PHILADELPHIA – This has already been a successful road trip for the Nationals. They were just trying to put a cherry on top. End it with a bang.
Having already sealed a winning record with five wins in the first eight of this nine-game odyssey, the Nats were also looking to do something they haven’t done since 2017: Win three series on the same road trip.
On the heels of yesterday’s 19-4 shellacking, this finale started off in a familiar fashion. But one big swing – and a 23-minute rain delay – helped push the Nats past the Phillies for a 5-4 win in front of 41,531 drenched fans at Citizens Bank Park.
Trevor Williams got into trouble right away. Facing the daunting Phillies lineup that clubbed four home runs yesterday, the right-hander surrendered two in the bottom of the first.
With two outs, he served up the first longball to Nick Castellanos, his 12th of the season, on an inside 78 mph curveball. Bryce Harper nearly went back-to-back, but his first-pitch swing went just foul down the left field line. He had to settle for a single to right on the next pitch.
J.T. Realmuto took care of the homer for Harper, hitting his ninth on a first-pitch 90 mph fastball right down the middle for a quick 3-0 lead.
“The only pitch that I want back is the one to Realmuto," Williams said after the game. "I thought I executed fine with what we wanted to do to Castellanos. But they're a good hitting ballclub and there are guys that can slug through that lineup one through nine. Unfortunately, those pitches you don't get back and can lead to big innings for them. But just stick with the game plan because what we were doing, we thought we were executing well.”
But these pesky Nationals clapped back as Phillies lefty starter Ranger Suárez started to lose his command. In the third, the struggling Derek Hill was able to connect on a single to center and advance to second on an error by Brandon Marsh. After the second out, Jeimer Candelario and Joey Meneses drew back-to-back walks to load the bases for Stone Garrett.
Garrett has already hit a grand slam this season, back on June 6 against the Diamondbacks. And with his first swing, he became the seventh National to hit two grand slams in a single season.
Suárez left a 90 mph cutter up and in on the plate, and Garrett crushed it 378 feet into the left field seats for his fifth dinger of the season.
“Yeah, it felt good," Garrett said. "Put a good swing on it, put the team ahead. So yeah, it felt good.”
With that slam, Garrett joined Gerardo Parra (2019), Danny Espinosa (2016), Michael Morse (2011 and 2012), Josh Willingham (2009), Adam Dunn (2009) and Ryan Zimmerman (2007) as the only Nationals with two grand slams in a season.
“It's pretty cool," he said. "One of those stats that's pretty cool. So yeah, keep it going.”
Two innings later, Candelario joined the homer party by hitting his 11th of the year. Also on the first pitch, the third baseman took an 83 mph changeup from Suárez and deposited it 394 feet in the same direction as Stone’s longball. Just a little bit farther than the big outfielder's blast.
So here was Williams again given a lead. When handed an early three-run lead in his last start Monday in Seattle, Williams gave it all back en route to a loss.
This time he buckled down and kept the Phillies scoreless over his final four innings. He did issue back-to-back two-out walks in the third and a two-out single to Harper in the fifth, but otherwise he was clean.
Williams finished five innings with three runs on six hits and two walks with one strikeout on 80 pitches, 48 strikes. He’s been around 80 pitches per start, so even without the rain delay his day was probably done at that point.
“I'll gladly be the rain guy this year," Williams said. "If I have to pitch in the rain, I'll gladly take that.”
That handed the ball over to the bullpen.
With the top of the sixth finished after the rain delay, Jose A. Ferrer came in for another appearance after his major league debut Saturday. He gave up a walk and a single to start, but got a double play ball and struck out Marsh on a 97 mph fastball up and away, letting out a yell and giving the batter a little bit of a staredown as he walked to the dugout.
Ferrer’s second straight impressive performance bridged the gap to the back end of the bullpen.
Mason Thompson came on for the seventh, but gave up doubles to Kyle Schwarber and Castellanos to let the Phillies cut it to 5-4. But Kyle Finnegan cleaned up the mess, getting a double play ball from Realmuto after walking Harper.
Finnegan had to get out of his own mess coming back out for the eighth. A leadoff walk to Brandon Stott and a single by Darick Hall put runners on with one out. But a low splitter to Marsh was the perfect pitch for a 4-6-3 double play to get out of his second jam and to get himself tied for the National League lead with seven double plays induced by a reliever. To add on to Finnegan’s success, he has only allowed two of 11 inherited runners to score.
“Our defense made really good plays behind me," Finnegan said. "I didn't really feel like I had it today. Struggled to throw strikes, so our defense really bailed me out there. I was able to make a pitch when I had to and get those two big double plays to keep us in it.”
It was the third straight inning in which a Nats reliever got a double play when it was needed.
“It's about trying to throw strikes, early strikes, commanding the strike zone, making good pitches," manager Davey Martinez said. "We turned some really good double plays today, and that's about throwing strikes. Hitting your spots. But that's awesome. From the beginning of the year, we said we got to catch the baseball and help our pitching staff. And today those guys, those defenders were really good.”
Then, just as the Nationals drew it up, Hunter Harvey came in to seal the win and record his eighth save of the season, fifth since June 21.
“They're the backbone of our bullpen, those two guys. They hold down everything," Martinez said of Finnegan and Harvey. "Those two guys, man, they're something else. They really are. When they're throwing strikes, you can see what they can do.”
With the victory the Nationals went 6-3 on the road trip and won three series on the same trip for the first time since May 29-June 7, 2017 against the Giants, Athletics and Dodgers.
Out with a bang indeed.
“Loved it," Martinez said. "Yesterday, we got beat really bad, right? And these guys come today, we're down 3-0 and we come back. Big home run by Garrett, but we come back and we play a tough game. We fight 'til the end there. I can't say enough about these guys. Man, I love these guys. I really do. They're in it. They were in it every day. They played 27 hours hard, so I'm proud of them.”
Now they’ll head home and try to end this first half of the season with a bang during the last week before the All-Star break.
“We played hard this whole trip," said the skipper. "So let's play a little bit better at home. If we play a little bit better at home, we'll do some good things.”