The Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals engaged in a true pitcher’s duel this afternoon that ended with extra-innings drama.
On a gorgeous early spring afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies starting pitcher Charlie Morton and the Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez engaged in that old-fashioned pitching showdown, and neither blinked.
Morton allowed just four hits over six strong innings, striking out six and walking two batters. He thus became the only Phils’ starter to slow down the powerful Nationals’ batting order in this series, as both Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola had their doors blown off in the first two games.
Unfortunately for Morton, he was being supported by one of the two worst offenses in all of baseball. The Phillies have averaged just 2.58 runs scored per game, and that number appeared to be getting even worse on Sunday.
Gonzalez allowed just four hits over seven strong innings, striking out eight and walking just two Phils’ batters. But as opposed to those first two games, the Nationals offense not only didn’t give him a big early lead, it didn’t give him any lead at all.
The Phillies actually broke out on top with a one-out solo homer off the bat of fan favorite catcher Carlos Ruiz, his 2nd of this, his final Phillies season. That was about it for the Phils’ putrid offense over the rest of regulation play, as the lineup produced just two more hits over the next seven innings.
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The Nats got it tied up in the 6th thanks in part to the old pitcher’s bugaboo, the leadoff walk. This one was worked by Stephen Drew, who would eventually move to 2nd on a grounder, to 3rd on a balk by Morton, and score on a two-out single by Anthony Rendon.
The game would continue on at 1-1 into extra-innings, the first Phillies extra-inning game of the 2016 season. With two outs in the top of the 10th, Bryce Harper appeared to win it for the visitors, blasting a solo home run to center field off Jeanmar Gomez.
It was Harper’s 6th straight game with a home run as a visiting player in Philadelphia, something never done before at Citizens Bank Park, and only done once before in the history of the franchise. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks accomplished the same feat back in 1955 with the Chicago Cubs. It was also Harper’s 11th home run in 31 career games in Philly.
Trailing now 2-1 in the bottom of the 10th, the Phillies hitters faced the prospect of the team’s former closer, Jonathan Papelbon. The controversial all-time franchise Saves leader with both the Red Sox and the Phillies retired Carlos Ruiz on a deep fly to center to start the frame.
Then with one out, Peter Bourjos brought some hope to the proceedings for the home nine, slicing a double to left field. However, Cedric Hunter came on as a pinch-hitter for Tyler Goeddel and flew out to center for the second out, and was just one out away from closing it out.
Manager Pete Mackanin continued to work his lineup, sending out Andres Blanco to pinch-hit for Gomez. The veteran delivered a sinking liner to left field for a base hit. The speedy Bourjos blitzed around 3rd and flashed home with the game-tying run just ahead of the throw by ex-Phil Jayson Werth.
Blanco moved up to 2nd base as that throw went to the plate, and now the Phils had the winning run in scoring position with two outs. The much-maligned Freddy Galvis then sent Phillies Nation into a frenzy, bashing a double over Werth’s head. Blanco scored easily, and the Phillies had rallied for a walkoff victory.
The win salvaged a game in this weekend series that had begun with two disheartening losses. It gives the club a 4-3 record on this 10-game homestand, which will continue now with three against the defending NL champion New York Mets beginning on Monday.