Associated Press photo
Michael Morse is congratulated after hitting his game-tying homer in the ninth.
Michael Morse with left arm raised as he watched his game-tying home run in the ninth inning sneak over the right-field wall at Miller Park. Davey Johnson doing a little jig from the top dugout step as he watched the ball sail out. Ryan Mattheus, who had put the Nationals in that hole by serving up three homers in two innings of relief making sure he was the very first one to greet Morse and offer his teammate a bear hug.
That moment, perhaps as much as any other this season, revealed why the Nationals aren't just a good team in 2012 but why they may just be something special.
Sure, there's a boatload of talent on the roster, and of course that's the No. 1 reason this club now shares the best record in baseball with the scorching-hot Cincinnati Reds.
But there are other, less-tangible qualities to this assemblage of players and coaches that have allowed that talent to reign supreme: Character and chemistry.
The stat-heads can debate this one for all eternity, arguing whether or not such nebulous concepts make any difference in a team's won-loss record. All that matters is this important fact: The men who wear Nationals uniforms and help create their roster universally believe they are winning right now not only because of their physical abilities but because of their camaraderie and fortitude.
How many times has this team bragged about the manner in which it never gives up on a ballgame? Certainly after each of the 24 games the Nationals have come from behind to win.
How many injuries of significance has this team overcome, not merely replacing the disabled starter with an adequate fill-in but with someone who nearly produced as much as the guy who went down?
And how many times have we heard them talk about having each others' backs, about the importance of all 25 members of the roster contributing to the greater cause, about players who put more stock in team performance than individual accolades?
It's a near-daily theme inside that clubhouse. It's the hallmark of a special team. And it's the biggest reason general manager Mike Rizzo is likely to stay quiet through tomorrow's trade deadline.
Are there a couple of holes Rizzo could fill, a few areas of concern that could use a boost? Yes. The Nationals' catching situation leaves much to be desired. And there's a serious lack of infield depth now that Ian Desmond is on the disabled list.
But Rizzo is incredibly leery of tinkering with the delicate balance of a victorious clubhouse right now. The Nationals aren't just winning games, they're having fun doing it, and the last thing a GM wants to do in the middle of a run like this is disrupt positive mojo.
Players aren't talking about the need to add a veteran catcher or a fifth starter or a backup infielder. They're talking about the gutsy performances Jesus Flores and Sandy Leon are putting together every day behind the plate. They're talking about the manner in which Ross Detwiler has stepped up this season and become the quality pitcher he always was supposed to be, and about the important role they expect John Lannan to play down the stretch. And they're talking about the vital contributions Mark DeRosa makes, not so much on the field but in the dugout and in the clubhouse as he mentors younger teammates who have never experienced a big-league pennant race.
Rizzo sees all this. So does Johnson. They sense what is brewing right now. A season that was supposed to see the Nationals take the next step forward in their long-term plan has seen them take two leaps forward.
The goals have changed. The expectations have been raised. This is a team that can do something special.
They've shown that several times over the last four months, and they really showed it yesterday in Milwaukee.
And the last thing anyone wants to do right now is anything that might screw it all up.