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Nats win an emotional ballgame

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Nats win an emotional ballgame

The range of emotions inside the Nationals' clubhouse Monday night following a wild, 8-5 victory over the Padres was on display for all to witness.

In one corner stood Bryce Harper, proudly talking about the first home run of his career and the curtain call that followed. Across the room, Sandy Leon gingerly maneuvered around with his right leg in a brace and propped up on a cart, a severe ankle sprain having derailed his big-league debut in less than four innings.

Over in another corner stood Sean Burnett, the surprise hero of the night after entering with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and inducing a game-ending, 1-2-3 double play off the bat of San Diego's Jesus Guzman. Only a few feet away, Henry Rodriguez's locker sat empty, the right-hander having kept himself out of sight after loading the bases on three walks in that ninth inning and getting unceremoniously yanked by Davey Johnson to a chorus of boos.

How does one club deal with so many mixed emotions in such a short time span? From the deflation of Sunday night's crushing loss in Cincinnati to the elation of Harper's first home run to the devastation of Leon's frightening injury to the resignation of Rodriguez's latest misadventure to the jubilation of Burnett's escape act to the realization the Nationals are back in first place at 22-13.

It's almost too much for the mind to process.

"I know. It's crazy," said reliever Craig Stammen, who wound up earning the win. "We've got a very short memory in this clubhouse, with all the guys that are getting hurt and then the crazy game like we had last night. It was good to get this one under our belts and finish the way we did."

The dramatic and happy conclusion to the night certainly made it a lot easier for (most) everyone inside that clubhouse to smile, none more so than Harper.

In the 15th game of his career, the 19-year-old finally delivered what he built his reputation on: power. Mashing a 2-1 slider from right-hander Tim Stauffer in the bottom of the third, Harper sent the ball sailing on a line to straightaway center field, depositing it well up the grass batter's eye at Nationals Park, perhaps 420 feet way.

Before the announced crowd of 19,434 -- it actually was much smaller due to the ever-present threat of rain -- even realized what happened, Harper was nearly all the way around the bases, sprinting the 360 feet so as not to appear to show up Stauffer.

"I'm going to get my butt around those bases as fast as I can," the rookie outfielder said. "Pete Rose tried to get around every single bag before the ball landed. That's what I want to do."

The crowd continued to roar after Harper returned to the dugout, doling out high-fives to everyone in sight, until it became clear the masses wanted an acknowledgement from the kid. Danny Espinosa, the next batter, stepped out of the box multiple times, trying to delay things and give Harper the opportunity to take his curtain call.

Harper, though, wasn't sure if this was an appropriate move on his part.

"I don't want to show up those guys in the other dugout," he said. "I didn't want to show up that guy at all. I was just waiting until someone said something like: 'Go ahead.'"

That someone was Jayson Werth, the injured right fielder who was in the dugout for the first time since breaking his wrist May 6 and told Harper: "Go get up there, kid."

"It was pretty cool," Harper said. "I was pretty excited about that."

The jubilation over the home run, though, was short-lived, because only minutes later Leon was barreled over by Padres third baseman Chase Headley and got his right leg caught underneath him. Helped off the field by assistant trainer Mike McGowan and bench coach Randy Knorr, the 23-year-old catcher later learned he suffered a high right ankle sprain less than four innings into the first game of his career.

"Such an outstanding young man," Johnson said. "His first big-league game, all pumped up, and have to get hurt in his first game. That's tough."

The Leon injury forced Jesus Flores into the game and perhaps threw starter Ross Detwiler out of whack. The left-hander proceeded to give up four runs between the fourth and fifth innings, letting the Padres take a 5-4 lead.

"It kind of throws you off, because it's something that doesn't always happen," Detwiler said of pairing up with a new catcher in mid-inning. "You just kind of have to adapt, and I didn't."

No worries, though, because Detwiler's teammates rallied to his cause, with Ian Desmond delivering a two-run double in the sixth and Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady each homering in the eighth to put the Nationals up 8-5.

That should've been a comfortable cushion for Rodriguez, but the inexperienced closer continued his recent downward spiral and nearly blew his fourth save in seven tries. After walking two of the first three batters he faced in the ninth, Rodriguez saw Burnett start to warm up in the home bullpen. After walking yet another batter to load the bases and bring the go-ahead run to the plate, he got the unceremonious hook from Johnson, who earlier in the day gave an impassioned endorsement to the struggling right-hander.

