WASHINGTON -- Thirty-five games into the season, the Nationals are still searching for the consistency expected of a division favorite.Following a 7-3 homestand, perhaps that's approaching. In the interim, Sunday's dramatic victory at Nationals Park showed an abundance of another necessary component to contend: grit.After nearly wasting a sublime start
WASHINGTON -- Thirty-five games into the season, the Nationals are still searching for the consistency expected of a division favorite.
Following a 7-3 homestand, perhaps that's approaching. In the interim, Sunday's dramatic victory at Nationals Park showed an abundance of another necessary component to contend: grit.
After nearly wasting a sublime start from aceMax Scherzer, Wilmer Difo hit a game-winning single and the Nationals completed a comeback from three runs down late in a 5-4 victory over the Phillies in a series decider.
"The boys battled," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "They battled their butts off, and I'm proud of them."
Pedro Severino drew a walk against Phillies closer Hector Neris (1-2) to force in the tying run before Difo's walk-off hit.
Anthony Rendon singled in two runs in the eighth inning and Matt Adams homered earlier for Washington on a day Scherzer recorded a season-high 15 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.
"The team feels energized, they feel great," Difo said through a translator. "When you win like we did today, it just gives you more motivation to keep battling."
Despite becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to record 15 K's in an outing of 6 1/3 innings or fewer, Scherzer settled for a no-decision when he was removed at the beginning of Philadelphia's three-run seventh.
But his counterpart, Jacob Arrieta, witnessed his team lose, despite pitching six innings of two-hit, one-run ball.
"Guys just kept grinding," Scherzer said. "Grinding away at-bats, finding ways to get on base. And when everybody got their number called, they found a way to help the team win."
After pulling to within 4-3 in the eighth, the Nats scored two more in the ninth without Neris recording an out.
Matt Wieters led off with a ground-ball single deep into the shift, beating out the throw from shallow right by a step. Pinch-runner Rafael Bautista sprinted all the way to third after Neris threw wildly on a pickoff attempt.
"I'll say it every day, it's the little things," Martinez said. "Matty hustled to get a base hit. Bautista goes in there and causes him to throw the ball away, goes to third base. The little things matter. Difo huge hit at the end there, staying in the middle of the field and not trying to do too much."
Neris plunked Howie Kendrick and walked Michael A. Taylor to load the bases with no one out. Severino followed with another walk to tie it, and then, with Phillies manager Gabe Kapler opting to play a fifth infielder and sacrifice an outfielder, Difo blooped a single to center to win it.
"I went in with the mentality to get a good pitch," said Difo. "And if I did, hit it hard."
Sean Doolittle (1-1) pitched a scoreless top of the ninth for Washington.
Scherzer's strikeouts were his most since he became the fifth Major League pitcher to fan 20 batters in a nine-inning game. That feat came in a 3-2, complete-game victory over the Tigers on May 11, 2016. He now boasts five games with 15 or more strikeouts over his career, including four since joining the Nationals in 2015.
HE SAID IT
"He doesn't slow. I watch him in the gym. I watch him watch video. His mind is constantly going and constantly learning." -- Martinez, on observing Scherzer up close
The Nationals begin their last trip to the Pacific Time Zone by opening a three-game set against the Padres at Petco Park on Monday. Right-hander Stephen Strasburg (3-3, 3.47 ERA) takes the hill at 10:10 p.m. ET. Martinez just might be persuaded to keep Ryan Zimmerman out of the lineup one more day. Zimmerman is 1-for-9 lifetime against Padres starter Tyson Ross (2-2, 3.28).
Ian Quillen is a contributor to MLB.com based in Washington D.C.