This was as close to a playoff-type game as the Nationals will see this year, unless they get the chance to be a pennant race pothole in September. John Lannan was superb in 8 1/3 innings, the Nationals’ defense made a number of solid plays near the end of the game and Mike MacDougal beat Robinson Cano (who has been killing the Nats all series) in a fantastic nine-pitch at-bat to end the game. Just a fun game to cover and watch.
First, Lannan. Simply, as manager Manny Acta said, “the night belongs to him.” He grew up a Yankees fan in Long Island, attending playoff games during the team’s World Series runs with his father Ed (plenty more on that in the game story tomorrow). His family was all in attendance tonight, as well as plenty of friends from high school and college.
He threw 108 pitches, including 80 fastballs. That’s Lannan at his best, throwing his two-seamer, letting it sink and getting ground balls. Fifteen of his 25 outs were on grounders. “That lineup that he just beat tonight, it was fantastic,” Acta said. It really shows that still, the best pitch in the game is a fastball, well-located, especially a first-pitch strike.”
The Nationals decided to keep away from breaking balls for the most part, out of fear the Yankees’ sluggers would hit them out (which Robinson Cano did on a fifth-inning curveball). But when Lannan needed to throw off-speed, he did it effectively for the most part.
The Nationals’ defense also backed him up, with Nick Johnson and Anderson Hernandez making a pair of slick plays to end the seventh and eighth innings. They also combined with Cristian Guzman on a double play that ended the game.
That came after Lannan gave up a homer to Johnny Damon at the beginning of the ninth. He wanted to finish the game in front of family and friends, and admitted his adrenaline got the best of him on that pitch—a fastball up in the zone.
Nick Swisher’s lineout to left was hard-hit, and Mark Teixeira hit a long single to left. The Nationals pulled Lannan there for MacDougal, who hadn’t had a save since 2006.
He walked Alex Rodriguez, but got Cano to ground into the double play at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat. All of the pitches were outside fastballs—MacDougal said he figured Cano would eventually “do something” with one of them—and he battled the second baseman through six fouls and two balls before getting the double play.
“Cano has been hitting everything on the nose, and it looked like he was on every one of his pitches,” Acta said. “He really earned this one.”
I’ll be back with more in the morning to look at what a win like this might mean for the Nationals in the next couple weeks and how it could boost Acta’s job security. Finale of this series is tomorrow at 1:05. Talk to you in the morning.