September 2, 2013 |
PHILADELPHIA — Tyler Clippard had just finished talking with shortstop Ian Desmond on the mound when Manager Davey Johnson emerged from the dugout. He was there to take the ball away from Clippard mid-inning, a rarity during the reliever's dominant season on the mound. Clippard stumbled during the most important moment of the night Monday for the first time in what has felt like an eternity as the Washington Nationals fell, 3-2 , to the Philadelphia Phillies . Clippard has been the most reliable pitcher on the Nationals, so it's hard to fault him. He was trusted with a high-pressure, late-game situation, a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning during a final-gasp push for the playoffs, and he buckled.
August 31, 2013 |
In the Washington sports market, where we demand that virtual children for the most part carry our professional teams, Bryce Harper is considered less than the second coming of Charlie Hustle today. After failing to sprint to first base on a routine infield grounder that was bobbled Friday night against the Mets, a rally-killing out in the pivotal eighth inning of a 3-2 loss , the Nationals ' young star is suddenly Manny Ramirez — on Ambien. Somewhere in between — and I'm leaning more toward Pete Rose, the hyperintense player, than Manny being sleepwalking Manny — resides the real Bryce.
August 28, 2013 |
Ian Desmond arrived at the plate Wednesday night with two Washington Nationals teammates on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The score was tied against the Miami Marlins on a humid night with few souls still in attendance to watch the rain-soaked game. Desmond was sent a message moments before when the Marlins opted to intentionally walk Jayson Werth, the team's best hitter. The Marlins watched Werth deliver the game-tying home run in the previous inning, a monstrous shot to center, and wanted to take their chances with left-handed reliever Mike Dunn against Desmond.
August 22, 2013 |
CHICAGO — Stephen Strasburg was stunned. He crouched next to the mound. He stared back at the left field bleachers, where Donnie Murphy 's game-tying two-run home run had just landed. Strasburg was two strikes away from firing his second complete game in three starts. Instead, he hung a 1-1 curveball to Murphy, who deposited the pitch into the glove of a Cubs fan in the first row of the stands. The game was tied, and in a Washington Nationals season overflowing with squandered opportunities and low moments, this certainly felt like one of the worst.
August 20, 2013 |
In baseball, sometimes only the numbers can do the speaking. Entering Tuesday night, when Wilson Ramos catches, the Washington Nationals ' ERA this season is 3.30. When Kurt Suzuki catches, the Nats' ERA is 3.96, two-thirds of a run higher. Such a difference is astronomical. It's far too great a gap to have much to do with stopping base stealers or blocking pitches in the dirt. It can only center on one mysterious, vital and almost completely unstudied area of baseball: pitch selection, also known as "calling a game.
August 17, 2013 |
ATLANTA —At 12:49 a.m. Sunday morning, Saturday night's dramatic and exhausting slugfest with the Atlanta Braves lasting into the following day, Dan Haren fired the game's 518th pitch. He struck out Jordan Schafer on a splitter and high-fived catcher Wilson Ramos, who crouched behind the plate for all 15 innings. Haren sealed the Washington Nationals ' 8-7 win , the longest game in team history, with his first-ever save. He was one of 18 pitchers to appear in the game, along with 26 position players.
August 16, 2013 |
By this time last year, Stephen Strasburg had thrown 139 1 / 3 innings. Four starts remained in his season, which ended Sept. 8 when the Nationals shut him down because he was recovering from elbow surgery. Strasburg does not think about getting shut down much any more. "It is what it is," he said. "You can't change the past. " But he can process the difference between then and now, the way he feels physically stronger and less mentally drained. "I definitely feel a lot better than I did," Strasburg said Wednesday afternoon.
August 14, 2013 |
The 1997 Baltimore Orioles won on opening day, won the next day, lost only three times in their first 14 games and never spent a day out of first place, a summer of bliss. They narrowly lost the American League Championship Series to Cleveland. There was, no doubt, disappointment in the end, but there was also promise because that offseason, the Orioles took a 98-win team — and made it better. "It seemed like it was going to start a three- or four-year run where a lot of things were going to happen," said Mike Bordick, the shortstop who chose Baltimore as a free agent prior to the 1997 season.
August 12, 2013 |
Davey Johnson knows what people see at the end of his long, tired nights. He groans as he collapses into the chair from which he gives his postgame news conference. He slumps back. Gray hair covers his head. Wrinkles crease his face. Words escape his mouth slow and softly. "I look in the mirror. I don't feel old," Johnson said Saturday afternoon, sitting in an empty Washington Nationals dugout. "When I look in the mirror, I say, ‘Damn, you're an old son of a [gun].' " Perceptions do not bother Johnson, and losses do not change him. At 70 and facing the end, the Nationals' manager knows that might not be true of everyone around him. On Saturday afternoon, Johnson approached Jayson Werth before the Nationals played the Philadelphia Phillies.
August 11, 2013 |
Stephen Strasburg emerged from the dugout in the ninth inning and jogged to the mound. As he fired his warmup pitches, the crowd cheered and stood. His first-inning entrance music, the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," blared over the speakers. In his young but well-documented major league career, the right-handed starter had never experienced this feeling. He has struck out 14 batters in a game. He has also hit 100 mph on the radar gun. He was the first overall pick in 2009 draft.