Harper’s Homer Helps Nats Over Miami, Faint Wild Card Hopes Persist

Tonight’s game was a lot like riding a mechanical bull: after you’re in a good position, hold on for dear life.

An eventful first inning saw the Nats lead 3-1, but a hit-prone Gio Gonzalez and bullpen kept the game interesting until the very end, as the Nats (82-71) held on to win, 3-2.

With nine games to play for both teams, the Nats now sit five games behind the Cincinnati Reds (87-66) for the final NL Wild Card spot. Hope is not yet extinguished, but the Nats must realistically go 7-2 or better and hope for quite a collapse from Cincinnati.

Almost all of the action in this game took place very early on. Donovan Solano doubled to lead the game off, and Marlins number two hitter Ed Lucas drove him in with a single to put the Marlins up 1-0 before an out had been recorded. Improbably, Gonzalez rebounded to retire the next three Marlins to end the inning.

Things got more exciting in the bottom half of the inning. After Denard Span flew out to start the inning, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman both reached ahead of Bryce Harper. Harper destroyed a Henderson Alvarez pitch and sent his 20th home run of the year deep to right, putting the Nats on top 3-1.

Harper’s 20th made him the fifth Nat with 20 home runs, the first time the team has done that since moving to DC. The achievement is somewhat hollow, however; three of those five players (Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche in addition to Harper) have exactly 20 home runs, and Zimmerman leads the team with just 25.

After the round-tripper, things turned ugly. Alvarez threw three straight balls to Desmond before the fourth one drilled him in the shoulder. Desmond, for his part, ran directly to first, but the Nationals’ bench was upset.

Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper yelled at Alvarez umpire Tim Welke from the top step of the dugout, and Welke decided to issue warnings to both teams. Nats bench coach Randy Knorr took offense at this, and Welke took offense at his offense, ejecting him. After that, there were no more issues.

In addition to no more drama, there was hardly any more offense. Over the next four innings, both teams would put runners on, a total of nine between the two of them, but neither would score. The Marlins even put four runners on in the third inning, but a double play in the middle of them saved the Nats.

Miami broke through with their second run of the night in the sixth, thanks to back-to-back doubles from Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Ruggiano. But once again, Gonzalez wiggled out of the jam after giving up a run and completed the frame. His final line on 105 pitches wasn’t pretty, but it was effective: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K.

Each of the three Nats relievers allowed at least one runner in their inning of work, but each retired the side without giving up the 3-2 lead. Rafael Soriano recorded his 42nd save with a strikeout after putting two runners on. The Marlins used four pitchers for 2.2 innings after Alvarez exited, and while they gave up some hits, they did not allow a hit to Span, whose hit streak ended one short of tying the franchise record at 30 games.

The Nats will continue to try and keep hope alive in game two against the Marlins. Jordan Zimmermann (18-8, 3.33) will go for his NL-leading 19th win against Marlins youngster and ex-Tiger Jacob Turner (3-7, 3.51)

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.