Happy Flight Home
Winning on the road in extra innings is one of the hardest things to do in baseball. In fact, one could argue that it’s the toughest overtime scenario in any major sport. Even reaching that point means you’ve already survived a sudden death situation in the bottom of the ninth, and no matter what kind of rally you put together, your opponent will always have the chance to counter. It is perhaps the biggest factor in baseball’s home field advantage, one that extends far beyond the simple comforts of playing in familiar surroundings, in front of the hometown crowd.
But that’s exactly what the Nationals did on Wednesday, scratching out a 10th-inning run to wrestle a 2-1 victory away from the Giants in front of a raucous San Francisco crowd. Bryce Harper made a pair of crucial catches, Adam LaRoche reminded everyone that he’s still a wizard at first base, and Ian Desmond stepped in following an intentional walk to Ryan Zimmerman to deliver the game-winning hit.
“It’s gonna be a good flight back home,” said Gio Gonzalez, who silenced the Giants offense into the eighth inning, but came away with a no decision. “Today was a great example of how they battled, and we fought all the way to the end.”
Athletes will often say that after things go poorly for them, the first thing they want to do is get back to the same situation in which failed in order to have another chance to succeed. For Harper, that meant a chance to track down Hunter Pence’s ball on the warning track in the sixth inning Wednesday, in an eerily similar spot to the ball he couldn’t corral in the ninth inning Tuesday night, leading to the game-tying run. For Rafael Soriano, it meant another one-run lead entrusted to his right arm less than 24 hours after a blown save in the same spot, with a chance to once again lock down a huge road victory.
“People on the outside don’t really understand what kind of a mental hurdle that is,” said Desmond in regards to Harper’s play in particular. “Whether you run into a wall, or you get caught stealing, whatever it may be, to bounce back from it is a huge mental hurdle. That took some big guts today, a lot of guts from everybody.”
There was, perhaps, some fitting irony that it came down to Marco Scutaro – owner of the longest hitting streak in the Majors this year at 19 games – for the final out. Hitless to that point on Wednesday, Scutaro got a decent piece of Soriano’s 2-2 offering, but the ball came to rest in the leather of Roger Bernadina’s glove, a step onto the left field warning track at AT&T Park, snapping Scutaro’s streak as well as Washington’s four-game slide. For a team that has yet to notch a walk-off win following 12 of them last season, it was as close as the Nationals had come all year to that kind of dramatic, momentum-shifting victory.
“It makes the trip home easier,” said manager Davey Johnson of Wednesday’s result. “This was a good road trip to get through, and I’m glad to be coming home with a win, a tough one.”
And so, a 10-game trip full of trials and tribulations ended on a high note. While the Nationals would have liked to win more than four of those contests, the fourth and final victory may prove to be the most important win of the season so far.