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Lannan, Werth overcome their Philly demons

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Lannan, Werth overcome their Philly demons

PHILADELPHIA -- For John Lannan, the moment came in the bottom of the third, when faced with a bases-loaded jam he struck out Ryan Howard and got Carlos Ruiz on a comebacker.

For Jayson Werth, the moment came in the top of the ninth, when faced with a riled up Phillies crowd in what had become a one-run game he delivered a two-run dagger of a base hit to silence the angry mob.

And for the Nationals, the moment came a few minutes later, when Drew Storen got John Mayberry Jr. to ground out harmlessly to third base and seal an 8-4 victory that moved this team one step closer to the NL East crown and exorcised some Philadelphia demons in the process.

"A big game, a big outing for John," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "That was a huge win for us."

They're all huge at this stage of the calendar year, each win lowering the magic number -- it's now down to 4 -- and reducing the plausibility of a last-minute flip-flop of teams atop the NL East standings.

Yes, the Braves won again Wednesday night -- their ninth win in their last 11 games -- but they still trail the Nationals by four games with only seven left to play. Each day they fail to close the gap is a wasted day from their standpoint.

The most important thing the Nationals can do right now is win games themselves, something they've done 94 times this season but something they've struggled to do inside Citizens Bank Park. That made this victory all the more significant, especially because of the history of two players who were influential in pulling this one off.

Start with Lannan, whose big-league career began in Philadelphia five years ago with an unexpected ejection for plunking Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in succession and had only gone downhill since then. In seven starts in this ballpark entering Wednesday, the left-hander was 1-5 with a 7.06 ERA.

Lannan, though, has stared down all kinds of adversity during the strangest year of his professional life, so it only felt appropriate to overcome one of his biggest hurdles and beat the Phillies in a game his Nationals desperately needed to win.

With 5 13 innings of two-run ball, Lannan improved to 4-0 in five big-league starts this season, all of them significant wins.

"He's been outstanding for us this year," manager Davey Johnson said. "That's his fourth win up here. Big game against Atlanta, big one here. He's just been a big boost for us."

Though he was mostly sharp during this outing, Lannan did find himself in one big jam when ht loaded the bases with one out in the third. All of a sudden, Howard stepped to the plate with a chance to tie the game up on one swing. Given Lannan's sordid history in this place, few would have been shocked had that nightmare scenario happened.

The lefty, though, took a different mindset with him to the mound.

"I've been in that situation here so many times and come up short, so I told myself not to do what I did back then," he said. "I don't even know what I was doing, I just told myself I wasn't going to let it happen because it's happened so many times here. I kind of was fed up with it and kind of just went from there."

So Lannan calmly struck out Howard on a curveball, then snagged Ruiz's comebacker to snuff out the rally and preserve a 5-1 lead.

The Nationals had staked their starter to that cushion thanks to an early explosion against Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick. Three of their first eight batters belted home runs, with Bryce Harper becoming only the second teenager ever to hit 20, Desmond increasing his career-high total to 25 and Kurt Suzuki adding his fifth over his last 22 games.

"The kid got us going again," Desmond said.

Harper may have got them going early, but Werth got them over the hump late with a huge hit just when it looked like the Nationals' lead was tenuous.

After chipping away all night, the Phillies got the deficit down to 5-4 in the eighth and nearly tied the game against slumping reliever Tyler Clippard. Desperate for an insurance run in the top of the ninth, the Nationals wound up getting three, the first two delivered by Werth in dramatic fashion.

Standing in the on-deck circle during that inning, Werth picked up a ball fouled off by Danny Espinosa. The one-time Phillies right fielder turned to toss it to a group of kids seated behind the Nationals dugout but claims he was concerned a group of "unruly middle-aged men that, to me, appeared to be snarling" right behind them.

So Werth tossed the ball into the dugout instead, a move that prompted the entire ballpark to shower boos upon him for the next five minutes, including as he battled through his at-bat against right-hander Justin DeFratus. The boos turned to cheers only for a moment after DeFratus buzzed him with a high-and-tight fastball, then everyone turned silent when Werth laced a 2-2 pitch up the middle for a base hit that scored two runs and gave the Nationals much-needed breathing room.

"I was so excited for him," Harper said. "I wanted to jump up and down and scream. ... These fans going crazy, booing him, telling him he sucks and whatnot. They don't know what they're missing. He's an unbelievable ballplayer, and he's been clutch for us all year. He's what gets us going."

Werth, who forcefully clapped his hands together after rounding first base, wound up scoring moments later when Harper delivered his ninth triple of the season, extending the lead to four runs. He downplayed the booing by a fan base that used to adore him when he manned right field in this ballpark.

