Steven Souza Jr. named IL MVP and Rookie of the Year; Billy Gardner Jr. named Manager of the Year

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by Amanda Comak

The finest season in recent memory for the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate Syracuse Chiefs produced several accolades on Tuesday as the International League announced its year-end award winners and post-season All-Star team.

Steven Souza Jr., who led the International League in almost every statistical offensive category, was named the league’s Most Valuable Player as well as its Rookie of the Year, and Chiefs manager Billy Gardner Jr. was honored as the International League’s Manager of the Year. Additionally, infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Brandon Laird were named to the International League’s post-season All-Star team, along with Souza Jr.

Washington Nationals vs Houston AstrosSouza Jr. was called up to the Major Leagues three times this season, including most recently on Aug. 4. But in 91 games at Triple-A, Souza Jr. hit .354 with a .435 on-base percentage and a .601 slugging percentage — all of which lead the International League. The 25-year-old is on track to take home the International League batting title at year’s end.

While clubbing a team-high 18 home runs, Souza Jr. stole 24 bases and was selected as a starting outfielder at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Durham, North Carolina.

Souza Jr. is the sixth league MVP in Syracuse history, and the first since Chad Mottola in 2000. He’s also the franchise’s seventh International League Rookie of the Year, and first since Shawn Green in 1994.

Souza Jr. was also the first Syracuse outfielder selected to the International League’s post-season All-Star Team since Corey Brown in 2012.

This is the second consecutive season in which a player won the league’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, following Rochester’s Chris Colabello in 2013. Souza Jr. is the first Syracuse player ever to win both honors in the same season.

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In his first season in the Nationals organization, Gardner Jr. has the Chiefs on the verge of the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1998, bringing the Chiefs back to contention after a lengthy postseason drought.

Syracuse struggled early and was in last place in the North Division as late as May 21, but the Chiefs played the best baseball in the league in May and June, surging to the top of a tight IL North Division race. The Chiefs have scored the second-most runs in the league and allowed the second-fewest. Their pitching staff also leads the IL with 15 shutouts this season.

Gardner, who is in his 20th season managing in the Minor Leagues, becomes the fifth IL Manager of the Year from Syracuse, following Frank Verdi (1970), Vern Benson (1979), Doug Ault (1985), and Bob Bailor (1989). Gardner is the son of Billy Gardner Sr., who managed the Minnesota Twins from 1981-1985 and the Kansas City Royals for part of the 1987 campaign.

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Emmanuel Burriss: While being among the International League leaders in batting average (.307), on-base percentage (.383), runs scored (79), and triples (7), Burriss has struck out fewer times per plate appearance than any hitter in the league. The 29-year-old, who played in 282 Major League games with the San Francisco Giants from 2008-2012, signed with the Nationals as a free agent this past December. Burriss follows Zach Walters to give the Chiefs two straight seasons claiming IL post-season All-Star shortstop honors.

 

Brandon Laird: Laird, 26, is one of just two players in the International League to tally 80 or more RBI this season. He is also among the league leaders in slugging percentage (.486), batting average (.303), and OPS (.839). Laird is in his first season with the Nationals after coming over in a March trade. The infielder has played 53 games in the Major Leagues since 2011, with the Yankees and Astros and his older brother, Gerald, is a catcher for the Atlanta Braves. The last Syracuse third baseman on the IL post-season All-Star Team was Carlos Rivero in 2012.

Michael A. Taylor named Eastern League Rookie of the Year

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by Amanda Comak

Michael A. Taylor’s breakout season earned him his first Major League promotion, featured his first Major League hit and home run, and catapulted him through the Nationals’ system.

On Saturday, it also earned him an accolade from the Double-A Eastern League.

Taylor, 23, was named the 2014 Eastern League Rookie of the Year after hitting .313 with a .396 on-base percentage and a .539 slugging percentage in 98 games with Double-A Harrisburg this season.

Taylor, who was promoted to Triple-A on Aug. 4 and was then called up to the Major Leagues on Aug. 10, clubbed 17 doubles, two triples and 22 home runs in Double-A. He drove in 61 runs, scored 74 and stole 34, all while playing defense at a level that has prompted many evaluators to rank him among the best defensive outfielders in the entire organization.

