Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
No scoreboard? No problem for the Nats, who won again tonight.
1. Livan Hernandez needed 41 pitches to get out of the first inning.
2. Ian Desmond committed his first error in 19 games and Roger Bernadina dropped as routine a line drive as you'll ever see.
3. Miguel Batista couldn't preserve a four-run lead in the ninth and forced closer Matt Capps into the game.
4. John Lannan, it was revealed, has a swollen left elbow and will miss at least one start.
5. The scoreboard at Nationals Park was dark for the better part of four innings.
So how come everyone still went home happy at the end of the night? Perhaps because the Nationals ignored all those calamities and simply found a way to win what was anything but a pretty ballgame but still goes in the books as a curly W.
In some ways, this 6-3 victory over the Braves says more about this club than those crisp, one-run wins they strung together the last two weeks. It's one thing to win when everything goes precisely to plan. It's another thing to win when plenty of things go wrong.
"We play hard every day," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "It's like a coin flip whether you win or lose. If you go out there and put in as much effort as you can, you're bound to win some. You're definitely not going to lose as many as you win."
So far, the Nationals have won more than they've lost. Two more, to be precise. They sit at 14-12, third in the NL East but only one game back.
Some of those 14 wins have come in textbook fashion. Starter goes seven innings. Offense comes up with a couple of clutch hits. Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps close it out.
Others, like tonight, stray away from the playbook. But good teams need to win the occasional game like this. Even when the chips are stacked against them, they find a way to emerge on top.
There were no shortage of reasons the Nationals pulled this one out, but let's begin with Hernandez, who could have allowed the game to get out of control early yet held it together and ultimately gave his team a chance.
Livo's first inning was nothing short of remarkable. Seven batters faced. Four batters reached safely, one via double, one via Bernadina's ghastly error, two via walks. The big guy hurled up 41 pitches.
And he somehow managed to only allow one run to score.
"Forty-one pitches in the first inning, and I only allow one run?" he said. "I'll take it any day."
Even allowing only the one run, Hernandez dug himself a huge hole because of his lofty pitch count. Most starters wouldn't have made it out of the fourth inning at that rate. Yet the wily veteran still cobbled together 5 1/3 innings. Yes, he threw 123 pitches. But he allowed only two runs, one earned.
"I'd rather he did 120 in nine innings instead of five," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "But he was just magnificent today."
The key for Hernandez? He never gave in to the Atlanta hitters. With two on and two out, he wasn't afraid to pitch around dynamic rookie Jason Heyward, load the bases and take his chances with Melky Cabrera instead. (That ploy worked, with Cabrera grounding out to end the inning.)
"That's Livo on his own right there," Desmond said. "He got in situations where a lot of pitchers would have panicked and freaked out. He stayed under control, kept making his pitches. He wasn't worried about a walk. He kept on doing his job."
And the Nats kept plugging away. Josh Willingham homered. Desmond homered. Adam Dunn homered. Bernadina made up for his early error with a fabulous, diving catch of Troy Glaus' liner in the third. Desmond made up for his fielding gaffe with several sparkling plays in the field.
Sean Burnett recorded three key outs in the sixth and seventh. Clippard was his usual dominant self, recording five outs. And when Batista failed to close it out himself in the ninth, Capps calmly emerged from the bullpen and got a game-ending double play.
Fortunately for the 17,098 in attendance, the scoreboard was up and running again by the time the ninth inning rolled around. If not, who knows if those fans would have even realized when it was time to stand up and cheer for the game's final out.
No such worries. Everyone was aware of the situation by the time Capps entered, and the fireworks shot from the roof of the ballpark without a hitch. A Nationals club that opened this homestand still stinging from back-to-back ugly losses in Florida over the weekend found a way to win and avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season.
"We had a 3-3 road trip, and the guys weren't happy," manager Jim Riggleman said. "They didn't feel like we came out of Florida and had a good trip. They felt like we needed to win another ballgame or two. The ballclub has just really stayed focused on playing tonight's game. Not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. Just really getting after it tonight and trying to win the game."
On a night when the Nats had plenty of reasons to let this one slip away, they showed they can still turn an ugly ballgame into something positive.