And then Werth snagged the ball and faked a toss to a fan behind the Nationals’ dugout. He enlarged the already sizable target he wears every time he sets foot in this city, and then he delivered the blow that stabilized the Nationals’ 8-4 victory over the Phillies, a two-out, two-RBI single that rolled through the infield and sliced through a cascade of boos.
“I was so excited for him,” Bryce Harper said. “With these fans going crazy, booing him, telling him he [stinks] and whatnot, they don’t know what they’re missing. He’s an unbelievable ballplayer. He’s what gets us going.”
Harper, too, got the Nationals going. The day after he became an uncle — his sister, Brittany, gave birth to a baby boy — Harper started the Nationals’ early onslaught with a two-run homer, becoming the second teenager in baseball history to drill 20 home runs. They would take a 5-0 lead following homers from Ian Desmond and Kurt Suzuki in two innings off Kyle Kendrick.
“The kid got us going again,” said Desmond, who hit his 25th homer. “I’m just trying to distance myself from the 19-year-old. Nothing really amazes me. Regardless of all the home runs, the great throws, he impacts the baseball game every single day, whether it’s on the basepaths — everything.”
In the end, the Nationals could exhale, and then try to catch their breath in time for first pitch Thursday night. After they clobbered the Phillies early, they held on for dear life. John Lannan got his second win here in eight career starts, and the Nationals’ magic number dropped to four with seven games remaining, putting them a step closer to spraying champagne and sealing the division.
At one point Wednesday night, between Harper’s spark and Werth’s game-sealing, crowd-silencing single, the Nationals found perhaps the most harrowing moment of their season.
The Nationals entrusted the eighth inning to Tyler Clippard, the deposed closer who has been pitching like a husk of his typically dominant self. Chase Utley roped a leadoff double and Carlos Ruiz walked with one out, bringing the tying run to the plate. Domonic Brown crushed a deep drive to the warning track, a near-homer that scored Utley from third.
The Nationals led by only one run. The Braves were finishing off another win over the Miami Marlins, allowing for the possibility that the Nationals’ lead would drop to three games. Dari Ruf’s flare to right put runners on first and third with two down, the tying run one base away.