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Livan Hernandez gets yanked after blowing an 8-0 lead to the Cubs on July 7.
Today, we turn the tables and look at the worst moments of the year. I was actually surprised how difficult it was to come up with five finalists for this category. If you're looking for evidence of the progress the Nationals made in 2011, this might be it right here. These five moments, while certainly upsetting, really don't seem that terrible in the grand scheme of things.
One quick note before we get to the nominees: You'll notice I haven't included the Ramos kidnapping/rescue in any of these end-of-year polls. That was a conscious decision on my part. Obviously the kidnapping represented the worst moment of the year for the Nationals, and obviously his rescue runs away with the title of best moment of the year. But to lump a life-and-death saga like that alongside mere baseball events would be wholly unfair to Ramos, his family and the Nationals.
With that, here are the nominees for Worst Moment of 2011...
1. APRIL 9: ZIMMERMAN TEARS ABDOMINAL MUSCLE
Ryan Zimmerman had already entered the regular season less than 100 percent healthy, having strained an abdominal muscle and his groin during spring training. But Zim felt well enough to open the season, and he got off to a hot start with a .357 batting average in his first eight games. Then he slid headfirst into second base -- when there wasn't even a play being made on him -- at Citi Field and immediately winced in pain. He managed to play the rest of the game but was done after that. Three weeks later, he had surgery to repair a torn rectus muscle. He didn't return to the lineup until June 14.
2. APRIL 13: STAIRS AND PUDGE K LOOKING IN THE 9TH
I'm sure some of you could come up with far more than five "Worst Moments" that involved Matt Stairs, but this one probably rose above the rest. Trailing the Phillies 3-0 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals managed to mount a furious rally against Roy Halladay, scoring twice and putting the tying run on third and the winning run on second with one out. All they needed at that point was a lazy fly ball to send the game to extra innings. A base hit would win the game. Jim Riggleman sent the two most-experienced (ie. oldest) players on his roster up to bat. And what happened? Stairs struck out looking at three pitches, never taking the bat off his shoulder. And Ivan Rodriguez also struck out on three pitches, fouling off strike two before watching strike three whiz past him. Game over.
3. JUNE 14: LaROCHE NEEDS SEASON-ENDING SURGERY
This date was already significant for marking Ryan Zimmerman's return from the DL. Unfortunately, it also marked the day Adam LaRoche learned he would need surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, officially ending his season. The veteran first baseman's first year in D.C. was a disaster from the get-go -- he first experienced shoulder pain during spring training, at which point the tear was diagnosed. Doctors told him he could play through the injury and that it would only affect his throwing, not his swing. LaRoche's .172 batting average and pathetic .258 slugging percentage in 43 games suggested otherwise. Just like that, $7 million was flushed down the toilet.
JULY 7: LIVO BLOWS 8-0 LEAD TO CUBS
Never in the 43-year history of the Expos/Nationals franchise had this team blown an eight-run lead and lost. Guess there's a first time for everything. Up 8-0 in the sixth inning, the Nats proceeded to choke like never before, with Livan Hernandez responsible for the lion's share of the damage. The veteran right-hander gave up six runs in the sixth. Sean Burnett gave up the other two runs via a seventh-inning home run. Somehow, the Nationals managed to rally to tie the game, 9-9, in the eighth ... before losing for good, 10-9, on Darwin Barney's ninth-inning double off Henry Rodriguez. An epic collapse that left everyone in disbelief.
SEPT. 27: ANOTHER LOSING RECORD CLINCHED
To be fair, it was a minor miracle the Nationals were even in position to finish 2011 with a winning record. They would have needed to win 15 of their final 18 games to pull that off. And they almost did, winning 14 of 16 to put themselves at 79-80 with two games to go. But tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth of the penultimate game of the season, Doug Slaten served up a walk-off homer to Florida's Bryan Petersen. The Marlins celebrated a 3-2 victory, and the Nats trudged off the field knowing their hopes of producing the first winning record since the franchise arrived in D.C. had been dashed. They did win the following day's season finale to get to 80-81, but one more victory would have been oh so sweet.
So there you have it. Now it's your turn to vote for your worst moment of the year. Click on the poll in the upper right corner of the screen, then explain your reasoning in the comments section. One more end-of-year poll to go. Tomorrow: The strangest moments of 2011.