A Night Full of Stars

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In a season full of moments that seem to compete against one another for space in our collective memories, Saturday night brought the latest installment of drama for the 2012 Nationals. Rallying from two runs down with a six-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth, the Nats sent their home park into perhaps the loudest frenzy of the season to date.

Danny Espinosa had the loudest hit – and reaction – of the night.

But it wasn’t just the six-run inning that caused the commotion, it was the way in which the runs were scored, and the events that set up the comeback in the first place. Steve Lombardozzi squirted a base hit past the pitcher and up the middle to score Adam LaRoche to cut the lead to one. Tyler Moore followed with a two-out knock the other way to plate Jayson Werth to tie the game. Then Danny Espinosa crushed the go-ahead, three-run shot over the bullpen in left before Bryce Harper hit the longest Nationals Park home run of his young career, an absolute rocket deep into the second deck down the right field line. The final three hits, including the two monstrous homers, all came not only with two outs in the inning, but also with two strikes on each batter.

The Nationals also made three errors on the night, contributing either directly or indirectly to four Marlins runs. Espinosa made two of them (and Lombardozzi the third), only adding that much more to the redemptive value of their clutch hits.

More than anything, though, Saturday night’s triumph was another complete team effort. A month from now, most people will only remember Espinosa and Harper going back-to-back to give the Nationals the lead, but there were a number of unsung heroes Saturday night. Here are our top five:

Ryan Mattheus earned the win Saturday night.

5. The Bullpen

The life of a reliever can seem like a thankless one. Even those who are lucky enough to have the most visibly defined roles – like closer Tyler Clippard and set-up man Sean Burnett – are expected to succeed every time out. But then there are those expected to pick up the slack in games like Saturday’s, to keep the team close when it is trailing in the late innings. After Jordan Zimmermann left the game, the trio of Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Gonzalez and Ryan Mattheus combined for three innings of work, allowing just a single unearned run. All three are having very solid seasons for the Nats, and Mattheus was rewarded for the trio’s effort with his fourth win of the season, as he was the pitcher of record when the offense sparked the comeback.

4. Justin Maxwell

Some of you are probably wondering who this is, while others of you are scratching your heads, knowing that Maxwell hasn’t worn a Nationals jersey since the 2010 season. And while that is true, the Olney, Maryland native and former National has found a home for himself with the Houston Astros, who faced the Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta last night. Maxwell opened the scoring in that game with a two-run shot in the fourth inning off Paul Maholm, Atlanta’s trade deadline pitching acquisition. After the Braves tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, Maxwell drilled an even longer home run off Maholm to open the seventh, and the Astros held on for the 3-2 victory. Coupled with the Nationals come-from-behind win, the Braves loss pushed Washington 3.0 games clear in the National League East.

3. Steve Lombardozzi

Lombardozzi’s two-out single up the middle in the eighth scored the first run of the six-run rally. While those who have watched the rookie all season have become accustomed to seeing him hit the ball right over the second base bag, we haven’t seen him do it nearly as often from the right side. A switch-hitter, Lombardozzi was batting just .200 (12-for-60) as a righty coming into that at-bat. But he delivered another clutch hit, as he has been wont to do this year. And despite a rare miscue, he also played some tremendous defense Saturday night, including this gem, which saved a run.

2. Tyler Moore

With the return of Werth, Moore has acknowledged that his role will be largely off the bench down the stretch for the Nats. Taking cues from Chad Tracy and Mark DeRosa, he knows he’ll have to make the most of his spot starts and especially his pinch-hit opportunities, like the one he got Saturday night. After falling behind in the count, usually pull-happy Moore stayed back and sent a line drive to the opposite field, scoring – of all people – Werth to tie the game.

1. Adam LaRoche

By the time Espinosa and Harper went deep, it was easy to forget that LaRoche had already homered twice Saturday night. Even more impressively, he hit both against tough lefty Mark Buehrle, giving him nine home runs vs. left-handed pithing this year, a new career mark. LaRoche also reached on an error and scored the first run in the six-run eighth. In a resurgent year, the first baseman leads all National League first basemen with 23 home runs and 69 RBI.

Enjoy the highlights below as the Nats look to cap a winning homestand with a series victory over the Marlins Sunday afternoon.

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