Nats rally for 'biggest' win of year

Nats rally for 'biggest' win of year
June 29, 2013, 12:45 am
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NEW YORK — Davey Johnson called it "our biggest win of the year," a sentiment shared by others inside the Nationals clubhouse.

Perhaps more significant, more than one player noted the familiar feeling that accompanied Friday night's 6-4, come-from-behind victory over the Mets, one that included several late clutch hits and then a shutdown performance from the bullpen.

"That's stuff we did last year," reliever Drew Storen said. "That's what's fun about it. That's exciting. Especially on the road here, it's a big win for us."

Indeed, this was the kind of victory that was commonplace in 2012 but has for some reason eluded the Nationals in 2013, perhaps owing to their maddeningly inept offensive numbers when a game is on the line. Entering Friday, this team was hitting a collective .203 against opposing relievers, .192 in "late-and-close" situations and a scant .151 with a .199 on-base percentage in the ninth inning.

So imagine how the visiting dugout at Citi Field felt after the Nationals went 5-for-10 with four doubles and a walk in the eighth and ninth innings against five members of Terry Collins' New York bullpen, turning a 4-1 deficit into a 6-4 victory that catapulted this club back over the .500 mark.

"The guys battled," Johnson said. "Terry's making every move he can to try and get the edge, and guys got key base hits. That's what we're capable of."

That all this happened after Collins pulled young ace Matt Harvey following seven dominant innings of one-run, 11-strikeout ball only sweetened the mood of the opposing club.

Stymied all night by Harvey, who surrendered only Ian Desmond's solo homer in the fifth and appeared well on his way to an 8-1 record, the Nationals were more than thrilled when Collins pulled his fireballer after 109 pitches and entrusted a three-run lead to his corps of relievers.

"I think their bullpen has been decent," Ryan Zimmerman said, "but I think you'd rather face anyone right now than him."

Especially when you've seen some of these relief pitchers more than a few times before. When Zimmerman stepped to the plate against Brandon Lyon with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, he did so having already reached base safely in all five career plate appearances against the right-hander.

And when Zimmerman promptly drilled a bases-clearing, game-tying double to left-center, he merely improved to 3-for-3 with two doubles, two walks, a hit-by-pitch and a 2.667 OPS in his career against Lyon.

"It's a lot easier to have a plan against a guy you have faced plenty of times," Zimmerman said.

"There's nobody else on this team — including myself — who I'd want up in that situation more than him," Desmond said. "He's a proven big-league hitter and he's made a career at doing damage in situations like that."

Desmond is beginning to make a name for himself as a guy known for doing damage in big situations. His early homer off Harvey was his team-leading 14th of the season. More importantly, his RBI double in the top of the ninth against Bobby Parnell represented his 10th game-winning RBI of the season.

Yes, Desmond alone has delivered one-quarter of the Nationals' game-winning RBI so far this year.

"I'm trying just as hard with nobody on, nobody out, two outs, whatever, as I am with the bases loaded or any other situation," Desmond said. "Just trying to put my best foot forward, and it seems like it's working out so far."

Re-energized by their late rally, the Nationals turned to two trusted relievers to close out this victory. Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth, earning his sixth win in the process. And Storen got a rare chance to pitch the ninth, with Rafael Soriano unavailable after appearing the last three days, retiring the Mets in order to earn his second save.

"It's exciting," Storen said. "Especially on the road, that's when it gets fun. That's the best. You kind of silence the crowd a little bit. They always have their pump-up music montage on when I come in. As much as I like to hear my own song, I like to hear their music as well."

The silent ballpark — save for the high-fives being exchanged in the middle of the diamond after Storen got Marlon Byrd to ground out to end the game — was the sweetest sound the Nationals heard all night.

It was the kind of sound they heard on a regular basis last season, but one they haven't heard as often as they'd like this season.

"That's the team we were last year," Zimmerman said. "Hopefully we can continue to do that, because you're not going to get to the starter every day. Sometimes you've got to come from behind. It's not easy, but good teams do that."