Results tagged ‘ Michael Morse ’
The Nationals announced Wednesday night that they have acquired right-handed pitchers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen, as well as a player to be named later from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse.
Cole, who was originally selected by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2010 First-year Player Draft and traded to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez last offseason, returns to Washington. The 6’4”, 21-year-old hurler ranked as the A’s number three overall prospect and top pitcher, according to Baseball America’s rankings released in November. Cole also came in at fourth in Washington’s rankings the year prior. He split his 2012 season between Low-A Burlington and High-A Stockton, putting up an impressive 6-3 record and 2.07 ERA (22 ER/95.2 IP) with 102 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 19 Midwest League starts. He ranked top-five in the Oakland organization in both ERA and strikeouts.
Treinen, 24, was taken by the Athletics in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft out of South Dakota State University. He compiled a 7-7 ledger with a 4.37 ERA (50 ER/103.0 IP) over 24 appearances (15 starts) in the hitter-friendly California League last year. Like Cole, he also posted great peripheral numbers, striking out 92 while walking just 23 (4.00 K/BB rate) on the season.
Washington will also receive a player to be named later from Oakland in the deal, the third made between the two clubs in the last 13 months. In addition to the aforementioned Gonzalez trade, the two defending division champions swapped backstops in August, with the Nationals receiving Kurt Suzuki for minor league catcher David Freitas. Washington also acquired right-handed pitcher Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown from Oakland in December of 2010 for outfielder Josh Willingham.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today, we look at another of Washington’s impressive rookies from 2012, Tyler Moore.
Amidst the impressive crop of Nationals rookies, perhaps none rose as suddenly into the collective fan consciousness from 2011 to 2012 as Tyler Moore. The soft-spoken Mississippi State product let his bat do the talking throughout his two prior seasons in the minors, where he was one of just two players to hit 30 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons. Despite largely coming off the bench for the Nationals in 2012, Moore showed that power streak was no fluke by blasting 10 roundtrippers in only 156 at-bats. Moore also had nine longballs in just 101 Triple-A at-bats over his two stints with the Syracuse Chiefs last year, giving him a combined home run rate of one per 13.5 at-bats, better than either of his previous two seasons (16.7, 16.2).
Moore’s Major League call-up was somewhat overshadowed. After all, Bryce Harper’s debut came less than 24 hours earlier, and Moore’s initial showing wasn’t his strongest, as he managed just three singles in 19 at-bats, striking out seven times without a walk before he was sent back to Triple-A. But in his second showing, Moore more than made up for his slow start. In his fourth game back with Washington, the 25-year-old blasted his first two Major League home runs, driving in five to key a 6-2 victory in Toronto that capped the Nats 6-0 road trip. He stuck in the Majors, and went on to post a .277/.349/.562 line with 19 of his 38 hits going for extra bases (nine 2B, 10 HR) following his second call-up. Moore’s bat, combined with his ability to play first base and his growth in left field made him a versatile option off of Davey Johnson’s bench as a member of the “Goon Squad.”
A former 16th-round draft choice, Moore received exactly one Postseason at-bat, and made the most of it. Washington trailed St. Louis 3-2 with two outs in the top of the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLDS, but had Michael Morse at third and Ian Desmond at second. Johnson called upon Chad Tracy to pinch-hit, prompting Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to counter with his lone lefty reliever, Marc Rzepczynski. Davey re-countered with Moore, a righty. The rookie made Matheny pay for his strategy, driving a 2-2 fastball off the outside corner the opposite way for what would prove to be the game-winning, two-run single.
The 6’2”, 215-pound Moore will not be arbitration eligible until 2015, and he remains under team control through the 2018 season.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today, we make the call to the bullpen for right-hander Ryan Mattheus.
While the Nationals staff was largely praised for the effectiveness of the starting rotation last year, it would be remiss to overlook the contributions of the bullpen, which was as solid and deep as any in the National League. Although Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen are more well-known on the national stage, there is another hurler lurking in the ’pen, one who continued to grow and solidify his role in Davey Johnson’s late-game mix: Ryan Mattheus.
