“I feel like we were just destined to win that game, some way, somehow.”
Those words came from Dan Haren, maybe the most unlikely of heroes from a game full of them, saturated with storylines from both dugouts.
Saturday night was supposed to be about Bryce Harper, about unwritten baseball rules, about the rising tension between the Nationals and the Braves as they battled through the dog days of summer. But amidst a bizarre game in which two of the best young pitchers in baseball each failed to escape the second inning, it became a story of a true team effort in which 21 of the 25 men on the Washington roster played a role. In the end, the Nationals prevailed after 15 innings and nearly five-and-a-half hours, by a final of 8-7.
While any 15-inning affair will naturally be referred to most commonly as a marathon, this division rivalry felt more like a long distance relay race, with one reliever handing the baton to the next, over and over again. In all, 18 different pitchers were used by the two clubs – nine each – including the starters, each club’s entire seven-man bullpen, and two more starters to close it out.
Along the way, Washington set a number of records. The 15 innings matched the longest game in Nationals history, equaling the 2009 season finale, a 2-1 win over none other than the Braves at Turner Field. The five-hour, 29-minute affair was the lengthiest in terms of time elapsed. Meanwhile, the 19 strikeouts compiled by the Washington bullpen shattered the all-time Major League mark, at least as far back as anyone can be sure. The records for such a stat only date back to 1971, to which point the highest total ever compiled by a relief staff in a single game was 16. But considering the way the sport had evolved, with increased strikeout rates and higher bullpen usage, it’s hard to imagine any club amassing a comparable total in any previous era.
Following Stephen Strasburg’s second-inning ejection, Tanner Roark was the first Nationals reliever to answer the call, entering a 4-2 game and providing four innings of one-hit, scoreless relief with six strikeouts. Drew Storen tossed a perfect seventh inning, striking out the side. Ian Krol rebounded from a tough Friday night outing to put up two more scoreless frames in extra innings, and Craig Stammen followed a two-inning stint Friday night with a 55-pitch, three-inning scoreless stretch to get the game to the 15th inning.
Of course, in the midst of the impressive relief outings, the Braves tied the game in the ninth, making all of the extra pomp and circumstance necessary in the first place. But neither team would score again until the 15th inning, when Adam LaRoche punished a hanging breaking ball from Kris Medlen for a moonshot to right field, the ball searing through the mist at Turner Field before coming to rest in the bleachers, a dozen rows deep, giving the Nationals the lead once more.
That left the game to Haren, summoned from the bullpen to make his first relief appearance since 2004. Haren had thrown his routine side work prior to the game, tossing 30-35 pitches, which he followed with an upper body workout. But when Strasburg’s evening was cut short, several hours earlier, he offered up his services, should they be needed. They were.
“I’m proud of him for even doing that,” said Randy Knorr, who took over as manager when Davey Johnson was ejected along with Strasburg. “A lot of guys wouldn’t even have gone down there after throwing a bullpen.”
Haren allowed a single, but that was all, striking out Jordan Schafer flailing at a splitter, his bat sent cartwheeling towards the Braves dugout to end the game. That netted Haren first Major League save, and only his second as a professional, the other coming more than 12 years prior as a member of the New Jersey Cardinals of the Short-season New York Penn League on July 15, 2001 against the Lowell Spinners.
“I’m only supposed to do media every five days,” Haren joked as the huddle approached his locker after 1 a.m. local time.
In the end, the Nationals went home with a big road victory in Atlanta. Their reward. Both clubs get a whopping 12 hours and 46 minutes between the final out and the first pitch on Sunday afternoon. Haren summed it up best when all was said and done.
“Five-hour games are fine when you win them. But when you lose them, they really stink.”
Before heading to Nationals Park to prepare for Tuesday’s game, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman had some important business across town. Through a partnership with Hope for Henry, the two infielders spent some time at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, lifting the spirits of pediatric cancer patients undergoing treatment.
“A lot of these kids are fighting battles that we’ve never even had to think about,” he explained. “It’s pretty amazing to see what they go through.”
Desmond is one of the club’s most community-minded players, but made his first hospital visit. He was overwhelmed by the positive attitudes from the children and families he encountered.
“To be able to see kids, parents and family members in such positive spirits when things are stacked against them, it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s encouraging and motivating, and it’s just a blessing to be able to be here and interact with them.”
