Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An unlikely rally and a surprise move

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ivan Rodriguez's two-run homer sparked the Nats' seven-run rally.
The explosion was in there somewhere. Someone just needed to light the match. Who could have predicted it would come in the form of a two-run homer by Ivan Rodriguez, off the foul pole, on an 0-2, two-out pitch in the bottom of the eighth?

And who could have predicted that blast would set in motion one of the most impressive rallies of the season, one that featured seven runs, six hits, eight straight batters reaching base, all with two outs?

"You could kind of feel the momentum shift," Tyler Clippard said. "And then Pudge came up and changed the game completely with one swing. After that, we all jumped on his back and everyone followed suit, which was awesome to see."

It turned into quite the scene, this parade of Nationals batters stepping to the plate, stroking a hit to just about any part of the field and then racing around the bases as the Astros stood there dazed and confused while the announced crowd of 11,893 went bananas.

There would still be some intrigue before the Nats' 8-4 victory was complete -- more on that in a bit -- but at night's end, this was as satisfying a ballgame as we've seen around here in a while.

Yeah, it was just one mostly meaningless, late-September win. But it was also this club's 63rd win, making another 100-loss season impossible. That may not be a milestone worth celebrating, but it's not totally insignificant either.

"I had no clue, but that's huge," said John Lannan, whose six scoreless innings after surrendering three runs in the first was just as significant to this victory as the eventual rally.

But about that rally. At the time Rodriguez stepped to the plate, the Nationals had amassed all of five hits off Houston pitching. With two outs, a man on first and the not-so-hot Pudge at bat, there seemed little reason to believe an outburst was imminent. And when reliever Felipe Paulino got ahead in the count 0-2, there really seemed no reason to believe.

"In that situation, when I get to 0-2, I just try to stay back and try to see the ball," Rodriguez said. "Paulino, everybody knows he throws hard and you have to be ready with him. Fortunately, he just left me a hanging curveball right over the plate and I made a good swing on it."

Did he ever. The ball sailed down the left-field line and clanked off the pole a good two-thirds of the way up. None of Pudge's three previous homers this season were struck like that, not with that kind of oomph.

So a game the Nationals had trailed since about 7:07 p.m. was now tied, and they weren't done. The inning just kept going and going. Single. Stolen base. Walk. RBI single. Run-scoring wild pitch. Walk. RBI single. RBI single. RBI single.

"It's fun when the offense rolls together like that, everybody contributing," said Adam Kennedy, one of the key contributors. "Fun game tonight."

It was not completely over, though, not even with the Nationals holding what surely felt like a comfortable 8-3 lead entering the ninth. Drew Storen had been warming throughout the bottom of the eighth when it appeared he be needed for a save situation, but the rally happened so quickly, there wasn't time to get anyone else up.

So Storen entered with a five-run lead and went to work. No problem, right? Well, not exactly.

Storen got off to a good start, striking out Jason Michaels. He then left a pitch over the plate to Chris Johnson and watched the ball sail into the Red Porch. Still, the Nationals led by four runs, and when Tommy Manzella grounded to first, Storen was one out from wrapping this one up.

But then he walked Jason Castro (who just happened to be his catcher at Stanford), and the next thing you knew, Jim Riggleman was strolling to the mound, asking for the ball and summoning Sean Burnett from the bullpen to face Geoff Blum. With his team leading by four runs, with one on and two out in the ninth.

The manager's explanation for pulling his young closer there?

"Like I've said, we don't have any specific role for anybody. We're just trying to get outs," Riggleman said. "I felt like the best way to get that next out was to bring Burnett in. Did I think Drew would get the next out? Yeah. But I was a little more confident that Burnie coming in there fresh to face a guy off the bench -- turn him around right-handed -- was a little more to our liking."

In other words: Riggleman felt he had to do whatever he could to win that game right there. Which would be fine if the Nationals were in the thick of a pennant race. Or if this took place back in May or June.

But on September 21, with the Nats 27 1/2 games out of first place and trying to determine whether Storen has what it takes to close in the big leagues two days after blowing a save in spectacular fashion? Isn't that precisely the situation you'd want to leave the 23-year-old in and find out what he's made of?

