Remember when we loved the Washington Nationals because we liked them? Back when they were appealing not appalling? They were quirky and funny- they were close, they had each other’s backs and they were winners.
I prefer the photo of Bryce Harper hitting a towering home run into the upper deck in right field to the picture of Jonathan Paplebon strangling his young teammate in the dugout. That horrific and iconic image is part of baseball lore now- for all of time. Nice touch too that this historic bit of notoriousness happened on Fan Appreciation Day.
The Nationals do understand that much of the adoration for Bryce Harper comes from kids, right? Little 8, 9, 10 year-olds? We would know these people as children, traditionally a key ingredient to the quintessential family experience that is a day at the ballpark. Well, those kids were horrified and shaken by that blatant act of violence. Hell, I know ADULTS who had trouble sleeping Sunday night after seeing replays of what would surely be considered felony assault in a court of law. Imagine a Little Leaguer seeing never-ending spools of GIF’s of their hero being attacked by that wide-eyed, psychotic creep.
That Mike Rizzo, based on his news conference today, is even considering keeping Paplebon next year is an insult to the fan base and a display of hubris that is difficult to describe for its breathless arrogance.
Rizzo seems hell-bent on keeping Matt Williams too, excusing the underperforming season on all the injuries the team incurred. A fine rationalization, I suppose, except that 95% of the lineup was back in place when the Nats were swept home and away by the NL East Division Champion, New York Mets. That wasn’t injuries. That was a heaping pile of bullpen that in the closing stretch would also cost the club two games to the Cardinals and two games to the Orioles.
But there is much more here that’s nagging at people’s hearts these days about the Nationals than managerial calls, poorly executed bullpen development and deployment or ill-advised desperation late-inning bunt attempts.
It’s about character. Character really does matter. It is an intangible. But we know it when we see it. And right now, in the despicable public act Paplebon committed- in the continuing arrogance and inability to admit error displayed now by both Williams and Rizzo- what we see is a disturbing picture, deeply offensive to children of all ages.
OK, Nationals fans. It was ugly and dispiriting for most of the year. Every bounce went the other way. They led the National league in errors. If they had the bases loaded and nobody out, they’d figure out a way of stranding all of them. It was so bad, I was waiting for a headline like Strasburg tosses no-hitter, Nats lose 1-0.
The absolute low point was reached at 10:26 pm, ET on Wednesday, August 7th. The Atlanta Braves entered the 9th inning at Nationals ballpark with a 12-game winning streak, a 6-3 lead and, adding insult to injury, had escaped without repercussions after drilling Bryce Harper repeatedly in the series.
A Harper double and a Jason Werth walk gave the 29,000 fans a glimmer of hope. Then Ian Desmond struck out looking and Anthony Rendon fanned swinging. Wilson “Buffalo” Ramos stepped into the batter’s box representing the tying run. He stung the baseball the opposite way toward right field; Harper and Werth in full sprint as the line drive shot out over the infield. It would end up falling into the glove of Jason Heyward. Game over.
The once mighty Washington Nationals had fallen six games below .500. The National League Eastern Division was put away for good that night. The tomahawk chops at Nationals Ballpark made for a painful reminder of the utter failure of a season gone dreadfully and inexplicably wrong.
Inexplicably, because there wasn’t a single starter in that Washington lineup you’d want to get rid of. Adam LaRoche maybe but there’s that stylish defense of his at 1st. And last year he carried the club offensively for an entire month. Rendon and Lombardozzi at 2nd. How lucky are we? Desmond at SS. Perennial all-star. Zimmerman scary at 3rd defensively and offensively anemic at the time- but the cornerstone of the franchise, regardless. The outfield of Harper, Span and Werth- untouchable. Even struggling at the plate, Span’s defense in center is gold glove quality. Wilson Ramos. Power, smarts and feel for handling our pitchers.
And who would you knock off the pitching staff? Dan Haren is the most likely answer because if he hadn’t literally been the worst pitcher in the entire sport for the entire first half of the season, the Nats would have been contending all along. But the rest of them? Really, folks, this is one of the top 5 pitching staffs in the game. And when he’s the “good Haren” he looks like he can throw a no-hitter.
But in the midst of the misery of that humid August night when they were whipped by their arch-rivals, the Baseball Gods seemed to awaken. They may be Gods but, in the end, they must abide by the rules of the universe, and specifically- the statistical theory called Regression toward the Mean. From our friends at Wikipedia:
…the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement—and, paradoxically, if it is extreme on its second measurement, it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first.