Taylor led the Eastern League in OPS (.935) at the time of his promotion to Triple-A and was also ranked among the leaders in slugging percentage (.539, second), total bases (207, second), runs scored (74, second), home runs (22, third), on-base percentage (.396, fourth), stolen bases (34, fourth) and batting average (.313, sixth).

The Florida native was selected by the Nationals in the sixth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale.

 

Nationals Enjoy Visit to Diabetes Care Complex

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by Matt Laux

On June 5, 2013, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation celebrated with Children’s National Health System as the ribbon was cut for the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex.

Washington NationalsBefore Friday’s game, Nationals Manager Matt Williams, All-Star pitcher Tyler Clippard, outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and Screech returned to the world-class pediatric complex to spend time with children living with diabetes.

Williams, who has often discussed his love for cooking, was stationed in the teaching kitchen. While preparing diabetic-friendly snacks, he talked to the kids about the importance of healthy eating. On the menu for the day were gluten-free pigs in a blanket, trail mix and tasty “Quick Pickles.” Each item prepared by Chef Williams was limited in carbohydrates but still allowed the children to enjoy ballpark-type fare.

Down the hall in one of the educational classrooms, Clippard sat down with the patients, discussing the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how it has played a role in his success. Having the unique opportunity to ask anything of a Major League baseball player, many of the kids were eager for advice on how they could become better athletes.

“It’s fun to have the opportunity to motivate them and offer advice that they can hopefully carry forward with them,” Clippard said after the visit.

Souza Jr., who played in a rehab game with Single-A Hagerstown the night before, joined the children in a circuit of fun and fitness. The exercise rotation was designed to keep kids fit and active while still monitoring their blood sugar levels. The highlight of the session came when Souza Jr. was defeated in a competitive game of Wii Baseball when Emma, a patient at the complex, hit a walk-off home run. When asked later if she was feeling well, Emma responded emphatically, “Of course! I just beat a pro baseball player!”

Washington NationalsThe Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex provides patients with the highest quality diabetes care through state-of-the-art equipment and a focus on developing lifestyles that includes proper nutrition and physical activity.

“The Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex offers a multi-disciplinary approach to supporting children with diabetes that helps us further our mission of helping kids and their health,” said Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, one of the Nationals Principal Owners and Chair of the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. “The whole family approach and the one-on-one attention of the dedicated staff is truly inspirational.”

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation is committed to community partnerships that improve the lives of children and families with the core focus on children’s education, health and recreation.

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Want to try one of the recipes at home? Here’s the rundown for “Quick Pickles.”

“Quick Pickles”

Ingredients:

4 kirby cucumbers, cut into  1-inch slices on an angle

1/2 cup white vinegar

2 rounded teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1 teaspoon salt

1 clove cracked garlic

1 teaspoon dried dill or 2 tablespoons fresh dill leaves, chopped or snipped

1 bay leaf

 

Instructions:

Heat small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, salt and garlic to the pan and cook until it begins to simmer and sugar dissolves. Toss the dill, bay leaf and sliced cucumbers together in a heat-proof bowl. Pour the simmering liquid over the cucumbers and stir to evenly coat. Allow to cool to room temperature or chill before serving.

Nationals select contract of OF Nate Schierholtz, option Michael A. Taylor to Triple-A

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by Amanda Comak

Adding a left-handed option to their bench, the Washington Nationals selected the contract of outfielder Nate Schierholtz on Saturday morning, optioned outfielder Michael A. Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse and placed outfielder Nate McLouth (right shoulder inflammation) on the 60-Day Disabled List.

Schierholtz, a .254 career hitter (520-for-2050) with 117 doubles, 51 home runs and 224 RBI in 776 career games with the Cubs (2013 – ‘14), Phillies (2012) and Giants (2007 – ‘12), was signed by the Nationals to a Minor League contract on Aug. 18. Earlier this season, he collected 19 extra-base hits (10 doubles, three triples, six home runs) in 99 games for the Chicago Cubs.

A left-handed hitter, Schierholtz is a career .289 pinch hitter (48-for-166) with four home runs and 23 RBI. Schierholtz’s .763 OPS as a pinch hitter ranks fourth among active players with at least 150 career plate appearances in a pinch-hitting role.

