All season, the Nationals have been searching for a spark, a big play, a dramatic win to turn the momentum and get things rolling downhill.
Tonight, hours after they learned that three members of their opening day roster - Danny Espinosa, Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke - had been shipped either to the disabled list or the waiver wire, the Nats rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning and picked up a big 3-2 win over the Mets, giving the Nats their first walk-off win of the season and their first win all year when trailing after six innings, making them 1-21 in such instances.
“Well, it capped a really terrible start to the day,” manager Davey Johnson said after the win. “It’s tough to send guys out of here. They’re part of the family.
“There was no letdown. Everybody was kinda disappointed we weren’t doing better up until that ninth inning. So it was good one. I’ll sleep better tonight after a hard day.”
The win kept the Nats alone in second place in the National League East for another day - something which won’t invoke too much pride, but rather steer off added frustration. Had the Nats dropped this one, they would’ve been tied with the Phillies for second place in the division, as Philadelphia beat the Marlins with a walk-off grand slam.
The Nats’ two-run ninth inning, capped by Steve Lombardozzi’s walk-off sac fly to give them a win and set off a mob scene on the infield, ensured that wouldn’t happen, at least for tonight. Two straight hits to start the ninth inning off Mets closer Bobby Parnell tied the game, an Ian Desmond double put the game-winning run 90 feet from home plate, and Lombardozzi’s nine-pitch at-bat ended in a sac fly that won it.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in this team,” said Jayson Werth, who returned from a month on the DL to add a hit in the win. “We’re a good team. We had the best record in baseball last year and went to the playoffs. We’ve got pretty much the same team and guys with another year in the big leagues under your belt. We’re going to continue to get better, and with that said, there is a sense of urgency.
“We’ve been playing two months, what are we? Back to .500 I guess? It’s time to go. We need to pick it up and we need to play like the type of team that we are. And I think we all know it.”
They know it, and they hope that the run toward the top of the division starts now.
“It’s great for the team,” said Jordan Zimmermann, who went eight strong innings tonight, allowing just two unearned runs. “It was a huge win. Everyone was down a little bit from the last road trip, if we would have dropped this one, it would’ve been a heartbreaker. We got it when we needed one.”
Baseball is a funny game. A 3-2 win in which you took the lead in the fourth inning and held it throughout the rest of the ballgame feels good, but a victory by the same score in which you overcame a late deficit can be something that turns the course of a season. There’s obviously no guarantee that this win will do so, but it could.
“Absolutely. Things start going your way,” Desmond said. “We hit a lot of balls hard tonight that got caught (and) you’re kind of like thinking, ‘Man, is there any grass out there?’ And for us to be able to pull that win out like that against a guy who’s having a great year, Parnell, he’s been doing a tremendous job at the back end of their bullpen all year long. Just got to keep on moving forward.”
The question now is whether the Nats will be able to carry this momentum into tomorrow. They’ve had dramatic, encouraging wins before (as recently as Friday in Atlanta), only to see that momentum quickly come to a stop the next day.
But players and coaches have said that they’ve seen little signs of things starting to turn for the better lately. Guys are battling more in at-bats. Outs have been louder, with guys ripping line drives right at defenders. That gives the Nats some confidence that they could be on their way to snapping out of two months’ worth of inconsistent, sloppy ball.
“We will see. It absolutely can (ignite a spark),” Werth said. “Maybe this is the something we were looking for. Maybe this will get us going. Time will tell. I’ve got a lot of faith in this club and these guys. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”