WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson said on Friday that there would be "no resignation" from him or his players, even after the first-place Braves came to town earlier this week and delivered a crushing sweep. Then his team took the field and backed him up in its series opener against the Phillies.
In a season during which so many things have gone wrong for Washington, just about everything went right -- at least for one day. Dan Haren twirled another gem to continue his second-half resurgence, and an offense that hibernated against Atlanta busted out to power a 9-2 victory at Nationals Park.
The Nats won for the seventh time in 20 games since the All-Star break. They remained 15 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and nine behind the Reds for the second Wild Card spot but gave themselves an opportunity to start the type of streak that has eluded them all year.
"We're to the point where we can't even really watch the scoreboard. We just have to worry about going out there and winning games," Haren said. "Tonight was a start. We're going to have to go on a run, obviously. We're not going to get back in this thing taking two out of three. We're going to have to sweep some series, and definitely the chips are stacked against us. I think [first baseman Adam LaRoche ] said it best: we can either just go home or we can come out and battle every game, and just win as many as we can and see what happens."
Washington, which scored six runs in three games with the Braves in town, needed only five innings to top that on Friday. Every position player in the starting lineup recorded at least one hit, and Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman homered to help stop a four-game losing streak.
They provided plenty of support for Haren (7-11), who pushed his ERA below 5.00 for the first time since mid-May while beating the Phillies for the first time in his career. That made him the 13th pitcher in Major League history to earn wins against all 30 teams.
The veteran right-hander held the Phillies to two runs on four hits over seven innings, striking out seven and walking none. Philadelphia managed only Chase Utley's RBI single in the fourth and Cody Asche's run-scoring fielder's choice in the seventh.
In six starts since coming off the disabled list, Haren owns a 2.43 ERA and has given up only two home runs, something that had plagued him for most of the season. Haren credited his splitter for helping him keep the ball in the ballpark and his DL stint for helping him get right, mentally.
"Physically, I was fine. Mentally, I was pretty messed up," he said. "But baseball is an incredibly humbling game. When you're up, it'll just knock you right down. I couldn't have really gotten much lower than I did when I was on the DL. I mean, I was a bad start or two away from getting released, probably. That's just the truth of it, I think. I definitely feel way better the way I'm pitching now, and this is more me."
"I'm happy for him, because nobody wanted to do better than he did," Zimmerman said. "We've talked, and it was kind of eating him up inside, and he didn't come over here to pitch like he pitched for the first half. Since he came off the DL ... he's kind of thrown the ball like everyone knows he can throw the ball. I'm happy that he's persisted and worked through that. Hopefully he can do it for 45, 50 more games for us."
Washington's offensive outburst went against the statistical grain in several ways.
The Nationals entered play ranked last in the Majors in batting average (.215) and OPS (.627) against left-handed pitchers, and they had scored two runs in 13 innings this season against Phillies left-hander John Lannan, their former teammate. This time, they knocked him out after scoring eight earned runs on nine hits in five innings.
"Usually he's down in the zone and relying on us chasing that offspeed," LaRoche said of Lannan, who pitched for Washington from 2007-12. "We weren't flinching at it tonight for the most part, making him get the ball up, and we smoked them."
Rendon came in hitting .189 over his past 34 games, although he had picked up the pace thus far in August. Zimmerman had one home run in his last 97 plate appearances going back to July 11 and three at home all season. Both went deep to get the Nats started in the second, Rendon connecting on a two-run shot to center field that was reviewed and upheld, and Zimmerman hitting a solo blast to center three batters later.
LaRoche was not in Johnson's original lineup but ended up getting the start. He was hitting .184 against lefties this season and was 0-for-15 in his career against Lannan, but after striking out with the bases loaded in the first, he delivered an RBI double in the third and a single during Washington's four-run fifth.
Wilson Ramos smacked an RBI single to start the scoring in that frame, and Haren drew a bases-loaded walk after the Phillies walked Rendon intentionally. Denard Span, who was hitting .147 against southpaws, capped the big frame with a two-run single.
"That's the kind of lineup that I envisioned having," Johnson said. "Being more successful against left-handers has really been the difference."
It also was the type of game that the Nats envisioned having many more of this season.
"They're a great team, great players," Lannan said. "I think they're going to fight 'til the end. Last year was a special year for them. They're battling, just like we are."