December 15, 2019

Washington Nationals Game 131 Review: Ohlendorf leads Nats to 2-1 win over Fish

UNLIKELY HERO RUNS RECORD TO 3-0 IN ANOTHER STRONG LATE SEASON START

The Washington Nationals offensive attack has been near the bottom of the National League all season long, but there’s one team that’s been consistently worse: the Miami Marlins. Tuesday night, Ross Ohlendorf and four other Nats pitchers combined to allow just seen base runners, leading the Nats to a 2-1 win over the Marlins before 24,616 at Nationals Park.

The win is the Nats sixth in their last seven games and, coupled with Cincinnati’s 6-1 loss to the Cardinals, cuts the deficit in the Wild Card standings to seven games with just 31 games remaining in the regular season.

Ohlendorf (W. 3-0, 2.49) retired the first nine batters he faced before giving up a single to Marlins rookie outfielder Christina Yelich to lead off the fourth inning. The journeyman right-hander with the old-timey wind-up then allowed just one more hit and walk up to the leadoff batter in the sixth — Yelich again.

This time, however, after seeing four straight “changeups” Yelich finally got a hold of one he liked and ripped the offering into the Nats bullpen, where Tanner Roark was already warming up. Manager Davey Johnson decided the five terrific innings, on just 78 pitches, was all he needed to see out of Ohlendorf and he turned things over to the bullpen.

“He just kind of ran out of gas, like he did before [in the start that precipitated his trip to the D.L.],” Johnson said. “But you never know with him because he puts a lot on it. Other times, it’s like he’s changing up off his fastball. But when he takes 10 miles off, he gets to scaring me a little bit.”

Roark started off shaky. After getting Donovan Solano to fly out, he then walked the next two batters he faced. But the rookie reliever regained focus to strike out Ed Lucas and Justin Ruggiano to leave the runners stranded.

From there, the Nats cruised. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano all pitched scoreless innings, with Soriano allowing the only base runner, what turned out to be a harmless two-out single before coaxing one more groundout to earn his 34th save of the season.

The Nats got all the runs they needed in the bottom of the first inning off Nathan Eovaldi (L, 2-5, 3.76). Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper both connected for one-out singles. Jayson Werth grounded out to third, but Zimmerman scored on the play. Ian Desmond followed with a single that plated Harper from second base, and that’s all the run support that Ohlendorf and the four relievers needed.

THE GOOD: Ohlendorf continues to amaze. After a shaky first start coming off the disabled list last week (4 ER in 4.1 IP) he got right back to doing what he’s done all season for the Nats. He has a career 4.87 ERA in 120 MLB games (and that includes his stellar 2.49 in 12 games this season), so who knows if it will continue, but the guy has resurrected his career and someone will give him a shot in a rotation next spring.

Honorable mention to Ian Desmond, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI, and Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche both had two hits apiece.

Also, Denard Span went 1-for-4, which means he extended his season-high hitting streak to 10 games.

THE BAD: Jayson Werth has been the Nats offensive MVP this season, but even MVPs take the collar. 0-for-4 in this one.

THE UGLY: Wilson Ramos went 0-for-4 and stranded four in the process. Desmond and LaRoche were on base all night ahead of the Buffalo but it just wasn’t his night.

THE STATS: 9 hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks. 1-for-8 with RISP, 8 LOB. No errors or double plays.

NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:05 pm against the Marlins. Stephen Strasburg (6-9, 3.00) hosts Henderson Alvarez (2-3, 3.86).

NATS NOTES: Before the game, the Nats recalled RHP Ryan Mattheus from AAA-Syracuse and returned LHP Xavier Cedeno to the Chiefs.

Washington Nationals Game 34 Review: Nats get to Fister early, hold on to sweep Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are one of the top teams in the American League, and some folks tried to bill this early May matchup with the Washington Nationals as a World Series preview. It’s a little early in the season to try to sell that, but with the Nats starting to play well it was a big series nonetheless. The Nats scored their runs in the first few innings, then got great bullpen work from a trio of relievers to beat the Tigers Thursday 5-4, sweeping the two-game set from the A.L. Central powerhouse.

The win is the Nats fourth in a row and sixth in their last seven games and it leaves them 1 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the N.L. East entering play in the evening games.

The Nats (19-15) jumped on Tigers starter Doug Fister early. Denard Span led off the bottom of the first with a double over the first base bag. He went to third on Roger Bernadina’s bunt base hit and scored on Bryce Harper’s fielder’s choice that erased Bernadina at second. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a single, and Adam LaRoche did the same, plating Harper. Ian Desmond then single to center to bring home Zimmerman and give the Nats a 3-0 lead after one inning.

