This was an ugly win for the Nationals, but after a stretch where wins weren't coming with regularity at all, they got an important one on Wednesday. The 7-5 victory over the Pirates guaranteed their first win in five series, and gave them a chance to sweep a series for the first time this year.
It's what the Nationals have to do against teams in this portion of their schedule, where quality opponents are scarce and opportunities are rich to improve their record. And even though they taxed their bullpen to do it, the Nationals got a game they needed to have.
To the awards:
Matt Capps: His 20th save was his second against his old team, and for Capps, who allowed one hit in the ninth inning against the Pirates, that meant something extra. "They're all nice, but to be able to go out and get two against a team that ultimately didn't want you anymore and show them that you're still capable of doing your job, it's got a little extra sentiment to it," Capps said. He gave up a hit on a slider to Garrett Jones, but got Lastings Milledge to pop one up to end the game, showing he's regaining his command of the pitch.
Roger Bernadina: Some days Bernadina looks lost. Others, he looks like the answer in right field. Wednesday night was the latter; he went 3-for-4, blasting a couple of deep doubles, and stole a base. Bernadina is hitting .269, and if he can add a little power to his game, he might save the Nationals what could be an expensive shopping trip for a right fielder.
Tyler Walker: The Nationals' mop-up man has gone through periods of gross ineffectiveness, but give him credit for what he did on Wednesday, pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings and keeping the game tied after the Pirates sent John Lannan to an early exit. "I had been struggling in that situation lately - inherited runners," Walker said. 'I was really trying to bear down and get us off the field, so we could get back to hitting."
Nyjer Morgan: It was a rough night for the center fielder, who made a throwing error on a needless shot home in the third inning. He couldn't get Andrew McCutchen there, and on Ronny Cedeno's single, he threw off-line when he had a shot to throw out Lastings Milledge at home. The ball seemed to keep finding Morgan on Wednesday, and he had several misadventures with it.
John Lannan: After a four-outing stretch where Lannan hadn't allowed more than two runs, he gave up five (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings on Wednesday. His defense didn't help him, but he gave up 10 hits and walked three batters, simply putting far too many runners on base against a weak lineup.
In Case You Missed It:
--It seemed like a minor detail at the time, but Ryan Zimmerman's first-inning walk proved to be the catalyst to the Nationals' night. He drew it with two outs, and scored on Adam Dunn's homer. Without the walk, the inning doesn't continue, and if Dunn does hit a homer in the second inning, there's no one on base. It's an underappreciated aspect of Zimmerman's game, but he's developed a keen eye for the strike zone the last two years under hitting coach Rick Eckstein. He had a career-high .364 OBP last year; this year, that mark is at .416, fourth-best in the NL. It's a big part of the reason why, despite missing some time with hamstring issues, he's 10th in the NL in runs scored and second in runs created.
--On several occasions, Lastings Milledge showed the baseball instincts (or lack thereof) that got him sent out of town. He misplayed Ian Desmond's double in the fourth, and after doubling to lead off the fifth, he missed two chances to advance to third on deep fly balls to center. The first, from Cedeno, was caught almost at the center field wall, and with Morgan throwing, Milledge could have advanced. But he danced off second base, unsure if he should tag up or go halfway. He did the same thing on the next fly ball, and though he scored on Brad Lincoln's liner off John Lannan's leg, it was in spite of himself.
--Things looked to be going bad for the Nationals in the ninth inning, when Josh Willingham took a bad route to Garrett Jones' double. Then, Capps was victimized by another ludicrous check swing call by home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa, who called a ball despite Adam LaRoche's bat being three-quarters of the way around. Capps got LaRoche to pop out, but manager Jim Riggleman hadn't forgotten about it after the game. "Check swings are my issue this year. That's stuck in my craw," Riggleman said. "I have some strong feelings on how that should be called, but I haven't gotten an audience to listen."
1. Which reliever impressed you most on Wednesday (Walker keeping the game tied, scoreless innings from Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, or Matt Capps getting the save)? Lots of good performances to pick from; choose the most notable one.
2. How bad did the Strasmas hangover seem on Wednesday? With 18,876 there and overcast skies, there was a gloomy feel to the entire game. But it counts the same as Stephen Strasburg's 14-strikeout debut. Does it say anything to you about this team that it could fight off the letdown effect?
Leave your answers in the comments section. I've got a few more things planned for today, and the Nats and Pirates finish their series at 7:05 tonight.