Results tagged ‘ Danny Espinosa ’

What to Watch For: 9/4

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Chicago Cubs (51-83) vs. Washington Nationals (82-52)

LHP Chris Rusin (0-1, 1.80) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (8-9, 3.53)

The Nationals rode seven scoreless innings from Ross Detwiler to a 2-1, series-opening victory over the Cubs on Monday, their fourth win in the first five games of this homestand. They will look to Edwin Jackson to keep the momentum in their favor tonight, as he makes his first start since his magnificent, eight-inning, 10-strikeout performance last Thursday.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth CF

2. Desmond SS

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Espinosa 2B

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Jackson RHP

ELIAS SAYS…

Adam LaRoche clubbed his 25th home run of the season yesterday, a solo shot off Jeff Samardzija. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, LaRoche is one of four current MLB players who have had 25-homer seasons for four different MLB teams. Also hit 32 for the 2006 Braves, 25 for the ‘08 Pirates and 25 for the ‘10 Diamondbacks. The other players on that list are Adrian Beltre (Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers), Alfonso Soriano (Yankees, Rangers, Nationals and Cubs) and Jim Thome (Indians, Phillies, White Sox and Twins).

THIRTYSOMETHING

By closing out Monday’s 2-1 win, Tyler Clippard became the third National to reach the 30-save plateau, joining Chad Cordero (47 in 2005, 37 in ‘07) and Drew Storen (43 in ‘11). Clippard also became just the third pitcher ever to record 30 saves and 10 holds in a single season. Clippard’s 30-save, 10-hold predecessors were Kerry Ligtenberg (30 saves/11 holds for Atlanta in ‘98) and Ugueth Urbina (32 saves/11 holds for Texas and Florida in ‘03)

MIDDLE MEN

Five games into this 11-game homestand, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa are a combined 16-for-38 (.421). Desmond (8-for-20) has hit safely in five of his last six games, all of which were multi-hit efforts. His RBI-single propelled the Nationals to the victory on Sunday afternoon. Espinosa (8-for-18) has hit safely in five straight and has notched six hits in his last nine at-bats.

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What to Watch For: 8/21

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Atlanta Braves (70-52) vs. Washington Nationals (76-46)

LHP Paul Maholm (11-7, 3.39) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (14-5, 2.91)

The Nationals and Braves took a 4-4 tie into the 13th inning in the series opener on Monday night before Washington was able to finally push across the game-winning run on Chad Tracy’s infield single. Game two of this crucial series pits deadline acquisition southpaw Paul Maholm against All-Star Stephen Strasburg in another marquee pitching matchup.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Flores C

9. Strasburg RHP

CATCHING UP ON LAST NIGHT/THIS MORNING

Chad Tracy plated Danny Espinosa with a pinch-hit, infield RBI-single to lift the Nationals to a tense, 5-4 victory in 13 innings over Atlanta on Monday at Nationals Park. With the win, the Nationals moved a season-high 30 games above .500 and 6.0 games ahead of second-place Atlanta in the NL East. The 6.0-game lead is the Nationals largest since landing in D.C. in 2005. Washington won its fifth straight extra-inning contest, and has played in a Major League-high 17 games that have gone past the regulation nine innings so far this season.

The game – which ended at 12:28 a.m., or five hours and 23 minutes after its scheduled start time – included 439 pitches/270 strikes, 37 players and 26 runners left on base.

HEY…YOU AGAIN

Stephen Strasburg will face the Braves for the fifth time in 16 starts and the first time since the Nationals squandered a 9-0 lead on July 20th in D.C. Strasburg is 2-1 against Atlanta so far in 2012, with the wins coming in back-to-back assignments on 5/26 in Atlanta and 6/2 at Nationals Park. He last pitched on 8/15 at San Francisco when he allowed two runs on four hits en route to the victory.

