If you’d told me in March that the Nats would win their 90th game on September 19th, I might’ve laughed at you. Instead, the Nationals showed tonight why they remain atop the NL East, and why they have the best record in baseball. They’re a club that battles and can beat you with each and every one of the players on their roster.
Tonight, the Nationals won their 90th game in the first half of the doubleheader at Nationals Park tonight, sewing up a 3-1 victory to give Jordan Zimmermann his 11th win of the season. Harang made it just four and a third, surrendering 7 hits and 2 walks, and the Nats managed to manufacture a pair of runs before sending him to the showers. Jordan Zimmermann was impressive through 6 full innings and 106 pitches. Danny Espinosa, back in the lineup after a cortisone shot, went 2 for 4 on the night.
In the nightcap, things didn’t go quite the way the Nationals wanted. John Lannan struggled in his fourth start of the year, going just 3 2/3 innings, and he was tagged for all six Dodger runs in the process. Chien Ming Wang did allow a pair of those inherited runners to score on a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice. That fielder’s choice carried with it a bit of controversy, as photographic evidence clearly showed the run should not have counted. Though Davey Johnson argued with the umpiring crew about the call, it was for naught, and the Nationals would trail 6-0 through to the 8th inning, with Josh Beckett straight cruising through the lineup.
The eighth, though, was a different story.
The Nationals came out slugging, with Michael Morse pounding a line drive over the right field fence to give the Nationals their first run of the nightcap. With Ian Desmond aboard on a single, Steve Lombardozzi – not exactly known for his power – sent one to the exact same spot as Morse, putting the Nationals within striking distance. Corey Brown would reach on a fielding error, and Mark DeRosa would join him aboard with a single, putting Bryce Harper at the plate as the tying run. A softly struck grounder toward third was just weak enough to give the fleet-footed Bryce Harper a chance to beat the throw and plate Brown from third. Espinosa would single through the left side of the pulled-in infield to put the tying run just 180 feet from home.
In the lineup for the first time in a week after a sheath tear in his left wrist, Morse had had a good night so far, 1 for 3 with a homer. Facing the Dodgers’ Belisario, Morse would battle through a low slider and swat it into the hole in the right side of the infield to score Harper and DeRosa and tie the game. That’s the thing about this club that makes it scary: they can beat you with their starters or they can beat you with their bench players. Down 6-0, Davey Johnson replaced the middle of his order to rest his regulars and get some playing time for the younger players. That didn’t slow the Nationals even a little bit as they sent twelve men to the plate against the Dodger bullpen in the eighth. At this point, that missed call at home in the fourth began to loom large.
Had the call been made correctly, the Nats would have a had a one-run lead for closer Tyler Clippard, instead of coming in tied. Matt Kemp, he of the slow feet given credit for a run unearned, would just crush a Tyler Clippard challenge fastball on an 0-2 count into the crowd in left field to put the Dodgers up. Clippard committed just the one sin and was tagged for the loss for his troubles. The Nats couldn’t overcome that one last obstacle to clinch their post-season spot, with the magic number for the 1-game play-in for the Wild Card slot at 1, but did pick up their league-leading 90th win.
Any combination of 9 Nats’ wins and Braves’ losses gets the NL East banner raised at Nationals Park next April, and the excitement at Nats Park, on the Metro in the city, on the radio and in the streets is a palpable, breathing thing to behold. Bring on postseason ball.