The Tigers got one back in the top of the second off Haren (W, 4-3, 5.17), when Fister muscled an 0-1 pitch to center for his third Major League hit of his career, scoring Jhonny Peralta from third.

The hit parade for the Nationals continued in the bottom half of the inning. With one out, Span reached when Fister clipped Span’s pant leg with an errant fastball. Bernadina fell behind 0-2 but worked the at bat for a walk. Harper struck out looking, but consecutive singles by Zimmerman and LaRoche again plated two more runs to stretch the Nats lead to 5-1 after two full.

Detroit used some small ball, then a blast to cut into the Nats lead in the sixth. With one out, Peralta drew a four-pitch walk. Haren got Alex Avila to line out to center, but on the next pitch, Omar infant reached on a perfectly placed bunt single. Matt Tuiasosopo pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot and drilled a three-run shot over the Tigers bullpen in left center to make it 5-4.

Haren’s final line (6.0 IP, 4 ER, 9 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR) ended up kinda messy after the homer, but he threw a good game up until that point.

The rest was up to the bullpen, and they got the job done, with Ryan Mattheus, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano all pitching scoreless innings to keep the one-run lead intact. Soriano earned his 12th save of the season in 13 tries, getting Prince Fielder to fly to the track in center for the final out of the game.

THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman. 3-for-4, RBI, run scored. He’s starting to heat up. Adam LaRoche went 2-for-4 with an RBI.

THE BAD: Danny Espinosa. 0-for-4, K.

THE UGLY: Tyler Moore. Pinch-hit for Bernadina against a lefty reliever and struck out on three pitches, all breaking balls.

THE STATS: 9 hits, 2 BBs, 9 Ks. 5-for-12 with RISP, 7 LOB. No errors, no DPs.

NEXT GAME: Friday starts a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs, 7:05 pm from Nats Park. Ross Detwiler (1-3, 2.50) hosts Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 3.09).

Washington Redskins Game 11 Review: Griffin, Skins get out quickly; hold on to beat Cowboys 38-31

With each touchdown pass and each victory earned, the legend of Robert Griffin III grows.

Griffin’s four touchdown passes — and a handful of key defensive plays during a nailbiting fourth quarter — led the Washington Redskins over their arch-rival, the hated Dallas Cowboys, 38-31 before 90,166 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX — and a national television audience on Thanksgiving Day.

The win, which gives the Skins a 5-6 record and a share of second place in the NFC East with the Cowboys, was the Redskins first on Thanksgiving Day since defeating the Detroit Lions 20-0 in 1973. It was the first win against Dallas on Thanksgiving in team history.

It seemed like every single Griffin completion set another rookie team record for the quarterback, playing in just his tenth career game. Griffin completed 20-of-28 for 311 yards and four touchdowns and added 29 yards on the ground on six carries. In the process, he broke Norm Snead’s single-season rookie team record for most passing yards in a season, as well as Eddie LeBaron’s single-season rookie team record for touchdown passes at 14. For the season, through 11 games, Griffin has amassed 2,504 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The quarterback had help in defeating their bitter rivals. Fellow rookie running back Alfred Morris rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown — his sixth of the season. The much-maligned defense came up with three turnovers (one fumble recovery and two interceptions). And each of Griffin’s four touchdown passes went to different receivers with eight different receivers hauling in passes.

The Cowboys got on the board first, with Dan Bailey hitting on a 30-yard field goal at 9:17 of the opening frame. The Skins then went on a tear, scoring four touchdowns in the second quarter to take a commanding lead — one that would be challenged but never relinquished.

Griffin hit a streaking Aldrick Robinson behind Dallas’s secondary for a 68-yard touchdown to put the Skins up 7-3. Griffin’s play fake at the line of scrimmage held Cowboys free safety Charlie Peprah long enough for Robinson to get open deep and Griffin hit him in stride. On the Cowboys’ next possession, cornerback Josh Wilson forced a fumble that was recovered by safety DeJon Gomes, which set up Morris’ one-yard touchdown plunge and the Skins opened up a 14-3 advantage.

The onslaught continued.

On a third down play, Griffin found Pierre Garcon on a crossing route and the receiver made a great adjustment on the ball to make the catch in the first place, then ran away from the Dallas secondary for a 59-yard catch-and-run. It’s just the type of dimension the Skins hoped Garcon would be able to add when they acquired him via free agency last off-season. The receiving touchdown was Garcon’s first touchdown since scoring on an 88-yard touchdown at New Orleans in Week 1. Garcon’s five catches (93 yards) represented a season-high.

