Father of the Goon Squad
After making the Nationals as a non-roster invitee in 2012, Chad Tracy took no time at all to make his presence felt. On April 7 in Chicago, he came in with the bases loaded, one out, and the Nats down a run in the top of the eighth, and promptly doubled home a pair to lead the club to victory. Thus began the Goon Squad, Washington’s fearsome and versatile bench, with its leader, the veteran Tracy.
Just as he did early in 2012, Tracy provided the Goon Squad’s biggest moment to date on Friday night. After the Nationals surrendered a two-run lead in the ninth inning in San Diego, the tide seemed to have turned against them. But with two outs in the top of the 10th, Tracy turned on a hanging, 1-1 change-up out of the right hand of Huston Street, depositing it over the right field wall at Petco Park for a go-ahead home run to put the Nationals back ahead for good, 6-5.
“He’s a really good hitter,” said Davey Johnson of Tracy. “Last year he started fast, this year he started slow. But (the home run) makes up for anything he’s done in the past.”
There is something about being at the right place at the right time that often defines success for a bench player like Tracy. But Friday night’s heroics were the continuation of a stunning trend, one which indicates the Padres are always the right opponent for the leader of the Goon Squad. With his blast off Street, each of Tracy’s last three pinch-homers have now come against the Padres. And of the seven he has hit in his career, five have come against San Diego.
Other Nationals like Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman have both hit well against the Padres in their careers as well, each notching double-digit home run totals. But both track records pale in comparison to Tracy’s.
Meanwhile, Drew Storen survived a Padres rally in the bottom of the frame to notch his first save of the season, and the Cardiac Nats won the kind of gut-wrenching game on which they built their reputation last season. After a couple of close calls in low-scoring games in Los Angeles, the breakthrough may have meant just one win, but it may also have opened the door for a return of the Cardiac Nats, the team that went 27-21 in one-run games and 13-7 in a league-high 20 extra-inning affairs in 2012. This year’s club (7-3, 2-1) hasn’t seen nearly as many of the same opportunities, but a strong showing from the Goon Squad may change that in a hurry.