Craig Stammen has filled a lot of roles for the Washington Nationals over the last couple of years. Rarely has offensive catalyst been in his job description though. But last night he not only earned the win in relief pitching 1 1/3 hitless innings, he also started the winning tally with a one-out single in the seventh and came around to score on a Ryan Zimmerman base hit, giving the Nats a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish, defeating the New York Mets for the second straight night.
The win is the Nats fourth in their last five games and raises their record to 69-77, matching their win total from last season with 15 games remaining, and pulls them to within one of the third place Mets.
Stammen was called on by manager Davey Johnson in the bottom of the sixth after lefty Doug Slaten put the first two batters of the inning in a tie game on base via five pitch walk and 2-2 hit by pitch. Stammen pitched out of the jam by striking out 1B Nick Evans, getting a soft ground ball from C Josh Thole and coaxing a pop out to short from pinch-hitter Mike Baxter.
In the top of the seventh, with one out and none on, Johnson let Stammen bat for himself and he hit a grounder that deflected off Evans' glove and went into right field for a single. He took second on an Ian Desmond single, and after a fielder's choice erased Desmond at second, Stammen carried the tie-breaking run in on Zimmerman's ground ball single through the left side of the infield.
The right-hander walked Jose Reyes to lead off the bottom of the inning, but got the next batter to pop up his bunt attempt. At that point, Johnson started a parade of relievers than included Atahualpa Severino, Todd Coffey and Sean Burnett, all of whom did their jobs and earned holds. Drew Storen allowed a pair of two-out singles in the ninth, but struck out Lucas Duda on three sliders, each more wicked than the previous, to seal the victory and earn his 36th save of the season.
The Nationals picked up their other two runs in the top of the sixth on RBI doubles by Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse.
Nats starter Chien-Ming Wang had an interesting evening, allowing nine hits in his five innings of work, but just two runs. He struck out four and did not walk a batter. Wang would have fared even better, but RF Jayson Werth misplayed a base hit into two runs in the fifth inning, as he was over-aggressive trying to set up for a throw home and simply didn't handle the ball.
The Nats overcame the miscue though and inched ever closer to catching the Mets for third place in the division, a feat that has not been accomplished by this franchise since the move in 2005. It's not a particularly lofty goal, but you gotta start somewhere, and you get the feeling that everyone involved in the organization would really like to get over that hump and show the rest of the baseball world that they are, indeed, making progress.
THE GOOD: Ian Desmond picked up two more hits out of the leadoff spot. He's had four multi-hit games in his last ten.
THE BAD: Werth's play in right. It was an innocent enough base hit that he just rushed to get set up on. Instead of making a throw to try to prevent one run, he ended up allowing two.
THE UGLY: Wilson Ramos had a rough night, going 0-for-4, grounding out to short three times.
THE STATS: 11 hits, 2 BBs, 9 Ks. 2-for-6 w/RISP, 9 LOB, 1 GIDP. E: Werth (7).
NEXT GAME: Wednesday against the Mets at 7:10 pm. Brad Peacock makes his first MLB start (0-0, 6.75) against Mike Pelfrey (7-11, 4.66).
NATS NOTES: Ankiel nabbed Thole at home with a tremendous throw from center field in the bottom of the fifth in a scoreless game. It was Ankiel's ninth outfield assist of the season.