"It's really just part of playing in Philadelphia," he said. "That's what makes it great. I had a lot of fun here. I had a lot of good times and wouldn't trade those for the world."

Werth, of course, is enjoying some good times with the Nationals right now. While the Phillies are on the verge of missing the postseason for the first time in six years, he's on the verge of clinching the NL East and embarking on a postseason run with his new club.

Which means plenty more key at-bats for a guy who seems to relish those opportunities.

"I mean, as time goes on here, as we get into October, there's probably going to be even more of that," Werth said. "I've been here before, definitely don't mind it."

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How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

Now 61 games into the 2016 season - and 60 since he returned from the disabled list - Nationals center fielder Ben Revere is still searching for the swing that allowed him to hit .300 or better for three straight seasons. He has yet to find consistency and feel like himself despite months having passed since he rehabbed his oblique injury.

And at this point, he's open to ideas. What he's tried so far hasn't worked, so why not give something unorthodox a shot?

Before Saturday's game in which he landed an RBI double, walked and scored a run, Revere got some unusual help from manager Dusty Baker.

"Dusty gave me holy water today. He kind of blessed me," Revere said. "My grandpa, he’s a retired preacher so he probably would’ve done the same thing or said I should’ve done it when we got back from the injury."

Whatever works. Speaking of Revere's grandfather, both him and Revere's father were in town to watch Ben play this weekend. After Friday night's game in which Revere went 0-for-5, Baker spoke to both men about Revere's struggles.

"I talked to his dad and grandfather after the game," Baker said. "They weren't exactly happy, but they thanked me for sticking with their son. They know Ben can hit and I know Ben can hit. I tried to trade for him when I was with Cincinnati."

Revere - who is still hitting just .216 this season - wonders if Dusty will now tell Revere's dad and grandfather about the holy water, seeing how it worked.

"He’s probably going to talk to them again and tell him what he did," Revere said.

"They know I’ve kind of been down on myself and struggling a little bit but they gave me some motivation and said, ‘Keep swinging, son. It can come now or come in August. At some point, you’ll be hot and help this team really be hot and get to the playoffs.'"

[RELATED: Nats reveal exactly how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple]

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Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Often times with professional athletes, you can only find out how truly bad an injury or a predicament is once the game they had to perservere through is over. In hockey, it's after teams are eliminated from the playoffs that you learn who had the broken fingers and torn ligaments in their knee.

That is sometimes the case after good things happen, as well. Players do not like using their ailments as excuses before or during the competition. But after the event is over? Sure, what do you want to know?

After Saturday night's walkoff win over the San Diego Padres, we finally found out the true story behind Stephen Drew's 'flu-like symptoms' and how terribly debilitating his illness actually was. 

Well, we found out some of the specifics. Some are not for a family audience.

"I don't want to say it on TV, but it's been ugly," Drew said. "Anywhere from high fever to everything else, you name it. It's been crazy."

Fair enough. No complaints there. More important was what Drew was able to accomplish in the win, his first appearance in a game since last Sunday. Drew sent the Nats home victorious with a walkoff RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth against Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush. It was a line drive that fell just inches short of a homer.

Maybe if Drew hadn't been weakened by the flu, it would have cleared the fence. Still, not bad for a guy who had barely swung a bat in a week.

"I ain't done nothing [in six days]. Today is the first time," Drew said. "I tried to hit some [Friday] but just felt really, really lightheaded and kind of dizzy. That's what's left over. I just gotta keep pumping fluids down right now."

Drew had essentially been quarantined by the Nationals for days after he contracted the flu from teammate Anthony Rendon. They gave him IVs and then sent him home, keeping his name on the lineup card as a decoy. He wasn't in the dugout, but the Nats did their best to not let their opponents know he was unavailable.

"He was home not eating, couldn't hold any food. I think he lost 7-8 pounds," manager Dusty Baker said. 

Though still ailing, Drew turned a corner on Saturday and felt good enough to stick around for the full game. As the night went on, he realized he could play.

"I was able to hit in a cage. It wasn't great, but it's better than nothing," Drew said. "Right before the inning I kind of knew what was going on. I told [hitting coach Rick] Schu, he ran over there and I guess told [Baker] again just to let him know."

Drew took the first pitch from Quackenbush for a ball and the second for a strike. He then fouled off two pitches before launching a 77 mile per hour curveball high up the wall in right-center field. 

It was an excellent swing and one that felt familiar to Drew, who has been a plus off the bench for the Nats all season.

"Honestly, I was still in the mindset that I had. It's been a good feeling. Really not trying to do too much, just trying to get a good pitch and get my A-swing off," he said.

Drew has been part of a Nationals bench that has turned into a real strength this season. Drew himself his now 6-for-20 (.300) with three homers and six RBI in 20 pinch-hit at-bats. 

