Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Kurt Suzuki each homered in the Washington Nationals’ 8-4 win over the third-place Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park Wednesday night.
At the start of the game, the Nationals seemed well-deserving of the top spot in the NL East. Against Phillies’ right-hander Kyle Kendrick (L, 10-12, 4.08) they looked as though they were taking pitches in batting practice rather than facing off against a team struggling to clutch onto a playoff berth. After Jayson Werth led off the top of the first with a five-pitch walk, Harper got things started quickly by sending one deep to left center to put the Nats on the board first, 2-0.
John Lannan (W, 4-0, 4.23) forced three groundouts in the bottom of the inning and, at the top of the second, Desmond led off with a solo shot to left center field. Steve Lombardozzi reached first on a throwing error by Chase Utley, and Suzuki capitalized on the opportunity by driving one into the seats in left field to make it 5-0 Nats. Suzuki’s home run represented the third in only eight of the Nats’ at-bats against Kendrick.
And, the slugfest would seemingly continue. Adam LaRoche led off the third inning with a walk and Michael Morse singled on a sharp ground ball to third baseman Kevin Frandsen.
However, the Nats’ bats went silent once the Phillies went to their bullpen to bring in right-hander B.J. Rosenberg. In fact, aside from a fourth-inning walk to Lannan, the Nats failed to put a runner on base again until the eighth inning.
Luckily, Lannan took matters into his own hands.
He wasn’t by any stretch perfect. He started off the second inning by hitting Ryan Howard with a fastball up and in, and in the third, he gave up a lead-off double to Kevin Frandsen before Rosenberg laid down the perfect bunt to drive inthe Phillies’ first run of the game. John Mayberry and Chase Utley went on to hit back-to-back singles later in the inning, but Lannan regained control of his breaking ball in time to strike out Howard and force Carlos Ruiz into a groundout to end the inning.
Unfortunately for the Nats, Frandsen continued to hit well off Lannan, however, and in the fourth, he fired a triple into center field. Rosenberg hit a fly ball that tripped up Harper, who wound up backpedaling for the catch but could not keep up with the ball. Rosenberg was awarded the single and the Phillies drove in their second run of the night, but Lannan went on to force Jimmy Rollins into a ground out to end the inning.
The Phillies tacked on an additional run on Rollins’s homer to right field in the seventh inning, and in the eighth, Davey Johnson turned to Tyler Clippard to keep the Nats on top.
As has been the case recently, however, Clippard failed to deliver. Chase Utley led off for the Phillies with a line drive down the right field line for a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Clippard then walked Ruiz on five pitches and gave up a sacrifice fly to Domonic Brown, who drove in Utley to put the Phillies back within one run, with the tying run on base. The Phillies’ recent call-up, Darin Ruf, singled softly to right to load the bases, but Clippard managed to strike out Frandsen to end the inning.
In the ninth, right-hander Justin De Fratus walked Desmond, who advanced to second on a stolen base. Suzuki followed up with a one-out single to center and Danny Espinosa struck out swinging to bring Werth to the plate with two outs.
During his at-bat, Werth gestured to a fan as though he were going to toss them a souvenir baseball to take home. When he, instead, flicked the ball into the Nationals’ dugout, the boo-birds came out in full force. As if relishing in the moment, Werth fell behind in the count by two strikes before lining one up the middle for a single and two RBI, bringing the Nats’ lead to 7-4. Harper then followed up with a triple against Phillies’ left-hander Antonio Bastardo, driving in his third run on the night and bringing the Nats to the final score, 8-4.
Drew Storen pitched a one-two-three inning in the bottom of the ninth in a no-save situation to seal the Nats’ win and bring Washington’s Magic Number down to four.
THE TAKEAWAY: Amidst talks in the media that the Washington Nationals might let nerves get the best of them in the days leading up to the playoffs, the Nats, instead, looked as relaxed as ever Wednesday night. John Lannan maintained control of his fastball and breaking ball, allowing just five hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings.
THE GOOD: Jayson Werth not only pulled through in the clutch, but he went 2-for-4 on the night with two runs, two RBI and a walk.
Bryce Harper went 2-for-5 with a home run (20), three RBI, one run and a stolen base, his 17th of the year.
THE BAD: Yet again, Tyler Clippard nearly blew the lead for the Washington Nationals. Davey Johnson had Sean Burnett warming in the seventh but, instead, went to Clippard who has been inconsistent in his last several appearances.
The Nationals also managed to strand 13 runners on base against a subpar Philadelphia pitching staff.
THE UGLY: The Washington Nationals’ bats were silenced for nearly five full innings against the Phillies’ bullpen. They’re going to have to prove they can face tougher pitching than they have in recent weeks as the playoffs inch closer.
THE STATS: 9 hits, 4 BBs, 9 Ks, 2-for-8 with RISP, 13 LOB, 2 GIDP, E: Suzuki (5, throw), 1 DP.
NEXT GAME: Thursday at 7:05 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Gio Gonzalez (20-8, 2.84) against Tyler Cloyd (2-1, 3.86)