GAME IN A NUTSHELL: An enticing matchup between the red-hot Nationals (featuring the red-hot Bryce Harper) and the first-place Yankees produced some extra buzz at the ballpark Tuesday night. That the opener of this 2-game interleague showdown lived up to the hype only added to the intrigue.
The Nationals burst out to a 2-0 lead thanks to first-inning homers from Ian Desmond and (who else?) Harper, who launched his 10th homer in 12 games and 15th overall to right-center. But Gio Gonzalez, after a perfect three innings to begin his night, proceeded to give the Yankees six runs back in the fourth and fifth.
No worries, because the Nationals stormed back to tie the game thanks to RBI hits from Clint Robinson, Desmond and Yunel Escobar, then a solo homer by Wilson Ramos (which extended his MLB-best hitting streak to 19 games). That left this game knotted at 6 heading into the latter innings, turning it into a battle of bullpens.
The Nats' relief corps did its part, with Blake Treinen, Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and Drew Storen combining to toss four scoreless innings. The back of the Yankees' pen, though, was just as effective, with Dellin Betances recording six outs to keep his ERA locked at 0.00 and send this game to extra innings.
That's when an old friend showed up to deliver one of his patented big drives when it matters most. Ryan Zimmerman launched a pitch off Andrew Miller off the right-field foul pole in the bottom of the 10th, his 10th career walk-off homer (first since 2013). This one puts the Nats in a first-place tie with the Mets in the NL East.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It's gotten to the point where we just expect Harper to homer, and we're surprised when he doesn't. So when he reached down to drive Nathan Eovaldi's 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the first over the right-center field fence, the reaction was actually a bit muted given the circumstances. It shouldn't have been, because Harper's continued run has been a thing of beauty to watch. He has now homered 10 times in 12 games, a span in which he has posted a .660 on-base percentage. He's not getting many pitches to hit, but he's sure taking advantage of the ones he does get.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Everything started out so well for Gonzalez. He retired the first nine batters he faced, retiring all nine of them on groundballs, needing only 30 pitches to do it. That was as effective and efficient a stretch as the lefty has had in a long time, maybe in his career. And then it all came crumbling down during a laborious top of the fourth in which Gonzalez lost command, lost focus and lost the lead. He gave up four runs in that inning, needing 41 pitches to complete the frame. His troubles continued in the fifth when he served up Mark Teixeira's 2-run homer. Just like that, what could've been a dominant outing by Gonzalez morphed into a 5-inning struggle.
DRAMATIC DEBUT: Wilmer Difo was surprised to get called up Tuesday after only 33 games above low-Class A, but the 23-year-old infielder wasn't surprised to succeed when given the opportunity to make his major-league debut in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch-hitting for Treinen, Difo laced a line-drive single up the middle off David Carpenter, notching his first career hit in his first career at-bat. Was the rookie nervous? "Nah," he said via bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez. "That's what he knows how to do is hit, so he says he didn't get nervous." And what was Difo thinking when he got to first base? "He says as soon as he got on there, he was thinking about stealing second base," Martinez said. "That's the only thing."
KEY STAT: Harper has now hit more home runs in 40 games this season than any member of the Nationals did the entire 2008 season.
UP NEXT: This quick, 2-game interleague series wraps up at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday when Jordan Zimmermann (3-2, 3.66) faces right-hander Adam Warren (2-2, 4.50).
MORE NATIONALS: Janssen needs more work before he's ready to make Nats debut