John Lannan defies his history in Philadelphia, pitches Nationals a step closer

Manager Davey Johnson ignored history when he lined up John Lannan to pitch against the Phillies, and then Lannan defied it once he took the mound. In seven career starts at Citizens Bank Park, Lannan had gone 1-5 with a 7.06 ERA. Johnson didn’t care. He wanted his left-hander to pitch against Philadelphia, period.

“I look at history, but I know the player and I know what the player is capable of,” Johnson said beforehand. “This is a situation I’m sure he relishes.”

Lannan had exorcised his demons the last time he took the hill in Philadelphia, earning a win Sept. 21, 2011 with five serviceable innings. Last night, he extinguished them for good. Lannan did not dominate, but he kept the Nationals comfortably ahead for 5 1/3 innings, preventing any major damage. He allowed two runs — both earned, but both aided by shaky defense — on five hits and a walk.  

Lannan had been seemingly cursed since the day he made his major league debut at Citizens Bank Park in 2007. He was ejected in his first-ever start after he hit Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. In subsequent starts, his outings had a way of starting bad and getting worse. The hits would pile up, the situation would snowball and Lannan would find an early shower.

“Coming in here, I always thought some stuff didn’t go my way,” Lannan said. “Tonight, I told myself I wasn’t going to let that kind of stuff happen.”

The classic Lannan-in-Philly moment came in the third. The Phillies pushed one run across and loaded the bases with only one out, helped by Kurt Suzuki’s throwing error on a sac bunt. Howard lumbered to the batter’s box. Suddenly, the tying run was at the plate after the Nationals had taken a 5-0 lead in the first two innings.

In the past, Lannan may have crumbled. Not last night. Lannan struck Howard out on four pitches, finishing with a slider in the dirt. Carlos Ruiz followed and chopped a ball back to Lannan. The pitcher knocked it down, scampered to corral it and fired to first for the third out. 

“I’ve been there before,” Lannan said. “I’ve been in that situation here so many times and have come up short. I told myself not to do what I did back then. I don’t even know what it was. But I told myself I wasn’t going to let it happen, because it’s happened so many times here. I was kind of fed up with it and went from there.”

That brand of resolve reflected Lannan’s entire outlook this season: fed up to the point where focusing on the task at hand is his only recourse. He spent five months in the minors, and now, of course, he’s taken Stephen Strasburg’s spot in the rotation. Lannan is 2-1 in three starts since the Nationals shut Strasburg down.

“If you carry anything out to the field with you, it’s going to be trouble,” Lannan said. “I really just focused on each pitch at a time. I really didn’t let any other thought kind of creep in.”

The Nationals took the field last night knowing it was a big game, bigger than usual. They had gone 4-7 over their previous 11 games and allowed the Braves to come close to making a real race out of the National League East. “Atlanta is running games off, so we’re going to have to take care of business ourselves,” Jayson Werth said.

Johnson sent Lannan to the mound even with his history. In one of the biggest games of his career, in a place that has caused him so much distress, Lannan came through.

“Pretty much the whole night was an adrenaline rush,” Lannan said. “I just rode with it.”

FROM THE POST

Werth let the Nationals exhale in the Nationals’ action-packed, 8-4 win over the Phillies.

Boz says buckle up for the final week of the season.

F.P. Santangelo feels lucky to be a part of the Nationals’ season, Rick Maese writes in his profile on the team’s color analyst.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Werth’s fake ball toss

Davey on the playoff roster

Espinosa gets a day off

The importance of September

Not time to panic

THE PLAYOFF PICTURE

Nats’ magic number to clinch the division: 4

Nats’ magic number to clinch the top seed: 6*

*The Nationals lead the Reds by one game, but since the Nationals beat the Reds in the season series (5-2), they’d hold the top seed in the event of a tie.

Current NL matchups

Nationals vs. Braves/Cardinals*

Reds vs. Giants

*The Braves have clinched a wild-card berth. The Cardinals lead the race for the second wild card by 3 ½ games over both the Brewers and Dodgers.

Also on Nationals Journal

Nationals third base coach Bo Porter to be named Astros manager