If Washington Nationals' starter Gio Gonzalez and reliever Matt Thornton and Rafael Soriano hadn't kept the Arizona Diamondbacks off the board, they wouldn't have had the chance to finally cash in on one of the many opportunities they created.
Walk-off wins. Winning streaks. Gatorade baths. Stolen bases. Game-ending errors. Babe Ruth impersonations.
The Washington Nationals won their tenth straight game on Thursday, tying the Kansas City Royals for the longest win streak in the majors this season. They also tied a mark set by the 2005 Nats, who won ten-straight in June that season, for the longest win streak since baseball returned to the nation's capital.
"You have to get to that point where you can have a walk-off, which means that you have to be in the game. Our pitchers have certainly kept us there." -Matt Williams on the Nats' starters playing their part in win streak
As the Nationals noted on Twitter after the 1-0 victory over the D-Backs, they were the first team to win on five walk-offs in a six-game span since the Houston Astros did so in 1986.
Denard Span's single, 27th stolen base of the year and 76th run scored (one more than he scored all last season), Anthony Rendon's grounder to third and Diamondbacks' third baseman Jordan Pacheco's throwing error made the latest win possible, but it was the Nats' pitching, skipper Matt Williams noted after the game, that put the Nationals in a position to win it.
"You have to get to that point where you can have a walk-off," Williams said, "which means that you have to be in the game. Our pitchers have certainly kept us there."
"Today was another example," he continued. "Gio, we talked about it before the game, the ability to land curveball early, he did that, and it just makes him so much more effective."
Gonzalez walked three batters, but gave up just four hits, striking out six in seven scoreless innings.
He didn't snap his personal five-game losing streak which stretches back to a July 5th outing against the Chicago Cubs, but the Nats' left-hander put together an efficient start that helped the Nationals to their tenth straight win in spite of the fact that they went 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base.
"They compete every day and keep us in games so we have an opportunity to do the things that have happened over the last week. If you're not in those games, that never comes to you." -Matt Williams on Nats continuing to create opportunities
The Nationals' left-hander was lifted for a pinch hitter after completing his seventh scoreless frame, but Williams said he could have continued the way he was going.
"We probably could have sent him back out," the first-year skipper said.
"But he pitched really good. They compete every day and keep us in games so we have an opportunity to do the things that have happened over the last week. If you're not in those games, that never comes to you."
After Gonzalez left the game, left-hander Matt Thornton threw a scoreless, 14-pitch eighth and Rafael Soriano threw a quick, 10-pitch ninth, walking one batter but retiring the side to keep it scoreless before yet another walk-off.
"Matt pitched really well," Williams said. "Sori pitched really well, gave us an opportunity again today to come up with a run, but we had a lot of opportunities early."
D-Backs' lefty Wade Miley worked in an out of trouble throughout the game to match Gonzalez with one scoreless frame after another, in spite of the fact that he walked six and gave up eight hits in 6 ⅔ IP.
Two Nationals reached in the first, but a double play grounder off Adam LaRoche's bat ended the threat. LaRoche grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners and one out in the third inning as well.
The Nats put the leadoff runner on in six of the first seven innings but were unable to push a run across on Miley.
"You just have to keep providing those opportunities to the guys that come to the plate. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't..." -Matt Williams on creating opportunities
"Wade Miley is a pretty good pitcher," Williams said. "He made really good pitches today, especially on Adam. And it's tough against him. He knows what he's doing out there and he competes.
"And [Diamondbacks' manager Kirk Gibson] pushed him a long way today to try to get him through. But you never know. You can have a blooper or you can hit a ball right on the money at somebody and you just don't know.
"So you just have to keep providing those opportunities to the guys that come to the plate. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, but if we do that enough then we've got a real good chance of scoring one somewhere."
In the bottom of the ninth, it finally happened. Or Denard Span made it happen.
Span singled to center off right-handed reliever Evan Marshall with one down, stole his 27th base, then scored when Pacheco bounced a throw by first on Rendon's game-ending grounder, giving the Nationals their tenth straight win.
"Those are pretty few and far between, for any team," Williams said of the Nationals' current run.
"But it's not surprising the way that they prepare and the way that they go about it every day. And that's important to us and if you do that then you give yourself opportunity to win. So it starts with their preparation on an everyday basis, and they do that, so they have opportunities every day."
More from sbnation.com:
- Nationals walk off again, lead in NL East at 7.0 games after 3-2 win over D-Backs
- Nationals win ninth straight, 3-2 over D-Backs on Anthony Rendon's walk-off single
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- Matt Williams sticking with Nationals' closer Rafael Soriano: "I'm going to give him the baseball."