PHILADELPHIA - There were jokes all around in the Nationals’ clubhouse tonight as players packed up their things for a flight to Miami and monitored the Reds-Cardinals extra-inning game on multiple clubhouse TVs.
The bulk of the chatter was about two defensive gems - the Steve Lombardozzi/Jordan Zimmermann spin-and-scoop at first base to end the seventh inning and keep the game tied, and the Jhonatan Solano sprint-and-tag at the plate in the eighth that kept the Nats on top 3-2.
The play by Lombardozzi and Zimmermann was one that required impressive athleticism on both ends, as Lombardozzi ranged far to his left into the hole and then delivered an off-balance throw that Zimmermann artfully scooped as he stepped on the bag for the final out of the seventh.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Rochie (Adam LaRoche),” Zimmermann said with a smirk. “He taught me everything I know over there. Apparently, on the replay, my head was up in the third deck. But I felt confident. I saw it, and it was a pretty easy hop, so I felt pretty confident.
“(Cesar Hernandez) was coming pretty fast down the line, and I knew my only play was to scoop the ball and have my foot on the base at the same time. Kind of a running play right through the bag. Thankfully it worked out.”
LaRoche appreciated Zimmermann’s sarcastic comment about how the Nats’ Gold Glove-winning first baseman deserves credit for Zimmermann’s scoop at the bag, (“Aw, that’s nice of him,” LaRoche said) but he delivered his own zinger at Zimmermann’s expense.
“No offense to Zim, I don’t know that he could do that again,” LaRoche cracked.
Lombardozzi doesn’t often have to venture that far into the hole, but he was able to glove the ball on the edge of the outfield grass and deliver a short, yet on-target, throw to Zimmermann at the bag.
“I didn’t think LaRoche was gonna have a shot at it,” Lombardozzi said. “Obviously Jordan is real athletic, and I knew he was going to try and get to the bag. I was able to get the throw on-line. He made an unbelievable play. That’s on him. Making the play, picking the ball and touching the base at the same time.”
In reality, with John Mayberry Jr. flying around third base as Lombardozzi is making a throw to Zimmermann, the Phillies take the lead if Zimmermann is unable to make his impressive scoop at the bag.
“That makes it that much bigger of a play to be able to get over there, to tag the bag and pick the ball,” Lombardozzi said. “That’s a big play. ... I was pumped. I was just trying to get it, get rid of it and get it somewhat on-line. It was a huge play. Pumped us up. It was a big momentum shift.”
An inning later, after a swinging third strike skipped away from Solano for the second out of the eighth, the Nats’ backup catcher needed to jump out of his crouch, sprint to his left, snag the ball and then dive back to the plate to slap the tag on Chase Utley, who was charging from third base. Solano slapped the tag on Utley just before the Phillies’ second baseman got his hand to the plate, and the inning ended in dramatic fashion.
“That was a tough pitch to block,” Solano said of Craig Stammen’s slider that got Darin Ruf swinging at strike three. “My first reaction is watching the third base runner. I saw him start running to home plate, and then I tried to get the ball and touch him. I didn’t see Stammen at all on that play.”
After Solano saw home plate umpire Chris Conroy correctly call Utley out, he pointed towards the Nats’ dugout and shouted as the dugout exploded.
“It’s exciting,” Solano said. “I saved that run. If they get that run, we could (still) be playing right now. I made the play.”
Wilson Ramos, who started behind the plate for the 13th straight game today, was removed earlier in the game for a pinch-runner. Ramos, who is significantly bulkier than Solano and has dealt with knee and hamstring injuries in the last two seasons, was asked after the game whether he would’ve been able to make the same play Solano did.
“That’s routine for me,” Ramos said with a smile.
“He’s joking,” a grinning Solano said later when informed of Ramos’ comment.
Making the play at the plate even more entertaining was Stammen tumbling over Utley as everyone converged at the same time.
“Hey, good running backs always fall forward, so, I mean, just tumbled over him,” Stammen joked.
The Nats made some really impressive plays late in tonight’s game to secure a big road win, this in a season where their team defense has for the most part been somewhat disappointing.
“It’s just kind of how years go,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “Some years have you have good ones, and some years you have bad ones. This year it seems like we haven’t made those plays when we had a chance. Today we made those plays, and we got a win.”