From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Hoping for a big team celebration soon, Gio Gonzalez checked off a few more individual accomplishments.Gonzalez became the first 21-game winner in the majors, Michael Morse hit two homers and the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 Thursday night to move closer to an NL East title.Bryce Harper also connected for the playoff-bound Nationals, who reduced their magic number to three. They have a four-game lead over Atlanta with six to play."We have to keep fighting," Gonzalez said. "It won't be easy. We just want to do what we've been doing all year."Gonzalez (21-8) settled down after a shaky start and lasted six innings, allowing three runs and six hits. He's the first NL lefty to win more than 20 games since Dontrelle Willis won 22 for the Florida Marlins in 2005. His 21 wins are a franchise best and the most by a pitcher in the nation's capital since Bob Porterfield had 22 for the Washington Senators in 1953.Gonzalez and Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (20-6) are considered the leading candidates for the NL Cy Young Award.The Phillies closed out their home schedule with a loss that left them on the brink of postseason elimination. They trail St. Louis by six games for the second wild-card spot with six games remaining. They finished 40-41 at home, their first losing record at 9-year-old Citizens Bank Park."We competed. We never gave up when people never thought we'd even be mentioned for a playoff spot," slugger Ryan Howard said.The Nationals already are the first major league team in D.C. to reach the postseason in 79 years. They're looking for their first division crown since moving to Washington and the second in franchise history. The Montreal Expos won the NL East in 1981, a strike-shortened season."We've got three more we've got to win," manager Davey Johnson said.Tyler Cloyd (2-2) got roughed up by an offense that feasted on his straight fastballs. Cloyd, who was 15-1 in the minors this season, allowed six runs and six hits in five-plus innings.Cloyd walked Danny Espinosa to start the fifth and Jayson Werth with two outs. Harper then hit a soft liner to left for a single, scoring Espinosa for a 4-3 lead.Morse crushed a two-run shot to right-center to give the Nationals a 6-3 lead in the sixth. The ball sailed over Philadelphia's bullpen and landed in front of Washington's relievers, traveling an estimated 448 feet."It felt real good coming off the bat," Morse said. "It's been a tough year for me, but the team's played great and everybody has been picking up for everybody."Harper ripped one out to right-center to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the first. He also homered in his first at-bat Wednesday to become the second teenager to hit 20 homers, joining Tony Conigliaro.Darin Ruf lined a three-run double over Harper's head to put the Phillies up 3-1 in the first."I was a little bit out of whack," Gonzalez said about walking two batters in front of Ruf. "I was like a split personality out there, talking to myself trying to figure it out. I really wanted to make a quality start."Ruf earned the nickname "Babe" by leading all minor leaguers with 38 homers this season, breaking Howard's single-season record at Double-A Reading. He hit his first homer Tuesday in his third at-bat and first start.Morse connected in the second to cut it to 3-2.The Phillies acquired Gonzalez from the Chicago White Sox along with Aaron Rowand and another minor leaguer in 2005. They traded him back to the White Sox with Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia in 2006 in what turned out to be the worst trade by Hall of Famer Pat Gillick in his three years as Phillies general manager.Gonzalez has won at least 15 games three straight years and is a two-time All-Star. Floyd has won double-digit games five consecutive seasons. Garcia won one game for Philadelphia.NOTES:Ross Grimsley was the only other pitcher in NationalsExpos history to win 20 games. He did it in 1978. ... Morse became the sixth player to hit 15 homers for the Nationals, most in franchise history. It was his second multihomer game of the season and fifth of his career. ... Harper is three homers shy of matching Conigliaro, who hit 24 for the Boston Red Sox in 1964. ... The Phillies lead the majors in attendance at 3,565,718. ... Cliff Lee (6-8) faces Mark Buehrle (13-13) when the Phillies start a three-game series at Miami on Friday night. ... Edwin Jackson (9-10) tries to become the fifth Washington starter to win 10 games when the Nationals visit St. Louis on Friday.
SAN FRANCISCO — In the bottom of the eighth inning Monday, with the Giants finally running away with one, Johnny Cueto started blowing into a giant wad of bubble gum. He held two hands out, ready to catch remnants of an explosion as Brandon Crawford and Kelby Tomlinson looked on and smiled.
A few minutes later, players started migrating to the dugout rail as they have done in each of the three starts Ryder Jones has made. They are ready to cheer on a rookie’s first big league hit, even if the wait has been an excruciating one for the third baseman.
