Sep 2, 2013, 10:11 PM EDT
Game in a nutshell: A 9-game road trip for the Nationals opened with a big-time pitching showdown between Stephen Strasburg and Cole Hamels, and the matchup lived up to the billing. Each ace allowed only one run on two hits, though neither factored into the decision, departing with the game tied 1-1. The Nationals took the lead in the top of the eighth against the Phillies bullpen, with Scott Hairston’s sacrifice fly scoring Anthony Rendon. But the back end of the Nats bullpen couldn’t hold the slim lead. Tyler Clippard gave up the tying and go-ahead runs during a two-out rally that began with a walk of Cesar Hernandez, continued with an RBI double by Jimmy Rollins and was completed by an RBI single by Carlos Ruiz, with Rollins scoring just ahead of Bryce Harper’s slightly off-line throw to the plate. The Nationals got the tying runner to third base in the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon but couldn’t get him home, so this road trip got started on a decided down note. Coupled with the Reds’ earlier win against the Cardinals, the Nationals dropped a game in the Wild Card standings; they now trail by 7 1/2 games with only 25 to play.
Hitting highlight: They had to scratch and claw for the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, but the Nationals did so with some solid at-bats against the Phillies bullpen. Anthony Rendon got it started with a single off Justin DeFratus. Pinch-hitter Chad Tracy then drew a walk, setting the table for the hobbled Harper with two on and one out. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg countered with lefty Cesar Jimenez, leaving Harper in an eerily familiar situation. Unlike Sunday night, he didn’t bunt this time. Instead, he showed the patience to draw a five-pitch walk and load the bases for Hairston. With right-hander B.J. Rosenberg ready in the pen, Sandberg stuck with his lefty, and Hairston got the job done. He lofted a flyball to left-center, just deep enough to score Rendon via an off-line throw from converted infielder Hernandez. That appeared to make Hairston the game’s hero, but that storyline was wiped out in the bottom of the inning.
Pitching highlight: Though the results were fantastic, Strasburg actually wasn’t completely on top of his game. His fastball command was spotty, leading to an inflated pitch count. Fortunately, Strasburg’s curveball was as sharp as it has ever been. And he kept going to it in key spots. Of his 10 strikeouts, eight came via Uncle Charlie. The Phillies certainly didn’t make solid contact against Strasburg. Their only two hits off him each came on broken bats: Carlos Ruiz’s RBI single in the fourth and old pal Roger Bernadina’s infield single in the fifth. Perhaps most notable about Strasburg tonight: He surpassed his previous career-high for innings pitched. He’s now at 164 for the season.
Key stat: Ryan Zimmerman has 75 career plate appearances against Cole Hamels, making Hamels the pitcher Zimmerman has faced the most and Zimmerman the batter Hamels has faced the most.
Up next: Gio Gonzalez takes the mound for the second game of this series, looking to improve to 5-1 in his career against the Phillies, who send rookie right-hander Ethan Martin to the mound at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday.
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