The right-hander posted a remarkably similar ERA (2.85) to that of his rookie season (2.81), but made some significant strides in improving his peripheral numbers. A groundball pitcher by trade, Mattheus raised his K rate from 3.4/9.0 IP to 5.6/9.0 IP while cutting down significantly on his walks. As a result, he finished the year with a lower WHIP than any National to throw at least 35 innings not named Gio (yes, even lower than Stephen Strasburg). The biggest mark against Mattheus was his eight home runs allowed, but six of those were solo shots, evidence of his ability to keep opposing runners off base, limiting the damage against him.
Arguably the biggest moment of the 29-year-old’s season – and possibly career, to this point – came in Game 1 of the NLDS in St. Louis. With Washington trailing 2-1, the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out to start the bottom of the seventh inning. Johnson called on Mattheus, handing him the seemingly impossible task of escaping the middle of the St. Louis lineup without allowing any damage. Cards cleanup man Allen Craig swung at the first pitch and hit a bounder to Ian Desmond at shortstop, who threw home for a force out, the first of the inning. Then, on the very next pitch, Yadier Molina rolled over a ground ball to Ryan Zimmerman, who started an inning-ending, 5-4-3 double play. Mattheus’ Houdini act made him the first Major Leaguer in Postseason history to record three outs in an inning on just two pitches.
The Galt, California native gained popularity with Washington fans by picking Katy Perry’s “Firework” as his bullpen entrance song in 2011, and he stuck with the tune in his second full season. The auditory cue became almost as synonymous in its familiarity as Michael Morse’s use of “Take On Me” in his fourth plate appearance of the game. Mattheus also let fans actively participate in helping him create his Twitter profile, encouraging them to vote for his profile photo. Mattheus will not be arbitration eligible until 2015, and is under team control through the 2018 season.
Some of our Top 12 of ’12 are all about context; they are big moments specifically because of when they happened. When Wilson Ramos flew to his walk-off, the drama was heightened because it was the first game of the year against the rival Phillies. When Ian Desmond “dunked” vs. the Diamondbacks, the home run was magnified by the fact that the Nats trailed with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. When The Shark flew into the crevasse in front of the visitor’s bullpen at Minute Maid Park, the significance of the catch itself was magnified by its game-saving nature. Moment Number 3 requires no such context.
On September 29, in the middle contest of a three-game set in St. Louis, the Nationals loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first inning, thanks to a Bryce Harper single, Ryan Zimmerman double and Adam LaRoche walk. That brought up Michael Morse, who drove the first pitch from Kyle Lohse to the opposite field, the ball carrying over Carlos Beltran’s head in right towards the wall. Although it appeared to clear the wall, then bounce back onto the field, the ball was ruled in play. Confusion reigned on the basepaths, as Zimmerman retreated to third, forcing LaRoche back to second, and a once-trotting Morse scampering back to first, where he was tagged before sliding back into the bag. The umpires went to video to confirm exactly what had happened, and emerged a few minutes later from the clubhouse tunnel signaling for the grand slam.
Then, things got really weird. The runners had begun the slow trot around the bags (again), but were ordered back to their original bases to play out the home run in full effect. Harper was brought back out of the dugout to third, with the domino effect pushing a confused Morse all the way back to the batter’s box. As the broadcasters chuckled in amazement, Morse looked back at Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, wondering exactly what to do once he had returned to the box. He decided to pantomime the swing once more, with no bat in hand, then began his trot around the bases. With over 42,000 confused fans in the stands and both Washington broadcast teams doubled over in their respective booths, the Beast rounded the bags, slapped his helmet, and returned to the dugout with a four-run lead, MLB’s Oddity of the Year, and the first home run ever hit in the Major Leagues without a bat.
