WASHINGTON - The ball jumped off Domonic Brown's bat, headed for a patch of grass in left-center field, and this is how the Phillies would beat John Lannan for the 12th straight time. All three of the Phillies on base raced furiously for home, carrying the tying and go-ahead runs. Lannan, removed two batters earlier, watched from the dugout. Across the diamond, from Charlie Manuel's perch, it was a sure double. Brown tracked the flight of the ball from the moment he left the batter's box.
"It was almost like I saw it in slow motion," Brown said.
What he saw was Nationals leftfielder Laynce Nix extend as far as his 6-foot-1 frame would allow. Half of his body and left hand were already touching the grass when the ball landed into the black and tan glove on his right hand.
The final score read Nationals 2, Phillies 1, and for no greater reason than Nix's stunning catch in the sixth inning Wednesday. Lannan, who forever entered Phillies lore just one start into his major-league career by breaking Chase Utley's hand with a pitch four years ago, finally won against a team that has tormented him ever since. The visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park was just as surprised by these developments as you were.
"I thought," Manuel said, "we were going to score some runs on him, if you want to know the truth."
Washington won a series against the Phillies for just the third time in three seasons. After playing 20 games in 20 days, the Phillies will take an off day in Pittsburgh on Thursday before completing this road trip with a weekend series against the Pirates.
The expectation Wednesday was they would beat Lannan because, in 13 career starts against the Phillies, Lannan had a 6.44 ERA. Of the 310 Phillies he had faced, 122 reached base for a staggering .394 on-base clip.
They scored an unearned run against him in the second inning and stranded two runners. In the third, John Mayberry Jr. was thrown out at home plate on a bang-bang play. Another error and walk in the fifth was wasted when Utley flied out to the warning track.
Then came the sixth, when a walk to Ben Francisco and a single by Raul Ibanez prompted Jim Riggleman to remove Lannan after 51/3 innings. Manuel, sensing this could be his team's best and last chance to score, pinch-hit with Jimmy Rollins, who came to the ballpark expecting a day off. Rollins walked, and that forced Manuel to pinch-hit for his starting pitcher, Roy Oswalt, who had allowed two runs in just five innings.
His choice was Brown, who did not start because the lefty Lannan was on the mound. When Brown was announced, Riggleman countered with lefty specialist Doug Slaten. But Brown had hits in 10 of his last 19 at-bats, and Manuel did not mind his rookie facing a lefthander there.
"I felt like Brown was the hottest, strongest, best hitter I had," Manuel said. "So I put him up there."
Slaten had allowed more inherited runners to score than any other reliever in the majors and encountered the bases-loaded situation by throwing a slider Brown took for ball one. He connected on a 91-m.p.h. fastball on the outside corner and hit it to the gap. Because of the way the Nationals had aligned the outfield against Brown, he was sure it was a hit. Washington centerfielder Roger Bernadina was shading Brown to the right, so Brown said he knew he didn't have a chance to catch it.
From nowhere came Nix, who made one of the season's finest plays. Brown called it a "Gold Glove-type play." On a steamy Wednesday afternoon, it was best described as game-changing.
"All I can do," Brown said, "is run back in the dugout and call it a day."
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