Late in the quarter, DeAngelo Hall picked off Tony Romo and returned it into Dallas territory. It was Hall’s fourth interception of the season and second in as many games. Veteran Santana Moss closed a 33-yard drive with a six-yard scoring grab with 0:05 left in the half. It was Moss’ seventh TD of the season, his most since 2005 — his first year with the Skins — when he registered nine and the third highest season total in his career. Moss finished the game with four catches for 42 yards.

The 28-point second quarter marked the first time the Redskins have accomplished that particular feat since scoring 28 points in the second quarter of the team’s 38-36 win vs. Carolina on Oct. 3, 1999, a span of 214 regular season games.

The third quarter belonged to the Cowboys, who did not go quietly. Bailey nailed a 33-yarder at 11:48 and Romo hit Dez Bryant for 85 yards for Dallas’ first touchdown of the day to cut the Skins lead to 28-13 by the end of the frame.

Griffin wasn’t done though. On third and less than a yard on the Cowboys’ 29-yard line, the rookie found a wide open Niles Paul, who stumbled and backed into the end zone for the first touchdown catch of his career. The play was a classic staple of the Joe Gibbs Era: a short-yardage, play-action fake and throw to the near side tight end. No one in the Dallas defensive backfield bothered to even cover Paul and he ran alone on his route into the end zone.

That did not deter the Cowboys though. Romo (37-of-62, 441 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) found Felix Jones for a 10-yard scoring strike and just a few moments later hit Bryant for 11 yards on a perfect back shoulder route that cut the Skins lead to seven at 35-28.

But the Skins pushed back into Dallas territory on the next possession and rookie kicker Kai Forbath was true from 48 yards to give the Skins another two-score cushion. The Cowboys managed to erase that kick with one of their own as Bailey hit from 51 yards out with 0:18 left in the game. But on the ensuing onsides kick attempt, Hall gathered the ball on the fly and raced with it down to the Dallas two yard line, where he fell down and allowed the Skins to simply snap the ball once to run the clock out on an entertaining game.

The resulting victory actually catapults the Skins into the playoff discussion in the NFC East. Should the New York Giants fall to Green Bay Sunday night, the Skins will play for the division lead the following Sunday when they match up with the Giants at FedEx Field.

The way Robert Griffin III’s season is playing out, no one should count anything out at this point.

Talking Points:

  • Washington held the Cowboys to 35 yards rushing, marking the Redskins’ second-best effort against the run the season and their best effort since holding New Orleans to 32 rushing yards in Week 1.
  • The Redskins are now 2-1 in NFC East play and 5-4 against all NFC foes this season.
  • The victory evened Washington’s road record at 3-3.
  • The Redskins have now won consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 1-2 of the 2011 season.
  • Including a win against Philadelphia in Week 11, Washington has now defeated NFC East opponents in consecutive weeks for the first time since defeating Dallas and Philadelphia in Weeks 4-5 of the 2008 season.
  • The victory gives Head Coach Mike Shanahan 170 combined regular season and postseason wins as an NFL head coach. The win was his 162nd regular season victory as an NFL head coach.
  • Linebacker London Fletcher started and extended his active playing streak, but left the game later after tweaking his ailing ankle and did not return to the game.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 4 Review: Werth’s walk-off homer beats Cardinals 2-1; forces Game 5

“That’s the way that game should have ended.” Nats manager Davey Johnson

“That was loud as I’ve ever heard a place.” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright

Jayson Werth leaps into Nats teammates awaiting his arrival at home plate after walk-off home run – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jayson Werth saw everything that Lance Lynn had. For 12 pitches, he fought off pitch after pitch. Werth looked at a curveball — on pitch 11 — that didn’t miss by much for a ball to run the count full. After one more foul ball, Lynn — an 18-game winner and All-Star starter for the St. Louis Cardinals this season — left one a little too far over the plate. Werth put a perfect swing on the 96-MPH offering and delivered it to the back of the Cards bullpen in left center, giving the Washington Nationals a 2-1 victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series and forcing Game 5, to be played Friday night at Nats Park at 8:37 pm.

You want excitement? Try watching this.

“[Lynn]’s tough,” Werth said after. “We’ve faced him a lot over September and in the series. So I knew what he had. But I think he threw a hook, 2-2, to get to 3-2, and I figured from there I wasn’t going to get off the heater.  Fouled a couple more off and finally got one to hit.”

So how big was this one in Werth’s personal collection? “You know,” he replied,”I can’t even remember any of the other ones right now. This one’s pretty fresh. This is, given the situation, definitely pretty big.”

“He’s a remarkable guy,” Nats skipper Davey Johnson said of Werth. “He can force a pitcher to throw a lot of pitches, and he did that time.”

Werth’s heroics would not have been possible without the performance of Ross Detwiler and a trio of hard-throwing relievers — including Jordan Zimmermann, making the first relief appearance of his young career.

