It came after a loopy game the Nationals at first refused to give away, then, in adherence with their ulcer-inducing road trip, nearly did at the end. The Nationals remained 8 ½ games out of the second wild spot, but another win allowed them to cling to optimism.
“We got no other way to feel,” said Jayson Werth, who ripped a go-ahead, two-run homer in the fourth. “We got nothing left. This is it.”
Bryce Harper delivered both the lodestone of their seven-run fourth inning and a game-saving catch in a calamitous ninth inning. Tanner Roark protected the well-earned lead with 4 2
3 scoreless relief innings, providing shelter for a weary bullpen and earning his fourth win in his sixth career appearance.
“How about Roark?” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Unbelievable job.”
Johnson called on Drew Storen to protect a four-run lead in the ninth and then pulled him after he walked one batter and gave up a double. Johnson fumed that Storen, who had retired 15 of 16 hitters since coming back from Class AAA, had not been more aggressive with a large lead. Rafael Soriano, the closer whom Johnson deemed unavailable earlier in the day, replaced Storen. He walked off the field with a look of boiling disbelief.
“He can be mad at me,” Johnson said. “But he should be mad at himself.”
Soriano yielded two hits, including a two-run single by former National Justin Maxwell that made it a one-run game with one out. Soriano has been shaky lately, and another disaster seemed imminent. With one out, Nationals outfielder moved back into “no doubles” defense, trying to ensure Maxwell could not score from first.
The alignment backfired when Emilio Bonifacio skied a fly ball to shallow right field. “I knew when the ball was hit, it was going to be a tough play,” Werth said.
Harper darted in. He threw himself at the ball and made a sliding catch, his fully extended as he snatched the ball from the tips of the grass. Harper landed hard on his right hip and knee, which have bothered him all season. From across the field, Werth worried Harper had re-injured his knee. Harper keeled over as he walked back to his position, but he stayed in the game.
“You’ve got to make the catch in that situation, no matter what,” Harper said. “Bonifacio can run a little bit, so if I drop that ball, he’s probably on third base and that guy probably scores. It was a huge play.”