Statistics really do mean something in baseball. If a player has averaged X amount of production in pitching and hitting stats, over a 162-game season and accounting for their aging, the result is invariably within 10-15% of their career average.
Ryan Zimmerman is Exhibit A. Jason Werth is Exhibit B.
Zimmerman was showing the worst power numbers of his career. Until September. The man has hit 9 homeruns in his last 11 games. He now leads the club in that department. Nine homeruns is an insane amount for a month, much less a week and a half. That’s a pace to hit 132 homeruns over a season. Zimmerman’s Regression to the Mean has been absolutely breathtaking.
Jason Werth’s story spans three years. His first year as a National, Werth hit .232 with 20 homers and only 58 RBI’s. His injury plagued second year saw his average climb to .300 but only 5 homers. In his 3rd year is currently in third in the battle for the National League batting title. He has been the best offensive player in the game for over two months. He’s hitting .323, with 23 homers and 71 RBI’s. Werth’s Regression to the Mean is complete now.
Since the stinging loss to the Atlanta Braves August 7th, the Washington Nationals have the best record in the sport. They were 54-60 after the sweep. They have now gone 24-9. They were 6 games under .500. They are now 9 games above .500 at 78-69. They have won 7 in a row, 9 of their last 10, 13 of their last 17, 18 of their last 23.
For a team that won 98 games last year, clearly, Regression to the Mean was due and is in full swing.
To Nat’s fans- a note of caution over the next 15 games. So yes, they have gone 24-9 since the Atlanta sweep, but remember that after each of the 9 losses, the conventional wisdom was that the season had just ended. Some of the 9 losses were ugly. So ugly they obscured the winning tempo that was beginning to build. We almost didn’t see it, even as it was happening. Baseball and its 162 game marathon have a funny way of doing that to you.
But the trend is unmistakable now. The Nationals have found themselves but only at the very last possible, friggin’ moment. They will not win out. They can afford to lose probably three games at most. Do not panic when one of those three losses happen. The other 12 wins will have us “crashing the party,” in one of the most inspiring turn-arounds since the 2011 World Champion, St.Louis Cardinals.
And if they don’t get to the playoffs, rejoice that you got to see this kind of drama and heart and grit and pressure in the middle of September. Most ball clubs don’t get to the cooler temperatures of autumn with much of any hope at all.
Baseball players can be jerks. Sometimes they ignore fans or practically snarl at them or walk right by when approached for an autograph or a photo. And talent is not a good indicator one way or the other of what kind of a human being a player is.
Bryce Harper has immense talent that is self-evident. A 20 year-old with the maturity of a 35 year-old in his approach to the game, he has an equal maturity as a just plain-old decent human being.
The picture above taken by Washington Post photographer John McDonnell (who used to work for the Loudoun Times Mirror eons ago) features Bryce shaking hands with Little League player, Gavin Rupp. Gavin has an inoperable tumor in his brain. Prior to his terminal prognosis, he had undergone surgery and other treatments and still kept his starting shortstop position on his youth travel team.
Word of Gavin’s situation reached the Washington Nationals and so it was that last Friday with the San Diego Padres in town, the club invited Gavin, his parents and his siblings to the ballpark. As Gavin’s family watched San Diego take their batting practice swings, Bryce Harper emerged from the dugout. Harper asked if they wanted to go out on the field. And they did. For a full hour, Bryce engaged the young man, took the lead in drawing him out and making him feel welcome and comfortable, gave the kid the cap off his head and treated him with the greatest dignity. Ball players don’t do this sort of thing for sixty minutes. Here’s The Post’s Adam Kilgore with the full story.
And then came July 4th. Bryce Harper lives in a penthouse apartment in my building in Arlington. He’s a rare sight. He drives his white Mercedes with the Bam Bam 34 plates directly into the garage, gets in the elevator to his floor and the only people who ever run into him are those folks who just happened to select the same elevator.
Every 4th of July, the management of the apartment building holds a little party for the tenants in the common ground with music and cotton candy, popcorn, burgers and dogs. And there he was this year, in a t-shirt, shorts and red sneakers, holding his sister’s brand new baby in his arms, hanging out with his girlfriend, family and a couple of other friends while his chocolate Labrador retriever, Swag, rolled in the grass. There were about 300 people at this event. Everyone knew Bryce was there. And everyone left him alone. Bryce, after the Nats had played the traditional July4th 11am game, felt comfortable enough to hang out with the residents and the residents minded their own business and just let him be.