Detwiler, the Nationals nominal fifth starter and pitcher most commonly referred to as “replacing” ace Stephen Strasburg in the Nats playoff rotation, was simply brilliant. He did not have gaudy strikeout numbers (he only fanned three), but he limited the Cardinals offense to three hits and three walks over six strong innings. The only run the Cardinals pushed across came via one of those walks (to No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma), an error on a ground ball to Ian Desmond, and a sacrifice fly.

Other than that, Detwiler kept the ball out of the middle of the plate and Cardinals hitters off base.

“I tell you,” Johnson said, “I was proud of him. He pitched. He didn’t start the game overthrowing. He pitched.”

“He was outstanding. Unbelievable. Won the game for us.”

Nats starting pitcher Ross Detwiler starts delivery with his high kick – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

After Detwiler departed, Johnson called first on Zimmermann, who was roughed up in Game 2. On his normal day to throw a side session, Zimmermann was sent to the pen in case Detwiler struggled early. But with Detwiler’s strong performance, Zimmermann then became a weapon the veteran manager could employ strategically instead of out of necessity.

“He came in, and I mean, he was hyped,” Johnson said of his starter-turned-reliever. “That’s the hardest I’ve seen him throw all year.”

Zimmermann channelled that energy — and probably a little left over frustration from Monday’s pounding — to strike out the side in the seventh inning, hitting 97 MPH on the radar at times. “I mean, his slider was like 91, and he just — some guys in our club said, ‘That’s our next closer.’ I said, ‘No way.'”

After that, Tyler Clippard — he of the 32 saves this season — came on and struck out the side as well in the eighth. Drew Storen struck out the first two in the top of the ninth, to make eight straight outs via strikeout, before he popped up Matt Carpenter to end the inning, setting the stage for the biggest at bat in a season full of them.

THE TAKEAWAY: Now THAT was playoff baseball. Good pitching. Tension. A walk-off winner. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s good for the soul. Some are already calling Werth’s homer the greatest sports moment in the city in recent memory. While I think that sells short a lot of moments the Caps have had in the Ovechkin era (Winter Classic, the Fedorov winner just to name two off the top of my head), it was way up there and the park just exploded as soon as the ball left the bat.

The crowds have been tremendous the last two games. Loud, involved, appreciative, standing-room only, red. Most folks stood for every two-strike count. They stood for the entirety of the Nats at bats in the eighth and ninth. It’s just great to see the Nats Park crowd look — and feel — like a playoff crowd in a baseball city.

Werth said it best: “You know, our fans have been great. They have been showing up in record numbers. When I signed here, my first day here, I went to a Capitals game, which the place was packed. Somebody said, ‘Just a few short years ago [Verizon Center] was empty.’ So I knew that a winning ballclub would bring the fans. Here we are, two years later and they’re showing up and it’s awesome.”

THE GOOD: Adam LaRoche. His solo home run was all the Nats offense could muster up until Werth’s heroics.

THE BAD: Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa. Both batters are struggling terribly. Both went 0-for-3 last night.Harper’s hitting .056 in the series and Espinosa is .083.

THE UGLY: Jim Joyce’s strike zone. In a word — terrible. He was bad for both teams. It seemed like every time there was a called strike it was wrong, at least according to the broadcast pitch-track. Matt Holliday was called out on strikes against Clippard in the eighth on three pitches, all called strikes, none of which were in the pitch-track box. Holliday slumped on strike three, and laughed as he went back to the dugout.

THE STATS: 3 hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks. 0-for-0 with RISP, 2 LOB, 1 GIDP (Morse). E: Desmond (1), no DPs.

FIRST PITCH: Frank Howard threw out the ceremonial first pitch. [Photos]

NEXT GAME: Game 5 Friday night at 8:30 pm at Nats Park against the Cardinals. Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89; 0-0, 3.60) hosts Adam Wainright (14-13, 3.94; 0-1, 1.59).

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Jayson Werth walk-off homer forces Game 5 of NLDS

After a 13-pitch at bat in the bottom of the ninth, Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, crushed a 3-2 pitch into the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen, delivering a 2-1 win and forcing a Game 5 in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

“He’s a remarkable guy,” Nats skipper Davey Johnson said. “He can force a pitcher to throw a lot of pitches, and he did that time.”

“That’s the way that game should have ended.”

Ross Detwiler turned in the start of his career, allowing one unearned run on three hits and three walks over six innings, and Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen all pitched shutout innings in relief to keep the Nats in the game.

We’ll have much more soon at District Sports Page.

