Results tagged ‘ Tyler Clippard ’
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 continue our alphabetical romp with “the guy who wears goggles and pitches every day,” Tyler Clippard.
Coming off an All-Star campaign in 2011, Tyler Clippard was one of the few Nationals to have gained a fair amount of national exposure before the 2012 season. After picking up an anomalous, team-leading 11 wins out the bullpen in 2010, Clippard proved that he deserved every bit of his Midsummer Classic selection last year by posting career bests in ERA (1.83), WHIP (0.84), and K/BB rate (4.00). His ERA+ was a stunning 209, begging the question: what in the world could he possibly do for an encore?
Manager Davey Johnson both leaned on and spared Clippard throughout the 2012 campaign, throwing him for just 72.2 innings (compared to 88.1 in ’11, 91.0 in ’10), but still using him a team-high 74 times out of the bullpen. When Drew Storen opened the season on the Disabled List and Johnson was unable to find consistency at closer with the combination of Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez, Clippard stepped into the void with perhaps his most impressive stretch of the season. The right-hander converted 14 consecutive save opportunities, posting a 0.40 ERA and allowing just 16 baserunners while striking out 27 batters over a 22.1-inning span from May 18-July 15. That helped earn him the MLB Delivery Man of the Month award in June, where he logged a perfect 0.00 ERA and converted all 10 of his saves, including three straight at Fenway Park, capped by the one below.
While Clippard’s overall numbers couldn’t compete with those he posted the year prior, he adapted to new roles on the fly and was a crucial cog in the team’s success. After notching just one Major League save over the first five years of his professional career, the righty logged 32 of them in 2012, tied for seventh in the NL and just 10 behind the league leaders, despite only 37 total attempts.
As a “Super Two,” Clippard enters the second of his four years of arbitration in 2013, meaning he will remain under team control through at least the 2015 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. We move to the bullpen for our first reliever on the list, Sean Burnett.
One of the most overlooked aspects of any Major League team is the bullpen, especially looking beyond the more defined “closer” role. Your standard relief corps includes seven pitchers at any given time, complementing the five-man starting rotation as part of a 12-member pitching staff. And while some of the six outside the closer may generally fit into certain roles, lefties like Sean Burnett often fill the void wherever and whenever they are needed.
To that end, Burnett served Davey Johnson’s bullpen in a number of different capacities in 2012. After using him more in situational spots that called for a lefty-lefty matchup early in the year, Johnson called upon Burnett as a closer for a pair of key saves, May 14 vs. San Diego and May 21 at Philadelphia. The southpaw then settled into more of a setup role, consistently pitching the full eighth inning in front of Tyler Clippard and then Drew Storen, upon his return from injury. And though Burnett’s 2.38 season ERA is certainly indicative of the type of year he put together, a deeper look into his numbers reveal an even more impressive performance.
Burnett posted an ERA below 1.75 in three of the season’s six months, including an April that saw him allow just five hits and two walks while fanning 10 over 6.2 scoreless frames. He held opponents scoreless 58 times in his 70 relief outings, the most appearances made without allowing a run of any hurler on the staff. For whatever reason, his pedestrian 4.26 daytime ERA (9 ER/19.0 IP) turned into a head-turning 1.43 (6 ER/37.2 IP) mark at night. Burnett’s other impressive splits came in his ability to limit lefties to a .211 average (19-for-90) with 28 strikeouts, and the fact that opponents batted only .169 (13-for-77) with runners in scoring position.
However, arguably his most valuable set of numbers were Burnett’s improvements to his strikeout and walk rates. After averaging 3.9 free passes and 6.2 punchouts per nine innings (good for a 1.60 K/BB rate) for his career, the southpaw allowed just 1.9 walks per nine in 2012 while striking out 9.1 (a 4.75 K/BB rate). For some perspective, no other regular bullpen member cracked a rate of 3.00, and even the most efficient members of the vaunted starting rotation checked in no higher than 3.56 (Jordan Zimmermann) and 4.10 (Stephen Strasburg).
Burnett and the team hold a mutual option for next season. It has been reported in the past week that Burnett may decline that option, but that the 30 year-old is interested in working out a longer-term deal here in Washington.
