Let’s Play Two
It was a clear, crisp day for baseball with a high, blue sky above Nationals Park and not a cloud in the sky to spoil a perfect day to play two. There was only a smattering of fans for the first game of the double-header that began at 4:00 pm. But they were loud and enthusiastic and they were treated to a great game of September, pennant-drive baseball when every little thing matters.
Like the birthday cake for Gio Gonzalez that was proudly presented by fans to the young left-hander who is still the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award. Sure, they are just crazy fans, but who isn’t these days. Did that birthday cake play a role in the win? Absolutely, because a Cy Young Award Winner should never have his birthday come and go without a fan club birthday cake presented along the right field railing. No way.
But the cake was taken by Jordan Zimmermann who pitched through innumerable rough patches to turn in what seemed in the box score to be just another masterpiece. It did not come easy. The Nationals scored first when Michael Morse came around to score in the second inning. In the second and third innings, the Los Angeles Dodgers had the bases clogged. But four hits, a walk and a hit batter plated only a single run.
The Dodgers have their backs to the wall and face elimination from the NL West pennant race and are four games back in the Wild Card Race. The heart of their batting order features one of the best players in the game in Matt Kemp and he is bracketed by Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier. Gonzalez has four 30+ homer seasons to his credit and Ethier has a lifetime slash line of .291/.363/.477.
But afraid to throw them a fastball? Not Jordan Zimmermann. His fastball was just a tick off last night. Maybe it was the thin air; maybe he had too much birthday cake. But he fought through it all for six innings and put the Nationals in position to win a must-have game.
It was “the Kid” who plated the winning run and it was vintage Bryce Harper. He hit a rope to the wall that would have been a double for any other player, but without looking once at third base coach Bo Porter, Harper rounded the second base bag like a man on fire. He slid into third and the tag was not even close. He scored when Ryan Zimmerman grounded to second baseman Mark Ellis and the Nationals had the lead again.
A lead-off double by Ian Desmond–whose birthday is today–provided the final run for the Nationals who won the first game 3-1 but not without a tense moment in the seventh inning.
The crowd had grown to 26,000 by the time pinch-hitter Nick Punto led off the seventh with a double. Ryan Mattheus got a ground ball out, but Punto went to third and Davey Johnson made what proved to be the winning move when he brought Sean Burnett in from the pen. He struck out both left-handed hitters Ethier and Gonzalez, sandwiched around a walk to Matt Kemp. Clippard got the save in the ninth.
The second game was just as exciting, but not the equal of the first as the Nats lost 7-6. John Lannan let in six runs in four innings and there wasn’t much to cheer about as Josh Beckett used junk-ball stuff to limit the home team to only three hits over the first seven innings. But in the eighth inning, the fans that stayed finally had something to shout about. Michael Morse led off with a home run and then Steve Lombardozzi homered with Desmond aboard to cut the lead to 6-3. Bryce Harper had an RBI single and then Michael Morse came to bat for the second time in the inning and tied the score with a two-RBI single.
Despite the theatrics, Tyler Clippard gave up a home run to Matt Kemp in the ninth and Brandon League closed out the win for the Dodgers.
The magic number for the Nationals is down to NINE. Any combination of Atlanta losses and Washington wins totaling nine and the Nationals are in the playoffs for the first time since 1933. Come out for Ian Desmond’s birthday tonight. It’s always a beautiful night for baseball in DC.