CHICAGO -- Chad Tracy's pinch-hit single in the eighth inning helped the Nationals rally to a 7-4 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon.
For the second consecutive game, the Nationals were down in the late innings, but were able to come back against the Cubs' bullpen.
With two outs in the top of the eighth inning and Washington down, 4-2, reliever Kerry Wood was able to get two quick outs on five pitches, but then the tide turned for Washington. After a 10-pitch battle, Wood allowed a home run to Danny Espinosa, a solo shot that went over the left-field wall to make it a one-run game.
"I was trying to stick with my approach after two strikes, and I fouled off tough pitches," Espinosa said. "The last pitch, I finally had a good pitch that I could handle and do something with."
After singles by Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, Wood left the game in favor of closer Carlos Marmol, who walked Jayson Werth to load the bases.
Tracy, pinch-hitting for reliever Ryan Mattheus, came to the plate and singled to right, scoring Zimmerman and LaRoche to give Washington a 5-4 lead. It was Tracy's second hit of the season while coming off the bench. On Thursday, he had a key double that helped Washington win the first game of the series, 2-1.
"He has been huge. That's when you have guys driving in runs off the bench, " manager Davey Johnson said. "That's the kind of bench I like to have. People can come off the bench, I can put them in the game, and they'll get big hits."
Tracy said Marmol threw almost nothing but fastballs during the at-bat.
"He stayed fastballs away. I battled so I could get something to drive" Tracy said. "I'm looking for something over the plate that I could hit right back up the middle. ... Every pinch-hitter is not going out there to draw a walk."
After three years as an everyday player with the D-backs, injuries forced Tracy to the bench, and he learned how to become a pinch-hitter by being around former teammate Tony Clark. They would pretend they were managing the game and try to figure out when they would get into a game as pinch-hitters.
As he was watching the game Saturday, Tracy figured he would enter the game in the eighth inning after Johnson made a double switch an inning earlier. The skipper took left fielder Mark DeRosa out of the game and put Mattheus in the sixth spot in the batting order. When it was Mattheus' turn to bat, in came Tracy.
"I'm just being aggressive," Tracy said. "I'm up there to hit -- no matter what you are looking for, you have to drive it. You can't wait to get to [Marmol's] nasty stuff, because you get only one at-bat. You are not really trying to feel him out."
Roger Bernadina followed Tracy and doubled to right field, scoring Werth. Shawn Camp then entered the game for Chicago, and Stephen Lombardozzi hit an infield single that scored pinch-runner Brett Carroll.
This all came after Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez made his Washington and National League debut, an outing he would probably like to forget.
Gonzalez, who was acquired from the Athletics in a six-player trade last December, lasted 3 2/3 innings, allowed four runs on seven hits, struck out six batters and walked three.
"He was around the plate. He wasn't getting a lot of close calls," Johnson said.
Gonzalez's problems started in the first inning. With runners on first and third and one out, Gonzalez threw a wild pitch which allowed Joe Mather to score the first run of the game.
Gonzalez cruised over the next two innings, and LaRoche hit a two-run homer off Cubs right-hander Matt Garza to give Washington a 2-1 lead. Garza would last six innings, allowing the two runs on five hits.
Washington's lead wouldn't last long, however, as the Cubs scored three runs off Gonzalez in the fourth inning. Reed Johnson had a two-run triple, while Mather had an RBI single.
"We had a good plan against him," Cubs first baseman Jeff Baker said about Gonzalez. "We were able to execute it, and we got him out of the game pretty early. When you get someone like him out of the game, you feel good about your chances. We did that and got into the bullpen, and we weren't able to push anything across. We were definitely happy with the way we attacked that starter."
After Gonzalez left the game, Nationals relievers Craig Stammen, Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez blanked the Cubs the rest of the way, allowing the Nationals to make their comeback. They struck out a combined seven hitters.
"I say this is one of the best bullpens in baseball. I felt that last year, and with the addition of Brad Lidge, we are that much stronger," Johnson said. "Stammen did one [heck] of a job, coming in with a couple of guys on base and getting a tough out and [keeping] us in the ballgame. Everybody else did their job, and then the offense came alive. That's how you win ballgames on the road."
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.