Finally, Harper and girlfriend left the common ground, walking to a nearby restaurant and it was there he was finally approached- not by a resident, but by a casual fan walking down the street who happened to be wearing a Harper #34 uniform shirt. I overheard the exchange. “Oh my God- you’re Bryce Harper!” Bryce stopped and smiled. He immediately posed for a cell phone camera shot and shook the fan’s hand before moving on. He really does love the fans. At the player’s parking lot at National’s ball park, they’ll yell to him as he’s making his way to the white Mercedes and he waves and calls back at them with an ear-to-ear grin.
I’ve had heroes in my life. Mickey Mantle was one of them. He was Bryce’s hero too. Bryce wears #34 because the numbers 3 and 4 add up to 7- Mantle’s number. But my Mickey was deeply flawed. The first one, late in his life, to confess he had squandered one of the great baseball careers of all time, drinking and partying with the likes of Whitey Ford and Billy Martin. We all loved Mickey for his raw skill and seeming humility but in the end it turned out the bright lights were too much for the kid from Oklahoma. Too much pressure. Too much fear he would die young like many of the men in his family including his father. Too much, too soon.
Harper has none of this baggage. He has a large and supportive and healthy family. He is the definition of clean living. And he wears all that fame and talent with a great humility off the field, a great arrogance on it- the way it should be.
It is so nice to have a hero again. A guy you can look up to not just for his stats or hall-of-fame potential- but for his decency and kindness and understanding that while damned important, baseball, is part of life, not all of it.
I’ll admit to being an intermittent Yankee fan through the years. It’s what happens when your own hometown doesn’t have a baseball team for over three decades. But now that we have this very cool ball club called the Washington Nationals, it was outrageously wonderful to learn yesterday that we had stolen last year’s closer for the Bronx Bombers.
That’s right, Rafael Soriano, the guy who stepped up for the great and injured Mariano Rivera last season is now going to be wearing a curly W on his hat. Analysts have been writing that the Nationals sent a statement by agreeing to pay so much money for the best free agent relief pitcher on the market. The statement being, basically, “Screw All of You.”
See, the traditional baseball world made up of general managers, managers, owners and ornery old scouts who still spit tobacco products- doesn’t like the Washington ball club very much. They think we were crazy to sit Stephen Strasburg just to protect the young kid’s arm a year after Tommy John surgery. They see arrogance in Washington GM, Mike Rizzo’s approach because shutting down your star pitcher implies you’re keeping him healthy for all the future division titles, playoffs and World Series wins you’re going to be piling up.
Many in the traditional baseball world are also just plain crazy jealous. In Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats lucked into two of the most remarkable players to come down the pike in about 20 years. The baseball establishment liked the Nats better when they were a doormat; a sorry little team from a rich but fickle market that used to have to pay a King’s ransom for any marquis talent (see Jason Werth).
But after a 98-win season and the realization that 87-year-old Nationals owner Ted Lerner is, in fact, one of the richest men in the world and certainly the wealthiest owner in the sport, suddenly old DC doesn’t looks so bad as a destination for premier talent.
But the fun part about stealing a Yankee is that back in our old insecure days, that’s what we beleaguered Washington fans thought was surely going to be the fate for our diamonds in the rough. That sometime in 2016 or 2017, Bryce Harper was going to be wearing pin stripes instead of the curly W- that it would be just a matter of time before Stephen Strasburg would someday be the opening day pitcher for the Yankees.
And now we have the Yankee closer- a decision that no doubt was actually made shortly after a chilly October night at Nationals Park when young relief ace, Drew Storen, picked the worst possible moment in the world to collapse. Blowing a six run lead in the deciding game of a playoff series is something you remember. And vow to never repeat.
Drew will get his chances in 2013, but it will be the Yankee closer, the 33-year old veteran Rafael Soriano who will be shutting the door on most nights. Young Drew will learn. But right now, it’s time for the formerly forlorn Nationals to rule the baseball world. And to their detractors: here’s a little tobacco juice in your eye.
A few days have passed now since Washington suffered its collective sucker punch and watched its beloved young team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. There are two keys to healing and getting over it. One has to do with understanding the element of time. The other has to do with recognizing not what happened- but how it happened.
