The Nationals have reached two games over .500 five times since then. On the four prior occasions, they lost their next game. They have threatened to break through before, only to turtle back into their shell. Saturday, as near-certain all-star Jordan Zimmermann takes the mound, the Nationals have another chance against the Padres, who have lost seven straight games.
“We’re putting it together, especially with two outs,” Eckstein said. “They kind of looked a lot more comfortable in the situation. Before, it looked like they were trying really hard — ‘Okay, I’m going to do it!’ There’s a different calmness about them.”
Friday night, the Nationals struck after a sputtering start. Gonzalez surrendered an RBI double to Chase Headley in the first inning, and Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner followed with a 1-2-3 first.
Gonzalez promptly placed runners on second and third with no outs in the top of the second. Pitching in the humidity, “my arm felt a little heavy,” Gonzalez said. “I was trying to stay in the game as long as possible.”
He turned his night around before it could unravel. In his toughest spot Friday night, Gonzalez leaned on his curve. He whiffed Yasmani Grandal swinging at one in the dirt. Cashner whiffed gazing at one. Everth Cabrera flailed at another curve buried in the box.
The momentum from Gonzalez’s three straight strikeouts carried into the bottom of the inning. The Nationals loaded the bases with one out, bringing Ramos to the plate. In his last at-bat Thursday, Ramos blasted a tie-breaking, three-run homer in the seventh inning. Now, he cracked a single through the left side, scoring Ryan Zimmerman and Werth.
“These two games made me feel confident, made me feel happy,” Ramos said.
Cashner hit Gonzalez with a pitch as he tried to sacrifice bunt. (“Right in the ironman chest,” Gonzalez said.) Span made Cashner pay with a double to right-center field, scoring two more runs.
Desmond walked to load the bases again for Harper. He crushed a ball deep to center, missing a grand slam by a few feet. He settled for a sac fly, which settled the Nationals’ second-inning output at five.
Quentin’s homer provided a slight scare, but the Nationals, again, had put enough distance between themselves and their opponent to withstand a rally. The three-run difference also allowed Rafael Soriano a chance at his 23rd save. After three outs in three batters, Soriano ripped his uniform top out of his pants.
The Nationals are not back yet, and they have threatened to break out before only to fool anyone watching. They have another chance, which for now is all they can ask for.
“Everybody back in the lineup clicking is great,” Eckstein said. “It’s what we envisioned coming out of spring. We’ve still got our work ahead of us, but it’s a nice sight.”