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Down to last strike, young Nats upstage Bryce

@paul_casella
April 10, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- The raucous cheer from inside the Nationals' clubhouse late Tuesday night was as loud as it had seemed improbable just two hours earlier. Yet the noise that echoed through the hallways in the basement of Citizens Bank Park wasn't a typical reaction to an April 9 victory --

PHILADELPHIA -- The raucous cheer from inside the Nationals' clubhouse late Tuesday night was as loud as it had seemed improbable just two hours earlier.

Yet the noise that echoed through the hallways in the basement of Citizens Bank Park wasn't a typical reaction to an April 9 victory -- then again, the Nationals' 10-6 10-inning victory over the Phillies wasn't exactly a typical early-season win.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the night 5-0 with a 1.58 ERA in 10 career starts at Citizens Bank Park, allowed six runs in just four innings before departing with a five-run deficit. Yet his record in Philadelphia remains unblemished, thanks to a stellar effort from the bullpen, coupled with clutch home runs by Victor Robles and Juan Soto.

“I think we’re seeing how evenly matched some of these teams are in the NL East, and what kind of summer it’s going to be," said Sean Doolittle, who entered the game in the bottom of the ninth and promptly struck out Bryce Harper on his way to pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the win. "So each win maybe feels a little more important than in years past. There's a little bit more of a sense of urgency, and a little bit more energy to these early-season games.”

That energy was palpable when Doolittle trotted in from the center-field bullpen to face Harper with one on and one out in a 6-6 game in the bottom of the ninth. After Harper fouled off a fastball -- the pitch Doolittle has thrown 93 percent of the time this season, according to Statcast -- the Nationals' reliever got Harper to swing and miss at a rare slider. He finished him off with a 94 mph fastball two pitches later.

“That was fun, man," Doolittle said. "The energy in the stadium was electric. Fortunately, I was able to come through and leave those guys out there -- but that was a rush for sure.”

None of that would have been possible if not for Robles' game-tying home run with the Nationals down to their final strike just minutes earlier. Though that homer took Strasburg off the hook for what would have been his first career loss at Citizens Bank Park, the righty was quite possibly the last person in the stadium to know about it.

"These eight-second delays that they have in here are killing me," said Strasburg, who saw the home run on a TV inside the clubhouse. "I was on the training table, but that was fun to watch. We’re all in this together. When one guy doesn’t get the job done, there’s another guy that’s going to step up and pick up the slack."

Or in Tuesday's case, a bunch of guys. Doolittle was just one of four Washington relievers who combined to toss six scoreless frames, and -- after Robles' heroics in the ninth -- Soto connected on a three-run homer that wrapped around the foul pole in the 10th.

"I couldn’t believe how much it hooked," manager Dave Martinez said of the homer, which came off the bat at 113 mph and traveled a projected 432 feet, according to Statcast. "I think that’s the hardest ball I’ve ever seen hit."

That hit also helped the Nationals forget about Harper's three-run homer off Strasburg in the third inning -- and, more importantly, about some of the tough-luck losses over the season's first two weeks.

"After the way some of the games have unfolded early this season ... to be able to come back, that’s the type of stuff that does amazing stuff for the group coming together, for team chemistry," Doolittle said. "That was such a fun win to be a part of. I’m glad I got to experience it."

The fun carried over into the postgame celebration, which featured a return of the cabbage smash from Spring Training.

"We had fun with it in camp," Doolittle said with a laugh, surrounded by shredded pieces of cabbage on the floor of the visiting clubhouse. "It was just a fun way to end the night."

Martinez added, with a smile: “The boys like their cabbage."

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.