Near the end of July, the Nationals entered the Sunday finale of a four-game set in Milwaukee looking to win the series and wrap up a 6-1 road trip before heading home to face the rival Phillies. Things looked up as Steve Lombardozzi blasted the fifth pitch of the game – a 3-1 fastball from Milwaukee starter Mark Rogers – into the seats for an early lead. But the Brewers responded with two runs of their own in the first and led 3-1 heading to the sixth inning. From there, they seemed to answer every Nationals rally. Washington scored once in the sixth and seventh, but Milwaukee answered with two runs in each frame to build a 7-3 advantage. The Nationals roared back with four in the top of the eighth to tie the game, only to watch the Brewers score twice to take a 9-7 lead entering the ninth.
With one out in the top of the ninth, Mark DeRosa drew a walk to bring Michael Morse to the plate as the tying run. Brewers closer John Axford quickly got ahead 0-2, but when he tried to sneak a fastball over the outside corner, Morse reached out and belted it the other way down the line in right, just clearing the wall inside the foul pole for a game-tying, two-run home run. Thanks to 2.1 hitless innings of relief from Craig Stammen, the contest remained knotted at 9-9 into the top of the 11th, when Bryce Harper walked and Ryan Zimmerman singled, bringing up Morse once more. “The Beast” fell behind in the count again before hooking a 1-2 breaking ball down the left field line into the corner, scoring Harper easily and Zimmerman on a slide just ahead of the relay throw from shallow left field, pushing Washington in front, 11-9. Tyler Clippard hung on for the save in the bottom of the frame and the Nationals escaped the biggest roller coaster ride of the 2012 campaign with another Curly W in the books.
It’s December, the time of year for oversized family meals, eggnog, lots of gift-giving, and colder weather (eventually… we think). The end of the year also brings about all of the “Best Of” lists. With so many signature moments to choose from this year, we thought we’d let you vote on the Top 12 of ’12, the best of the best in an unforgettable year.
Watch the videos below, then go to the bottom of the page to cast your vote. Our poll is an open one, meaning you can vote for as many different moments as many times as you would like through Thursday at noon. However, we’re keeping the results secret, and will begin unveiling our list with Number 12 on Thursday afternoon. Which moment deserves to be Number One? You decide.
Opening Day Walk-off (4/12 vs. CIN)
After Gio Gonzalez introduced himself to the Nationals faithful with a gem in the home opener, Ryan Zimmerman scampered home on a wild pitch in the 10th inning to give the Nationals a walk-off win.
Desmond’s “Dunk” (5/2 vs. ARI)
Trailing by a run with two outs in the ninth, all while sitting on a season-high, five-game losing streak, Ian Desmond delivered the biggest blast of his season, a two-run, game-winning bomb to the visiting bullpen in left-center field.
Ramos Flies To Victory on NATITUDE Weekend (5/4 vs. PHI)
In Washington’s first meeting with the five-time defending division champion Phillies, the teams battled into the 11th before Wilson Ramos, the last bat on the bench, delivered a bases-loaded single up the middle to send the crowd into a frenzy as he sailed up the first base line.
Harper Steals Home (5/6 vs. PHI)
Phillies hurler Cole Hamels thought he’d welcome Bryce Harper to the big leagues by plunking him with the first pitch of his first at-bat. Harper responded by racing first-to-third on a two-out single, then breaking for the plate on Hamels’ lazy pick-off throw to first, swiping home for his first Major League steal.
Teenage Dream (6/5 vs. NYM)
After Desmond tied the game three times late, Harper delivered the first walk-off of his career (and the first by a teenager in Major League Baseball since 1988) in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Old School Walk-off (7/5 vs. SF)
On Turn Back the Clock Night, with both teams sporting their 1924-era jerseys, the Nationals completed a three-game sweep of San Francisco by coming back late against Matt Cain and – just like the Senators did against the Giants in ’24 – walking off to victory.
