“That hurt,” Clippard said. “It hurt tonight, big time. That was a huge momentum shift, there in the bottom of the eighth for us. I think everybody in the ballpark, including myself, felt like we were going to win this game tonight.”
Behind Jordan Zimmermann’s one run allowed over six innings, Bryce Harper’s lightning bolt of a triple and exquisite infield defense, the Nationals won the day’s first game, 3-1. In the afternoon, sunbeams cascaded over the Capitol dome in the distance. In the evening, as Clippard closed the win and many thousand joined the few thousand who played hooky, the cool air made October baseball feel vividly near.
A second victory Wednesday night would have guaranteed the Nationals at least a wild-card spot and the city’s first postseason game since 1933. But the Nationals, with their magic number to clinch the National League East down to nine, gave it little thought.
“No clue,” Michael Morse told a group of reporters. “I learn stuff from you guys every day. Just keep the blinders on. Just keep pushing and pushing.”
After the opener, they never could have known what to expect. John Lannan unraveled over 32
3 innings as he made his second start since replacing Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals’ rotation. Dodgers right-hander Josh Beckett shut out the Nationals for seven innings, after which they trailed 6-0. Manager Davey Johnson had pulled veterans to keep them fresh, and Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth all watched from the bench.
Morse led off the eighth with a solo homer, saving the ignominy of a shutout. Ian Desmond followed with a single. Steve Lombardozzi, who had started for Danny Espinosa, turned on a fastball and roped the third homer of his career over the right field fence. Suddenly, the Nationals trailed, 6-3, and the park came alive.
“When Lombo hit the home run, that really sparked it,” Espinosa said. “At that point, I felt we had a good shot.”
With the score tightened, some Nationals could not help but think back to the fourth inning. The Dodgers had men on second and third with two outs, leading 5-0. Chien-Ming Wang was on the mound, making his first appearance since June 30.
Hanley Ramirez grounded to third, and Zimmerman knocked the ball down. He scrambled to retrieve the ball and tagged out Adrian Gonzalez. Replays showed the tag occurred before Kemp crossed home plate, before he had even reached the batter’s box chalk. After a confab, the umpires awarded the Dodgers their sixth run.