Nats gather at home plate to greet Jayson Werth after walk-off – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 1 Review: Moore’s pinch-hit delivers Nats a 3-2 win

If someone told you a rookie outfielder would deliver the key hit in for the Washington Nationals in the top of the eighth inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, it probably wouldn’t come as that big of a surprise, considering the Nats have one of the most celebrated first-year players to ever play in the majors. But the hero in the Nats 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals probably isn’t the guy you would have thought of first.

No, it wasn’t Bryce Harper that delivered the key hit. It was Tyler Moore, one of several rookies that made the Nats post-season roster, who singled to right off Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski to drive in two in that pivotal at bat in the eighth inning to give the Nats a lead that eventually turned into a win to take a 1-0 series lead over the Cards.

This one wasn’t pretty. There were several defensive miscues. Both team stranded a ton of runners. Nats starter Gio Gonzalez walked seven batter. Yes, seven. But in the end, a Major League team from the District won their first playoff game since 1933.

The eighth inning rally started with Michael Morse’s hard hit grounder to short, which Pete Kozma misplayed into an error. Ian Desmond (3-for-4, run) singled, moving Morse over to third. Danny Espinosa, who had struck out three times to that point in the game, tried to bunt for a base hit and was out easily when his bunt dies about 10 feet in front of home plate, but Desmond did move up 90 feet. Kurt Suzuki struck out against righty Mitchell Boggs, bringing up the pitcher’s spot.

Nats manager Davey Johnson sent up lefty Chad Tracy to hit in the spot, so Cards manager Mike Matheny called upon his left-handed specialist, Rzepczynski. Johnson countered by pulling Tracy and instead inserting Moore into the key situation in the game. Moore got into a 2-2 count, then flared a 93-MPH fastball ont he outside corner into right field, scoring both Morse and Desmond, who’d gotten a terrific jump on the ball.

That left the Nats needing to record just six outs to notch the win. Tyler Clippard, who struggled down the stretch and eventually lost the closer’s role, did his job, allowing just one base runner, who reached on a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error. Drew Storen pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record the first playoff save of his career and allowed the Nats to earn no worse than a split in St. Louis.

But this was a nailbiter all the way. With the Cardinals nursing a 2-1 lead much of the game, every inning saw a key play or decision that might have swayed the outcome. In the sixth with a runner on, Cards second baseman Daniel Descalso lofted a fly ball to the right field wall, but Jayson Werth leapt at the last and caught the potential homer with the heel of his glove, keeping the score at 2-1.

In the following frame, the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs against Craig Stammen, pitching his second inning of work. Johnson asked for his other right-handed middle man, Ryan Mattheus, and the unheralded reliever threw two pitches — and recorded three outs. Mattheus coaxed a grounder to short from cleanup hitter Allen Craig, and Desmond calmly threw home to force the runner at the plate. His next pitch was grounded to Zimmerman at third by Yadier Molina and Zim started a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat.

Gio Gonzalez did not have the playoff debut he would have hoped for. The 21-game winning lefty fought his control all game, walking seven in five innings. Of his 110 pitches, only 59 were strikes. But with as many runners as he gave the Cardinals, they never could come up with the big hit to bust things open, only reaching Gonzalez for one hit in his erratic performance.

THE TAKEAWAY: It was absolutely imperative the Nats earn a split on the road in St. Louis and they were able to do just that right away in Game 1. In the ludicrous situation the Nats find themselves — having won the N.L. East, earning the league’s best record along the way, and being forced to play the first two games of the series on the road — they needed to split to make what little homefield advantage they’ve been given in this series worth something. The Cards, down 0-1 now, are really behind the eight ball having to with three of the next four games, with the last three coming in D.C.

And kudos to Davey Johnson, sticking to his guns by using Moore in a big pinch-hitting spot interchangeably with Chad Tracy. In fact, he could have been massaging the situation by going to Tracy in the first place, knowing Matheny would counter with a lesser pitcher for the presumably more favorable handedness matchup. It didn’t work though, as Davey used his whole roster, just as he did all season and just as he said he would continue to do in the playoffs.

THE GOOD: Desmond, Moore, Mattheus, Clippard and Storen all played the hero today. Add in Suzuki for delivering the Nats first run on a tow-out hit in the second inning.

THE BAD: Jayson Werth. The home run saving catch was great, but Werth had a rough day at the plate, going 1-for-5 and leaving the bases loaded twice. He stranded seven runners in total.

THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa. He’s been in the doghouse quite a bit lately, and his performance in Game 1 won’t do anything to get him out of there. Officially, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a sacrifice bunt, stranding four runners. Twice he came up with a runner on third and one out and couldn’t make contact to bring in that run. In his last at bat, with runners on the corners, he swung through strike one and then bunted on strike two, getting thrown out in the process. Replays showed Michael Morse wasn’t coming on a squeeze play, so either someone missed a sign or Espinosa was trying to bunt for a base hit. Not a good play, either way.

