The way the Nationals lost games on their 3-7 road trip - which could have easily been a 5-5, 6-4 or even 7-3 swing - they almost needed to win a game they way they did on Friday night.
Blowout victories don't seem to be a regular option. This team doesn't do that. If they're going to get wins, they're going to be close. So the manner in which the Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 on Friday night was almost an affirmation that what they were doing earlier this season can still work.
They stranded 11 Reds runners. They got three solid innings from their bullpen, which has shown cracks on both of the Nationals' long (and unsuccessful) road trips this year. And they got a key hit from Ian Desmond, who seems to find himself in those situations an awful lot for a rookie.
Desmond's RBI single in the seventh inning put the Nationals ahead for good, as they beat the NL Central leaders and got back with two games of .500.
"It was a rough road trip for us. We caught some bad breaks, and lost some games," said reliever Tyler Clippard, who got his eighth win of the season. "We could've easily had a .500 or better road trip, but we didn't. So it was good to come back home in front of a good crowd and come up on top like we did."
There was nothing terribly clean about the way the Nationals played on Friday night in front of 33,774 (a crowd inflated in part because of fans who bought tickets hoping to see Stephen Strasburg). They allowed 12 hits, and left 12 of their own runners on base. They needed an atrocious bit of fielding - center fielder Daniel Stubbs and left fielder Jonny Gomes colliding on Roger Bernadina's pop fly - to put an insurance runner on base in the seventh. And when Bernadina scored on a short sacrifice fly, taking off despite Stubbs having plenty of time to throw home, the Reds threw out Desmond at third base while he was trying to advance.
Third-base umpire Paul Schreiber initially ruled Desmond safe, but first-base umpire Joe West overturned the call after Reds manager Dusty Baker asked Schreiber to consult with the other umpires. West got the call right, but after the umpires huddled about the call, Desmond was ejected for throwing his helmet.
"I dove in, I looked at the third-base umpire, and he was saying, 'No, he's safe, he's safe, he's safe,'" Desmond said. "And then Joe came over, and I guess they needed to talk about it, and he called me out. I just dropped my helmet - I guess I was kind of shocked - and he threw me out. I didn't say anything to him, he didn't say anything to me. He just said, 'You're out of here,' and that was it."
It wasn't the only issue the Nationals had with an umpire on Friday night; starter Livan Hernandez was unhappy with home-plate umpire Dan Bellino's balk call in the fifth inning, a few days after he'd been fined $500 for arguing the much-debated Lance Berkman check swing that could've ended the Nationals' game against the Astros on Tuesday night before Berkman hit a walk-off homer.
"After the game, I say it's a strike," Hernandez said. "And I got fined $500. Don't fine me. Fine the umpire."
But those issues - the kind that muddied the Nationals' 10-game road trip - didn't hold them down on Friday. They got a much-needed win and a chance to regain some momentum this weekend.
"It doesn't take the sting away. It was just kind of a good way to move on," reliever Drew Storen said. "It's a tough pill to swallow, that whole road trip, We kind of turned the page on it - obviously, we learned from our mistakes there. We kind of turned the page, and to start off this homestand with a good victory is key."