Results tagged ‘ Tyler Moore ’
Washington Nationals (88-54) vs. New York Mets (65-77)
LHP John Lannan (2-0, 3.46) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (3-4, 3.04)
The Nationals continued their winning ways Tuesday night, as Tyler Moore’s seventh-inning, pinch-hit, two-run home run turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and an eventual 5-3 Washington victory. New York native John Lannan will make his first start since his September recall as the Nationals look for a three-game sweep of the Mets at Citi Field to open the road trip.
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Desmond SS
6. Bernadina LF
7. Suzuki C
8. Lombardozzi 2B
9. Lannan LHP
With another RBI on Tuesday at Citi Field, Ryan Zimmerman has now plated at least one RBI in eight consecutive contests. That is the longest such streak posted by a Nationals player since the club landed in D.C. in 2005. Zimmerman is 21-for-65 (.323) with five home runs and 16 RBI during his 15-game hitting streak, which is tied with Kansas City’s Salvador Perez for the longest current streak in MLB.
John Lannan, a native of Long Beach, NY and a Chaminade High School graduate, will take on the Mets in his third start of the season for the Nationals. He is 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA in his two starts, with his last one coming August 3 in a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins. In his final two starts for Triple-A Syracuse, Lannan tossed complete-game shutouts August 25 at Gwinnett and August 30at Charlotte. Lannan has not pitched at Citi Field since earning the win there on April 10, 2010.
HARPER GETTING CLOSE TO THE HAMMER
After going 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI last night vs. New York, Bryce Harper now has 11 RBI against the Mets this season, the most by a rookie against the Mets since former National Josh Willingham posted 12 in 2006 as a member of the Florida Marlins.
DATE IN DC BASEBALL
September 12, 1962: At Memorial Stadium, 27 year-old Senator fireballer Tom Cheney sets a major league mark for K’s in a single game by striking out 21 batters in complete-game, 16-inning, 2-1 victory over the Orioles.
Did you remember that the Nationals hit three home runs in one inning Wednesday night? With everything else that happened in the game, a dramatic feat became a footnote to the larger overall story. Nevertheless, the “Nat Trick” was an impressive occurrence that signified the team’s offensive breakout, which has seen the bats score 61 runs in their last eight games (7.6 runs per game) after scoring just six times total in a five-game losing stretch before that. Even more impressive than the raw numbers, though, is the fact that everyone is contributing.
On Tuesday, Davey Johnson gave Bryce Harper the night off, allowing him to miss a lefty starter and affording Tyler Moore a chance for some at-bats. Moore responded with a towering home run to left, one of the team’s six on the night. On Wednesday, Johnson sat Jayson Werth, a night after his four-hit game. That gave Roger Bernadina a chance to start, and he rewarded his skipper with a home run of his own. Oh, and Harper? He returned to the lineup to swat a pair of longballs, his second two-homer game in a week.
In the past two games – in which the Nationals have only batted a total of 16 innings, due to their cancellation of the bottom of the ninth each night – eight different players have combined to club 12 home runs. Adam LaRoche has led the way with three clouts, while Harper and Desmond have both pitched in a pair and Bernadina, Danny Espinosa, Jesus Flores, Moore and Ryan Zimmerman have one each. Collectively, they are just the third team in the last 95 years to post consecutive six-homer games, joining the ’96 Dodgers and the ’03 Angels.
Not to be outdone, Gio Gonzalez returned to the mound for the first time since his first career shutout last Friday, and was even more dominant. The lefty carried a no-hitter with no walks – the only baserunner to reach early came on an error in the third inning – all the way into the sixth. In the end, he allowed just three hits over seven scoreless frames, fanning nine Cubs without issuing a walk. He stretched his scoreless streak to 16 innings, striking out 17 and allowing just 11 runners to reach base over that span.
Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 06, 2012
While Gio tries to track down 20 wins, Jordan Zimmermann looks for his 10th Thursday night, which would be the first double-digit win total of his career. Saturday, it will be Ross Detwiler’s turn to do the same, and on Sunday, Edwin Jackson will look for his fourth consecutive season of 10 or more wins. Should each accomplish the feat this weekend, or at some other time over the season’s final four weeks, it will give each of the Nats five primary starters a double-digit total for the season.