THE STATS: 8 hits, 4 BBs, 13 Ks. 2-for-9 with RISP, 10 LOB, no GIDPs. E: LaRoche (1), Zimmerman (1), 2 DPs.

NEXT GAME: Monday at 4:30 pm in St. Louis. Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94) faces lefty Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92).

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Washington Nationals Game 161 Review: With starters on bench, “Goon Squad” grinds out 4-2 win for No. 97 on the season

With the N.L. East division championship sewn up Monday night, the Washington Nationals rested most of their regular lineup and sat Gio Gonzalez for some extra rest, instead asking Tom Gorzelanny and a parade of relievers to get the job done as they still try to secure the best record in the N.L. They inched closer to clinching that No. 1 overall seed in the N.L. playoffs by defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2, before 33,546 at Nats Park Tuesday night.

The win gave the Nats a half-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds for that top spot, pending the result of their game with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Phillies got on the board first in the fourth inning. Rookie Darin Ruf took a Gorzelanny changeup down the left field line and into the first row above the flower bed atop the wall for his second home run since his recall. The Nats got that one back in the bottom half. Adam LaRoche doubled to lead off, took third on a ground out, and scored on Roger Bernadina’s opposite field single. Unfortunately, The Shark was picked off at first to end the inning.

LaRoche wasn’t done. One of just two regular batters in the order, the Nats first baseman skied one into the Nats bullpen in right to break the tie in the sixth inning. The homer, his 33rd of the season, also accounted for his 100th RBI of the campaign, matching a career high.

Adam LaRoche taking curtain call after hitting 100th RBI – Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 2, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Nats kept putting base runners on against reliever Josh Lindblom. Following LaRoche’s homer, Chad Tracy walked and Mark DeRosa singled. Lindblom hit catcher Sandy Leon with two outs, and with the bases loaded Steve Lombardozzi slashed one up the middle to plate DeRosa with the Nats third run of the night.

Ruf struck again for the Phillies in the eighth inning, this time clobbering a down and in fastball from Tyler Clippard, sending the pitch deep into the visiting bullpen in left center for his third career home run — all against the Nationals.

But the Nats bounced right back in the bottom of the frame to return serve. DeRosa doubled to lead off, Bernadina was hit with a pitch by reliever Antonio Bastardo, and Leon walked to load the bases. Eury Perez’ grounder to short forced DeRosa at the plate, but Steve Lombardozzi floated a fly to center just deep enough to score the speedy Bernadina from third for the insurance run.

All that was left was for Drew Storen to close out the top of the ninth, which he did with three ground ball outs to earn his fourth save of the season.

THE TAKEAWAY: The Nats are comfortably in the playoffs, but they’d like to avoid having to fly across county to play the Giants in the first round if they can help it. Notching the top seed in the playoffs would allow them an extra day of rest, keep Gio on his regular starting schedule, and stay within one time zone of home at the worst. If the Nats finish tied with the Reds, they’ll get that top seed by virtue of a better head-to-head record this season.

THE GOOD: Adam LaRoche. He went 2-for-3 with the homer and two runs scored. Came through big time tonight with the rest of the starters on the bench. Special mention for Tom Gorzelanny, who gave the Nats 3 2/3 innings (65 pitches) of quality spot start, allowing just one earned run on four hits and two walks, striking out five.

THE BAD: Eury Perez. Forced a runner at home as a result of a fielder’s choice in back-to-back at bats.

THE UGLY: Tyler Moore. Went 0-for-4 with two Ks and looked overmatched. Could just be a case of rust, he hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time recently.

THE STATS: 9 hits, 4 BBs, 7 Ks. 2-for-13 with RISP, 10 LOB, no GIDP. E: DeRosa (1), 1 DP.

NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 1:05 pm against the Phillies. Edwin Jackson (9-11, 4.13) hosts Cliff Lee (6-8, 3.12).

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Division title ushers in new era of Washington baseball for generations of fans

They used to say that Washington was “First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.” From 1934 until 1971, that was pretty much the truth. After their last appearance in the World Series in 1933, rarely did the original Senators finish higher than sixth in the eight-team league. The expansion Senators were even worse, finishing last or next-to-last in 10 of their 11 years of existence. Those old Senators teams were so bad, they wrote a play and movie about how they’d have to sell their souls to the devil in order to win.

A bad team is better than no team, though, which is what the Nation’s Capital had for 34 years.

The current team that resides in the District originated in Montreal, moving to the American capital in 2005. There’s not much winning history there to hang a hat on either. Their best shot at post-season glory was snuffed by the work stoppage in 1994, when a team that was 74-40 was shut down, potentially causing the ultimate ruin of baseball in the beautiful Quebec Province.