"I still have a lot of confidence in him," Johnson said even after pulling Rodriguez (who has issued 12 walks and six wild pitches in 15 23 innings). "I went up to him after the game, I said: 'Henry, you're my man. I've still got a lot of confidence in you.' I mean, that's the first time he's actually been wild."

So in came Burnett, trying to pitch his way out of the worst possible jam. And then managed to escape the jam in the best possible way: on a comebacker that resulted in a 1-2-3, game-ending, double play.

"As the inning starts to unfold, you realize that the phone may ring and it might be you," said Burnett, who was credited with his ninth career save. "You're always prepared, but you're never expecting to go in there. I was just trying not to do too much, just trying to get three outs before they score some runs."

Burnett did just that. And because of it, the Nationals were able to smile at the end of a long, strange, emotional night.

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NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

Don't count out the New York Mets just yet. 

The Nationals may be up nine games in the National League East, but their rivals from the Big Apple have slowly crawled their way back into the wild card picture.

The biggest reason why? The return of a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, who missed most of August with a quad injury. In the nine games since he’s been back, the 30-year-old outfielder has slashed .389/.450/.861 with five home runs, including Monday night’s extra-inning walk-off shot against fellow-wild card hopeful Miami Marlins.

"He's that kind of player," manager Terry Collins said via NJ.com. "You expect big things each and every time he goes up. He's one of those guys people pay to see him play. They see him come up to bat, and they know he can do something dangerous each and every time up."

After it seemed like the Mets were down and out, the Cespedes’ bat has resuscitated their playoff push. New York is 7-2 with Cespedes in the lineup since August 19, and its offense has averaged nearly six runs a game during that span. So just like 2015 postseason run, it's on Cespedes to lead the way. 

“Every time I see Cespedes at home plate, I feel like he's going to hit a homer," third baseman Jose Reyes said. "That's the way I feel in the dugout. I'm sure the other guys feel the same way. They had the opportunity to see him get hot last year, and for me, seeing him this year, it's unbelievable what he can do on the baseball field. Basically he can do whatever he wants to.”

New York's mini-surge has happened at the right time, with the club just 2 1/2 games out of a wild card spot and nearly a month left in the season. 

“We're going into September," Reyes said. "That's the way we want to play right now. That's a huge win against a Miami team that was in front of us....now we're in a better position."

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Nats creating distance, Harper keeps rolling, can Murphy still win MVP?

Nats creating distance, Harper keeps rolling, can Murphy still win MVP?

Notes and observations from the Nats' 4-0 win over the Phillies on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park…

Roark bounces back: Tanner Roark rebounded nicely from his uneven start against the Orioles last Wednesday to go seven shutout innings with just four hits and a walk surrendered against the Phillies. It was the 16th time in 27 starts this season that Roark has lasted at least seven innings. And it was the eighth time this year that Roark has gone at least seven frames with zero earned runs allowed. No other pitcher has done that more times this year than Roark.

Roark's season ERA is now at 2.87, almost exactly the 2.85 mark he put up in 2014, his last full year as a starter. His ERA+, though, is better at 146, compared to the 131 he had in 2014. And his strikeout rate (7.1 SO/9) is better than it was two years ago (6.3).

Werth hits No. 19: Jayson Werth hit another homer on Monday night, his third in his last four games. He now has 19 on the year, one away from recording the sixth 20-homer season of his career. Werth has seven in August alone which ties the most he's ever hit in a month since he signed with the Nats before the 2011 season. His career-high is eight, set back in 2010 with the Phillies.

Harper gets on again: Bryce Harper didn't get a hit on Monday night, but he did walk and score a run and has now reached base in all 16 games he's played since coming back from the neck stiffness that kept him out a week. In those 16 games he's hit 22-for-61 (.361) with three homers, 17 RBI, 11 walks, 13 runs, six doubles and three steals. His OPS during that stretch is 1.098. That's not a huge sample size, 16 games, but it's more than half a month. If he can be anything close to that for the final month of the season, the Nats' lineup could look a lot different. 

