- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

These Nationals aren’t going to win the National League East or being playing in October. September could be a showcase for Stephen Strasburg on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery.

But until then, Washington is showing it doesn’t lack drama. On Friday, it was a walk-off grand slam by Ryan Zimmerman to complete a comeback. On Sunday, it was perhaps even more impressive as Ian Desmond - down to his final strike with the Nats trailing by a run - blasted a solo homer to left.

In the 10th, Brad Lidge hit Jonny Gomes with a pitch with the bases loaded to provide another walk-off win against the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-4 in the series finale at Nationals Park.

“Well, that was fun,” manager Davey Johnson said with a laugh. “They had us on the ropes, we came back - there’s just no give-up in this ballclub. It’s always fun to beat the best.”

Phillies fans are used to the phrase “Hard to believe, Harry,” used by late color commentator Richie Ashburn to late play-by-play man Harry Kalas when the seemingly unbelievable happened. It could’ve been uttered twice Sunday - first with Desmond’s homer.

Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo took over in the ninth with a 4-3 lead and proceeded to strike out the first two batters. But Desmond, who said he saw Bastardo plenty in the minor leagues, anticipated what was coming next and tied the score. As he rounded first base, he put his arm up in the air as in triumph.

“I was like, ‘Yes, that’s how you come back,’ ” Desmond said.

Many of the 41,727 fans (the third-largest crowd since Nationals Park opened in 2008) weren’t rooting for the Nats, and a vast majority were on their feet cheering with two outs in the ninth until Desmond silenced them. Johnson said it reminded him of the 1986 World Series with Red Sox players on the top step of the dugout ready to celebrate - before a memorable error by Bill Buckner.

That may be a bit of hyperbole for a regular-season game in August, but Johnson nevertheless had strong emotions going through him about Phillies fans after Desmond’s shot.

“You know they’re going to have to sit down,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.”

With the Nats’ bullpen cruising along and the likes of Tom Gorzelanny, Todd Coffey, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett tossing almost perfect innings, a Drew Storen hiccup in the ninth made it look like another hard-luck loss. But Johnson’s feeling got even better in the 10th when the Nats loaded the bases on Lidge and eventually won with a hit-by-pitch.

“I don’t know if it slipped out of his hands or what. But I definitely didn’t roll into it by any means,” Gomes said. “Getting hit was last on my to-do list that at-bat, but it worked out.”

By the end of the evening, a nice start by Chien-Ming Wang was all but forgotten. Another rain delay knocked Wang (5 2/3 innings, three earned runs, four strikeouts) and reigning Cy Young Award-winner Roy Halladay out of the game. Washington’s bullpen silenced the team with the best record in baseball, and Alexandria native and former Virginia pitcher Michael Schwimer tossed three innings of relief in his major league debut for Philadelphia.

Schwimer, who allowed a Danny Espinosa homer on his second pitch, could have gotten the win - if it weren’t for Desmond’s blast off Bastardo.

It gave the Nats their fifth victory in the past seven games vs. the Phillies and a series victory that sent many Philadelphia fans back up I-95 less than thrilled. But in Washington, there were plenty of smiles because of the dramatic win and what it means about the progress of a growing team.

“Regardless of the outcome, I thought we played the Phillies tough all three games,” Gomes said. “It shows a lot about this organization and what these guys got going on in here.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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