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Washington Nationals win in 12, but postseason hopes end

By
David Driver, The Sports Xchange
Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34). Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34). Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper asked famously "Where's my ring?" after ace pitcher Max Scherzer was signed as a free agent in January.

In February as the Nationals gathered in Viera, Fla., there were dreams of a deep postseason run, though manager Matt Williams isn't the type of person to utter the "World Series or bust" phrase that former Washington skipper Davey Johnson became known for.

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But in early March, infielder and 2014 hitting star Anthony Rendon went down with an injury after he dived to his left for a ground ball in a spring training game while playing third base.

That was a sign of things to come for the Nationals, who were eliminated from postseason play on Saturday despite a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies as Harper drove in the winning run with a double with one out in the last of the 12th inning before a sparse crowd at rainy, chilly Nationals Park. The New York Mets won earlier in the day to clinch the National League East title.

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"Being eliminated in and of itself is disappointing," said Williams, who could be on the hot seat after his team didn't meet expectations.

Fittingly, it was first overall draft picks Harper and right-handed starter Stephen Strasburg who starred even as the Nationals were knocked out.

Harper had three hits and now has 41 homers, 96 RBIs and a .339 batting average. Strasburg didn't figure in the decision but struck out 13 batters and gave up three hits in eight innings. He lowered his ERA to 3.63 after it had been above 6.00 earlier in the year.

"It's tough. What can you do? We dealt with some adversity and fought through it," Strasburg said of being eliminated.

The Nationals, in addition to Rendon, lost everyday players Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Denard Span for large chunks of the season to the disabled list. Strasburg and Doug Fister, part of the Opening Day rotation, also spent time on the DL.

"The Mets had everything going for them," said Harper, noting that New York traded for Yeonis Cespedes and former National reliever Tyler Clippard near the trade deadline. "They did a great job this year."

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But now the team doesn't have much to play for, though Harper is trying to lock down a batting title and MVP award.

The Nationals (79-75) began the day 8 1/2 games back of the Mets in the NL East. But the Mets, who entered Saturday with a magic number of one, clinched the division with a 10-2 win in Cincinnati before the Nationals game ended in the nation's capital.

The Phillies (58-97) have lost nine of 11 and are 25-55 on the road.

"There isn't much to talk about. There wasn't much offense," said Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, a former draft pick of the Washington Senators. "The pitching has been outstanding the whole trip.

"(Aaron) Nola was outstanding and he worked his way out of that bases-loaded, no-out jam -- great job. The rest of the bullpen did an outstanding job. They kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win the game, but we came up short with our bats."

Matt Thornton (2-1) got the win and reliever Colton Murray (0-1) was tagged with the loss as light rain fell late in the game before a sparse home crowd that had visions of a World Series in March.

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The Phillies had tied the score in the eighth on an RBI double by right fielder Brian Bogusevic. His hit scored first baseman Darin Ruf (two hits), who led off the inning with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt.

Strasburg struck out at least 10 batters for the fourth game in a row and 21st time in his career.

"He had another good game tonight against us," Nola said. "The guy, he's good. He's a competitor and throws a lot of strikes and keeps guys off balanced. He battled out there, but we battled out there also."

Shortstop Ian Desmond, a pending free agent, drove in Harper with an RBI groundout to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the sixth. Harper also doubled in the eighth but was stranded.

Nola, who did not figure in the decision, allowed no runs and six hits with five strikeouts before he was lifted after five innings.

Strasburg retired the first 12 batters before Ruf lined a clean single to left to begin the fifth. Strasburg got the next batter, second baseman Andres Blanco, to ground into a double play and struck out Bogusevic to end the inning.

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But Strasburg didn't get any early offensive support even after Harper, Werth and first baseman Clint Robinson began the fourth with singles. Nola then retired the next three batters to escape the bases-loaded jam to keep the game scoreless.

Strasburg led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to right and advanced to second on a throwing error. But he was thrown out at third on a grounder off the bat of Rendon (two hits), and third baseman Yunel Escobar grounded into his league-high 24th double play of the year.

Strasburg entered the game having struck out 37 batters with three walks and just 12 hits allowed in his previous three starts. He allowed one hit and no runs in eight innings in a win at Philadelphia on Sept. 15.

But not even another good outing could not keep the Nationals from being eliminated.

Williams could barely acknowledge his team was knocked out of postseason play.

"We have to win tomorrow. Tonight's a good night for everybody" after the win, he said.

NOTES: The Nationals reinstated OF Reed Johnson from the 60-day disabled list and transferred OF Denard Span (left hip inflammation) from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL. Johnson returns to the active roster after missing 131 games following surgery to repair a tendon in his left foot. He was also delayed when he suffered a broken rib while on a minor league rehab assignment. Johnson played in 12 games for the Nationals and was 4-for-18. ... Washington LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.94 ERA) faces Philadelphia RHP Aaron Harang (6-15, 4.93) on Sunday ... Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg, the Saturday starter, was 5-2 with a 2.24 ERA in his previous eight starts ... Phillies RHP Jerad Eickhoff, the winner Friday with 10 strikeouts, became the first Philadelphia rookie RHP to record 10 strikeouts in a game since Garrett Stephenson on May 13, 1997 against the St. Louis Cardinals. ... OF Bryce Harper walked for the 123rd time this year, tying a Montreal/Washington franchise record set by Ken Singleton in 1973.

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