PHILADELPHIA - Joe Ross understood the situation. The tying run was on base in a one-run game. The go-ahead run was at the plate. There were two outs in the seventh. His pitch count was about to reach triple digits. Sammy Solis was warming in the Nationals bullpen.
"It's like, if this guy gets on base," Ross said, "I doubt I'll get another chance to get the next guy."
So the young right-hander threw everything he had at that final Phillies batter he would face on this night. It happened to be Tyler Goeddel, his childhood friend and teammate from Northern California. And it happened to be Ross' biggest moment in what wound up a 5-1 Nationals victory.
After falling behind in the count, 2-1, Ross battled back. He got Goeddel to foul off a 94 mph fastball over the plate. Then, on his 103rd and final pitch of the night, he reached back and blew a high, 96 mph fastball past his buddy, ending the seventh inning in style and ultimately securing his fifth win of the season.
"I guess that shows you his determination and what kind of shape he's in," manager Dusty Baker said. "I'll tell you, he was throwing hard in the sixth and seventh, because he needed those outs."
The Nationals' second straight win to open this road trip featured four home runs (Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, Danny Espinosa and Stephen Drew) but it also featured yet another impressive pitching performance from Ross, who may not get the attention others in this star-studded rotation receive but has certainly earned it.
The 23-year-old now owns a 2.37 ERA, best among all Nationals starters and seventh-best in the National League. The guys ahead of him on that list have last names like Kershaw and Arrieta, Syndergaard and Bumgarner.
"I heard (Daniel) Murphy tell him: It's a pitcher growing up right before our eyes," Baker said. "That's what it's about. Winning ballgames, and also the maturity of young players to turn into possibly another ace on our team. He has a ways to go yet, but he's definitely on the way."
Ross took a step in the right direction tonight thanks in large part to his performance during the latter stages of his outing. The lone run and two of the three hits he surrendered came in the bottom of the second, on David Lough's single and Cesar Hernandez's triple. After that, he retired 14-of-16 batters faced.
That hasn't necessarily been Ross' forte so far this season. He entered tonight's game holding opponents to a .147 batting average and .390 OPS the first time through the batting order. But after that, opponents were hitting .309 with an .847 OPS.
"We had discussed it," Baker said. "I said: 'Hey man, it's either we gotta get in better shape, or keep your pitch count down or concentrate on your sequences of pitches, because you can't pattern-pitch that third time around. Looked like he did all three. He was really, really determined."
"It was huge," Ross said. "I think that third time through the lineup has kind of been the trouble for me recently. So I was just trying to power through that. It was obviously encouraging to myself to try and carry on to the next few starts."
Given how well he has pitched since debuting last summer, it can be easy to forget how inexperienced Ross is. This was only his 23rd major league start.
And yet rank all of the sport's starting pitchers since he debuted, and Ross ranks 17th with a 3.08 ERA.
And he may only be scratching the surface of his full potential right now.
"Each time you're able to do it, you're able to recall on past experiences well. What it looked like, what it felt like, what you did to get through it," Murphy said. "I thought he was unbelievable tonight. I thought he made quick adjustments. And to be able to get deep in that game, it really was a treat to watch. It was an absolute treat."