May 6, 2014, 1:21 AM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: This was supposed to be a big-time pitchers’ duel between two of the NL’s best right-handers: Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann. Mother Nature, though, had something very different in mind. A 3-hour, 17-minute rain delay in the middle of the fourth inning prevented two starting pitchers from going deep into the game, left everything in the hands of two bullpens and left only a couple hundred fans to watch the final five innings of a game that resumed at 11:40 p.m. and ended at 1:21 a.m.
The Nationals held a 2-0 lead throughout the delay, thanks to Anthony Rendon’s first-inning homer. There wouldn’t be another run plated in this game until six hours later, when Danny Espinosa homered into the right-field bullpen, setting off a late-night/early-morning blowing of the stadium submarine horn.
In the end, the Nationals bullpen proved the star of this game. Five relievers combined to finish off Zimmermann’s shutout, blanking the Dodgers without burning itself up too much considering most of these guys are likely to be needed again on Tuesday.
And at the end of a very long night at the ballpark, there was no sweeter news than this: Thanks to the Braves’ seventh straight loss earlier in the evening, the Nationals (18-14) have taken over sole possession of first place in the NL East.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Does anybody remember at this point how the Nats scored their first two runs tonight? You have to go all the way back to the bottom of the first, when Denard Span sent a leadoff double into the left-field corner. Up stepped Rendon, who fell behind in the count 0-2, then nearly hit the dirt after a brushback pitch from Greinke. Rendon had no trouble with the subsequent 1-2 breaking ball. He crushed it to left-center, into the Red Porch for a 2-run homer, his fifth of the season. Little could anyone have known at the time that would be enough to hold up the entire night.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Let’s give this one to Johnny Wholestaff, who pitched one heck of a game. Zimmermann was highly effective during his four innings before the rain delay. Desperately wanting to save both Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen for Tuesday’s game, Matt Williams had no choice but to pitch everybody else in his bullpen, one inning at a time. And it worked. Aaron Barrett pitched the fifth. Jerry Blevins pitched the sixth. Drew Storen pitched the seventh. Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth. And Rafael Soriano finished it out to extend his streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 24. That’s what you call a collective team effort, folks.
KEY STAT: The latest a Nationals game has ever ended was 2:07 a.m., a 3-1 win over the Phillies at RFK Stadium on Sept. 28, 2006 that began at 11:32 p.m. following a 4-hour, 27-minute rain delay.
UP NEXT: These two teams will be right back at it later today for the second game of this series. Clayton Kershaw will be making his return to the Dodgers after spending more than a month on the DL with a strained upper back muscle. The Nats will call up right-hander Blake Treinen from Class AAA to start, with Detwiler available to back him up from the bullpen.
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