Nats beat White Sox after brief delay
Players from both clubs were on the field stretching and preparing for what everyone expected to be a 7:05 p.m. first pitch on South Capitol Street. Fans were taking their seats, though upon closer inspection it appeared to be a late-arriving crowd.
And then came an unusual and surprising message on the giant scoreboard in right-center field: The start of the Nationals' game against the White Sox would be delayed for 15 minutes.
Why? Not because of any bad weather, or the mere threat of bad weather. But because the umpiring crew had gotten caught in traffic and couldn't get to Nationals Park in time to prepare themselves for Jordan Zimmermann's scheduled first pitch.
Good thing most Nationals players have spent enough time in this town to sympathize with the crew's calamity.
"I've been stuck in traffic many a time here in D.C.," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I'm surprised they got here as fast as they did. It's always an adventure."
The umps finally emerged in time for a 7:21 p.m. first pitch, but plenty of fans were still filing into their seats as the game's first few innings progressed. Fortunately for them, the Nationals saved their best for later in the evening.
Shut down early by White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd, the Nationals' lineup finally exploded during the game's middle innings, scoring all of their runs between the fourth and sixth frames en route to a 5-2 victory.
Combine that offensive surge with a quality start by Jordan Zimmermann and a mostly drama-free relief performance by Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano, and the Nationals walked away with their sixth victory in eight games this season. They'll go for their second consecutive home series sweep Thursday night.
They put themselves in such a position despite a sluggish start to Wednesday's game. Unable to figure out Floyd, the Baltimore native and one-time top prospect, the Nationals were shut down for three innings, going a collective 1-for-9 at the plate.
Then Bryce Harper stepped to the plate to lead off the fourth and tattooed Floyd's very first pitch of the inning, sending the ball flying into the second deck down the right-field line, some 420 feet away.
"He hits the ball a long way, that's for sure," Desmond said. "Probably one of the longer ones I've seen him hit. I don't even know if he got it on the barrel."
For the record, he did.
"It felt good," Harper said of his team-leading fourth homer. "I just got a good pitch in that situation to put a barrel on and get us going. I think that's the biggest thing: Just to get up there and get something that can get our team going."
It certainly did get the Nationals rolling. They went on a rampage after that, adding another run in the fourth on Danny Desmond double and Espinosa's RBI single, then tacking on one more in the fifth on three straight singles and two more in the sixth on Desmond's triple and RBI singles by Espinosa and Denard Span.
So, after that 1-for-9 stretch to open the game, the Nationals proceeded to go 9-for-14 against Floyd during the middle innings.
"He was fooling people. He had good stuff tonight," Espinosa said. "I think probably the second time through, we just got some better pitches to hit."
"It seemed like the first two innings, he was un-hittable," manager Davey Johnson said. "And then the third inning, it looked like he lost a little something. He couldn't throw the ball over."
The beneficiary of all the run support was Zimmermann, who after a shaky first inning settled in nicely and pumped out seven total innings of two-run ball, needing only 90 pitches to earn his second win in as many starts this season.
Of course, it didn't hurt that the right-hander had the freedom to pitch with a comfortable lead over his final few innings.
"It's easy to take the mound when you've got the lineup we have," Zimmermann said. "Teams are going to have a hard time shutting them down all game. You know these guys are going to score some runs sooner or later."
Up three runs late, Johnson could have left Zimmermann in and given his starter a chance to pitch in the eighth inning for only the second time in 85 career appearances. But Johnson decided to play it safe and handed this one over to his bullpen, which closed things out with relative ease.
Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano allowed one hit apiece but quickly rebounded to avoid any further trouble.
By night's end, this victory almost felt pedestrian, just a nice, tidy win to improve to 5-0 at home this season, erase the bad memory of last weekend's trip to Cincinnati and set the stage for another potential series sweep on Thursday night.
"We're trying to play the same brand of baseball everywhere we go, but it's nice to play at home," Desmond said. "I think we had one bad series. I expect to see us play the way we've been playing everywhere we go."