video thumbnail

Must See: Michael Morse comes up large late for Nats

MILWAUKEE -- Davey Johnson couldn't help but laugh after watching the Nationals go back and forth with the Brewers for 11 innings and nearly 4 1/2 hours on Sunday afternoon at Miller Park.

"I don't know about y'all," Johnson quipped, "but I've got some more gray hairs."

The rest of the Nationals were worn out, too, but they will head into a much-needed off-day Monday with an 11-10 win, a 6-1 road trip and a four-game lead in the National League East following a series of letdowns and comebacks.

"It's crazy because you never know what this game has in store until the last out," said Michael Morse, who played the hero with a two-run homer to tie the game in the ninth and a go-ahead two-run double in the 11th. "We just kept battling. It was a tough game for both teams, and it seemed like it was a boxing match -- just kept going back and forth, back and forth."

Indeed, the Nationals had pitched and played their way out of Sunday's game several times, only to keep pitching and playing their way right back into it.

They scored a run in the first then gave up three over the next three innings. They scored one in the sixth and seventh, then gave up two more each time. They mounted a four-run rally to tie it in the eighth, then Ryan Mattheus surrendered back-to-back homers to create another deficit. They tied it up once more in the ninth when Morse lined a two-run homer just inside the right-field foul pole.

Finally, Washington put an end to all of the back-and-forth antics against Jose Veras in the 11th. Bryce Harper drew a leadoff walk and hustled to third on Ryan Zimmerman's single. Morse drove in both with a double down the left-field line, and that lead held up even after Tyler Clippard surrendered a solo homer in the bottom of the 11th, threatening to prolong the game even further.

But it wouldn't have gone as long as it did if not for Morse.

With some help from a combustible Brewers bullpen, the Nationals overcame a shaky start from Gio Gonzalez and a lack of early offense. Down four in the eighth, Morse drew a leadoff walk and scored on Roger Bernadina's two-run homer, then Jesus Flores singled and scored on a double by Corey Brown. The Brewers replaced Francisco Rodriguez with John Axford, who allowed Brown to tie the game on a wild pitch.

"Inexplicable," Axford said. "It's tough to describe what's happening."

The same could be said about the next half-inning, when Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez slammed back-to-back homers off Mattheus to once again give Milwaukee the lead.

But that lead, like most of the ones taken here on Sunday, wouldn't last long. Morse strode to the plate in the ninth with one out and Mark DeRosa at first base. Axford threw a fastball middle-away, and Morse lined it just over the right-field fence. The first person to greet him on the dugout steps? Mattheus.

"That's just a great job of a team picking me up when I let them down," Mattheus said. "We probably shouldn't have played as many innings tonight, and that [mascot] shouldn't have gone down that slide as many times as he did. It's tough, but that's what good teams do. They picked me up today."

Craig Stammen helped pave the way for Morse's next big hit with 2 1/3 excellent relief innings, striking out four and walking one -- no easy feat on a homer-heavy day in a hitter-friendly ballpark.

Given the way Gonzalez started off, it appeared the Nationals would be too far out to fight back. The lefty allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits, five walks (one intentional) and two hit batsmen while striking out four. The lefty gave up two runs in the first, another in the third and two more in a wild sixth inning.

Johnson thought Gonzalez pitched well, mostly hitting his targets or missing by an inch and getting one inning extended by a missed call at first base. Gonzalez said he wished he had composed himself better, slowing down the game rather than letting it spiral into a bigger mess, but he, too, was pleased with the way he threw the ball.

"I wouldn't want to change a thing I did today," Gonzalez said. "I felt like I went after the guys. I was trying to attack them. I was just missing by an inch. It's just one of those games."

It was also just another road victory for the Nats, their 33rd in 54 tries -- the best road winning percentage (.611) in baseball. And it put a wrap on a highly successful road trip against two sub-.500 teams, the kind Washington should be handling with ease as the division race with Atlanta gets more hotly contested.

"We came in thinking we should win quite a few ballgames, and we did that," Mattheus said. "We executed the plan, and we got some wins."

And now, for the only time in a 34-day stretch, the Nationals will have time to rest. After a game like Sunday's, they certainly could use it.

"That was a wild one; I'm worn out," Johnson said. "I'm glad we've got tomorrow off for me, not for the guys."

MLB.com Comments