July 2012

What to Watch for: 7/31

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Philadelphia Phillies (45-57) vs. Washington Nationals (61-40)

LHP Cliff Lee (1-6, 3.95) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (11-4, 2.76)

The Nationals are coming off their only off-day in a 34-day span following a road trip that saw them go 6-1 in New York and Milwaukee. They will take their MLB-best 61-40 record against a Phillies team that has just traded outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence and sits 16.5 games behind entering play on Tuesday.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Espinosa SS

4. Morse LF

5. Moore 1B

6. DeRosa 3B

7. Flores C

8. Bernadina CF

9. Strasburg RHP

AND ON THE 7TH DAY …

Michael Morse hit a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth and laced a game-winning, two-run double in the 11th to lift the Nationals to a stunning 11-10 victory over the Brewers on Sunday at Miller Park. Washington won for the eighth time in nine games despite trailing 3-1, 5-2, 7-3 and 9-7. The Nationals equaled their largest deficit (four runs) overcome to win (also: July 5 vs. Giants: down 5-1, W 6-5) this year.

THE WEEK’S DOCKET

The Nationals begin a key seven-game, six-day, homestand tonight with the first of three against the Phillies. From there, the Marlins invade for a four-game weekend set that includes a traditional 4:05pm twinbill on Friday, necessitated by an April 22 postponement.

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP 

Stephen Strasburg (11-4, 2.76) faces off against Cliff Lee (1-6, 3.95) tonight, the third start of his career against the Phillies. Note that Strasburg was the top pick in the 2009 draft of the Nationals, while Lee was a fourth-round pick of the Montreal Expos in 2000.

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Homestand Preview: 7/31-8/05

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Nationals vs. Philadelphia Phillies (7/31-8/2) 

Nationals vs. Miami Marlins (8/3-5)

TUE, 7/31 vs. Philadelphia Phillies – First Pitch 7:05 p.m. – Center Field Gates Open 4:30 p.m

TV: MASN 2 HD

RADIO: 106.7 The Fan, WHFS 1580, WFED 1500

 

WED, 8/1 vs. Philadelphia Phillies – First Pitch 7:05 p.m. – Center Field Gates Open 4:30 p.m. 

TV: MASN HD

RADIO: 106.7 The Fan, WHFS 1580, WFED 1500

 

THU, 8/2 vs. Philadelphia Phillies – First Pitch 7:05 p.m. – Center Field Gates Open 4:30 p.m. 

TV: MASN HD, MLBN

RADIO: 106.7 The Fan, WHFS 1580, WFED 1500

  • Beltway Burger Pack – The Beltway Burger Pack includes a ticket, burger, fries and choice of one regular soda or Dasani water, starting at $20.
  • Miller Lite Party Night – Get a Scoreboard Pavilion ticket and a free drink for the Scoreboard Walk bar – choice of Coca-Cola product, Dasani water or beer (with valid ID). Starting at $20 ($22 for prime games). Ticket offers valid only for the games listed below. All tickets are subject to availability.

 

FRI, 8/3 vs. Miami Marlins – Game One – First Pitch 4:05 p.m. – Center Field Gates Open 1:30 p.m.

**Only one ticket is needed for both games. However, if you plan to use your ticket from the postponed April 22 game, you MUST exchange your original ticket for a new one**

TV: MASN 2 HD

RADIO: 106.7 The Fan, WHFS 1580, WFED 1500

FRI, 8/3 vs. Miami Marlins – Game Two – First Pitch Follows End of First Game 

 

SAT, 8/4 vs. Miami Marlins – First Pitch 7:05 p.m. – Center Field Gates Open 4:30 p.m.

TV: MASN 2 HD

RADIO: 106.7 The Fan, WHFS 1580, WFED 1500

  • Harris Teeter Family Fun Pack – With the purchase of every Family Fun Pack ticket FOR Upper Right Field Terrace or Outfield Reserve you will receive 1 hot dog, 1 bag of chips, and choice of 1 Coca-Cola/Dasani beverage.
  • T-Shirt Giveaway– First 20,000 Fans Presented by MASN ONLY at Center Field Gates

 

SUN, 8/5 vs. Miami Marlins – First Pitch 1:35 p.m. – Center Field Gates Open 11:00 a.m.

