By Daniel Popper, Phillies.com
WASHINGTON — Leading up to Thursday afternoon’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, Phillies slugger Marlon Byrdwas one of the most sought-after offensive assets on the market. The outfielder was almost surely on his way out, rumored to end up in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Pittsburgh — anywhere except Philadelphia.
But the Deadline came and went without a deal, meaning Byrd would remain a Phillie for the foreseeable future. And a day later, he displayed to his reported suitors what could have been.
In the sixth inning against the Nationals on Friday night, Byrd deposited a Doug Fister sinker over the out-of-town scoreboard and into the right-field seats for his 21st home run. The solo shot proved to be the decisive run in a 2-1 Phillies victory at Nationals Park.
“[Philadelphia general manager] Ruben [Amaro] will make sure he lets some GMs know every time I have a good game: ‘You know, you could have had that.’ I’m sure my agent said the same thing,” Byrd said. “But it’s just one of those thing where, right now, I’m trying to win games for this team.”
Roberto Hernandez provided eight strong innings to earn the victory. The lone run of the right-hander’s outing was unearned. Meanwhile, he surrendered just five hits while striking out three.
Hernandez required the help of his fielders in the best performance of his 2014 campaign, though.
The Nationals lined out seven times, including in the third when newly acquired second basemanAsdrubal Cabrera smoked a hanging changeup right at Ryan Howard with runners on first and third. Howard secured the catch and stepped on first to double up Bryce Harper, diminishing one of Washington’s best chances.
The Nationals made solid contact throughout the order and in virtually every inning. In the eighth,Denard Span drilled a first-pitch sinker right back at Hernandez, but the right-hander reacted and made the catch after the ball deflected off his pitching hand.
In the ensuing at-bat, Anthony Rendon sent a changeup soaring through the night sky to left field.Grady Sizemore was there at the warning track to end the inning, though.
“There were some hard-hit balls, some good plays behind [Hernandez], good positioning,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “But he was aggressive in the strike zone and stayed ahead of the hitters.”
The Phillies opened scoring in the second. Sizemore doubled with two outs on a long drive to left field that Harper couldn’t haul in. After a Carlos Ruiz walk, Cody Asche connected on an RBI single to put the Phillies ahead.
Sizemore went 2-for-3 and is batting .343 since joining the Phillies on July 11.
“It’s huge. He’s a different spark,” Byrd said. “People forget about Grady, the name that he was. He’s not the same Grady as in the past, after surgeries, injuries and all of that. But he’s finally I think finding himself and understanding what it takes to get on the field and be comfortable and get reps. He’s starting to show flashes of Grady in the past, which this team needed.”
The Nationals tied the game in the second. Adam LaRoche led off by skying a popup to the left side, but with the shift on, Asche couldn’t get to the ball before it fell to the grass. The third baseman quickly fielded and fired a wild throw to first that got past Howard, deflected off the wall and trickled into right field.
LaRoche went all the way to third on the two-base throwing error by Asche. And in the ensuing at-bat, Desmond drove a single up the middle to tie the game.
The Phillies nearly took the lead in the fifth when Ben Revere singled to right field with Asche on second base. However, Jayson Werth — who made a spectacular grab at the wall on a long fly ball from Chase Utley in the third — fielded and gunned Asche out at the plate thanks to a swift sweeping tag from Wilson Ramos.
Philadelphia broke the tie against Nationals starter Doug Fister in the sixth on Byrd’s homer.
“I was trying to go off the plate,” said Fister, who gave up two earned runs on six hits over seven innings in his third loss. “I left it over the plate a little bit. That’s what he does. He hits fastballs.”
Closer Jonathan Papelbon — another Phillie who had potential to be traded before the Deadline — earned his 26th save. It wasn’t without some drama, though, as the Nationals put two runners on base with one out in the ninth. Papelbon answered by fanning Harper and Cabrera to clinch the victory.
But the win wouldn’t have been possible without the big bat of Byrd — a man good as gone only days ago.
“I want to win games and make up lineups to win games,” Sandberg said. “So to have a guy like him here … it’s good.”