The Rally Napkin

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Baseball is a game loaded with more odd traditions and superstitions than any other sport. With 162 games in the regular season, everyone goes through boons and swoons, streaks and slumps. And when they want to find a way to keep a hot streak alive, or break out of a cold one, players will try most any type of ritual or routine that they can believe in, in order to help them find the magic that got them to the big leagues in the first place.

The Nationals entered Tuesday night’s game in Colorado having dropped seven of their last 10 contests, posting an average of just 2.5 runs per game. That included just two runs of offense with Stephen Strasburg on the hill in the first of a four-game set on Monday, as the Nats took a rare loss behind one of their top two starters. That sputtering offensive output came despite playing in the rarefied air of Coors Field, the hitters’ paradise, where curveballs come to die.

Enter, The Rally Napkin. With Washington leading 1-0 in the top of the third inning on Tuesday night, Danny Espinosa stood at first base with two outs. Nationals television color-man F.P. Santangelo pointed out a piece of trash from the stands, a white ballpark napkin, that had escaped a fan’s grasp and wisped across the field, coming to rest against Espinosa’s leg. Santangelo dubbed it “The Rally Napkin,” and immediately after he did so, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse came through with back-to-back doubles to put the Nationals ahead, 3-0.

The offense was hardly done there, though. Ian Desmond rapped out four hits, including a trio of doubles, and now leads all Major League shortstops in extra-base hits. Zimmerman, whose double in the third was the 999th hit of his career, came through with his 1,000th in his next at-bat, and later homered. LaRoche, who opened the scoring for the evening with a solo shot in the second, went deep again in the sixth for Washington’s final score. Tyler Moore launched perhaps the longest home run of the year, a back-breaking three-run shot, measured at 462 feet straight into the teeth of the Denver wind.

When the dust had settled, the Nationals had racked up a season high 12 runs. They tied a franchise record with 21 hits. When Mark DeRosa’s ninth-inning double rattled into the left-field corner, they set a new club mark with 11 extra-base hits. They even spawned a new Twitter account. By the end of the sixth inning, Santangelo was holding court on camera with a napkin tucked into his collar.

In a Nationals season full of big moments – and the memes that follow them – it was just the latest to come along. You can be willing to bet tough-luck starter Jordan Zimmermann, who has just three wins despite a stellar ERA of just 2.89, will be looking for some floating paper around Coors Field to spark the offense when he takes the hill Wednesday night.

Hey, whatever works.


I find it difficult to argue with Davey Johnson in any way. I have been a fan of him becoming manager since I first learned that he was a consultant to the Nats years ago. I often wondered why it took so long along with the fortuitous resignation of Jim Riggleman to get Johnson back into the role that he was born to play. The only fault that Davey may have is his occasional proclivity to to overpraise his charges whether their actual performance warrants such praise. That is Ok, as we all can use an “attaboy” if for no other reason than to lift our morale. However, I am forced to take exception of Davey’s comparison (in today’s Washington Post) of Ekstein being as good as the best hitting coaches that Davey knew. Honestly, it is really stretching credulity to compare Rick Ekstein with the likes of Frank Robinson, Charlie Lau and Ted Williams all of which were contemporaries of Davey Johnson.
However, I have to bow to Davey’s judgement, expertise and experience. I know my place as a fan. I will still my doubts and criticism of Mr. Ekstein for the rest of the season. Reason being is that Davey Johnson has shown patience and forebearance with many of his players invariably to see them bloom into successes.
One does have to ask after two and a half years when Ekstein will finally flower. We will just have to wait and see. One thing is for sure. In order for the Nats to go deep into the playoffs they need their overall team batting average to rise to match or be reasonably close to those of the the playoff teams they will face. This must be so because, especially in a short series, the Nats will be facing teams who will match them in pitching and defense. The mission and primary focus for Mr. Ekstein is to help bring that average up. It most certainly is his job and responsibility.

Harold G. Pavel\
Springfield, Va.

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