NEW YORK -- Talk to manager Davey Johnson about why the Nationals have the best record in baseball, and he'll often talk about his bench, which is one of the best in baseball.
It was Washington's bench that played a key role in the team's 5-3 victory over the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday night.
Going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Nationals were down, 2-1, against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey when they rallied to take the lead. With one out, Kurt Suzuki singled and Tyler Moore came to the plate as a pinch-hitter for reliever Tom Gorzelanny. Moore swung at the first pitch and homered over the left-field wall to give Washington a one-run lead. It was Moore's ninth homer of the season, and the second pinch-hit homer of his career.
"He has been throwing a good knuckleball all night. I think he kind of spun that one and it didn't knuckle as much," Moore said. "I was able to get one in my zone and I put a pretty good swing on it.
"[Knuckleballers] are not fun to face. Dickey has probably the best one in the country. He has been successful all year, and I was fortunate to get one out."
After hitting a combined 62 home runs in the Minor Leagues the previous two years, Moore has adjusted to being a being reserve in the Major Leagues. He said experience is the reason for success off the bench.
"I failed so many times. ... I'm just learning about situations in the game. That does not mean I'm a very good pinch-hitter. I was able to come through tonight," Moore said.
Late last season, Johnson often said that he needed a better bench. He didn't have one guy that could often come through. It didn't help that Alex Cora and Ivan Rodriguez were past their primes and Jonny Gomes struck out often.
Before this season started, general Mike Rizzo was able to acquire veterans such as Chad Tracy and Mark DeRosa. They already had Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina on the farm system or on the 40-man roster.
Following Tuesday's action, Washington's pinch-hitters are hitting a combined .298 with four home runs and 23 RBIs.
"It has been doing it all year long. It has been an outstanding bench," Johnson said. "Last year, I thought we were a little short on the bench, offensively. And with Tracy, Tyler Moore, Bernie, Lombo and company, these guys have been doing a great job all year long. I'm really proud of them. Of course, Tyler Moore had a big hit tonight. That has been our strength."
The Nationals added to their scoring in the top of the ninth inning. With no outs, Danny Espinosa scored on a single by Suzuki. Later, the Nationals had the bases loaded when Bryce Harper hit Josh Edgin's pitch for a single to left field, scoring Suzuki. Harper ended up going 4-for-5 in the game. The four hits were a career high for the 19-year-old.
"Harp didn't want to play against the knuckleballer, but he got three hits [against Dickey]. So now, he realizes he can hit a knuckleballer. So we are over that hump," Johnson said.
Said Harper, "Dickey has 18 wins. That guy has been pitching great all year. I was fortunate to hit a few knocks today."
It was a game that saw Jordan Zimmermann labor during his five innings on the mound. He threw 104 pitches and allowed two runs on six hits. Both runs were scored in the fifth inning, when Ruben Tejada scored on a double by Daniel Murphy, and Murphy scored on a single by David Wright.
"I wasn't locating my fastball. I was just missing by a little bit," Zimmermann said. "I was a hair off with all the fastballs. The curveball and slider were great. I was having a hard time getting ahead with the fastball. I go ball one and it it's going to be a struggle all night, if I'm not able to throw a strike right away."
Relievers Christian Garcia, Michael Gonzalez and Drew Storen blanked New York through the eighth, and Tyler Clippard allowed a solo homer to Scott Hairston before securing his 31st save as the Nationals improved their record to 88-54. The magic number for the Nationals to win the National League East is 13.
"It's time to be looking at magic numbers," Johnson said.
But call the Nats the comebacks kids because of their bench. Dickey came away impressed with what he saw from the Nationals on Tuesday.
"That's the best lineup that I've faced. They're just so functional," Dickey said. "They've got guys that can run. They've got good energy. They've got old guys that have good approaches. They've got young guys that can go first to third on you. They've got power. Every one of them can hit a home run, just about. There's not really a whole lot of breathing room, and you know that."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.