Results tagged ‘ Houston Astros ’

2012 Player Review: Roger Bernadina

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We begin the list with everyone’s favorite selachimorph, Roger “The Shark” Bernadina.

The Curacao-born outfielder played in parts of four seasons for the Nationals before 2012, compiling a slash line of .242/.304/.364 in just under 900 plate appearances. His athleticism and flashes of superior defense gave fans hope that he might progress into a steady Major Leaguer, an evolution that finally took form this season. Bernadina posted the best all-around numbers of his career, hitting .291/.372/.405 with 11 doubles and five home runs in just 261 plate appearances. A midseason switch to a lighter bat helped him go on a 41-game tear over which he batted .395 (32-for-81) from June 28-August 17, raising his average by 73 points.

However, he was at his best during the crucial four-game home set with Atlanta in mid-July (over which he went 8-for-13) and on the team’s season-long 10-game road trip in early August, where he turned in a four-hit game in San Francisco and this season-defining catch to win a game in Houston.

With his tremendous speed and range in the outfield, Bernadina offered the Nationals a versatile option as a left-handed pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, or defensive replacement off the bench this year. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2013, but remains under team control through the 2016 season.

Shark fans out there may not have to wait until Spring to see Bernadina play, as he is rumored to be taking part in the World Baseball Classic as part of Team Netherlands, the country that stakes ownership to the Antilles islands, including Curacao.

Don’t Panic

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by Noah Frank

Take a deep breath, Nationals fans.

It can be easy, when your team’s back is against the wall, playing to keep its season alive, to panic and lose hope. The postseason brings heightened emotions and an extra sense of urgency to every game, so individual wins and losses can seem blown out of proportion. That’s why now is as good a time as ever to remove emotion from the equation for the moment, to step back, and to look at the reality of what lies ahead the next day or two, based on what we’ve learned about the Nationals and Cardinals from the 2012 season.

By the time Major League teams hit the postseason, they have formed an identity. A 162-game regular season lends enough time to form trends and predictable results, a sample size that – while it does not always play out exactly to form – gives the viewing audience an idea of what to expect from a team in the playoffs.

While the Nationals are known for their pitching, a potent offense helped them to the best run differential in baseball.

The Cardinals posted a +117 run differential over the course of the regular season, fourth-best in baseball and second in the National League only to Washington’s +137 mark. They went 60-31 in games in games decided by three or more runs, also the second-best mark in the league. This is no doubt a strong indicator of the Cardinals ability to produce prolifically on offense, but it also helps compensate for another, less flattering, team statistic. See, St. Louis went just 28-43 (.394) in games decided by less than three runs, ranking just a hair above Chicago and Houston – two teams that combined to lose 208 games this year – as the worst in the league.

The Nationals had a tendency to win blowouts as well (their 56-26 record in games decided by three or more runs was the best in baseball), but they were also solid in close games, going 42-38 in one and two-run games. Washington also played 20 extra-inning contests, the most in baseball, and were 13-7 in those games (8-5 at home). St. Louis, meanwhile, went just 6-12 in extra-inning affairs.

So far, these trends have largely played out to form through the first three games of the series. The Cardinals have won a pair of blowouts, while the Nationals have taken the lone nail-biter. Postseason experience or not, the large sample seems to indicate that this is the norm, not the exception. And if it is, the Nationals should feel pretty good about themselves, as the head into Thursday (and hopefully Friday) needing wins at home. Especially so, when you consider the following:

Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell pointed out early in the series that all four of last year’s Division Series winners were actually outscored by their opponents in their series. The Rangers (21-16), Tigers (28-17), Brewers (25-23) and yes, Cardinals (21-19) all saw their competition score more runs over the course of their respective series, but all came out on top. Each won at least one one-run game in the series, with three of the teams winning a pair of them. But that 2011 St. Louis team was 45-38 in games decided by two runs or less. They were not the same team that Washington needs to beat twice in the next two days to keep its season alive.

Ross Detwiler has been excellent at home this season.

The Nationals have been outscored 22-7 through the first three games of this series, and would likely end up on the short end of the overall run total even if they do take the next two games (after all, they’d have to outscore the Cardinals by an average of eight runs a game to tip the overall balance). The good news is, by doing so, they would actually be the norm, not the exception.

