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Can dramatic win be a momentum changer?


Can dramatic win be a momentum changer?

Jonathan Papelbon was holding court inside the Nationals’ clubhouse Friday night, the room thumping like it hadn’t in a long time after a 5-2, 10-inning victory over the Braves — with an even bigger roar about to be come moments later when the Marlins walked off the Mets in Miami — when the veteran closer was asked if a game like this can carry over and serve as a true momentum swing.

“One hundred percent,” said Papelbon, who has experienced his share of pennant race moments over the last decade. “You know, this time of year is all about momentum. And if we can keep that and carry that throughout the rest of the season, we should be pretty good. I like our chances.”

Make no mistake, the Nationals’ chances still aren’t great. Even with Friday’s wild turn of events, they trail the Mets by 5 games with 28 to play. Their odds of winning the NL East, according to Fangraphs, sits at 20.5 percent (with an additional 1.9 percent chance of a wild card berth).

But in order to pull off a comeback of that magnitude, a ballclub needs to do something dramatic along the way, something that serves as a turning point in a pennant race. We don’t know yet whether this night will qualify. But it’s certainly the kind of night that could do it.

“Like I’ve been saying, we come in here every single day with the attitude to try and win ballgames, and that’s what we did tonight,” Bryce Harper said. “We fought to the end. … It just says a lot about this club and how we’re a family going to fight to the end until the last day.”

The manner in which the Nationals won this game, needing Matt den Dekker’s RBI single with two outs in the ninth to tie it and then Michael Taylor’s moonshot of a 3-run homer in the 10th to end it, was perhaps just as significant as the simple fact they won the game at all. Truth be told, a loss like that to a Braves club that has celebrated victory only once in its last 18 tries, would’ve rivaled any other loss over the last month in terms of disappointment.

The Nationals appeared destined for disappointment after squandering several opportunities to add on anything beyond Harper’s first-inning homer off Julio Teheran. They stranded the bases loaded in the third, then again in the sixth. And then they looked like they were going to waste Yunel Escobar’s leadoff double in the ninth when, after Ian Desmond’s sacrifice bunt moved the runner to third, Wilson Ramos struck out on four pitches and left the game in den Dekker’s hands.

The 28-year-old outfielder — traded by the Mets for Jerry Blevins during the last week of spring training — hasn’t spent much time in D.C. this season, but he has shown a knack for delivering hits at the right moment. Entering Friday night, den Dekker was 4-for-10 as a pinch-hitter, with a home run on his resume. He technically wasn’t a pinch-hitter this time, because he had entered the game in the top of the inning as part of a double-switch designed to put Papelbon in position to pitch two innings. But he hadn’t stepped to the plate at all until that moment, facing hard-throwing Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino.

“I was just trying to take a short stroke on it and not do too much,” den Dekker said. “A guy throwing that hard, you can’t really get too big. You gotta stay short and stay through the middle, and that’s what I did.”

Indeed, den Dekker lined Vizcaino’s 1-0, 98-mph fastball over the shortstop’s head, bringing home the tying run and altering the storyline of this game. Not to mention spoiling the evening for Mets fans who used to root for him.

“Hopefully they weren’t happy,” den Dekker said with a smile.

After Papelbon tossed his second scoreless inning of the night, the Nationals came up to bat again in the 10th with a chance to win it. And they immediately put themselves in position to do it, with Harper lining an opposite-field single off left-hander Matt Marksberry — the 14th time he has reached base in his last 18 plate appearances — and Ryan Zimmerman advancing him to third with his own single off right-hander Brandon Cunniff.

The pitcher’s spot now due up, Matt Williams was down to only a couple remaining choices on his bench: Dan Uggla, Pedro Severino or Taylor, who had been held out of the lineup for the third straight night after his bruised right knee acted up again. Williams was trying to avoid using Taylor at all, but the rookie outfielder had been sending not-so-subtle signals to his manager.

“I want to play,” Taylor said. “I was standing at the bat rack the whole game, trying to get in the game. … I’m just standing close, like stretching and trying to get his attention and things like that.”

So Williams relented, and Taylor stepped to the plate to a growing crescendo from the crowd. Two pitches later, he left everyone in the park jumping for joy when he launched Cunniff’s 1-0 slider high into the night.

The ball hung in the air for what felt like an eternity. Everybody knew it was deep enough to score the winning run from third. But not until it landed amid a sea of hands in the Red Porch seats beyond the left-center field wall did everybody — including Taylor — know it was a home run.

“I didn’t realize; it went so high,” Taylor said. “Off the bat it felt pretty good, so I thought it had a chance. And then I saw it hanging up a little bit coming around first and was happy it went out.”

This was merely the latest big moment for Taylor, who now has 14 homers (fourth on the roster) and 58 RBI (third on the team), not to mention a .345 batting average with runners in scoring position. All this as a rookie thrust into more regular playing time than anybody anticipated.

“He’s truly a great player,” Harper said. “I think everybody knows he’s going to be an unbelievable player, the older he gets and the more he plays. I’m excited for him and the way he’s going about it right now.”

As he crossed the plate, Taylor was mobbed by teammates, doused with a bucket full of filth and serenaded by fans. The mild-mannered rookie could only smile, soaking in the moment, while everyone else went nuts.

“It was awesome,” right-hander Tanner Roark said. “I don’t have words for it.”

Whether this was merely a nice blip in an otherwise disappointing season or the start of something special down the stretch remains to be seen. The Nationals, though, do know what they could be in for the rest of the way.

