The Nationals have the luxury of a roster studded with players who can contribute at any given moment in any given game.
They traded highly regarded prospects for Adam Eaton. Ryan Zimmerman has gotten off to a hot start. Daniel Murphy looks to be an even better player than last year.
Sometimes, though, you just need your best player to dictate the game. Bryce Harper did just that Sunday.
Harper hit a two-out, three-run homer 423 feet in the bottom of the ninth to give the Nationals a 6-4 walk off win over the Philadelphia Phillies (4-7).
With the count full, Harper ripped one to center field off Phillies pitcher Joaquin Benoit.
It was his second homer of the day.
“I was trying to battle,” Harper said. “Took two good swings right there 0-0 and 0-1, so never want to get behind on a guy like that, but battled the best I could and got into a pretty good count right there and got a good pitch to hit.”
Before Harper’s walk-off and before the game even started, Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said that one of the most consistent aspects of his team early into the season was that Washington’s starting pitchers were lasting late into games.
“You get your starter to give you a chance every night, it’s huge,” Wieters said.
Washington’s bullpen, however, seems determined to give that chance away.
In what is becoming a reoccurring theme early in this season, the Nationals bullpen is unable to get Washington (7-5) out of a jam and Philadelphia took advantage, scoring two runs over the last two innings to come back in a game they had been trailing since the third.
This time it was a combination of reliever Koda Glover and closer Blake Treinen. In the eighth, Glover came in with one out and a man on second to take over for starter Gio Gonzalez, who had exited the game after the Phillies cut it to 3-2 with the help of a fielding error in left field.
Glover threw a sinker to Phillies second baseman Tommy Joseph, who singled and brought in the tying run home. This was a day after reliever Joe Blanton gave up a 2-run shot in the eighth that lead to a 4-2 loss for the Nationals.
In the ninth, Treinen opened the inning giving up a double to Aaron Altherr. Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera grounded out softly to first, allowing Altherr to get to third.
Shortly later, Murphy threw home on a ball fielded in play, but Altherr was safe at the plate on a bang-bang play in which Wieters lost the ball before the tag. It gave the Phillies the leading run.
The damage, though, could have been even worse. Treinen managed to load the bases with two outs before manager Dusty Baker gave him the hook for Shawn Kelley. Kelley got out of the inning, but it didn’t erase the fact that the Nationals blew another lead.
“Today I didn’t give myself a chance to get ahead (in the count) because the balls weren’t moving down,” Treinen said. “So, I’ll work on it and we’ll move forward from there.”
Added Baker: “(Treinen) is still learning. I’m hoping he’s a quick learner.”
It negated a workmanlike performance from Gonzalez, who lasted 7.1 innings.
Gonzalez struggled with command issues early, at one point throwing just as many balls as strikes, but only allowed five hits while throwing 105 pitches. He rebounded after giving up a home run in the first at-bat of the game to Hernandez.
The Nationals led for the most of the game after Harper hit a 2-run blast in the third inning to give Washington a 3-1 lead. Anthony Rendon also recorded an RBI double in the first, scoring Eaton.
Washington took the home series 2-1 against Philadelphia and will now head out on a 10-game road trip.
“I was telling (Harper) earlier in the game that in another four or five years he’s going to be a pretty good player,” Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth said, jokingly. “I think he proved me wrong once again. That was huge. Bailed us out big time.”