Halladay fed him the curve, 76 mph. Harper did not miss his chance. He lambasted a line drive into the right-center field gap. As Zimmermann and Lombardozzi scored, Harper sprinted around the bases. He did not draw a throw, but slid headfirst into third anyway. The Nationals led, 2-1, and Harper had his third triple.
“He hung a curveball to the kid, and the kid smoked it,” Johnson said. “That was really the turning point, as far as I’m concerned.”
LaRoche drilled a sacrifice fly to center, bringing up Desmond, who had already hit three home runs in the past week. Halladay fell behind, 2-0, and threw a curveball trying to get back into the count, like the one he threw Harper. Desmond hammered a line drive deep into the left field seats. The Nationals led, 4-1.
Ankiel added to Halladay’s torment. He walked to the plate to lead off the fourth six for his last 46 with 19 strikeouts. He unloaded on a first-pitch cutter, sending it over the center field fence. As if things could get worse for Halladay, the home plate umpire ejected catcher Carlos Ruiz as he argued a ball call for Danny Espinosa.
“I’ve seen him sharper,” Ankiel said. “But he’s still is who he is. It seems like in the past, consistently he’s been sharper. Tonight, he might have made more mistakes than normal. He’s human.”
The Nationals had given the habitually under-supported Zimmermann more than he needed. Zimmermann squirmed out of only one serious jam. In the third, right after the Nationals’ decisive onslaught, the Phillies put men on second and third with one out. Zimmermann struck out Hunter Pence and induced a lazy fly to center from backup catcher Brian Schneider to end the inning.
The only intrigue by the end of the night came when the bullpen gates opened in the ninth inning. Johnson gave the first post-Henry Rodriguez save opportunity to Tyler Clippard. He struck out Peter Orr and induced groundouts by Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco to earn his second career save.
“It feels good getting that final out and just hearing crickets out there,” Clippard said.
The crowd had actually thrown boos at the home team. Desmond would later provide a reality check. “It’s May, you know?” he said. “We’ll see what happens.” Still, the night felt different. As the teams retreated to their clubhouse and fans filtered out of the stadium, the public address speakers blared “Yesterday’s Gone.”