When it was over, when the Philadelphia Phillies had announced that they weren’t ready to just hand the Washington Nationals the division in May by avoiding a series sweep, the Nationals had much bigger things to worry about.
The lasting image from a 9-3 loss, a game that featured a purpose pitch from Cole Hamels to Bryce Harper in the first inning, a subsequent steal of home by Harper and a fastball from Jordan Zimmermann into Hamels’ knee, was unrelated.
It was the image of Jayson Werth, head down and clutching his left arm, being escorted off the field by trainers. Werth broke his left wrist sliding for a ball hit by Placido Polanco in the sixth inning and will be out a number of weeks, if not months. The break was a clean one, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said, but it was the same wrist that injured ligaments in nearly ended Werth’s career.
Werth will see a specialist on Monday to determine if there is any ligament damage and his surgeon from the Mayo Clinic who discovered and repaired his split tear of the ulnotriquetral ligament in 2006, will be consulted.
It was just the latest blow to a Nationals lineup that has seen every member of the heart of their order go down with injury at some point this season. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche are expected to return to the lineup on Tuesday, but Sunday night, as the Nationals quietly dressed, their projected No.’s 3, 4, 5 and 6 hitters were all dealing with an ailment of some sort.
“We seem to be getting a little more healthy and then boom, another one of our main guys goes down,” Johnson said.
“It’s pretty rough,” LaRoche said. “Never a good time to lose anybody, especially a guy in the heart of your lineup, but it’s tough right now with all the injuries we’ve got and stuff going on. We were looking forward to this next series, this next week, and being together again. Obviously we’re short another big bat and big part of this team for a while.”
It soured a game and the end of a series that had perhaps ignited a real rivalry between the two clubs. The Nationals and their fans have always looked at the Phillies as rivals but it was the sort of rivalry where one team seems to do the majority of the winning. But the Nationals have won 11 of their last 14 games against the Phillies and they made a statement this series.
“Usually, it seems that the Phillies aren’t that hyped up to come play us,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “I think they realized that they needed to step up a little bit, and that’s nice. It’s nice to have that feeling of: ‘Hey, they’re intense over there.’ Usually when we play them, they’re not. And I think they realize we’ve got a good ballclub, and they needed to kind of take it up a notch.”
The Phillies, it seems, were so threatened by the Nationals that Hamels felt he needed to send a message in the first inning. His first pitch to No. 3 hitter Bryce Harper, a 93-mph fastball, landed squarely in his lower back.
“I was trying to hit him,” Hamels said. “I’m not going to deny it. It’s something that I grew up watching. That’s what happened. I’m just trying to continue the old baseball… It’s just ‘Welcome to the big leagues.’”
Harper laughed when informed of Hamels’ comments. “He’s a great guy, great pitcher and knows how to pitch,” he said. “He’s an All-Star. It’s all good.”
He could laugh, though, because Harper, who’d discussed Hamels’ pickoff move with Werth and third base coach Bo Porter before the game, made Hamels pay for the message. Harper went first-to-third on Werth’s single one batter later, and with Chad Tracy batting etched his name into the history books. Hamels, distracted by Werth at first, threw over. Harper creeped down the third base line toward home. Hamels threw to first again. Harper broke.
“That was pretty neat,” said Xavier Nady, who took over in right field when Werth exited. “Everyone’s sitting there saying, ‘How many times do you see that in the course of your career?’ He’s been fun to watch.”
It was just the second steal of home in Nationals history (2005-present) but the first straight steal. Ian Desmond stole home on a double steal in April 2011. Harper became the first teenager to steal home since the Angels’ Ed Kirkpatrick did it on May 5, 1968 against the Kansas City Athletics.
But until the ninth inning, it was the Nationals’ only offensive output of the night. And by then, long after Zimmermann had exited following six innings of three-run baseball on a night he admittedly didn’t possess his best stuff and refuted any claims he’d hit Hamels in retaliation, things were out of hand. Ryan Perry surrendered six earned runs in the ninth inning, blowing a 3-1 game open and making the two runs the Nationals scratched across in the ninth meaningless.
They won the series, wrapped up a 4-2 homestand and still sit atop the National League East. In a clubhouse that had just lost one of their leaders and a game, that was of little immediate consolation.
“We lost,” Harper said. “That sucks. I don’t like losing. That’s the only thing that comes in my mind when we walk away from that field.”