Pitching on only three days rest, Esteban Loaiza shut down the Phillies through eight innings yesterday in leading the Nationals to a 6-1 win. This was a must-win game, and the victory brings the Nats within two games of the Wild Card lead.
Loaiza was amazing. He allowed only four hits and, after walking two in the first and one to open the second, walked only one more batter in the next seven innings. Meanwhile, he struck out eleven and, after the first two innings, wasn't in real trouble until the sixth, when Chase Utley doubled with one out. Loaiza then struck out Bobby Abreu, walked Pat Burrell, and struck out Ryan Howard to end the inning. Loaiza was in trouble again in the eighth when he allowed a run on a Jimmy Rollins double and a Jason Michaels single, but got the next three outs to get out of the inning.
We were a bit surprised that Frank Robinson didn't take Loaiza out earlier--he ended up throwing 129 pitches--but we guess Robinson was willing to stretch Loaiza's arm in the name of resting the overworked bullpen. It will be interesting to see how Loaiza does in his next start after this level of work.
The Nationals offense was in June mode as it scored six runs on two three-run homers, one by Brian Schneider in the second and one by Preston Wilson in the seventh. We'll defer the complaints about RFK's dimensions for a bit, we guess.
After losing the first game of this series, the Nationals had to win the next two to stay in the playoff race in a meaningful way. That they did shows that this team has a lot of character and, despite all their problems, will not go down easily in this fight. The next two series will be critical as well, but they would have been nearly meaningless if the Nats hadn't won these last two games.