Somebody had to win Tuesday's game between the Nationals and the New York Mets. It just took a while to figure out who actually wanted it.
Washington blew a three-run lead and New York three times coughed up one-run advantages of its own in the late innings as both bullpens faltered. Finally, rookie Bryce Harper drove home the winning run with a single in the bottom of the 12th inning as the Nats took a dramatic 7-6 victory at Nationals Park.
After a tenth inning that saw the two teams combine for two errors, two wild pitches, another misplayed grounder and a walk, the game was tied yet again at 5. A likely double-play grounder hit by Ian Desmond directly at Mets shortstop Jordany Valdespin instead skidded through his legs as teammate Ryan Zimmerman scored the tying run.
Scott Hairston put the Mets up yet again 6-5 with a solo homer in the 12th. But Michael Morse doubled to lead off the bottom of that inning, Desmond drove him home with a double and, with the bases loaded and two out, Harper laced a single to left to win it.
"Pretty amazing, I would say. Especially in that type of environment, that type of game," said Harper after his first walk-off hit - and the first by any 19-year-old since Gary Sheffield did it for Milwaukee on Sept. 9, 1988 in a game against Seattle. "I mean, I'm speechless right now. It's pretty unbelievable."
Up by three runs entering the sixth inning with one of their many star pitchers cruising, a win looked imminent for the Nats. But a pair of sixth-inning solo home runs off starter Jordan Zimmermann sparked a rally.
Zimmermann had cruised through five innings with just three singles allowed. But he ran into trouble in the sixth when pinch hitter Valdespin homered and David Wright did the same. They cut a 3-0 Washington lead to 3-2. Zimmermann, who gave up 12 homers all last season, has now allowed nine in 11 starts in 2012.
By then the Nats (31-22) had hoped they'd already done enough damage against New York starter Chris Young, who had not pitched in a game since May 1, 2010, due to a shoulder injury. They got to him with a Harper RBI single in the third. Zimmerman added another in the fifth and Steve Lombardozzi scored on a throwing error.
Things fell apart in the top of the eighth, however, as the normally reliable bullpen faltered. A double by Valdespin off lefty Sean Burnett with one out put the tying run in scoring position. On came Craig Stammen, who walked Hairston after a tough eight-pitch at-bat. Then Andres Torres ripped a triple into the gap in right-center to put New York on top for the first time 4-3. The Nats weren't finished, though.
"It would have been very easy for this team, for the hitters, to just say 'Okay, we'll just go get them tomorrow,'" said reliever Ross Detwiler, who gave up Hairston's homer in the 12th, but pitched two innings as the last man standing in Washington's bullpen. "But we weathered the storm and we came back out there and fought."
Zimmerman opened the bottom of the eighth inning with a single and took second on a fielder's choice. With two down, Desmond drove him home with a single to right to tie the game at 4. But Wright only had to stand at the plate and watch in the 10th as reliever Henry Rodriguez uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Hairston to score from third base. A single, a stolen base, a ground out and that wild pitch -- the ninth already by reliever Henry Rodriguez this season -- had put New York ahead 5-4. And still it wasn't over.
"There's been so many times throughout the year for us to crack and we haven't," Desmond said. "I think everyone in here believes. We're all in. We're sold into what [manger Davey Johnson is] saying and how he's managing and things like that. There's no second guessing going on."