PITTSBURGH - The Nationals are trying to take care of business early tonight. So are the Phillies. And that could result in a very satisfying conclusion to the evening for everybody dressed in red at PNC Park.
The Nats burst out of the gates, scoring three runs in the top of the first to take a quick lead on the Pirates. Meanwhile in New York, the Phillies scored five runs in the top of the first and then added another in the top of the second, opening up a commanding 6-0 lead on the Mets.
Josh Bell's third inning homer off Joe Ross cut the Nats' lead to 3-1 and ultimately forced Dusty Baker to turn to his bullpen earlier than planned, but if these two results hold through the rest of the evening, the Nationals would clinch the NL East title and pop open the champagne inside the visitors' clubhouse here.
The Nationals jumped on Pittsburgh right-hander Ivan Nova, coming through with four singles during their quick-burst rally. Nova also plunked a pair of batters, contributing to the damage.
Trea Turner got things started by beating out a push bunt up the first base line. Jayson Werth followed with a single to left. That put Turner in position to score the night's first run on Bryce Harper's sacrifice fly. After Anthony Rendon got hit by a pitch and Wilson Ramos roped a sharp grounder off a diving Jung Ho Kang's glove at third base, Stephen Drew stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and delivered a two-run single up the middle.
Drew, who added another single in his next at-bat, is now batting .391 (9-for-22) with a .480 on-base percentage since returning from a seven-week stint on the disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms.
Handed a 3-0 lead, Ross provided the shutdown inning the Nationals needed Friday night from Gio Gonzalez. The right-hander, in his second start back from shoulder inflammation, was sharp during his first two innings, throwing 25 of 36 pitches for strikes.
Ross, whose fastball registered 93-to-95 mph, did hit a wall in the third inning, though. He needed 27 pitches in that frame alone, and so with the bases loaded and two out, Baker pulled his starter, who was supposed to go four or five innings if he avoided a high pitch count.
Sean Burnett replaced Ross and escaped the bases-loaded jam, getting a line out to right to keep the Nationals on top, 3-1, after three innings.
Update: The Nationals are trying to leave nothing to chance tonight. They've opened up a 6-1 lead thanks to a three-spot in the top of the fourth that included three Pirates errors. Might as well take advantage, right? Meanwhile in Flushing, it's a rout. The Phillies took a 10-0 lead, and though the Mets have cut that to 10-2, Terry Collins sat a bunch of his regulars mid-game and brought in the B squad, essentially waving the white flag. So it's up to the Nats bullpen now to finish this off. They've still got a ways to go, up 6-1 in the fifth.
Update II: Reynaldo Lopez has churned out three scoreless innings in relief, keeping the Nats' lead at 6-1. But the Mets' backups are trying to do something really dramatic at Citi Field. They've rallied from 10 runs down to make it a 10-6 game in the bottom of the sixth. This thing ain't over just yet, folks.
Update III: Man, what a performance from Reynaldo Lopez. He has gone five scoreless innings out of the bullpen on 72 pitches, keeping the lead at 6-1 and moving the Nats to within three outs of victory. The Mets still trail 10-6 in the top of the eighth, so it's looking like the Nats game will end first, preventing a celebration on the field but still leaving opportunity for it in the visitors' clubhouse.
Update IV: That's it. Nats win 6-1, thanks to six innings of relief from Lopez. The magic number, for the moment, is down to one. The Mets still trail in the bottom of the eighth, but they're still trying to pull off the impossible. So hang on, folks, it's gonna be a nervewracking few minutes...