It’s About the Long Haul
Baseball as a sport goes against all we currently value in terms of instant gratification. It requires the longest vision of any sport; 162 games are played over six long months. But it is actually much longer than that and this is the key perspective to understand. Especially for a young team like the Nationals, this is not about one season. It is about many. Look at it at more like a game that will be played over the span of a decade.
The Atlanta Braves in the 1990’s ran off a string of 11 consecutive NL division titles. They captured exactly one World Series. They only appeared in two in that span. Washington Post columnist, Tom Boswell points out the Braves have lost 7 division series since 2000. Even the Yankees have dropped 5 since 2002.
Baseball playoffs are a complete and total crap-shoot; especially with the new one-game wild-card format. And the divisional best 3 of 5 format is too short to really tell the tale of a team’s depth and talent. The regular season does tell that story. And no one in their right mind would have ever thought that in 2012, the Washington Nationals would finish atop the NL Eastern division, much less with the sport’s best record.
That was one full year ahead of schedule. Remember this is the task of a decade that lies before us. That’s an extra year of playoff and playoff-style pressure the players now have experience with. And you know the Nats may well be favored to win it all next year with Strasburg pitching a full season and with a whole winter ahead of Mike Rizzo with much more leverage than he’s ever had before in making deals to make the club even better.
This is a long-term proposition. We’re not used to thinking this way. But even in baseball terms, we have more hope for instant gratification than just about any other team in the sport.
How We Lost
I remember the Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers played a season finale at Memorial Stadium in 1982 that would determine the winner of the American League East. No wild card that year. Someone was going to end up out of the playoffs having won 94 games. It was possibly Earl Weaver’s last game as the Orioles skipper. It was Cal Ripken’s rookie season. The stakes were enormous.
The Brewers crushed the Orioles 10-2. As an Oriole fan at the time, I remember being disappointed but not hurt. The Baltimore fans that day were generous in spirit. They stayed long after the drubbing to offer their final cheers to Weaver. In the young Cal Ripken they sensed a bright future. The Birds would win it all the following season.
I think our collective psyches would have been much better preserved if the St. Louis Cardinals had beaten us 10-2 last Friday night. Yes, we would have the same overall disappointment, but I bet the fans would have stuck around for awhile to thank the team and pretty much just hug each other for the incredible season they had all witnessed.
But, instead, on 5 different occasions, the Nats were a single strike away from victory. To lose under those circumstances is cruel fortune, indeed. But how do you suppose it felt when almost the same scenario played out for the poor Texas Rangers last year? They were a strike away on at least three occasions- from winning the World Series.
Things are relative, my friends; in both time and occasion.
As for our decade of excellence that is to follow- an incredibly important brick was added to the foundation of this franchise in 2012. The bitter taste that lives in us is especially acute in the players. They will live with it through the winter, through their surgeries and workouts. And the bitterness will mix with the optimism of spring.
It is my belief that the events that transpired on that fateful Friday night, hurtful and as frustrating as they were to so many, will be the very reason this young, talented bunch of ballplayers coalesces even more as a team. What I think we will see, is a steely determination; first-class athletes and competitors motivated to the core by a failure, that to be fair, was only so immense because of how unexpected their rise to the top was last season, to begin with.
No- this pain will subside and give way, as human sentiment so often does, to hope. Fortunately for fans of the young Washington Nationals, we have ten years ahead of us to savor, enjoy, and yes, occasionally suffer through. After all, over that decade, each year, 29 teams will walk off the field of their last game with a loss.
But, should anytime over these ten years, we become the team that walks off the field of that last game with a victory- it is all the pain and sorrow and joy and ecstasy of the arduous path we took to get there that will help us truly understand the magnitude and the rarity of the greatest achievement in sport.
Welcome to disappointment, to pride, to love- to Baseball.
They’ve clinched the National League East. God only knows what’s ahead. But we sure know what’s behind. One of the most interesting, historic, crazy-insane regular seasons you could imagine. Here now, the ten most significant or just plain weird moments of the 2012 Washington Nationals most excellent campaign. In chronological order and all in the written word:
Bryce Harper’s 1st Game in the Big Leagues, 4/28/2012, Los Angeles, California
The One, The Kid, the Run-Until-He’s-Tagged-Measure-Testing, Laser-Throwing, Eyeblack-Oozing Baseball Cyborg* makes his 1st appearance in a major league baseball game. The injury-racked, sputtering offense had forced Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo to call up the 19 year-old after just a brief stay in Triple A. The teenager takes his position in Left field, looking all around the ballpark at Chavez Ravine, visibly drinking in the entire scene. He goes 1 for 3 with a booming double, a tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the 9th and fires a throw from left field so wicked and powerful it nails the runner while the disbelieving umpire, unable to accept what his eyes have just seen, calls him safe.
