A transforming season that saw the Washington Nationals lead the National League in victories suddenly became a season of “what ifs” on Saturday night, with the Nats losing an historic 2-1 eighteen inning contest to the San Francisco Giants. The loss leaves the Nats now having to notch three “must wins” to advance to the NLCSĀ — two of them on the road.
With two outs in the ninth inning, and starter Jordan Zimmermann coasting to a 1-0 victory, Nats skipper Matt Williams walked to the mound, took the ball from Zimmermann, and called on closer Drew Storen to get the final out of the game. Storen couldn’t do it — giving up a hit to Buster Posey and a game-tying double to Pablo Sandoval.
What the Nationals have notched their win if Williams had stuck with Zimmermann? Would the outcome have been different had home plate umpire Vic Carapazza not have tightened the strike zone on the D.C. righty? We’ll never know. Instead, nine innings after Zimmermann left the game, Giants first sacker Brandon Belt homered off of Tanner Roark to give the Giants their improbable 2-1 win.
Williams explained his decision to lift Zimmermann to the press following the loss: “If he got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “That is what we have done all year. Zimmermann got the first two guys, he wasn’t going to face Posey . . . We decided to go with the closer.”
The 18 inning game was the longest in MLB post-season history and lived up to its billing. Zimmermann dueled a revived Tim Hudson through seven complete innings (Hudson left, down 1-0, after 7.1), as both pitchers matched 1-2-3 lines. Hudson’s only hiccup came in the bottom of the 3rd, when an Anthony Rendon single scored Asdrubal Cabrera for Washington’s lone run.
The Giants first run (and the one that knotted the game at one apiece) in the top of the 9th provided the sell-out crowd with the most dramatic moment of the game. After closer Storen gave up a hit to Posey, and with Joe Panik on second, third sacker Pablo Sandoval followed with a dipsy-doodle stroke down the left field line. Panik scored, but Bryce Harper winged a throw to Ian Desmond, who gunned out Posey at the plate.
The play was reviewed, but the umpire’s call on the close tag of Posey by Wilson Ramos stood and the Nats and Giants headed to extra innings. What followed was a marathon as both teams emptied their bullpens, until Brandon Belt’s home run in the top of the 18th.
The extra innings marathon feature pitching that was nearly as brilliant as Zimmermann’s. Craig Stammen and the iffy Rafael Soriano (and Tyler Clippard and Jerry Blevins — and everyone else) stepped up for the Nationals, while Yusmeiro Petit was brilliant in six innings for the Giants. But, in the end, it was Belt’s blast that made the difference.
“I just wanted to get on base for the guys behind me: `Get `em on, get `em over and get `em in.’ Fortunately, I put a good enough swing on it,” Belt said after the Giants’ win.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The best commentary on Williams’ 9th inning decision that we’ve read, or heard, comes for the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell. Writing this morning, Boswell questioned whether Williams made the right decision in bringing Storen in in relief . . .
For Boswell, at least, the answer is “no.” It’s hard to disagree. Williams himself noted in his post-game presser that “it’s easy to second guess” and that “hindsight is 20-20.” All true. But the words are Exhibit A that Boswell isn’t the only one questioning the Williams decision — Williams is too. And while Williams is no Ned Yost (the Kansas City Curse), we are left to wonder why he simply couldn’t utter the words “what the hell, he got us this far . . .”
Boswell comes up with the only explanation out there: Williams thinks through a plan, implements it, and follows it through — no matter what. “From the first day of spring training, Williams has been a man defined by his detailed plans, his schedules and his love of predictable order,” Boswell writes. “It has served him and his team 96-wins well. But he is not very flexible . . .”
That seems right to us. Our only mumbled addition is a defense of Williams that goes something like this: having an inflexible plan is better than not having one at all — which was the case in Chicago and Cincinnati during the Dusty Baker years . . .
Inaction is sometimes a “virtue,” as Boswell writes, and last night in the 9th was certainly one of them for the Nationals. But if Washington fans think bad decision making is a fault, they should have been in Chicago during the Prior-Wood era, or in Cincinnati (where arms go to die) two years ago . . .
We’ll take Williams, despite his faults, in lieu of the more undisciplined approach of Davey Johnson, or the incoherent (lets fight with the players) style of the dreadful Yost. That said, it wouldn’t be too much to ask for Matty to admit what we all know to be true, particularly in the wake of heartbreakers like Saturday night. “This one is on me . . .”
