As many runs as the Nationals put up early in the game, it only felt like a matter of time before the Phillies got close. This feels like a basketball game, where you know each team is going to go on a run. The Phillies had theirs in the fifth.
Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley all had one out-singles. Up came Ryan Howard, with the Nats up 6-2. Shairon Martis started him with three straight sliders, all low and inside, and Howard swung at all of them. When he mixed it up on the fourth pitch, throwing a fastball, he shot it too far outside for Howard to bite on it. Then he came back with another slider to the same spot, only he left a little more of it over the plate than the first three. Howard was primed for the pitch anyway, and the location didn’t help. He put it over the center field wall, and we were tied at 6.
The Nationals scored another run in the top of the sixth off Jack Taschner and Clay Condrey, again showing how much they’ve improved at working a pitcher. They follwed Anderson Hernandez’s leadoff double with two walks (the one to Ryan Zimmerman was intentional after he hit his second homer of the night—a 451-foot shot—in the fifth). Then Elijah Dukes drew a run-scoring walk. This is one of the biggest improvements the Nats have made over last year, and it’s not just because of Adam Dunn and Nick Johnson. Dukes and Zimmerman have been taking more pitches, and Austin Kearns’ on-base percentage is higher than it’s ever been.
It’s 7-7, going into the seventh. The Nats’ bullpen will have to outlast the Phillies’ relievers and keep that lineup down. This is a good test.