Two wily veterans took the mound for the Phillies-Nationals game Wednesday night. Two veterans that have been quite good this year for their teams. A pitching duel wasn’t exactly expected, but it would not have surprised anyone if one did. And for a five innings, one did. A complete contrast to the night before, where (checks notes) 8,123,412 pitches were thrown, this game was played pretty crisply for those five innings.
Then the Phillies’ defense happened.
Zack Wheeler and Jon Lester were both very good early in the games. The only blemish on either pitcher’s ledger was when the Phillies had runners on first and second in the top of the second for Andrew Knapp. Knapp was starting in place of J.T. Realmuto and his bum knee tonight and paid immediate dividends.
Wheeler made that lead stand for five innings, getting into a brush of trouble in the fifth when Juan Soto came up with two outs and runners on first and second. He’s the guy in the lineup that cannot beat you and Wheeler pitched him well, striking him out on a pitch that was just nasty. It was also one that he had seen earlier in the at bat and simply stared at.
Amazing that he got Soto to swing at the exact same pitch he took earlier in the AB pic.twitter.com/gvNMxHl1mr— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) May 13, 2021
Unfortunately for Zack, the Phillies offense was getting shut down by Lester at about the same rate the Nationals were by Wheeler. Their best chance to score another run came in the fourth when Bryce Harper laced a two out single that would have scored Odubel Herrera were it not for a perfect throw by Kyle Schwarber.
In the bottom of the sixth, the fun started.
Ryan Zimmerman doubled to lead off the inning, then scored on a one out single by Stalin Castro to tie the game at one. Prior to pitching to Castro, Knapp and Wheeler met briefly to discuss pitching around Castro and setting up a double play with Alex Avila on deck, but both decided against it and paid the price. Avila came up and lofted a fly ball - a catchable fly ball - to deep right centerfield that...um...wasn’t caught.
Meh they both thought the other one had it pic.twitter.com/px3u2syK1O— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) May 13, 2021
That miscue from both outfielders led to a triple by Avila that scored Castro and gave the Nationals the lead at 2-1.
Mustering more offense was a tall order for the Phillies’ offense over the next two innings, something that has been an issue of late. They came close to getting the game tied right back up in the seventh when Brad Miller registered a pinch hit single, went to second on a fielder’s choice by Andrew McCutchen, but couldn’t score on a Jean Segura single to rightfield that was hit just a little too hard, forcing Miller to stop at third. When he couldn’t come across, the game seemed about over. People had seen this group turtle up too often when down on the road.
In the ninth, Brad Hand came on for Washington to try and close it out, having been quite good in each of his appearances this year. With one out though, Herrera took a hanging breaking ball and hit a very long home run to tie it at two.
Herrera has been hot lately and his home run has continued the climb above the Mendoza line for all Phillies’ centerfielders as a group. Jose Alvarado shut down the Nationals in the bottom of the ninth, meaning the game would head to extra innings to be played under the stupid Covid rules.
McCutchen was the runner placed on second base with Harper coming up and went to third when Harper dumped a slider in front of Schwarber in leftfield. That brought Rhys Hoskins up, who made sure that the Nationals paid.
Nick Maton and Andrew Knapp would tack on some insurance runs for the Phillies, making the score 5-2 headed into the bottom of the inning, meaning Hector Neris had some wiggle room to work with, something that many fans would think he would need.
Neris, even with the runner on second, retired the Nationals in order, sending everyone home happy and giving the Phillies a series win ON THE ROAD!!! It was their first road series win of 3 games or more since September 2019.
The two teams will close out the series with a day game tomorrow at 1:05.