The Expos suffered the ignominy of having their owner abandon them, then were forced — under the stewardship of Major League Baseball — to play half their home games in Puerto Rico. They weren’t allowed to make call-ups to bolster the roster when they threatened to compete, and in a last-grasp effort to be competitive, under the very real threat of contraction they traded all their best young prospects for one player to maybe achieve one last hurrah for les habitants du Montreal.

It didn’t work.

The Expos team that moved to D.C. was a band of fading “stars”, journeymen, rejects, and never-weres. Though competitive in the first half of the season in their new surroundings and the adrenaline of having a home and fans, they quickly faded and finished in their accustomed place in the standings. The next few seasons that followed were hide-your-eyes ugly. Poor play, mis-management, scandal, even misspellings on the uniforms made the Washington Nationals the laughingstock of baseball.

All that changed Monday night, when this year’s version found out their 96 wins — earned over the course of 159 games — was enough to clinch the National League Eastern Division Championship.

Some may think that this team is competing a year early. They were a darling pick in the pre-season to battle for a wild card slot in the N.L. this season, but very few — including those that follow this team the closest — figured they would win more than 85 games or so. It’s been assumed all along that the team’s ace, Stephen Strasburg, would be shut down around Labor Day, and that did turn out to be the case. The offense was built on sluggers with low on base percentages, and the pitching staff, including the bullpen, was very young.

What happened, though, is that the pitching staff dominated early and continued all season long. The hitting, which struggled in the first half of the season due largely to injuries to Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse, came around once everyone got healthy, Jayson Werth was inserted into the leadoff spot, Ian Desmond moved down into a run-producing position… and the arrival of one of the most hyped — and most talented — prospects in the history of the game. Bryce Harper’s arrival in late April might have been earlier than anyone, including Mike Rizzo, anticipated, but it was the precise catalyst this team needed as they started to realize that they had enough talent to compete with any team in the National League.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The champagne celebration in the clubhouse and field in front of the Nats dugout last night was more than baseball players celebrating achievement on the field. It was a catharsis. Maybe the players themselves don’t really understand how. Their view is — must be — more myopic, still on the matter at hand. To a man Monday night, they all talked about the work left to be done.

But to those in the organization that lived through the 100-loss seasons, the handful that called RFK home, the very few that spilt home games in Montreal and San Juan, the generation of Washingtonians that had no baseball to call their own, the previous generations that had two separate teams ripped from them by insidious ownerships.. they all know what last night meant.

You can’t count on competing for the playoffs or the World Series every year. This team is built better than most to be competitive for several seasons, but you never know. A key injury here, a bad bounce there, you just never know. Every baseball fan in the District — and there are many more today than there were even yesterday — hopes that the Nats can repeat that champagne celebration again in a few weeks and many more times in the foreseeable future. But if that’s the only one we ever see in this generation, it was awfully sweet.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Washington Nationals Game 160 Review: Nats fall to Phillies; Clinch division with Braves loss

The result of Monday’s Washington Nationals game against the Philadelphia Phillies was rendered moot at the conclusion of the top of the ninth inning. As news of the Atlanta Braves 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates spread across the stands and into the Nats dugout, it no longer mattered how Game 160 ended.

By virtue of the Braves loss, the Washington Nationals clinched the 2012 N.L. Eastern Division Championship.

That the Nats failed to score in the bottom of the inning, thus falling to their nemesis Phillies 2-0, is immaterial. There’s no “backing in” when you’ve won 96 games.

Nats Gio Gonzalez was the first to come onto the field after champagne celebration in the clubhouse. – Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 1, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nats players, coaches and staff exchanged hugs and high fives, even as the Nats were going 1-2-3 against Phils’ reliever Philippe Aumont to end the game. After the final out was recorded, bedlam ensued — first in the clubhouse, then the celebration spilled out onto the playing field in front of the Nats dugout. Players, coaches, staff, families, press; there must have been 300 people on the field, all being sprayed with champagne and Miller Lite.

“We’re getting beat but we’re celebrating,” Jayson Werth, one of the most obvious revelers, said afterward. “It was cool. This team deserves this. We’ve come a long way, and this is great. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of tough games ahead of us, but this is quite an accomplishment and I’m glad the guys could go through it.”

The stands around the Nats dugout remained packed too, with diehard fans that wanted a piece of the first division championship in Nats history, and the first playoff baseball team in the District since 1933. Players were interviewed live by MASN and MLB Network. GM Mike Rizzo exchanged embraces with most of his players and many family members. The Lerner family and other members of the ownership group traded hugs with each other and the players. It was a remarkable scene of joy.