TV: MASN 2 HD, WDCW DC-50

RADIO: 106.7 The Fan, WHFS 1580, WFED 1500

  • Signature Sunday Presented by New Era – Two Nationals players will sign autographs from on top of the Nationals dugout for approximately 20 minutes beginning at 12:25 p.m. before every Sunday home game..

Weekly Review (7/30)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

Following a rollercoaster split of a four-game series with Atlanta, the Nationals hit the road for the Big Apple and a trio of games against the division-rival New York Mets. In the series opener, the Nats let their early 2-0 lead slip away as the game went to extra innings, but busted it open with six runs in the 10th inning for an 8-2 victory. On Tuesday, they finally exorcised their R.A. Dickey demons, besting the knuckleballer, 5-2, behind seven brilliant innings from Gio Gonzalez. Not to be outdone, Stephen Strasburg dominated the series finale, as the Nationals completed the three-game sweep with another 5-2 victory. A mere four days after dropping two of its worst games of the season to the Braves, Washington had reestablished the same 3.5-game cushion it owned prior to the Atlanta series.

The Nationals were all business on the field in New York, but found some time to have some fun away from the ballpark as well, as members of the bullpen enlightened the MLB Fan Cave to one of their favorite downtime activities, a collective reading of the racy bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey.

From there, the squad traveled to face the Milwaukee Brewers for the first time in 2012, playing a four-game weekend set at Miller Park. Adam LaRoche homered for the third straight game to back a stellar outing from Edwin Jackson as the Nats won their season-high sixth straight, 8-2 Thursday night. That tied them with the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball, and made them the first Washington baseball team to reach 20 games over .500 since the 1945 Senators. The Nationals saw their winning streak come to an end on Friday with a quiet loss, but did not stay down for long. They rebounded on Saturday, thanks to another shutdown performance by Jordan Zimmermann in his return to his native Wisconsin. The righty stretched his run of throwing 6.0+ innings to 21 consecutive starts and improved to 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in six July starts in the 4-1 victory, giving the Nats a shot at another series win.

The week and the road trip concluded on Sunday with a game that saw the two teams combine for four runs in the first five innings and 17 from the sixth inning on. Washington faced deficits of 3-1, 5-2, 7-3 and 9-7, but scored four runs in the eighth, a pair in the ninth and twice more in the 11ththanks in large part to the heroics of Michael Morse – to steal an 11-10 victory and stake claim to the sport’s best record at 61-40 heading into this week’s action.

Mon @ NYM: W, 8-2 (10)

Tue @ NYM: W, 5-2

Wed @ NYM: W, 5-2

Thu @ MIL: W, 8-2

Fri @ MIL: L, 0-6

Sat @ MIL: W, 4-1

Sun @ MIL: W, 11-10 (11)

Weekly Record: 6-1

A “Never Say Die” Weekend

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The Washington Nationals have made a name for themselves in the 2012 season by winning two different types of games. The first and more common type involves a healthy serving of solid starting pitching, a clutch piece of offense or two to snare the lead, and a lockdown performance by an ensemble bullpen. It is the kind of affair that the Nationals have found themselves involved in ever since their 2-1, Opening Day victory at Wrigley Field. But then there is that other kind of game, the nail-biting, nerve-fraying, mind-boggling variety that has made this season truly memorable.

This weekend’s matchups in Milwaukee provided one game from each mold. After splitting the first two of the four-game set with the Brewers, the Nationals sent hometown hero Jordan Zimmermann, originally from nearby Auburndale, Wisconsin, to make his first-ever start against the team he grew up supporting. The emerging ace delivered a sterling performance, allowing a single run on five hits, fanning six Milwaukee batters over six strong innings to extend his streak of throwing at least that many frames to 21 consecutive starts. In so doing, he lowered his ERA to the third-best mark in the National League at 2.28 and matched his career high with his eighth victory. He also improved to 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in the month of July, during which he allowed just four earned runs and four walks while fanning 31 in 37.0 innings pitched.