Beast of a Comeback (7/29 @ MIL)
Sometimes, one set of late heroics isn’t enough. That was no problem for Michael Morse, who delivered a game-tying, two-run home run in the ninth, followed by a game-winning, two-run double in the 11th to lead the Nats past the Brewers, 11-9, in one of the craziest games of the year.
“The Catch” (8/7 @ HOU)
There were plenty of great catches in Major League Baseball this year, but few were more important than the improbable, disappearing act grab that Roger “The Shark” Bernadina pulled out of his hat, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Gi-000000000 (8/31 vs. STL)
As dominant as Gio Gonzalez can be, he had yet to notch a complete game shutout on his impressive resume. That all changed on August 31 against the defending champs, as he blanked the Cardinals for nine frames to earn his 17th win of the year.
Dirty Dozen (9/4-5 vs. CHC)
The Nationals set a club record, blasting six home runs to beat the Cubs on September 4. How did they follow up that epic performance? By blasting six more the very next night, including three in one inning (the “Nat Trick”). All told, eight different players got in on the act, with Adam LaRoche accounting for three of the bombs.
Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 06, 2012
Morse’s Phantom Grand Slam (9/29 @ STL)
What do you do when your grand slam – initially ruled a single – is upheld on video replay? If you’re Michael Morse, you head back around the bases, all the way to the batter’s box, then toss in a phantom swing for good measure before heading into your trot.
Werth Game 4 Walk-off (10/11 vs. STL)
When you’re embroiled in a classic postseason battle, with neither team giving an inch, the game often comes down to one pitch. For Jayson Werth, Game 4 of the NLDS came down to the 13th pitch of the longest at-bat of his career, which he hammered into a red sea of deafening euphoria for the win.
There was much speculation as to who the Nationals would be better off facing in the National League Division Series heading into last night’s Cardinals-Braves Wild Card game. With the dust now settled and the team in St. Louis, we’re here to provide an objective analysis of the three National League teams that Washington has the possibility of encountering this postseason and how well the Nats match up against each. First, though, let’s take a look at what the Nationals have working in their favor, regardless of their opponent.
For the Nationals to be successful in the postseason, they will need to stick to the same approach they have had all season long: win the series. That has been the mantra since day one, and while a five or seven-game series differs from a two, three, or four-gamer, the principle remains the same. In that vein, the Nationals finished the 2012 regular season with a 32-12-8 series record. In other words, they won 32 of their 52 series outright (61.5%), and earned at least a split in 40 of them (76.9%). Washington was swept only four times all season long, while returning the favor on nine occasions, including three-game sets at Atlanta in late May and at home against San Francisco in early July.
SHOW ON THE ROAD
While Washington’s 50-31 home record was tied for the top mark in the National League, it is their nearly equal 48-33 road mark that stands out. Not only is that the best away tally in all of baseball, but it includes 2-1 records in both Cincinnati and San Francisco and a 5-4 mark in Atlanta. The Nats ability to win away from D.C. will be a crucial factor in how far their October ride will take them.
St. Louis Cardinals
88-74 overall, 11.0 GB in NL Central (Second Wild Card)
Nationals record vs. St. Louis in 2012: 4-3
World Champions until they are eliminated, the Cardinals are a dangerous opponent that features the highest scoring offense of any postseason club in the National League. Combined with their veteran rotation and playoff experience, the Cards will not be an easy out, but it’s hard to say how Washington will match up, with both teams winning their home series convincingly during the regular season. The good news: the Cardinals rotation (Garcia: 0-1, 10.13; Lohse: 0-0, 6.94; Lynn: 1-1, 9.82; Wainwright: 1-1, 7.27) has not fared well against the Nats bats. We’ll have more on the Cardinals in a full NLDS preview tomorrow.