But we can’t let the moment pass without reflecting on the other unnecessary intervention in Saturday’s game. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s strike zone was the most incoherent we’ve seen in some time. He lowered the strike zone on Bryce Harper (who yapped at him in disgust), then raised it on Asdrubal Cabrera, who was tossed (along with Williams) when Cabrera and Williams argued it . . .
Carapazza was lousy, and we’re not the only ones who think so. MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo allowed that Carpazazza called “a terrible game,” MLB Network veteran Mark DeRosa speculated that Carapazza was out of his depth (“maybe the stage was too big for him”) and Jon Heyman noted that Carapazza’s 9th inning strike zone was, ah, “borderline . . .”
Nevermind. It’s all history now. The Nationals are on to San Francisco, where they face elimination at the hands of a Giants team that finds a way to win — or, perhaps, sometimes simply figure that, if they hang in there long enough, the other guys will find a way to lose . . .
A win is a win is a win is a win. But there are some wins that are particularly painful and last night’s 5-4 extra innings Washington Nationals win in Houston proved to be one of those — particularly if you were Houston. The deciding run came on two errors in the 11th, as Houston fielders collided while fielding an attempted sacrifice bunt from Washington catcher Kurt Suzuki.
The 11th inning Houston error came with Roger Bernadina on first and Suzuki at the plate. When Suzuki bunted, the ball bounced to the right of the mound, where Astros reliever Wilton Lopez and first baseman Steve Pearce collided while trying to field it. Pierce recovered and threw the ball to Jose Altuve covering first, but the ball went past him. Right fielder Brian Bogusevic retrieved the ball, but his throw to Chris Snyder at home went wide — and Bernadina scored.
Houston’s two error play salvaged a win for Washingon, which had entered the 9th inning with a 4-3 lead. But closer Tyler Clippard failed to hold the lead, with Houston’s Jose Altuve doubling off the wall in left field to score Lucas Harrell. “It doesn’t always have to be pretty,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said after the victory, “We bent a lot, but we didn’t break. That’s the good news.”
The night starting out promisingly enough for the Nationals, coming off two wins in a row and a series victory over the Miami Marlins. Washington righty Edwin Jackson was effective into the sixth, ending his night with 5.1 innings pitched and eight strikeouts. And Washington had given Jackson a 4-1 lead on an Adam LaRoche two RBI single in the fourth and successive singles from Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse in the fifth.
But Houston rallied in the ninth off of closer Tyler Clippard, who registered his fourth blown save. But with a Houston runner on third, Clippard struck out Marwin Gonzalez and Brett Wallace to send the game into extra innings. “You’ve just got to forget that you let the game slip away a little bit and lock it back down,” Clippard said of his outing. “I’m thankful I was able to do that.”
Reliever Craig Stammen pitched the 10th and 11th innings, keeping Houston off the board, to get the win. “It’s a character-builder right there,” Nats’ manager Davey Johnson said of the victory. “You say, ‘I can survive it.’ That’s the character.” That may be true for Washington, but it was another tough loss for Houston — and in front of yet another sparse crowd at Minute Maid Park.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Our article on Cubs’ rookies Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters brought immediate comment from readers who say we forgot to mention that the North Siders have called up lefty Brooks Raley from the minors to start against San Diego on Tuesday . . .
True enough. But we’re right about what the Cubs have in the way of pitching in the minors. We’ll gladly add Raley to our compilation of the best-of-the-best in the Cubs’ system: he’s 4-8 at Iowa and has given up 87 hits in the 82 innings he’s pitched. Hope springs eternal . . .
There are baseball games that defy description, and today’s extra inning 11-10 win in Milwaukee was certainly one of them. The Nationals were down 7-3 in the seventh, but rallied to score four runs in the top of the 8th. The D.C. Nine were then down 9-7 in the bottom of the eighth, but rallied to tie it in the top of the 9th.
“Gio just wasn’t throwing strikes today,” MASN on-air analyst Ray Knight said following the victory — and noted that Nats’ manager Davey Johnson understood that his team was going to have difficulties from the first inning. “He a savvy manager, he knows these things,” Knight said. That sounds right: Gio threw 98 pitches, 57 of them for strikes, and gave up four earned runs on five hits.