NOTABLE

Washington has scored at least five runs in 10 of 13 games against the Braves this season. Beginning with Ryan Zimmerman’s memorable game-ending homer on March 30, 2008 to open Nationals Park, the Nationals are 48-37 (.565) against the Braves. Since MLB returned to D.C. in 2005, Washington has more wins over Atlanta (72) than any other club (Mets, 2nd at 67). The Nationals are 9-2-1 in series play against the Braves in D.C. dating back to April 28, 2008. Meanwhile, Chipper Jones’ 23 homers against the Nationals (2005-present) rank third behind only Ryan Howard (35) and Hanley Ramirez (27).

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Finding A Way

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If there is a theme that has defined this season for the Washington Nationals, it may just be that no matter the opponent or the type of game, more likely than not the team seems to be able to find a way to end up on the right side of the final score. Following last night’s wild, 13-inning win over the division rival Braves, the Nats are now tied for second place in the Major Leagues with nine walk-off wins, which have come in nearly every manner one could imagine.

Danny Espinosa’s heads up baserunning helped win the game Monday night.

It all began on Opening Day, as Ryan Zimmerman scored on a wild pitch in extra innings. Since then, there have been clutch, game-winning, extra-inning hits by Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper. Ian Desmond has sent the Nats home happy twice, once on a sacrifice fly, and once with a dramatic home run. Of course, there was the crazy, 4-6 fielder’s choice hit by Adam LaRoche against the Giants on July 5th that allowed Harper to score the winning run. Then, Zimmerman scored again to win on a wild pitch just 12 days later against the Mets. But were any of those endings as improbable as the one that took place Monday night?

Werth nearly (effectively) ended the game in the eighth, as his bid for a two-out, tie-breaking grand slam came up a few feet short in the left field corner. LaRoche just missed his own chance for walk-off glory in the 10th inning, his towering fly ball to right field coming to rest in Jason Heyward’s mitt a step in front of the wall. And Werth again nearly sent the crowd into a frenzy in the 11th, backing up Heyward again, who had to jump at the wall in right to corral the ball. And while a big hit nearly decided things on three separate occasions, in the end, it came down to the littlest of little things, which the Nationals got right and the Braves got wrong.

In a season full of walk-offs, Chad Tracy’s may have been the most bizarre yet.

After Danny Espinosa was unable to advance Desmond – the runner at first following a leadoff single, who was forced out at second on a bunt attempt – he more than atoned for his poor small-ball execution. On a check-swing chopper off the plate by Kurt Suzuki, Espinosa raced to second base, and seeing that third baseman Chipper Jones and shortstop Paul Janish had both converged with catcher Brian McCann not covering, he continued all the way to third. That put runners at the corners with just one out, forcing the Braves to pull the infield in. That setup created an entirely different scenario as Chad Tracy stepped to the plate, the winning run just 90 feet away.

While the focus of what happened next will remain on Dan Uggla, Suzuki’s role in causing the moment of confusion needed for Espinosa to score should not be overlooked. Instead of running full bore towards second base, the Nationals catcher stopped just a couple of steps off the bag and waited. By not moving into Uggla’s line, he was able to take away any chance of a tag-and-throw double play. With the speed of Espinosa, that was really Uggla’s only play. In fact, if you watch the video, he never really squares himself to throw home, indicating that the double play was very much on his mind. But once Suzuki stalled, that became impossible, and the game was already over.

Lost in the madness is the fact that the Nationals became the first team in the Major Leagues to 76 wins, moving them 30 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history. They also expanded their NL East lead to 6.0 games over Atlanta, surpassing the 5.5-game advantage the 2005 Nationals held on July 3 for the largest division lead in franchise history since the team moved to Washington.

You don’t get to 30 games over .500 without finding new and creative ways to win. The Nationals have done just that to get where they are today.

What to Watch For: 8/20

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Atlanta Braves (70-51) vs. Washington Nationals (75-46)

RHP Tim Hudson (12-4, 3.59) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-7, 2.38)

The Nationals rode home runs from Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper to another series victory over the Mets on Sunday, staking themselves to a 5.0-game lead in the NL East. Washington begins a crucial three-game set Monday night with the second-place Braves as Jordan Zimmermann puts his Major League-leading 2.38 ERA on the line against Atlanta’s Tim Hudson.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

LONG TIME, NO SEE

Jordan Zimmermann gets the ball today against Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves. This will be J-Zimm’s  first start against the Braves in more than 15 months, with his last one coming on May 12, 2011 at Turner Field. In that outing, Zimmermann received the no-decision despite striking out 11 in 6.1 innings of work.

