For the first half of the season, the Washington Nationals were baseball's worst team. Now, they're the hottest.
The Nationals won for a season-high sixth straight time, and for the second consecutive game, they made up a hefty deficit. On
Thursday, they trailed by six runs in the second inning to Florida and came back to win. On Friday, they were down 5-0 in the second and won again.
Josh Willingham's two-run single in the seventh inning broke a 5-all tie, and Washington survived a questionable call in the
eighth for the win.
The Nationals' winning streak is the club's longest since Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2008.
Washington was 26-61 at the All-Star break and fired Manny Acta as manager. His interim replacement Jim Riggleman lost his first five games, but since then the Nationals are 12-6.
"Early in the year, we probably don't come back to win those games," Willingham said.
Washington won the game after spotting Arizona a 5-0 lead in the second inning, when the Diamondbacks hit three homers off Collin Balester. But they couldn't hold on, ending their own winning streak at five in a row.
Jason Bergmann (2-1) picked up the win, retiring the only batter he faced in the seventh. Mike MacDougal pitched 1 2-3 innings for his 11th save in 12 chances.
"We're the same team _ the same guys," Ryan Zimmerman said. "(Now), we're playing defense."
Riggleman said the team's offense was never its problem. It was the bullpen, and on Friday after Balester left, the newly solid
pen, led by MacDougal, who pitched 1 2-3 innings, held Arizona off and allowed the Nationals to come back.
"The bullpen's been huge so it could keep the team right there so we could get one here, two there, and allow us to get ourselves back in the game," Willingham said.
The Nationals scored an unearned run in the second, three runs in the fourth and tied the game in the fifth on Zimmerman's 24th
home run of the season.
"When you win a few in a row, you get some confidence," Zimmerman said. "It feels like you can come to the park and win
every single day."
In the seventh, Nyjer Morgan bunted for a base hit with one out off Juan Gutierrez (3-3). Cristian Guzman singled and Zimmerman
popped to short, prompting a conference on the mound with Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch. After Guzman stole second, Adam
Dunn was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Willingham singled to left for his third hit of the game.
Arizona scored its final run in the eighth, when Trent Oeltjen led off by grounding to short. He appeared to beat Guzman's throw to first, and Hinch charged out of the dugout and was quickly ejected by first-base umpire Jerry Crawford. It was Hinch's first career ejection, and he wasn't around to see Stephen Drew's sacrifice fly.
"It's emotional," Hinch said. The manager not only wasn't pleased with the call, but he felt Crawford's reaction to him was overly aggressive.
"I felt like he missed the call. It's unfortunate the inning (started) out that way. And it turned out being a big play. If we'd got more runners on base, the inning could've been a lot better," Hinch said.
Mark Reynolds led off the second with his 34th homer and 13th since July 1 _ most in the majors. With two outs, Josh Whitesell
added a long homer into the upper deck in right field, his first of the season. Drew added a three-run home run, his ninth, to give Arizona a 5-0 lead.
Elijah Dukes drove in the Nationals' first three runs with a sacrifice fly in the second and a two-run double in the fourth. Wil Nieves' sacrifice fly moments later cut the lead to 5-4.
Zimmerman's homer tied the game at 5-all in the fifth. He's homered in four straight games and hit in 11 straight.
Notes: Washington RHP Jordan Zimmermann, who's been on the 15-day DL with a sore elbow since July 19, experienced discomfort and will have an MRI exam. Arizona INF Ryan Roberts was not with the team after his wife gave birth to a girl Thursday night. Hinch expects Roberts to return Saturday.