CHICAGO - It’s easy to chuckle about the fact that the Nationals put 21 runners on base and scored just four runs now that tonight’s 4-2 win is in the books.
Had the end result been different, Davey Johnson and the guys in the Nats clubhouse wouldn’t have been laughing.
The Nats had 14 hits and drew seven walks off Cubs pitching tonight. But somehow, entering the ninth inning, they still had put just two runs up on the scoreboard. They got two big insurance runs in the ninth on RBI singles from Ian Desmond and Denard Span, but for a while there, this looked like another game where the Nats would end up blaming the outcome on their lack of production with runners in scoring position.
“Some of the ways we’re finding ways to get out is unbelievable,” Desmond said with a smile. “It’s bound to change at some point. It did in the ninth and hopefully we can continue to do that and hopefully it carries over.”
After talking about Dan Haren’s strong start for a minute or two during his postgame press conference, Davey Johnson was asked about the missed offensive chances throughout the course of the game.
“Don’t even go there,” Johnson laughed. “I struggled through that one. We were lucky to get two runs in the last inning. We had so many opportunities. The one that killed me was where (Scott) Hairston hit a ball six inches in front of home plate with runners at second and third. That’s the way we’re going.”
The Hairston play came in the second inning, when the outfielder came up with runners and second and third with none out. He tapped a ball just in front of the plate and was thrown out easily at first, with neither runner advancing. Haren then struck out for the second out of the inning and Bryce Harper tapped back to the pitcher for the final out in the frame.
“A lot of chances - that’s the good part,” Desmond said. “A full-swing ball that just stops in front of the plate. A pop-up. Usually, balls that get fouled back and you get another opportunity. That’s the way it’s going. We just gotta keep on grinding and stay optimistic.”
Desmond’s RBI single in the top of the ninth ended up being the game-winner, as it made it a 3-1 game and allowed closer Rafael Soriano a bigger cushion to work with in the bottom of the inning. Span’s RBI made it 4-1, and Soriano served up his third home run in as many outings to make the final score 4-2.
“During the pitching change, Davey told me, ‘Hit a ground ball through the four-hole and Bryce will come around to score,’ ” Desmond said of his ninth-inning knock. “I hit it. And then like, ‘Wow, why didn’t you lay that out like that for me the rest of the year?’ “
Span entered the game in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement, but he made a pretty big impact on the game in a short amount of time. He laid down a sacrifice bunt in the eighth, made an impressive running catch on a line drive in the left-center field gap in the bottom of the eighth and then drove in a run with a single to center in the ninth.
“I haven’t come off the bench too much,” Span said. “Just still learning the National League. Whenever I don’t play I just keep my eye on Chad Tracy. Whenever I see him move, get up. He gets water, I get water. He farts, I fart. Whatever he does, I do.”
A little too much information there, Denard.
The late runs helped Haren pick up his eighth win of the season, second-most on the team behind Jordan Zimmermann. The veteran righty allowed just one run over six innings just three days after getting his first career save in the Nats’ 15-inning win over the Braves.
“Haren pitched a heck of a ballgame,” Johnson said. “After closing and all the stuff he went through a couple days ago, I was counting on him giving me six innings. He came in after five and I thought I was gonna have to go to him then, go to the bullpen, which I didn’t want to. Some guys still need a couple more days. But he said he felt fine, he went out and pitched a great sixth inning.”