Laurie Strongin founded Hope For Henry after her eldest son lost his battle with cancer. Every week, Hope For Henry hosts in-hospital parties and events that help promote comfort, care and recovery for the patients and their families. For Laurie, professional athletes taking a genuine interest in children struggling with unimaginable circumstances is what she envisioned when she started the foundation 10 years ago.
“This is our second event with the Washington Nationals and it is a total delight to work with them,” Strongin said. “The players make the kids so happy. (It’s great) for them to meet their heroes while they’re in the hospital and really have a chance to visit with them.”
Hope For Henry provided pizza and cupcakes along with baseballs, baseball cards and wristbands that Ryan and Ian gave to the kids. Each child also had their picture taken by a Hope for Henry photographer, who printed the photos on-site so they could be autographed by the players before the visit was over.
Considering their circumstances, the children were all in remarkably high spirits, none more so than three-year-old Jakyle. Wearing his Nationals jersey, Jakyle was overcome with exuberance when Zimmerman and Desmond walked in. This particular moment had a lasting effect for both Nationals.
“He’s only three years old and has been through more than a lot of people have been through in their whole lives,” said Zimmerman. “For him to have some fun and jump around and go crazy, it’s humbling.”
For more information about Hope For Henry, visit http://www.hopeforhenry.org.
Denard Span has maintained since his arrival in the Nation’s Capital that he takes more pride in his defense than his offense. He has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, taking extra bases away from Joey Votto and Zack Cozart of the Reds, Carlos Ruiz and Darin Ruf of the Phillies, Jason Kubel of the Diamondbacks, and others.
Perhaps it’s because of all those other plays that we’ve seen over the course of his first season in a Nationals uniform, but when the ball left Hunter Pence’s bat with two on and two out in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, there was a sense of confidence that Span would find a way to track it down. Track it down he did, notching the catch of the year for Washington and securing the fifth straight win for the Nationals.
Like a walk-off home run, the game-saving grab stands out above other tremendous defensive plays more because of its situational importance than the shear athleticism involved. Because of the situation and the location of Span’s catch, it was most obviously evocative of Roger Bernadina’s game-saver in Houston last season. But where does Span’s snag rank among the top game-saving catches in franchise history? We’re letting you decide from among our favorites. Watch them below, then vote in the poll at the bottom of the post.
Span Saves The Day: 8.14.13
The Shark’s Disappearing Act: 8.8.12
Willie Harris Leaves Them Loaded: 4.10.10
The Nationals celebrated the work of Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and its community initiatives August 9-11, holding the organization’s annual Foundation Weekend during the team’s series with the Phillies.
The Dream Foundation kicked off the festivities with the fifth-annual Green Up Day at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, teaming up with Anacostia Riverkeeper to rebuild natural barriers and remove invasive plant species that contribute to soil erosion at the wetlands. Close to 100 volunteers from the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force and KPMG, as well as Nationals fans and front office staff, came out to support the project.
“The Nationals have a commitment to the environment and we’re playing off of that,” said Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, Dream Foundation chair and one of the Nationals principal owners. “We’re hoping to expand that into the community.”
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens serves as a natural filter for the Anacostia River watershed and flood plain for the area. Storm water overflow from the river accumulates in the Gardens; it is cleansed and partially absorbed as it passes through the vegetation, preventing or mitigating flood damage.. The filtered river and rainwater then flows back into the Anacostia. The volunteers reinforced bank stabilizers installed at last year’s Green Up Day, replenished soil in several eroded areas, and planted native grasses and trees to aid in soil and plant retention.
“I’m a Nationals fan, so I thought it would be fun to be involved with the Nationals in one way shape or another and do something that’s good for the city,” volunteer Frank Santi said. “This is a great place.”
For their efforts, Green Up Day volunteers received a T-shirt, tickets for Sunday’s game and a free lunch at Nationals Park courtesy of Hard Times Cafe. Additionally, a select group was recognized for its work as part of the pregame ceremonies on Sunday.
Anacostia Riverkeeper Mike Bolinder praised the efforts of the Dream Foundation and the newfound attention the Nationals have helped steer toward the river next to which Nationals Park sits.
“It’s a very natural partnership for us to work with our most famous neighbor to bring local awareness to the Anacostia and both the trouble that it faces and the amazing beauty it can offer,” Bolinder said.