This is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that last year, on a team that finished a respectable 80-81, John Lannan (who was recently called up for reinforcement down the stretch) was the only pitcher to reach that mark, winning exactly 10 games. For some perspective, not even the 102-win Phillies of 2011 managed to have five starters with 10 or more wins. In fact, the only four teams that turned the trick last year were Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, Texas and St. Louis – all four playoff teams, the final two of which battled it out for the World Series.
Really, that has been the narrative of the 2012 Nationals all season long, that the club’s depth, both on offense and on the pitching staff, is so solid. The storyline was somewhat obscured by the rash of injuries suffered by position players early on. But Cubs manager Dale Sveum commented after Thursday night’s contest that Washington is “by far the best team we’ve played all year.” At this point, the Nats are the best team that they have been all year as well, playing their most dominating baseball of the season down the stretch, when it matters most.
Enjoy the full dirty dozen of homers from the past two nights in the video below before the Nationals look for their fifth straight Curly W and a sweep of the Cubs later tonight.
The Nationals announced their Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year Awards prior to Monday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, and the names should come as no surprise to those who follow the Washington farm system closely. Infielder Matt Skole – who tore up the South Atlantic League before a late-season promotion to Potomac – and right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns, who largely did the same, took home the honors.
Skole was tremendous all season long, batting .292 with 28 doubles, a league-leading 27 home runs, 83 runs scored, 104 RBI and a .438 on-base percentage in just 118 games for Low-A Hagerstown while playing third base. After we profiled him here on Curly W Live, he went on to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, despite his mid-August promotion to the Carolina League. He continued to show his abilities at the next level, posting a slash line of .324/.356/.500 including seven multi-hit performances in 17 games heading into Monday’s season finale.
Karns, meanwhile, posted an organizational-best 2.17 ERA and an 11-4 record in 24 games (18 starts) for the Suns and P-Nats. His promotion came earlier in the season, after just 11 games with Hagerstown, that saw him go 3-0 with a 2.26 mark. He continued to impress at Potomac, twice winning Carolina League Pitcher of the Week honors. Karns led all Nationals farmhands with 148 strikeouts, and posted an eight-game winning streak over a nine-start span, logging a 0.94 ERA from June 15 to August 2.
Skole follows Tyler Moore (’10) and Steve Lombardozzi (’11) as a recipient of this award. Other notable former Minor League Pitchers of the Year include John Lannan (’07) and Jordan Zimmermann (’08). The pair will be honored for their accomplishments during an on-field ceremony prior to Friday’s 7:05 p.m. contest against Miami.
All season long, the Nationals have been content to defer the spotlight. As Showtime selected the revamped division-rival Miami Marlins to feature in their reality series The Franchise, the Nationals quietly went about winning ballgames and building a lead in the National League East. With all the focus on the return of Stephen Strasburg, starter Jordan Zimmermann set out his slow and steady path towards a breakout year. And despite all the attention paid to Bryce Harper’s debut season, fellow rookies Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi have played their own, integral roles in the club’s success thus far.
And so, it is only fitting that Washington’s best pitcher of late has gone largely unnoticed, quietly dominating under the radar of the national spotlight. After his latest masterpiece – an eight-inning, 10-strikeout, 122-pitch performance against the same Cardinals team he helped to a World Series title last year – Edwin Jackson has emerged as one of the strongest arms in the rotation heading down the stretch. After struggling with his command in the middle of the season, Jackson has been more aggressive of late, throwing his mid-90s fastball, low-90s cutter and hard, diving slider for strikes.
“It’s just a matter of being comfortable with it at the end of the day,” Jackson said on Friday of his willingness to attack the zone the night before. “You just have to go out and pitch with confidence.”
Jackson has plenty to be confident about. After touching the double-digit strikeout plateau five times in his first nine years as a professional, he has achieved the feat in each of his last two home starts, mixing in eight K’s in the road start between them. All told, the right-hander has fanned 29 batters in his last 21.0 innings pitched, allowing only 13 hits over that span. In the month of August, during which he went just 2-3, he punched out 49 in a span of just 37.2 frames. He also eclipsed 100 pitches in all six of those outings, and has done so eight straight times he has toed the rubber for the Nats, proving his durability time and time again.
