PHILADELPHIA -- Even as the Nationals' playoff odds have nearly faded away, they have promised to continue fighting through the final five weeks of the season. And in the past week, the Nats have emerged as an unlikely spoiler for the division rival directly ahead of them in the National
PHILADELPHIA -- Even as the Nationals' playoff odds have nearly faded away, they have promised to continue fighting through the final five weeks of the season. And in the past week, the Nats have emerged as an unlikely spoiler for the division rival directly ahead of them in the National League East standings.
A three-run ninth inning rally led by Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman helped Washington steal a come-from-behind, 5-4 victory on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, where the final out was sealed after pinch-runner Vince Velasquez was ruled to have left second base early attempting to tag up with two outs in the ninth. After taking two of three games from Philadelphia last week at Nationals Park, Washington overcame a short outing from Max Scherzer on Tuesday to capture the first two games of this set.
"These guys fight, man, they never quit," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "They keep pounding and they keep grinding and it was a big win for us."
Trailing by a run entering the final frame, Bryce Harper drew a leadoff walk from Tommy Hunter before the Phillies turned to Pat Neshek to try and close out the win. However, Neshek threw a slider that floated over the heart of the plate and Rendon swatted it into the left-field seats. Zimmerman manufactured a run by himself later in the inning, when he doubled, stole third base against the shift (his first stolen base of the year) and scored when Jorge Alfaro's throw sailed into the outfield.
Zimmerman's insurance run would prove crucial in the bottom of the ninth. Justin Miller, who notched the save Monday night, gave up a run-scoring double to Wilson Ramos, causing Dave Martinez to turn to Greg Holland to try and close out the win. Velasquez replaced Ramos as a pinch-runner at second base and tried to advance to third after Alfaro flew out to center field.
Several Nats recognized Velasquez's error immediately and they got the ball to second base for the final out.
"[Matt] Wieters and I both kind of saw [that it] looked like he left pretty early," Zimmerman said. "For the umpire to make that call right there, it had to be pretty sure. You don't want the game to end like that, but we'll take it."
"I wanted to put pressure on the outfield," Velasquez said. "I knew I had the base. I mean, clearly the ball wasn't even there by the time I reached third base, so I knew I was capable of taking third. I left early and I can't do anything about it. I guess it was a simple baserunning mistake, but what can I do now?"
The Nationals came away with a win on a night where Scherzer was not as his best, a rare occurrence during this spectacular season. He gave up three runs and lasted five innings, matching his shortest start of the year, as he was outdueled once again by Phillies ace Aaron Nola. Scherzer's uncharacteristic outing serves as a bit of a setback for his case to win his third straight NL Cy Young Award in a tight race with Nola and Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who also pitched Tuesday night and struck out 10 Cubs, permitting just one run in eight innings.
It's also the second time in five days Scherzer has been bested by Nola, who went seven innings and allowed two runs (one earned) with eight strikeouts. This game featured a rematch from the Phillies' 2-1 victory this past Thursday at Nationals Park.
But the Nats were not deterred by Scherzer's short start and they rallied back for just their third win of the year when trailing after eight innings.
"It was weird," Martinez said. "You know, I kept telling the boys, 'We got to keep it right here, keep it right here, we'll see what happens.' Just keep battling, keep grinding, and they did."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Phillies immediately challenged the call in the ninth inning that Velasquez left the base early, but the Nationals were not concerned. Zimmerman and Martinez were both confident they had seen him leave the base prematurely before Michael A. Taylor caught the ball in center field. The umpires ruled that the call on the field stands and the Nats were sent home happy.
"It was a ball that was hit deep and I just thought I had the opportunity to go into third base," Velazquez said. "I just left a little bit early. I mean, it sucks because I took the bat out of [Maikel] Franco's hands."
REYNOLDS EJECTED … TWICE?
Mark Reynolds was seemingly ejected twice after his pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning for arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook. Holbrook ejected Reynolds from the game once he returned to the dugout and he was complaining about his called third strike, prompting Reynolds to re-emerge onto the field. As he walked off in disgust, Reynolds fired his batting gloves toward home plate and Holbrook signaled to eject him again.
"I've never seen that happen before," Zimmerman said with a laugh. "I hope he gets fined twice."
The Nats wrap up this three-game series at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Giovany Gonzalez (7-11, 4.35 ERA) will take the mound for Washington, looking to build on his most recent outing, when he held the Mets to one run in seven innings. He had given up 13 runs in his two previous starts before that. Jacob Arrieta (9-9, 3.37) will be the starter for Philadelphia.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.