Other Dream Foundation projects were recognized over the weekend as well, including the Neighborhood Initiative, which benefits local non-profit organizations in the Southeast/Southwest D.C. neighborhoods, the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, and the newly opened Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex at Children’s National Medical Center.
Several times each season when Stephen Strasburg takes the hill and cruises through two or three innings without allowing a hit, the press box begins to buzz.
“He’s got no-hit stuff tonight.”
“I know it’s early, but…”
Any such talk was wiped away on Strasburg’s very first pitch of Sunday’s game, as Jimmy Rollins lobbed a broken-bat floater into right field for a leadoff single. But the Phillies would manage just three more singles and a walk the rest of the way, as Strasburg completed his first-ever shutout in a 6-0 Nationals victory.
Impressively, he combined the dominant power pitching that he burst onto the scene with in his first big league start, with the more pitch-to-contact-heavy approach he has implemented this season. Despite striking out 10 Philadelphia batters, the 25-year-old needed just 99 pitches and faced just 29 batters, two over the minimum.
“It’s something you try to do every time out,” said Strasburg of his performance. “Try to get more outs with less pitches.”
He fanned seven different Philadelphia starters, with only Chase Utley and Erik Kratz bucking the trend. Instead, those two combined to make seven outs in just five at-bats, as Utley twice grounded into double plays.
Perhaps most impressively, Strasburg did all of this after enduring an early scare, when he stumbled a bit off the mound after spiking a changeup past the ankles of Domonic Brown. The trainers went out to check on the right-hander, and both Strasburg and Davey Johnson would later confirm that he had tweaked his groin on the delivery.
Ironically, it was something that only happened in the first place – and that he would only feel afterwards – as a result of flying too far open to his glove side, a mechanical glitch that he has worked to rein in all season. Perhaps the added awareness helped Strasburg stay on a better line to home plate, as he would go on to strike out seven of the next 10 batters he faced following a walk to Brown, his lone free pass of the afternoon.
“If he didn’t fly open, it didn’t bother him,” said Johnson after the game. “Obviously it didn’t bother him.”
The masterful performance overshadowed other story lines, like the fact that the 6-0 victory gave the Nationals their first-ever home sweep over their division rivals. Former Phillie Jayson Werth also collected his second straight three-hit game, and is following his NL Player of the Month Award in July with a .571/.647/.821 slash line thus far in August. The Nationals showed aggressiveness on the basepaths, with Ian Desmond scoring from second base on a fielder’s choice, coming all the way home after the ball trickled away from Kratz following Utley’s bounced throw home on a force attempt. And there was terrific defense, capped by Ryan Zimmerman’s diving snare of Kevin Frandsen’s liner to end the game, which, of course, brought the storyline full circle, back to Strasburg’s shutout.
“You expect more of those from him, with his talent,” concluded Johnson.
Strasburg’s next scheduled start will come against the Braves in Atlanta this weekend.
As a baseball player, you can’t always control when you will hit certain career milestones. Often times, they occur simply within the flow of the game, perhaps having little impact on the actual result. Two Nationals players hit memorable milestone marks Saturday night, one helping directly contribute to the other.
After an RBI-single his second time up got the Nationals on the board, Jayson Werth stood at 998 career hits. In the sixth inning, he would fight through a classically Werthian at-bat, fouling off four pitches before swatting a single the other way and eventually scoring Washington’s third run. That set him up for a chance to reach the 1,000 mark in his next at-bat, which came in a tie game against Phillies reliever Zach Miner with a runner at first and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The normally methodical Werth took no time to make his presence felt, jumping on a first pitch slider and wrapping it inside the left field foul pole for a go-ahead, two-run home run. He even took a curtain call following the blast, which put the Nationals ahead for good.
“Unbelievable moment for him, to get his 1,000th career hit on a homer against them,” said Bryce Harper after the game, referencing Werth’s achievement coming against his former club.
While Werth himself downplayed the significance of the milestone occurring against the Phillies, he nevertheless took a moment to savor the accomplishment, one he didn’t even realize he was on the precipice of reaching. He was watching tape in the clubhouse after his third at-bat when batting practice pitcher Ali Modami made him aware of the situation.
“When you start out playing this game, however many years ago, it’s one of those benchmarks you put on the list of things you want to accomplish,” said Werth after the game.