In fact, after the Nationals dragged into extra innings against the Houston Astros on consecutive nights August 6 and 7, Jackson was made available to come out of the bullpen the next day, if need be. On August 20, as Washington battled into the 13th inning against Atlanta. With relief options already exhausted, Jackson trotted down to the bullpen to warm up for the top of the 14th, just over 48 hours after he threw 103 pitches against the New York Mets. On a team full of young players, he is setting the example, through his late-season play as much as his warrior mentality, of what it takes to be a champion. As for the credit, he leaves that for others to worry about.
“Whoever (the media) wants to put in the spotlight, that’s their prerogative,” he says. “As far as we’re concerned in here, on your day, everybody has to be a superstar. All we want to do is go win games any way we can.”
Jackson has shown his willingness to do just that – make sure the team wins by any means necessary. If the rest of the Nationals can follow his lead, it should be an exciting September and beyond.
Just about every night, I remind myself, be careful what you wish for.
For years now, we watched with silent envy as teams played meaningful games late into the season. We were thrilled to play a role — any role — in the season’s outcomes, to affect the standings from the outside.
Some call it playing the “spoiler.” Whatever they called us, it fit at the time.
But when everyone went home at night, all we could do was picture and dream what a pennant race was like from the inside.
Well no longer. Friends, we are in the midst of a real pennant race. And, bonus, this one appears to have started a bit earlier than most.
Honestly, my early impression is that it is equal parts pleasure and agony.
As if the late innings of a tight game are not grueling enough, let me tell you that I literally cringe every night about 7:10 p.m. upon checking the out-of-town scoreboard for the first time. Not much changes either during my 62 subsequent glances, as I wait for the scores to flip or turn over at inning’s end.
Honestly, this is so fun and much more invigorating than I imagined during all those blank nights. This is daily drama that only our sport can provide.
The ups and downs … they are amazingly addictive, but as we all know, the nightly outcomes cannot always work in our favor.
And it is in those moments that I remind myself … be careful what you wish for.
*It has been a busy week with the additions of Kurt Suzuki and Cesar Izturis. Suzuki has made an immediate impression in the clubhouse — he is so upbeat and personable, it is as if he’s been with us for 3-4 years, not 3-4 days. I know he’s still feeling his way, trying to learn about our pitchers and their various strengths. But our fans should feel comfortable with not only his talents behind the plate, but also in a one-on-one setting.
*A little bit was made about the Suzuki acquisition being some sort of commentary on the play of Jesus Flores, especially since Wilson Ramos went down in early May. I can assure everyone that Mike Rizzo does not feel this way. This was an opportunity to acquire another front-line catcher. Mike was understandably nervous about the worst case scenario: losing Flores to injury. This trade makes us better and deeper. And as we’ve seen all season long, our depth is a big part of what has set us apart.
*I know I wrote about the agony that comes with a pennant race, but one recent high point was Saturday night’s big comeback win over the Marlins. That was as loud as I have heard our ballpark. The only other moment that could potentially stack up was Ryan Zimmerman’s game-ending homer to open up Nationals Park on March 30, 2008. As up-to-the-task as Danny Espinosa was in Saturday night’s critical at-bat, I genuinely believe that the fans primarily fueled that six-run eighth inning. We’ll need much more of this in the next 2 months.
*I do not think it is any exaggeration to think that Adam LaRoche should be a part of any NL MVP discussion. At the very least, he is the NL Comeback Player of the Year. He carried us in April and has never let up. He leads all big league first basemen in home runs with 23. Yep, that’s one more than even Albert Pujols (22).
*I’d also like to welcome Jayson Werth back to the active roster. And he is not just back and working himself into shape. Rather, he is helping us win games. Wrist injuries are probably the most disruptive ailments that can plague hitters, and for him to come back and to have already raised his batting average above the .300 mark? It is a remarkable testament to his will and determination. His body’s ability to heal quickly is something to behold.