Jordan Zimmermann finished off a spectacular month of July in his home state.

Meanwhile, the Nationals rookies came through with huge contributions again, as Corey Brown opened the scoring with a solo shot and Tyler Moore added a two-run bomb to provide more than enough cushion in a 4-1 final. In all, it was a solid, shutdown performance that both the team and the coaching staff could be proud of.

Then, there was Sunday’s game.

In a battle of 2004 first-round picks, it was the less-heralded Mark Rogers who seemed poised to best All-Star Gio Gonzalez, as Milwaukee had forged a 3-1 lead through five fairly normal innings. Right about then, all convention went out the window. The Nationals led off the sixth with back-to-back doubles from Ryan Zimmerman and Moore, cutting the lead to one and putting the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. But they failed to plate that tying run, and Milwaukee responded by scoring twice in the bottom of the frame to push the lead to 5-2.

In the seventh, Washington looked poised to strike again, using singles from Brown and Steve Lombardozzi followed by a walk from Bryce Harper (all rookies!) to load the bases for Zimmerman, again with none out. But Cody Ransom turned a slick 5-3 double-play, limiting the Nats to just a single run once more. And again, the Brewers came right back for two more runs in the bottom of the frame, sitting pretty with a 7-3 advantage though seven frames.

This is, as they say, about the time when things got really interesting. With one out and a runner on first, Roger Bernadina flipped an opposite field home run into the bullpen in left-center field to cut the margin in half. Jesus Flores followed with a single, Brown with a double, and Lombardozzi with an RBI-groundout to cut the margin to one and put the tying run at third with two outs. One wild pitch later, and it was suddenly tied at 7-7. But the Brewers were not about to go quietly. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez blasted back-to-back shots, reclaiming a two-run lead.

For the fourth straight inning, the Nationals were looking uphill at a discouraging scoreline. And for the fourth straight inning, they mustered a rally. Mark DeRosa drew a one-out walk, bringing Michael Morse (featured in this homestand’s Inside Pitch… Pick one up at the ballpark!) to the plate as the potential game-tying run. After Milwaukee reliever John Axford forged ahead in the count, 1-2, his catcher set up low and inside for a fastball, anything to keep Morse from getting his arms extended. Axford missed his spot, leaving his pitch up and over the middle of the plate. Morse did not miss, sending the ball on a line over the right field wall, and once again, the game was tied.

Michael Morse unleashed Beast Mode twice – in the ninth inning to tie the game, and in the 11th to win it.

Craig Stammen kept Milwaukee off the board in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, and neither team scored in the 10th inning. In the top of the 11th, Harper walked and Zimmerman singled, bringing Morse to bat with a chance to summon Beast Mode one more time. He delivered once again, pulling a double just inside the third-base bag to score both runners. Tyler Clippard would allow a solo shot to Corey Hart in the bottom of the frame, but shut the door in time to lock down the victory, with Morse himself gloving the final out on a foul pop in front of the Brewers dugout.

The games of this second variety, of the seemingly impossible string of back-and-forth momentum swings, of comebacks from the proverbial dead, seem to keep reaching more and more epic levels of absurdity at every pass. Sunday’s contest lacked only the walk-off hit, as it took place away from Nationals Park, but may have once again set the bar as the most dramatic of them all so far.

Perhaps most importantly, it capped a 6-1 road trip that kept the Nationals a full four games ahead of division rival Atlanta as the weekend came to a close. It also left them at 61-40, the first time the franchise has been this many games over .500 since its relocation to the Nation’s Capital. The Nats get a well-deserved off day on Monday, their only such breather in a 35-day stretch that sees them play 36 games, including seven more in a six-day stretch at home beginning on Tuesday. A word to the wise: take advantage of the day off yourself. You’re going to need every ounce of energy you’ve got left for the final 61 games of the regular season.

