The first two weeks of the Nationals’ season have seen multiple games lost late when the bullpen couldn’t post zeros and the lineup couldn’t deliver a key hit. Perhaps this evening’s 3-2 victory over the Phillies will reverse that trend.
Daniel Murphy’s double into the left field corner in the bottom of the 10th brought Bryce Harper all the way home from first base and provided the Nationals with their first walk-off victory of the season.
The clutch hit came after the Nationals got scoreless innings of relief from Koda Glover (who retired the side in the eighth), Blake Treinen (who got into a jam but induced a double-play grounder to end the ninth) and Shawn Kelley (who retired the side in the 10th).
That set the stage for the drama in the bottom of the 10th. Harper led things off with a single to right off right-hander Jeanmar Gómez. Murphy then followed with a bullet down the left field line. The crowd of 38,664 rose and roared as Bob Henley waved Harper around third, then roared louder as Harper (hair flying in the wind) slid safely across the plate before being mobbed by teammates.
A rare Friday matinee, with a Murphy bobblehead giveaway and a 70-degree cloudless sky, drew a big crowd to South Capitol Street, and some extra buzz right from the get-go. That crowd was fired up after Stephen Strasburg struck out three of the first four batters he faced, but then Tommy Joseph lofted a fastball 407 feet to straightaway center field to put the Phillies on top 1-0 and mute the large gathering.
Strasburg was sharp most of the afternoon, striking out eight, but he had a bit of trouble finishing off innings. Of the five hits he allowed, four came with two outs, including Cesar Hernandez’s RBI single in the fifth.
That continued a troubling trend for the Nationals’ pitching staff as a whole, which has now allowed 67 percent (36-of-54) of its total runs this season with two outs. For comparison’s sake, the MLB average is 38 percent of runs scored with two outs early this season.
Strasburg wasn’t helped by Dan Bellino’s strike zone, which was inconsistent throughout the afternoon, for both teams. The right-hander had some words for the plate umpire (as did pitching coach Mike Maddux) as he walked off the field in the sixth, an inning that included several potential strike-three calls that went the other way.
Strasburg finished with 111 pitches thrown over seven innings of two-run ball.
The Nationals had some early chances against Aaron Nola but converted only once, on Matt Wieters’ RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the second. The Phillies right-hander departed after five innings, his pitch count already at 90.
That gave the Nats several cracks at the Phillies bullpen, and they converted in the seventh with a big hit from a guy who surely needed one. Anthony Rendon, who entered the day batting .133 with zero extra-base hits, lashed a two-out double off the wall in right-center, bringing home Chris Heisey with the tying run.
With a chance to take the lead moments later, though, Murphy (who earlier extended his season-opening hit streak to 10 games) grounded out to short, leaving this one in the hands of both bullpens.