It was a pitchers’ duel at its finest. Stephen Strasburg battled Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies through a six-inning staring contest, each waiting for the other to blink first.
Ultimately, it was the Washington Nationals’ hitters who clapped in Hamels’ face, as they propelled the Nats to a 6-1 victory after an explosive seventh inning.
It was a DIY offense day for the pitchers for the first six innings, when Hamels and Strasburg together accounted for three of the five hits through that point in the game. Strasburg went 2-for-2 against Hamels, while the rest of the Nationals’ offense went a combined 3-for-24 against him before the seventh inning.
But it was during the seventh when the bats woke up.
They say baseball is a game of momentum, and the Nats certainly made a case for that in the seventh frame, when after being silenced all day, the offense started making noise to the tune of four hits, two walks and five runs scored.
Ryan Zimmerman led of the inning by legging out an infield single, and Adam LaRoche, who went 2-for-4 on the day, followed him with a single of his own. After an Ian Desmond sacrifice and an intentional walk to Tyler Moore, catcher Jhonatan Solano hit a dribbler that was misplayed by Phillies third baseman Michael Young to bring home the first two runs of the day.
Steve Lombardozzi then brought home two runs on his own, as he flew around the bases for a double, which was enough to knock Hamels from the game. Denard Span followed with another double to score Lombardozzi, before Zimmerman struck out to end the inning, marking the first time the Nationals had batted around the order since last September.
The Nationals’ six runs were the most they had scored in their last seven games, but just two would have been enough to win it after a dazzling performance by Strasburg.
Strasburg looked the part of the Nationals’ ace as he threw 112 pitches in eight complete innings, allowing one earned run on five hits and no walks with a season-high nine strikeouts. The only black mark on his otherwise spotless performance was an eighth-inning balk, the first of his career, which brought home the Phillies’ lone run.
Hamels continued his trend of pitching well but not getting any credit for it, as his record fell to 1-8 with the loss. He was nearly perfect for six innings, holding the Nationals to three hits and zero runs, but after losing his touch in the seventh he ended with a final line of six hits, five runs (three earned) with six strikeouts on 111 pitches.
The Nationals had not won any of their last four series, so winning this one against a division rival was a step in the right direction toward their aspirations for success.
Last year, much of their success was accomplished by the ability of their bench players to be more than competent replacements as they dealt with a myriad of injuries. Through two months of the season that support from the bench just wasn’t there, but in this series it made a comeback with big contributions from Lombardozzi and Moore.
Lombardozzi has been great for the Nationals in Danny Espinosa’s absence, going 5-for-12 with two doubles in the series, and Moore has been feeling more and more comfortable filling in an outfield spot for Jayson Werth. Moore went 3-for-9 with three walks in the series, and his RBI single in the eighth inning on Sunday was his first RBI in his last 45 plate appearances.
The bad news of the day came when Bryce Harper exited the game in the seventh inning, limping off the field with a lingering injury to his left knee that had clearly been bothering him the whole game. Manager Davey Johnson said Harper might miss a few days as he deals with the pain. Johnson also said Ross Detwiler would be sent to the disabled list after Sunday's game and would not make his next start as the Nationals had hoped as he continued to deal with pain in his oblique.
The Nationals will play the Baltimore Orioles next, and if they can continue pitching and hitting to the potential they showed during this series despite the injuries to key players, they might be back on track to playing like the team that was so exciting to watch in 2012.