Johnson: We're still not out of it
PHILADELPHIA — They won't be adding the footage of Tuesday night's 9-6 Nationals victory over the Phillies to one of those instructional baseball videos that are advertised late at night. Any evidence of this game — which featured a combined 347 pitches, 13 walks, five wild pitches, a hit batter, a balk, four errors, a run scoring on a strikeout and Bryce Harper losing track of how many outs had been recorded — needs to be burned immediately and forgotten about as quickly as possible.
Given their situation, though, the Nationals can't be picky and can't worry about style points. They've backed themselves into a corner where wins are mandatory, no matter the manner in which they are secured.
"A win doesn't have to be pretty," Gio Gonzalez said. "It just has to be a win."
The Nationals absolutely had to emerge victorious on this night after watching the Reds eke out a 1-0 win over the Cardinals. They remain 7 1/2 games back in the NL Wild Card race, the schedule now showing only 24 games left to play.
They didn't play a brand of baseball that typically would be associated with a playoff participant, slogging their way through a 3-hour, 38-minute marathon before the smallest crowd to see a game in Philadelphia since April 2008.
"That was an ugly game," manager Davey Johnson said. "One of the uglier ones I've seen. ... That's not the way you win pennants, I'll tell you that."
In the end, the Nationals proved to be less ugly than the Phillies, who endured a nightmare of a ballgame from a pitching perspective. Interim manager Ryne Sandberg used five rookie hurlers, and all looked the part, combining to issue nine walks, three of them in succession in the top of the fifth inning, two of them with the bases loaded, each on four straight balls.
A Nationals lineup that often has pressed to make things happen during this trying season managed to stay patient at the plate this time, drawing a season-high nine bases on balls.
"I've never seen that before, but it's September," said Wilson Ramos, who drew two of the walks. "So a lot of young players. It's their first time. Maybe they were nervous, but it happens."
Ramos did provide one of the night's few big blasts, launching a three-run homer to right-center in the top of the second. Starting behind the plate for the 12th straight game, the young catcher reached base three times and drove in four runs, giving him 32 RBI in 43 games since returning from the disabled list on July 4.
Corey Brown, one of five players summoned from Class AAA Syracuse earlier in the day, later crushed a solo homer into the second deck in right field in his first big-league at-bat of the season, putting a stamp on this victory.
"It's definitely a blessing to be back up in the big leagues," said Brown, who appeared in 22 games for the Nationals over the previous two seasons. "It's always amazing. I'm just going to soak it all in, focus as much as I can and enjoy it while I'm here."
It was admittedly tough to enjoy this one, though, especially with Gonzalez failing to take advantage of the five-run lead his teammates handed him in the sixth. The left-hander struggled with fastball command all night, and things finally came to a head in the sixth when he issued a walk and a wild pitch and then saw two runs cross the plate in part because of two errors behind him.
Johnson finally decided he had seen enough after Gonzalez's 118th pitch of the night, resulting in an RBI single.
"I was fortunate to at least go that long, especially knowing that [I was] just feeling a little uncomfortable on the mound all game," Gonzalez said. "I mean, again, we look at it from both sides. The Phillies had a lot of walks, we had a little bit of walks. So it was all around just one of these weird games, you just can't explain it."
The Nationals couldn't even manage to close this one out without causing their 70-year-old skipper's heart to flutter a couple more times in the ninth. Closer Rafael Soriano surrendered a one-out single to Cesar Hernandez and then walked Freddy Galvis on four pitches, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Soriano, though, got Kevin Frandsen to ground into a game-ending double play and ensure the Nationals at least would emerge from this slop-fest victorious and keep their slim playoffs hopes alive for another day.
"We have a few cracks in the dam," an exasperated Johnson said. "I need to plug 'em. I'm running out of fingers. Anyway, see ya tomorrow."