The statistics for the Nationals are more than interesting, they seem to point to a trend: the D.C. Nine are certainly capable of winning series, but they have swept only one all year. The trend was continued on Thursday afternoon, with David Wright’s New York Mets keeping the Nationals from a sweep of the Madoffs — in a decisive 9-5 win.
Wright had two home runs on the game, backing the 7.1 inning pitching of New York ace knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Dickey was not exactly stellar on Thursday afternoon, but he certainly outpitched Washington lefty starter Gio Gonzalez, who was forced from the game in the 4th inning, having given up six earned runs.
For New York, today’s game was a game of bats, as the Madoffs unleashed the power of their line-up for the first time in the series: David Wright homered twice in the game, Ike Davis once — and the Mets snapped out nine runs on eleven hits (the Nationals actually outhit the Amazins, but left more runners on base) and scored in each of the first four innings.
Ruben Tejada, Andres Torres, David Wright, Ike Davis and Justin Turner led the across-the-board Mets attack, each of them with two hits. And while the Nationals mounted a semi-comeback, with the D.C. Nine putting runs on the board in the sixth, eighth and ninth innings, it was hardly enough to threaten an eventual Mets triumph. Still, this was vintage Nationals: the separate near rallies reinforced the view of Nats fans that their team never gives up — the team has eleven victories in their last at-bat.
Despite the loss, the Nationals were able to bang out fourteen hits, proof that a team that once had problems at the plate have largely resolved them. Ryan Zimmerman hit his eleventh home run, and Michael Morse (who is slowly starting to find his swing) plated two. Mark DeRosa was 2-3 off the bench, and Tyler Moore 2-2.
“We fought back, even without our best guys out there, which is a good sign,” shortstop Ian Desmond said following the loss. “We had some good at-bats coming down the stretch there. They changed pitchers like 4-5 times. For them to do that, they obviously respect us enough to know we’re never out of the game.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson can put lipstick on a pig with the best of them, but today’s postgame Q&A was a work of art. “There’s a lot to like about this game,” he told the assembled media. “We got some things done.”
Every time that Stephen Strasburg shuts down another team, you hear the same two words: “as advertised.” That was certainly the case today, as the young ace of the Nationals’ staff shut out the New York Mets at CitiField, yielding two hits over six complete innings, while striking out nine. The Nats went on to victory, with a 4-0 win over the Mets — and leaped precariously into first place.
So it is: Strasburg has, in fact, been “as advertised.” His ERA for the 2012 campaign (we know, it’s early), stands at .069. More importantly, he gives the Nationals a better-than-good chance at victory every time he takes the mound. Coupled with an absolute lights out effort from Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez (three innings total, giving up just one hit), the Nats are now able to enjoy Opening Day in D.C. They return to their Southeast digs with a 4-2 record and victories in their first two opening series.
Once again, the Nats showed some lumber, though it’s obvious that not every hitter is in mid-season form. Ian Desmond pounded out two more hits, along with bench addition Xavier Nady. Mark DeRosa got his first hit of the season, and walked three times.
As good as Strasburg was, Nats’ hitters feasted on the very so-so Mets’ bullpen — which all but collapsed for the second game in a row. Mets’ relievers gave up seven walks, to go along with the three issued by New York starter Johan Santana. Santana, who might have pitched well enough to win, gave up a single earned run in five innings, and struck out six.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’ve been keeping up on the Nats’ blogsphere, and welcome the addition of “Bang! Zoom!” to our blogroll (we’re late on this, they’ve actually been around for some time), “The Zimmerman Telegram” (a nifty name, donchaknow), Nationals Arms Race (a less nifty name, but effective — and around since 2010), Natstradamus (creative, that) and Chatsports — which takes “social networking” (or perhaps it’s sports networking) seriously . . . If we’ve left anyone out, just drop us a line . . .
We also belately note, with some sadness, the passing of Nationals Daily News which, we would have bet, would have hung in there for the long haul. The site was up on Opening Day of the Nationals’ first season, but as Ian Koski wrote in NDN’s “Obituary,” the pressure of having to actually make a living took its toll . . . we know what he means . . . That said, Nationals Daily News was around for six years: a damned good run . . .
In another tardy bit of news, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of D.C. came out with its pre-season poll back on April 4. The survey of participants yielded some interesting, and some predictable results: that Ryan Zimmerman would lead the team in batting average, and Jordan Zimmermann in wins . . . that sounds about right . . .
