Sep 17, 2013, 9:32 PM EDT
Game in a nutshell: It had already been an emotional day for the Nationals when they took the field at 7:05 p.m., with two pregame ceremonies honoring the victims of yesterday’s Navy Yard shootings and a visit from Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Throw in their come-from-behind, walk-off win in Game 1 of the day-night doubleheader, and the Nationals were plenty exhausted before Game 2 even began. Then Tanner Roark took the mound and re-energized everyone in the ballpark. The rookie tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing only two hits in his latest dominant performance. The Nationals gave Roark one early run, which stood as the only one of the game until the eighth, when they exploded for three huge insurance runs, including Ryan Zimmerman’s latest homer. Rafael Soriano entered in a non-save situation and immediately got himself into trouble but battled through it to earn the save and sweep the doubleheader. The Braves now can’t clinch the NL East in D.C., but the Nationals will likely remain 4 1/2 games behind the Reds (winning big in Houston) for the final Wild Card berth with only 11 games left on the schedule.
Hitting highlight: Though they scored three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, let’s focus on the Nationals’ first run of the night, which looked like it would have to hold up throughout the game. Bryce Harper led off the bottom of the second with a base hit to left, then stole second off Freddy Garcia. Ian Desmond’s drive to left only reached the warning track for the first out, but Adam LaRoche followed by drawing a walk. That set the stage for Steve Lombardozzi, who poked Garcia’s pitch to right field. Harper came charging around third and scored, giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead that remained until the eighth.
Pitching highlight: It’s not just that Roark tossed seven scoreless, two-hit innings. It’s that he did it against the Braves in late-September, with the Nationals needing every win they can get to make a last-ditch playoff charge. And that in doing so, the rookie improved to 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA. Seriously, who in their right mind could have seen this coming? Roark, though, continues to go above and beyond what the Nationals expected. And the more he does it, the less it appears to be a fluke. The right-hander is proving he’s got the stuff — and, more importantly, the moxie — to succeed at this level. He hasn’t been fazed by anything, least of all pitching in a pennant race. What an incredibly pleasant (and unexpected) development for the Nationals.
Key stat: Denard Span’s 28-game hitting streak is the longest in MLB this season and only two games shy of Ryan Zimmerman’s club record of 30, set in 2009.
Up next: The series concludes at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday when Ross Ohlendorf (filling in because Stephen Strasburg needs one more day to return from his tight forearm) takes the mound for the Nationals against Atlanta rookie left-hander Alex Wood.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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