It’s hard to believe, with the season the Washington Nationals have had, that they have not had more walk-off home runs. Other types of walk-offs have come in nearly every shape and form, from singles, to wild pitches, to sacrifice flies. But Ian Desmond’s two-out, two-run shot to beat the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth on May 2, more than five months ago, a seemingly distant memory, was the lone game-winning blast of this memorable 2012 campaign.
Until last night.
If you believe in the cosmic powers of the game, the baseball gods, as it were, this one was foreshadowed. Leading off the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game on 10.11.12, Jayson Werth worked an epic at-bat against Lance Lynn, driving the 13th pitch into the visitor’s bullpen at Nationals Park for his 14th career postseason home run. But the bizarre parallels go beyond that sequential string of numbers alone.
On September 8, the Nationals trailed the Miami Marlins by a score of 6-5 entering the bottom of the ninth inning at home in D.C. With closer Heath Bell already throwing his warm-up pitches and Werth slated to lead off the frame, a torrential storm descended upon Nationals Park, sending fans scampering to seek shelter from the high winds and sheets of rain. The game went into a delay for more than two and-a-half hours, the dramatic bottom of the ninth put on ice. Finally, the weather cleared, the teams reemerged to the field, and Werth dug in against Bell. They battled through a long at-bat, Werth fouling off three pitches before finally working the count full.
Less than 1,000 fans remained from the original crowd of 28,860, all descending behind the dugouts, standing, yelling, living and dying with every pitch. It had the feel of a high school playoff game, the drama and emotion running on high for those diehards that remained. Werth finally saw a center-cut fastball from Bell and smoked it to the Red Porch in left-center field for a game-tying home run. The Nationals would go on to win in walk-off fashion in the 10th inning.
Ross Detwiler also started that game, with Drew Storen earning the win following his and Tyler Clippard’s scoreless innings. Each reliever fanned the side in that September game. Clippard did so again Thursday night, with Storen punching out a pair.
The same momentum from the pitching in that September game grew in the late innings Thursday night. And once again, Werth delivered, on an at-bat five pitches longer and more surreal, a crowd of better than 44,000 already frenzied fans igniting like a supersonic jet engine as the ball cleared the left field wall.
Enjoy the full at-bat below, the six minutes of tension cut down to a tidy 2:47, to appreciate just how amazing it was. Then click below to listen to Nationals play-by-play man Charlie Slowes, who summoned the memories of that September 8 game before the 13th pitch, and the overwhelming crowd behind him as his prediction came true.
Milwaukee Brewers (77-72) vs. Washington Nationals (91-58)
RHP Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.91) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.89)
The Nationals made franchise history Thursday night, becoming the first D.C.-based Major League team to qualify for postseason play since 1933. They open a four-game set with the Brewers – who are fighting for the final National League Wild Card spot – tonight at Nats Park, as Edwin Jackson takes the hill opposite Shaun Marcum.
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Desmond SS
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Flores C
9. Jackson RHP
EDWIN SEEKS 10
Edwin Jackson takes his third shot at earning his 10th win season tonight vs. Milwaukee. If he notches the victory, he will become the fifth Nationals starter with a double-digit win total. For his career, Jackson is 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA in six starts against the Brewers.
THE NEXT MAGIC MOMENT
Having clinched a spot in MLB’s postseason on Thursday, the Nationals now turn their attention to winning the NL East. Washington’s Magic Number to clinch the division title is eight.
ABOUT THOSE BREWERS…
The Nationals have not won a season series at the Brew Crew’s expense since going 5-1 in 2006. Washington is 7-5 in one-run games against the Brewers beginning in 2005. Since Milwaukee shifted to the NL, the Nationals/Expos and Brewers have played in six ballparks: Nationals Park, RFK Memorial Stadium, Olympic Stadium, Miller Park, County Stadium and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico. Washington and Milwaukee are both former AL cities that have evolved into NL towns. The
Senators (AL East) and Brewers (AL West) were AL rivals in 1970 and ‘71. The Senators won the two-year AL series, 13-11.
DATE IN DC BASEBALL
September 21, 2010: The Nationals plate seven runs in the eighth inning – all with two outs – to surge past the Astros, 8-4. In the victory, Tyler Clippard posted his 10th relief win and became the first relief pitcher in D.C. baseball history to record 100 strikeouts in a single season.
