The Nationals' 7-3 win over the Mets on Sunday was as exhausting a victory as the team hopes to have for a while. It came at the end of a six-day road trip, represented the third time Washington had played extra innings on that trip and concluded with both of the team's corner infielders (Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche) sitting because of injury. But in the absence of those players, the Nationals gritted out an 11-inning win, and did something significant in the process.
They went 28-53 on the road last year, and had just three road trips where they at least managed a split. The last one of those ended Sept. 5, 2010, and the Nationals didn't have a single road trip where they posted a winning record.
On Sunday, they forged a split in their first trip of the season.
"(It's) big," right-hander Jason Marquis said. "We didn't start off the way we wanted to in Florida, but we were able to bounce back and win three of our last four. It shows a lot about this team and the direction we're going to be heading."
Here are the awards from Sunday's game:
Laynce Nix: Entering the game for a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning, Nix wound up getting three at-bats in an 11-inning game, none bigger than his final at-bat. He launched a three-run homer off Blaine Boyer into the bullpens, more than 400 feet away from home plate in right-center field. It was just Nix's second hit as a member of the Nationals, but it was a good reminder of the pop he can bring off the bench. "It was sort of an ugly at-bat," Nix said. "He has good stuff, and I was fortunate to just get the barrel (of the bat) on a changeup at the end."
Marquis: The right-hander gave up three runs in six innings, but his stat line was a little misleading; three of the seven hits he allowed never left the infield, and two of them came on questionable calls where the batter could have been called out. And on half of Marquis' outs, the Mets didn't put the ball in play at all; he struck out nine batters, marking only the third time in his career he's fanned nine or more. He also became the first Nationals pitcher this season to throw more than 100 pitches, and he said he could have gone back out for the seventh inning. "I feel great," Marquis said. "Obviously, last year, early in the year, was an aberration. I had the (elbow) surgery for a reason. I try to take care of myself. You learn a lot more about yourself as time goes on."
Ivan Rodriguez: In the last few weeks, there's been quite a bit of clamoring from fans here and elsewhere about reducing the 39-year-old's playing time in favor of Wilson Ramos, and what happened Sunday doesn't change the likelihood that Ramos will take over more of the role. But Rodriguez deserves credit for what he did Sunday, especially in his final three plate appearances of the game. In the eighth inning, he doubled to right field - his second opposite-field hit of the series - and scored the Nationals' second run. In the ninth, he had a sacrifice bunt, and in the 11th, he shot a single up the middle to drive in the go-ahead run. He finished the game at first base, playing there for the first time since 2005, and he wound up with four RBIs in the series. "The more at-bats I have, the better I'm going to be," Rodriguez said. "Right now, I'm just trying to stay back on the ball and use my hands. That's me; I've got very quick hands, and I'm quick to the strike zone. Sometimes, I just try to open up a little bit, and that's not me. I just have to stay in the strike zone and make my hands do the rest."
Rick Ankiel: He'd looked good at the plate on this road trip, but ended it with an 0-for-6 day at the plate, though he did drive in a run with a groundout in the eighth inning.
Jayson Werth: After an 0-for-4 day Sunday, his average has dropped back down to .200. He went 3-for-25 on the road trip, though he did homer for the first time this season. Werth will be fine at the plate, but he can be a streaky hitter.
In Case You Missed It:
* On Lucas Duda's steal of second base in the sixth inning, Rodriguez got hit by the bat of Josh Thole on his follow-through, and hesitated for a split-second before throwing. His throw to Danny Espinosa was right on line, and replays showed Duda had his foot hovering over the base, not on the base, when Espinosa tagged him. But the shot Rodriguez took slowed the play down just enough for it to be close.
* When manager Jim Riggleman brought Jordan Zimmermann up to pinch hit with Adam LaRoche on first base in the 11th inning, he did it more with the worst possible scenario in mind than the best; Riggleman said he picked Zimmermann over a pitcher like Livan Hernandez - who is a better hitter - because Zimmermann, who is one of the Nationals' most athletic pitchers, had the best chance not to hit into a double play if he got the bunt down. But Zimmermann placed a perfect bunt to the left of the plate, and moved LaRoche into scoring position. After LaRoche came out of the game with a strained left groin, pinch runner Wilson Ramos scored the go-ahead run in his place.
1. How worried are you about the injuries to Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche? The first baseman sounds like he'll be able to go Tuesday, while I'd be surprised if Zimmerman is in the lineup for the first of three against the Phillies. He's gotten off to a stellar start in spite of his abdominal strain, but do you worry that this could land him on the disabled list eventually?
2. The Nationals, it should be noted, also split their first road trip of the season last year in New York and Philadelphia. With that said, do you take some encouragement out of the good start on the road, or are you worried about a fall like the Nationals took last year as the road schedule went on?
Leave your answers in the comments section. I'll have another post later today about the start of the Phillies series, which features the much-discussed first meeting between Werth and his old team. There were a series of Philadelphia writers in New York this weekend talking to Werth about the matchup, and while he wasn't spilling much about how much he thinks about the Phillies now, it's clear he still holds plenty of fond memories from his time there. Talk to you this afternoon.