- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

To be sure, there are games that Washington Nationals left-hander John Lannan has pitched better. There are games he’s been more dominant, more in command, and certainly more comfortable with the temperature — which was 90 degrees at game time Wednesday.

He’s even had better performances against the Philadelphia Phillies, though his historically bad record against them in 13 winless career starts would suggest otherwise.

But on a steamy afternoon at Nationals Park, aided by the bat and glove of Laynce Nix, Lannan authored perhaps the finest performance of his career against Philadelphia, if only in regard to the end result: a 2-1 series-clinching victory.

“A win is always good, but to do it against a club like that, especially when I’m pitching …” Lannan said. “I’ve pitched better [against them], but I limited the damage today and that’s all you’ve got to do sometimes.”

He had a little help in that department, particularly the damage that was limited after he exited and Domonic Brown sent a sinking liner toward the gap in left field with two outs and the bases loaded against Doug Slaten in the sixth.

For a moment, it appeared all of the work Lannan had done over 5 1/3 innings would go for naught. The ball would fall, at least two Phillies runners would score and Lannan would be on the hook to potentially drop to 0-11 against them.

How snake-bit has Lannan been against the Phillies? He was ejected from his major league debut in July 2007 after hitting Philadelphia’s Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in succession.

Manager Jim Riggleman said he thought there was “no way” the ball would be caught. Lannan, watching from the dugout, felt as though the ball was moving in slow motion as Nix sprinted to his left and sprawled onto the grass, glove outstretched. But as the ball nestled into Nix’s glove and he skidded across the field on his stomach, he knew.

“I knew the ball was a long way from me off the bat and the way he hit it, it was going to slice back a little bit,” Nix said. “I just had a good bead on it. I felt like I could get there. It’s a good feeling to know that I was ready … It’s satisfying.

“By the time it hit my glove and I heard the crowd, it’s a good feeling.”

It was, without doubt, the decisive play in a monumental victory for the Nationals, who beat Philadelphia in a series for just the third time since 2008 and departed for an 11-game West Coast trip after a .500 homestand. But if not for his defensive heroics, Nix’s swing on an 0-1 changeup from Roy Oswalt also would have qualified.

The fourth-inning blast, which was Nix’s ninth of the season and puts him on pace for a career-high 26, broke a 1-1 tie.

It also allowed Lannan to work with a lead against the Phillies for the first time in the past 21 2/3 innings, a streak that dated to April 5, 2010.

For as much as he insisted he didn’t think about his record against the Phillies, this outcome certainly was a bit sweeter.

“Some of my buddies are from Philly, and they gave me a hard time about it,” Lannan said. “But they’re a good team. They’re the World Series champions, they’ve been to the playoffs, their lefties hit lefties well. From beginning to end that lineup is pretty stacked, and their pitching’s unbelievable. It’s just something that I never pitched well against them. Today was just different.”

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