Murphy keeps it up: It has perhaps gone unnoticed by some with the emergence of Trea Turner and the resurgence of Harper, but Daniel Murphy is having another very good month at the plate. With his two hits on Monday, Murphy is now 30-for-93 (.323) with five homers, 22 RBI, 20 runs and a .933 OPS in August. 

Murphy still has the best batting average in the NL at .345, but he has some work to do if he still wants to win the league's MVP award. He's currently tied for third in fWAR with Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. They are both at 4.9, while Kris Bryant (7.6) and Corey Seager (6.9) are far ahead. It seems amazing that Murphy could be hitting .345 with 25 homers and 98 RBI on a first-place team and at this point be third in the MVP race, but that's where he realistically stands right now. Bryant and Seager also lead first-place teams. Bryant is hitting .305 with 35 homers and an MLB-best 109 runs scored, while Seager is batting .323 with 23 homers and also plays plus-defense at shortstop.

Magic number to 23: It's that time of year. With the Nats' win on Monday night and the Marlins having lost their third straight game, the Nats' magic number to win the NL East is now 23. That's pretty low for this point of the season and it could start going down very quickly. The Nats do not play a team outside of the NL East until they go to Pittsburgh on Sept. 23. And the Nats have the best intra-division record in baseball at 36-16.

[RELATED: Turner on playing like a little kid, rest helped Ramos]

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Tanner Roark and Jayson Werth lead Nationals past Phillies 4-0

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USA Today Sports

Tanner Roark and Jayson Werth lead Nationals past Phillies 4-0

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Tanner Roark won't fly under the radar the way he's pitching.

Roark threw seven impressive innings, Jayson Werth hit a solo homer and the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-0 on Monday night.

Roark (14-7) allowed four singles and struck out five. Marc Rzepczynski tossed a perfect eighth and Mark Melancon finished off the four-hitter.

"It would be fine if people don't notice because maybe he can surprise some people," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "I don't think he really cares. He just wants the victories."

The wins are piling up for Roark, who went from winning 15 games in 2014 to pitching in relief last year. He's more focused on helping the NL East-leading Nationals win the division.

"August is a grinder month," Roark said. "Everybody has to stay locked in. We all have bumps and bruises but we have to keep going."

Phillies rookie Jake Thompson (1-4) allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings. It was the longest and best of his five career starts.

Werth lined a solo shot to left in the first against his former team. It was his third homer in four games. A member of Philadelphia's 2008 World Series championship team, Werth was greeted by boos, as usual.

"Home runs come in streaks. When you start hitting a couple, you think about it," Baker said. "I knew he was locked in watching him in BP. He was hitting them out and keeping them low."

Bryce Harper raced home from first on Anthony Rendon's single to left-center to make it 2-0 in the first. Clint Robinson and Trea Turner had RBI singles off Frank Herrmann in the ninth.

Thompson settled in nicely after a rough start. His last pitch was a nasty curve that froze Turner for strike three.

"It was night and day from my performance in the first four (starts)," Thompson said. "It's kind of a relief. It feels a lot better."

Roark didn't need much support. The righty stifled the Phillies again. He's 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA against them this season.

The Nationals snapped a two-game losing streak. They have a nine-game lead over the Marlins and Mets.

DIVISION DOMINANCE

Washington is 36-16 against the rest of the NL East. It's the best division record in the majors.

ROSTER MOVES

OF Michael A. Taylor was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse by the Nationals. RHP Lucas Giolito was optioned down.

ODUBEL ON THE MOVE

Phillies All-Star CF Odubel Herrera will likely play a corner outfield spot in winter ball. Manager Pete Mackanin has been impressed with Aaron Altherr in center and prospect Roman Quinn also plays there.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg threw a bullpen session one week after he was placed on the DL with elbow soreness. Strasburg is expected to return to the rotation when he's eligible.

UP NEXT

RHP Max Scherzer (14-7) starts for the Nationals against RHP Jerad Eickhoff (9-12) on Tuesday night. Scherzer is 6-1 against the Phillies in nine career starts. Eickhoff had 10 strikeouts in his only career start vs. Washington on Sept. 25, 2015.

RELATED: NATS MAKE TWO ROSTER MOVES