Results tagged ‘ Peter Gammons ’
On a night in which the thermometer read 77 degrees at a 7:07 p.m. first pitch with number 37 on the mound for the Nationals, perhaps it seemed inevitable that Washington was on its way to its 77th victory, opening up a season-high seven-game lead over the division-rival Braves. Stephen Strasburg reduced a potent Braves lineup to a collection of swinging and looking strikes, including a breaking ball so sharp it sent Martin Prado, a good breaking-ball hitter, lurching backwards as it spun back across the plate.
But Tuesday night’s affair was about more than just Strasburg. Just as he had done the night before, Ian Desmond blasted a home run over the visitor’s bullpen in left field, to nearly the exact same spot. Later, Jesus Flores – who replaced Kurt Suzuki as the starter specifically due to his history of success against Braves starter Paul Maholm – drove a game-defining, three-run shot into the planters just over the left field wall. It was Flores’ first home run since June 29 at Turner Field in Atlanta in a game the Nats would win 5-4, and his first at Nationals Park since June 2, when he broke a scoreless tie with a blast off Brandon Beachy and, yes, the Braves. The catcher has hit just four home runs this season, but the last three have all come against Washington’s closest division rival and have all been a crucial factor in the outcome.
Amazingly, with Desmond and Flores both going deep in their victory Tuesday night, the Nationals have now won 20 straight games in which they have homered. That little nugget reminded us of a conversation we had with MLB Network’s Peter Gammons back in Spring Training. When we spoke with Gammons in the press box in Viera, we asked him of what team in recent memory these 2012 Nats reminded him. We expected an answer like the 2008 Rays or the 2010 Giants, clubs led by dominant starting pitching that could grind out a tight game every night. His answer surprised us.
“I would say Texas,” he said. Those Texas Rangers? The ones who could sneak up and lay a six-run inning on you at any time? The ones who had been to the past two World Series?
“Their pitching is very, very good,” he continued. “It’s young and it’s inexperienced. But they’ve got a lot of guys who can hit the ball eight miles, just like the Nationals do.”
Now, here in late August, with the Nationals lineup at last as healthy as it has been all year long, we finally understand. Washington now leads the National League in home run differential, having blasted 135 while surrendering just 95 (+39). That differential is 10 better than the St. Louis Cardinals, who own the league’s best overall offense. Considering the Nationals rash of injuries and games missed by middle-of-the-lineup bats this year, it’s an even more impressive statistic.
With those power bats back in the lineup, Gammons’ analysis makes a lot more sense. Of course, we’ll still take some credit for our own comparisons. After all, the last team to win 20 straight games in which they homered? The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.
For all of the hype surrounding this weekend’s three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox on the road at Fenway Park, perhaps Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa summed it up best when reflecting upon the feat.
“I think we were the team to beat right here,” he explained. “We’re the first-place team.”
Indeed, they are. They were when the weekend began, and found their lead padded to two games when Atlanta finally saw its six-game win streak come to an end on Sunday. Nevertheless, the national media was paying more attention this weekend to all the things that Nationals fans have been watching since Opening Day, now more than two months in the rear-view mirror.
That’s the thing about playing at Fenway: wherever the Red Sox reside in the standings, everyone is watching. It is one of those venues that puts you under the magnifying glass of the entire country. Peter Gammons, the Hall-of-Fame writer who covered the Sox for decades before ascending to the National stage, was unapologetic in his gushing over the Nationals fan support, those who showed up to cheer the team on in a hostile environment. As The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell pointed out in his column this morning, The Boston Herald even called the Nats “The most exciting team in baseball.”
Peter Gammons just said on NESN that he couldn't believe how many Nats fans were in Fenway. He called it great for baseball.—
Bram Weinstein (@BramESPN) June 10, 2012
The last such moment of national attention for this team came during NATITUDE Weekend against Philadelphia in early May. While the Nationals won that encounter – taking two-of-three including a dramatic, extra-inning victory to open the set – they lost in the nationally televised finale, missing perhaps the opportunity to claim the attention that they demanded this weekend in Boston.
Given the opportunity to close out the sweep once again, they did not disappoint. Following a dynamic team performance Friday and a solid effort on Saturday, the Nationals were in a battle in the finale. Bryce Harper, who was given his first day off since his call-up, found himself thrust into the middle of a tie game with one out in the ninth inning. He drew a five-pitch walk, then spent the bulk of the next two at-bats trying to size up Boston reliever Alfredo Aceves for the best time to steal. With a quick delivery to the plate, Aceves kept Harper on the bag until two outs and two strikes, when the rookie finally broke for second on the perfect pitch, a letter-high fastball that Roger Bernadina laced towards the right-field corner. With his momentum already at full blast (nearly overly so, as he struggled to keep his footing heading into second base), Harper tore around the 270 feet toward home, slapping the plate with the go-ahead run as he slid across well ahead of the relay throw back to the infield.
