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Detwiler dominates to keep Nats alive

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Detwiler dominates to keep Nats alive

When Ross Detwiler took the mound on Thursday afternoon, he essentially held the Nationals’ 2012 season in his left hand. Three straight games the team’s starting pitching wasn’t what it had been all year, the offense had been putrid, and Stephen Strasburg’s name was starting to come up in the media.

Detwiler, after all, wouldn’t have been pitching Game 4 if Strasburg were on the roster.

It was a lot of pressure for a 26 year old in his first full season as a regular starting pitcher. He could have easily caved, but instead pitched six stellar innings allowing just three hits and zero earned runs to a scorching hot Cardinals lineup.

Veteran Jayson Werth, the eventual hero with his ninth inning walkoff homer, spoke proudly of the young lefty.

“Media can say whatever they want. We know the type of guy Ross is and what he brings to the team,” he said. “I said yesterday, I felt good about where we were at. I felt like Ross would handle business.”

“I tell you, I was so proud of him,” Davey Johnson said, still catching his breath from the season-saving win. “He was outstanding, unbelievable. Won the game for us.”

Within 30 minutes of Thursday’s game, Detwiler had already done something his fellow starters couldn’t do. Not the 21 game-winning Cy Young candidate, not the two-time finisher in the top ten of N.L. ERA leaders, not the World Series champion.

Detwiler had taken the Nats through two innings without a deficit, finally giving the searching Washington offense, and the sold out crowd, a chance to stay in the game.

“It was the only thing we could do,” Adam LaRoche said. “If he doesn’t, we go home.”

“We were in a bad situation having to win the next two games and we just made that a lot better.”

Once Detwiler got out of the top of the second, on a Daniel Descalso grounder to second, the 44,392 in attendance exploded at an instance before breathing a collective sigh of relief. It became clear that possibly, just maybe, this game would be different.

The energy carried on throughout the game and, because of the low scoring, was focused primarily on the Nationals’ pitching and defensive plays.

The Cardinals tied the game at one in the third, but the run wasn’t earned as the inning was extended by an error. After the third inning Detwiler never let a St. Louis player get past second base. As his wonderful start kept up, each third out brought an outburst from the crowd.

“You want to feed off that energy,” Detwiler said. “It was unbelievable. It is our first experience in the postseason, but we want to keep coming back for more.”

Detwiler pitched Thursday on ten days rest, a circumstance that had plagued his teammates earlier in the series. He was also coming off two of his worst starts of the entire season, including a seven-run (three earned), 2 1/3 inning debacle to the very same St. Louis Cardinals lineup he shut down on Thursday.

Somehow the team’s former sixth overall pick, who at times looked like he would never realize his potential, rose to the occasion with a spectacular postseason performance. For a first time playoff start, it was even more than the Nationals could ask for.

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X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

The Nationals got a dose of good news on a night All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a potentially serious knee injury, as Bryce Harper's X-ray came back negative, meaning there are no broken bones in his left thumb.

Harper, 23, suffered the injury sliding into third base on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He had the X-ray on Monday morning and the team is of course pleased to hear the results.

"He could be back within a couple days, a few days. That’s big right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "The swelling’s down, so I think his strength is up, I heard. It’s very positive. We still got time for him to get well.”

Getting Harper back soon would be huge for a Nationals team that just saw Ramos go down and recently saw Daniel Murphy injure his left buttock and Stephen Strasburg strain his right flexor mass.

Murphy's injury is also not expected to be serious. Baker even said on Monday that it's "very likely" he will be ready to go for the playoffs. But that's four of the Nats' five All-Stars now injured to varying degrees with just six games left in the regular season.

At least with Harper, they may have dodged a bullet.

[RELATED: Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope injury isn't serious]

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Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

The Nationals know this feeling all too well, the anxious wait for test results to determine the severity of an injury to a star player. The latest, with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, includes an MRI set for Tuesday morning.

Ramos suffered a right knee injury on Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning, the same knee in which he tore his ACL and MCL back in May of 2012. Ironically, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also there for that one, in Cincinnati as the skipper of the Reds.

The Nats will hope and pray that this time it's not as serious.

"He doesn’t look too good tonight," Baker said. "You could tell he was in pain. We have to wait till tomorrow to come up with something definitive.”

Ramos buckled to the ground and pointed to his knee after a relay throw to home by Ryan Zimmerman sailed high over Ramos' head and required him to jump to catch it. The Nationals were playing on a wet field following a 20-minute rain delay and they believe the injury could be related.

“That probably had something to do with it. Yeah. Last time he hurt his leg it wasn’t an impact play either," Baker said. "We just got to pray for Wilson and hopefully he’s OK.”

The Nationals have already seen Stephen Strasburg go down with a right flexor mass strain, an injury that has put his postseason availability in question. Bryce Harper is currently out with a jammed left thumb. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup for seven straight games with a strained left buttock.

Harper received good news on Monday that his X-ray was negative, but that's four of the team's five 2016 All-Stars who are banged up with just six games and 10 days left to go until the playoffs begin.

That's an unusual string of bad luck at a bad time to have it.

"My dad told me, ‘Don’t say what else can go wrong because something else can go wrong.’ I’m thinking what else can go right? I don’t think like that. I don’t allow myself to think like that," Baker said. 

"Those thoughts come into everybody’s head, but you’ve got to dispel them and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess. Bryce’s X-rays came out negative, so that’s a positive note in itself. It just seems like down this stretch you lose a guy, gain a guy. Like Stephen Drew. I’m glad we got Stephen Drew back. And who knows? Somebody else might step up and be the hero, the least likely of people. That’s how I think.”

Ramos earned his All-Star nod with a breakout season at the plate. He's batting .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an .850 OPS. He has the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball and has emerged as one of the best backstops in the game, right before he's set to hit free agency this winter for the first time in his career.

Losing Ramos would be devastating for the Nationals at this point in the year.

"He’s a leader of this team. It’s a tough break, really is," Drew said. "It didn’t look too good. My thoughts and all these guys on this team hope for the best for him and we’ll be thinking about him.”

Everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse is pulling for Ramos, but Baker knows the Nats will have to keep going if his injury is serious. Backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino will have to step up in his absence, however long it is.

"I feel badly because you know how we all feel about Wilson, but it’s part of the game," Baker said. "You hate (for) it to happen this late, right before the playoffs, but our next step is try to figure out a way to play without Wilson. I’ve been mixing and matching this year and most of my life. Therefore it’s another obstacle and I just got to try to go back to the drawing board and figure out something."

[RELATED: Nationals on playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round]

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