The Nats players even took a victory lap around the warning track, exchanging high-fives with fans along the baselines.

No player in a Nats uniform knows how much this means to the organization and fan base than Face of the Franchise, Ryan Zimmerman. He took a moment to reflect on how the Nats reached this point.

“Obviously this organization has been through a lot. A bunch of people have come through here and helped this organization get to where it’s at now that aren’t here anymore. Those guys were a big part of this, but this team this year’s gone through so much adversity, injuries, everything. This is a pretty special feeling for all of us.”

Asked if he could envision this scenario those years ago at old, decrepit RFK Stadium, Zimmerman replied, “I thought we had a chance at some point. It seemed a little bit further away then, but things started to turn around the last couple of years and everything just came together perfectly this year.”

As for the game, it really wasn’t much to write home about. Phils starter Kyle Kendrick was dominant, getting the Nats to hit ground ball out after ground ball out en route to seven solid innings of four-hit ball. Nats starter John Lannan gave up six hits and three walks in his five innings, but only allowed two runs to score, both on a two-run triple by Phillies’ rookie left fielder Darin Ruf in the second inning.

 But the result of this one matters none in the long run. That the Nats clinched by virtue of the chasing team losing matters not. Part of the benefit of playing so well for so long is forcing the teams trailing in the standing to play perfect baseball to catch up. The Braves have been mostly up to the task –especially lately — winning eight of their last 10 games until last night.

But that 8 1/2 game lead the Nats built at the start of September ultimately was too much for the Braves to overcome.

The Nats would like to still clinch the best record in the N.L. to earn the No. 1 seed and get the privilege of playing the wildcard winner and starting their Division Series on Sunday, Gio Gonzalez’ normal day to start. They remain tied with the Cincinnati Reds at 96-64 for that privilege, but own the tiebreaker based on head-to-head record this season.

Regardless, the Nats do not have to participate in the gimmicky one-game wildcard play-in. They are division champs. All of Washington can celebrate, for one night anyway.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

OPINION: Robert Griffin III worth every penny, draft pick after four games

Recently, as fans of the Washington Redskins, we’ve become accustomed to watching the other team’s quarterbacks lead fourth quarter drives down the field to get into scoring position, eventually breaking our hearts when the game-winning touchdown or field goal is scored for the opposition. We’ve been left with little solace other than a high — but not high enough — draft pick the following April. But that’s all changed.

Much is obvious about the way Robert Griffin III has changed the Skins. His arm, his vision, his speed — all obvious. But there are subtleties that might not be as obvious, but just as important to the long-term impact he brings this team and this community.

For much of the second half in Sunday’s 24-22 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Griffin and the offense looked out of sorts — lost even at times — as they played from ahead against a team desperate to find their own identity. At times, the play calling seemed incongruous to the game situation and the offense played that way as well, seemingly impervious to the apparent goal of taking precious time off the clock.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. Run, and give the impression he was simply sitting on the lead and was oblivious to the Bucs gaining ground on the field and scoreboard. Pass, and appear that he was being cavalier with a big lead. Ultimately, for much of the second half, the Skins were effective at neither and the Bucs did indeed not only close the gap, but overtake the Redskins.

It’s not an uncommon theme in this young season. It’s precisely how the Saints and Rams games transpired as well. In both those contests, the Skins came out like gangbusters in the first half, running Griffin’s offense with such flourish that all three games looked like they’d be runaways. Yet, all three turned out to be nailbiters in the worst way.

Sunday was no exception. Yet this time, it was Griffin at his best again on that last drive, hitting open receivers for significant gains, pulling it down and running for a first down, working the clock. Griffin hit Santana Moss for 15 yards in the middle of the field. He found Fred Davis for 20 yards to get into Tampa territory. Evan Royster took a swing pass for four yards. Griffin himself ran for 15 around the right end.

As it turns out, his headset was malfunctioning and he was calling the plays himself during the drive. Fun.

Even after a false start by Kory Lichtensteiger pushed the Skins back five yards, Griffin regained the composure of his team and found Moss again to get those five yards back, plus two more, setting up Billy Cundiff for his redemption-laden 41 yard game-winning field goal.

Griffin’s numbers sparkled yet again. He was 26-of-35 for 323 yards with no interceptions. He ran for 43 yards on seven carries with one touchdown, and should have been credited for a second. But the numbers, as usual, only tell part of the story.

The other part of the story is the presence, the acumen, the fear Griffin brings to the game, highlighted by the way this rookie led his team down the field at the end of the game. This time, it was the Redskins that had the player most feared on the field. It was Griffin’s first fourth quarter game-winning drive. We can only imagine it won’t be his last.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Redskins coverage on Twitter @RedskinsDSP.

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