We won’t know for weeks, possibly months, if the Nationals’ 2-1 victory over the Phillies on Wednesday was a season-turning win, the kind of victory that can turn a bumbling season into something meaningful - or at least something more respectable than the way the Nationals had been playing lately.
But for now, it’s enough to say this: For the Nationals, beating the Phillies and taking two out of three against a team that entered the series 56-23 against them since the start the 2007 season felt pretty good.
“Any time you win a series, especially against a first-place team, it’s a big win,” said outfielder Jayson Werth, who was a big part of the Phillies’ dominance of the Nationals before he switched sides this winter. “To lose a series to a team in last place in your division, outside, formerly inside, looking in, that’s a tough loss. That’s a lot to swallow. Hopefully that will catapult us and send them reeling.”
Here are the awards from yesterday’s game:
Laynce Nix: The left fielder continues to be so much more than a platoon player for the Nationals. His third-inning home run on a Roy Oswalt changeup put the Nationals ahead for good, and his sixth-inning diving catch, ranging to his left to snare a Domonic Brown sinking liner and preserve the lead for John Lannan, was superb. I didn’t think the ball had any chance to be caught, and for sheer degree of difficulty, it’s right there with Roger Bernadina’s grab against the Marlins last month.
Lannan: After his first career win against the Phillies, the left-hander, probably correctly, said he’d had games where he’d pitched better against Philadelphia and things hadn’t worked out. But after starting his career 0-10 with a 6.44 ERA against them, he finally got it done on Wednesday, allowing one unearned run in 5 1/3 innings. The Phillies hit some rockets against Lannan, and he benefited from a few great defensive plays (Nix’s the most notable of them), but he was able to use his sinker more effectively against the Phillies’ lefty-heavy lineup than he’s done in the past. Raul Ibanez, the hitter who’s possibly given Lannan the most trouble, managed only a single in four at-bats.
Drew Storen: In his first save since May 14, Storen made some big pitches to protect a one-run lead against the Phillies. He got a pair of flyouts on hard sinkers, including one on a 2-0 pitch to Ross Gload for the second out of the inning. Then, after throwing four straight sliders -one for a called strike, one for a ball and two for fouls - to Placido Polanco, Storen threw an outside fastball to get a game-ending called strikeout. The pitch was outside the zone, even after it broke back at the end, but Storen got the benefit of a call from home plate umpire Jerry Layne. “It looked good to me,” Storen said of the pitch.”
Alex Cora: His second-inning error led to the Phillies’ only run, and he left the game in the fifth inning with what the Nationals described as “stomach issues.” You can add your own interpretation to that, but suffice it to say the third baseman had a bad day.
Jerry Hairston Jr.: He also made an error after replacing Cora at third base, though he did make a great play to beat John Mayberry Jr. to the third-base bag for the second out of the fifth inning, paying the price when Mayberry’s spike caught him as he hurdled over the baserunner. Hairston stayed down for a moment, but remained in the game.
In Case You Missed It:
* Nix said he had a hunch that Brown’s fly ball might be coming to him, and it was a sharp read from a veteran left fielder to expect it in that situation, with left-hander Doug Slaten on the mound and a left-hander at the plate. If a right-hander is at the plate, a line drive or a pulled fly ball is much more likely than a sinking liner; it’s a left-hander’s opposite-field swing that will generate that type of contact. “Right after a pitching change, it’s easy to sort of get on your heels, not be ready,” Nix said. “It’s important to be alert. Sometimes, if you play the game a long time, you get a gut feeling on things.”
* I was curious to see what manager Jim Riggleman would do in the eighth inning with a one-run lead - if he’d go to Henry Rodriguez in that situation - but Tyler Clippard worked quickly enough in the seventh inning that it became a moot point. He threw only 12 pitches in the seventh, and was able to come back out for a 13-pitch, scoreless eighth.
1. I wrote after the game about how the Nationals continue to get power from some unexpected sources. Nix is chief among those players - and many of you wanted Roger Bernadina to make the team over him out of spring training. Has he won you over at this point?
2. Do you agree with Werth that this was the kind of series to catapult the Nationals, especially with an 11-game, three-city West Coast road trip coming up? How big did you think it was to beat Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt and take two out of three from the Phillies?
Leave your answers to the questions, as well as anything else you have on your mind, in the comments section.