The Nationals for so much of the year had stalled whenever they fell behind. Now, they had endured Harvey, clawed back and stolen a game on the road.
“That might have been our biggest win of the year right there,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Our guys battled. That’s what we’re capable of. It was a big, uplifting win. Everybody’s been down on what they’re capable of doing, and so this was a good jump-start.”
Kurt Suzuki hit a sacrifice fly to provide an insurance run, and Johnson turned the ninth inning over not to Rafael Soriano, who had pitched three consecutive days, but to erstwhile closer Drew Storen. He had struck out 11 of the previous 21 hitters he faced, and back in the role he cherishes, Storen retired all three batters he saw.
Storen’s second save of the season finalized the latest Nationals victory that nudged them just above .500. They will try again to establish momentum Saturday behind Taylor Jordan, who will arrive from Class AA Harrisburg to make his major league debut.
“Overall, this is probably the biggest game of the year for the team,” said Ross Detwiler, who allowed two earned runs over five innings.
When they gather in the visitors’ clubhouse Saturday morning, the Nationals may still be glowing from their largest comeback of the season. Harvey retired the first 14 batters he faced, struck out 11 and surrendered only three hits. Afterward, Desmond was asked if he could tell Harvey had no-hit stuff after a few innings. “No,” he replied. “This morning when I woke up, I thought he had no-hit stuff.”
Harvey was overwhelming for seven innings, electrifying Citi Field with 98-mph fastballs and angry sliders. He lowered his ERA to 2.00. His departure filled the stadium with dread. The Mets, leading 4-1 when Harvey exited, still needed six outs. Detwiler and Ross Ohlendorf had hung tough, especially Detwiler in the fourth, when he loaded the bases and escaped with minimal damage.
“All we wanted to do was just stay close,” Johnson said.
The first reliever to come through the Mets’ bullpen gates was David Aardsma. Roger Bernadina cracked a single up the middle, which Suzuki and pinch-hitter Chad Tracy followed with two outs. Mets Manager Terry Collins summoned lefty Josh Edgin to face Denard Span, who entered hitting .136 against left-handers. Span lined a 1-1, 93-mph fastball to right-center field for a double, his second extra-base hit of the night.
Collins swapped Edgin for Brandon Lyon, and the rally fell to sweet-swinging rookie Anthony Rendon, who walked to load the bases for Zimmerman, still the hitter the Nationals hope walks to the plate in the tensest situations, even if he was hitting .253 in June.
“There’s nobody else on this team, including myself, who I’d want up in that situation more than him,” Desmond said.
Lyon started Zimmerman with a tough slider, which he took for ball one. The confrontation had all but been decided.
“I’m in the driver’s seat right there,” Zimmerman said. “Once he misses there, I know he doesn’t want to miss again, because then he’s really behind with the bases loaded and nowhere to go.”
Lyon had little choice but to leave a fastball over the plate, and Zimmerman pulverized it. The ball rocketed to the left-center field gap. Bolting on contact, Rendon scurried around the bases and scored without a throw. Three base runners high-fived at the plate, Harvey quietly fumed in the home dugout and the Nationals had tied it at 4.
In the ninth, Werth led off with a liner to left-center, and he stretched it into a double with a headfirst slide. Desmond followed with a smash down the line, which hopped over the bag. Werth walked home and Desmond, who earlier had committed his first error in 60 games, had pulled the Nationals ahead.
Before Harvey left, Desmond had provided the entirety of the Nationals’ offense. The Nationals had yet have a runner reach base after four innings. Harvey got two more quick outs to start the fifth, striking out Werth with a slider. Desmond could not check an awkward swing when Harvey threw him a first-pitch curveball.
Mets catcher John Buck called for another curve. Harvey threw it inside and at Desmond’s knees. He crushed the baseball off the face of the upper deck in left field.
“I was just basically sticking to my approach,” Desmond said. “Go up there, see the white ball and swing. Didn’t work on the first pitch. But it did on the second.”
Eleven of Desmond’s 14 home runs this year have either tied the game or given the Nationals a lead. The latest made it 1-1 in the fifth.
It gave them hope until they stormed through the Mets’ bullpen in latter innings. Once they had grabbed the lead, Johnson gave the ball to the deposed closer, who now fills in when $28 million free agent Soriano is unavailable. Storen handled the ninth with just nine pitches.
“Especially on the road, that’s when it gets fun,” Storen said. “That’s the best. You kind of silence the crowd a little bit. They always have their pump-up music montage on when I come in. As much as I like to hear my own song, I like to hear their music as well.”
Storen joined the handshake lines with Desmond and Zimmerman and the rest of the Nationals. They still need another a few wins to start rolling in the right direction, but they had just captured their biggest win yet.
“Until our next one,” Zimmerman said.