Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Matt Capps has participated in this scene 20 times already this season.
Thrown out with the trash. Kicked to the curb. Non-tendered by a franchise that hasn't been good enough to play a meaningful baseball game since Barry Bonds tried to throw out Sid Bream in the 1992 NLCS.
All Capps has done since is post a major-league-leading 20 saves, closing out an astounding 69 percent of the Nationals' victories so far this year. (The record for such things, by the way, is 70.3 percent -- 45 of 64 -- by Brian Harvey of the expansion 1993 Marlins.)
"It's a good feeling," Capps said. "But it's one of those stats that it's not even possible without the right team. All of these guys have played great, they've given me lots of opportunities. It's nice to have 20, but it would been even better to have 23 or 24."
In pitching the ninth the last two nights to secure wins both for Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, Capps has added to his overall total as well as toppled the club that dumped him twice in a span of 25 hours.
"They're all nice," the soft-spoken right-hander said. "But to able to go out and get two against a team that didn't want you any more and show them you're still capable of doing your job, it's got a little extra sentiment to it."
That was about as much spite as Capps was willing to reveal tonight, though his bullpen mates believe there's more there under the surface.
"I think he's more happy about it than he will let on," Tyler Walker said. "The circumstances there kind of speak for themselves. Hopefully he'll get No. 3 tomorrow against them."
It's tough to think about where the Nationals would be right now if not for Capps. Think back to all those blown saves last season by Joel Hanrahan (who happens to be Pittsburgh's setup man now) and others. And think about how many close games the Nats have already played this season (tonight's 7-5 win was their MLB-leading 36th game decided by two runs or less).
Sure, Capps hit a bit of a bump in the road last week, blowing three saves in six days. But he really didn't pitch that poorly, and he has quickly righted the ship to leave everyone in NatsTown confident in his abilities every time he trots in from the bullpen.
Really, there's plenty of reason to be confident in the Nationals' bullpen as a whole these days. All seven current members hold ERAs under 4.06, and three hold ERAs under 2.00 (Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Doug Slaten).
Even the guy who has generally been considered the least-effective member of the club, Walker, owns a 3.94 ERA after making a key contribution to tonight's victory.
Walker is the guy who usually gets the ball when the Nationals are trailing, but tonight Jim Riggleman needed him with the game tied 5-5, when laboring starter John Lannan couldn't get through the fifth inning. Turns out Walker's 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief was as important as anything else that took place. He was the bridge that got the game to Storen, Clippard and Capps.
"You get your opportunity in the game, you have to make the most of it," Walker said of his rare moment as the center of attention inside the Nats' clubhouse. "Middle relievers, if you're on SportsCenter, it's usually a bad thing. It's a home run or a bases-clearing double or something. You don't want to be on SportsCenter. You want to keep it nice and quiet and stay out of the spotlight and get your job done."
This was not a well-played game tonight. Lannan did not pitch well. The defense committed two more errors. The lineup came through with a couple of clutch hits but couldn't deliver the knockout blow to Pirates right-hander Brad Lincoln in his MLB debut.
Credit for this win, then, goes to the bullpen. Walker, Storen, Clippard and Capps combined to toss 4 1/3 innings of two-hit ball.
"You can't say enough about the job Walker did tonight, as he's done all year, coming into different roles," Capps said. "Same thing with Clippard and Storen. Those guys threw well. It was a group effort. We tried to go out and pick everybody up, and we did a nice job tonight."
You can't help but wonder if over in the visitors' clubhouse, a Pirates organization that didn't think Capps was worth keeping last winter was kicking itself for a decision gone horribly wrong.