September 21, 1961: Playing before only 1,498 fans, the Senators lose, 6-3, to (coincidentally) the Twins, in the final game played at Griffith Stadium.
September 21, 1933: With a 2-1 win over the visiting St. Louis Browns, the AL Nationals claim their third American League Championship in 10 years (also 1924, and ’25). Unfortunately, no D.C.-based big league club has won a pennant since.
The Nationals recently finished an 11-game homestand that saw the team go 8-3 as they continued their charge towards October baseball. Despite playing games every day during that stretch, Washington players and coaches made time in their busy schedules to continue to contribute behind the scenes to the D.C. community.
Friday, August 31: Between his two-hit performances on August 30 and 31 in consecutive victories over the Cardinals, Ian Desmond joined teammates Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen along with Screech for a visit with patients of all ages at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH). During the visit, the players participated in physical therapy exercises and activities with patients, playing catch with some of the adult patients – you could do worse than tossing a ball around with a trio of Major Leaguers for your rehab work. The crew also signed autographs and took pictures with patients, families and hospital staff.
“Obviously, any time we can go out and bring a little light into people’s lives, it’s our pleasure,” said Desmond after the visit.
One of the patients – Nick Balenger – stood out in particular. A local high school baseball player who recently suffered a tragic injury while on vacation, he is working his way back from partial paralysis to try to get back on the baseball field. During the visit, the players delivered Balenger a personalized Nationals jersey signed by the entire team.
“He’s a Nationals fan and he lit up when we walked in there,” said Desmond of Balenger. “I guess he’s been following us pretty closely.”
Saturday, September 1: In between his victories on August 29 at Miami and September 3 at home over the Cubs, Ross Detwiler and the Nationals coaching staff took time to help out with the MedStar Youth Baseball Clinic. After Nationals coaches ran through drills with all those in attendance – including D.C. youth baseball teams, children of military families and guests of MedStar Health – Detwiler signed autographs for each and every participant on the Nationals Park concourse.
Friday, September 7: Three days after notching his second win of the homestand, Edwin Jackson hosted Edwin’s Entourage. For the second time in 2012, Jackson met with local children for well over an hour before the game. He hosted D.C. Dynasty, a non-profit organization that promotes the growth of youth baseball in the Washington D.C. community.
“The reason I’m here today is for you to get an up close and personal experience, to let you know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Jackson told the group of youngsters as they chatted in the press conference room.
Jackson went around the room and had each attendee introduce themselves by their name and position on the diamond, then fielded questions about life, baseball and his own path to the Major Leagues, where he is just one victory away from his fourth straight double-digit win season.
Chicago Cubs (51-83) vs. Washington Nationals (82-52)
LHP Chris Rusin (0-1, 1.80) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (8-9, 3.53)
The Nationals rode seven scoreless innings from Ross Detwiler to a 2-1, series-opening victory over the Cubs on Monday, their fourth win in the first five games of this homestand. They will look to Edwin Jackson to keep the momentum in their favor tonight, as he makes his first start since his magnificent, eight-inning, 10-strikeout performance last Thursday.
1. Werth CF
2. Desmond SS
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. Morse RF
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Espinosa 2B
7. Moore LF
8. Flores C
9. Jackson RHP
Adam LaRoche clubbed his 25th home run of the season yesterday, a solo shot off Jeff Samardzija. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, LaRoche is one of four current MLB players who have had 25-homer seasons for four different MLB teams. Also hit 32 for the 2006 Braves, 25 for the ‘08 Pirates and 25 for the ‘10 Diamondbacks. The other players on that list are Adrian Beltre (Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers), Alfonso Soriano (Yankees, Rangers, Nationals and Cubs) and Jim Thome (Indians, Phillies, White Sox and Twins).
By closing out Monday’s 2-1 win, Tyler Clippard became the third National to reach the 30-save plateau, joining Chad Cordero (47 in 2005, 37 in ‘07) and Drew Storen (43 in ‘11). Clippard also became just the third pitcher ever to record 30 saves and 10 holds in a single season. Clippard’s 30-save, 10-hold predecessors were Kerry Ligtenberg (30 saves/11 holds for Atlanta in ‘98) and Ugueth Urbina (32 saves/11 holds for Texas and Florida in ‘03)
Five games into this 11-game homestand, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa are a combined 16-for-38 (.421). Desmond (8-for-20) has hit safely in five of his last six games, all of which were multi-hit efforts. His RBI-single propelled the Nationals to the victory on Sunday afternoon. Espinosa (8-for-18) has hit safely in five straight and has notched six hits in his last nine at-bats.
