What a day for baseball: How the Nats clinched

Chris Lingebach
September 24, 2019 - 10:19 pm
The Nationals celebrate in the clubhouse after clinching a playoff spot.

Chris Lingebach / 106.7 The Fan

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The Nationals seemed headed for another day of wait as they trailed 4-2 entering the bottom of the sixth inning of Tuesday's nightcap against the Phillies.

Although they'd eliminated the Phillies from postseason contention in the first game of a doubleheader earlier in the day, inching one game closer to their own Wild Card berth, Aaron Nola was pitching a gem and the Nats were suddenly short on offense.

The night changed from there, slowly, and then all at once. Asdrubal Cabrera drew a six-pitch walk, only to be followed by a Matt Adams strikeout. Victor Robles singled to left, moving Cabrera to second, only to be followed by a Yan Gomes strikeout.

With runners on first and second and two outs, veteran hitter Howie Kendrick quickly fell into an 0-2 hole against Nola, before working the at-bat back to a favorable full count and drawing a seven-pitch walk to load the bases for Trea Turner. The Nats Park crowd was ready to explode, they just needed a reason.

Turner only needed two looks before drilling an 0-1 sinker furiously into left-center field, lifting the crowd from their seats to watch the grand slam sail into the seats.

Nats Park was on fire as the Nationals now led 6-4. Suddenly, that Wild Card berth felt within reach. Unfortunately, they'd also need a Cubs loss to celebrate this evening, and the Pirates weren't holding up their end of the bargain, trailing 1-0 after six innings 250 miles northwest in Pittsburgh.

Cosmic forces intervened and the Pirates sprang to life, erupting with a seven-run seventh inning.

Back in D.C., Hunter Strickland quickly mowed through the Phillies first two batters to open the seventh, fortuitously bringing Bryce Harper to the plate, a moment both fan bases have had circled on their calendars ever since Washington acquired the right-handed reliever at the July 31 trade deadline.

Strickland carefully danced three fastballs around the strike zone for a 3-0 count before tempting fate with a 98-mph heater right on the outer black of the plate. The next pitch – another 98-mph four-seamer just a few more inches in – was a mistake, and Harper made him pay, sending the ball to his favorite part of the park: the second deck in right field. 6-5 Nats.

Strickland induced a line-out to left from Cesar Hernandez to escape the seventh.

The Nationals took care of their business, holding on for a 6-5 win over the Phillies. And as luck would have it, so would the Pirates, closing out the Cubs with a 9-2 win, the waning minutes of which Nationals fans would watch with baited breath on the Nats Park scoreboard.

The 2019 Washington Nationals are postseason bound.

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