*I’d be remiss if I did not mention the many contributions of our rookies: Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore. Go back to Saturday. Bryce, Steve and Tyler accounted for half of the runs in the aforementioned six-run eighth inning. Some say the best thing about rookies is that they become second-year players. Well, in my mind, the best thing about these rookies is that they are not going anywhere any time soon.
I hope to see everyone during our next homestand. Remember, the next homestand includes a big 3-game series against the Braves. I’ve had friends tell me that this might be the biggest baseball series in D.C. since the 1933 Fall Classic. This is what it’s all about.
In a season full of moments that seem to compete against one another for space in our collective memories, Saturday night brought the latest installment of drama for the 2012 Nationals. Rallying from two runs down with a six-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth, the Nats sent their home park into perhaps the loudest frenzy of the season to date.
But it wasn’t just the six-run inning that caused the commotion, it was the way in which the runs were scored, and the events that set up the comeback in the first place. Steve Lombardozzi squirted a base hit past the pitcher and up the middle to score Adam LaRoche to cut the lead to one. Tyler Moore followed with a two-out knock the other way to plate Jayson Werth to tie the game. Then Danny Espinosa crushed the go-ahead, three-run shot over the bullpen in left before Bryce Harper hit the longest Nationals Park home run of his young career, an absolute rocket deep into the second deck down the right field line. The final three hits, including the two monstrous homers, all came not only with two outs in the inning, but also with two strikes on each batter.
The Nationals also made three errors on the night, contributing either directly or indirectly to four Marlins runs. Espinosa made two of them (and Lombardozzi the third), only adding that much more to the redemptive value of their clutch hits.
More than anything, though, Saturday night’s triumph was another complete team effort. A month from now, most people will only remember Espinosa and Harper going back-to-back to give the Nationals the lead, but there were a number of unsung heroes Saturday night. Here are our top five:
5. The Bullpen
The life of a reliever can seem like a thankless one. Even those who are lucky enough to have the most visibly defined roles – like closer Tyler Clippard and set-up man Sean Burnett – are expected to succeed every time out. But then there are those expected to pick up the slack in games like Saturday’s, to keep the team close when it is trailing in the late innings. After Jordan Zimmermann left the game, the trio of Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Gonzalez and Ryan Mattheus combined for three innings of work, allowing just a single unearned run. All three are having very solid seasons for the Nats, and Mattheus was rewarded for the trio’s effort with his fourth win of the season, as he was the pitcher of record when the offense sparked the comeback.
4. Justin Maxwell
Some of you are probably wondering who this is, while others of you are scratching your heads, knowing that Maxwell hasn’t worn a Nationals jersey since the 2010 season. And while that is true, the Olney, Maryland native and former National has found a home for himself with the Houston Astros, who faced the Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta last night. Maxwell opened the scoring in that game with a two-run shot in the fourth inning off Paul Maholm, Atlanta’s trade deadline pitching acquisition. After the Braves tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, Maxwell drilled an even longer home run off Maholm to open the seventh, and the Astros held on for the 3-2 victory. Coupled with the Nationals come-from-behind win, the Braves loss pushed Washington 3.0 games clear in the National League East.
3. Steve Lombardozzi
Lombardozzi’s two-out single up the middle in the eighth scored the first run of the six-run rally. While those who have watched the rookie all season have become accustomed to seeing him hit the ball right over the second base bag, we haven’t seen him do it nearly as often from the right side. A switch-hitter, Lombardozzi was batting just .200 (12-for-60) as a righty coming into that at-bat. But he delivered another clutch hit, as he has been wont to do this year. And despite a rare miscue, he also played some tremendous defense Saturday night, including this gem, which saved a run.
2. Tyler Moore
With the return of Werth, Moore has acknowledged that his role will be largely off the bench down the stretch for the Nats. Taking cues from Chad Tracy and Mark DeRosa, he knows he’ll have to make the most of his spot starts and especially his pinch-hit opportunities, like the one he got Saturday night. After falling behind in the count, usually pull-happy Moore stayed back and sent a line drive to the opposite field, scoring – of all people – Werth to tie the game.
