Nationals Prevail in a Washington Marathon
Saturday, June 10, 2006
The course of events took more than five-and-a-half hours. It all began with rain, continued with an offensive explosion, deteriorated into a colossal collapse and then dragged on as last night turned into this morning, as certain victory turned into near-defeat.
But in the end, the smattering of fans that remained at RFK Stadium saw the last Washington Nationals position player on the bench -- free spirit Robert Fick -- send a single to right field in the bottom of the 12th inning, narrowly scoring Marlon Byrd with the winning run in an exhausting, exhilarating 9-8 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nationals' first walk-off win of the season.
It could have been a night remembered for its misery, for a four-run lead evaporated in a single inning. Instead, it just might be remembered because the Nationals showed a quality they utterly lacked when the season began: resilience. They have now won eight of their last nine, and though they remain four games under .500, they pulled even with the Atlanta Braves for third place in the National League East, a stunning development considering they were 13-27 just more than three weeks ago.
"We're kind of making our breaks," said reserve Brendan Harris, who hit a game-tying, pinch-hit single in the bottom of the seventh. "We kind of pick ourselves up a little bit."
Fick's heroics erased the memory of a five-run Phillies' seventh -- featuring homers from Chase Utley off Mike Stanton and Pat Burrell off Gary Majewski -- that turned a 7-3 Nationals' lead into an 8-7 deficit. And it made a winner of closer Chad Cordero, who extended himself to two innings because all but one of the Nationals' available pitchers -- rookie reliever Saul Rivera -- had already spent himself. The most effective of those was rookie left-hander Bill Bray, who faced nine batters in his impressive three-inning stint, retiring them all, including three by strikeout.
"Bray, it was just an outstanding job tonight," Manager Frank Robinson said.
So by the time the game ended, so many things were distant memories. At one point, the announced crowd of 24,751 shrugged off a 102-minute rain delay to start the evening. Nationals right-hander Tony Armas Jr. seemed to set himself up for his seventh win of the year -- a total that would have matched last season -- by laboring through 101 pitches over five innings.
But Armas left with that 7-3 lead because the Nationals chased Phillies starter Brett Myers, one of the league's most effective starters. Last week, Myers carried a shutout into the eighth inning in a victory over the Nationals, part of a season-opening stretch in which Myers didn't allow more than three earned runs in his first 12 starts. That ended abruptly against Washington, which belted out 10 of its 18 hits in the second, third and fourth innings alone, when it scored seven runs.
Yet after that, the offense went flat, and the Phillies -- who arrived in Washington winners of four straight -- took advantage. Robinson elected to play matchups up 7-3 in the seventh, bringing in Stanton, the veteran left-hander, to face two tough left-handed hitters, Utley and Bobby Abreu. Utley launched Stanton's first pitch to right for the three-run homer that made it 7-6. Abreu followed with a single, and with Burrell, a dangerous right-handed hitter coming up, Robinson turned to Majewski.
Right-handed batters were hitting just .195 against Majewski coming into the game. But with the count 2-2, Burrell launched a high arc down the left field line, and the crowd waited and wondered before hearing the sound -- clang! -- of the ball hitting the foul pole. Majewski turned and cursed, and the Phillies had an 8-7 lead.
"They didn't do the job tonight," Robinson said of Stanton and Majewski.
So others had to. Harris, who has struggled as a pinch hitter, delivered a two-out single in the seventh to tie the game, and Bray -- called up only a week ago -- entered in the eighth. He was most impressive in striking out Abreu and Burrell to end the ninth. The mood in the Nationals' dugout, even with the big lead gone, was buoyant.
"Guy's were up on their feet, clapping, cheering," Bray said.
When the Nationals loaded the bases with one out in the 10th, Bray looked like he would be the winner. But Jose Vidro grounded into a forceout at the plate and Nick Johnson bounced to second, ending the threat.
"It would've been a tough, tough loss," Robinson said.
Yet when Marlon Byrd led off the 12th with a double off Phillies reliever Clay Condrey, the Nationals maintained hope. Damian Jackson failed to get a bunt down, striking out instead, and Condrey intentionally walked Alfonso Soriano, who went 0 for 6. That brought Washington to Fick, "The last man standing," Robinson said.
Long known for being a free spirit, Fick pulled a Condrey pitch into right field, his first RBI as a National. And as he was mobbed by teammates with enough energy to rush the field, it didn't matter if it was last night or this morning, if they're under .500 or in first place.
"It just goes to show where this team is right now," Robinson said. "They hung tough."