PHILADELPHIA — For almost six full innings Thursday night, Brad Peacock pitched against a 98-win Philadelphia Phillies lineup bound for the postseason with no fear. Ask his teammates what impresses them the most about him, and to a man the word “attack” will come out of their mouths.
Peacock doesn’t have a problem pitching inside. He doesn’t have a problem throwing strikes and he wasn’t afraid to do either against the vaunted, though somewhat substitute-filled, Phillies lineup. But in the Nationals’ 6-1 win over the Phillies, even he could admit that he was rattled when the 45,064 in attendance at Citizens Bank Park awoke in the sixth inning when he walked Roy Oswalt.
“That got me,” Peacock said after walking the opposing pitcher with one out. “It got me a little bit. I saw all those towels going out there, I got a little nervous.”
Peacock started the season in Double-A. At the Futures Game in Phoenix, he was wide-eyed at his first experience playing inside a major league ballpark. He’d made one big-league start inside a half-empty Citi Field. The Philadelphia faithful on their feet, waving white towels? It could have been a backbreaker. Shortstop Ian Desmond came out to chat with Peacock, who was working on 5 1/3 scoreless innings with one hit.
“He realized [he was a little nervous],” Desmond said. “I just said ‘Hey, calm down. You’re adrenaline is kicking a little bit, but that’s part of being in the big leagues. That’s part of adapting.’ He did a great job. I couldn’t have asked much better.”
Peacock walked the next batter, Jimmy Rollins, too, but coaxed a fly out to center field from Shane Victorino. Then, he turned his 5 2/3-inning gem over to the bullpen to seal the Nationals’ first sweep of Philadelphia in the organization’s history. The franchise last swept the Phillies in 2003, when the Montreal Expos took four games. This one was done partly on the arms of three pitchers who spent significant time in the minor leagues this season — and all had commanding performances.
“This is definitely what I wanted to do,” Peacock said, reflecting on his 10 ⅔ scoreless innings as a starter, in which he’s given up just three hits, walked five and struck out four. “I just [wanted to] open some eyes up and I think that’s what I’m doing. … We’ll see what happens next year.”
“The future’s as bright as it gets around here,” said reliever Ryan Mattheus who pitched two-thirds of an inning in his first action since going on the disabled list Aug. 26.
Never has that been more clear than in the Nationals’ past eight road games — all wins — and in the players they have stepping up and coming through. Wednesday night, rookies Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos carried the offense. Thursday, it was Peacock and Michael Morse, along with RBIs from Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina, who led the Nationals to victory. Every single one of those players carry promising expectations for the future.
“It’s something to look forward to next year,” Morse said. “It just shows you we can play. We can be a big contender in this division coming up.”
The Nationals made the Phillies look silly for most of the last four games. They were the ones getting the timely hits; they were the ones with the starting pitchers who seemed untouchable. The Nationals were the ones dropping three-run homers, like Morse’s on Thursday, into the bullpen as the final straw on Oswalt’s night. As Philadelphia fans began to panic over the National League East champions losing six games in a row for the first time since 2009, Washington seemed poised and in control.
They seemed to be making a statement, winning the season series, 10-8, for the first time since going 10-9 in 2006.
“It’s playing the best team in the National League and showing them that we belong with them and we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with in the future,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
But they’ve also only proven that they can beat a team coasting into the playoffs, resting their regulars and with nothing to play for in the standings. For it to mean something, the positive signs the Nationals have shown this month have to carry into next season and beyond.
“They didn’t have their full lineup out there one game we played against them,” Desmond said. “Obviously, it’s nice to beat Philly, and I don’t want to be disrespectful to the guys they had out there, that’s not what I’m trying to do — but I’m just saying: They’re going to the playoffs and we’re going home.
“Next year, we’ll see. If we beat them next year, then I’ll be happy. … We’ll take it, but ideally we’d like to beat them at full strength.”