Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Finding a way

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
No scoreboard? No problem for the Nats, who won again tonight.
How many things went wrong for the Nationals today? Let us count the ways...

1. Livan Hernandez needed 41 pitches to get out of the first inning.

2. Ian Desmond committed his first error in 19 games and Roger Bernadina dropped as routine a line drive as you'll ever see.

3. Miguel Batista couldn't preserve a four-run lead in the ninth and forced closer Matt Capps into the game.

4. John Lannan, it was revealed, has a swollen left elbow and will miss at least one start.

5. The scoreboard at Nationals Park was dark for the better part of four innings.

So how come everyone still went home happy at the end of the night? Perhaps because the Nationals ignored all those calamities and simply found a way to win what was anything but a pretty ballgame but still goes in the books as a curly W.

In some ways, this 6-3 victory over the Braves says more about this club than those crisp, one-run wins they strung together the last two weeks. It's one thing to win when everything goes precisely to plan. It's another thing to win when plenty of things go wrong.

"We play hard every day," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "It's like a coin flip whether you win or lose. If you go out there and put in as much effort as you can, you're bound to win some. You're definitely not going to lose as many as you win."

So far, the Nationals have won more than they've lost. Two more, to be precise. They sit at 14-12, third in the NL East but only one game back.

Some of those 14 wins have come in textbook fashion. Starter goes seven innings. Offense comes up with a couple of clutch hits. Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps close it out.

Others, like tonight, stray away from the playbook. But good teams need to win the occasional game like this. Even when the chips are stacked against them, they find a way to emerge on top.

There were no shortage of reasons the Nationals pulled this one out, but let's begin with Hernandez, who could have allowed the game to get out of control early yet held it together and ultimately gave his team a chance.

Livo's first inning was nothing short of remarkable. Seven batters faced. Four batters reached safely, one via double, one via Bernadina's ghastly error, two via walks. The big guy hurled up 41 pitches.

And he somehow managed to only allow one run to score.

"Forty-one pitches in the first inning, and I only allow one run?" he said. "I'll take it any day."

Even allowing only the one run, Hernandez dug himself a huge hole because of his lofty pitch count. Most starters wouldn't have made it out of the fourth inning at that rate. Yet the wily veteran still cobbled together 5 1/3 innings. Yes, he threw 123 pitches. But he allowed only two runs, one earned.

"I'd rather he did 120 in nine innings instead of five," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "But he was just magnificent today."

The key for Hernandez? He never gave in to the Atlanta hitters. With two on and two out, he wasn't afraid to pitch around dynamic rookie Jason Heyward, load the bases and take his chances with Melky Cabrera instead. (That ploy worked, with Cabrera grounding out to end the inning.)

"That's Livo on his own right there," Desmond said. "He got in situations where a lot of pitchers would have panicked and freaked out. He stayed under control, kept making his pitches. He wasn't worried about a walk. He kept on doing his job."

And the Nats kept plugging away. Josh Willingham homered. Desmond homered. Adam Dunn homered. Bernadina made up for his early error with a fabulous, diving catch of Troy Glaus' liner in the third. Desmond made up for his fielding gaffe with several sparkling plays in the field.

Sean Burnett recorded three key outs in the sixth and seventh. Clippard was his usual dominant self, recording five outs. And when Batista failed to close it out himself in the ninth, Capps calmly emerged from the bullpen and got a game-ending double play.

Fortunately for the 17,098 in attendance, the scoreboard was up and running again by the time the ninth inning rolled around. If not, who knows if those fans would have even realized when it was time to stand up and cheer for the game's final out.

No such worries. Everyone was aware of the situation by the time Capps entered, and the fireworks shot from the roof of the ballpark without a hitch. A Nationals club that opened this homestand still stinging from back-to-back ugly losses in Florida over the weekend found a way to win and avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season.

"We had a 3-3 road trip, and the guys weren't happy," manager Jim Riggleman said. "They didn't feel like we came out of Florida and had a good trip. They felt like we needed to win another ballgame or two. The ballclub has just really stayed focused on playing tonight's game. Not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. Just really getting after it tonight and trying to win the game."

On a night when the Nats had plenty of reasons to let this one slip away, they showed they can still turn an ugly ballgame into something positive.


Anonymous said...

I want to say something about the Desmond error. He's got a reputation for bad defense, but has been excellent the entire season.

On this play, the Nats were in the lefty shift. Desmond came charging on a trickler, and threw to Dunn from about 20 feet away. It is a play a shortstop makes about once in a career--I mean Guzman the second baseman was standing BEHIND him. So yes, it was an error, the runner went to second on the throwing error. But forget about it. Desmond is playing great defense overall.

sec3mysofabed said...

really, it did look like it was more a function of him having a strong throw and forgetting he wasn't really at short, and he overloaded.

D'Gourds said...

Not to mention, no offense to Dunn, that a really good first baseman would have made the catch.

Anonymous said...

An average player might not have gotten an error, but the average player wouldn't have had a chance at the out, which Desmond did! I love this kid...

Jack T. in Florida said...

The Nats need to do the same thing with Bernandina. Leave him in the lineup until he proves he can't do it.
Desmond and Bernandina at the bottom of the batting order brings some pop that they've never had before.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention, no offense to Dunn, that a really good first baseman would have made the catch.

Dunn is what, 6 ft 7? And he leaped for the ball at full extension and it still went over the top of his glove. So no, a really good first baseman would not have made that catch.

