Like most births, it was both scary and thrilling. The Nats took a 4-0 lead on Michael Morse’s first-inning grand slam. They blew that margin gradually, the last of the lead disappearing against Drew Storen in the bottom of the ninth as 42,264 red-clad partisans roared.
Then, finally, in the 10th inning, Kurt Suzuki, who once drove in the winning run of the College World Series for Cal State Fullerton, doubled home a pair of runs with a scorching line drive double off the left center-field fence. Sure, walk Danny Espinosa intentionally to get to Suzuki. “You want to make them pay,” Suzuki said. “These games definitely get you ready [for the playoffs]. I ain’t gonna lie. It’s tough games.”
If this one didn’t give you a hint of what the postseason feels like — keep that defibrillator handy — nothing could. Night after night of this in October makes you a baseball fan, if you live. But, exhausting as this win was, in its wake, the math and the momentum of the N.L. East race now live almost entirely on the Nats’ side.
“Do the numbers,” said Ryan Zimmerman of how hard a Braves comeback would now be. “This was a big win.”
With four games left in the season and a four-game lead in the National League East, the only way the Nationals don’t win their division is if they go 0-4, the Braves go 4-0 and the Braves then win a one-game playoff in Washington on Thursday.
Is that the “cheep, cheep, cheep” of a new Nats era that we hear being born?
In a packed house in new Busch Stadium, the Nats brought their “A” playoff game for the first six innings — and their best grit and good fortune to the final three — to win a battle between two contenders who could easily end up meeting in the postseason.
Morse hit a comic-opera of a grand slam — a faux run homer, if you will — in the first inning off Kyle Lohse (16-4) and Jordan Zimmermann looked like a man ready to assert himself in October with his fifth straight strong start.
First, let’s have the cheerful face of comedy before we clench our teeth.
If you want cosmic code that a team is rolling right, then the Morse blast in the first inning provided it. With a full moon rising behind the right-field stands, Morse bashed a line drive that barely cleared the fence, quickly bounced back on the field and, immediately, confused nine Cards fielders, four Nats runners and all four umpires.
Nats swarmed everywhere. Zimmerman, who started on second, somehow barely got past third base. A pileup ensued in his wake. Morse, trapped off first by 89 feet, but forbidden to advance by a surplus of Washingtonians in the vicinity, retreated to first base and was tagged out a foot shy of safety. Was the score 1-0 with two outs and men at second and third? Or were the Nats ahead 4-0?