The Nationals beat the Braves on Tuesday night thanks to a clutch hit by Bryce Harper, but the eighth-inning rally was sparked by an unexpected source.
Stephen Drew was called off the Nats' bench by manager Dusty Baker in the top of the eighth to replace Danny Espinosa at shortstop as part of a double-switch. All within a four at-bats span split between the top and bottom of the eighth inning, Drew started a crucial double play to help Blake Treinen wiggle out of a base-loaded jam, notched his first hit as a National and then scored to break a scoreless tie on a double by Harper.
Not bad for a player who spent the first 10 seasons of his career as an everyday player.
"It all started with Drew," Harper said. "It's huge. He's got a great swing. I love his swing."
Drew poked a single to center field off Braves reliever Jim Johnson, but the count began with two strikes. Drew stepped out of the box to slow things down and was able to reset and reach base.
"It's good to be able to come in and get a hit," he said. "It's a huge at-bat because you look at the game and Harp comes up in the situation you want him to come up in and he delivers. It's good to be able to do my job and get on for the guys and kind of set the tone for that inning."
Drew recorded his first hit with the Nationals in a big spot and it was the result of some extra preparation he has done to adjust to his new role as a bench player.
"I've basically been asking guys that have been in this situation. It's something new, but it's also a challenge for me and I think I'm up for it. Guys like [Chris] Heisey that have been in this situation before, I really have just asked questions. I've tried to soak in as much information as I can so when I do get that chance hopefully the preparation that I've put in, in the game when the game is going on, it pays off dividends. I was able to do that tonight and it was a big win for us," Drew said.
"That was great. That was his first hit as a National," manager Dusty Baker said. "That’s the importance of the bench I’m always talking about."
Drew, of course, was the appetizer to Harper's entree. The reigning MVP was the one who won the game, slicing an outside slider from Eric O'Flaherty into left field to score Drew and Anthony Rendon, who followed the single with a walk.
Despite going 0-for-3 to begin the night, Harper jumped all over the first pitch from O'Flaherty to hand the Nats the win and their best start in team history. Just another great game for the Nationals superstar.
"Right guy at the right time," starter Gio Gonzalez said. "Every time he grabs a bat you've got this feeling, it's going to be unbelievable."
"Just standard Bryce I guess," Treinen said. "He comes in in the clutch. I think he lives for those big moments and I’ll take them."
When Harper reached second he pumped his fist and roared to the dugout as his diamond-encrusted 'BH' chain swung out of his jersey. The dugout erupted back at him, feeding off his energy.
"I was just excited we didn't have to play extra innings," Harper said. "Definitely excited, fired up about it. Really just wanted to get us on the board and win that ballgame."