Anonymous8 said...

Jack T. - I agree with you. Anon @ 8:16 - I agree with you.

Guzy came through today making this the best lineup that Riggleman can pencil in against a RH pitcher unless you put Kennedy in at 2nd base.

Still like Desmond in the 2 hole as I like the 1-2 guys in the lineup being real pesty types. When Nyjer gets on base, he can drive the pitcher crazy and you need a more patient batter in the 2 hole.

Just a few thoughts after a real spirited W.

natsfan reduxit said...

... I have to say that our man Mark, while tending a bit toward the overly-critical, is as fair a Nationals reporter as you can find.

... but on the other hand, here it is, the Cinco de Mayo, and still the majority of sports columnists and beat writers covering the Nats continue to make references, early and often, to the fact that this time last year, and the year before, the team was losing. Kilgore did it again this morning at the Post. Come on you guys; last year is over, dead and gone. The comparisons are getting stale. It’s time to put the parallels to rest, and let this year’s Nationals stand on their own laurels, not simply on the fact they are not last year’s team.

Long Live Gen. Sequin; Long Live the Nats!

Doc said...

No ML pitcher has bigger cojones than Livo! He's like the watch that takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. Give him some defense, and he's good for 150 pitches!

Anonymous said...

Respectfully, but strongly, disagree with natsfan reduxit. I think it's extremely important to view the progress this year's team has made in the context of the disastrous previous two years. I don't think that's living in the past, I think it's context. Analyze what mistakes were made, learn from them, don't repeat them, and take even more joy in where this team is headed because you know where it's been.

Anonymous said...


Capps was the delivery man of the month and you did not mention it? C'mon Man!

Anonymous said...

Yes, but: We get it; we don't need the context day after day -- especially because with few exceptions these are not the same players as created the disasters.

NatsNut said...

Great stuff. And isn't this just the polar opposite of last year? I seem to recall we were leading or in the top 10 or whatever in a bunch of offensive categories and still losing in ridiculous ways?

This is all very cool. I wasn't sure we'd get such quick redemption from the last two year.

NatsNut said...

Also this morning:

NatsNut's Braves fan brother:


NatsNut said...

Oops. Lost something on that post:

This morning:

NatsNut's Braves fan brother: (crickets chirping)

NatsNut: (smug smile)

Doc said...

One word for NatsNation---Deeeeeeeeeeeeeefense!!! It's the most significant area of impoved team stats from the last 2 years--as Yogi would say "you can look it up". Or alternalely, ask Frank. All other winning functions are derived from it--including Clip 'N Save.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anonymous: Yes, I failed to mention Capps winning the April "Delivery Man" honors. I was out when that press release came through on Monday. And by the time I got it, everyone else had already written about it, so it didn't seem worth it to just re-write the same article. But I should have mentioned it somewhere. Sorry about that. Capps deserves all the positive attention he's getting. He's been incredible.

Capitol Baseball said...

nNatsfan reduxitAnon @9:50 -

I have to completely agree with Anon @9:33. Last year we were the worst team in baseball, by a lot. We're the only team in a long while that has two 100+ loss seasons in a row. This start is nothing short of extraordinary, and I think, reminding people of that regularly is not only wise, but expected.

Anonymous said...

Riggleman has been the difference. Manny's laid back attitude did not translate well with a bunch of young players.

Alm1000 said...

It was a joy to watch that game and the way Riggs managed it. Double switches in the middle of innings, steals, moving players around, pinch runner, bunts, etc. Wow. The contrast with the stoic Manny, do nothing is hugh. I love to see him animated in the dugout talking with The Cat. Keep it up Jimmy!

Steve M. said...

Alm1000 - Old fashioned coaching is great. When you have speed like Willy and Willie on the bench, use them in the late innings.

That 4 run cushion was nice especially after Batista gave up 1 and had 1 on base.

Ron In Reston said...

Let me start by saying I'm a sitckler for accuracy and a traditional stats freak. That being said, I'm not big on generalizations like "a lot" and "long time" as mentioned by Capitol Baseball. We were indeed the worst team in baseball last year, by 3.5 games behind Pittsburgh. I don't consider that "a lot". If we had finished second in the division by 3.5 games, most folks would say we were pretty close. We were also one of five teams at .401 or lower, so we had company in the basement. When you consider where we were when Manny left, it's a miracle we ended up as close to next-to-last as we did.

Now with regards to being "the only team in a long while that has two 100+ loss seasons in a row", I beg to differ. In 2001 both Tampa and Milwaukee lost 100 and followed in 2002 by both losing 106. Detroit also lost 106 in 2002 (what are the odds of three teams being that equally bad?) and lost a staggering 119 in 2003. Apparently feeling left out, the Royals then took over and lost 104 in 2004, 106 in 2005, AND 100 in 2006, for a lovely three-year span of 100-loss seasons. With a year off to recover, no one lost 100 or more in 2007 and then we took over. So I wouldn't consider that a "long time".

So what is my point? Usually I have one. I suppose the point is this: with the start we have this year, I think we are heading in the direction of, at the very least, the Brewers, who are now at least a respectable club. I certainly hope we are heading in the direction of Tampa or, to a lesser degree, Detroit, as those both made it to the Series following such horrendous years. But let us all pray that we are NOT heading towards Kansas City, who has lost more than 90 games in 7 out of the last 9 years.

Kamir Aminute said...

Let's go Capps is an awesome cheer -- synergy!

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