This Washington Nationals team doesn't want to lose.
In what's become a familiar refrain of late, the Nats got good pitching, a timely rally, and shut-down late inning relief to take another win, 3-2 over the Florida Marlins, before 21,299 chilled patrons at Nationals Park on Mother's Day 2010.
With the win, the Nats conclude a 4-2 homestand that runs their record to 17-14, good for a second place tie with the New York Mets in the National League East.
Today's hero was Josh Willingham, who homered in the bottom of the eighth off Florida reliever Clay Hensley (L, 1-1) with one out in the inning.
Willingham was on base three out of four trips to the plate today, but he saved his best for his last appearance. The "Hammer" hit a 1-1 changeup deep into the Marlins bullpen in left center field, setting off the home run fireworks on this cool, breezy Sunday afternoon.
Willingham was not the only hero of NatsTown today though.
Starting pitcher Livan Hernandez threw another gem, giving up just one run on a solo home run over seven innings, as he continues to lead this team in it's improbable start to the season.
For the season, Hernandez has a 1.04 ERA in six starts. In 43.1 innings pitched, he's surrendered just five earned runs--three of which came on solo home runs. He's gone seven or more innings in five of his six starts and allowed one run or less in four of those starts.
The veteran gave up five hits and one walk in his seven innings, striking out three. Once again, he mixed his variety of pitches to keep the Marlins off tempo and off base all afternoon. He threw 110 pitches--75 for strikes--and was lifted before the eighth inning.
Asked if he considered sending Hernandez out for the eighth, manager Jim Riggleman said, "You always consider that. The pitch count with Livan wasn't that high...he's not really affected by it anyway. I knew that if someone got on I wasn't going to let that part of the order face him again for the fourth time. I just felt like I'd rather let someone else start the inning clean."
The pitcher he let start the inning was left-hander Sean Burnett, sent out to face lefty swining Chris Coghlan (3-for-4, run). Coghlan got the better of this battle, lacing his third single of the day back up the middle.
Riggleman then went back to his tried and true formula so far this season.
He called upon Tyler Clippard, who has been lights out for the Nats this year. But it took a couple batters for Clippard to find his groove, and he allowed a single to third baseman Wes Helms, then walked Hanley Ramirez to load the bases.
Jorge Cantu went 2-0, then swung at two balls outside the strike zone to go to 2-2, before lifting a fly ball to medium-deep left field to plate Coghlan with the tying run.
Clippard (W, 6-0, 0.76) then struck out Dan Uggla and got catcher John Baker to bounce out to second, but the damage was done and the Nats found themselves in a tie game.
All that did was set up Willingham's heroics.
Matt Capps threw a perfect ninth inning to close out the Marlins.
The resilient Washington Nationals now set off on a nine-game road trip, which--believe it or not--may determine whether this team could stick around and be competitive this summer.
The Nats will play three games in New York against the Mets, then four in Colorado and two in St. Louis before returning to D.C. Nine road games in nine days in three different time zones. It's a test for any team.
No time like the present to find out what these Nats are really made of.
Monday night, Luis Atilano (2-0, 4.67) takes the hill at Citifield against John Maine (1-1, 5.97). Game time is 7:10 pm.
NATS NOTES: Adam Dunn went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
NatsHD, the giant scoreboard at Nationals Park, played tributes by the players to their mothers and wives all throughout the game.
Washington struck out eight times, drew four walks, and left eight men on base.
All Photos 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/Nationals News Network. All Rights Reserved