Washington Nationals fans should stop, take a deep breath, and realize just how good they've got it. In the history of MLB there haven't been many better or more exciting stretches than the Nats' last week-plus: nine straight wins, six of them by a single run, and four of the last five, including last night's, coming on walk-offs.
It's really been baseball at its most thrilling. "Just absolutely epic," said Bryce Harper after scoring the winning run on Anthony Rendon's pinch-hit single to beat the D-Backs 3-2. "That's the best word I can put on it."
This one didn't need to be so nailbiting. Tanner Roark's seven scoreless innings seemed sufficient until Tyler Clippard surrendered a game-tying two-run homer to Ender Inciarte in the eighth. But Harper led off the ninth with a single, got moved over by Kevin Frandsen, and came home when Rendon, hitting in the pitcher's spot, slapped a ball past the pulled-in third baseman.
Rendon had started 62 consecutive games, and was told he'd have the night off. But he never quite ruled out the possibility of making his first pinch-hit appearance of the season, so he said he spent the game shadowing veteran bench player Scott Hairston.
"I followed Scotty throughout the whole game pretty much," Rendon said. "I was like: 'Alright, what do I do? Do I do this? Do I do that?'"
This has been the dramatic recipe all along: excellent starting pitching, hinky relief, and late and clutch hitting. Over this nine-game stretch, starters have surrendered just 10 earned runs, while the Nats have scored 27 runs after the fifth inning.
Over the course of the winning streak, the Nationals have taken over the best record in the NL, and pushed their division lead to a very healthy seven games over the Braves. "It's a little stressful," Rendon said of this string of walk-offs. "Probably got some grays coming in now." But better to get through the stressful part now and be able to relax down the stretch.
"That's not the way you draw them up," manager Matt Williams said. "But they don't stop fighting, that's for sure."