When examining the particulars of the matchups in front of the Nationals, it helps to again stay away from the knee-jerk reactions. A quick look at Game 4 starter Kyle Lohse’s numbers (16-3, 2.86 ERA) doesn’t inspire hope. In fact, he posted a 2.62 ERA in 199.1 innings against all the teams in the league that do not call the Nation’s Capital home. But in his two starts against Washington, the Nationals battered him around to the tune of a 6.92 ERA (12 runs, nine earned, in 11.2 innings). He did not take the loss in either, but very well could have, leaving with deficits of 9-8 and 4-0 in the two games.

Coupled with the lineup’s success against Lohse, Ross Detwiler’s 8-2 record and 2.59 ERA at Nationals Park reshape the whole outlook of the matchup. Of course, Game 5 would bring a rematch of Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez, a Game 1 matchup that the Nationals won, 3-2, back on Sunday in St. Louis.

All the Nationals have to do is win two games in a row at home, something they’ve done 23 times this season, including against this same Cardinals squad on August 30-31, just over a month ago.

Nationals fans, allow yourself to exhale – if only until first pitch Thursday afternoon.

What to Watch For: 8/9

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Washington Nationals (68-43) vs. Houston Astros (36-76)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-6, 2.45) vs. RHP Lucas Harrell (9-7, 3.98)

The Nationals leaned on Gio Gonzalez – who hit his first Major League home run and finished his first nine-inning complete game – to take their third straight one-run win over the Astros in Houston. Washington will send Jordan Zimmermann to the hill in search of a four-game sweep and its sixth consecutive victory overall.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Bernadina CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Werth RF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

SO LONG, SPACE CITY 

Tonight’s tilt will be the last time the Nationals and Astros will meet as NL brethren, as Houston will join the AL West beginning in 2013. Since baseball returned to The District in 2005, the Nationals lead the series 29-26 heading into tonight’s matchup.

J-ZIMM: ROAD WARRIOR

Jordan Zimmermann will make his fourth career start against the Houston Astros tonight, a club against which he has yet to record a victory. The Cubs, Dodgers and Pirates join the Astros as National League clubs that have never been defeated by Jordan. Zimmermann, who is 6-3 with a 2.03 ERA (16 ER/71.0 IP) away from Nationals Park, has allowed one earned run or less in eight of his 11 road starts this season.

MICHAEL MORSE(L) 

Michael Morse has hit safely in a career-high 17 straight games, going 23-for-73 (.315) with four doubles, three homers, 11 RBI, two walks and nine runs. Morse’s team season-high 17-game run is the longest current hitting streak in MLB, as Miami’s Jose Reyes saw his 26-game streak come to an end today in New York. The last National to register a hit streak of this length or longer was Ryan Zimmerman, who posted a 19-gamer from July 22-Aug. 11, 2011.

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Going The Distance

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While the Nationals back-to-back extra-inning wins on Monday and Tuesday night over the Houston Astros provided plenty of drama and fodder for water cooler chatter, they also left Washington’s bullpen dangerously thin entering the third of a 10-game road trip. So much so, in fact, that Davey Johnson sent starter Edwin Jackson down to be on standby as an emergency reliever, should Washington need one. Thankfully, the Nats didn’t need any bullpen help at all Wednesday night, as Gio Gonzalez stepped up with perhaps his biggest all-around performance of the season. Not only did Gonzalez toss his first career nine-inning complete game, he also belted his first Major League home run, a two-run shot that proved to be the difference in a 4-3 victory.

Gonzalez hit his first Major League home run and tossed his first nine-inning complete game.

Gonzalez made a splash in his first home start back in the home opener on April 12, twirling seven spotless innings and logging his first Major League hit. If that game set the tone for the All-Star’s season, his outing Wednesday night may have provided its defining moment. Reunited for the first time in a game with Kurt Suzuki, his old catcher from Oakland, the 26 year-old southpaw reminded Nationals fans of exactly why Mike Rizzo traded for him this past offseason. Finishing what he started, Gonzalez scattered nine Astros hits and two walks over his 117-pitch outing as he became just the second Nationals starter this year to go the distance after Jackson did so all the way back in April.