HAPPY TO HOMER

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals have won 18 straight games in which they have hit at least one home run. This is the longest such streak in MLB this season, in Nationals (’05-present) history and franchise annals. The last team with a homer-and-win streak to reach 18:  the ’08 Rays, who won 20 straight games in which they homered, July 21-August 22.

D.C.’S DYNAMIC DUO

Thanks to DL stints, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have started only 67 games together, but in those 67, Washington is 45-22 (.672) and is averaging 5.0 runs per contest (334 runs in 67 games). When Zimmerman and/or Morse are not in Davey’s starting lineup this season, the Nationals are 30-24 (.556) and averaging 3.7 runs per game.

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What to Watch For: 8/15

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Washington Nationals (72-45) vs. San Francisco Giants (64-53)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (13-5, 2.90) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (6-12, 5.35)

The Nationals and Giants are slated for a marquee rubber game on Wednesday afternoon after splitting the first two matchups. Hard-throwing righties Stephen Strasburg and Tim Lincecum go head-to-head as Washington looks to close an impressive road trip on a winning note.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Werth RF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Suzuki C

9. Strasburg RHP

WHEN THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD

The Nationals are 4-2 in rubber games this year, having won 8-4 on July 1 at Atlanta, 5-2 on June 21 vs. Tampa Bay, 2-1 May 3 vs. Arizona and 4-0 April 11 at New York (NL). However, Washington is 0-2 all-time in rubber games at AT&T Park (L, 1-3 in ‘11, L, 4-5 in ‘10). The Nationals have not lost a road series since the O’s took two-of-three at Oriole Park from June 22-24. Washington is 5-0-2 (win-loss-split) in seven road series since.

STRASBURG MAKES FIRST START AGAINST THE GIANTS

California native Stephen Strasburg will toe the rubber for the first time at AT&T Park later this afternoon. His only other career start against the Giants came on July 9, 2010 when he outpitched Matt Cain, working 6.0 strong innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out eight to earn the win. Strasburg is looking for his third win in a row after claiming victories over Miami on 8/5 and at Arizona on 8/10.

 THE POWER OF THE MIDDLE MEN

The Nationals rank 2nd in MLB with 31 home runs from their middle infielders (Ian Desmond 17, Danny Espinosa 12, Steve Lombardozzi 2). Only the Yankees (34) have more.

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What to Watch For: 8/8

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Washington Nationals (67-43) vs. Houston Astros (36-75)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (13-6, 3.34) vs. RHP Armando Galarraga (0-1, 5.23)

The Nationals and Astros played their second consecutive extra-inning game, and for the second time, Washington came away a winner. Michael Morse’s leadoff double in the 12th extended his hit streak to 16 games and led to the winning run, and Roger Bernadina’s highlight-reel catch saved the day in a 3-2 final.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Werth RF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

BERNADINA SHARKS VICTORY FROM JAWS OF DEFEAT

Danny Espinosa homered and provided all three RBI required for Washington to edge Houston, 3-2, on Tuesday in 12 innings at Minute Maid Park. With the potential tying and winning runs on base and two outs in the bottom of the 12th, Bernadina dashed over 125 feet to make a jumping catch at the wall, denying Brett Wallace’s bid for a game-winning double. By improving to 10-6 in extra-inning contests (5-1 since the All-Star break), Washington jumped a season-high 24 games above .500. With 11- and 12-inning victories here at Minute Maid Park the last two nights, the Nationals have won consecutive road games in extra innings for the first time since October 3-4, 2009 at Atlanta (6-4 in 11 innings, 2-1 in 15 innings).

