Espinosa's double provides winning runs
The Nationals may not have much experience playing competitive baseball this far into June, but they apparently have figured out a way to shake off bumps in the road that would have sabotaged earlier editions of the club.
After a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees over the weekend, Washington rebounded by taking two of three games from another American League East power -- the Tampa Bay Rays. Danny Espinosa's two-run double in the sixth inning broke a tie game, and the Nats held on for a 5-2 victory at Nationals Park on Thursday night.
Washington improved to 40-27 -- the second earliest it has reached that win total since moving to the District from Montreal before the 2005 season. It also gained a half-game on both the second-place New York Mets (38-32) and the third-place Atlanta Braves (37-32) -- both idle. The Philadelphia Phillies (33-38) and Miami Marlins (33-36) both lost Thursday.
|Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Joel Peralta was suspended eight games by Major League Baseball on Thursday for having pine tar on his glove during a game Tuesday night at Nationals Park. Peralta, a formers Nationals player, was ejected from that game before he threw a pitch. Peralta has appealed the suspension and was able to pitch against Washington in the series finale Thursday. He can continue to do so until the appeals process is completed. He gave up a two-run double to Danny Espinosa in his only inning of work in the sixth. Davey Johnson asked umpires to check Peralta's glove before the eighth inning of Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Rays. That touched off a two-day war of words with Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.|
The Nats now lead the NL East by 3? games entering a weekend interleague series with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. Five-time defending division champ Philadelphia fell 11 games back in the loss column and is in last place, nine games back overall. The third-place Marlins (33-36) are eight games behind.
"Nice little bounce back," shortstop Ian Desmond. "Feels good to get back on a winning pace. We played really six good ballgames in a row, took two of them. But it's nice to walk away from this game winning the series and heading to Baltimore. Going to be a fun series. Looking forward to it."
Washington fell behind 1-0 in the second inning on an RBI single by Desmond Jennings. But it responded in the third with a Michael Morse sacrifice fly and an RBI hit from Desmond. Tampa Bay tied the game at 2-2 on a Sean Rodriguez RBI single in the sixth. Espinosa then came up with two on and two out in the bottom of that frame and ripped a double down the right-field line. He was 2-for-4 with two doubles and a walk. Even better - his RBI double came from the left side of the plate, where Espinosa was batting just .188 compared to .365 as a right-handed batter.
"I definitely am feeling a lot more comfortable [as a lefty]. Seems like I'm getting my hands working real well," Espinosa said. "Better pitch selection and better at-bats."
Nats starter Gio Gonzalez struggled early on a hot, humid night. He needed 50 pitches to get through the first two innings -- though at one point he had words for home-plate umpire Cory Blaser. Gonzalez settled down, however. He allowed just one runner to reach base in the third, fourth and fifth innings and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth when he struck out pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson. Roger Bernadina provided an insurance run in the seventh when he doubled home Ryan Zimmerman, though Rick Ankiel was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
Gonzalez is now 9-3 on the season after a hard-fought win. He gave up seven hits and walked two batters. But he limited the damage to two runs and struck out four. His ERA is 2.55 after 14 starts. Washington used five different relievers to record the final nine outs. Ryan Mattheus struck out pinch hitter Will Rhymes with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning. And Tyler Clippard retired the side in order in the ninth for his 11th save.
"You've got to learn how to turn the page and move forward," Gonzalez said of the sweep to the Yankees. "And baseball is like that. If you get yourself in a little pickle once in a while you just got to move forward and hopefully get the next one. And you could see it - bases loaded and strikeout [by the bullpen]. It's unbelievable."