The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros opened their second and final series of the season with a pair of extra-inning games Monday and Tuesday night, and a pair of Nationals wins. But despite the apparent similarities, the defining plays of these two contests could not have been more different. We have already chronicled Houston’s defensive lapse from the 11th inning on Monday night that led to the game-winning run. However, to fairly and accurately chronicle the importance of Roger Bernadina’s jaw-dropping, game-saving catch for the final out of Tuesday night’s contest, we must look at it in the larger context – as a frontrunner for catch of the year in Major League Baseball.
Humor us, if you will. Watch the video below, no matter how many times you’ve already seen it, just so the play is fresh in your mind. Then, as we take you through our five reasons, we encourage you to read through each point individually, then watch the video again. By the end, you can tell us if you also believe that what the Shark reeled in last night was more impressive than any other catch made this season, including Mike Trout’s now legendary leap (video also below, for comparison).
Catch of the Year…Roger Bernadina
Or Mike Trout
1. The Amount of Ground Covered
Well positioned before the pitch, just to the left side of second base, Bernadina nevertheless had to run full tilt deep into the left-center field gap and leap, arms extended into the awkwardly shaped façade in front of the Nationals bullpen. But it’s not like he had time to set himself underneath the ball and try to time his leap – it was all on the run.
2. The Ballpark
Minute Maid Park is…unique. From the notoriously easy-to-reach Crawford Boxes in left field to Tal’s Hill in center field that rises behind the warning track and includes a foul pole in play, it is easy to forget the minefield that awaits outfielders in left-center. As you can see in the photo to the right, the angle of the wall changes every few feet, often causing awkward caroms and general confusion for visiting players trying to decide how to pursue fly balls in the area. Bernadina disregarded all of that, threw caution to the wind, and literally threw himself into one of the recesses of the wall, emerging with the ball.
3. The Game Situation
This cannot be overstated. After Washington had finally broken through in the top of the 12th with the first run scored by either team since the second inning, the Astros had the tying run at second and the winning run at first with two outs in the bottom of the frame. If Bernadina does not come up with that ball, the Astros not only tie it, they likely win the game on that play, with the runner on the move in the two-out situation. It’s that simple – the catch was literally the difference between a win and a loss. When is the last time you’ve seen that in a game?
4. Steve Pearce/Craig Stammen
You can tell the significance of any play in the game as much as anything by the reaction of the other players on the field. Steve Pearce was the runner at second on the final play Tuesday night, representing the tying run. Check him out on the replay (0:57), fist raised in triumph as he heads towards third base, confident he is watching a game-ending play of an entirely different nature.
Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) August 08, 2012
Meanwhile, Craig Stammen stood in the Nationals bullpen, just on the other side of the chain link fence from where Bernadina came crashing into the cutout. After the Shark came away with the ball, watch Stammen (at 0:11 and again at 1:03) jumping around, fists raised like a kid in the stands. Sure, Tyler Clippard’s primal scream and Jayson Werth’s bear hug speak volumes as well, but nothing matches Stammen’s unbridled joy from the ‘pen.
5. The Pennant Race
Oh yeah, the pennant race. As hot as the Nationals have been since the All-Star break, winning 14 of their last 18 games (including last night), the Atlanta Braves have kept pace. Washington held a four-game lead at the break, a mark that had not been matched until they were stymied by Cole Hamels and, some time later, Brett Wallace’s walk-off bid came to rest in Bernadina’s mitt. For the second time in four days, the Nationals have added to their division lead, and once again own the best record in baseball at 67-43. None of these things would be true if not for Bernadina’s catch.
Still want more on the Shark’s heroics? The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg also did a great job of capturing some of the initial reactions – on the field, in the clubhouse and around the Twitter-sphere.
It seems that with each and every passing week of this 2012 season, the Washington Nationals are finding increasingly more dramatic and creative ways to win baseball games. There have been late-inning rallies, beginning on the season’s first two days at Wrigley Field. There have been walk-off wins of nearly every variety, from wild pitches (twice), to sacrifice flies, to heart-stopping, come-from-behind home runs. There have been victories of nearly every shade, coming in just about any way the mind can dream up. And then there was Monday night.
