This is one of those victories for the Nationals (64-43) that will stand out above the rest, because of what it required of them.
After splitting a double-header the day before, the Nationals came out very sluggish against the Marlins Saturday evening, as if they each had 10-pound shackles weighing down their feet through each at-bat. Runs were scored to keep pace with Miami throughout the first 7 innings, but nothing looked good.
Simply put, they did what they had to – LaRoche excluded.
Jordan Zimmermann, who had recently been voted the National Pitcher of the month for his brilliant play in July, was the tip of this dull spear. With his 5-inning, 7-hit and 5-run performance, Zimmermann allowed the Marlins to rob him of one of the longer-running streaks in baseball. He had pitched 21-straight starts with at least 6 innings pitched.
Adam LaRoche, belting out his 22nd and 23rd home runs, each earning one run, in the 2nd and 6th innings, was the enduring chorus to a song that wouldn’t be heard until the 8th inning.
When Michael Morse grounded out to lead off the 8th, it seemed to have that ‘another one of those innings’ feel to it.
It only took one break for LaRoche, who seemingly grounded out in the bottom of the 8th until a putout attempt sailed past first, leaving LaRoche on base and the Nationals a few at-bats away from committing a late night burlary of the lead.
With a man on base, Marlins reliever Mike Dunn walked Jayson Werth to give the Nationals runners on 1st and 2nd.
Newly acquired Catcher Kurt Suzuki, who allowed Jose Reyes to steal second on him twice in his Nationals debut, strukout to give the Nats a dreaded 2-on, 2-outs scenario.
Steve Lombardozzi came through with a single to center field that scored LaRoche, pulling the Nats within one run, also moving Werth into scoring position in the process. Pinch hitter Tyler Moore followed that with a single of his own that would advance Werth across the plate, tieng the game at 6 runs apiece, and leaving runners on 1st and 3rd.
Then, Danny Espinosa redeemed himself for a costly throwing error earlier in the game, sending a shot straight from his bat to the stands in left field. It was a three-run homer that gave Washington their first lead of the game and sent the fans into a frenzy.
The shackles were off.
Marlins reliever Mike Dunn wasn’t finished giving up runs after just 5, though. Still with two outs and the bases freshly cleared for him, Bryce Harper stepped up to the place and ripped a homer of his own, an electrifying shot that nearly made it into the upper deck in right field.
The moment just before he dropped his bat after sending the ball into a spiral, was as if Bryce Harper had personally stopped time, frozen the crowd halfway between standing and sitting, and when he released that bat from his hand, he was allowing them to be set free.
They crowd roared for Harper as he glided around the bases, having just sealed a 4-run lead for the Nationals, putting them ahead 10-6.
With the sound of the Fugees “Ready Or Not” bellowing through Nationals Park, Tyler Clippard entered the game to start the top of the 9th, and close out a comeback that would have been impossible to predict.
Jose Reyes would give the Marlins an outside chance at reclaiming their lead – singling to shallow right field, then getting hit around the bases until he scored – but the rest of the
Miami offense wouldn’t follow suit.
Clippard successfully secured the W for Ryan Mattheus and sent 33,449 screaming Nationals fans home ecstatic.
After joking with beat writers about taking pleasure in them having to re-write their stories, after the game Davey Johnson said, “Well, Zimm didn’t pitch very well. We didn’t play very well. But we persevered. That’s the makeup of this ball club.”
Nationals Beat Reporter