PHILADELPHIA - The hope, after last night’s slopfest, was that the Nationals and Phillies had gotten all the ugly baseball out of their systems and would put together a clean, smooth ballgame tonight.
That hasn’t been the case through the first two innings of play.
The Phillies lead 2-1 going to the third, in a game in which Roy Halladay has already walked four and hit a batter and Jordan Zimmermann has surrendered four hits and a walk of his own.
Halladay has been all over the place, looking like a shell of his former self. He put six of the first 10 Nats he faced on base, via four walks, a single and a hit-by-pitch.
Still, the Nats have managed to turn all that into just one run, coming on Adam LaRoche’s sac fly in the first.
The Nats had the bases loaded with no outs in the first, then two on with two out in the second. The LaRoche sac fly was the most damage they could do with those opportunities.
The Phillies took the lead in the bottom of the second on Cesar Hernandez’s two-run double to left. Zimmermann has given up a lot of solid contact already tonight, and Hernandez smoked a ball past Ryan Zimmerman at third and into the left field corner to plate two runs.
For the second straight night, it hasn’t been the prettiest of starts.
Denard Span, meanwhile, extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a first-inning single, the longest hitting streak for a Nats player this season.
Update: After retiring just five of the 11 Nats hitters he faced in the first two innings, Halladay has now set down nine of the last 10 he’s seen.
The veteran righty appears to have found a groove, having not surrendered a hit since the first batter of the game.
He’s been matched recently by Zimmermann, who has also allowed just one baserunner in his last three innings of work.
This game has calmed down, sped up and gotten to look more like a major league ballgame. It’s still 2-1 Phillies.
Update II: It’s no longer 2-1 Phillies. Zimmerman crushed a rainmaker of a homer into the left field bleachers with one out in the seventh, tying the game 2-2.
It’s Zimmerman’s 17th homer of the season and his fourth in his last 18 games.
Halladay left after six innings of work, but Zimmermann will work the seventh, having faced the minimum in his last four innings of work. Davey Johnson made an interesting call leaving Zimmermann in to hit for himself with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth instead of calling on a pinch-hitter. Zimmermann ended up bouncing back to Halladay to end the inning.
With expanded rosters and 10 guys in the bullpen, Johnson had plenty of available arms to eat the remaining innings, especially with an off-day tomorrow. He chose to stick with Zimmermann, however, and the right-hander is still in there as we go to the bottom of the seventh.
Update III: The Nats took the lead in the eighth by manufacturing a run in a manner we haven’t seen from this team pretty much all season.
Wilson Ramos led off the eighth with a walk, and Davey Johnson immediately called on Jeff Kobernus to pinch-run for his catcher. He also tabbed Scott Hairston to pinch-hit for Corey Brown against left-hander Jake Diekman, but then asked Hairston to lay down his first sacrifice bunt in four years.
Hairston got the job done, then the Nats watched as Kobernus stole third base without a throw. That left Steve Lombardozzi batting with the infield in, and Lombardozzi’s tapper behind the mound scored a run when Kobernus beat Chase Utley’s throw to the plate.
It’s 3-2 Nats going to the bottom of the eighth.
The Nats saved a run in the seventh when Zimmermann and Lombardozzi combined for a spectacular play that saw Lombardozzi range far to his left, spin and throw to a covering Zimmermann at first, who scooped the ball and tagged the bag in time to get Cesar Hernandez.
If you didn’t see the play, watch it now. And then watch it again. It’s that impressive.
Update IV: The Nats just turned in another huge defensive play to keep the score 3-2 in their favor, this one courtesy of Jhonatan Solano.
With runners at the corners and one out in the eighth, Craig Stammen got Darin Ruf swinging at a ball in the dirt for strike three. The ball skipped away to Solano’s left, and Utley, who was on third base, sprinted for home. Solano corralled the ball, lunged back towards the plate and slapped the tag on Utley just (and I mean just) before the Phillies’ second baseman could get to the plate.
Solano pointed directly into the Nats’ dugout and started celebrating as Stammen - who had dove over the sliding Utley - got to his feet. What another dramatic, big defensive effort.
Update V: What a game. The Nats finish off an exciting 3-2 win over the Phillies with Rafael Soriano delivering a scoreless ninth for his 38th save. Roger Bernadina struck out looking to end it.
It could certainly be argued that the Nats won this one with their defense. Solano, Zimmermann and Lombardozzi really came through.
The Reds are currently tied 3-3 in extras, but for the time being, the Nats trim their wild card deficit to seven games.