GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Needing a win to take their third consecutive series — and then hoping beyond hope the Mets would actually lose a ballgame for a change — the Nationals turned to their surprising rookie right-hander and watched as he pitched yet another gem.
Joe Ross allowed only one run (unearned) on one hit (a bunt) over six standout innings before getting an early trip to the showers while the organization tries to limit his innings before he is expected to be shut down in the next couple of weeks. No problem, because that simply set the stage for the Nationals to use the back end of their bullpen as they've intended to use it for the last month.
Before that happened, they got some big hits to take a lead, including solo homers from Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. They also got a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch to force in a run, though it came at a price: Yunel Escobar went down in a heap after taking that fastball to his right wrist and wound up leaving the game. The Nats also lost Michael Taylor to an apparent right knee injury on a scary collision with the center field wall, a potentially huge blow given the fact Denard Span wasn't available to play when his back acted up after two games off the DL.
Despite a makeshift defensive alignment that saw Bryce Harper in center field, Trea Turner at second base and Danny Espinosa in left field, the Nationals somehow prevailed. And so they have won six of their last nine games, taking three straight series in the process as they attempt to go on a late-season surge.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: There are few better signs for the Nationals these days than Werth and Zimmerman hitting with authority and hitting for power. We've begun to see it the last few days in particular, and saw both go deep in this game. Werth launched only his second home run since breaking his wrist in May; he now sports a .306/.405/.528 slash line since moving up to the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the lineup last week. Zimmerman, meanwhile, launched another home run to right-center field, the same location his grand slam landed in the other night. Those are especially encouraging developments for the Nats as September looms.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: What more can you say about the job Ross has done this season? He hasn't merely pitched well, he has pitched well despite doing so under the weight of a pennant race as part of a star-studded rotation that collectively hasn't lived up to its reputation. Ross was at it again in this game, allowing just one hit over his six innings. And that hit was a 15-foot bunt by Cory Spangenberg that was promptly thrown away by Wilson Ramos, letting Spangenberg advance all the way to third base. The decision to pull Ross after six innings and 77 pitches caught many by surprise, but the Nationals are dealing with a rookie on an innings limit. Perhaps by pulling him early in this game, they'll be able to squeeze a few more out of him in the next week or two before he's shut down.
KEY STAT: Escobar has been forced to leave a game injured eight times this season, five times with an injury to one of his hands or wrists.
UP NEXT: The Marlins come to town for a 3-game weekend series. It'll be Max Scherzer (11-10, 2.79) vs. left-hander Adam Conley (1-1, 4.88) in Friday's 7:05 p.m. opener.
MORE NATIONALS: Taylor leaves Nats-Padres game after colliding with wall