Schierholtz, 30, is one season removed from his finest offensive campaign. In 2013, his first year with the Cubs, he hit .251 and established career highs in home runs (21), doubles (32), extra-base hits (56), RBI (68) and runs scored (56).

Schierholtz is a veteran of 11 postseason contests and earned a pair of World Series rings, both with the Giants (2010, 2012). A U.S. Olympian (bronze medal) in 2008, Schierholtz was originally San Francisco’s second-round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft.

Taylor, one of the Nationals top-ranked outfield prospects, hit .167 (3-for-18) in seven games during his first Major League stint. In his Major League debut on Aug 12 at Citi Field, Taylor was 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI.

Nationals Magazine Preview: Kevin Frandsen; His Brother’s Keeper

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The following is an excerpt from the August/September issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The August/September issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

by Amanda Comak

frandsen magFriends and family often tell Kevin Frandsen that it feels like yesterday that their world was shattered. That it seems as though hardly any time has passed since his older brother, DJ, retired from his 19-year battle with kidney cancer.

But this September it will be 10 years. And the Washington Nationals utility man has felt every second of DJ’s absence.

“If you told me it’s closer to 20 years, that’s what it’s felt like,” Frandsen said in late June. “Because when you lose your best friend (you feel it). Every day I talk to him, every single day.”

Frandsen paused and glanced at his surroundings. He sat on the edge of the dugout at Wrigley Field, a baseball cathedral, playing for a team that he calls “the winner you dream about being on,” and talked about how much he wishes DJ were here to see him now.

“Ten years,” Frandsen said. “It’s nuts.”

Frandsen’s memories of DJ are so vivid, so present in his mind. He smiles when he talks about the day he got drafted by the San Francisco Giants, and about how DJ cheered him up when the wait to hear his name languished past the 11th round. Frandsen had retreated to the batting cage their dad, Dave, had built in their backyard. Over the years, it’d become Kevin’s sanctuary. When he couldn’t be with the rest of his family at the hospital with DJ, he’d hit.

“DJ had just gotten back from another round of chemo and I was getting frustrated because I hadn’t been drafted yet and it was the eighth or ninth round,” Frandsen recalled. “I went into the cage to get away and at the end of the 11th round he was like, ‘You need to come back in. It’s time. You’re going to get drafted.'”

With the 29th pick in the 12th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, the Giants called Frandsen’s name.

“They give the number, and then they said ‘Frandsen, Kevin,'” Frandsen said. “And DJ, he could barely run. Walking was tough. But he was running outside with his shirt off.”

That year, as Frandsen began his professional career, DJ and Dave surprised him and showed up at his first game. The last time DJ ever saw Kevin play, he went 4-for-4 with two doubles. Later that season, Frandsen was playing a ground ball at second when the runner on first collided with him and broke his collar bone.

The injury was crushing. But it was also a blessing. In the final seven weeks of DJ’s life, the injury allowed Kevin to spend each day with his big brother — who is three years, five days older, Kevin is quick to point out.

DJ passed away on Sept. 16, 2004. He was 25. He’d fought cancer off and on since he was six.

In the years since DJ’s passing, Frandsen and his family have ensured that he would be a part of their everyday life, and that families going through what theirs did might have a slightly easier road. They set up “19 for Life” in DJ’s honor, and the foundation has become exactly the type of shining light they’d hoped it would.

Mag3_CoverTo continue reading “His Brother’s Keeper” on Nationals utility man Kevin Frandsen, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

Nationals Game Notes — Aug. 22 vs. San Francisco

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Game No. 127: Washington Nationals (73-53) vs. San Francisco Giants (67-59) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Doug Fister (12-3, 2.20 ERA) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (8-9, 3.03)
Both Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister (9th, 1.61/1) and San Francisco Giants right-hander Tim Hudson (2.33/1) rank among the top 10 among current National League pitchers in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN and MLBNetwork
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals are on a 10-game winning streak, which is tied for the longest streak in team history. Of the 10 consecutive victories, seven have been of the one-run variety, five were comeback wins, and five were walk-off wins. During the 10-gamer, Washington has outscored its opponents, 46-23, and is batting .275 with 10 homers, but the keys have been pitching (1.82 team ERA, 1.34 ERA from starting staff) and defense (seven errorless games).

