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The two stellar defensive plays that saved the Nationals against the Phillies

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The Nationals needed two defensive gems to defeat the Phillies on Wednesday and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Both came in crucial parts of the game, and helped prevent at least two runs from scoring. Watch video of the plays below.

With the score tied at 2 in the seventh inning and two runners in scoring position with two outs, Jordan Zimmermann only needed to retire Cesar Hernandez to escape the inning. He got a groundball to the right side, but too far from first baseman Adam LaRoche. Zimmermann sprinted towards first and second baseman Steve Lombardozzi raced towards the ball. From colleague Adam Kilgore’s game story:

“I didn’t think we had a chance at all,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

Lombardozzi’s running, sidearm throw skipped to Zimmermann. On the run himself, needing to place his right foot on the base, Zimmermann reached down to pick the throw just as Hernandez closed in. Somebody may as well have asked Zimmermann to pick a quarter off the ground by hanging his arm out the window of a moving car.

“Apparently on the replay, my head was up in the third deck,” Zimmermann said. “But I felt confident. I saw it, and it was a pretty easy hop, so I felt pretty confident.”

Not even looking at the ground, Zimmermann scooped the ball at the exact moment his foot hit the base, a half step before Hernandez reached. Mayberry had been sprinting home, but he slowed down and walked back to the dugout.

“No offense to Zim,” LaRoche said. “I don’t know that he could do that again.”

An inning later with a 3-2 lead, the Nationals needed another stellar defensive effort, this time from backup catcher Jhonatan Solano, who had replaced starter Wilson Ramos that inning. Kilgore again:

Darin Ruf walked to the plate in the eighth with Chase Utley on third, Ruiz on first and one out. Craig Stammen struck out Ruf swinging a slider in the dirt, but the ball squirted away from Solano.

As the ball tricked toward the on-deck circle on Solano’s left, Utley charged home. Solano scampered to retrieve the wild pitch. Stammen finishes his delivery off balance, and by the time he rushed to cover the plate, Solano disregarded him.

“I said, ‘If I throw the ball to Stammen, I’ve got no chance,’ ” Solano said.

Solano scurried back to the plate and lunged at Utley, both men diving head first as Stammen tumbled over around them.

Home plate umpire Chris Conroy pumped his first: out. The crowd groaned, but replays would later show Conroy had made the right call — Solano’s mitt hit Utley’s midsection a split-second before Utley’s fingers touched the dish. Solano screamed and pointed on the dugout, holding the ball in his outstretched right hand.

“I saved that run,” Solano said. “If they get that run, we could be playing right now.”

Stammen, a fraction of a second late on the play at home, tumbled over Utley, but found the incident funny afterwards. “Hey, good running backs always fall forward,” he said. Could he tell Utley was out?  “No, I couldn’t. I was rolling all over the place.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010, wrote about high school sports across the region for two years and has covered the Nationals since the middle of the 2012 season.
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