Perhaps overshadowed by Werth’s heroics was the yeoman work put in by Tanner Roark in just his second big league appearance. Coming on in relief of Taylor Jordan, Roark needed just 12 pitches to navigate two scoreless frames on the mound, keeping the Nationals in the game. When Washington pushed in front in the seventh, it lined Roark up for his first Major League win.
“Yeah, I realized it,” said Roark of the situation setting up to possibly provide him with his first victory, a smile creeping out of the corner of his mouth. “Most important, we got the win. The team got the win.”
Both Werth and Roark’s milestone performances proved vital to that happening, though.
There were several remarkable aspects to Dan Haren’s solid start on Friday night against Philadelphia. It marked the fifth time in six starts since his return from the disabled list that he allowed two or fewer runs in an outing. He struck out five or more (seven, to be exact) without a walk for the fifth time this year. But perhaps more impressively, it was the first time in the 11-year veteran’s career, during which he spent parts of six seasons in the National League, that he had ever beaten the Phillies.
When Ian Krol rung up Darin Ruf looking to end the game, Haren could officially claim a piece of baseball lore. He became just the 13th pitcher in Major League Baseball history to beat all 30 franchises in his career.
While that feat has been made more accessible by the advent of Interleague Play and the higher frequency of today’s players changing teams, specialized pitching roles and pitch limits have made it harder and harder to earn wins as a starter. And regardless of other mitigating factors, the list is a rather illustrious one:
Kevin Brown (211 wins, six-time All-Star)
A.J. Burnett (142 wins)
Randy Johnson (303 wins, 10-time All-Star, five-time Cy Young)
Al Leiter (162 wins, two-time All-Star)
Derek Lowe (176 wins, two-time All-Star)
Jamie Moyer (269 wins, All-Star)
Terry Mulholland (124 wins, All-Star)
Vicente Padilla (108 wins, All-Star)
Curt Schilling (216 wins, six-time All-Star)
Javier Vazquez (165 wins, All-Star)
Woody Williams (132 wins, All-Star)
Barry Zito (164 wins, three-time All-Star, Cy Young)
That group includes one sure-fire Hall of Famer, a couple borderline candidates, and 11 All-Stars, six of whom were selected for the Midsummer Classic multiple times. Haren, of course, is a three-time All-Star himself, and earned his 126th career victory with Friday night’s triumph.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Haren of the feat, of which he had become aware back in July, the last time he faced the Phillies. “I think it’s something to be proud of, it shows longevity. I face them a couple more times this year, hopefully I’ll get the same result.”
Haren’s performances have been consistent with his heralded career since his return to action on July 8. His 2.43 ERA (10 ER/37.0 IP) is easily the best in the Washington starting rotation over that stretch, during which he has struck out 39 batters while walking just eight, good for a 4.88 K/BB rate.
His overall ERA of 4.99 is the lowest it has been since May 14, and just the second time he has ended a start under the 5.00 mark this season.
“I’ve had a little bit of luck and I’ve pitched a little better,” he explained of the difference in results, also noting that his split-fingered pitch has been particularly sharp, aiding his elevated strikeout numbers. “Put those together and good things happen.”
As a Major League Baseball team in one of the country’s most progressive technological markets, we’re always looking for new and creative ways to use the expanding world of social media to connect with our fans. In that spirit, we are hosting our first-ever Instagram-based event, which is the first of its kind in all of Major League Baseball.
We’re partnering with the gracious folks at the MLB Fan Cave in New York to present the #NatsCaveCrasher contest. Simply tag your best Nationals Instagram photos with the hashtag #NatsCaveCrasher for your chance to win pregame field passes, access to the Nats Fan Cave and field passes for yourself and a friend to the Free NatsLive Postgame Concert featuring Gavin DeGraw on Saturday, August 31 as the Nationals play the Mets.
As a finalist, you will be tasked with compiling a portfolio of photos from the evening, which will be displayed right here on Curly W Live and voted on by your fellow fans. Whoever receives the most votes will win an all-expenses paid trip for two to New York City September 9-10 to visit the MLB Fan Cave and see the Nationals take on the Mets at Citi Field.
Not bad, right?
