The Nationals didn’t play great baseball through the first seven innings of tonight’s game.
They made three errors, they got a sub-par outing from Jordan Zimmermann (by his standards, at least), they allowed two more stolen bases and they got minimal offense from guys not named Adam LaRoche.
Davey Johnson’s group trailed 6-4 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, the game was a laugher, there was a party in the Nationals’ dugout and the atmosphere at Nats Park was possibly as raucous as it’s been all season.
“Zim didn’t pitch very well, and we didn’t play very well, but we persevered,” Johnson said. “That’s the makeup of this ballclub. Came roaring back, and it was fun. Really fun.”
The Nats tied the game in the eighth with back-to-back RBI singles by two rookies - Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore - and then got a huge blast from Danny Espinosa, who had really been scuffling offensively over the last week.
Espinosa struck out twice in his four previous at-bats tonight, but his three-run homer to left was an absolute no-doubter.
“First at-bat, I thought he was just swinging,” Johnson said. “Second at-bat, he looked like a hitter again. Young players with a lot of ability try to expand, try to make something happen. And sometimes they’re their own worst enemy. But his at-bats after the first at-bat, they were all good. And that at-bat there, he crushed that ball. It went out of sight for me.
“But there’s a lot of heroes in that ballgame. Tyler Moore got a big hit. And our bench kind of froze Ozzie (Guillen) over there. He didn’t want to bring in his closer to face (Chad) Tracy with the guys on. So even the guys that didn’t get in had a big effect.”
Immediately after Espinosa’s homer, Bryce Harper got a hanging curveball from Mike Dunn and struck it about as well as a baseball can be struck. It came down in the second deck of the right-field bleachers and marked Harper’s first home run in his last 10 games and just his fourth extra-base hit since the All-Star break.
“He expects himself to hit probably .350. He said .400. But that’s how driven he is,” Johnson said. “He’s a great player. He’s learning the league, learning how they’re pitching him. And they’re pitching him tough. But he’ll be fine. I told him, I said, ‘You’ve proven you belong up here. So try to relax.’ It’s not happening. It’s not going to happen.”
Even on days when they play mediocre baseball for seven and a half innings, the Nationals are still finding ways to win. It’s clichÃ© and it’s cheesy, but the Nats truly believe that they have the character and the makeup which allows them to stay in any game, regardless of the score or how poorly they’re playing.
“That was a ballgame where we gave them two or three extra runs,” Johnson said, “...but we battled back and overcame adversity. And that’s the sign of a good ballclub.”