In a season of clown questions, weird wusses, joy rubs, and hot stuff there was one thing that Nats hadn’t done on their march to the best record in baseball. Before this evening the Nats had yet to hit a grand-slam. The team with the fifth most homers in the National League had hit exactly zero of their 127 with the bases loaded, but in the fourth inning trailing 2-0 to the New York Mets Michael Morse did exactly that.
Since throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history Johan Santana has not been the same. He hasn’t not just been not no-hit good again. He has been downright bad. In his nine starts following his no-hitter he had a 7.98 ERA and failed to make it further than five innings in all but three of those starts. Tonight though looked different. With an umpire crew on the field who had called two perfect games this season Johan Santana was perfect through three innings, but then came the fourth inning and the Nats second look at him.
Although Santana had been perfect through three he had not been efficient. The Nats had worked deep counts and forced him to throw over 50 pitches coming into the fourth. Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman all singled in their second look at Santana, and then Michael Morse came to the plate with the bases loaded. On the 1-1 pitch Morse uncoiled from his stance lashing at the pitch to take it the other way, and the other way it went. High and deep and over the out of town scoreboard for the Nats first grand-slam of the season.
Morse’s grand-slam had turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead and the Nats weren’t finished scoring yet. After a soft line-out by Suzuki and a strikeout by Detwiler to lead off the fifth Werth would single. At the plate would stand Bryce Harper who since the All-Star Break has not played well, and has been especially poor against left handers. Ever since facing Andy Pettitte the book on Harper has been soft stuff away. Johan perhaps has not read that book or wanted to test Harper, but whatever the reason Harper got a pitch he could pull and he didn’t miss it. With the score now 6-2 the Nats strategy was clear. Keep enough base runners off in front of Wright and try and extend the lead against the Mets bullpen.
In the top half of the sixth and seventh innings the Mets would make the David Wright part a bit easier for themselves as Hairston hit a double and then advanced the remaining 180 feet on two ground outs in the sixth, and Kelly Shoppach homered in the seventh. The next time David Wright would bat would be leading off the eighth against Drew Storen, and with no runners on he would single. Wright was then quickly erased on a 5-4-3 double play started by a beautiful flip play by Ryan Zimmerman. It is a play that Nats fans have seen countless times, but no other third baseman in baseball can cut across the infield grass and flip a ball at an almost 90 degree angle to second to start a double play.
The double play wasn’t the only fantastic play Zimmerman made. In fact the first four innings for the Mets started with ground outs to Zimmerman. Each one more impressive than the last. Zimmerman in the second inning made a diving stop on a hard grounder by Shoppach and threw him out from his knees and in the third he speared a sharply hit David Wright grounder and made the long throw across the diamond to get him. This game should stand as an example as to why Ryan Zimmerman is one of the best defensive players in baseball.
There is one other Mets player that has been a thorn in the Nats side all season long, and Jordany Valdespin would get into this game as a part of a double switch. In the bottom of the ninth with two out and one on Valdespin would come to the plate as the tying run. It almost looked as if Clippard worked around him as the free swinging Valdespin walked easily ahead of Ruben Tejada’s fly out to end the ball game and give the Nats their first win of this homestand and their 10th against the Mets.