Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon was given the day off to rest. But he still managed to produce the biggest hit of the ballgame.
Rendon's walk-off single down the left field line scored Bryce Harper from third base and the Nationals upended the Diamondbacks 3-2 for their ninth win in a row. It is their longest winning streak since 2005.
Rendon admitted pinch-hitting was "different to say the least, but it was awesome."
"I talked to a lot of the veteran guys, (Greg) Dobbs when he was here, obviously Scott (Hairston)," Rendon said. "They say just go up like it's your first at-bat of the game, that's what Dobbs told me. That's what I actually remember from earlier in the year. So, all right, I'm going to go up like it's my first at-bat of the game and go up there and try to barrel the ball like I usually do."
Rendon said as the game got tense in the late innings he knew his number might be called for a pinch-hit, so he began to prepare.
"You know the situation. You follow the (pinch-hitters)," Rendon said. "I follow Scotty (Hairston) throughout the whole game pretty much, 'alright what do I do? Do I do this, got to do that?' You just know the whole situation. You got to take swings ahead of time and be ready for it."
What does four walk-off wins for the team in one week feel like?
"It's a little stressful," Rendon said. "I probably got some grays (hair) coming in now. But it's actually good to be on the winning side of these walk-offs. As long as we get a 'W' it's a good time."
Tyler Clippard allowed a two-run shot that erased the Nationals 2-0 lead in the eighth. But Rendon and the Nationals did not let it bother them in the ninth inning, again.
"That's why we are a team. We got a lot of guys on this team, we got to pick each other up," Rendon said. "Obviously not everybody is going to have their best stuff. We are not going to be able to score runs in a lot of games. That's why we have our pitching staff like Tanner (Roark) today that limits them to zero runs. We just have an unfortunate inning. We got to come back and score more runs."
The ninth inning rally started with a Harper single, his third of the game. He reached base in all four plate appearances.
"I was just trying to get on base in that situation, having a good at-bat," Harper said. "Trying to walk or get something through the hole, hit a double or something. Just get on base. I was on third, trying to score of course on contact. Got lucky, that ball got down the line and we scored that run."
Harper got to watch Rendon work his at-bat from third base.
"A great hitter. One of the best hitters out there right now," Harper said of Rendon. "Sitting on third base you kind of know he's going to come through right there. He's just a guy that swings the bat really well. He's a lot of fun to watch and a huge knock for him right there."
Kevin Frandsen also had a single to move the inning along. He was at first base when Rendon stepped in for the eventual game-clincher.
"It's just great because Tony's been so awesome for us," Frandsen said. "A lot of guys around here will sing his praise all the time because he's so level headed. For him to finally get a day off today, you'd never know because he was out there doing everything. Come off the bench. One thing I think he was born to do is hit."
Harper himself is starting to look the hitter he can be and certainly wants to be.
"I think I was a little more patient tonight," Harper said. "I thought being able to go up there and lay off some pitches (Trevor) Cahill was throwing to me. I felt pretty good. I've been battling every single day. I've been trying to come in here and work my tail off. Trying to get that rhythm, trying to get that feel of where I want to be and next month-and-a-half hopefully I can take off and help this team win some more ball games.
"It's one of those things where you take off all that time you're trying to find something that works. I've switched so many times my stance for my hand, for my knee, for so many things. So to be able to go in there every single day and feel good with my swing where it's at right now and not change anything and stay with everything I've been doing feels very good."
Now this team has won nine in a row and several of the games in dramatic fashion. What does that feel like?
"It's absolutely epic. That's best word I can put out there for you," Harper said. "It's been incredible. This team has a lot of fight, we got a lot of heart. We never die. We like to go out there and win ballgames, of course. It's nice being in first place.
"We're a great team, I think we know that, coming into this clubhouse every single day. We come in here we're ready to play and ready to win. Got a great pitching staff and great lineup, it's a lot of fun to play ball games."
Frandsen and Harper know the Braves, and several other teams are big threats, even with a seven game National League. East lead.
"It's the middle of August and we've got to continue playing good baseball because obviously we're seeing the Braves are playing great baseball," Frandsen said. "Win or lose for them tonight. It didn't matter. We know they're playing well. We've got to worry about us. Does it matter? Yeah, everyone likes being in first place. But that doesn't mean you lay off the gas. We've got to keep going. They're not going to give in. Marlins aren't going to give in. People are sleeping on other teams. You can't do that. We've got to keep playing our good baseball, good fundamental baseball. Continue to hit the ball the way we do. Pitch the ball, catch the ball and do all that. Things will work itself out."
"We play the Braves (six) more times," Harper said. "So, if we were going in there right now and playing seven and we lost seven, it'd be tied. You really want to just play ball games and hopefully that never happens of course. We still got to keep playing and keep going. We got about a month-and-a-half left. We just got to keep winning ball games, keep playing and see where we're at."
"There's no better feeling than winning a baseball game in the big leagues," Frandsen said. "This one is just as sweet as the last and being apart of it. I'm always a part of it even if I'm not playing. It's an unselfish sport and whoever's getting the job done, you're always ecstatic for them. This time I got one of those hits to keep the line moving."
Starting pitcher Tanner Roark managed to pitch seven scoreless innings, getting out of jams in the third and sixth innings. Manager Matt Williams felt Roark wasn't as "crisp" as he thought he could be.
"Felt good, felt early on," Roark said. "The first two innings I was nibbling a little bit with my fastball and then after that I started attacking more and being aggressive."
But as the winning hit happened on the field and Roark was in the clubhouse, he still got to enjoy the moment with his team.
"It's pretty awesome," Roark said. "It's exciting. It gives you a heart attack every game it feels like. We're winning, so it's awesome."