So much for starting slow. The book on Adam LaRoche is that he doesn’t start to hit until the flowers start to wilt, but in Chicago on Saturday, LaRoche went 4-5 and stroked a home run to help lead the Nationals to a 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals are now 2-0 in the still-young 2012 campaign. The difference came in the 8th inning, when the Nationals sent 11 men to the plate, erasing at 4-2 deficit.
Nationals fans will claim that new Nats’ starter Gio Gonzalez pitched well, but the box score shows that he couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Gonzalez couldn’t get a strike call for his low-in-the-zone fastball, and Cubs’ hitters took advantage — scoring on four singles, a walk and a triple. The Nationals needed an eighth inning rally — and a clutch Chad Tracy single — to catch the North Siders.
Outside of the LaRoche-Tracy heroics, the Nats’ bullpen was as advertised, with Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez holding the Baby Bears to just one hit over 5.2 innings. Craig Stammen was particularly effective in his long-relief role, stifling the Cubs by keeping the ball on the ground in throwing 16 of 28 strikes. The Nationals will feature Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmerman tomorrow against former footballer Jeff Samardzija, in the final game of the three game set.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Rumors of an impending trade continue to swirl, with John Lannan set to go to Chicago for someone — perhaps former Nat Marlon Byrd. “Why not? The Nationals have a good team, but I have something to finish in Chicago,” Byrd told Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson. “I love Chicago. If the Cubs can get a piece that can make them better, that’s all I want.”
Bringing Byrd back to Washington would be a head scratcher, to say the least. He his .245 while he was here, and while he’s much improved from 2005 and 2006, the imminent return of Michael Morse, the promotion of Bryce Harper, the final rehab of Rick Ankiel, Mark DeRosa’s defensive abilities and LaRoche’s hot start would almost certainly relegate him to bench duty. Adam Kilgore today asked who Morse and Ankiel would replace when they arrive, focusing on who would be cut or sent to Triple-A. In fact, their arrival could easily put Byrd on the bench.
This is, in truth, an embarrassment of riches — with a soon-to-be crowded outfield that would force Davey Johnson to choose between Werth, Harper, Bernadina, Ankiel, Morse, and DeRosa. That’s six players for three spots: with the addition of Byrd that would be seven. But the real back-up would be in center field, where Byrd would compete with Ankiel, Bernadina and (in May, is our guess), Harper.
Which is no competition at all: Harper would play center field everysingleday. So what’s the point? Either hang on to Lannan (it’s baseball, and anything can happen — so we’re gonna need him) or trade him for prospects. And let Marlon Byrd stay in Chicago. Which is where he wants to be . . .
The Washington Nationals have signed versatile veteran infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa to a one year contract, the club announced today. This is a no-brainer: we’ve always been fans of DeRosa, who is a welcome addition to the Nationals’ bench. He can hit and field, is a great presence in the clubhouse, and is a steady veteran of the type that Davey Johnson likes. That said, DeRosa had an up-and-down year in 2011 — though mostly down. He suffered a nasty wrist injury, which limited his season to under 50 games.
The signing of DeRosa, which has been expected, fills one of the team’s identified needs: putting together a bench that surpasses the poorly performing bench of last year. DeRosa is a plus, a kind of Jerry Hairston, Jr. player but with more stuff at the plate coupled with the ability to play any number of positions. Additionally, DeRosa said that he wanted to play for the Nationals after it became clear that his time in San Francisco was up. DeRosa is just three years on from his best years as a player when, after a doubles-heavy tenure with the Rangers, he was signed as a free agent by the Chicago Cubs. In 2008, he hit .285 with 21 home runs.
DeRosa has to show that he’s healthy; in his case, passing a physical is more than just pro forma. DeRosa’s wrist injury last year (on a checked swing, no less), might have ended his career, and some Nats fans are concerned that his wrist is now “shot.” If that’s the case (which will become clear, we assume, in Spring Training), then he might not have the late-inning pop that has become his trademark.
But this is a plus, and a big one. DeRosa could fill a yawning need at first base. Adam LaRoche spent last season injured and Chris Marrero’s torn left hamstring will make him uncertain for Spring Training. Then too, though no one will mention it, Ryan Zimmerman has had problems staying healthy — and the Nationals simply cannot afford another power void season at third base. So, if all goes as unplanned planned, we could be seeing a lot of DeRosa in 2011.