Nationals win first of two, on brink of playoff berth
WASHINGTON (AP) - Matt Kemp scored a phantom run early, then hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning - right after Washington rallied with a six-run eighth - and the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers grabbed a 7-6 victory Wednesday night for a doubleheader split that prevented the Nationals from sewing up a playoff berth.
Kemp was credited with crossing home to give Los Angeles a 6-0 lead in the fourth, even though TV replays showed the inning's last out already had been recorded on third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's head-over-heels, reaching tag of runner Adrian Gonzalez.
That extra run loomed large when the hosts - who had won the opener 3-1 thanks largely to Jordan Zimmermann's six innings of one-run baseball - wound up sending 12 batters to the plate while scoring six runs in the eighth.
Michael Morse had a homer and a two-run single, and Washington chased Josh Beckett, who had allowed only two hits through seven innings.
The announced crowd of 26,931 was getting loud, perhaps anticipating a comeback and playoff-clinching victory, when Kemp drove an 0-2 pitch from closer Tyler Clippard (2-5) over the wall in center for his 19th homer.
Ronald Belisario (7-1) earned the win by getting the last two outs of the eighth inning. Brandon League picked up his third save with a hitless ninth.
Washington's victory in Game 1 was Los Angeles' ninth loss in 12 games - and lowered the host's magic number for securing at least a wild-card spot to one.
But the Nationals must wait at least another day to be certain of making the playoffs for the first time since moving from Montreal in 2005.
Beckett wound up allowing four runs - three earned - and five hits, with all the scoring in the eighth. By then, the Nationals had sort of indicated a willingness to concede defeat, subbing out starters Jayson Werth, Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche - their Nos. 1-3-4 hitters.
While Beckett was terrific for a time, retiring 13 consecutive batters in one stretch, Nationals starter John Lannan struggled almost from the outset of Game 2.
Making his second start since taking over Stephen Strasburg's slot in the rotation, Lannan looked little like the guy who entered the night 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA in the majors in 2012 - and much more like the guy who spent most of the year at Triple-A Syracuse.
He was charged with three runs in each of the third and fourth innings, hurt by singles, walks and a hit batter. In all, Lannan lasted only 3 2-3 innings, giving up eight hits. He departed with the bases loaded in the fourth, giving way to Chien-Ming Wang, who had been out with a hip injury and missed about 2Â½ months.
Wang's first pitch in a major league game since June 30 missed the mark completely. The wild pitch skipped past catcher Jesus Flores, allowing a run to score. The batter, Hanley Ramirez, eventually sent a grounder to Zimmerman, who flipped over and reached out to barely tag out Gonzalez. The umpires ruled that Kemp, who was running home from third on the play, crossed the plate in time to make it 6-0 - but he had not.
Beckett faced the minimum number of hitters through five innings, allowing only one baserunner - LaRoche singled leading off the second - who was immediately erased by a double play.
Suddenly, though, the Nationals came through in the eighth. Morse led off with his 14th homer, and Steve Lombardozzi added a two-run shot. After Corey Brown reached on an error by Gonzalez, and pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa singled, Bryce Harper made it 6-4 with an infield single off reliever Randy Choate.
Belisario came in to face pinch-hitter Danny Espinosa, who played in Game 1 but was out of the lineup in Game 2 because of a recent left shoulder injury. Espinosa, who got a cortisone shot Monday so he could dull the pain of a bone bruise, smacked a single to left to load the bases.
One out later, Morse was up again, and he bounced a single past diving second baseman Mark Ellis to drive in two more runs and make it 6-all. After Belisario hit Ian Desmond with a pitch to load the bases again, he got Lombardozzi on a comebacker to end the inning.
Earlier in the day, as music blared in the Nationals' clubhouse between games, manager Davey Johnson insisted it didn't matter at all that his team had earned its 90th win and lowered its magic number for a wild-card berth.
"The only thing that's going to mean anything to me is when we clinch the pennant," Johnson said. "That's the only thing, the only number, I'm concerned with."
Nearing their first postseason appearance since arriving in Washington, the NL East-leading Nationals scratched out a victory in Game 1 thanks to two RBI groundouts and a sacrifice fly.
The Nationals' 90 victories are the most for a major league club in the nation's capital since 1933 - which also was the last time a D.C. team played beyond the regular season.
"We're really not thinking about that. Definitely, I'm not, anyway," said Kurt Suzuki, who drove in Washington's first run with a fly ball in the second inning. "We're thinking about winning the division."
Pitching on seven days' rest because of Monday's scheduled day off and Tuesday's rainout, Zimmermann (11-8) kept putting runners on base and working around it. He allowed six hits, walked four and hit a batter, but Ramirez's RBI single in the third produced the Dodgers' only run.
"I was a little out of sync" in the early going Wednesday, Zimmermann said. "The last three innings, I felt much better and was able to control everything."
Four relievers followed him, combining to allow three hits across four shutout innings. Sean Burnett got out of a potentially troublesome spot in the seventh by striking out Gonzalez with runners on the corners, and Clippard pitched the ninth for his 32nd save.
Two of Washington's runs in Game 1 came off Aaron Harang (9-10), who threw 4 2-3 innings and gave up seven hits.
"He was pretty good," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He got some big outs to keep us in it."
NOTES: Harper made a twisting, over-the-shoulder catch with his back to the infield on a drive to the deepest part of the park by Shane Victorino leading off the sixth inning in Game 2. ... Victorino stole two bases in Game 1 to raise his season total to 37, tying a career high. ... Playing two days after getting a cortisone shot for a painful left shoulder, Washington 2B Danny Espinosa made a couple of fine sliding, spinning plays to record groundouts. He also singled in each of his first two at-bats. ... Dodgers LF Shane Victorino stole two bases to raise his season total to 37, tying a career high. ... Nationals manager Davey Johnson said offseason surgery to clean out Zimmerman's shoulder "will definitely be seriously considered." Rizzo said that if Zimmerman does have an operation, "He'd certainly be ready for whenever spring training begins." ... Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said LHP Clayton Kershaw (sore right hip) has started to play catch. Kershaw won't pitch in a game until he throws off a mound, which hasn't been scheduled yet. ... Mattingly said he would have preferred to play at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, if possible, rather than a doubleheader Wednesday. "Trying to win two in one day is tough," he said.