That allowed Tyler Clippard to come out of the ‘pen for the third straight day, and for the third straight day he shut the door on the Red Sox, silencing the Fenway crowd. His final masterpiece, a literally knee-buckling changeup to Dustin Pedroia, iced both the game and the cake of the weekend’s heroics. It marked the second road sweep in just over two weeks for this team, showing the continued growth that they have already experienced since that Phillies series just over a month ago.
Speaking of those Phillies, they now trail the front-running Nationals by eight games in the NL East, and by a staggering 10 games in the all-important loss column. So, yes, a three-game road sweep of a team with the history and tradition always makes for a great weekend. But with a much-less talked about three-game set against a less-heralded (yet quite talented) Toronto team beginning Monday night, it is where the Nationals sit as a result of that sweep that matters far more.
Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday morning 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 storylines, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.
The Nationals snagged their first win of Spring Training at the home of the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Digital Domain Park. The ballpark was reminiscent of a little slice of New York, though it still featured its share of local flavor. The team went from there to Lake Buena Vista on Tuesday to match up with the Braves for the first time this Spring, again earning a victory. Mark DeRosa flashed good early signs of progress from the wrist injury that has hampered him the past two years and everyone enjoyed some old school, live musical entertainment at the ballpark.
On Wednesday, Carlos Maldonado hit a two-run, ninth-inning home run to force a 3-3 tie with the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Living legend Peter Gammons was on hand for the baseball anomaly and lent his thoughts on the 2012 Nationals. Single game tickets went on sale to the general public at 10am Thursday, as fans lined up outside the box office in D.C. Meanwhile, the Nationals played their best game of the Spring to date, shutting out the Houston Astros by a count of 8-0. Washington finally saw its unbeaten streak come to an end at four games with a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Miami on Friday. We paid a visit to Minor League camp and got some perspective from coaches and coordinators on a number of young prospects, including pitcher Alex Meyer.
Saturday brought the first split-squad action of the spring, as the Nationals won their home game over the Mets and rallied late for their second tie of the Grapefruit League schedule, against the Tigers in Lakeland. As one of the minor leaguers called up to fill out the roster for the New York game, Michael Taylor experienced the highs and lows of professional baseball in one trip around the bases. The weekend was capped by a rainout, as Gio Gonzalez’s four scoreless innings were wiped from the record books, leading us to make a Train pun that was too easy to pass up.
Record for the week: 4-1-2 (one rainout)
In a great moment from the baseball classic Bull Durham, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh, the young pitcher who has just reached the big leagues, drops the following line in a television interview:
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… sometimes, it rains. Think about it.”
Today in Viera, we didn’t have a win or a loss, but we got it all in before the rain. That’s right, we had ourselves a tie, an option that Laloosh never offered, and one which baseball fans are not used to considering.
Here’s how it all went down. The Nationals plated an early run, thanks to an Ian Desmond leadoff double and a Jason Michaels two-out, RBI-single. The Cardinals pushed in front with a run in the fifth and two more in the seventh. The home side trailed 3-1 into the bottom of the ninth, when Koyie Hill dropped a high foul pop off the bat of Tyler Moore, giving the Nationals prospect new life. He took advantage, singling up the middle, and Carlos Maldonado followed by swatting a deep drive to the opposite field over the wall to tie the game at three apiece.
As it turned out, Davey Johnson had told Cardinals manager Mike Matheny around the sixth inning, when the game was tied at 1-1, that he only had enough pitching on hand to go nine innings. Matheny acknowledged that, and the two agreed that the game would go no further, no matter the score. And so, let it go down in the record books that the Nationals and Cardinals played to a 3-3 draw Wednesday, one of the anomolies of Spring Training.
Of course, ties aren’t the only aspect unique to Spring Training. It also provides some great opportunities for fans of the game that they can’t always take advantage of during the regular season. The ability to be up close and personal with those who play and report on the game is truly unparalleled, even at the Minor League level. While fans are generally most captivated by the players themselves, there are a handful of other figures around the game that can generate the same level of excitement. One of those individuals is MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.
We saw Gammons yesterday in Lake Buena Vista, as he took in the 5-2 Nationals victory over the Braves. That was when we discovered he would be traveling to Viera today to interview Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for MLB Network. We were excited to get his take on the buzz and excitement surrounding the organization this spring. After all, when Peter Gammons talks, you listen. A three-time Sportswriter of the Year recipient and J.G. Taylor Spink Award Winner (given by the BBWAA), there is no greater authority on the modern game. We asked if he might share some of his first impressions of the 2012 Nationals so far in Spring Training, and he was more than happy to do so. Here is a glimpse of what he had to say.
