The Nats were down 6-2 in the fifth inning Sunday night and were desperately searching for a spark to avoid a sweep at the hands of the second-place Phillies at Nats Park.
They found the spark in two parts: a three-run sixth and a three-run eighth to stun Philadelphia, 8-6. The Nationals pounded out 17 hits for their 41st win of the season.
The comeback win was the Nats’ 12th of the season, but the victory felt like it was so much more important because of the situation the club had placed themselves the past week and a half: seven losses in nine games.
The Nats also denied the Phillies a sweep and displayed some of the clutch hitting and defense that had propelled them to back-to-back division titles.
Bryce Harper had a career-high three doubles, Anthony Rendon doubled and homered, and Daniel Murphy delivered a dramatic two-run single over second baseman César Hernández’s glove in the eighth for the ultimate game-changer. Michael A. Taylor finished off the scoring with an RBI single to make it 8-6.
“We feel like we are in every game,” said manager Davey Martinez. “We really do. They showed it tonight. Very proud of the boys. They don’t quit. Good to see the at-bats there late. (Bryce) Harper swung the bat really well. They all did. You can see (Daniel) Murphy start to come around a little bit better, and he’s running. He went first to third. Good at-bat by Goodie (Brian Goodwin), pinch-hitting. Everybody. (Anthony) Rendon.”
In the eighth, facing the Phillies’ Seranthony Domínguez and his 100 mph fastball, Harper’s double set the tone for the big inning. That put runners at second and third. He slid into second before the tag and popped up to his feet quickly, exulting the dugout and crowd.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Harper said. “Like I said, it’s a big win for us. We don’t want to get swept right there. Momentum going into Tampa, as well as going into Philly again.”
After 19-year-old Juan Soto was intentionally walked, Murphy drilled a two-run single over Hernández’s head into right field and Taylor supplied a RBI single to lift the Nats to their first lead of the game, 8-6. They trailed 6-2 in the fifth.
“I was pretty surprised,” Martinez said of the Phillies’ decision to walk Soto to get to Murphy. “Soto hits lefties. Murph hits lefties. Murph hits everybody. So they had a decision to make. They thought they were going to bring their closer in. And it worked out in our favor. “
Murphy saw the Domínguez fastball three times, waited and worked the count until Domínguez offered his slider. Murphy pounced on it for the big hit.
Was Murphy surprised that Domínguez went to the slider in that spot?
“No, I was watching some film on him, and he had gotten going with the slider as a kill shot to a couple lefties,” Murphy said. “So, once I got to two strikes I was aware of it. I hadn’t seen it yet, so that’s never any fun. But fortunately, I was able to get it in the air enough and kind of scoop it over César’s head over there at second base.”
So, could this win mean more because the Nats were able to avoid a back-breaking sweep at home and rekindle some of the sparks this offense was capable of in 2014, 2016 and 2017?
Maybe, just maybe, Martinez said.
“This is a great win for us. We weren’t scoring very many runs, and to come out and compete like we did today, and put up eight runs and play the defense we played and really work good at-bats felt really good for the boys. And I know they’ll feed off of it.
“I’ve said this before. Got to have patience, stick to the process. And these guys are all pretty good hitters. They’re going to come out of it, and were going to bunch up some hits and score some runs and things will change.”