*Incredibly long Bryce Harper nickname, courtesy Federal Baseball.com
Cole Hamels Hits Harper, Rookie Steals Home, 5/6/2012, Washington, D.C.
Sunday Night Baseball. The national spotlight shines on Philadelphia Phillies lefty ace, Cole Hamels, as he faces the teenage phenom and promptly smacks him in the middle of the back with his first pitch. Jayson Werth singles to left and Harper never stops running. Nobody goes from 1st to 3rd with a ball hit to left. Harper does and is now 90 feet from home. He’d been told earlier in the game that Hamels has a slow throw to 1st when he checks runners. He sees his opportunity. Hamels throws lazily to 1st base for a second time. The TV camera catches a stunned, wide-eyed look on Werth’s face.
The Kid has just stolen home. WHAT? He’s called safe, pops up and gives a glance at Hamels as he heads back to the dugout. Hamels later admits he’d hit the kid on purpose as an old-school welcome to the Bigs. Harper shows the world what he’s made of. Don’t get mad. Get even.
Strasburg and Harper Take over Fenway Park, 6/8/2012, Boston, Massachusetts
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, both students of the game and its history, are amped up, playing their first game at revered Fenway Park. And the future unfolds before our very eyes. Strasburg strikes out 13 confused Red Sox hitters. Red Sox beat-writer, Gordon Edes says it all:
Strasburg, featuring a fastball that touched 100 mph, a changeup that violated the laws of nature and a curveball bereft of compassion, struck out seven Red Sox in a span of eight batters…
But if Strasburg (7-1) is the rainbow, then center fielder Harper is the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that appears, oh, once a century or so. Harper homered to the right of the 420-foot triangle in center, doubled and singled, driving in three runs and scoring two, in one of the most precocious performances the 100-year-old edifice has ever seen.
Throw-Back Day and the Dancing Deer, 7/5/2012, Washington, D.C.
The San Francisco Giants and the Nationals are decked out in 1924 uni’s in a celebration of the last time a Washington baseball club won a World Series. Matt Cain, owner of a perfect game earlier in the season, dominates the Nats taking a 5-1 lead into the 7th inning. He gets two outs. Then Ian Desmond homers. Then Danny Espinosa homers. Cain is taken out. Lead cut to 5-3. And then this happened in the bottom of the 9th inning, duly noted on this blog three months ago:
Three rookies up to bat, all in a row. Pinch-hitter, Tyler Moore, on the verge of striking out opens the frame with a solid double to the gap in center. Steve Lombardozzi bunts and the pitcher botches it and now it’s first and third with nobody out. The stadium is going nuts. Bryce Harper comes to the plate again. As a deafening, spontaneous chant of “Let’s go Harper” reaches its boisterous crescendo, Harper is steeped in the moment and raps a base hit- game tied 5-5.
Ryan Zimmerman is intentionally walked to load the bases and still no outs. The anticipation is as thick as the humid Washington air. Michael Morse is up but he hits a grounder and the Giants get a force at home. One out, game still tied. Adam LaRoche comes to the plate and hits a double-play grounder. They get the out at second but the shortstop sends a low throw to the Giant’s 1st baseman. It glances off his glove and wouldn’t you know it- Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old and the representative of all that is young about baseball, dashes in for the winning run.
As they celebrate LaRoche’s walk-off error, it appears the players surrounding him are running in circles doing deer imitations, waving hands over their heads to simulate antlers. Turns out Gio Gonzalez had designed a LaRoche walk-off celebration during a long ride on the team plane. LaRoche, an avid hunter, would launch imaginary arrows at players circling him like ripe deer. Explaining to reporters after the game, LaRoche says he thought he bagged one just before he was tackled by teammates.
The Houston Astros: And We All Fall Down, 8/6/2012, Houston, Texas
A veritable circus of errors dooms the lowly, loveable Astros:
Nobody out, top of the 11th inning of a 4-4 game. There’s hardly anyone in the stands because this is the Houston Astros- the worst team in baseball. There is not a camera angle possible that doesn’t show a sea of empty seats. It’s so quiet and dead in the stands that everyone in the stadium can hear the wailing cry of a single infant seated with its parents somewhere close to home plate.