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (73-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
58 Doug Fister (L) RHP

GIANTS (67-59)

16 Angel Pagan (S) CF
8 Hunter Pence RF
28 Buster Posey C
48 Pablo Sandoval (S) 3B
38 Michael Morse LF
12 Joe Panik (L) 2B
45 Travis Ishikawa (L) 1B
35 Brandon Crawford (L) SS
17 Tim Hudson RHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Magazine Preview: Doug Fister; Rapid Fire

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The following is an excerpt from the August/September issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The August/September issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

by Mike Feigen

In a game built upon one-on-one confrontations set at a methodical pace, Nationals starter Doug Fister has made an up-tempo style the centerpiece of his attack on the pitcher’s mound.

rapid fire fisterDoug Fister bounded off the mound toward the Nationals’ first base dugout, his work complete after eight masterful innings. The Nationals Park crowd of 40,677 roared in approval, standing to applaud its newest difference-making right-hander. Fister let the cheers wash over him, doffing his cap to the masses before receiving a hero’s welcome from this teammates.

It may have been just one game in the course of a long, 162-game season, but the 3-0 shutout of the rival Atlanta Braves on June 21 offered a breath of fresh air. The Nationals needed no reminder that they entered that night struggling against their divisional counterparts, but on this night, their 6-foot-8 sinkerballer breezed through a lineup that had given them fits in recent months.

The victory gave the Merced, Calif. native a perfect 4-0 record in his first four home starts with his new club, including wins over the Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies in late May and early June. Fister’s early success energized the team, justifying the move Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made to fortify the rotation with a veteran starter who had past postseason success.

Before he made his Nationals debut in early May, following a minor back ailment, Fister used the first six weeks of the season to assimilate himself into the Nationals’ clubhouse. He brought with him an impressive resume, with three straight division titles and three postseason victories to his name — one more than the entire Nationals franchise can boast in its brief nine-plus years of existence.

“So far, everything’s been good,” Fister said in late June. “The biggest thing for me is just being a teammate — the baseball side will take care of itself. I feel like I’m one of the 25 guys here, and it’s a great place to be.”

Mag3_CoverTo continue reading “Rapid Fire” on Nationals right-hander Doug Fister, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

Nationals Game Notes — Aug. 20 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

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Game No. 125: Washington Nationals (71-53) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (53-73) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Tanner Roark (12-7, 2.93 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Cahill (3-8, 4.68)
Washington Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark is 4-0 with a 0.56 ERA in five career games (four starts) against NL West competition, including seven one-run (unearned) innings against the Diamondbacks in the 2013 season finale.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals have won a season-high eight consecutive games, the longest current winning streak in the Major Leagues. Of their eight straight wins, five have been of the one-run variety, five were comeback victories, and three were walk-off wins. Only one winning streak in Nationals history has lasted longer than their current eight-game stretch, a 10-game run from June 2-12, 2005.

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (71-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
19 Kevin Frandsen 3B
57 Tanner Roark RHP

Diamondbacks (53-73)

5 Ender Inciarte (L) CF
4 Cliff Pennington (S) 3B
6 David Peralta (L) RF
15 Mark Trumbo LF
26 Miguel Montero (L) C
2 Aaron Hill 2B
17 Alfredo Marte LF
1 Didi Gregorious (L) SS
35 Trevor Cahill RHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Magazine Preview: Anthony Rendon; Equilibrium

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The following is an excerpt from the August/September issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The August/September issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

by Mike Feigen

No matter the game situation, the position he plays on the diamond or the spot he hits in the lineup, Anthony Rendon serves as the Washington Nationals’ steadying influence.

At one end of the spectrum stands The Era of Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle, newspaper comments sections and ubiquitous “hot take” sports columns. The gravitational pull of this collective force draws unsuspecting victims into its orbit, with misstatements becoming headline news and free agent decisions drawing round-the-clock coverage.