It's perhaps a minor point at the end of an otherwise enjoyable night at the ballpark. But in the bigger picture, what was more important: Locking down Game 151 or getting a clearer view of Storen's ability?

For Riggleman, victory No. 63 was first and foremost. And considering the upbeat atmosphere inside the clubhouse and in the stands at the end of the night, that's understandable.

Those who prefer the long-term view to the short-term one, though, probably disagree.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rigglemind = D.C.Jobs

dale said...

I would have done the same as Riggleman, for what that is worth. Closers have to get outs, period. Allowing two of the four batters faced to reach base is a poor habit that has to be broken. A home run followed by a walk is the sign that the pitcher is losing his concentration.

rmoore446 said...

I agree with Dale. Walking a batter in the 9th with a four run lead was a bad sign. Reminded me of MacDougal last year. Better to break the losing streak and save figuring out if Storen is ready to be an everyday closer for another day.

Doc said...

Great summary MarkMeister. The W-L column has not been fan friendly, but the reporting has been consistently good.

Storen had some 20+ pitches to do his thing, and he didn't get it done. His sinker was up in the zone, and his command of his other pitches was not closer quality.

The lesson to be learned was to get the job done, and Rigglemnan taught it. Drew's a good kid, but he needs to figure it out in the pen, not the mound between the lines.

markfd said...

Good move by Riggleman, in the long run it helps Storen to learn this lesson now.

raymitten said...

At the game, it definitely appeared to me that Storen stormed off the mound in disgust when Riggs took him out. He's a rookie who just blew a big lead to lose a severely heartbreaking game to a division rival -- he doesn't have standing to feel as though he's earned the right to close no matter how he's pitching. Drew is a good guy, but I'm beginning to think he might be reading his own press clippings too much -- understandable for a young kid with such a rapid rise. I was wondering if others saw the same body lanuguage that I did.

I was in complete agreement with Riggs in pulling Storen. We've got to win some ballgames.

court said...

What's to figure out in the 'pen, Doc? The only place Storen is going to improve is between the lines. I strongly disagree with pulling him in that situation. The kid has to learn thru experience and overcoming adversity. He did not allow a walk after a HR - there was a ground out in between. I'm not defending his pitching, but I thought he pitched well enough to face one more batter (who was not the tying run, btw).

If the brass thinks Storen is tiring out, then shut him down. But if you're going to use him, then let him pitch so he can learn from his mistakes. It seemed to me his intensity level was inconsistent throughout the inning and he was shaking off Pudge a lot to throw breaking pitches. That said, up by four, you have to let the young guy get of his jams to get him ready for prime time next year.

Feel Wood said...

"In other words: Riggleman felt he had to do whatever he could to win that game right there. Which would be fine if the Nationals were in the thick of a pennant race. Or if this took place back in May or June."

Or if the tying run was coming to the plate and you only needed one out to end the game. But that was not the case here. Even if Storen had given up another homer right then and there, the Nats would have still been up by two with the bases empty and two out. Thus the only thing that might have been lost had Storen been left in would have been Storen's confidence if he wasn't able to get Blum out. But even if that happens you're still ahead by at least two runs, Riggleman! That's the worst case scenario. The best case scenario of course is that Storen gets the last out and you find out a little bit more about what he's made of - which might serve you well in tough situations down the line. Instead, you've struck a needless blow to the kid's psyche, and you know nothing more about his ability to bounce back from a rough outing.

This is a big part of Riggleman's problem as manager. He's afraid to take a chance on his pitchers, even in a case when doing so won't cost him a thing. He's done it by pulling starters too soon, and he did it last night with Storen. Pitchers on the mound need to know that their manager has their back and will give them every reasonable chance to work their way out of a jam they've put themselves into. Otherwise they're constantly pitching with fear, walking a tightrope on the mound because they know that one little slip-up will get them yanked from the game. That's a recipe for disaster, as Riggleman will probably discover some time in the future when he needs Storen to perform in a tight situation and his swagger and confidence to do so will be long gone.

Anonymous8 said...

I applauded Riggleman to have the balls to do what he did with Storen. Storen walked that Castro kid who was batting .207 It is about winning games, not always worrrying about his player's feelings as Storen didn't do his job. Storen had already given up a deep HR in the inning.

