Washington setup man Brian Bruney and closer Matt Capps showed why general manager Mike Rizzo acquired their services this offseason. They shut down Philadelphia during the final two innings, but it wasn't easy.
In the eighth, Bruney was able to get two quick outs. However, the right-hander found himself in trouble after Greg Dobbs walked and Jimmy Rollins doubled down the right-field line to put runners on second and third. But Dobbs and Rollins would be left stranded as Placido Polanco grounded out to Zimmerman at third to end the inning.
Enter Capps to close out the ninth. He acknowledged that he was nervous when he entered the game -- and for good reasons. Capps was coming off his worst season of his career with the Pirates and, during Spring Training, he was never put in a save situation. There were baseball experts who wondered if Capps lost some zip on his fastball.
The zip was still there Thursday. The fastball was clocked as high as 95 mph. However, it looked like Capps might blow his first game of the season. Chase Utley led off with a double to left-center field. After Ryan Howard was walked intentionally, Jayson Werth hit what looked to be his fourth double of the game, but center fielder Nyjer Morgan made a nice running catch for the first out of the inning.
"Werth was swinging the bat well tonight. It was one of those plays where you let him hit and see what we can do," Morgan said.
After Raul Ibanez flied out to left fielder Willie Harris, Shane Victorino ended the game by popping up to shortstop Cristian Guzman.
"I can tell you: That was a great example of guys playing and being unselfish -- good hard baseball. You have to play that hard. Guys have good at-bats and doing what they're suppose to do. If we came up short, that would have been a tough one."
-- Jim Riggleman
"To go through that lineup, you have to feel good about it," Capps said. "It was a great feeling when Guzman caught the ball because I knew it wasn't hit well to do any damage. Nyjer did a great job on that ball Werth hit. Nyjer getting that ball saved the game.
"There were a few more nerves going out in that save situation. Everything felt good today. I threw the ball well. ... Today felt good."
Manager Jim Riggleman was encouraged to see his late-inning duo come through -- at least for one game.
"As we saw Bruney battle there in the eighth, and the way Capps was firing in the ninth, it was really encouraging to see because our pitching has to come together," Riggleman said. "It's making strides. It's coming together. When it does, it's going to give us a chance."
The game started out promising for Washington. The team gave right-hander Craig Stammen a 3-0 lead after one inning off right-hander Kyle Kendrick.
Guzman drove in the first run with a single to right-center field. Guzman would score on a groundout by Adam Dunn, while Zimmerman would cross the plate on a sacrifice fly by Josh Willingham.
But the Phillies didn't take it easy on Stammen and the Nationals, who had a 5-2 lead after four innings. In the top of the fifth, the defense betrayed Stammen. With one out and Ross Gload on first, Polanco hit a ball that bounced in front of Morgan, who allowed the ball to go past him for a two-base error. Gload scored on the play. Polanco then came home on a single by Howard to make it a 5-4 game.
Philadelphia tied the score an inning later, when right-hander Tyler Clippard gave up a sacrifice fly to Jimmy Rollins.
But the Nationals battled hard to pick up the victory. Now they go on the road to start a three-game series against the Mets starting Friday night. The victory has Riggleman believing that they can win their share of games.
"I can tell you: That was a great example of guys playing and being unselfish -- good hard baseball," Riggleman said. "You have to play that hard. Guys have good at-bats and doing what they're suppose to do. If we came up short, that would have been a tough one.
"But getting the first win is real big. The Phillies are tough. You have to come ready to play. You can't make too many mistakes against them. They are really good. It's encouraging for us to realize ... that when we play well, we are right there."