After carving out a 4-1 lead, the Nationals found themselves in extra innings against an Astros team that had won just four its last 34 games. Fortunately for Washington, that Houston squad had yet to win any of its nine extra-inning contests, and the Nats – no stranger to free baseball – were not about to become their first victim. But for all of the timely, clutch hits the team has put together lately and, really, all season long, this game turned on something entirely different.
We will make our best attempt to describe the play on paper, though it deserves to be seen, if you haven’t already watched it. After Roger Bernadina pulled a single through the hole between first and second base to open the top of the 11th, new Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki bluffed at a bunt and took strike one. He squared again on the next pitch, popping the ball in the air in front of first base. Steve Pearce crashed from first, but the ball dropped in front of him, just as pitcher Wilton Lopez closed in to try to make a play of his own. Then, Pearce and Lopez literally crashed – into one another – with the ball glancing off the first baseman. Matt Downs came running in from third just as Pearce made a desperate effort to collect the ball and throw out Suzuki. Downs pulled up at the last second, flailing over Pearce as he dropped his elbow, the throw towards first instead sailing into foul ground and up the right field line.
Meanwhile, Bernadina raced from second to third, where Bo Porter held his hands up to stop the speedy outfielder, a prudent decision with none out in the inning. But the Shark had other plans. He blew right past Porter for the plate, and right fielder Brian Bogesevic’s throw, which seemed destined to make a close play at the plate, airmailed the catcher and went to the screen. When the dust settled, Bernadina had scored and Suzuki stood at third base.
The run would be all the Nationals would need to end a game they no doubt feel they should have won in much less time than the four hours and 15 minutes it took to complete.
Surely, they won’t be happy about the events that led up to the 11th inning on Monday, or that forced extra innings in the first place. The relief corps, which has been one of the most solid in baseball this season, suddenly became allergic to their own fastballs, falling behind hitters with off-speed pitches. After loading the bases in the eighth, Drew Storen escaped with the lead. When Tyler Clippard walked and hit a batter in the ninth, he did not. However, after allowing a game-tying double that left the winning run at third base with just one out, Clippard buckled down to strike out the next two batters, pushing the game to extra innings.
There was another bright spot from the relief corps’ performance, thanks to Craig Stammen. The same hurler who came up with 2.1 innings of clutch relief eight days prior in the Nationals maniacal, 11-10, multi-comeback game in Milwaukee, delivered again with 2.0 innings of hitless relief. No reliever in baseball has pitched at least two frames as often as Stammen, who did so for the 21st time on Monday. And so while the focus will remain, undoubtedly, on “what turned into a three-ring circus,” as Nationals radio man Charlie Slowes put it, the ultimate takeaway from Monday night is this: some way, some how, the Nationals just keep finding ways to win.
The Washington Nationals have made a name for themselves in the 2012 season by winning two different types of games. The first and more common type involves a healthy serving of solid starting pitching, a clutch piece of offense or two to snare the lead, and a lockdown performance by an ensemble bullpen. It is the kind of affair that the Nationals have found themselves involved in ever since their 2-1, Opening Day victory at Wrigley Field. But then there is that other kind of game, the nail-biting, nerve-fraying, mind-boggling variety that has made this season truly memorable.
This weekend’s matchups in Milwaukee provided one game from each mold. After splitting the first two of the four-game set with the Brewers, the Nationals sent hometown hero Jordan Zimmermann, originally from nearby Auburndale, Wisconsin, to make his first-ever start against the team he grew up supporting. The emerging ace delivered a sterling performance, allowing a single run on five hits, fanning six Milwaukee batters over six strong innings to extend his streak of throwing at least that many frames to 21 consecutive starts. In so doing, he lowered his ERA to the third-best mark in the National League at 2.28 and matched his career high with his eighth victory. He also improved to 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in the month of July, during which he allowed just four earned runs and four walks while fanning 31 in 37.0 innings pitched.
Meanwhile, the Nationals rookies came through with huge contributions again, as Corey Brown opened the scoring with a solo shot and Tyler Moore added a two-run bomb to provide more than enough cushion in a 4-1 final. In all, it was a solid, shutdown performance that both the team and the coaching staff could be proud of.