Big Cat said...

Riggs should of left the kid in. Come on man. You put him right back in the fire after blowing the lead in Philly, he was pumping 95 mph, you could see the HR really made him mad. Let him finish Riggleman. let him get that last out and shake hands with every one.

raymitten said...

One source of frustration for me is the way that roles are defined and adhered to mechanically no matter what the situation. Why is Storen automatically the closer? Games should be managed in my opinion to win. Had Riggleman had a backup plan in place and pulled Storen after the first couple of batters in Philadelphia, we may have won that game. I was glad to see an effort to win -- having paid $150 in tickets and $35 in parking to be there. It wasn't an exhibition.

Doc said...

Had Riggleman done the same thing in Philly, we might have won that game. I have faith in Storen becoming an All Star closer as soon as next year. But he's not there yet.

He seems to have lost the command of his breaking stuff that he had earlier in the year. It's a pitcher's perogative to shake off his catcher, but sometimes the catcher knows something that the pitcher doesn't want to face up to.

Eventually, it's gonna happen for Drew, but Riggs did the right thing last night.

Anonymous said...

Pulling Storen might have simply been a much-needed kick in the pants...or it could be so demoralizing, Storen disappears from the face of the earth.

MM said...

hi gang, is there a way to listen to Charlie & Daves call on Pudge's homerun? missed the game and the MASN clip on nationals.com just didn't do it for me...

Tks!

Anonymous said...

Missing the grunting Dibble, eh MM?

greg said...

on a side note, in case anyone thought flopez had turned over a new leaf after he left the nats (/sarcasm)...

http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/article_91da3450-38d2-57b9-940e-2edce0f6b9a9.html

"(Lopez's deportment) has been something the coaching staff has been very tolerant of and they came to a point where they'd just had enough."

"I think we really sent a strong message to the younger players of what our expectations are."

alexva said...

Slightly different take, he should have never brought him in in the first place. In spite of his blathering about no defined roles, Storen is his closer and you don't bring in your closer in a non-save situation.

Nothing he does in that situation is going to help his confidence. He doesn't need to work on his stuff. He just needs to get back in there the next time their is a save situation.

Anonymous said...

The "L" in Lopez stands for "LOSER." The guy is a total bum. A dog.

Steve M. said...

raymitten said...
Games should be managed in my opinion to win. Had Riggleman had a backup plan in place and pulled Storen after the first couple of batters in Philadelphia, we may have won that game.
_________________________________

BINGO! This team has got to win games, first and foremost.

When Dunn is up with bases loaded and can put the team into a lead or striking distance late in the game, and the opposing team goes with a lefty reliever, I think Riggleman is justified pulling Dunn for a pinch hitter as he has been horrible in those matchups. I use that example as that was the situation on Monday and Dunn struck out on 3 pitches.

Just like with Clippard meltdowns, I agree with Anon8, 100% justified to pull Storen. This team couldn't afford a Sunday style meltdown loss. This goes down as an admirable win against a good pitcher; however, that was basically a AAA Houston team that Lannan faced on Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

alexva - I totally disagree with you.

Storen was up and warming as soon as the game was tied and continued warming as the Nats kept scoring runs. I think he was coming in whether it was a 1 run lead or the 5 run lead.

Luckily it was the 5 run lead as Storen just didn't look sharp. If it was a 1 run save situation, that game would have gone into extra innings.

Steve M. said...

On FLop, they are talking from both sides of their mouths. Is it about setting an example to his teammates or the fact he wasn't playing well or both?

Then they use the term "DEPORTMENT". Strange terminology.

Deportment, like deported? Like sending a guy back to where he came from and generally used when someone is sent back to a foreign country where they originated from because they were here illegally. Again, very strange.

http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/article_91da3450-38d2-57b9-940e-2edce0f6b9a9.html

"It's not a late issue. It's what I said. He didn't have a role these last two weeks. There's not an opportunity to get him in
there. The organization decided that over the last two weeks, the starts are going to go someplace else and the bench time, as far as
coming off the bench, is going to go someplace else."

"With two weeks left in the season, you would prefer not to have to make these type of decisions and to have reacted this way. But I
understand why we did it. I think we really sent a strong message to the younger players of what our expectations are.