“These games from here on out are going to be playoff-type games and playoff-type atmospheres,” Papelbon said, then taking a light-hearted jab at those in the stands. “I got a little bone to pick with some of the fans here tonight. I saw a few of them sitting down. I’m not going to lie. We need to stand on up in those situations. So let’s get that going, you know what I mean? Because this is playoff baseball.”

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Turner, Adams power Nats over Giants to end 4-game skid

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Turner, Adams power Nats over Giants to end 4-game skid

SAN FRANCISCO -- Trea Turner got five hits, Matt Adams homered and drove in six runs, and the Washington Nationals broke out of their offensive funk in a big way, routing the San Francisco Giants 15-2 Wednesday to end a four-game losing streak.

The Nationals had totaled just eight runs during their skid. Andrew Stevenson had two doubles, two singles and four RBIs as Washington set season highs for runs and hits (18).

Manager Dave Martinez's ballclub has been stunted by a rash of injuries this season but salvaged the final game of the three-game series at AT&T Park series to end a rough 4-5 road trip. Max Scherzer (5-1) did his part, striking out 10 in six innings.

Turner came into the game batting .232, and the leadoff man's slow start had contributed to the Nationals' struggles. He raised his batting average 35 points, tying a career high for hits in a game. He also scored twice, drove in two runs and stole his 10th base this season.

Adams matched his career best for RBIs. He singled as part of a three-run first, put the Nationals up 6-1 with a three-run homer off Jeff Samardzija (1-1) in the fourth and added a two-run single in the eighth.

The Nationals scored 14 of their 15 runs with two outs.

Scherzer earned his fourth consecutive win, all of them coming after a Washington loss. He allowed two runs and five hits, and reached double figures in strikeouts for the fourth time in six starts this season.

Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval each two hits apiece for the Giants.

Samardzija labored through a 30-pitch first inning and was done after retiring 11 batters. He gave up six runs on eight hits with three walks.


Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman and 2B Howie Kendrick were given the day off.

Giants: Mac Williamson was a late scratch because of neck stiffness, one day after stumbling over the bullpen pitching mound and crashing into a low fence while chasing a foul ball. ... RHP Chris Stratton was placed on the paternity list. ... RHP Roberto Gomez was called up from Triple-A Sacramento.


Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (2-2, 2.97 ERA) pitches against the Diamondbacks on Friday in Washington. He has yielded six earned runs and three homers over his last 13 innings.

Giants: LHP Derek Holland (0-3, 4.98) faces the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of a four-game series at AT&T Park on Friday night. Holland is winless in two career starts against the Dodgers.

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Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3


Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mac Williamson had to dust himself off after crashing into a low padded wall near the stands in left field while chasing a foul ball.

More frustrated than hurt, Williamson took it out on Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark a few moments later after undergoing a series of concussion tests in the dugout.

Williamson homered for the second straight night and third in five games, hitting a tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning to lead San Francisco to a 4-3 victory over Washington on Tuesday night.

"I got pretty lucky," Williamson said. "I felt fine then and I feel fine now. I'm sure once the adrenalin wears off later tonight, tomorrow we'll see how the body feels. I'm sure I'll be a little sore."

Brandon Belt hit his fifth home run in six games, Joe Panik added three hits and scored twice, and the Giants won their third straight and fourth in the last five.

One night after hitting a 464-foot homer in the series opener, Williamson hit a first-pitch solo shot to center off Roark with two outs in the sixth inning that bounced off the top of the wall and broke a 3-all tie. It wasn't as far as Monday's clout -- this one went 423 feet -- but was just as pivotal for the Giants.

"We've talked about what a shot in the arm he's been and he's more than that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He came through again tonight. Good for him because he's worked hard at it."

Williamson's deciding home run came one inning after he stumbled over the bullpen mound in foul territory and crashed into a low wall near the stands while trying to chase down Bryce Harper's foul ball. Williamson stayed down briefly as team trainers rushed out before getting to his feet.

"I tried to roll my neck a little bit and my head down a little bit when I started going down," Williamson said. "I think that helped break my fall. I was just a little frustrated I didn't come up with the play. I had it in my glove and it came out."

Belt hit a two-run shot off Roark (1-2) in the third.

Michael Taylor had a three-run homer for Washington, which has lost four straight and 14 of 20 since opening the season 4-0.

"It seems like that sixth inning's been biting us in the rear as of late," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We're swinging the bats. We just can't get the big hit with people on base."

Reyes Moronta (1-0) retired six batters for his first career win. Sam Dyson pitched one inning and Hunter Strickland worked the ninth for his fifth save.

The Giants got a run off Roark in the first but left the bases loaded when Evan Longoria struck out looking to end the inning. Belt homered on a 3-2 pitch from Roark in the second to make it 3-0.

Washington tied it on Taylor's three-run homer off starter Ty Blach in the third. Ryan Zimmerman walked and Moises Sierra singled before Taylor's deep drive into the right-field stands.

Roark went into the game 6-0 in seven career games against San Francisco but couldn't find a rhythm this time. He allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches.


Panik hit a soft comebacker to Roark in the fifth that glanced off the pitcher's glove then bounced up on the top of his cap before falling to the turf. Roark initially couldn't locate the ball but found it in time to throw to first for the out.


Blach allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. After the game, Bochy said the left-hander suffered from food poisoning last week and was given an IV on Monday. "That was a really gutty effort that he gave us," Bochy said.


Nationals: Placed RHP Shawn Kelley on the 10-disabled list with ulnar nerve irritation in his right elbow. Infielder/outfielder Matt Reynolds was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse and outfielder Rafael Bautista and infielder Adrian Sanchez were called up.


Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (4-1, 1.36 ERA) and Giants RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 0.00) take to the mound for the series finale at AT&T Park on Wednesday. Samardzija is making his second start after beginning the season on the disabled list.