Then, there was Sunday’s game.
In a battle of 2004 first-round picks, it was the less-heralded Mark Rogers who seemed poised to best All-Star Gio Gonzalez, as Milwaukee had forged a 3-1 lead through five fairly normal innings. Right about then, all convention went out the window. The Nationals led off the sixth with back-to-back doubles from Ryan Zimmerman and Moore, cutting the lead to one and putting the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. But they failed to plate that tying run, and Milwaukee responded by scoring twice in the bottom of the frame to push the lead to 5-2.
In the seventh, Washington looked poised to strike again, using singles from Brown and Steve Lombardozzi followed by a walk from Bryce Harper (all rookies!) to load the bases for Zimmerman, again with none out. But Cody Ransom turned a slick 5-3 double-play, limiting the Nats to just a single run once more. And again, the Brewers came right back for two more runs in the bottom of the frame, sitting pretty with a 7-3 advantage though seven frames.
This is, as they say, about the time when things got really interesting. With one out and a runner on first, Roger Bernadina flipped an opposite field home run into the bullpen in left-center field to cut the margin in half. Jesus Flores followed with a single, Brown with a double, and Lombardozzi with an RBI-groundout to cut the margin to one and put the tying run at third with two outs. One wild pitch later, and it was suddenly tied at 7-7. But the Brewers were not about to go quietly. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez blasted back-to-back shots, reclaiming a two-run lead.
Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) July 29, 2012
For the fourth straight inning, the Nationals were looking uphill at a discouraging scoreline. And for the fourth straight inning, they mustered a rally. Mark DeRosa drew a one-out walk, bringing Michael Morse (featured in this homestand’s Inside Pitch… Pick one up at the ballpark!) to the plate as the potential game-tying run. After Milwaukee reliever John Axford forged ahead in the count, 1-2, his catcher set up low and inside for a fastball, anything to keep Morse from getting his arms extended. Axford missed his spot, leaving his pitch up and over the middle of the plate. Morse did not miss, sending the ball on a line over the right field wall, and once again, the game was tied.
Craig Stammen kept Milwaukee off the board in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, and neither team scored in the 10th inning. In the top of the 11th, Harper walked and Zimmerman singled, bringing Morse to bat with a chance to summon Beast Mode one more time. He delivered once again, pulling a double just inside the third-base bag to score both runners. Tyler Clippard would allow a solo shot to Corey Hart in the bottom of the frame, but shut the door in time to lock down the victory, with Morse himself gloving the final out on a foul pop in front of the Brewers dugout.
The games of this second variety, of the seemingly impossible string of back-and-forth momentum swings, of comebacks from the proverbial dead, seem to keep reaching more and more epic levels of absurdity at every pass. Sunday’s contest lacked only the walk-off hit, as it took place away from Nationals Park, but may have once again set the bar as the most dramatic of them all so far.
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. The Nats get a well-deserved off day on Monday, their only such breather in a 35-day stretch that sees them play 36 games, including seven more in a six-day stretch at home beginning on Tuesday. A word to the wise: take advantage of the day off yourself. You’re going to need every ounce of energy you’ve got left for the final 61 games of the regular season.
In the meantime, enjoy Morse’s theatrics one more time (as even Davey lets himself loose at the 1:04 mark) and both Bob Carpenter’s and Charlie Slowes’ calls of the action.
In 2002, the Oakland Athletics played one of the most gut-wrenching games in recent memory. Sitting on the brink of history, having won 19 contests in a row, they were just one triumph shy of setting a new American League record for consecutive victories. After taking the first two in a series from Kansas City, they needed only to close them out for a three-game home sweep to accomplish the feat. With one of their aces – Tim Hudson – on the mound, their chances seemed promising.
Through three innings, it was all unfolding according to plan with the A’s building an 11-0 lead. But then, a funny thing started to happen. The hapless Royals started to claw back. They got five runs in the fourth – normally quite a feat, but it was less than half the deficit they had dug themselves, so the party continued, undisturbed. The margin remained at 11-5 all the way to the eighth when, suddenly, they scored twice more, and had two more runners on for their superstar, Mike Sweeney. The A’s went to their best setup man, Jeff Tam. Sweeney drilled a towering, three-run shot into the left-field seats, and suddenly it was 11-10.
