits and two runs in the ninth as the Rangers tied the game and forced extra innings.
“He said his back was really locked up, we didn’t know it,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s frustrated and we’re frustrated because we can’t keep him healthy and 100 percent right now and we don’t know why.”
In addition, Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, leading the league with a .365 batting average, did not play for the second time in three days. Baker said his back locked up after he dove for a ball in Los Angeles during a recent road trip.
“It’s one of those things where if you continue to play and it gets worse, something bad could happen. If you give it a day or two you can kind of just stop it right there,” Zimmerman said. “Even if I don’t play tomorrow, I can’t see me not playing on Monday.”
The losing pitcher was Kelley (3-2) while Keone Kela (3-1) got the win as he went two scoreless innings. The Nationals (38-23) are 17-11 at home while Texas (29-32) is 11-18 on the road.
Washington had a chance to win in the last of the ninth after pinch-hitter Stephen Drew led off with a double. Pinch-runner Wilmer Difo went to third on a groundout but was tagged out in a rundown for the third out after speedy Trea Turner tried to bunt for a base hit with two outs.
“That’s a tough read, but if you’re going to go you’ve got to go, especially against a left-hander,” Baker said of Difo.
Shin-Soo Choo led off the Texas ninth with a homer to trim the deficit to 3-2 off Glover. Elvis Andrus singled, Adrian Beltre walked and Nomar Mazara had a double to score Andrus and tie the game at 3.
“We battled the whole game,” Mazara said. “We never put our heads down.”
Chirinos then flew out to right fielder Bryce Harper and his throw to home appeared late to catch a sliding pinch-runner Pete Kozma. But the Nationals challenged the call and Kozma was ruled out as the game remained tied at 3.
Washington lefty Oliver Perez took over for Glover and retired Rougned Odor for the final out of the ninth.
Adam Lind (two hits) had a two-run homer in the sixth to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
Washington trailed 1-0 before Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly to score Harper, who led off with a double and went to third on a single by Daniel Murphy in the sixth.
It was the fifth homer in 73 at-bats for Lind, who got the start at first base in place of Zimmerman.
Washington starter Gio Gonzalez allowed just one run and three hits and struck out nine in six innings for the Nationals.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the fourth as Andrus drove in a run on a groundout. Andrus extended his league-best hitting streak to 14 games with a single in the first.
Martin Perez gave up seven hits and two runs in five-plus innings for Texas. Andrus also had two hits for Texas. Murphy, Michael A. Taylor and Ryan Raburn each had two hits for the Nationals.
“This is the beginning of a tough road trip. This is a real test to see what we are about,” DeShields said.