Bruce Bochy likes to say that your personality is better when you’re winning, and his players certainly showed that Monday in snapshots here and there. They woke up to a report that there were fractured in the clubhouse, caused in large part by the new closer. They denied it, they met as a group, and then, finally, they won.
Jeff Samardzija pitched as he has for two months, the top of the lineup came through over and over again, and Brandon Crawford paced a golden night with the gloves. A 9-2 win over the Rockies was just the second since June 11 and it snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rockies. Any win is meaningful at this point, but this one seemed to mean just a little bit more given the drama of the day.
“Despite what people might think, we still have a pretty good group here and we get along just fine,” Crawford said. “We’re all rooting for each other.”
It’s one thing to support teammates off the field, and there’s been no indication that the Giants aren’t doing that. It’s quite another to be hand-in-hand between the lines, and for much of this season, Samardzija has been on an island.
The right-hander has been Bochy’s best pitcher since Madison Bumgarner went down in the hills outside Denver. But he entered Monday with a 2-9 record and 4.74 ERA inflated by faulty defense. He hasn’t grumbled, but he has grown accustomed to the worst, and when Nolan Arenado bounced a ball deep to the hole in shortstop with two on and two outs in the third, Samardzija figured the game was probably tied.
“I’m thinking maybe they charge it in the outfield and maybe make a play at home,” Samardzija said. “But with a guy like that at shortstop, things change so fast.”
Crawford scooped the ball on the edge of the grass. He would have liked nothing more than to make an otherworldly throw to first to nail his World Baseball Classic teammate, but he knew the best chance was at third. A couple of days ago, Crawford and Jones discussed how the rookie should cover third on such a play. Jones played it perfectly, retreating in time to catch Crawford’s inning-ending throw.
“The best thing (about Crawford) is he doesn’t even talk about it,” Samardzija said.
No, Crawford put the spotlight on Jones.
“That’s a pretty heads-up play,” he said. “We talked about it and he was there. It was a funny coincidence.”
The play held the lead, and the Giants kept pushing. The top four hitters in the lineup finished with 10 hits, six RBI and six runs. Brandon Belt had an RBI triple in the five-spot. Crawford drove in a run behind him. Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson added insurance from the bottom. Bochy watched it all from the top step and saw a group collectively relax.
“Just quit fighting it so much,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent in this offense. There’s no reason they can’t put consistent runs on the board. Tonight I just thought the at-bats were so much better and the focus was. Once it started rolling, guys felt better about themselves, and it just got contagious.”
SAN FRANCISCO — On a day that started with controversy, Giants players called a meeting following batting practice. Perhaps they were talking about when and where to stretch. Perhaps a reminder was given to keep clubhouse complaints in the actual clubhouse.
Or, perhaps, the players just decided that enough was enough.
In a rare display, the Giants put a clean and complete game together. They beat the Rockies 9-2 at AT&T Park, getting just their second win since June 11 and snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Rockies.
Jeff Samardzija continued his hot streak, the lineup was opportunistic and flashed some power, and the defense sparkled at times. Here are five things to know from the throwback night …
—- Samardzija walked off to a standing ovation after throwing 112 pitches. He was charged with two earned in 6 1/3 innings. Ignore the record and ERA for a second — his FIP is 3.37 and his xFIP is 2.95. He really is having a very good and underrated season.
—- Here’s another one for your Samardzija file: Over the past two months, he has 82 strikeouts and three walks.
—- It was a good day in the race for another Brandon Crawford Gold Glove. Adeiny Hechavarria, one of the few in the National League who even approaches Crawford, was traded to the Rays. Crawford added to the reel by gunning a runner down on third and making a nifty spin-and-throw in the fourth to rob Ian Desmond of a hit.
—- There are nights where Denard Span looks like a game-changer, and this was one of them. He had a single, walk and triple in his first three plate appearances, scoring twice as the Giants built a 5-0 lead. He was spry in center, too
—- Nolan Arenado was 0 for 4. Apparently that’s legal now. (It was actually his ninth 0 for 4 or worse against the Giants, in 81 games.)
—- Bonus sixth fact since the Giants won a game: Sam Dyson, acquired basically for free, is the new setup man. That didn’t take long, and it probably won’t be changing anytime soon. Dyson gave up a single but struck out the other three batters he faced.