Sep 14, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It’s been quite some time since the Nationals and Phillies played a ballgame with as little at stake as there was tonight. Truth be told, it probably hasn’t happened since the Nats called Montreal home. That made for a decided lack of buzz inside Citizens Bank Park for this one, with an announced crowd of 15,402 seemingly more entertained by the “Bongo Cam” on the scoreboard than anything that happened on the field.
Turns out that sparse gathering was treated to a very compelling ballgame, one that featured six home runs and way too many big-time momentum swings. The Nationals opened up a 6-2 lead in the fifth inning thanks to solo homers by Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper and a grand slam by Jayson Werth. But Jordan Zimmermann couldn’t hold that lead and wound up giving it right back on Cody Asche’s 3-run homer in the sixth.
The Nationals couldn’t get anything else going against the Phillies’ bullpen. Their own relief corps managed to hold the fort as well, with Matt Thornton, Rafael Martin, Blake Treinen, Casey Janssen and Felipe Rivero combining to post scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings and set the stage for extra-inning drama.
Which Werth provided with another bang. His towering home run off Dalier Hinojosa gave the Nationals a 7-6 lead in the 10th and gave Jonathan Papelbon a chance to earn the save in his return to Philadelphia … which he couldn’t do. The crowd greeted the former Phillie with boos, then Freddy Galvis greeted him with a solo homer to right, tying the game up again in Papelbon’s first blown save in seven tries with the Nats.
Never fear, though, because his teammates rallied to his defense. They plated the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th thanks to a walk, a passed ball, an infield single and a fielder’s choice. And then Doug Fister, given the first save opportunity of his career, tossed a scoreless bottom of the 11th to finally secure this oh-so-elusive victory.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Werth had resurrected his season after moving up to the leadoff spot last month, but needing a hot hitter to protect Bryce Harper, manager Matt Williams moved him into the cleanup spot over the weekend. That move paid off tonight, because when Harper walked with one out in the fifth, Werth came to the plate with the bases loaded. Then, after falling behind in the count 0-2, he hammered a fastball from Aaron Nola to left field for his fifth career grand slam. And if that wasn’t enough, Werth did it again in the 10th, launching the go-ahead homer deep to left-center for his 12th career multi-homer game.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Just when you thought Zimmermann was about to put together a quality start, it all came crashing down in the sixth inning. Handed a 6-2 lead the previous inning thanks to Werth’s grand slam, Zimmermann gave all four runs back, capped by Asche’s 3-run homer to right-center. This continued a couple of disturbing trends: 1) This was the fourth time this season Zimmermann allowed six or more runs in a start, something he didn’t do at all in 2015, and 2) This was the third time in seven games the Nationals scored four runs on one swing of the bat (grand slams by Werth and Wilson Ramos, plus Michael Taylor’s single-plus-three-base-error) and then gave the lead right back. Neither fact is particularly encouraging for the Nats.
KEY STAT: Bryce Harper (.334) and Yunel Escobar (.322) each are attempting to break the Nationals’ single-season batting average record, which has been held by Dmitri Young (.320) since 2007.
UP NEXT: Stephen Strasburg (8-7, 4.30) will be looking to build off his 13-strikeout performance against the Mets when he takes the mound Tuesday night against right-hander David Buchanan (2-8, 9.11).
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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