The Nationals played a complete baseball game Thursday on getaway day, dropping the Phillies 6-5 for their first win of the season.
Ryan Zimmerman with two doubles, including a blooper down the right field line for the go ahead run in the 7th, Willie Harris smacked a 2-run shot and Nyjer Morgan ignited a 3-run rally to begin the game with a big triple for the offense to put up 6 runs.
And there it was: the opportunity the Nats had been looking for since the first game of the series. A 6-5 lead heading to the 8th inning.
How many times last year would the bullpen be unable to hold that kind of a lead? On Thursday, The Nats took a confident step away from one of their biggest weaknesses in a 103-loss season: anemic relief pitching. It was the relievers(!) that stole the show for the Nats on this day against a vaunted Phillies attack.
The Phillies outscored the Nats 24-11 in the series and left 32 men on base. But the Nats won game three, thanks in large part to the bend-but-don't break revamped bullpen.
After Sean Burnett allowed a run, Tyler Clippard, Brian Bruney and Matt Capps shut down the Phils, who did not score in the final three frames despite leaving 5 men on the pond. The trio scattered three hits with Tyler getting his first win of the year and Capps his initial save.
It lined up like Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman envisioned it would during the off season. 5 innings from Craig Stammen that kept the team in the game and a 5-4 lead. Burnett got into a jam walking the first two batters in the 6th, but only one runner scored thanks to Clippard closing the door.
Zimmerman was proud of the pitching staff keeping the lead in the last third of the game: "Clippard through great too, I think a bunch of the guys pitched really well. The last three innings the way we made it hard for them to score makes us feel good."
Riggleman said it was the way they hoped they would be able to win games like this all season long. "(Brian) Bruney really battled there in the 8th and the way (Matt) Capps was really firing there in the 9th. It is really encouraging to see that. Our pitching staff is coming together and when it does hit stride its going to give us a real chance."
How about the way the offense manufactured a run in the bottom of the seventh?
A walk to Alberto Gonzalez and a pair of beautifully placed sacrifices by Nyjer Morgan and Cristian Guzman set the table for Ryan Zimmerman's bloop double.
Ryan seem to sheepishly accept the go ahead base hit: "not how I drew it up, but I will take it every time. I am feeling okay, I guess, and battling at the plate a little bit. To continue to get hits when you feel like that makes me a little bit more confident."