Mag3_CoverAt the other end stands a reserved, unassuming 24-year-old, grinning sheepishly — perhaps reluctantly — as a cluster of reporters scurry to form a semicircle around the padded folding chair in front of his locker. With his back to the scene, he collects his thoughts, takes a deep breath, and turns to face the scribes, with the chair forming a symbolic barrier between himself and The Era, lest it envelop him, too.

Whether he wants to admit it or not, the Nationals’ success through the first three-and-a-half months of the season was largely a credit to the work put in by Anthony Rendon. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound second and third baseman enjoyed a tremendous all-around first half, hitting .287/.343/.490 with 13 home runs, 53 runs batted in, 67 runs scored and eight stolen bases.

His cool, calm and collected approach at the plate and in the field gave the Nationals a dependable presence on a daily basis, with injuries sidelining Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman for a combined 168 games at various points in April, May and June.

Beginning the year as Matt Williams’ Opening Day second baseman — and hitting the back-breaking three-run home run in that game — Rendon started nearly every day at third base when Zimmerman went down less than two weeks into the year, before moving back to second upon Harper’s return on the last day of June. He provided excellent defense wherever he played, showing remarkable range, nifty glove work and a howitzer for a right arm.

Rendon’s success at the plate earned him a series of “promotions” up the lineup card, moving from the eighth spot in the opener — that experiment lasted just one day — before settling in nicely as Williams’ everyday No. 2 hitter behind Span. He hit at least once in every spot in the order along the way, including five times at the No. 5 spot and nine times in the leadoff role.

Span has seen an uptick in the amount of quality pitches he has to hit with Rendon hitting behind him, driving 28 doubles prior to the All-Star break — matching his entire 2013 total in 278 fewer plate appearances.

“(Anthony) has been the catalyst,” Span said in early July. “He’s done everything — he’s gotten on base, he’s scored runs, he’s knocked in a ton of runs. Defensively, he’s been unbelievable at second and third base. He’s been our MVP so far in this first half of the season.”

Mag3_CoverTo continue reading “Equilibrium” on Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

A pregame chat with Adam LaRoche

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This is an excerpt from Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche’s interview with Charlie Slowes from the Nationals On-Deck pre-game radio show:

Washington NationalsCharlie Slowes: Welcome back to Nationals On-Deck. Our guest is the hero of (Monday) night’s win, with a walk-off home run, Adam LaRoche. You got a Gatorade Bath at home plate, but as we speak right now, you’re still wet. That’s not from last night though?

Adam LaRoche: No, it’s not, we just did the “Ice Bucket challenge” for ALS, which I think is an awesome thing. I was called out by Brian Keaton with the Wounded Warriors and also Willie Robertson with Buck and Duck Commander, so it was nice to knock that out. We accepted the challenge — myself, one of the wounded warriors, and then Desi (Ian Desmond) and Doug (Fister) joined me on that. So, yes, we are soaked and cold.

CS: You, Ian Desmond, and Doug Fister all at once?

AL: Yup, we were all challenged by various people, so we figured we’d knock it out on the field pregame.

CS: Well, you knocked it out of the park last night, off the facing of the second deck behind the bullpen in the bottom of the 11th inning. This was the 236th career home run for you, but your first career walk off?

AL: I don’t know what to say about that, I’ve been a little bit snake bit in those situations. As the years go by, you just kind of figure that it’s not meant to be. It seems like all my ninth inning or extra inning homers come on the road. Fortunately enough, last night I got that first one under my belt and hopefully it won’t be the last.

Washington NationalsCS: We hope so too. I’m sure Nationals fans would agree. A 3-1 breaking ball; I don’t know if you were looking for it, but I could tell when I watched the replay you recognized it immediately, almost before it was out of the pitcher’s hand.

AL: I wasn’t looking for it in that situation. Typically with no one on and a 3-1 count, the last thing they want to do is put the winning run on base, but I just happened to catch it just right coming out of his hand and hit it pretty good. (It’s been) a crazy stretch here to say the least, these last few days — they’re wins so we’ll take ’em, but we’ve put ourselves in those situations the last few days where we could have made it probably a little bit easier on ourselves and a little less stressful on our skipper. We’re going to carry this momentum as long as we can.

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