You could look at the Nats’ chip-away, comeback win Sunday night against the Mets as their most satisfying victory of the season thus far, or merely an avoidance of disaster. The alternative would have been a sweep to an injury-riddled team just as they head on a pivotal road trip.
However you classify it, the Nats came away victors and did so in a fashion that could be just what they need to regain momentum with 26 games left on the calendar.
A three-run eighth inning in which they tied the game and then seized it featured two RBI infield grounders, a sacrifice bunt by Bryce Harper and a pinch-hit single by Denard Span on a left-handed relief pitcher. All that in an innings work.
But that rally by the Nats wouldn’t be complete until Jayson Werth walked to the plate with two outs. The veteran outfielder, who has carried his team for over two months, clubbed a double into the gap in right-center field to bring Ryan Zimmerman all the way around from first. The relay throw was a moment late and gave Rafael Soriano the edge he would need to secure the 6-5 win.
Harper - who called his own bunt with no outs to put Scott Hairston and Span in scoring position - was glad to see Werth finish the job and perhaps save him from being second-guessed on the move.
“That was just an unbelievable moment,” Harper said. “I was fired up, just unbelievably fired up when J-Dub hit that double. He’s always coming up clutch for us. He’s been in that situation so many times in his career.”
Werth has been the Nationals’ savior before, most notably in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS. But ask him how it feels to be in that moment and he can’t tell you.
“That’s a secret,” he said. “Only people that do that sort of thing get to know what that feels like.”
Werth will describe, however, the confidence he has in himself and his teammates to continue closing in on the final NL Wild Card spot. Both the Reds and Diamondbacks lost earlier on Sunday, putting the Nats a half-game behind Arizona as the first team out and 6 ½ behind Cincinnati for the last postseason ticket.
“I’ve been in this situation before. I know it can be done,” he said. “I’ve been on teams that have done it. I believe. I got faith. We got a long hard road but I believe.”
If the Nats can build off this win and accumulate many others, they’ll need to pull together as they did on Sunday night. For the second night in a row they saw their starting pitcher put them on the ropes early in the game.
Ross Ohlendorf gave up three runs in the first two innings and finished with four total on nine hits allowed. He left balls up in the zone, especially early, with the Mets recording six extra basehits off him.
“That’s the worst my command’s been I think all season,” he said. “I was really just glad I was able to get through five.”
“I didn’t pitch very well, but it was a great win for us. I’m glad I was able to hold them where I did so our bullpen and offense could come through for us.”
It took five different relievers after Ohlendorf to keep the Nats within striking distance, including Soriano who took home his 36th save of the season. Their patchwork job to come away on top paralleled the offense in its resilience.
The Nats were close to another crushing defeat and knew it, but stayed focused and positive. Werth compared the feeling to last season when the Nats made a name for themselves with thrilling comeback victories.
“The attitude in the dugout was upbeat. Even though we were down wed definitely weren’t out,” he said. “That’s what good clubs do. They come back. And that’s what we’re going to have to do from here on out. We’re going to have to find a way.”
Davey Johnson also invoked last season after the win. He described a pregame meeting with the production staff at ESPN, before their Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. From a national perspective, the Nats aren’t the same guys everyone saw in 2012.
“‘Last year you had all this attitude or Natitude. And now you’ve lost it.’ I said no, we haven’t lost it, we just had a few leaks in the boat, is all. But the talent is still here. And the attitude or Natitude is still pretty damn good.”
The Nats now have a busride to Philadelphia with a three-game series against the Phillies up next. There’s no telling where they will stand in a week, or in a month, but Sunday night showed they have it in them to fight until the very end.