In the meantime, enjoy Morse’s theatrics one more time (as even Davey lets himself loose at the 1:04 mark) and both Bob Carpenter’s and Charlie Slowes’ calls of the action.

What to Watch for: 7/29

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Washington Nationals (60-40) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (45-55)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (13-5, 3.13) vs. RHP Mark Rogers (NR, -.–)

Jordan Zimmermann continued his strong run of late with 6.0 innings of one-run ball on Saturday, and the Nationals used three home runs to guarantee no worse than a split of the four-game set with the Brewers. In today’s finale, Gio Gonzalez goes for his National League-leading 14th win of the season against the recently recalled Mark Rogers.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Espinosa SS

7. Bernadina CF

8. Flores C

9. Gonzalez LHP

ZIMMERMANN, BROWN AND JOHNSON MAKE MEMORIES AT MILLER PARK

With the collective eyes of his native Auburndale, WI upon him, Jordan Zimmermann made his long awaited Miller Park debut a memorable one, earning the win as Washington bested the Brew Crew, 4-1, on Saturday evening. Zimmermann tossed 6.0 innings of one-run ball to register his MLB-leading 19th quality start in 21 assignments. Rookies Corey Brown (solo) and Tyler Moore (two-run) both homered during a decisive three-run third inning. Brown’s blast was also his first Major League hit, as he joined Justin Maxwell and Tommy Milone on the short list of Nationals (2005-present) whose initial big league hit was a home run. The win was the 100th of Davey Johnson’s 183-game tenure as Washington’s skipper.

CLASS OF 2004

Gio Gonzalez looks to collect his 14th win today against Milwaukee, a club he has yet to face in his career. He is, however, 3-1 with a 3.02 ERA in eight career starts against the NL Central. In his five starts against the NL Central in 2012, Washington is a perfect 5-0. Gio’s opposition, Mark Rogers, will be making his 2012 debut after going 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA in 18 starts for Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League. Both Gonzalez (38th overall) and Rogers (fourth) were among the top 40 selections in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.

WHEN THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD

The Nationals enter today’s series finale with an eye on winning their first series at Miller Park since 2006 and putting an exclamation point on what to date has been a 5-1 roadtrip (3-0 at NYM, 2-1 at MIL). The Nationals have outscored the Mets and Brew Crew this week, 30-15.

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What to Watch for: 7/27

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Washington Nationals (59-39) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (44-54)

LHP Ross Detwiler (5-3, 3.01) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (3-4, 1.96)

Using the strength of a four-run second inning, the Nationals jumped out to an 8-0 lead en route to an 8-2 victory in the series opener over Milwaukee Thursday night. Tonight, Washington sends southpaw Ross Detwiler to the hill against impressive rookie Mike Fiers as the Nats try to extend their winning streak to a season high seven games with a victory over the Brewers.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Espinosa SS

7. Bernadina CF

8. Leon C

9. Detwiler LHP

ADAM’S BOMBS

With home runs in his last three games, including a solo shot last night, Adam LaRoche has homered in three straight games for the second time in his career. He also turned the trick August 17-19, 2009 while with Atlanta. LaRoche’s 19 homers pace all National League first basemen and he is on track to hit 20 or more homers for the seventh time in eight years.

ROARING ‘20S

At 59-39 (.602), the Nationals are 20 games above .500 for the first time since landing in D.C. in 2005. The last time a Washington-based big league club was 20 or more games above the break-even mark was at the completion of the 1945 season, when the Senators finished 87-67, but finished 1.5 games behind the Tigers (88-65) in the chase for the AL pennant.

THE JOY OF 6

The Nationals have outscored their opponents, 40-12, en route to matching their longest winning streak of the season (also, June 8-13). The Nationals last win streak in excess of six games came via an eight-game run, June 10-18, 2011. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals are only the third team in modern baseball history (1900-present) to win six or more straight games while scoring at least five runs and allowing no more than two runs in each individual contest. The 1961 Yankees (6 games, June 4-8) and 1941 Red Sox (7 games, Sept. 9-15) also turned this trick.

