Every time you read that dang story, it always ends the same. The fast-starting hare loses the race to the slow and steady tortoise. For the Washington Nationals Wednesday night, it was almost a similar story, as a quick start morphed into a nailbiter before late insurance gave the Nats an 8-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Washington’s lead in the National League East remained at four games over the Atlanta Braves with seven games left in the season. The Nats also moved back in front of the Cincinnati Reds for the best record in baseball.
John Lannan was the one under the pre-game spotlight, not only for his taking over for Stephen Strasburg in the Washington rotation, but also because of his abysmal past performances against the Phillies, especially in their ballpark. Lannan entered the night with a career ERA of 7.06 in Philadelphia, but immediately his teammates did their best to make sure he had all the cushion he might need.
Jayson Werth got what was an eventful evening for him started with a leadoff walk against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick in the first inning. Bryce Harper then crushed the first pitch he saw deep into the right-center field stands to give the Nats a 2-0 lead before a lot of people had gotten settled.
The power barrage continued for Washington in the second. Ian Desmond led off with a bomb to left and after Steve Lombardozzi reached on a Chase Utley error, Kurt Suzuki hammered a two-run shot, Washington’s third big fly in the space of eight batters to start the game. After a walk and a single to start the third, Kendrick (10-12) was done, lifted by Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel as Philadelphia desperately tried to remain relevant in the NL Wild Card race.
As happened on Tuesday night, the Phillies bullpen, maligned for most of the season, did its job, holding Washington hitless until the eighth while the Philadelphia offense tried to make a game of it. Like the proverbial tortoise, the Phillies went slow and steady, chipping away with single runs in the third and fourth innings, and getting another in the seventh thanks to a Jimmy Rollins home run.
Lannan (4-0) was gone by that point, ending up giving up two runs in 5.1 innings. It wasn’t his crispest start, but given the lead he had to work with and the personal demons he had to face in his least favorite ballpark, it has to be classified as another solid outing.
With the Nationals ahead 5-3, skipper Davey Johnson sent Tyler Clippard out in the eighth inning in the set-up role, pretty much confirming that Clippard will be ceding his closer role to Drew Storen from here out. Alas, a return to his former spot in the pecking order didn’t equal a clean outing from Clippard. He surrendered a leadoff double to Chase Utley before striking out Ryan Howard, then wild pitched Utley to third and walked Carlos Ruiz. A deep Domonic Brown sacrifice fly trimmed the lead to 5-4, and a Darin Ruf flare fell for a single, moving the tying run to third base. But Clippard bore down, fanning Kevin Frandsen on a foul tip to end the threat.
With Storen warming for the ninth, the Nats took the save situation out of the equation. Desmond led off with a single and stole second ahead of Suzuki, who also singled and stole second, setting up Werth. Being booed lustily by his former fans in Philly for feigning a foul ball toss into the stands, Werth then bounced a single up the middle to plate two runs and came home himself one batter later on a triple by Harper.
Champ of the Game: Kurt Suzuki. Proving to be a genius pick-up by Mike Rizzo, Suzuki came up big with his early homer and late single. While he may have been acquired for his game-calling and leadership skills first and foremost, his contribution with the bat have been very pleasant icing on the cake. For the Phillies, Frandsen scored Philadelphia’s first two runs after picking up a double and a triple, the latter blasted over a twisting Harper’s head in center.
Chump of the Game: Adam LaRoche. A hat trick of swing strikeouts for LaRoche, who is still two RBI shy of the 100 mark on the season. For Philadelphia, Howard fanned twice himself over the course of his 0-for-3 night.