97-65 overall, NL Central Champions
Nationals record vs. Cincinnati in 2012: 5-2
Reds fans will point out that all of the seven matchups between these two teams occurred very early in the season, when ace Johnny Cueto was on the Disabled List. However, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman both missed the second series, while Bryce Harper was still in Syracuse for the first matchup and Michael Morse was absent for both. It could be very reasonably argued that the Nationals team the Reds could face in October is significantly better offensively (perhaps defensively as well, with Zimmerman and Harper) than the one that took five-of-seven from Cincinnati in April and May.
San Francisco Giants
94-68 overall, NL West Champions
Nationals record vs. San Francisco in 2012: 5-1
The Giants have improved offensively down the stretch, despite the loss of Melky Cabrera, but will rely on their formidable starting rotation to try to replicate their 2010 World Series run. However, the Nationals have fared particularly well against the San Francisco starters as well, with Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong’s worst individual starts of the year ALL coming against the Nats. In fact, add in top starter Matt Cain and the quartet that went a combined 55-36 with a 3.42 ERA (294 ER/772.2 IP) against the rest of baseball managed just a 1-4 record with an 8.80 ERA (30 ER/30.2 IP) against Washington this year.
The Postseason Issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now through the end of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park.
Over the course of 162 regular season games, there are too many dramatic moments to recount in just a few short pages. So, we’ve picked out a few that we believe were some of the most vital and memorable in the Nationals 2012 campaign for our Postseason Issue of Nationals Magazine. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to reflect on each of these Signature Moments and realize that, of course, in their own unique way, each would prove pivotal to this memorable Nationals season. But in the excitement of the moment, with the rush of adrenaline still coursing through our veins, did we really, fully appreciate the splendor of what we had just witnessed? We dust off our coverage of each to help you relive every last detail. Once you’ve soaked it all in (again), vote for your favorite in the poll at the bottom of the page.
Lost in the fanfare of the home opener at Nationals Park, or even Gio Gonzalez’s sparkling home debut on the mound, was the southpaw’s handy-work with the bat as he notched his first career hit that day. Here’s how we saw it:
As Gonzalez ran to first, he watched the ball the whole way. As it finally fell to the grass, he whipped his head towards the Nationals dugout, mouth open in an ecstatic, toothy grin. After he rounded first, he walked back to the bag with his head tilted back skywards, an expression of relief, yes, but more so pure happiness. As the bat boy returned the ball to the dugout for safekeeping, he also retrieved the pitcher’s big red jacket, to help keep the hurlers arm warm through the rest of his sparkling home debut.
As for Edwin Jackson’s gem later in the series, do you recall who provided the offensive support? Hint: You could look up Jackson’s no-hitter with Arizona back in 2010. Or just visit the link above.
NATITUDE Weekend just about speaks for itself, but they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, right? Check the post from that series for even more of our favorite fan photos.
TURN BACK THE CLOCK NIGHT
The Nationals and Giants went all out in recreating the feel of the 1924 World Series, from the throwback scoreboard and uniforms all the way down to a walk-off win for Washington. But if you haven’t seen the retro-inspired game highlights, there’s no time like the present to refresh your memory.
BEAST OF A COMEBACK
The improbable comeback win in Milwaukee – led by Michael Morse – undoubtedly stands as one of the signature moments of the 2012 season, but Curly W Live to puts it in its proper historical perspective:
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.
Every signature moment in this 2012 Washington Nationals season has composed its own storyline. With dramatic victories woven throughout the tapestry of a thrilling campaign, it would have been understandable to expect some sort of coup de gras to cap off a season’s worth of celebration. Maybe the Nationals didn’t provide the storybook clinching moment that television producers dream of, with a dog-pile on the pitcher’s mound, as they missed their first chance to wrap up the division title on Sunday in St. Louis. There was a pretty brilliant, sparkling silver lining, though, knowing that the team would return home leading by 3.0 games with three games left on the regular season slate.
That presented the opportunity to clinch the division at home against the five-time defending division champion Phillies, who had thrice celebrated their own glory with wins over the Nationals. But what if Washington didn’t win, and instead had to rely on Atlanta, one of the hottest teams in baseball down the stretch, to lose? Would that turn of events scrub some of the luster from Washington’s shiny division crown?