As if that wasn’t enough, Gonzalez also delivered the biggest performance of the game on offense. After the Nationals made two quick outs to start the second inning in a 1-1 game, Suzuki came to bat. Astros starter Armando Galarraga plunked the Nats backstop on the rear with his first pitch. Gonzalez stepped up immediately to pick up his teammate. He turned on Galarraga’s very next pitch and belted it deep into the top of the Crawford boxes in left field for a two-run shot, giving Washington a lead it would never relinquish.

Although the left-field seats in Houston are notoriously easy to reach, the tater was a no-doubter, and would have been a number of rows deep at any ballpark in the league, including Nationals Park. See for yourself.

As a result, the Nationals staff now holds a unique distinction. Three Washington starting pitchers – Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, who toes the rubber in Thursday’s series finale – have each hit home runs and have each been honored as National League Pitcher of the Month. With the start Ross Detwiler is off to in August (1-0, 1.29 ERA in two starts), that got us thinking: which is a more likely accomplishment for this Nationals staff: another Pitcher of the Month award, or another home run?

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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The Case for Catch of the Year

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The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros opened their second and final series of the season with a pair of extra-inning games Monday and Tuesday night, and a pair of Nationals wins. But despite the apparent similarities, the defining plays of these two contests could not have been more different. We have already chronicled Houston’s defensive lapse from the 11th inning on Monday night that led to the game-winning run. However, to fairly and accurately chronicle the importance of Roger Bernadina’s jaw-dropping, game-saving catch for the final out of Tuesday night’s contest, we must look at it in the larger context – as a frontrunner for catch of the year in Major League Baseball.

Humor us, if you will. Watch the video below, no matter how many times you’ve already seen it, just so the play is fresh in your mind. Then, as we take you through our five reasons, we encourage you to read through each point individually, then watch the video again. By the end, you can tell us if you also believe that what the Shark reeled in last night was more impressive than any other catch made this season, including Mike Trout’s now legendary leap (video also below, for comparison).

Catch of the Year…Roger Bernadina

Or Mike Trout

1. The Amount of Ground Covered

Well positioned before the pitch, just to the left side of second base, Bernadina nevertheless had to run full tilt deep into the left-center field gap and leap, arms extended into the awkwardly shaped façade in front of the Nationals bullpen. But it’s not like he had time to set himself underneath the ball and try to time his leap – it was all on the run.

2. The Ballpark

Minute Maid Park is…unique. From the notoriously easy-to-reach Crawford Boxes in left field to Tal’s Hill in center field that rises behind the warning track and includes a foul pole in play, it is easy to forget the minefield that awaits outfielders in left-center. As you can see in the photo to the right, the angle of the wall changes every few feet, often causing awkward caroms and general confusion for visiting players trying to decide how to pursue fly balls in the area. Bernadina disregarded all of that, threw caution to the wind, and literally threw himself into one of the recesses of the wall, emerging with the ball.

3. The Game Situation

This cannot be overstated. After Washington had finally broken through in the top of the 12th with the first run scored by either team since the second inning, the Astros had the tying run at second and the winning run at first with two outs in the bottom of the frame. If Bernadina does not come up with that ball, the Astros not only tie it, they likely win the game on that play, with the runner on the move in the two-out situation. It’s that simple – the catch was literally the difference between a win and a loss. When is the last time you’ve seen that in a game?

4. Steve Pearce/Craig Stammen

You can tell the significance of any play in the game as much as anything by the reaction of the other players on the field. Steve Pearce was the runner at second on the final play Tuesday night, representing the tying run. Check him out on the replay (0:57), fist raised in triumph as he heads towards third base, confident he is watching a game-ending play of an entirely different nature.

Meanwhile, Craig Stammen stood in the Nationals bullpen, just on the other side of the chain link fence from where Bernadina came crashing into the cutout. After the Shark came away with the ball, watch Stammen (at 0:11 and again at 1:03) jumping around, fists raised like a kid in the stands. Sure, Tyler Clippard’s primal scream and Jayson Werth’s bear hug speak volumes as well, but nothing matches Stammen’s unbridled joy from the ‘pen.