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It’s The Little Things That Kill

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Sports are full of “firsts” and “lasts,” the types of facts and figures that allow us to place events in appropriate historical context. One of the most noted of these facts in baseball is that the Chicago Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. What’s often forgotten is that the Cubs have also not won a pennant since 1945, a stretch of 67 years.

In that spirit, let’s go ahead and get the historical facts surrounding where the Washington Nationals stand today out of the way. The club will enter play this 27th of July, 2012 with a 59-39 record, matching the New York Yankees for the best record in the game. This marks the first time the Nationals have stood 20 games above the break-even point since their return to Washington in 2005. It is also the first time a Washington-based Major League Baseball team has been in such a position since the 1945 Senators finished their campaign at 87-67, the same year as that last Cubs pennant.

Steve Lombardozzi is now 4-for-5 with a double, triple and 8 RBI with the bases loaded in his young career.

In fact, at 59 wins the Nationals have already matched their season total from both 2008 and 2009, with 64 games still left to play.

And while all that is notable, games are still won day-to-day, moment-to-moment. It is the little things that continue to have a big impact for the Nationals. Take Thursday night’s game against the Brewers, for example. There was one very loud moment, which you probably remember, and a much quieter one that you may have missed, which turned the game.

The Nationals scored their first run on an Adam LaRoche solo shot, his third home run in as many games, coming on Yovani Gallardo’s first pitch of the second inning. That feat alone was impressive enough, but the fact that it came in lock step with MASN’s highlight package made it even more incredible. F.P. Santangelo had just finished detailing LaRoche’s previous blast as he stepped to the plate, describing the opposing pitcher’s location mistake as a “fastball right down the middle for a home run…” and crack. The ball sailed over the right-center field wall, LaRoche trotted around the bases, and Santangelo continued. “You are looking live, this is not the highlight package that we just showed.”

But it was when Roger Bernadina drew a two-out walk that the Nationals sprung at the opportunity to do some real damage. With the runner at first, the Milwaukee defense played batter Jesus Flores to pull the ball, moving the shortstop into the hole, and pulling the second baseman farther up the middle, assuming coverage of the base on a possible steal. Davey Johnson put on the hit-and-run, drawing the second baseman to the bag and opening up the right side of the infield for Flores, who swatted what would normally be a routine ground ball through the vacated infield dirt, Bernadina racing around to third on the single.

Following the play, Bob Carpenter and Santangelo remarked that Flores had already done his job in the inning. No matter the result, by reaching, Flores had gotten the pitcher to the plate, meaning that at the very least, leadoff man Steve Lombardozzi would lead off the third inning. But Gallardo was flustered by the turn of events, falling behind fellow pitcher Edwin Jackson at the plate 3-0 before walking him to load the bases. Lombardozzi then yanked a clutch, two-out triple inside of first base and down into the right-field corner, and the Brewers never responded.

Edwin Jackson continued to impress, both on the mound and on the basepaths.

Meanwhile, LaRoche’s bizarre kinship with his former teammate Jackson – with whom he also played in Arizona – continued, as he hit the seventh of his team-leading 19 home runs in a game that Jackson started. And Jackson continued the trend of superb starting pitching of late. In the last turn of the rotation, Nationals starters have allowed just three runs in 34.0 innings pitched, good for a 0.79 ERA.

For their troubles, the Brewers get lefty Ross Detwiler tonight, who is 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA this month. On Saturday, they will face Jordan Zimmermann, who will make his homecoming start in his native state of Wisconsin and currently sits at an otherworldly 3-0, 0.87 through his first four starts in July.

The Nationals, meanwhile, are looking at uncharted waters, a chance to not only push more than 20 games above .500 for the first time ever, but also to notch their seventh straight Curly W, which would mark the longest winning streak of the season. The Nationals have not won that many consecutive games since taking eight straight from June 10-18 of last year.

All of that talk can wait, though. For now the Nats will focus on getting one more baserunner on offense, one more out on defense, doing what they have done all year long. The best part? You can watch it all again tonight.

