After a stretch of frustrating road losses, the Washington Nationals entered Wednesday night’s matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies in search of a long-awaited big-time hit to avoid the series sweep and perhaps pump some energy into Washington’s uninspired batting order.
It may have taken eleven innings, but at last, Ian Desmond found it.
After trailing for the better part of nine innings in a pitcher’s duel between Gio Gonzalez and the Phils’ Kyle Kendrick, the Nationals (35-36) stumbled upon their pot of gold against reliever Michael Stutes (L, 2-1) in to snare a 6-2 win in the 11th inning.
The win leaves the Nats seven games behind Atlanta in the N.L. East and drops the Phillies (35-38) a game behind Washington in third place.
After Ryan Zimmerman hit a one-out double and Stutes intentionally walked Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth drew a semi-intentional walk to load the bases.
Then came Desmond.
Many could argue it came off a pitch that never should have been. On a 1-2 count, the home plate umpire called a seemingly perfect 92 MPH four-seamer ball two, allowing Desmond to bear down on a hanging slider on the next pitch.
With a picturesque swing, Desmond socked the ball over the left-center field wall to power the Nats to a 6-2 lead – their biggest margin of victory in a week. The home run marked Desmond’s first career grand slam and the first extra-inning grand slam in Nationals’ history.
Although Desmond provided the extra-inning heroics, Gio Gonzalez deserves a good portion of the credit for getting the Nationals to that point. Despite being outmatched by Kyle Kendrick on the scoreboard, Gonzalez’s only snafu of the evening came in the first inning. In fact, after his first two batters faced, Gonzalez was nearly perfect.
To start things off in the bottom of the first, Ben Revere singled and Michael Young quickly homered to give the Phillies an early 2-0 lead.
From there, Gonzalez shut down the Phillies. Aside from a walk in the fourth and another in the sixth, Gonzalez retired every batter he faced to record a final line of: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 11 K. His 11 strikeouts marked a personal season-high and his eighth career double-digit strikeout game.
The Nats finally got on the scoreboard in the seventh. Zimmerman drew a one-out walk and advanced on a ground out. Jayson Werth then hit what was, at the time, just the Nats’ second hit of the day. But, it was just enough to drive in Zimmerman and trim Philadelphia’s lead by one.
In the ninth, the struggling Washington offense once again did something no other teams have done this year – unraveled Jonathan Papelbon (BS,2), if only just enough.
Denard Span singled to lead off before Papelbon retired Anthony Rendon and Zimmerman. LaRoche drew a one-out walk and, for the second time, Werth came up with a single to bring home the run — this time, to tie the game.
Both teams saw opportunities to write a win in the books in the 10th to no avail. In the 11th, the Nationals finally made their move, securing the much-needed victory on Desmond’s grand slam.
THE GOOD: It’s obvious that Nationals Nation has been starved of offensive power, come-from-behind wins or even purposeful late-inning heroics in recent weeks. That said, whether or not weeks from now Nationals fans will reflect on Desmond’s grand slam as a turning point in the season, the rocket to left-center allows the Nats to return home on a more positive note.
Let it be known, Gio Gonzalez’s performance Wednesday should not be forgotten. Save for the mistakes he hurled to the Phillies’ number-one and number-two batters in the first, he was near-perfect. In fact, he retired 20 of the final 22 batters he faced.
Jayson Werth also deserves a tip of the cap – after all, he single-handedly batted in both of the Nationals’ runs prior to Desmond’s grand slam.
Also worth noting, Nationals’ second-baseman-in-training Anthony Rendon turned a play in the third inning that could make a veteran second baseman green with envy. With one out, Ben Revere hit an awkward grounder to Rendon, who charged in and flicked to first beautifully – in time for the out.
THE BAD: Rookie Rendon had a rough night at the plate, going 0-for-5.
THE UGLY: For a long while, up until Werth’s first RBI single, it looked like the Nats might suffer their 10th shutout of the season, as they were flat-out dominated by Phils starter Kyle Kendrick. The Nationals’ sole base runner through six innings was Adam LaRoche, who singled in the second, and the team showed no signs of a fight until scoring in the seventh and ninth innings.
THE STATS: 6 R, 8 H, 4 BB, 9 K, 1 HR, 3-for-8 RISP, 6 LOB
NEXT GAME: 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park vs. Colorado Rockies – Roy Oswalt returns to Major League Baseball to face Jordan Zimmermann (9-3, 2.44)