The Other Guys
All of Saturday’s stories, as you might expect following last night’s performances from Washington’s most celebrated young stars, focused on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Deservedly so, as the former became the first pitcher since Mike Mussina in 2001 to fan 13 Red Sox at Fenway Park, and the latter notched the first three-hit game by a teenager at the historic venue since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989.
Their influence was stamped all over the game, from Strasburg opening and closing his performance with a pair of strikeouts to Harper corralling the final out of the game on Adrian Gonzalez’s harmless, shallow fly to center field, probably the easiest defensive chance he had to record all night. But the real story of these Nationals is the quality performances that are flying under the radar, all of which were key in delivering the resounding 7-4 victory Friday night in Boston.
How about Danny Espinosa, inserted at the top of the lineup for his strength against left-handed pitching to face Boston’s own crafty southpaw, Felix Dubront? Espinosa responded by powering a double high off the top of the Green Monster in his first at-bat. Following a walk and another double in his next two plate appearances, Espinosa’s slash line against lefties sits at .368/.467/.684. Yes, that’s an OPS of 1.151.
Then there’s Ian Desmond, quietly putting together an All-Star caliber first half. He came up with arguably the biggest hit of the entire game on Friday. After Boston had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning, the Nats struck back for a run in the third and had the bases loaded for Adam LaRoche with one out. Dubront whiffed the first baseman on a nasty hook, bringing up Desmond with two outs. He responded with a clutch two-run, two-out double to put Washington ahead for good. In all, 13 of his 28 RBI have come with two outs. That number leads all NL shortstops, as do Desmond’s 16 doubles and 25 extra-base hits.
There was another rookie who put together an impressive game Friday night, as well. That would be Tyler Moore, who was summoned back to the big leagues after largely riding the bench in his first stint, prior to his option back to Syracuse. Starting in left field, with the daunting defensive task of managing the Green Monster behind him, Moore notched a pair of hits, including a double, and scored twice out of the eight spot in the lineup.
Then there was the veteran, Xavier Nady, who rounded out a game full of great pitching and clutch hitting with what may be the Nationals defensive play of the year to date. Playing right field in a tricky and unfamiliar ballpark, he ranged back on a shot by Adrian Gonzalez and crashed into the short wall in front of the Nationals bullpen, snagging the ball in his mitt just as he collided with the barrier to rob the Sox slugger of a home run.
Finally, there was Tyler Clippard, who found himself in a save situation with the lead trimmed to 7-4 in the ninth and the heart of the Boston lineup coming up. He induced harmless flyouts from Dustin Pedroia and the aforementioned Gonzalez to lock down his sixth consecutive save. He has pitched 5.1 innings of no-hit ball over those six chances, walking just one and striking out six.
So while Strasburg and Harper are understandably getting the lion’s share of attention from Friday’s triumph, the Nationals are sitting at 10 games over .500 at 33-23 because of a true team effort.