1. Adam LaRoche
By the time Espinosa and Harper went deep, it was easy to forget that LaRoche had already homered twice Saturday night. Even more impressively, he hit both against tough lefty Mark Buehrle, giving him nine home runs vs. left-handed pithing this year, a new career mark. LaRoche also reached on an error and scored the first run in the six-run eighth. In a resurgent year, the first baseman leads all National League first basemen with 23 home runs and 69 RBI.
Enjoy the highlights below as the Nats look to cap a winning homestand with a series victory over the Marlins Sunday afternoon.
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.
Washington Nationals (60-40) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (45-55)
LHP Gio Gonzalez (13-5, 3.13) vs. RHP Mark Rogers (NR, -.–)
Jordan Zimmermann continued his strong run of late with 6.0 innings of one-run ball on Saturday, and the Nationals used three home runs to guarantee no worse than a split of the four-game set with the Brewers. In today’s finale, Gio Gonzalez goes for his National League-leading 14th win of the season against the recently recalled Mark Rogers.
1. Lombardozzi 2B
2. Harper RF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Espinosa SS
7. Bernadina CF
8. Flores C
9. Gonzalez LHP
ZIMMERMANN, BROWN AND JOHNSON MAKE MEMORIES AT MILLER PARK
With the collective eyes of his native Auburndale, WI upon him, Jordan Zimmermann made his long awaited Miller Park debut a memorable one, earning the win as Washington bested the Brew Crew, 4-1, on Saturday evening. Zimmermann tossed 6.0 innings of one-run ball to register his MLB-leading 19th quality start in 21 assignments. Rookies Corey Brown (solo) and Tyler Moore (two-run) both homered during a decisive three-run third inning. Brown’s blast was also his first Major League hit, as he joined Justin Maxwell and Tommy Milone on the short list of Nationals (2005-present) whose initial big league hit was a home run. The win was the 100th of Davey Johnson’s 183-game tenure as Washington’s skipper.
CLASS OF 2004
Gio Gonzalez looks to collect his 14th win today against Milwaukee, a club he has yet to face in his career. He is, however, 3-1 with a 3.02 ERA in eight career starts against the NL Central. In his five starts against the NL Central in 2012, Washington is a perfect 5-0. Gio’s opposition, Mark Rogers, will be making his 2012 debut after going 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA in 18 starts for Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League. Both Gonzalez (38th overall) and Rogers (fourth) were among the top 40 selections in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.
WHEN THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD
The Nationals enter today’s series finale with an eye on winning their first series at Miller Park since 2006 and putting an exclamation point on what to date has been a 5-1 roadtrip (3-0 at NYM, 2-1 at MIL). The Nationals have outscored the Mets and Brew Crew this week, 30-15.
Unbelievable. That’s a word often thrown around the English language, when really we mean incredible, or spectacular, or amazing. There’s a difference. Unbelievable literally means, as the great Jack Buck so famously put it, that we don’t believe what we just saw. There are incredible, spectacular, amazing games all the time around the game of baseball. What transpired Tuesday night between the Nationals and Mets in eight innings of pure, efficient, low-scoring baseball and two innings of sheer insanity, was hard to grasp.
The Nationals played the type of game we’ve become accustomed to seeing them play all season long – close, low-scoring, and well-pitched. Following seven shutout innings from Ross Detwiler (who has dominated the Mets, allowing just one run over 14 innings against them this season), the bullpen was set up perfectly with a 2-0 lead for Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard.
Burnett twirled a scoreless eighth, and then everything went bananas. Clippard, who had not blown a save since being inserted into the closer’s role in mid-May, gave up singles to the first two batters, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. After a big strikeout by Scott Hairston, Mets Manager Terry Collins made the unthinkable, yet totally logical decision to pinch-hit for struggling, high-priced slugger Jason Bay with a rookie who had only 77 Major League at-bats under his belt. That rookie, Jordany Valdespin, belted a ball deep to right-center field that would video replay would confirm to be a home run, putting the Mets ahead, 3-2, and seemingly dealing the Nationals a crushing blow to open the second half of the season at home.