IZTURIS MAKES DEBUT

Last night, Cesar Izturis became the 40th National to appear in a game this year when he pinch ran for Morse after he doubled in the 12th inning. Izturis would come around to score the eventual game-winning run on Espinosa’s RBI-single. Acquired via waiver claim from the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday, Izturis is hitting .235 with 2 HR and 11 RBI so far in 2012.

GIO VS. HOUSTON

Tonight, Gio Gonzalez will take to the hill for the first time at Minute Maid Park. He faced the Astros for the first time of his career in his third start as a National on April 17 in D.C. In Washington’s 1-0 win, Gio worked 7.0 scoreless innings and allowed just two hits. In his last outing, Gonzalez matched a season-high with 10 strikeouts without a walk in 8.0 innings against Miami on August 3.

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From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Envious No More

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Just about every night, I remind myself, be careful what you wish for.

For years now, we watched with silent envy as teams played meaningful games late into the season. We were thrilled to play a role — any role — in the season’s outcomes, to affect the standings from the outside.

Some call it playing the “spoiler.” Whatever they called us, it fit at the time.

But when everyone went home at night, all we could do was picture and dream what a pennant race was like from the inside.

Well no longer. Friends, we are in the midst of a real pennant race. And, bonus, this one appears to have started a bit earlier than most.

Honestly, my early impression is that it is equal parts pleasure and agony.

As if the late innings of a tight game are not grueling enough, let me tell you that I literally cringe every night about 7:10 p.m. upon checking the out-of-town scoreboard for the first time. Not much changes either during my 62 subsequent glances, as I wait for the scores to flip or turn over at inning’s end.

The man known as “Kurt Klutch” has already made his presence felt with the Nationals.

Honestly, this is so fun and much more invigorating than I imagined during all those blank nights. This is daily drama that only our sport can provide.

The ups and downs … they are amazingly addictive, but as we all know, the nightly outcomes cannot always work in our favor.

And it is in those moments that I remind myself … be careful what you wish for.

*It has been a busy week with the additions of Kurt Suzuki and Cesar Izturis. Suzuki has made an immediate impression in the clubhouse — he is so upbeat and personable, it is as if he’s been with us for 3-4 years, not 3-4 days. I know he’s still feeling his way, trying to learn about our pitchers and their various strengths. But our fans should feel comfortable with not only his talents behind the plate, but also in a one-on-one setting.

*A little bit was made about the Suzuki acquisition being some sort of commentary on the play of Jesus Flores, especially since Wilson Ramos went down in early May. I can assure everyone that Mike Rizzo does not feel this way. This was an opportunity to acquire another front-line catcher. Mike was understandably nervous about the worst case scenario: losing Flores to injury. This trade makes us better and deeper. And as we’ve seen all season long, our depth is a big part of what has set us apart.

Danny Espinosa has played the hero role lately, with the Nationals rookies in support.

*I know I wrote about the agony that comes with a pennant race, but one recent high point was Saturday night’s big comeback win over the Marlins. That was as loud as I have heard our ballpark. The only other moment that could potentially stack up was Ryan Zimmerman’s game-ending homer to open up Nationals Park on March 30, 2008. As up-to-the-task as Danny Espinosa was in Saturday night’s critical at-bat, I genuinely believe that the fans primarily fueled that six-run eighth inning. We’ll need much more of this in the next 2 months.

*I do not think it is any exaggeration to think that Adam LaRoche should be a part of any NL MVP discussion. At the very least, he is the NL Comeback Player of the Year. He carried us in April and has never let up. He leads all big league first basemen in home runs with 23. Yep, that’s one more than even Albert Pujols (22).

*I’d also like to welcome Jayson Werth back to the active roster. And he is not just back and working himself into shape. Rather, he is helping us win games. Wrist injuries are probably the most disruptive ailments that can plague hitters, and for him to come back and to have already raised his batting average above the .300 mark? It is a remarkable testament to his will and determination. His body’s ability to heal quickly is something to behold.

Bryce Harper continues to dazzle with the bat and the glove.

