Starting the second half with a bang

For the first six innings of last night’s ballgame, the Nationals played about as well as a team can play.

They did it all. They brought their bats to the party, putting up five runs on a pitcher who they had never beaten in 15 starts, knocking two-time All-Star Josh Johnson from the game after just 5 1/3 innings. Ryan Zimmerman stayed scorching hot, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond combined for five hits, and Jesus Flores ended an 0-for-17 skid with a big two-run single in the sixth.

They ran the bases aggressively and wisely.

Harper After Walkoff tall.jpgBryce Harper turned a bloop single into a run-scoring opportunity in the first inning when he scooted into second after Logan Morrison couldn’t come up with the ball cleanly. Harper then stole third when Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez decided to have a tea party instead of, you know, playing their defensive positions. The guy leading the Nationals in homers - Ian Desmond - dropped down a bunt single, stole second and then scored on a great read on Flores’ bloop base hit to left.

They made the big defensive plays.

Steve Lombardozzi, a lifelong infielder, gunned Ramirez at second base in the second inning with a perfect throw from left field. Harper made a diving catch in center to end the sixth inning. Reliever Michael Gonzalez grabbed a line drive right at his shins and doubled a runner off first base in the seventh to end a Marlins threat.

They got a dynamite pitching performance from Jordan Zimmermann, who finally gets back to .500 on the season and sees his ERA fall to a ridiculous 2.48 after tossing six shutout innings with six strikeouts.

Things slowed down for the Nationals in the seventh inning, when Henry Rodriguez again struggled on the mound and Davey Johnson decided to go to a parade of relievers in order to close the door on the Fish. Five relievers combined to work the final three innings, but they got the job done.

It was a well-rounded team win in Miami last night, and a big win, as well. On the “Nats Xtra” postgame show last night, Phil Wood and I discussed how important it was for the Nationals to come out of the gates in the second half and immediately notch a win over a Marlins team that has beaten up on the Nats the last couple years.

The last time the Nationals played down in Miami, they got pushed around in a three-game sweep. Last night, it was the Nats who did all the pushing.

Their No. 3 starter outdueled the Marlins’ ace, their offense showed much more life than their hosts and they had a desire to win the game that Ozzie Guillen’s team just didn’t show.

The National League’s best team played like it last night. The All-Star break did nothing to slow this group down.

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