PHILADELPHIA | During the Washington Nationals‘ 12-game losing streak, there was perhaps no player more affected than Joel Hanrahan, the new closer who has had the job for a month but barely has seen enough save situations to know how to react.
Like a storm shelter in Southern California, he has been nothing more than an unnecessary luxury, reduced to spot duty over the last two weeks as the Nationals’ attempts to deliver him a save situation came up short.
So when Hanrahan took the mound Thursday night in the eighth inning with a one-run lead before 41,568 fans at Citizens Bank Park, anything could have happened. And maybe the most surprising thing did.
The 26-year-old earned unquestionably the toughest save of his short time as a closer, holding back the Philadelphia Phillies for two innings and preserving a game Washington wrested back from the Phillies twice to end the team’s longest losing streak of the season.
With their 4-3 victory, the Nationals avoided a sweep by the Phillies before heading to Chicago for a weekend series with the National League Central-leading Cubs.
It ended with Hanrahan, who had worked only 4 1/3 innings in the two weeks since he saved the Nationals’ last win Aug, 7, pitching nearly half that total in one night.
Despite allowing the tying run to reach second in both the eighth and ninth innings, Hanrahan faced all but one hitter in the Phillies’ lineup while earning the team’s first two-inning save since it moved to Washington in 2005.
“Today was different than the first three [saves] that I’ve had,” Hanrahan said. “I’m a little more tired now, coming in with the pressure situation there, knowing if they score two runs, the game could be over. We were fortunate to get the win.”
Handed the closer’s job after the Nationals traded Jon Rauch to Arizona on July 22, Hanrahan has seen limited opportunities to prove he can be a fixture in the ninth inning. His first three saves came with three-run leads, and he blew another in his only other chance Aug. 10 against Milwaukee.
Manager Manny Acta told Hanrahan before Thursday’s game he might send the right-hander out for two innings. Given that extended test against one of baseball’s best lineups, Hanrahan passed.
He slipped out of the eighth inning after putting runners on first and second with none out, throwing a slider to Pat Burrell for an inning-ending double play. After Shane Victorino singled and stole second to lead off the ninth, Hanrahan retired the next three, getting Chris Coste on a groundout to short with the tying run 90 feet from home and reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins on deck.
“This guy hasn’t had a chance to save a ballgame in two weeks. I don’t think it’d be too much to ask him to [get] a two-inning save to snap out of it,” Acta said. “We are looking at him to close the games for the rest of our season. We’re not talking about a career closer who’s been around for 20 years. You need to do what you need to do to win the ballgame.”
Hanrahan helped Washington hang on after its offense pieced together the kind of hits it hasn’t delivered for two weeks.
All 10 of the Nationals’ hits were singles, and they took the lead for the third and final time in the eighth on nothing more than two infield hits, a blooper to right and Austin Kearns’ game-winning single to center.
“It was a tremendous game to snap out of the losing streak,” Acta said. “The guys showed a lot of nerve and confidence.”
Tim Redding, who left the game with a shutout in two of his three previous starts against the Phillies this season, was strong against them again. Nearly 75 percent of his pitches were fastballs, and roughly 40 of his 56 strikes came from the pitch.
Redding used it to neutralize an aggressive lineup through the first five innings. Philadelphia had just two baserunners during that span before scoring its only run off Redding with a pair of hits in the sixth inning.
The right-hander was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning after allowing one run on three hits through six. He was left with a no-decision after Saul Rivera gave up two runs in the seventh.
But Hanrahan’s lengthy appearance, set up by a rare display of offensive resourcefulness, was enough to save a win.
“It was definitely a learning lesson,” Hanrahan said. “I’ll look forward to the next time.”