This one was different, of course, and him coming through while under the weather was a big lift for his teammates.

“Sometimes you get your number called even when you’re sick. You come out and make a performance like that, be able to pinch-hit and get a triple," starter Max Scherzer said. 

"That’s huge. That just shows you the resiliency of everybody in this clubhouse, to be able to go out there no matter what and compete and do something to help the ballclub."

"I’ve played days when I’m sick and those are the days when I get three hits. You don’t think, you just go out there and play," center fielder Ben Revere said. 

"I was kind of telling Anthony, I’m like, ‘Get me sick so I can get some hits.’ Usually I play well when I’m feeling down and blue. But it’s tough. It’s tough. I knew the pitcher had a good curveball but I had a feeling if he threw it to Drew, he’s going to do some damage and sure enough he did."

Drew appears to be back to form after a wild week. But he still felt the need to pepper in some knock-on-woods as he spoke after the win.

"I'm getting better. It's been a long process and frustrating, but I'm hopefully at the end of this thing and I'll go from there," he said.

[RELATED: Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres]

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Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-2 walkoff win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Success off the bench as a pinch-hitter can be fleeting and some, no matter how good they were as everyday players, never find the secret.

Not Stephen Drew. Even six days off due to flu-like symptoms could not cool the Nats' bench hero down, as he walked off the San Diego Padres on Saturday night with an RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth.

The final blow came against Kevin Quackenbush, who was the final pitcher summoned from a Padres staff that had otherwise baffled the Nats through 8 2/3 innings. Anthony Rendon scored the game-winning run after leading off the inning with a single to left field.

The Nats got their other two runs on a Daniel Murphy sacrifice fly in the third inning and a Ben Revere RBI double in the fifth. Max Scherzer did his part with seven innings and just two runs allowed. The Nats' bullpen picked up from there with a scoreless eighth by Shawn Kelley and ninth by Jonathan Papelbon. Both relievers allowed extra base hits, but left the mound unscathed.

What it means: With the win, the Nats evened up their season series against the Padres at 3-3 and snapped a three-game losing streak to San Diego. They stand 58-40 on the season.

MORE NATIONALS: GIOLITO GETS NOD SUNDAY VS. PADRES

Scherzer keeps rolling: Scherzer's recent dominance continued on Saturday night as the Nats ace went seven strong innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. It didn't start out well for Scherzer, who allowed a two-run homer to Ryan Schimpf in the second, but he recovered after that and finished his outing by retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced. It was the 13th time in 21 starts this season that he's gone at least seven innings and the eighth time he's recorded double-digit strikeouts. 

Over his last five starts, Scherzer has allowed just four earned runs across 34 1/3 innings. And since May 6, he holds a 2.19 ERA (24 ER, 98.2 IP) in 14 outings. Scherzer had a 4.60 ERA when he took the mound on May 11, but has since pared that down to in impressive 2.92.

The homer to Schimpf was Scherzer's biggest mistake and it was, of course, the continuation of a year-long trend. Scherzer has now given up 22 on the season, tied for fourth-most of all MLB pitchers. That's despite the fact he had only given up one in his previous four starts entering Saturday night.

Revere bounces back: Revere's frustrating 2016 season had reached one of its lowest points on Friday night, when he went 0-for-5 in a loss to the Padres. It was so bad that Nats manager Dusty Baker spoke with Revere's father and grandfather afterwards. They thanked the skipper for being patient with the Nats outfielder, despite him batting nearly 100 points lower than the .300 average he had carried in each of the previous three seasons. Baker expressed sympathy for Revere, but noted he had been back for over a third of the season. Patience was running out. Baker said "we need him badly."

What Revere did to respond on Saturday night is exactly what Baker had in mind. The embattled leadoff man walked in his second at-bat in the third inning and later scored on a Murphy sacrifice fly. Revere set that up by moving from first to third on a singly by Jayson Werth. Revere then doubled home Danny Espinosa in the top of the fifth to tied the game at 2-2. Before Saturday night, Revere had just three hits in his last nine games, a stretch of 29 at-bats.

Harper keeps scuffling: It was another long night for the reigning MVP, who went hitless in four at-bats and left four men on base. His worst moment came in the bottom of the fifth when the Padres opted to walk Murphy with two outs to put two men on to face Harper. Harper promptly popped out to right field to end the rally. Harper is now just 5-for-39 (.128) with 10 strikeouts in his last 11 games.

Up next: The Nats and Padres close their series with a 1:35 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon. Rookie Lucas Giolito (0-1, 4.70) will make his third career MLB start opposite San Diego lefty Christrian Friedrich (4-6, 4.55).