Jul 11, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Another sellout crowd at Camden Yards — this one with noticeably more red sprinkled among the orange — was treated to another taut ballgame and another compelling chapter in this budding rivalry. And this time the Nationals emerged victorious, thanks to big blasts from their two biggest home-run hitters this season: One expected, one unexpected.
Bryce Harper delivered the first blow, a laser beam of a homer to right-center to lead off the sixth and bring the Nationals within a run. Shortly after, Danny Espinosa launched a 3-run homer down the right-field line, giving the Nats the lead and eliciting a loud roar from the sizable gathering of D.C. fans in attendance.
Jordan Zimmermann, back to pitch about 36 hours after his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child, labored through five innings but benefited from that sixth-inning rally to earn the win. Blake Treinen delivered five key outs in relief, with Felipe Rivero then finishing off the seventh. Casey Janssen retired the side in the eighth, striking out a pair. And then Drew Storen finished it off, notching his 26th save in 28 tries, and setting up a big rubber game in the series Sunday afternoon before everyone heads out on the All-Star break.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Here’s a statement nobody predicted on Opening Day: Where would the Nationals be without Danny Espinosa this season? After two straight years of disastrous results at the plate, he has become a godsend for this team. Thanks to a calmer, more-repeatable stroke from the left side of the plate, he has become an offensive force again. And with a bullet of a 3-run homer to right in the bottom of the sixth, he not only gave the Nationals the lead. He also took over the lead in home runs among all NL second basemen this season with 10. Who saw any of this coming?
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: It was Zimmermann’s decision to return to pitch only one day after his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child, and who are we to question his decision-making when it comes to family and work? Who knows if it had any effect on his performance or not, but this much is certain: Zimmermann was not particularly sharp in this game, certainly not up to his usual standards. Two batters into the game, the Orioles already had two hits. He later grooved a 2-1 fastball to Caleb Joseph, who sent it flying to left for a 2-run homer. Two innings later, Steve Pearce hammered a hanging breaking ball to left for another homer. With his pitch count at 95, Zimmermann was pulled after five innings. The Nats’ rally in the top of the sixth put him in line for the win, but he certainly has pitched better plenty of times this season.
KEY STAT: Harper’s sixth-inning homer left his bat at 115.4 mph, according to ESPN, the second-fastest of his career. He hit one at 117.1 mph in 2013.
UP NEXT: The series (and the unofficial first half of the season) wraps up at 1:35 p.m. Sunday when Max Scherzer takes the mound (and makes himself ineligible for the All-Star Game) against lefty Wei-Yin Chen.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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