For Nationals fans, the malox, advil, antacid, and maybe a shot of whiskey or two tasted good tonight as Sean Burnett, thrust into a major jam for the second time in a week in place of erratic closer Henry Rodriguez, pulled another Houdini-act save as the Washington Nationals defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-1.
Rodriguez, in vintage “Bad Henry” mode walked a batter, gave up a deep fly out to right, then a single and two wild pitches. After Rodriguez uncorked his second wild one, manager Davey Johnson had seen more than enough, replacing him with Burnett.
The lefty inherited a tough assignment, runners on 2nd and 3rd, 1 out, and a 1-0 count on right-handed pinch-hitter Ty Wigginton. After Wigginton hit a sacrifice fly to make it a one-run game, Burnett walked pinch-hitter Hector Luna and faced Phillies’ third baseman Placido Polanco, who was once one of the National League’s toughest hitters. Burnett fell behind, 2-1, and Polanco smacked a line drive directly to second baseman Steve Lombardozzi, who made the catch to end the game and give Burnett his second heart-stopping save of the 2012 season.
Until Burnett’s high-wire act in the bottom of the 9th inning, the story of the game was Gio Gonzalez‘s dominant 9 strike out performance in six innings and the Phillies’ sixth when, with a Shane Victorino double put runners on second and third with no outs and the Nationals leading, 2-0 courtesy of Ian Desmond‘s home run and RBI single.
Philadelphia’s Hunter Pence then lined a shot to centerfield that looked like a certain RBI single, but the Nationals Rick Ankiel made a spectacular diving catch and both runners held. Phillies’ all-star catcher Carlos Ruiz then lined a grounder to first baseman Adam LaRoche. La Roche threw home for the second out. Gonzalez then retired John Mayberry to preserve the shutout and perform the Nats’ first great escape act of the evening.
The victory, thanks to Burnett, was even better as it sealed the Nationals’ 25th win and their sixth straight in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. As the Nationals exchanged high fives to celebrate the win television play-by-play broadcaster Bob Carpenter put it best, “Lady Luck is with the Nationals in Philly tonight.”
Champ of the Game: Desmond, now hitting fifth, provided all the offense for Washington, blasting a solo home run in the second and driving in Bryce Harper on a single to left in the fourth.
For the Phillies, starter Kyle Kendrick and reliever Raul Valdez retired the final 17 hitters they faced.
Chump of the Game: Rodriguez, who again looked like a nervous little leaguer, firing balls everywhere except off the head of the Phillie Phanatic. Until Johnson gave him the hook, it looked like Rodriguez was going to fritter away yet another key victory.
For the Phillies, it might appear that they failed in the clutch, going 1-10 with runners in scoring position, but many of those were hard grounders and line shots hit right at Washington fielders. The real chumps were baserunners Shane Victorino and Mike Fontenot who failed to move from second to third in key situations, making it easier for Nationals pitchers to escape jams.
Unsung Hero: Nationals’ reliever Craig Stammen, who turned in two innings of shutout relief and escaped a jam of his own with two on and one out in the 8th inning.