On Sunday afternoon, more than 24 hours before the division would be decided, Nationals broadcaster Dave Jageler refused to allow such a scenario to take anything away from the accomplishment.
“There’s no such thing as ‘backing in’ when you win 96 games,” he declared.
Based on the celebrations taking place on the field Monday night – after the Nationals 2-0 loss to the Phillies became a mere footnote in their 2012 National League East Championship season, thanks to the Braves 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh – the players agreed. While they maintained their composure nearly two weeks earlier, following the clinch of the first postseason berth in D.C. baseball since 1933, they held nothing back upon taking the division.
They jumped around in jubilation, spraying each other with any beverage available. When Mike Rizzo was being interviewed live on MASN, Wilson Ramos emptied an entire bottle of champagne over his head. As soon as players huddled together in the clubhouse in celebration, Michael Morse unleashed a tidal wave of water from a Gatorade bucket into the middle of the fray. By the end of the night, Jayson Werth’s home white number 28 jersey was stained pink from his red undershirt bleeding through the mix of beverages.
“It was kind of odd,” said Werth, of the way the evening unfolded. “We’re getting beat, but we’re celebrating. But this team deserves this. We’ve come a long way.”
This was, after all, what Werth envisioned when he made the decision to leave the team occupying the visitor’s dugout for the final series of the regular season to join the Nationals before the 2011 campaign. He has become a leader on this Washington club, not only taking rookie Bryce Harper under his wing, but guiding the offense at the top of the lineup since his return from a broken wrist in early May. He is batting .308 with a .392 on-base percentage, scoring 32 runs over 53 games during that span, and his ability to continue to set the table will be key for the Nationals in the postseason.
“It’s gratifying, it’s quite an accomplishment,” he said, of winning the division. “We’ve come quite a long way in a very short time, and we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a good young club. I think we should do this every year.”
Before Werth’s strong stretch drive, and before Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse helped Washington assert itself as one of the National League’s top offensive clubs in the second half of the season, another veteran made his biggest mark on this team. Adam LaRoche carried the club through the early part of the year, on his way to matching his career-high in home runs with 32, sitting just one RBI shy of the century mark with two games to play. For his efforts, he will be rewarded with his first trip to the postseason since 2005.
“It means a lot personally,” said LaRoche as he gazed up from the field at the fans behind the Nationals dugout, still screaming and cheering nearly an hour after the end of the game. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the playoffs.”
Asked if he had forgotten the feeling of clinching, the mix of ecstasy, accomplishment and relief, he admitted that he had.
“You do, when it’s been this long,” he said. “You see the other team celebrate, you want to be out there and be a part of it. There’s a big difference.”
Amid the mess of congratulatory hugs, handshakes and post-game interviews, one tall, shaggy-haired man stood to the side, shivering in the cool fall night, his freshly printed NL East Champions shirt already steeped in celebration. Perhaps no man’s journey to standing on this field, literally soaking in the division title, was as trying as John Lannan’s, who took his first loss in six starts for the Nationals this season Monday night, despite pitching well yet again. It was his first start, the back-end of a doubleheader on July 21, that proved to be a turning point for Washington, stopping the division-rival Braves after they had narrowed the division gap to a game-and-a-half, never letting them pull any closer. Looking up at the fans, he was happy to enjoy every bit of the moment at hand.
“This has been awesome,” he said of the celebration. “These guys (the fans), they deserve it as much as we do. It’s something special. I’m just glad to be a part of it. The win would have been icing on the cake, but as soon as the champagne was popped, it was all forgotten.”
The man who seemed to be enjoying the moment the most, though, may have been Gio Gonzalez, who alternated celebrating with his teammates, family and the fans, ducking in and out of interviews. His Cy Young-worthy season has marked the difference between a team that may have simply been competitive and one that has brought the first division title to D.C. in 79 years. Coming from an Oakland team that never made the playoffs during his tenure, his first taste of such success left him living in the moment, riding the wave of emotion, not worrying yet about the challenges that lie ahead.