"(Lopez's deportment) has been something the coaching staff has been very tolerant of and they came to a point where they'd just
had enough."

natsfan1a said...

No, "deportment" as in behavior, or the manner in which one conducts oneself. It has nothing to do with sending one back to where he or she came from. You could look it up.

alexva said...

@Anon 11:08

Batista was also warming up, no reason he could not have been used in that situation

Steve M. said...

natsfan1a, thanks for that explanation and definition. These people using their 25 cent words confused my little brain. I am laughing at myself at how stupid I sound now, but wish they would use simple words for guys like me in sports articles.

Deportment does not equal Deportation.
Deportment does not equal Department.
Deport does not equal depart.

natsfan1a said...

You're welcome, Steve M. Imagine what a commenter we'd make if we combined your baseball smarts and my word geekdom. :-)

Anonymous said...

alexva - You are wrong. I was at the game and Storen got up once the game was tied.

Also written by Mark Zuckerman...Drew Storen had been warming throughout the bottom of the eighth when it appeared he be needed for a save situation, but the rally happened so quickly, there wasn't time to get anyone else up.

natsfan1a said...

Not that I meant to be forward or to suggest anything untoward with that last remark, as I'm a happily married woman. ;-)

Anonymous said...

On the flip side, over the summer Sean Burnett (who is - as is routinely noted - a former first round draft pick himself) has shown that he is capable of closing games. That is a very positive development. From my perspective, I don't care what the order of the relievers is - games are often "saved" in the 8th inning depending upon where you are in the opponents batting order - as long as the outs are recorded.

Mark in Arlington

alexva said...

@Anon - maybe so, I was watching on tv and was sure I saw Batiata up with Storen at one point. I turned tha game off before the end of the eighth and went to bed thinking I hope Storen is not brought in because I expected bad results.

Bill B said...

Here's what puzzles me: Riggs sticks with guys who aren't getting the job done all the time. Morgan has led off most of the year, but has an OBP hovering around .300 — I don't have the exact figure in front of me. If Riggs were all about winning games, rather than player development, he would have benched Morgan three months ago. (I don't want to dump on Morgan the athlete, just to note that he's not performing as a lead-off man should.) He's stuck with Morgan, which suggests he's about player development, which is reasonable for a young squad in last place. In that case, leave Storen in.

Steve M. said...

Bill - The difference between relief pitchers and closers is they are coming in with games on the line.

Yes, Morgan's stats are not stellar, but you can't say there have been many times that Morgan has cost the team a game. The other issue has been team depth, who do you replace Morgan with, Maxwell hitting a buck 50?

Feel Wood said...

"In spite of his blathering about no defined roles, Storen is his closer and you don't bring in your closer in a non-save situation."

No, that's not true. The only way Storen is Riggleman's closer is if Riggleman specifically announces that he is, or if he anoints him closer by default by using him and no one else in save situations when Storen is available to pitch. And neither one is the case. Riggleman has never said Storen is the closer (and has many times said specifically that he is not), and other pitchers (e.g. Burnett) have closed games rather than Storen in the time since Capps was traded. At the moment, the Nats have no closer.

natsfan1a said...

Alexva, I also saw both Batista and Storen warming up together.

alexva said...

Feel Wood, tell me the last time somebody else came in for a ninth inning save. There haven't been many but all that I can remember have gone to Storen over the last month or so.

Anonymous said...

Finishing a game is not the same as closing a game.
We're all clear on that, right?

Anonymous said...

When the game was tied, the only reliever up was Storen. That was my statement. I wasn't even looking at the pen until after Pudge's HR and the only guy standing was Storen when it was 3-3. I stated that twice at 11:08 and 11:42.

I agree with Feel Wood on this issue. It has been more a bullpen by committee with Storen perceived by most as the guy with the bulk of the work to be "the closer" but never given the title by Riggleman.

Things changed on Sunday after that horrendous outing in Philadelphia by Storen that lost the game for the Nats.

Riggleman gives mixed messages all the time which is the problem but made the right move last night pulling Storen.

Riggleman finally showed he is the boss (a little too late). If he had done that more often, this team may not have fallen into their current funk.