Washington National’s centerfielder, Roger Bernadina singles to right. And now the fun begins. The Nationals’ new catcher, Kurt Suzuki, attempts a sacrifice bunt to try and get Bernadina to second. Suzuki screws it up and instead of bunting on the ground, he pops the ball up. A tiny, little, baby pop-up.
Houston 1st baseman, Steve Pearce, moves toward the ball at the same time as the pitcher, Wilton Lopez. The ball eludes them both and drops softly to the ground. Lopez can’t seem to locate it between his legs. Pearce literally pushes his own pitcher out of the way like a linebacker and picks up the ball.
Inexplicably, Astros 3rd baseman, Matt Downs, seemingly thinking maybe he has a play on the ball, dives over the fallen pitcher and succeeds in partially interfering with the 1st baseman’s desperate throw to 1st base. The ball flies over the head of Houston 2nd baseman, Jose Altuve and well into right field.
Bernadina sees all the madness and takes off, easily passing 2nd base and headed to 3rd. Houston right fielder, Brian Bogusevic sees Bernadina completely ignoring his own 3rd base coach’s pleas to stop and sprints for home. Bogusevic’s throw is airmailed over the catcher’s head, Bernadina scores and Suzuki, who had moments ago tried to make an out by bunting the ball in the infield, is now securely at 3rd.
The Shark’s Amazing Two-out, Extra-Innings Catch , 8/7/2012, Houston, Texas
The Nationals and the Astros had battled all night. The Astros enter the bottom of the 12th, trailing 3-2. MLB.com takes it from there:
Roger Bernadina glided back toward the fence, trying to make a play on a ball that would decide the game one way or the other.
Washington held a one-run lead over Houston with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the 12th. If Bernadina catches Brett Wallace’s line drive, the Nationals win. If he can’t get there or he drops the ball, both runners could have scored and the Astros would have walked off.
He kept striding back to the corner between the bullpen fence and one of two big, green pylons. Reliever Craig Stammen stood right behind the fence, where the ball was headed, screaming, “You’ve got room! You’ve got room!”
Bernadina didn’t have much room, but he jumped toward the corner, disappearing from the sight of everyone in the Nationals’ dugout. He nabbed the ball, collapsed to the ground and held his glove high. He made the catch and saved the game, preserving Washington’s 3-2 win over Houston at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night — the second straight four-hour, extra-inning game between these clubs.
Dancing in the Rain, 9/8/2012, Washington, D.C.
It’s the day Washington decides Stephen Strasburg is done for the season. The Nats play a sloppy, unfocused, error-filled game. The Miami Marlins lead 6-5 as Washington goes to the bottom of the 9th. The Baseball Gods decide it’s time for rain. Lots and lots of rain. After a 2-hour and 33 minute delay, Jason Werth comes to the plate and promptly launches a game-tying homerun. In the bottom of the 10th, the Marlins use five infielders to try and escape a bases-loaded jam. Corey Brown lofts a soft single that just eludes Miami right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, scoring Ian Desmond with the winning run.
Gio Wins 20th Game, Celebrates with a Face Plant, 9/22/2012, Washington, D.C.
Cy Young award-contending Washington ace, Gio Gonzalez, reaches the pitching milestone but not before tripping on the mound in the middle of a pitch in the 7th inning. The baseball flies to the backstop. Gio lands on his face, spread-eagle on the ground, motionless for several long seconds while trainer, manager and players convene to see if he’s alright. Turned out to be mortification not injury. Gio gets up, his teammates laugh and he doffs his cap to the adoring crowd. Later, Ian Desmond remarks, “A perfect 10. I’m just glad he didn’t mess up his hair.”
Werth Gets His Philadelphia Revenge, 9/26/2012, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
From the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg:
So now we’re in the top of the ninth. The Phillies have closed within one run. The crowd is back into the game. A Nats loss here would lower their division lead to just three games. What fun for the Philadelphia crowd. The Philadelphia television broadcast is filled with audio of fans heckling Jayson Werth, especially after he walks into the on-deck circle. So he fields a foul ball, and pretends to toss it to the crowd, then thinks better of it and gives the ball to the Nats dugout.
