- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2018

Before Mark Reynolds could win Friday’s game with one swing, Washington Nationals reliever Justin Miller raised both arms in the air as he watched Matt Adams just keep his toe on first base to turn the Nationals’ fourth double play.

Then he pointed his glove at Trea Turner, recognizing who had started the sequence. Turner had ranged to his right and spun around to complete an off-balance throw to Wilmer Difo at second, whose subsequent throw nearly dragged Adams off the bag at first.

It was a swiftness not always displayed during Washington’s slide down the National League East standings. But as eyes turned toward Reynolds’ game-winning home run in the ninth inning to top the Miami Marlins for a second straight contest, it was the Nationals’ standout defense throughout the night that allowed Washington to be in that position at all.

“Our defense was really good today and that’s how you win ball games,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Really, I mean, you play defense, solid pitching, stay in games and that’s how you win games.”

A strikeout and throw out in the first inning helped starter Gio Gonzalez sidestep a walk. Turner turned his first double play in the second after Gonzalez walked another batter. Then, with bases loaded in the fourth, Cameron Maybin slapped a chopper to Anthony Rendon at third, who stepped on the bag and fired across to end the threat.

Solid defense wasn’t always a mainstay during Washington’s 5-17 skid from June 10 to July 4. As the Nationals fell in a 9-0 hole Thursday in four innings, it was Rendon’s first-inning error that allowed the first run to score.

Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox featured two runs scored on similar miscues. Adam Eaton slid to catch a foul ball with Rafael Devers on third, but he pumped before throwing, allowing Devers to score on the pop up. A wild pitch that appeared blockable for catcher Pedro Severino plated the next runner.

Turner, though, didn’t seem to have a doubt where to throw it when he scooped a grounder to his right with bases loaded in the fifth. He hurled the ball home for the force play, the first out of the frame. Gonzalez struck out the final two batters after he walked in a run to level the score at two.

“I don’t think there’s anything big difference or the key, we just keep working the same way,” Difo said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “We’ve been taking our ground balls, working on every aspect of our defense, and you know, when the game calls for it, just execute. That’s the big thing. If there’s any key it’d be that. Just make sure we execute the plays when we have to.”

Eaton described a circus grab he made in the seventh, when the ball got stuck between two lights and hooked back toward the right field line, as a “rear-end catch.” Eaton had to open his hips and back pedal before he fell while making the catch.

But he made the play, and those efforts added up to set up Reynolds’ moment.

“It’s fun to have pressure situations and at-bats that matter,” Reynolds said. “I don’t want to say it’s a turning point of the season, but hopefully it instills some confidence in here that gets us back to who we know we are.”

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