The Philadelphia Phillies defeated the host Washington Nationals on Thursday to sweep a three-game road series.
As the series opened in our Nation’s Capital on Tuesday evening, the Phillies were a losing team, struggling to score runs, and entering the lion’s den of Nationals Park, home to the first place Washington Nationals.
The Nationals were riding high coming into the series. They were a full 10 games over the .500 mark, and had fashioned an 8-1 record at home in the opening weeks of the 2016 season. They had taken two of three games from the Phils just over a week earlier, thrashing Philly in the first two games before blowing a tight extra-inning affair in that series finale.
This seemed like a setup. The contending Nats would dispatch the rebuilding Phillies, taking at least two of three once again, further cementing their NL East lead. Meanwhile the Phils would begin what many saw as their eventual slide down the standings.
One problem: someone forgot to tell Pete Mackanin and his suddenly feisty Fightin’ Phils squad to lay down. The Phillies rode a familiar formula at this stage of their redevelopment, strong pitching and timely hitting, to their own stunning sweep.
The sweep was completed with yesterday’s 3-0 Phillies shutout victory, a second consecutive shutout of the Nationals, who did not score over the final 22 innings of the series. The Phils are now 12-10, just 2.5 games behind the still first-place and 14-7 Nationals. The club has won five of their last six games, and has gone 12-6 since losing the first four games of the season.
“When we started 0-4, that obviously wasn’t a good start, but the guys just hung in there,” Mackanin said per MLB.com writers. “This is huge to get our confidence back. The guys scrape and scratch, but you’ve got to hand it to the pitching. The pitching is the reason we’re able to win games.”
Yesterday was an old-fashioned pitching duel once again, with the Phillies talented 22-year old Aaron Nola battling 29-year old righty Tanner Roark of the Nationals. Both would end up throwing shutout baseball on the night.
Nola allowed just two hits while walking one over seven innings, striking out seven along the way. Roark allowed the same two hits, walking two while striking out six Phils’ batters.
As the game rolled late, both skippers went to the pen. Mackanin got a shutout 8th inning out of the combination of Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo (1-0), while Nats’ manager Dusty Baker got a shutout 8th from Shawn Kelley.
The game headed into the 9th inning tied at 0-0, and Baker brought in lefty Felipe Rivero to start the frame, and the hot Odubel Herrera promptly greeted him with a base hit to center field. Freddy Galvis followed, worked a full count, then drove a double over the head of former Phillies hero Jayson Werth in left to put runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out.
The Nats had little choice then but to walk Maikel Franco, intentionally loading the bases and setting up a force-out anywhere. Darin Ruf, who kills lefty pitching, headed to the plate. Baker pushed the button of bringing in closer Jonathan Papelbon, setting up even more melodrama.
When Papelbon punched out Ruf swinging, he was just a ground ball away from an inning-ending twin killing. Instead, Cameron Rupp ripped an RBI double to right, scoring Herrera and Galvis to put the Phillies on top by 2-0. One out later, David Lough delivered an RBI single past the shortstop, and Franco came home with the run that made it 3-0.
Jeanmar Gomez would come in for the Phillies in the bottom of the 9th, and gave up a lead single to Ryan Zimmermann. But with one out, Werth grounded a tailor-made doubleplay ball at Galvis. The shortstop flipped to 2nd baseman Cesar Hernandez, who hit the bag, turned, and fired a strike to Ruf to nail the still-speedy Werth by a stride for a game-ender.
The Phillies will now return home to Citizens Bank Park for a quick weekender Interleague series with the Cleveland Indians. After that, the club heads back on the road for a 10-game trip through Saint Louis, Miami, and Atlanta.