Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond is mobbed by teammates after his game-winning single.
It continued with the sight of Jordan Zimmermann standing on the mound at Nationals Park and firing a 94 mph fastball to Felipe Lopez, his first major-league pitch in 13 months.
Before it was over, the day included the first blown save of Drew Storen's career, a Roger Bernadina home run in the bottom of the ninth, Ian Desmond's game-winning single in the bottom of the 13th, 43 combined players used by Tony La Russa and Jim Riggleman, more than 4 1/2 hours of baseball and a dramatic 11-10 win by the Nationals.
And then, just as players inside the jubilant home clubhouse were heading out for the night, exhausted but thoroughly satisfied with the outcome, came this heads-up from the Nats' PR department: The club plans to hold a conference call in the morning or early afternoon to disclose the results of Stephen Strasburg's arthrogram.
Cue sound of record coming to a screeching halt.
Now, it's not fair to jump to any hard-and-fast conclusions based simply on this bit of news. But here's the thing: How often does a team arrange a conference call to reveal good news about a player's injury?
So it's probably safe to say that while still hoping for the best, you should be prepared for the worst. Maybe everything really is OK with Strasburg and the Nats are just trying to disseminate the information in a coordinated manner. But there's a good chance there is going to be bad news doled out, a pronouncement that the rookie right-hander won't pitch again this season and perhaps won't pitch early in 2011 either.
At this point, all we can do is wait for the official word to come down. We can also relieve the highs and lows of this extraordinary day, because there were plenty of them.
Start with Harper, who in mid-afternoon wowed about 50 spectators including Mark Lerner, Scott Boras and Matt Holliday by belting 12 home runs during six rounds of batting practice. The 17-year-old top draft pick then held court during a 16-minute press conference in which he appeared to be more comfortable with public speaking than the man sitting to his right: Mike Rizzo.
"I've had a lot of people on me my whole life," Harper said. "I'm used to it now."
Continue with Zimmermann, whose final line (five runs, seven hits in four innings) was less significant than the fact he threw 70 pitches on a big-league mound and emerged healthy. This was no small feat for a guy who 12 months ago had Tommy John surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament but tonight pitched like nothing ever happened.
"I wish I never had the surgery, but it's over with and in the past now," he said. "It's time to move forward. Hopefully I can help these guys win some games down the stretch."
Move along to Storen, who hasn't faced much adversity so far as a professional reliever but tonight blew his first career save and was roughed up for four runs in the top of the ninth.
"You can't not execute pitches," he said. "That's something I take pride in, but I just didn't do it. There's really no excuse for it."
Storen's struggles became a footnote, though, thanks to Bernadina's two-run homer off Ryan Franklin in the bottom of the ninth, the shot that brought the Nationals back to tie the game 10-10 and send it to extra innings.
And after both managers had exhausted nearly every player off their active rosters -- it got the point where John Lannan was in the Nationals' bullpen just in case he was needed two days after throwing 83 pitches -- Desmond put a cap on the evening with a bouncer up the middle and off second baseman Aaron Miles' glove, bringing Nyjer Morgan home and setting off a mad celebration near first base.
That capped a remarkable game for Desmond, who in his first appearance as a No. 5 hitter went 4-for-7 with three RBI, made several fantastic plays in the field and apparently would have been happy to keep on playing all night.
"No exhaustion," he insisted. "We were ready to go 10 more if we needed to."
Bernadina didn't quite agree with his teammate.
"I wanted the game to end," he said, "and it took forever."
Bernadina let out a laugh, echoing the sentiment throughout the Nationals' clubhouse at that moment. A long day and night of baseball had produced one of the most-satisfying victories of the season.
Baseball, of course, doesn't permit a prolonged celebration of highs or lows. There's always another game to be played the next night, and by the time Scott Olsen throws his first pitch tomorrow, this marathon will long have been forgotten.
By then, everyone will know Strasburg's fate as well. Whether the news is encouraging or discouraging, there will be a ballgame at 7:05 p.m. and then 33 more before the 2010 season comes to a conclusion.
Strasburg may or may not play a role in those 33 games. Either way, the Nationals will find a way to press on and complete a season that may not result in a winning record but certainly has featured its share of eventful days, few of which can top this Thursday in late-August.