We’ll be picking finalists on a rolling basis between now and August 21, so be sure to keep tagging photos for your chance to be chosen. We’ll announce one finalist on each of the five following dates:
Monday, August 12
Wednesday, August 14
Friday, August 16
Monday, August 19
Wednesday, August 21
For official rules and a gallery of entries, visit nationals.com/natscavecrasher today. Make sure you’re following @Nationals on Instagram and send in your submissions. Maybe you can crash both the Nats Fan Cave and the MLB Fan Cave in New York City.
Ian Desmond has already been named an All-Star and has won a Silver Slugger Award in his career. With a few more plays like the barehanded one he made on Mike Minor’s slow roller last night, he may add a Gold Glove to that register at some point. But tonight, he can take great pride in earning the Heart & Hustle Award, an accolade seemingly created for a player like Desmond, who is growing into a leader both on the field and in the community.
The Annual Heart & Hustle Award recognizes one player on each Major League team who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game. Of the 30 winners from each Major League team, one player will be chosen as the final Heart and Hustle Award recipient, as voted on by the more than 6,000 members of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. This winner will be announced at the Legends for Youth Dinner, held in New York City on November 19, 2013.
“We can’t control results, but we can control what we do off the field,” said Desmond in regards to his work in the community, particularly with the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. “We’re called to do more than just get hits and play defense.”
Former Washington Senator and current Chairman of the Board of the MLBPAA, Jim Hannan will present Desmond with his award on the field prior to Tuesday night’s game vs. Atlanta. Desmond has been the Nationals nominee twice in the past, in both 2010 and 2011. Teammate Kurt Suzuki was also the Oakland Athletics nominee in both of the same years.
For more information on this award, the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, and how you too can become a member, please visit www.baseballalumni.com.
To the last minute.
To the last second.
To the last man.
Of all the things asked of Bryce Harper at such a young age, team leader has not been among them. But after a disappointing first two-thirds of the season, the 20-year-old spoke up the other day, then went out and provided the Nationals with a personal slogan, emblazoned on red camouflage workout shirts, prior to Friday’s game. It is a quote with which those who follow the young outfielder on Twitter may be familiar, from the movie Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen.
The emotional team leader role had been shouldered largely by Ian Desmond thus far in 2013, but he seemed happy to have a second voice in the clubhouse speaking up at this critical juncture in the season.
“I think they’re great,” he said of the T-shirts, displaying his own for the media to see. “It’s good to see him coming into his own.”
As for Harper’s ability to walk the walk, he launched a second deck home run and drove in two of Washington’s four runs Friday night as the Nationals got back in the win column with a 4-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
“He rises to the occasion pretty well, if you hadn’t noticed,” quipped Desmond of his teammate after the victory.
Desmond himself got Washington on the board first, taking advantage of a bad route by Carlos Gomez to snag a leadoff double in the fifth, then stealing third and scoring as the throw skipped down the left field line. It was one of the game’s little swings that has seemed to go against Washington all year, but finally broke in their favor.
Of course, in order to once again accomplish their goal of playing in baseball’s postseason, nearly everything will have to go right for the Nationals. That was Davey Johnson’s point of emphasis after the game.
“We have to play really good from here on out to have any chance at all,” he stressed. “I think our guys know that.”
They will need more offense from Denard Span, like the quality at-bat he put in leading off the top of the ninth inning Friday night after quickly falling behind former Nationals lefty Michael Gonzalez 0-2. He fouled off a fastball, took a couple of tough sliders for balls, fouled another breaking ball off, then spoiled the fifth slider of the at-bat for a humpback liner, over third baseman Jeff Bianchi’s head and into left field. He would speed into second for a leadoff double, later padding the Nationals lead back to three runs after the Brewers had gotten one back in the bottom of the eighth.
The Nationals will also need the likes of Ryan Mattheus to fill the void in the seventh inning as he did with one of his best appearances of the season, and easily the strongest since returning from the disabled list. Mattheus got a strike out followed by a pair of grounders from the top two hitters in the Milwaukee order, following Jordan Zimmermann’s six scoreless innings with one of his own.
Speaking of Zimmermann, Washington needs his return to his first half form, as well as for Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez to continue to do what they have done most of the year. Dan Haren, who has pitched well in four starts since his own return from the DL, will be counted on to continue to do so the rest of the way.
But there is a sense among some – Harper and Desmond included – that they need a little extra fire to make all these things happen. If they can continue to lead the way as they did on Friday night, maybe they can close the 6.5 games remaining between themselves and a postseason spot over the final 53 games.