In nine innings of baseball Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals seemed to summarize the highs and lows of the entire 2013 season thus far in an 11-6 win over the Chicago Cubs that nearly didn’t happen.
Washington cruised into the fifth inning with a five-run lead over a team that could muster only a solo home run by Anthony Rizzo in the bottom of the first until that point.
In the top of the second, Washington had quickly erased Rizzo’s solo shot. Kurt Suzuki batted in Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche with a sharper grounder that deflected off Rizzo’s hand at first. Then, starter Ross Ohlendorf added an RBI sacrifice bunt to make it 3-1 Nationals by the end of the second.
In the third, Jayson Werth, who continues to ride an astonishing hot streak, contributed a three-run shot to put Washington on top 6-1.
But, in the fifth inning, the telltale signs of an implosion quickly surfaced.
Ohlendorf issued a lead-off walk to Logan Watkins, but he got no further as Starlin Castro grounded into a force out in the next at-bat. Then, on a 1-0 count, Rizzo rocketed his second shot of the night to tally two more RBIs and bring the Cubs within three runs of catching Washington.
Of course, it didn’t end there.
With the bases empty and an out still in the Nationals’ favor, Ohlendorf gave up another single, this time to Junior Lake, before Nationals manager Davey Johnson had seen enough.
By the time Tanner Roark had taken the mound, Ohlendorf had recorded a final line of 4.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 2 K and 2 HR with 60 of 91 pitches thrown for strikes.
Roark (W, 3-0) didn’t fare much better than Ohlendorf at first. After allowing a single by Nate Schierholtz, Donnie Murphy brought home Lake on a single of his own before Brian Bogusevic also contributed a single to Chicago’s efforts.
Pinch-hitter Cole Gillespie then singled in Schierholtz before Welington Castillo’s sacrifice fly made it a tie game into the sixth inning.
Luckily for the Nationals, Roark regained control from there onward. In fact, in the bottom of the sixth, he struck out the side – Castro, Rizzo and Lake – on a total of 14 pitches.
Then, in the top of the seventh, Scott Hairston at last made some noise for the Nationals.
After Cubs’ reliever James Russell recorded the first two outs, Bryce Harper doubled before Russell justifiably elected to intentionally walk Werth.
The plan didn’t work.
On a 1-2 count, Hairston saved the day with a go-ahead three-run shot over the left-field wall to give the Nationals a 9-6 lead.
Knowing that no lead is too big, the Nationals tacked on two more runs in the top of the eighth after Denard Span hit an RBI triple and Ryan Zimmerman knocked in Span on an RBI single to bring the Nationals to their final score of 11-6.
THE GOOD: Scott Hairston may not have been the favorite to emerge the hero of Wednesday night’s game, but the Nationals have needed their less prominent characters to step up in order to salvage wins time and time again this year, and this time the task fell upon Hairston’s shoulders. One of the many factors that made Hairston’s heroics all the more surprising is the fact that the Nats midseason pick-up has batted .182 as a pinch-hitter this season.
Craig Stammen and Tyler Clippard held down the fort for the Nationals in the seventh and eighth innings, which allowed for much-needed breathing room.
THE BAD: The bottom of the fifth was a complete disaster. And, while he managed to pitch out of the ninth without allowing a run to score, Rafael Soriano loaded the bases in the inning – in a no-pressure situation, no less.
THE UGLY: As it was mentioned yesterday in DC Sports Bog, Davey Johnson made a comment on 106.7 The Fan that reached Randy Wittman-caliber on the scale that both measures comedy and a team’s frustrations. After Jason Bishop had discussed news that Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli is dating a porn store, Johnson commented, “Well, none of my guys could, ‘cause we can’t score.”
Hopefully, the Nationals’ 11 runs served to disprove the baseball element to Johnson’s statement.
THE STATS: 11 R, 11 H, 0 E, 6 BB, 9 K, 5-for-11 with RISP, 5 LOB
NEXT GAME: 2:20 p.m. ET at Wrigley Field – Stephen Strasburg (6-9, 2.93) vs. Travis Wood (7-10, 3.13)