5. The Pennant Race

Oh yeah, the pennant race. As hot as the Nationals have been since the All-Star break, winning 14 of their last 18 games (including last night), the Atlanta Braves have kept pace. Washington held a four-game lead at the break, a mark that had not been matched until they were stymied by Cole Hamels and, some time later, Brett Wallace’s walk-off bid came to rest in Bernadina’s mitt. For the second time in four days, the Nationals have added to their division lead, and once again own the best record in baseball at 67-43. None of these things would be true if not for Bernadina’s catch.

Still want more on the Shark’s heroics? The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg also did a great job of capturing some of the initial reactions – on the field, in the clubhouse and around the Twitter-sphere.

What to Watch For: 8/7

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Washington Nationals (66-43) vs. Houston Astros (36-74)

LHP Ross Detwiler (6-4, 3.02) vs. RHP Jordan Lyles (2-8, 5.95)

After Houston erased a 4-1 deficit to tie the game in the ninth on Monday night, the Nationals scored a run on a bizarre play that included two errors to win the series opener, 5-4 in 11 frames. Washington will look to Ross Detwiler in the second meeting of the series, as it hopes to extend its three-game winning streak.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Bernadina CF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Flores C

9. Detwiler LHP

LIVING SINGLE

In Monday’s 5-4 victory in 11 innings, each of the Nationals 14 hits were singles. Before Monday, the Nationals (2005-present) had never posted more than 11 hits, of which all were singles, in the same game. The Nationals posted at least one extra-base hit in each of the season’s first 85 games, the longest such streak in MLB to begin 2012, however, they have failed to do so seven times in 24 contests since. In addition to Mon.’s 14-single attack, the Nationals posted 10 singles and zero extra-base hits on Sunday vs. Miami. Thus, the Nationals are the first big league club to post at least 24 hits in a two-game span, all of which were singles, since 2000, when the Royals turned the trick September 28 (12, vs. Detroit) and 29 (14, at Chicago AL).

BE LIKE MIKE

Including a 2-for-5 effort last night, Michael Morse has hit safely in a career-high 15 straight games. During the streak, Morse is 21-for-63 (.333) with two doubles, three homers and 11 RBI. Morse’s team season-high 15-game run is the second-longest current hitting streak in the NL (Miami’s Jose Reyes is riding a 24-game streak). The last National to register a hit streak of this length or longer was Ryan Zimmerman, who posted a 19-gamer from July 22-August 11, 2011.

THE NATIONAL DET

Ross Detwiler looks to collect his third win in his last four starts tonight in Houston. In each of those wins, Detwiler tossed 7.0 innings, allowing a combined one earned run on 10 hits along the way. Despite his 6-4 record, Ross is without a win in his last six road starts. He has faced the Astros just once in his career, collecting the victory while allowing two runs on seven hits in 6.0 strong innings on 9/23/10 in D.C.

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A Win Is A Win

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It seems that with each and every passing week of this 2012 season, the Washington Nationals are finding increasingly more dramatic and creative ways to win baseball games. There have been late-inning rallies, beginning on the season’s first two days at Wrigley Field. There have been walk-off wins of nearly every variety, from wild pitches (twice), to sacrifice flies, to heart-stopping, come-from-behind home runs. There have been victories of nearly every shade, coming in just about any way the mind can dream up. And then there was Monday night.

Overlooked in last night’s madness was another solid performance from Craig Stammen.

After carving out a 4-1 lead, the Nationals found themselves in extra innings against an Astros team that had won just four its last 34 games. Fortunately for Washington, that Houston squad had yet to win any of its nine extra-inning contests, and the Nats – no stranger to free baseball – were not about to become their first victim. But for all of the timely, clutch hits the team has put together lately and, really, all season long, this game turned on something entirely different.

We will make our best attempt to describe the play on paper, though it deserves to be seen, if you haven’t already watched it. After Roger Bernadina pulled a single through the hole between first and second base to open the top of the 11th, new Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki bluffed at a bunt and took strike one. He squared again on the next pitch, popping the ball in the air in front of first base. Steve Pearce crashed from first, but the ball dropped in front of him, just as pitcher Wilton Lopez closed in to try to make a play of his own. Then, Pearce and Lopez literally crashed – into one another – with the ball glancing off the first baseman. Matt Downs came running in from third just as Pearce made a desperate effort to collect the ball and throw out Suzuki. Downs pulled up at the last second, flailing over Pearce as he dropped his elbow, the throw towards first instead sailing into foul ground and up the right field line.