What to Watch for: 7/26

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Washington Nationals (58-39) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (44-53)

RHP Edwin Jackson (5-6, 3.73) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (8-7, 3.72)

The Nationals are coming off a three-game road sweep of the Mets and carry a five-game winning streak into tonight’s series opener in Milwaukee. Edwin Jackson takes on Yovani Gallardo in a battle of righties who have posted very similar results to date. Jackson and Gallardo have nearly identical ERAs, records and K/BB rates (2.52/2.44) so far this season.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Espinosa SS

7. Bernadina CF

8. Flores C

9. Jackson RHP

THE STAKES AT HAND

If the Nationals win tonight’s series opener at Miller Park, they will match their longest winning streak of the season at six games (also: June 8-13) and move 20 games above .500. The last time a Washington-based Major League team was 20 or more games above the break-even mark was at the completion of the 1933 season, when the AL Nationals finished 99-53 en route to the World Series, which they would drop in five games to the New York Giants.

JACKSON VS. GALLARDO

Jackson is 2-2 with a 4.22 ERA in five career starts against Milwaukee, with three of those starts coming in August of 2011 (1-1, 4.95). In his last outing on Saturday vs. Atlanta, Jackson went 7.0 innings, allowing one run on five hits with two walks and struck out a season-high nine batters. His counterpart tonight, Gallardo, has notched wins in both of his two career starts against the Nationals at Miller Park.

SHARK WEEK

Roger Bernadina has hit safely in six straight games, including four multi-hit efforts along the way. During the streak, he is 12-for-23 (.522) with three RBI, two runs scored and two stolen bases. Dating to June 28, Bernadina is 20-for-43 (.465) with four RBI, five walks, six stolen bags and five runs scored, raising his OBP from .314 to .370 over that span.

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Boys Of Summer, Reading

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The life of a relief pitcher is not for everyone. Coming out of the bullpen does not afford the same routine as it does for starters, who are on an every-five-day schedule. Sometimes you are called upon to work two, three, even four days in a row. Other times, you may go a week or more without ever getting into a game. That can leave you with a lot of downtime to fill.

While they were in New York this week helping to earn a sweep of the division rival Mets, members of the Nationals bullpen – Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen spent some of that downtime at the MLB Fan Cave, poking fun at the rumors that teammate Michael Morse had been spotted with racy best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey. While they acknowledge that Morse was not the actual one reading the book, they admitted that they were themselves, in fact big fans of author E.L. James’ work.

The result? See for yourself.

All Is Good And Nothingness Is Dead

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In 2002, the Oakland Athletics played one of the most gut-wrenching games in recent memory. Sitting on the brink of history, having won 19 contests in a row, they were just one triumph shy of setting a new American League record for consecutive victories. After taking the first two in a series from Kansas City, they needed only to close them out for a three-game home sweep to accomplish the feat. With one of their aces – Tim Hudson – on the mound, their chances seemed promising.

Through three innings, it was all unfolding according to plan with the A’s building an 11-0 lead. But then, a funny thing started to happen. The hapless Royals started to claw back. They got five runs in the fourth – normally quite a feat, but it was less than half the deficit they had dug themselves, so the party continued, undisturbed. The margin remained at 11-5 all the way to the eighth when, suddenly, they scored twice more, and had two more runners on for their superstar, Mike Sweeney. The A’s went to their best setup man, Jeff Tam. Sweeney drilled a towering, three-run shot into the left-field seats, and suddenly it was 11-10.

The A’s celebrated after surviving disaster, but might they have been better off with a loss? (AP)

Celebrations were over, replaced by a nervous murmur. The A’s failed to score in the eighth, and amazingly, Kansas City pushed across a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 11.

That’s the thing about baseball – there is no clock to run out. You can’t simply “manage the game,” the way you can with a 30-point lead in basketball or football. You have to earn every last painful, desperate, gut-wrenching out. And, sometimes, you forget how to do that.

