September Comes Early

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Of the 26,256 fans who paid to see the Nationals and Mets duke it out over 12 thoroughly entertaining innings Tuesday night, those that stuck out the entirety of the affair were treated to almost everything the game of baseball has to offer. A tightly fought contest throughout between the division rivals, with first place in the National League East on the line, there was even a slight chill to the air, which only added to the feeling that – despite the calendar reading June 5 – it felt like September baseball.

Tuesday’s contest certainly was not the prettiest of games, nor the most cleanly played. It may not have appealed to the baseball purist. But can you imagine if that was your very first game? If your introduction to watching the sport in person was punch followed by counterpunch, heapings of clutch hitting, costly errors and bases loaded situations, all wrapped into a three-comeback, 12-inning, four-hour 15-minute marathon, ending on the first walk-off of Bryce Harper’s career? Where do you go from there?

For at least one fan at the ballpark last night, it was their first Nationals game. Of course, the walk-off part is nothing new to fans who have been coming all season. In their 26 home games so far this year through Tuesday night, the Nats have walked off a Major League-leading six times, five of which have come in extra innings. They’ve done so twice against the Reds, and once apiece vs. the Marlins, Phillies, and now, the Mets.

The Nationals mob Harper following his first career walk-off hit.

Harper’s walk-off hit was the first by a teenager since Gary Sheffield, as a rookie playing for the then-American League Milwaukee Brewers, singled home pinch-runner Mike Felder in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, on September 9, 1988. For those trying to do the math, that was more than four years before Harper was born.

That storyline overshadowed a tremendous game from Ian Desmond, who almost single-handedly kept the Nationals alive long enough to allow Harper’s heroics to even happen. After the Mets pushed in front for the first time with two runs in the top of the eighth, Desmond drove home Ryan Zimmerman with a two-out hit in the bottom of the frame to tie it up. When New York forged ahead once again in the 10th, Desmond hit a screaming liner to shortstop that ate up Jordany Valdespin, allowing Zimmerman to score the tying run again. And when he batted in the 12th, following Michael Morse’s leadoff double, he came through once more, ripping a two-bagger of his own down the left field line to level the score at 6-6 and set the stage for Harper’s game-winner four batters later.

A single game-tying RBI makes for a decent night. To turn the trick twice is quite an accomplishment. But to help your team come from behind to tie the game three times in the same night, all in the eighth inning or later? That is a truly impressive performance, punctuated by a stellar, pure reaction defensive play on a bad hop at shortstop that shows just how complete a player Desmond is growing into this season.

Yet, it is the sign of a truly epic game that Desmond’s performance will be forgotten by many, or at least take a backseat to the ending, complete with the compulsory Gatorade bath. It was fitting that by the time eventual winning pitcher Ross Detwiler departed the bullpen and made his way to the mound for the 11th inning, the only man left in uniform behind him was Nationals Bullpen Coach Jim Lett, who saw each of his hurlers contribute to the victory. And the best part about it? We get to do it all over again tonight, and 55 more times after that at home this season.

 

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