PHILADELPHIA - Had the Nationals not rallied from a run down in the top of the ninth inning, had Jayson Werth not tied the game against Jonathan Papelbon with two outs, the bus ride from Philly back to D.C. would’ve been a quiet and long one.
With a loss tonight, the Nats would have fallen three games below .500 for the first time this season. They would’ve dropped eight games behind the Braves. They would’ve finished their road trip 3-6, including losses in each of their last four games.
Instead, the Nats got to pump music in the clubhouse after their 6-2, 11-inning win. They got to share some laughs. They got to - for a night, at least - feel like they’re back in a winning mode, a mode they felt for much of last season.
It’s just one win, but it felt like it might’ve been a little more than that.
“It was a big win. We really needed it,” manager Davey Johnson said. “The Phillies, we need to show them that we’re still hanging around.
“We keep saying we’ve got a long way to go but at the same time, we need to start winning ballgames and being a championship team,” Werth said. “Hopefully this is a start and we can build on this. It’d be tough to swallow a 3-6 road trip. I think you can live with 4-5 especially with how we’ve been hitting. Being home, we’re going to be home a lot, we play good at home and hopefully we can get on a roll.”
The Phillies took a 2-0 lead two batters into the bottom of the first inning tonight when Gio Gonzalez allowed a single to Ben Revere and a two-run homer to Michael Young. From there, Gonzalez and the Nats’ relievers shut the door.
After Young’s homer, the Phillies had 38 plate appearances the rest of the night. They notched just two hits, drew four walks and scored zero runs. Gonzalez ended up going seven innings, allowing just the two runs on two hits. He walked two and tied a career-high with 11 strikeouts.
“I think Gio, sometimes he pitches better like that, when he gives up a run or two early and he has to buckle down,” Werth said. “He pitches pretty good from behind. I’ve seen it happen before. But you like Gio on the mound. He’s in the game. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball when he’s got his good stuff going.”
The Nats were just 8-25 coming into tonight when their opponent scored first. They’ve struggled playing catch-up this season, but were able to do so today. It helped when Kyle Kendrick left the game after 7 2/3 innings; the Nats had just two hits off Kendrick, but a total of six off four Phillies relievers.
They got a run in the seventh on Werth’s two-out RBI single that brought in Ryan Zimmerman, and then Werth got the job done again in the ninth, taking the first pitch he saw from Papelbon - a 93 mph fastball - and smacking it through the hole on the left side to score Denard Span with the game-tying run.
“It’s basically the way the season’s gone. Get behind the 8-ball and grind,” Ian Desmond said. “That’s what we did today. We put together some really good at-bats. We held them. We played good defense, we pitched well and got a bunch of timely hits.”
Desmond got one of the more timely knocks of the night. Up with the bases loaded and one out in the 11th, Desmond laid off a 1-2 fastball just off the inside corner and then turned on a 2-2 slider from Michael Stutes. He crushed it into the left field seats for a game-winning grand slam, the first career grand slam for Desmond and the first one the Nats had registered all season.
“Ian, he’s quite a character,” Johnson said. “He’s got a lot of big hits for us in the past. The only thing I worry about him sometimes is he tries too hard. Seemed like he was a little too geared up and then when he got two strikes, he shortened up and he crushed that ball. He threw him a good breaking ball and he just flat-out crushed it.”
Desmond had gone hitless in his previous four at-bats before the grand slam, including three strikeouts, one of which came in the ninth with the go-ahead run at third after Werth’s game-tying single. He’d had a rough night, but cut down on his swing on the 2-2 pitch from Stutes and came through when it mattered.
“I was adjusting all night,” Desmond said. “I started the game with an unbelievably long swing. My swing was not good from the first at-bat. It was getting better and better throughout the game and I was able to connect on one. I was thinking the exact same thing: See the white ball and put the barrel on it. That’s what I always think. Sometimes it looks like I swing hard and sometimes I think when I hit it, people don’t pay attention as much to how hard I swing but where it goes.”
The Nats had a number of these wins last season - dramatic, exciting, comeback wins. They’ve had far fewer this season, but they got a big one tonight.
“That’s like how I remember it from last year,” Kurt Suzuki said. “It was pretty exciting and awesome.”
“We got lucky. We stole this one,” Werth said. “It was one of those games that you need if you’re going to go on to win the division. You need a bunch of wins like this.”