Turning Point? Washington Nationals Reclaim Nats Park From The Philadelphia Phillies.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: Left fielder Raul Ibanez #29 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on as fans celebrate a home run hit by Ian Desmond #6 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) during the ninth inning at Nationals Park on August 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. The Nationals defeated the Phillies 5-4. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals were tied at 3-3 after eight innings on Sunday August 21st in the fourteenth game of the 2011 season between the NL East rivals. The game was the third of three in a weekend series in D.C. The teams had split the previous two with Washington coming from behind for the win Friday night and getting shut out on Saturday. The finale looked like it was going to be another one of those games where the Nationals fought but eventually fell to the Phillies when former Nats' prospect Michael Martinez drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth after a one-out walk and single off Nats' closer Drew Storen put two Phillies' runners on.

With the score 4-3, Washington rallied to tie it in the bottom of the ninth with Ian Desmond launching a line drive two-out, two-strike home run to left for a solo blast and a 4-4 tie. Phillies' closer Brad Lidge loaded the bases in the bottom of the tenth and then hit Jonny Gomes to force in the winning run and give the Nationals the 5-4 win and the series... 

Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson walked into the postgame press conference in the mood to talk. Chien-Ming Wang had gone toe-to-toe with Roy Halladay. Ian Desmond had come through in a big way. Danny Espinosa responded to getting dropped in the order by hitting a solo HR (his first in 29 games) to tie it at 3-3 in the sixth and then Desmond had come through again when the Nats were one strike away from a demoralizing loss. Davey Johnson was pushing all the right buttons. "That was fun," Johnson said as he took his seat at the podium in the media room in Nats Park. 

"Any time you can beat what I consider probably the best team in baseball it's a plus," the Nats' manager said, "There were a lot of good things we did, and we learned a lot. It's a fine ballclub out there [the Phillies], and we had them on the ropes a couple times, they had us on the ropes, we came back. There's no give-up in this ballclub and it's always fun to beat the best."

The previous morning, Johnson had talked about the changing perception of the Nationals, and what he was hearing about his team from other people around the game who, he said, "... look at [the Nationals] as an up-and-coming young ballclub just like I do. I think we're still very young, we still make a lot of young mistakes, but by and large we're not initimidated by the Phillies or the Braves or anybody. It's always nice to express your talent against the best team in the league and definitely the Phillies are the cream of the crop."

A good number of the 41,727 fans in attendance that afternoon were Phillies fans who had driven down I-95 from Philadelphia for the weekend series. They were on their feet standing and cheering as Phillies' lefty Antonio Bastardo tried to close out the bottom of the ninth. Philly closer Ryan Madson was unavailable because the Nationals had stretched him out to 38 pitches as they rallied for a win with a six-run ninth on Friday night. Davey Johnson, asked what he thought, as a "baseball guy", about watching the Phillies fans fill up Nationals Park and cheer wildly until the moment Desmond's ninth-inning blast cleared the wall, Johnson said he thought, "You know they're going to have to sit down."

Johnson told reporters it brought him back to his time on the bench in New York. "It kind of reminds me of '86 [with the Mets]," the Nationals' manager said, "When all the Red Sox and everybody was on the front step. They started creeping back. It's a great feeling. We want to get our fans out here, but I love playing in front of a packed house and I know my guys like the same feeling, even if it's for the other team." 

It was the 68-year-old manager's first experience of a so-called "Philly invasion." The Philadelphia fan-base, for the last few seasons had been busing their fans down by the thousands and taking over the Nationals' home, going so far as to cheer, "This is our house!" after they'd clinched the NL East crown in 2010 while the Phils beat the Nats on the field at Nats Park. The Phillies brought record crowds to the nation's capital again this season. Johnson said the experience was something different for him in his 15 years as a major league skipper.

"This is kind of new for me, but I kind of look at them as our fans because they've got red on," Johnson joked. "I like good crowds," he continued. "I like crowds that are in the game. Ballplayers, we like the big audience and my guys certainly weren't shying away from anything." Asked if wins like these have a way of turning things around for a fanbase, Johnson said, "I'm hoping. I think anywhere I've ever been when the team starts winning, fans come out. They didn't come out the first year in New York, by the third year, we were packing them in, and that's what I'm hoping happens here." 

19,377 Nationals fans showed up at Nationals Park the next day to watch the Nationals beat the D-Backs. Maybe that win over the Phillies didn't change anything, really, it seemed to though. But it did provided some Nats fans' favorite MASN moment of the season. I was asked to sit down at some point weeks after the game so some friends could show me what they said was their favorite moment of the year. It occurs at the 00:23 second mark of the video below. "Go home," a Nationals fan in the outfield shouts after Jonny Gomes' bases-loaded walk-off HBP. "Go home," the man yells again ushering the Philly fans out of their seats and showing them the way back to I-95N. "Go home!" the fan yelled again as the camera cut away. "Go home!"

 

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