*I’d be remiss if I did not mention the many contributions of our rookies: Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore. Go back to Saturday. Bryce, Steve and Tyler accounted for half of the runs in the aforementioned six-run eighth inning. Some say the best thing about rookies is that they become second-year players. Well, in my mind, the best thing about these rookies is that they are not going anywhere any time soon.

I hope to see everyone during our next homestand. Remember, the next homestand includes a big 3-game series against the Braves. I’ve had friends tell me that this might be the biggest baseball series in D.C. since the 1933 Fall Classic. This is what it’s all about.

What to Watch for: 8/5

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Miami Marlins (49-59) vs. Washington Nationals (64-43)

RHP Ricky Nolasco (8-10, 4.90) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (11-5, 3.12)

The Nationals rallied from two runs down with a six-run, two-out rally in the eighth inning to take a 10-7 victory and a 2-1 series lead over the Marlins going into Sunday’s finale. Washington starter Stephen Strasburg – who is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in starts following those in which he has given up four or more runs – is coming off his worst start of the year, in which he yielded six tallies.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Werth RF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Flores C

9. Strasburg RHP

DEEP SIX

Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper hit back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning to cap a six-run uprising in Washington’s 10-7, comeback victory over Miami on Saturday night at Nationals Park. The six runs matched the club’s season high for a single inning, matching the total scored in the 10th inning of the Nationals 8-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field on July 23, just 12 days earlier. 

STREAKS AND BOMBS

Michael Morse has hit safely in a career-high 13 straight games, going 18-for-54 (.333) with two walks, three doubles, three homers, nine runs scored and 10 RBI. Morse’s 13-game run is the second-longest current hitting streak in the National League (Miami’s Jose Reyes is riding a 23-game hitting streak). Morse is currently tied with Steve Lombardozzi, who recorded a 13-gamer from June 29-July 20, for the longest hit streak posted by a National this season.

Adam LaRoche leads all MLB first baggers with 23 homers (Albert Pujols ranks second with 22). Among Nationals (2005-present), LaRoche’s 23 home runs are already tied for third with Nick Johnson (2006) on the single-season list among left-handed hitters. Adam Dunn occupies the top two spots on that list, as he hit 38 long balls in both 2009 and ‘10.

ONE FOR THE ROAD

Following today’s series finale, the Nationals embark on a three-city, ten-game roadtrip that includes visits to Space City (Houston, four games), The Valley of the Sun (Phoenix, three) and the City by the Bay (San Francisco, three). At 33-21 (.611), Washington owns the best road winning percentage in MLB (Atlanta 2nd: .600). The Nationals have won eight of 11, twelve of 17, and nineteen of their last 27 road contests. Washington is 11-4-2 in series play on the road this season.

 

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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.

All Is Good And Nothingness Is Dead

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In 2002, the Oakland Athletics played one of the most gut-wrenching games in recent memory. Sitting on the brink of history, having won 19 contests in a row, they were just one triumph shy of setting a new American League record for consecutive victories. After taking the first two in a series from Kansas City, they needed only to close them out for a three-game home sweep to accomplish the feat. With one of their aces – Tim Hudson – on the mound, their chances seemed promising.

Through three innings, it was all unfolding according to plan with the A’s building an 11-0 lead. But then, a funny thing started to happen. The hapless Royals started to claw back. They got five runs in the fourth – normally quite a feat, but it was less than half the deficit they had dug themselves, so the party continued, undisturbed. The margin remained at 11-5 all the way to the eighth when, suddenly, they scored twice more, and had two more runners on for their superstar, Mike Sweeney. The A’s went to their best setup man, Jeff Tam. Sweeney drilled a towering, three-run shot into the left-field seats, and suddenly it was 11-10.

The A’s celebrated after surviving disaster, but might they have been better off with a loss? (AP)

Celebrations were over, replaced by a nervous murmur. The A’s failed to score in the eighth, and amazingly, Kansas City pushed across a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 11.

That’s the thing about baseball – there is no clock to run out. You can’t simply “manage the game,” the way you can with a 30-point lead in basketball or football. You have to earn every last painful, desperate, gut-wrenching out. And, sometimes, you forget how to do that.

