PHILADELPHIA -- A 12-game losing streak can be brutal for a team's closer, who thrives on the thrill of holding a tight lead in a game's late innings. Imagine then, the excitement Joel Hanrahan must have felt on Thursday afternoon. Nationals manager Manny Acta took the closer aside and told him to be ready. If Washington had a lead late in Thursday's game, Acta said, the skipper would likely rely on Hanrahan to throw two innings. "I was up for the challenge," the beaming 26-year-old said after notching a two-inning save in Washington's 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Such a feat had not been accomplished by a Nationals pitcher since the team moved to Washington for the 2005 season, and there was no better time for Acta to try it than Thursday. The Nats were in the midst of their longest losing streak since they dropped 12 as the Montreal Expos in 1976, and were in danger of dropping 13 in a row for the first time since the Expos lost 20 in a row during 1969, their first year of existence. Instead, the Nats were able to shed the historic streak from their minds and celebrate. Lyrics from Jay-Z's "The Black Album" pounded through the visitors' clubhouse's speakers after the win. Nationals players laughed and joked as they dressed for their late-night flight to Chicago, where they will begin a three-game series against the Cubs on Friday afternoon. It was a hard-earned celebration. The Nats took one-run leads in the sixth and seventh, only to see Carlos Ruiz take it all back with a seventh-inning homer off Saul Rivera that gave Philly a 3-2 advantage. In the eighth, however, the Nats pounded out four hits, including timely knocks from Jesus Flores and Austin Kearns, that put Washington back on top. That's when Acta, just like he had predicted, turned to Hanrahan to hold the lead and ensure that starter Tim Redding's six-inning, one-run effort did not go to waste. "You gotta really attack that first hitter, and try to get him out," Hanrahan said. "If he gets on, then it's a lot more pressure on you." But Hanrahan found himself in exactly the situation he was trying to avoid when he walked Jayson Werth to begin the eighth. The go-ahead run reached base when Chase Utley followed with a single. But the Nats' closer struck out Ryan Howard on a 96-mph fastball, then got Pat Burrell to ground into a double play. When Chris Coste grounded out to end the game, stranding Shane Victorino on third, Hanrahan strode toward catcher Wil Nieves and the two exchanged hearty high-fives and slaps on the back. It was something the two had not been able to do since Hanrahan struck out the Rockies' Ian Stewart to close out their most recent win on Aug. 7. "It was a big relief," Hanrahan said.
Kevin Horan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.