Again, it is about winning the games or like that Coors commercial, YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!

Keith said...

This has been one of the most interesting discussions on NatsInsider -- good points on both sides. It seems that everyone is assuming that leaving Storen in was the best thing to do for him and his development. I'm not sure that's the case. What happened if he continued to struggle allowing more runners reach base and more runs to score. Surely, he gets pulled at some point or he loses the game -- how are either of those outcomes good for his long-term development? What would we have actually "learned" about Storen from that?

I agree with several people above -- Storen looked shaky, I thought he needed some luck to get out fo the inning. So, Riggleman may have actually defused a bad situation for Storen by pulling him. Storen no-doubt has something to prove without having to make excuses for blowing another big lead.

I also believe that most teams would be well-served by a closer-by-committee approach. Work the match-ups, don't stroke the ego.

natsfan1a said...

Thanks, Anon @ 1:27. Couldn't recall just when it was that they were up together. Heck, half the time I can't remember what I had for breakfast. ;-)

(And I tend to come down on the You Play to Win the Game side of the fence as well.)

Feel Wood said...

"Feel Wood, tell me the last time somebody else came in for a ninth inning save."

Sean Burnett 1.2-inning save on Aug 2 at ARI
Sean Burnett 2-inning save on Aug 13 vs ARI

And since 8/13 there have only been five save opportunities, two converted and three blown, all by Storen. So I guess that makes Storen Riggleman's closer - except for when they're playing the DBacks.

And you do realize that last night was not a save opportunity for either Storen or for Burnett when he came in, don't you? So the whole closer thing has nothing to do with this discussion anyway.

Michael J. Hayde said...

Riggs did the right thing... in baseball, a game of strategy, you go with the match-up that is most likely to work. I'm sick to death of this "long-term view" garbage. The only long-term view necessary is to do everything possible to WIN GAMES! That includes utilizing all of your available talent in the most intelligent way possible. Kudos to Riggs; damn the torpedoes; full-speed ahead. Anyone for a 12-game winning streak?

Also enjoyed the "deportment" lesson. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets a rise over an incorrect definition of a word. ;-)

Anonymous said...

"Riggs did the right thing... in baseball, a game of strategy, you go with the match-up that is most likely to work."

So if you need one more out to win the game, and you already have a pitcher on the mound who in your opinion would definitely get the out (as Riggleman said about Storen in his postgame quote) then where's the strategy in bringing in another pitcher? Do you need to get that guy even more out? Please explain.

Anonymous said...

natsfan1a and SteveM,

There is such a thing as typo's. Dontcha know? Sheesh, they are too cheap to pay the editors which is why many of these sports blogs have blatant errors.

That's the world we live in dontcha know? One where folks from India run our IT departments ... and while their kids may win spelling bees they themselves are usually gawd awful English-wise.

Bill B said...

SteveM: good points in response to my post. Thanks.

alexva said...

Feel Wood, yeah I do realize that, it was my original post that I would not have had Storen come in the game in the first place.

It's only my opinion, I respect yours and that of all others too.

Last comment, my frustration with Riggleman is in part with his public statements. Saying they don't have any defined roles is ridiculous. Since your note proves my point that Storen has had all the ninth inning saves since August 1 means he is the closer whether he has been anointed or not. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck.....

Anonymous said...

MM: about hearing Charlie and Dave's call on Pudge's home run last night. Usually at the intro to the pregame broadcast, they run clips of highlights from the previous day's game.

natsfan1a said...

Also, sometimes they play calls during WTOP sports segments (assuming you are local and can pick up the signal).

Michael J. Hayde said...

Probably too late for this to be seen, but...

"So if you need one more out to win the game, and you already have a pitcher on the mound who in your opinion would definitely get the out (as Riggleman said about Storen in his postgame quote) then where's the strategy in bringing in another pitcher? Do you need to get that guy even more out? Please explain."

I don't have to; Riggs did in the part of his quote where he said he liked the odds better w/Burnett forcing the batter to switch to his weaker side... in other words, using the talent toward a strategic advantage. If Riggs was 98% sure that Storen could've gotten the out, and 99% certain Burnett could do it... as I said, kudos to Riggs.

Another win later, it's 10 games to go on that 12 game streak.

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