The first segment of the Battle of the Beltways is over, and if a result was needed to validate that cinematic title, Josh Willingham provided it on Sunday. His walk-off homer in the 10th inning gave the Nationals a 4-3 victory over the Orioles on Sunday, their second one-run win in as many days over their regional rivals. It also begged the question: Are the Nationals back on track after losing seven of eight?
We won't get the answer to that until we see how the team performs on another three-city road trip - when they'll face a stretch of tough pitching in San Francisco and San Diego without Ivan Rodriguez - but the Nationals at least showed some grit in a pair of wins this weekend.
To be honest with you, we should have done a lot better," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We had a few games we did some stupid things and maybe gave away. We could have done a lot better. To come out a little bit over .500 during the first part of the season - obviously, it's a tough schedule - you've got to take the positives and go from there."
Here are the awards from Sunday:
Josh Willingham: It's easy to forget how good the left fielder has been this year because of how little attention he calls to himself. He's rarely expressive, his homers aren't as majestic as Adam Dunn's and his defense, while solid, is seen as one of the negatives to his game. But there have been few games where Willingham hasn't done something to help the Nationals win. He's got a .425 on-base percentage - courtesy of a keen eye that's led to 33 walks against 27 strikeouts this year - and a .929 OPS. And though Willingham has been just below replacement level on defense (he has a -0.6 UZR), he's five runs better than last year so far. He went 2-for-4 on Sunday and hit the game-winner, but just as important was the pitch that hit Willingham in the left shoulder in the first inning. He went on to score later in the inning, and the Nationals don't get to extra innings without that.
John Lannan: Manager Jim Riggleman gave Lannan something of an early hook on Sunday, taking him out of the game with a runner on second and one out in the sixth. It might have been because Lannan has been prone to the big inning this year, though Riggleman said his main reason was because Lannan is still building arm strength back after missing a start with elbow discomfort. But to that point, Lannan was solid, only giving up two hits and one run. He walked three, and there continues to be some concern with the number of batters he's walked, but Lannan got nine ground-ball outs. That's as good a sign as any that he's headed in the right direction.
Roger Bernadina: I asked Riggleman before Sunday's game if Bernadina is forcing the Nationals to keep him in the lineup with the way he's been playing, and Riggleman said yes, although it's partially because of all the right-handed pitchers the Nationals have faced. But there's no denying Bernadina's emergence has helped alleviate, if not solve, a big problem in the Nationals' lineup. He drove Milwood's outside-half changeup to the center-field wall, clearing the bases with a triple when Adam Jones missed a leaping grab. You'd like to see him get on base more, but Bernadina is slugging .471, which is a big boost over what the Nationals were getting at the position earlier this year.
Matt Capps: Riggleman and the closer were both happy with how he pitched on Sunday, and all the hits he gave up in the ninth innings were grounders that snuck through the infield. But hey, results are results, and Capps hasn't been here yet this season. He lands here after blowing his first save of the season on Sunday, allowing two runs to the Orioles that tied the game at three. True to form, though, Capps went right after the Orioles with fastballs, only throwing one slider in the inning (to Ty Wigginton on an 0-1 count). Sometimes, that will get him beat like it did Sunday. But the way he's throwing, it won't happen often.
Ian Desmond: The shortstop went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, including one that left Bernadina stranded on third in the first inning.
In Case You Missed It:
--Drew Storen probably deserves a Golden Goose for the way he pitched on Sunday, turning in 1 2/3 scoreless innings and keeping the Nationals ahead by one. But to stay in the game, he had to hit for the first time since high school; Storen's spot came up in the seventh, and Riggleman sent him to the plate. So the Nationals frantically went looking for a helmet that would fit him, but couldn't find one - "I think he's got kind of a small head," Lannan said. Further complicating matters was the fact that Storen is a switch-hitter (his father, sportscaster Mark (Patrick) Storen, had him learn how as a kid), and he wasn't sure if he'd need to bat left-handed or right-handed. Storen finally grabbed the batboy's double-flapped helmet, dug in from the left side against Kevin Millwood, and after causing a small draft with his swing on Millwood's 0-1 sinker, Storen punched a single to left for a base hit in his first professional at-bat. His first thoughts? "I think the biggest adjustment was seeing a man on the mound. I'm used to seeing a kid," Storen said. "That was honestly the first thing that came into my head - 'This guy's big.'"
--Storen was also in the middle of another interesting moment at the beginning of the eighth inning; Riggleman sent him out to warm up for the inning, with Sean Burnett ready to go in the bullpen. And when Orioles manager Dave Trembley sent left-hander Scott Moore up to pinch hit, Riggleman replaced Storen with Sean Burnett, forcing Trembley to counter with right-hander Lou Montanez, who grounded out weakly in front of home plate. Riggleman loves to work late-inning matchups like those, and with Storen having pitched effectively for 1 2/3 innings, he knew he had more options in the bullpen than Trembley did bench players. That Burnett was planning to come in anyway made the move even more low-risk for the Nationals.
--Give Cristian Guzman credit for beating out a bunt for a base hit in the first inning, giving the Nationals men on first and second with none out. Had he been thrown out, the inning would have ended on Adam Dunn's pop fly to first; Willingham got hit by a pitch and Bernadina got his triple with two outs. So none of the Nationals' three runs score in that inning if Guzman doesn't beat out the bunt.
1. We heard plenty of talk about moving Josh Willingham this winter - one rumor I heard had the Nationals aggressively shopping him to the Dodgers for Chad Billingsley - but at this point, would you still trade him? He's relatively affordable as left fielders go, and could bring back a couple pieces, but the Nationals are a game over .500 and wouldn't be the same without him in the lineup. Has Willingham ingratiated himself enough to quiet the trade rumors, or would you still consider it?
2. How worried are you about the offense without Pudge Rodriguez for the duration of the 10-game road trip? As I wrote yesterday, the Nationals have proved they're capable of winning close games, but they're going to face some tough pitching in San Francisco and San Diego. Can they sustain themselves without Pudge for a few days?
3. What does it mean to you to take two of three from the Orioles? Is it just another series win over a team the Nationals should beat at this point, or does it mean more because of the rivalry?
Leave your answers to the Talking Points questions in the comments of this post, and I'll have more later today - possibly in the form of a live chat. Stay tuned, or logged in, or whatever the web-appropriate term would be.