Bernadina, laying in the warning track dirt, held up the ball. His miracle, all-out catch had sealed the Nationals’ 3-2 victory in the 12th inning. Bernadina beamed as he rushed into the infield to high-five his joyous teammates. They had the most frayed nerves and, at 67-43, the best record in baseball.
They arrive at victory in the most difficult ways possible, but these Nationals have more fun that way. After Bernadina’s flying catch, Craig Stammen jumped up and down in the Nationals’ bullpen. Players streamed from the dugout pantomiming large, chomping jaws. Ian Desmond rushed to his locker and Tweeted Bernadina’s nickname: “Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark!!!!!!!!!”
“He disappeared and came out holding the glove high,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I said, ‘Man, this is great. Let’s get out of here.’ ”
Shortstop Danny Espinosa drove in the winning run with a single in the 12th, 10 innings after he produced the Nationals’ two other runs with an upper-deck homer. The Nationals’ offense had snapped to attention just in time to make something of Ross Detwiler’s second straight eye-opening start and five scoreless innings from their bullpen.
The Nationals’ offense had stagnated until Espinosa’s RBI single, which gave closer Tyler Clippard a lead to protect. Houston’s Steve Pearce lined a single off the tip of Cesar Izturis’s glove at second base in the bottom of the 12th. Clippard retired the next two batters. Carlos Corporan fouled-tipped a 3-2 fastball off Jesus Flores’s mitt. Clippard walked him with the next pitch, moving the tying run to second base.
Then Brett Wallace destroyed a 1-2 fastball to deep left-center. In the dugout, Johnson thought the ball was going to clear the fence for a game-winning homer. But Bernadina knew he had a chance. He read the ball off the bat and sprinted to his left. He could tell immediately he might collide with the fence.
“In that moment, you don’t think about it,” Bernadina said. “You just go for it.”
Left field at Minute Maid Park introduced tricky variables. Bernadina had to navigate the corner that juts out in left field, and also the columns of signage that stick out a few feet from the fence.
Between that signage is a chain-link fence that houses the visiting bullpen. As the ball soared to the outfield, Stammen realized the ball was coming at him. He screamed at Bernadina, “You’ve got room! You’ve got room!”
As Bernadina neared the fence, Corporan was closing in on third. If he didn’t catch the ball, the Nationals would lose. After a 100-foot sprint, Bernadina leapt into the wall, his glove in the air. Few players on the field could see him — at shortstop, Espinosa knew Bernadina had reached the ball, but not if he had held on.