Of course, those who have seen Moneyball already know how this story ends. Scott Hatteberg, pinch-hitting with one out in the bottom of the ninth, took ball one, then turned on the next pitch, sending it soaring deep into the California night and the history books.

It’s hard to say what the Athletics learned that day, as they got away with their mistakes. Their collapse, as stunning as it was, did not ruin their historical moment. But, as the movie fails to show, they did not carry any of their momentum with them. The team traveled to Minnesota the next day, where they would be shut out, ending the streak. That same Minnesota team would end up celebrating a Game 5 elimination victory back in Oakland just a month later, dispatching the A’s from the postseason.

Could one make the argument that the A’s would have learned more from such a loss, than from the historic victory?

The Nationals did not get away with their mistakes last Friday night. In the opener of a crucial intradivision series, what started out like a dream turned into a nightmare, as Atlanta fought its way back from an early 9-0 deficit to earn an 11-10 win in 11 innings. Not even Danny Espinosa’s game-tying, ninth-inning home run – after Washington had fallen behind 10-9 – was enough to bail them out. The Braves kept coming, and for one night, all seemed lost.

Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina helped get the Nationals back on track.

The Braves momentum carried into the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader, where the Nats were shut out for just the second time all season, and the first time at home. A steady mist descended upon Nationals Park all day long, and into the night cap. It was a scene more befitting of Washington State than D.C., the dense clouds and light rain swarming the combined crowd of nearly 70,000 spectators all day and for much of the evening. In fact, the rain had been falling since the sixth inning of Friday night’s affair, right when the game had begun to turn on the Nats.

The offensive drought continued through the first four frames of Game 2. But then, a funning thing happened – the sky, both literally and figuratively, stopped falling. After 13 innings of stunned, scoreless ball, the Nationals went back to work, trailing just 2-0, thanks to arguably the biggest pitching performance of the season from perhaps its most unlikely hero: John Lannan. Summoned from Triple-A under the new rule that allows for an extra man to be added to the roster specifically for doubleheaders, Lannan pitched with the knowledge that he would likely be sent back to the minors following the game, regardless of the outcome. And after a shaky first that saw him escape with just two runs of damage, he was nearly unhittable the rest of the night.

That left Washington within striking distance in the bottom of the fifth, and strike the Nationals did, bit by bit. They pushed across a single run to finally get in the scoring column, but missed the chance for more. In the sixth, they did so again, tying the game, but failing to seize the lead. So they just kept coming. Roger Bernadina, filling in for Bryce Harper after he left the first game with a bruised ankle, drove home the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh. In the eighth, Harper came back. He laced a pinch-single, stole second (!) and scored on Espinosa’s single, adding a crucial insurance run. Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, who had both been out of sorts the night before, combined to slam the door shut as they have done much of the past two months.

Few hitters have been as hot as Ryan Zimmerman over the past month.

After all the doom and gloom following Friday night’s affair, what happened in the 36 hours to follow? The Nats took two of three from their closest division rival, including both a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory and an emphatic, 9-2 rout in which the home side banished any lingering effects from Friday night’s letdown.

That’s the thing about adversity – it can crush your spirits, take you out of your element, and turn the tide of a pennant race. Or, it can bring out the best in your character and – by showing that you won’t succumb to the pressure, but rather will rally back stronger than ever – be an even bigger blow to your opponents. The Nationals will have to prove themselves six more times against the Braves before the regular season concludes, but after last weekend, they walked away from their biggest setback no worse for wear, maintaining the same 3.5-game cushion with which they entered the series.

Then they went to New York, winning a crazy, extra-inning affair by scoring six runs in the 10th inning on Monday night, and finally triumphing over Mets ace R.A. Dickey on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they completed the three-game sweep with a 5-2 win, their fifth straight. Their NL East lead sits at 4.5 games over the Braves, and more than 10 against everyone else in the division.

Time will tell if this was that moment for the Nationals, and if the offense will continue to batter the ball the way it did to open and close this weekend’s series. But one thing is for sure: what has not killed this Washington squad so far in 2012 has only made it stronger.

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