Celebrations were over, replaced by a nervous murmur. The A’s failed to score in the eighth, and amazingly, Kansas City pushed across a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 11.
That’s the thing about baseball – there is no clock to run out. You can’t simply “manage the game,” the way you can with a 30-point lead in basketball or football. You have to earn every last painful, desperate, gut-wrenching out. And, sometimes, you forget how to do that.
Of course, those who have seen Moneyball already know how this story ends. Scott Hatteberg, pinch-hitting with one out in the bottom of the ninth, took ball one, then turned on the next pitch, sending it soaring deep into the California night and the history books.
It’s hard to say what the Athletics learned that day, as they got away with their mistakes. Their collapse, as stunning as it was, did not ruin their historical moment. But, as the movie fails to show, they did not carry any of their momentum with them. The team traveled to Minnesota the next day, where they would be shut out, ending the streak. That same Minnesota team would end up celebrating a Game 5 elimination victory back in Oakland just a month later, dispatching the A’s from the postseason.
Could one make the argument that the A’s would have learned more from such a loss, than from the historic victory?
The Nationals did not get away with their mistakes last Friday night. In the opener of a crucial intradivision series, what started out like a dream turned into a nightmare, as Atlanta fought its way back from an early 9-0 deficit to earn an 11-10 win in 11 innings. Not even Danny Espinosa’s game-tying, ninth-inning home run – after Washington had fallen behind 10-9 – was enough to bail them out. The Braves kept coming, and for one night, all seemed lost.
The Braves momentum carried into the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader, where the Nats were shut out for just the second time all season, and the first time at home. A steady mist descended upon Nationals Park all day long, and into the night cap. It was a scene more befitting of Washington State than D.C., the dense clouds and light rain swarming the combined crowd of nearly 70,000 spectators all day and for much of the evening. In fact, the rain had been falling since the sixth inning of Friday night’s affair, right when the game had begun to turn on the Nats.
The offensive drought continued through the first four frames of Game 2. But then, a funning thing happened – the sky, both literally and figuratively, stopped falling. After 13 innings of stunned, scoreless ball, the Nationals went back to work, trailing just 2-0, thanks to arguably the biggest pitching performance of the season from perhaps its most unlikely hero: John Lannan. Summoned from Triple-A under the new rule that allows for an extra man to be added to the roster specifically for doubleheaders, Lannan pitched with the knowledge that he would likely be sent back to the minors following the game, regardless of the outcome. And after a shaky first that saw him escape with just two runs of damage, he was nearly unhittable the rest of the night.
That left Washington within striking distance in the bottom of the fifth, and strike the Nationals did, bit by bit. They pushed across a single run to finally get in the scoring column, but missed the chance for more. In the sixth, they did so again, tying the game, but failing to seize the lead. So they just kept coming. Roger Bernadina, filling in for Bryce Harper after he left the first game with a bruised ankle, drove home the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh. In the eighth, Harper came back. He laced a pinch-single, stole second (!) and scored on Espinosa’s single, adding a crucial insurance run. Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, who had both been out of sorts the night before, combined to slam the door shut as they have done much of the past two months.
After all the doom and gloom following Friday night’s affair, what happened in the 36 hours to follow? The Nats took two of three from their closest division rival, including both a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory and an emphatic, 9-2 rout in which the home side banished any lingering effects from Friday night’s letdown.
That’s the thing about adversity – it can crush your spirits, take you out of your element, and turn the tide of a pennant race. Or, it can bring out the best in your character and – by showing that you won’t succumb to the pressure, but rather will rally back stronger than ever – be an even bigger blow to your opponents. The Nationals will have to prove themselves six more times against the Braves before the regular season concludes, but after last weekend, they walked away from their biggest setback no worse for wear, maintaining the same 3.5-game cushion with which they entered the series.
Then they went to New York, winning a crazy, extra-inning affair by scoring six runs in the 10th inning on Monday night, and finally triumphing over Mets ace R.A. Dickey on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they completed the three-game sweep with a 5-2 win, their fifth straight. Their NL East lead sits at 4.5 games over the Braves, and more than 10 against everyone else in the division.
Time will tell if this was that moment for the Nationals, and if the offense will continue to batter the ball the way it did to open and close this weekend’s series. But one thing is for sure: what has not killed this Washington squad so far in 2012 has only made it stronger.