By Ben Sullivan
By the time the ball landed fair inside the left-field line and out of the reach of Phillies left fielder Howie Kendrick, Bryce Harper was off and running from first base.
From the moment that the double from Daniel Murphy fell and rolled into the corner, Harper thought he could score.
His helmet came off his head, bounced off the back of his foot and flew into the air as he rounded third base with third-base coach Bobby Henley waving him home.
As Harper slid headfirst (above), he was tackled on the ground by Jayson Werth as a sold-out crowd of 38,664 fans erupted to celebrate the Nationals’ 3-2 walk-off victory in 10 innings over the Phillies yesterday at Nationals Park.
“I was just trying to score,” Harper said. “I didn’t want to play extras. It’s tough going out there and trying to get into those extra innings. You don’t want to do that to your bullpen or anything like that. I’m glad Murph got that knock and I was able to score.”
The rally came off Phillies right-hander Jeanmar Gomez, who was removed from the closer’s role earlier this week after giving up a game-tying, three-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth inning Sunday.
Still, the Phillies called upon Gomez to hold a tie game for two innings. After a scoreless ninth inning, he surrendered a leadoff single to Harper followed by Murphy’s walk-off hit.
Each starting pitcher was making his second consecutive outing against the opposing team. Aaron Nola cruised to a victory in his first start against the Nats with the benefit of a 12-run first inning, but he pitched well overall in that start. He was even better in five strong innings Friday where he struck out seven and yielded his only run in the second inning, on three consecutive hits and an RBI single by Matt Wieters.
Nats right-hander Stephen Strasburg turned in his best outing of the season. He allowed two runs — a solo homer from Tommy Joseph in the second and a run-scoring single from Cesar Hernandez in the fifth — but he struck out eight over seven innings. Strasburg finished with 111 pitches, more than he threw in all but two starts last season.
“We play this team tough,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “It seems like every time we play them…we go down to the eighth and ninth inning every time we play them. Which is good, especially early in the season, to stay with them.”
“The story for me was Nola, he gave us five good innings … [he] pitched well,” Mackanin said. “That’s two outings in a row, I think that’s [going to] do a lot for his confidence.”