Gio Gonzalez’s rough start left some uneasy after the first inning, but the Washington Nationals showed why you have to let the game play out in their 7-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. It not only statistically eliminated the Philles from the playoffs, but it handed the Phils a losing record at home for the first time in 12 seasons. More important than either of those two things though, the win lowered the Nats magic number to three with just six games remaining this season.
Bryce Harper got the offense going for the Nats with a home run in the first inning, his 21st of the season. Harper now is just three homers behind Tony Conigliaro for most home runs in MLB history by a teenager. That's not bad company, but it’d be hard to imagine him hitting that mark in just six games. Anything can happen, especially with Bryce Harper, but even if he doesn't get there, it's been an incredible season for the rookie.
Even that wasn’t he offensive story of the game, though. It was the return of Michael Morse’s power stroke. Morse hit a towering home run in the second inning to left center field that just slipped over the fence to move the Nats back within one run, 3-2. In the sixth though, with the Nats up 4-3, Morse put the game away with a two-run, 451 foot home run in to the Nationals bullpen. The bullpens at Citizens Bank Park are stacked, and the Nats ‘pen is further back and higher up. To make the moment even better, Tom Gorzelanny caught the blast in his cap to the cheers of his fellow relievers. Here's a video, and check out that strut by Morse. He knew it was gone the second it left the bat.
ESPN.com’s Jason Stark reported that the last right-handed batter to hit a home run into that top bullpen was Ryan Zimmerman on April 27, 2009. What are the odds?
Finally, it’s not often that a Cy Young contender’s winning start gets buried this far into a story, but nonetheless, here we are. Gio Gonzalez had a rough go of it early, throwing 57 pitches in the first two innings. He gave up a three-run double to new Nats killer Darin Ruf after he loaded the bases with a single and two walks. It was the only three runs that Gio surrendered all game, and he settled down enough after the second inning to pitch six innings on 106 pitches. It was a battle for Gio, but he ended up moving back ahead of R.A. Dickey in the wins column with his 21st victory this season.
The Nationals now head to St. Louis to face a Cardinals team that is fighting for the second Wild Card spot before they end the season back in D.C. with three against the Phillies again. It’s not an easy end to the season, and the Atlanta Braves don’t show any signs of losing soon, but the Nats hold the key to their destiny.