Of course, those who have seen Moneyball already know how this story ends. Scott Hatteberg, pinch-hitting with one out in the bottom of the ninth, took ball one, then turned on the next pitch, sending it soaring deep into the California night and the history books.

It’s hard to say what the Athletics learned that day, as they got away with their mistakes. Their collapse, as stunning as it was, did not ruin their historical moment. But, as the movie fails to show, they did not carry any of their momentum with them. The team traveled to Minnesota the next day, where they would be shut out, ending the streak. That same Minnesota team would end up celebrating a Game 5 elimination victory back in Oakland just a month later, dispatching the A’s from the postseason.

Could one make the argument that the A’s would have learned more from such a loss, than from the historic victory?

The Nationals did not get away with their mistakes last Friday night. In the opener of a crucial intradivision series, what started out like a dream turned into a nightmare, as Atlanta fought its way back from an early 9-0 deficit to earn an 11-10 win in 11 innings. Not even Danny Espinosa’s game-tying, ninth-inning home run – after Washington had fallen behind 10-9 – was enough to bail them out. The Braves kept coming, and for one night, all seemed lost.

Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina helped get the Nationals back on track.

The Braves momentum carried into the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader, where the Nats were shut out for just the second time all season, and the first time at home. A steady mist descended upon Nationals Park all day long, and into the night cap. It was a scene more befitting of Washington State than D.C., the dense clouds and light rain swarming the combined crowd of nearly 70,000 spectators all day and for much of the evening. In fact, the rain had been falling since the sixth inning of Friday night’s affair, right when the game had begun to turn on the Nats.

The offensive drought continued through the first four frames of Game 2. But then, a funning thing happened – the sky, both literally and figuratively, stopped falling. After 13 innings of stunned, scoreless ball, the Nationals went back to work, trailing just 2-0, thanks to arguably the biggest pitching performance of the season from perhaps its most unlikely hero: John Lannan. Summoned from Triple-A under the new rule that allows for an extra man to be added to the roster specifically for doubleheaders, Lannan pitched with the knowledge that he would likely be sent back to the minors following the game, regardless of the outcome. And after a shaky first that saw him escape with just two runs of damage, he was nearly unhittable the rest of the night.

That left Washington within striking distance in the bottom of the fifth, and strike the Nationals did, bit by bit. They pushed across a single run to finally get in the scoring column, but missed the chance for more. In the sixth, they did so again, tying the game, but failing to seize the lead. So they just kept coming. Roger Bernadina, filling in for Bryce Harper after he left the first game with a bruised ankle, drove home the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh. In the eighth, Harper came back. He laced a pinch-single, stole second (!) and scored on Espinosa’s single, adding a crucial insurance run. Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, who had both been out of sorts the night before, combined to slam the door shut as they have done much of the past two months.

Few hitters have been as hot as Ryan Zimmerman over the past month.

After all the doom and gloom following Friday night’s affair, what happened in the 36 hours to follow? The Nats took two of three from their closest division rival, including both a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory and an emphatic, 9-2 rout in which the home side banished any lingering effects from Friday night’s letdown.

That’s the thing about adversity – it can crush your spirits, take you out of your element, and turn the tide of a pennant race. Or, it can bring out the best in your character and – by showing that you won’t succumb to the pressure, but rather will rally back stronger than ever – be an even bigger blow to your opponents. The Nationals will have to prove themselves six more times against the Braves before the regular season concludes, but after last weekend, they walked away from their biggest setback no worse for wear, maintaining the same 3.5-game cushion with which they entered the series.

Then they went to New York, winning a crazy, extra-inning affair by scoring six runs in the 10th inning on Monday night, and finally triumphing over Mets ace R.A. Dickey on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they completed the three-game sweep with a 5-2 win, their fifth straight. Their NL East lead sits at 4.5 games over the Braves, and more than 10 against everyone else in the division.

Time will tell if this was that moment for the Nationals, and if the offense will continue to batter the ball the way it did to open and close this weekend’s series. But one thing is for sure: what has not killed this Washington squad so far in 2012 has only made it stronger.

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