There might not have been a play more crucial to the outcome of today’s 6-5 Nationals win than Bryce Harper’s sac bunt in the bottom of the eighth that pushed the tying runs into scoring position with one out.
There might not have been a more controversial play, either.
Those that are anti-bunt would certainly have issue with Harper - arguably the Nats’ best hitter not named Jayson Werth - giving away an out late in the game. Those that are pro-bunt would certainly say that with Harper facing a left-handed pitcher, the call for him to bunt was a wise one, in order to put two runners into scoring position and avoid the double play.
Regardless of which side of that line you fall on, it turns out that Harper was actually bunting on his own. The call did not come from manager Davey Johnson, but the Nationals skipper said he was fine with Harper’s decision.
“No, as tough times as we’ve had with hitting with runners in scoring position, putting the tying run down there ain’t a bad idea,” Johnson said. “And with some pretty good hitters coming up behind him ... (Anthony) Rendon hit the heck out of the ball, bad break right at him. And then the other two guys delivered big hits.”
Trailing by two, and with runners at second and third with one out after Harper’s bunt, Rendon’s hard-hit ground ball scored a run that made cut the Mets’ lead to 5-4. Ryan Zimmerman then followed with an infield single that tied the game, scoring Denard Span from second base, and Jayson Werth gave the Nats the lead for good with a double roped to the right-center field gap that scored Zimmerman from first.
“I’m gonna tell you, he had the most unbelievable BP today,” Johnson said of Werth. “But he’s been swinging the bat good. He’s driven. Every at-bat, you expect something great to happen.”
The Nats ended up overcoming a three-run deficit going to the bottom of the seventh inning, getting a run in the seventh and three in the eighth to notch the massive win.
Things got off to a very rocky start early when Ross Ohlendorf allowed three runs over his first two innings of work, leaving countless pitches up in the zone, resulting in hard-hit balls that flew all over the field. Ohlendorf allowed six extra-base hits overall, but he was able to battle through five innings somehow allowing just four runs.
Johnson said after tonight’s game that he will again consider moving Ohlendorf into the bullpen and shifting Tanner Roark into the starting rotation for the next turn, largely because of how quickly Ohlendorf seems to tire in his starts.
“I have to tell ya, I’ve never seen a human being sweat so much,” Johnson joked. “And if he’s changing jerseys, as soon as he puts one on, it’s soaked.
“Around that 70-80 pitch mark, I start getting a little queasy. Fact is, Trent (Jewett, third base coach) was looking at me, giving me the sign, ‘Are you pinch-hitting for him after four?’ I had to give him a, ‘No.’ “
Despite the shaky outing from Ohlendorf and the poor situational hitting through most of the game, the Nats pulled out a big win, one that gets them back to 6 1/2 games behind the Reds in the wild card chase. Instead of a sweep at the hands of the lowly Mets, who traded away two of their key players before this series and were playing with four position players with sub-.235 averages in their starting lineup tonight, the Nats head on the road with a big win lifting their spirits.
“It’s terrible. I can’t sleep as it is,” Johnson said. “If we get swept, I’d be having nightmares on that bus ride to Philly. But there’s a lot of baseball left. Just got to keep chugging away one game at a time. ... It’s been just a weird year. But it’s September. The guys on the bench, we were talking, it’s pennant drive time. It’s pennant time. It’s a good attitude on the bench, even though we were getting it handed to us.
“Everybody was feeling it. Should’ve been a little bit down in the dugout, nobody was down.”
Now they’re up, and they’re off for 10 games on the road, with their postseason hopes still alive.