Meanwhile, Bernadina raced from second to third, where Bo Porter held his hands up to stop the speedy outfielder, a prudent decision with none out in the inning. But the Shark had other plans. He blew right past Porter for the plate, and right fielder Brian Bogesevic’s throw, which seemed destined to make a close play at the plate, airmailed the catcher and went to the screen. When the dust settled, Bernadina had scored and Suzuki stood at third base.

The run would be all the Nationals would need to end a game they no doubt feel they should have won in much less time than the four hours and 15 minutes it took to complete.

Surely, they won’t be happy about the events that led up to the 11th inning on Monday, or that forced extra innings in the first place. The relief corps, which has been one of the most solid in baseball this season, suddenly became allergic to their own fastballs, falling behind hitters with off-speed pitches. After loading the bases in the eighth, Drew Storen escaped with the lead. When Tyler Clippard walked and hit a batter in the ninth, he did not. However, after allowing a game-tying double that left the winning run at third base with just one out, Clippard buckled down to strike out the next two batters, pushing the game to extra innings.

There was another bright spot from the relief corps’ performance, thanks to Craig Stammen. The same hurler who came up with 2.1 innings of clutch relief eight days prior in the Nationals maniacal, 11-10, multi-comeback game in Milwaukee, delivered again with 2.0 innings of hitless relief. No reliever in baseball has pitched at least two frames as often as Stammen, who did so for the 21st time on Monday. And so while the focus will remain, undoubtedly, on “what turned into a three-ring circus,” as Nationals radio man Charlie Slowes put it, the ultimate takeaway from Monday night is this: some way, some how, the Nationals just keep finding ways to win.

What to Watch For: 8/6

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Washington Nationals (65-43) vs. Houston Astros (36-73)

RHP Edwin Jackson (6-7, 3.57) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (1-4, 5.77)

The Nationals took three-of-four from the Astros when the teams met in D.C. in April, and will look to continue their winning ways after doing the same to Miami this past weekend. Led by the red hot Adam LaRoche – who has gone 23-for-52 (.442) with four walks, seven home runs, 10 runs scored and 16 RBI in his last 14 games – Washington has won four of five and 12 of its last 16, holding a 3.0-game lead over the Atlanta Braves entering play Monday night.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Espinosa SS

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Werth RF

7. Suzuki C

8. Lombo 2B

9. Jackson RHP

EDWIN IN SPACE CITY

Edwin Jackson looks to get Washington’s three-city, 10-game roadtrip off to a good start tonight at Minute Maid Park in Houston.  Jackson has earned at least one win in 21 Major League ballparks, but Minute Maid is not one of them. He sports a 4.55 ERA in six career games (five starts) against the Astros. When pitching against Houston, his team is 5-1. Jackson last faced the Astros on April 19 in D.C. and took the loss in an 11-4 setback.

NATS HURLERS DON’T DIG THE LONGBALL

Nationals pitchers are currently riding a string of 49.0 consecutive innings in which they have not allowed a home run. Washington last allowed a long ball when Jimmy Rollins and Nate Schierholtz hit homers in consecutive at-bats in the fifth inning on Wednesday at Nationals Park. Washington’s streak of not allowing a homer in five straight games also matches a season high set twice previously: April 16-20 and April 10-14. Last season, from September 5-16, Steve McCatty’s pitchers strung together an 11-game homerless streak.

MICHAEL MORSE(L) 

Michael Morse has hit safely in a career-high 14 straight games, going 19-for-58 (.328) with two walks, three doubles, three homers, nine runs scored and 10 RBI. Morse’s team season-high 14-game run is the second-longest current hitting streak in the National League (Miami’s Jose Reyes is riding a 24-game streak). The last National to register a hit streak of this length or longer was Ryan Zimmerman, who posted a 19-gamer from July 22-August 11, 2011.

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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.

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