But the Nats weren’t done yet, not by a long shot. With two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Washington was down to its last strike, as Danny Espinosa stood in against Mets closer Bobby Parnell. After surviving five straight breaking balls from the righty, Espinosa ripped a 98 mile-per-hour fastball right past Parnell and into center field for a base hit, tying the game at 3-3 and sending the affair to extra innings.
The pendulum of momentum swung again in the top of the 10th as Josh Thole put the Mets ahead once again, driving a two-out, opposite field double to make it a 4-3 game. But that only set the stage for an even more remarkable finish.
The Nationals sent three rookies to the plate to start the inning with the game on the line: Jhonatan Solano, Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper. Solano, pinch-hitting, roped a single over the shortstop to open the frame. Lombardozzi dropped a percet sacrifice bunt, easily moving the runner into scoring position. Then it was Harper’s turn. He wasted no time, lacing a shot to the wall in right-center field to score Solano and tie the game once more, belly flopping into third base with a game-changing triple.
From there, the Mets intentionally walked both Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond to load the bases with one out, setting up the force. Collins was once again rewarded for his decision-making – at least initially – as Adam LaRoche bounced a ball to first base, which Ike Davis turned into a force out at home, leaving the bases loaded with two outs for yet another rookie, Tyler Moore, who had homered earlier in the game. As it turned out, Moore never needed to take his bat off his shoulders in his final at-bat.
Pedro Beato, the reliever summoned specifically to face the right-handed slugger, bounced a 1-2 breaking ball in front of home plate. The ball took a high, soaring carom off the catcher, allowing Zimmerman – who stalled initially – to almost jog home from third with the winning run.
It was the Nationals eighth walk-off win of the year, and arguably the most exciting game of the season. In all the madness, it was almost enough to forget the most unbelievable story of the entire night: Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win in the first game of the second half of the season. Why is that significant? Those who attended the 2012 home opener can certainly tell you, as that game ended the exact same way: with Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win.
Considering the way the first half of the season played out, if you believe in omens, there could not have been a better one to begin the second half at home.
It has been a thrilling first half of the baseball season in the Nation’s Capital, punctuated by tight, low-scoring games and wild finishes. There has been a multitude of different heroes, both household fixtures and under-the-radar names. Nearly every player on the Nationals roster can lay claim to a defining moment of the season. And we’re only halfway home.
With 83 games already in the rear-view mirror, there are still 79 remaining, a reminder that as far as this team has come, there is just as far still to travel. And while we were quite vocal in telling you that the window of opportunity was going to open this year, it is hard to imagine anyone expecting the Nationals to own the best record in the National League at this juncture in mid-July.
Let the numbers wash over you; take a moment to soak them in. A 49-34 record, best in the National League. A four-game advantage over the second-place Braves, the largest division lead in the NL. Seven walk-off wins, best in the National League. A 3.20 team ERA, the lowest in baseball. All of these are impressive feats, especially given the injuries the Nationals have faced this year, but they also only go to show just how much work still remains.
The Nationals have already employed 36 different players on their 25-man roster, and will add at least one more to that list soon, with Drew Storen’s impending 2012 debut. Chad Tracy and Jayson Werth are expected back in the not-too-distant-future as well, bringing plenty of value with them, but also questions about how manager Davey Johnson may, in turn, juggle his roster. Where will those who have filled in so capably – the Tyler Moore’s, Steve Lombardozzi’s and Michael Gonzalez’s of the world – find themselves upon these players returning? The surplus of talent is certainly a good problem to have.
One thing is certain: the road does not get any easier. Washington faces NL East foes in the first 14 games out of the All-Star break, beginning Friday night with four in Miami, a city that has been something of a house of horrors for the Nats over the years. The Nationals are just 24-42 in South Florida since 2005, and have won only three of their last 14 series on the road against the Marlins. They dropped three straight over Memorial Day earlier this year.
Of course, Washington will take on a Miami team missing its primary offensive weapon – Giancarlo Stanton – who Bryce Harper (ironically) replaced in the All-Star Game. With four days to rest up from the bangs and bruises of the first half, now is as good a time as ever to buck that trend and begin the second half on the right foot.
Has everyone had time to breathe? Good, because now the real fun begins.