“This is unbelievable,” he exclaimed. “I don’t want to wake up, boys. I’m still dreaming.”
Here’s to hoping the dream doesn’t end until November.
Baseball is a sport of routines, of countless situations played over and over again. It is a game that, more often than not, rewards those teams that are able to consistently take advantage of the opportunities afforded them to score runs and win games. However, one of the greatest parts about baseball is the likelihood of seeing something you’ve never seen before in each and every game. There are so many different ways for any given situation to unfold that no two games would ever play out exactly alike, even if – by some miracle – the box scores looked identical.
This anachronism played true to form on Saturday night, when the Nationals needed just two swings to take control of their fate, beating the host Cardinals in 10 innings to lower their NL East magic number to one. The first swing happened with no bat and no ball, and was a first for everyone in the ballpark, no matter how much baseball their eyes had seen. Michael Morse stepped into the box with the bases loaded and drove a ball the other way, clearing the right-field wall before caroming off the electronic billboard behind it and back into play. Initially ruled a single on the field, confusion reigned among the Nationals runners on the base paths, with Morse eventually being tagged out sliding back into first. Following a review, the umpires determined correctly that the ball had in fact cleared the wall for a grand slam.
Home runs have been overturned before in baseball since the advent of replay, but none have played out quite the way this one did. Morse, who had stayed at first base during the review, began running the bases when home plate umpire Cory Blaser gave the home run signal. However, he was ordered to go back to the base where he started when the play began. Initially he circled back around second to first, but was eventually sent back to home plate, with Bryce Harper – who began the play at third base and had been in the dugout for several minutes after scoring – summoned to return to the field as well. Upon arriving back at the batter’s box, Morse, not knowing what to do, took a phantom swing, then went into his home run trot, even tossing in his trademark helmet slap as he rounded the bases. Fittingly, a full moon rose from behind the outfield bleachers the next inning, looming over the spot where the ball had left the yard.
The Nationals would not score again until the 10th inning, after the Cardinals had come back to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth. This time, they did so on a play that baseball lifers have seen time and time again, one that anyone who has been following the Nats closely down the stretch over the past few weeks could see coming a mile away. Adam LaRoche, who led the inning off with a single, stood at second base with two outs following a Roger Bernadina sacrifice bunt and an Ian Desmond fly out. With Danny Espinosa at the plate, Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny elected to intentionally walk Espinosa, rather than let his reliever, Fernando Salas, face him.
In theory, the move was a shrewd one. Espinosa had found success against Salas in the past. Perhaps he remembered Espinosa’s triple off Salas on April 20 last season. He almost certainly had images of Espinosa’s three-run, walk-off home run that Salas served up in Washington a couple months after that. Perhaps it was as simple as wanting a righty-righty matchup instead of letting a left-handed batter (or switch-hitter, batting left) beat him. But Kurt Suzuki has not been just any right-handed hitter of late.
Since August 25, the Nationals trade acquisition has batted .322 (29-for-90) with a .522 slugging percentage and 20 RBI in just 27 games. He has supported the “Kurt Klutch” nickname he earned at Cal State Fullerton, where his two-out, RBI-single in the bottom of the seventh inning led the Titans to a 3-2 victory and College World Series title in 2004.
While the intentional walk can serve many purposes in the game, a two-out intentional walk means only one thing from the opposing manager: “I’ll take my chances against you.” Better not to do so facing a guy with a “Klutch” nickname. Suzuki ripped a two-run double to the base of the fence in left-center, providing the decisive blow.
The culmination of the two swings have left the Nationals on the brink of their first-ever National League East title which they could wrap up as soon as today. They need a single win (or Atlanta loss) to make it official here, fittingly, on the home field of the defending World Series Champions.