“We all realize there’s a great deal of talent here,” Gammons said of Nationals camp. “I think the thing that’s really struck me, other than watching batting practice, is the job Mike Rizzo’s done in getting really good players. I hate to say ‘complimentary players’, because it’s an insult – anyone who makes the big leagues is a good player. But to be able to go out and get a Mark DeRosa, to have Brad Lidge, to have Chad Durbin, they’re some of the best people you could ever meet in your life. They’re rocks for the young players to follow.”
Look for much more from Gammons including which Nationals he expects to break out in 2012, which minor leaguer not named Harper to keep an eye on, and which team from recent history he believes this year’s team compares to best, all in the first Inside Pitch of the season, coming in April at Nationals Park.
The Nationals have another home day game tomorrow, taking on the Astros at 1:05pm. Here are their results to date:
vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0
@ Houston – L, 3-1
vs. Houston – L, 10-2
@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1
@ Atlanta – W, 5-2
vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3
vs. Houston – 1:05pm
Overall Record: 2-2-1
The Nationals hit the road again today, heading to Lake Buena Vista to pay a visit to the Atlanta Braves for the first time this spring. Champions Stadium is located at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, immediately adjacent to Walt Disney World. As such, the back of the concourse is built into a larger set of structures, resulting in some bizarre architecture for a ballpark. Instead of the usual slow curve of the concourse and tunnels below, there are lots of right-angled turns, which can leave you perplexed after a while about exactly which direction you are headed.
As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones. We found MLB Network’s Peter Gammons roaming the tunnels under the ballpark and followed him – and the music – to find our way out. What music, you ask? That of the world famous Atlanta Braves Philharmonic Saxophone Quartet, practicing prior to the game. They would play both pregame and during inning breaks, lending a sense of a bygone era to the Spring Training atmosphere.
There was a great moment on the field during the end of batting practice, about an hour before today’s game. As Bryce Harper signed autographs down the left field line, Davey Johnson yelled over to him from the batting cage. Harper trotted over to find a special guest who had requested his presence.
“Harp, I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time,” said the jovial, giant, middle-aged man adorned in Braves warm-up gear. “I’m Dale Murphy.”
Wait, what? If that all sounds a bit backwards to you, one can only imagine what the 19-year-old prospect – who was all of seven months old when Murphy played his last game in 1993 – must have thought. It was no surprise, though, that Murphy received the louder round of applause when introduced prior to the game from the pro-Atlanta crowd in Lake Buena Vista.
It is said that one of the great things about baseball is that you see something new every day at the ballpark. While there was nothing notable during the game to match that description, there was during the ceremonial first pitch. After sailing the first attempt wide left to the backstop, the young boy given the honor got a second chance, this time firing a strike. We are at Disney World, after all, where dreams come true (it says so right on the sign!).
Gio Gonzalez was very solid in his first outing of the spring, allowing just one single over 3.0 innings of scoreless work, striking out both Matt Diaz and Michael Bourn. Meanwhile, the offense was strong in support, as both Jayson Werth and Mark DeRosa contributed early solo shots and Chad Tracy plated a pair with a two-out double in the third. The DeRosa home run was especially encouraging, given the multiple wrist surgeries he has overcome just to be able to swing a bat again.
We joked with DeRosa, referencing a remark he had made a couple of weeks ago around the batting cage, that he had not hit a home run in two years. It turns out he hit one last spring as well, with the Giants.
“It definitely feels good,” he said. “I’m really trying not to get too high or too low because I’ve been through such a tough last two years.”
The tendon sheath that had caused him so much pain and time on the DL finally came fully off the bone in his right wrist last May. As awful as that may sound, it may have turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. DeRosa has been pain free through the offseason and the first couple weeks of camp.
“I haven’t been treating it, icing it, nothing,” he said of the ailment that has suffocated his last two seasons. “So I’m just knocking on wood every day, waking up excited to get to the field and finally play healthy.”
Anthony Rendon also collected his first hit of the spring on a double in the eighth and came around to score on a Tyler Moore sacrifice fly for the final run of the game in the 5-2 Nats victory.
We’ll return to Viera tomorrow, as the Nats get their first look at the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. Here are the Nationals results to date:
vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0
@ Houston – L, 3-1
vs. Houston – L, 10-2
@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1
@ Atlanta – W, 5-2
vs. St. Louis – Wednesday, 1:05pm
Overall Record: 2-2