“I was trying to get guys in scoring position and try to get runs on the board,” Harper said. “Zim’s really swinging it hot right now, and LaRoche is, too. I’m trying to get guys over and I’m trying to get guys in scoring position for those guys. That was something I felt like I needed to do tonight.”
With Zimmerman still on second with two outs, Ian Desmond walked to the plate 0 for his last 17. He roped Cain’s 1-1 slider into the right-field corner, an RBI double that sent the Nationals ahead, 2-0. For Strasburg, that would have to be enough. And it almost was.
Washington loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning, but failed to score after Suzuki tapped back to Cain and Strasburg struck out.
“We just haven’t had a lot of guys hitting,” Johnson said. “We just got to get better. That’s all.”
In the seventh, the Giants exploited the one flaw in the Nationals’ new lineup, the bunching of lefties Span and Harper. Span led off the eighth inning, and Giants Manager Bruce Bochy summoned lefty specialist Javier Lopez. Span flicked a bloop double to left field, putting a crucial insurance run on second with no outs.
For the second time, Harper made sabermetricians smash their laptops. He dropped another sac bunt, pushing Span to third. Like the first inning, Harper had bunted on his own, not under orders from Johnson.
“He looked over there,” Johnson said. “I said just pull the ball. He’s not seeing the ball that good either, I guess. He’s just trying to help.”
Bochy still controlled the match-ups. He ordered an intentional walk of Zimmerman, allowing Lopez to sling his submarine sliders at Adam LaRoche. He struck him out, and Bochy inserted right-hander Jean Machi to face Desmond. After a long at-bat, Desmond tapped back to the pitcher.
And so the Nationals bullpen needed to protect a one-run lead. Clippard tossed up a scoreless eighth, pitching around Marco Scutaro’s two-out double. In came Soriano, and another mess unfolded, and Harper seemed a little more human.