The boos rain down. Philadelphia fans have their target for the unfairness of life’s charade, and they fill their role with gusto, in the form of saying “BOOOOO” really loud.
Werth’s take: “I was going to flip the ball. There was a group of kids. Behind the kids there were these unruly middle-aged men that to me appeared to be snarling. It’s the ninth. Who knows. I kind of got the sense that maybe they were intoxicated. I was going to flip it to the kids, and then I thought, maybe I shouldn’t, because of the people right behind the innocent little children there.”
There were only two possible things that could happen next. Werth could strike out, and the fans could celebrate, and wave their arms in triumph, and be filled with genuine feelings of joy and elation that this hairy man had been shown, had been defeated, had been denied. Or Werth could single in two runs, filling the Nats fans watching at home with similar feelings of joy and elation, that this hairy man had made up for so much past frustration and pain, had transferred those feelings to the enemy.
Nats ended up winning 8-4.
Best Baseball Headline Ever: National’s Morse Hits Invisible Homerun, 9/29/2012, St. Louis, Missouri
It’s the very 1st inning in a pressure-packed game at Busch Stadium. The bases are loaded and Michael Morse smacks a shot to Right field. The Washington Post’s DC Sports Blog again offers a hilarious take on the MASN broadcast of the bizarre events that unfolded:
…on Saturday night Michael Morse hit a grand slam that was called a single and then changed to a grand slam, but the umpires weren’t satisfied, so they sent everyone back to their original places, and after running the bases in reverse Morse then fake swung and hit a fake home run which Bob Carpenter fake called in his real voice.
There it goes!!” he said, as nothing happened.
“Are you kidding me?” F.P. Santangelo asked.
”Right field, it is deep!!” Carpenter continued, as no ball went into no outfield where it was not watched by any outfielder and no fans threw their hands up in frustration. “SEE. YOU. LATER. Grand Slam, the Nationals are on top by four.”
It was the football version of Stephen Strasburg striking out 14 in his major league debut. Of watching a 19 year-old eclipse just about all records for any teenager in baseball history.
Those who wondered if the Washington Redskins had lost their marbles by trading away three 1st round draft picks for Robert Griffin III are wondering no more.
While several other rookie quarterbacks looked very much like rookies in the first Sunday of football action this season (including #1 pick, Andrew Luck, who threw three interceptions and fumbled once), RGIII left a dizzying legacy after just his first game.
He completed his first 8 passes in a row, including an 88-yard touchdown. He finished the first half with a perfect passer rating- a feat never before accomplished by any first-year player in the history of the NFL. He is one of only four rookies to debut with more than 300 yards passing. And his team won in a huge upset.
He accomplished this on foreign turf, against a New Orleans Saints team that didn’t lose a single regular-season home game last year. RGIII managed to outplay Drew Brees, who set an all-time NFL record for passing yards in 2011.
Beyond the stats, RGIII was cool, calm and collected- displaying a maturity way beyond his 22 years. This kid is the real deal. And he makes those around him play better.
History is replete with Heisman Trophy winners who are total busts in the NFL. Traditionally, it takes a young quarterback about three years to get into the groove of things. And again, history shows the teams they play for take awhile to get in gear too.
But this Washington team may be different.
For one thing, in Mike Shanahan they have a coach who is famous for his work with quarterbacks. He certainly did pretty well with one John Elway. His son Kyle, who when he had some talent to work with in Houston, became one of the top offensive coordinators in the league. The father-son duo are known for their x’s and o’s offensive savvy. They just haven’t had any talent to work with in Washington over their first couple of years.
But boy, do they now. And they are smart enough to build their offense around RGIII’s considerable skills. Watching what the Kid can do with his canon arm, his speed and agility and his smarts and composure- the Shanihan’s may be in for a whole lot of redemption in the years ahead after two disappointing seasons in Washington.
The Redskins are also now in their 3rd year of their 3-4 defense and finally have the personnel to pull it off. They way they handled the Saint’s high-powered offense and future hall-of-fame quarterback was truly impressive.
The team’s success is not all about RGIII. But no matter what side of the ball you play on, it is impossible not to feel good about yourself and your team, when you know you have a guy like that calling the signals and leading your club.
Three 1st round draft picks for Robert Griffin III? A friggin’ bargain. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for the Nationals. And RGIII for the Skins. Can we handle all this lightening in a bottle here in the nation’s capital?
Uh, Yes We Can.