BOSTON -- The Nationals made another loud statement on Sunday afternoon. Roger Bernadina's tiebreaking RBI double in the ninth inning helped the Nationals edge the Red Sox, 4-3, at Fenway Park and sweep the three-game series.
The score was tied at 3 when the Nationals rallied against right-hander Alfredo Aceves. With one out, Bryce Harper, who did not start the game because of tightness in his lower back, entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Tyler Moore and walked on five pitches.
"I really didn't want to use him late," manager Davey Johnson said about Harper. "He said he was feeling a lot better. He came running out like in the seventh inning. I said, 'Have you been swinging [the bat in the cage]?' He said, 'Yeah, I'm fine.' He made that point clear."
After Jesus Flores struck out, Bernadina came to the plate. On a 1-2 pitch, the Red Sox thought they had Bernadina called out on strikes. But home-plate umpire Alan Porter called the pitch a ball, which upset manager Bobby Valentine, who would be ejected from the game in the bottom of the inning for arguing balls and strikes.
Johnson then decided to put on the hit-and-run play with Bernadina at the plate. With Harper running, Bernadina doubled near the right-field line. Once he saw right-fielder Ryan Sweeney slide to get the ball neat the right-field wall, third-base coach Bo Porter knew that Harper was going to score.
"That's when I made up my mind. I was going to send him," Porter said.
Said Bernadina, "I was halfway. I saw Harper going home. I was going all the way [to third on the throw], too. ... I saw Harper and I was going at that moment. ... I feel good to win ballgames. And now I feel good about it. It's definitely good. "
With Bernadina getting the game-winning hit, Johnson expects the outfielder to get more playing time against the Blue Jays starting Monday. Bernadina lost playing time after Johnson decided to platoon Steve Lombardozzi and Xavier Nady in left, Harper in center and Michael Morse in right.
"[Bernadina] played one heck of a ballgame," Johnson said. ... He has been swinging the bat well lately, so you are going to see more of him probably in Toronto. That was a big hit. I didn't anticipate it. On 2-2, I thought he was getting a breaking ball and that was a good pitch [for Harper] to run on. He got a fastball, which Bernie liked and smoked it."
With the victory, the Nationals improved to 35-23.
The run support continues to be scarce for Washington right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. He had another quality outing, lasting seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and striking out seven.
Entering Sunday, the Nationals averaged 3.2 runs per game when Zimmermann is on the mound. They collected seven hits and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position while he was in the game. Their best chance to break the game open against left-hander Jon Lester came in the third. Washington had the bases loaded with two outs, but Morse struck out looking.
The Nats did have two leads, but Zimmermann couldn't hold them. In the first, Danny Espinosa scored on an RBI groundout by Ryan Zimmerman to make it 1-0.
By the fourth, Boston had the lead. The score was tied at 1 when David Ortiz gave the Red Sox the lead with a solo home run.
"David swung the heck out of the bat. He's been a very consistent offensive force for us playing like an All-Star," Valentine said.
But the Nationals would take a one-run lead in the seventh, when Espinosa doubled off the left-field wall, scoring Ian Desmond and Moore.
In the bottom of the seventh, Boston tied the score when Ryan Sweeney scored on an RBI groundout by Scott Podsednik.
"Zim pitched one hell of a ballgame and I feel bad that we didn't get the win for him," Johnson said. "It was another great ballgame. It was a strong game. In the seventh inning, he gave up two leadoff hits ... but he got us out of there with just one run. But I sure would have liked to have gotten the win for him."
Before this weekend, the last time the Nationals played at Fenway Park was in June 2006. They were swept and outscored, 26-9, by the Red Sox in that series. The Nationals have come a long way since then. They are now in first place in the National League East, two games ahead of the Braves.
"The organization has come a long way in six years. It's hard to look back and compare then and now," said Ryan Zimmerman, the only player left from the '06 team. "It's cool to come here and get some wins. That's a good team. We played well. To sweep that team here anytime here is really good."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.