Saturday, September 8, 2012

Worth the wait

US Presswire photo
The Nationals mob Corey Brown following his game-winning single.
Jayson Werth was ready to step to the plate for the bottom of the ninth inning, Heath Bell on the mound, the Nationals trailing by a run. And then a wall of black clouds appeared from behind the third base stands, a fierce wind kicked up and rain began falling in buckets as a storm system that produced a tornado only a few miles away in Northern Virginia overtook Nationals Park.

Thus the Nationals retreated to their clubhouse for what proved to be a 2-hour, 33-minute delay, followed by sudden word from the umpires' room the game was about to resume.

"We had like 11 minutes," Werth said. "An 11-minute warning. Usually they give you 20 or 30. Today was 11. And it turned out to be the right number."

Indeed, because 11 minutes were all the Nationals needed to restart their engines, retake the field and ultimately retake a ballgame that will long be remembered as one of the wildest (and most satisfying) in club history.

Werth's towering home run off Bell to open the bottom of the ninth tied the game and sent it to extra innings. That set the stage for September call-up Corey Brown to loft the game-winning single to right in the bottom of the 10th, the final blow in a 7-6 victory that was witnessed by only a couple hundred faithful fans but resonated far beyond the confines of South Capitol Street.

With perhaps their most improbable win of an improbable season, the Nationals moved one step closer to their first NL East title, maintaining their 6 1/2-game lead over the also-victorious Braves while lowering their magic number to 17.

That they did so under such unusual circumstances, at the end of a long day at the ballpark that began with news of Stephen Strasburg's immediate shutdown by management, only sweetened the mood.

"You guys had to rewrite a few stories, huh?" manager Davey Johnson said with a smile as he sat down for his postgame news conference. "What a game."

The dramatic rally actually began in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Zimmerman clubbed a two-run homer off Miami reliever A.J. Ramos to bring the Nationals to within one run. They were champing at the bit to complete the rally in the bottom of the ninth, only to have everything put on hold when the storm arrived.

So as fans rushed to take cover while getting doused, players retreated to the clubhouse to catch some college football on TV and grab a snack. They didn't know when -- or if -- the game would resume, and indeed for a moment it appeared the umpires might call the game and award an eight-inning victory to the Marlins.

"I was really worried, and so was [general manager Mike Rizzo]," Johnson said. "He was worried that they would bang it. We kept hoping they'd hold on, because I think it was real close. It just looked like there wasn't going to be much window. And Riz said, 'Let's wait 15 minutes,' or something, and we did."

Thus the game was restarted in rapid-fire fashion, with Bell retaking the mound more than 2 1/2 hours after he originally did, and Werth stepping to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He worked the count full, fouling off two 3-2 pitches before finally connecting on a fastball and sending it soaring into the Red Porch area beyond the left-center field fence.

"Once I got to 2-2, I figured he probably wasn't going to be messing around with any breaking stuff," Werth said. "He's got a good fastball and likes to work up in the zone, and I got a pitch that was probably top of the zone but was up just enough."

The game proceeded into extra innings, with Drew Storen striking out the side to complete a dominant performance by the back end of the Nationals bullpen. Storen, Tyler Clippard and rookie Christian Garcia combined to retire nine of the 10 batters they faced, eight via strikeout.

"Nice," said Storen when informed of the strikeout total. "Yeah, that's usually a pretty good sign right there."

The game-winning rally developed over the course of five batters, ignited by Adam LaRoche's single off reliever Chad Gaudin, then boosted by Ian Desmond's base hit to right, with the slow-footed LaRoche chugging all the way around to slide safely headfirst into third base.

"I mean, he's not your fastest runner," Johnson said. "But he had made up his mind: He was going to third, and he did a heck of a job. Haven't seen him slide headfirst -- ever -- so you know emotions were running high."

With runners now on the corners and nobody out, the Marlins intentionally walked Danny Espinosa, loading the bases and forcing manager Ozzie Guillen to shift left fielder Justin Ruggiano to a spot just in front of second base as part of a five-man infield.

And when Kurt Suzuki immediately pounded a groundball right to Ruggiano, who fired to the plate for the wholly unconventional, 7-2 force out, the Nationals suddenly had to wonder whether their luck had run out.

"I have never seen it work," Johnson said of the five-man infield. "That was the first time I'd ever seen it work."

No worries, because moments later Brown stepped to the plate and delivered the game-winner. After sitting around for six hours playing no role whatsoever in the ballgame, the 26-year-old rookie lofted a soft liner to right field, the ball glancing off Giancarlo Stanton's glove and falling to the ground as Desmond crossed the plate with the winning run.

"In my situation, you got to always be ready to pinch-hit at any time," Brown said. "I had some confidence in myself. I was just trying to relax a little bit in that situation."

Brown may have been relaxed in the moment, but as soon as he reached first base and was mobbed by teammates, there was nothing but excitement on display from the best team in baseball after one of its signature wins of the season.

So what if it happened three hours after everyone originally hoped it would. It was still well worth the wait.

"Oh, yeah," Johnson said. "Got to use everybody. It was fun."


NatsNut said...

Can't thank you enough for not titling this "Werth the Wait."

Eugene in Oregon said...

Didn't get to watch the game -- with or without the rain delay -- but did get to skim the replay quickly. Started badly, but ended well. Another 'wow' for the Nats. Another 'whew' for their fans. Another '#&*!@' from the Braves and their supporters. Very satisfying.

This is probably covered somewhere in all the prose I haven't yet read, but didn't this win statistically eliminate the Marlins from their already non-existent hope of winning the division? That's also somewhat satisfying.

NatsFanJim said...

Assumptions are dangerous things.

I'm sitting in Bethesda watching the storm blow through -- Worth is up at the plate in a quiet ending. Then my power went out. I ASSumed the Nats lost. You would have thought I would learned by now. Later, I missed the whole ending but to my surprise the Nats had won -- in grand style.

Go ahead, Nats -- the league's most exciting and watchable team. Redskins who?

rogieshan said...

With each successive, dominant outing, Christian Garcia is making a strong case to be included on the post-season roster. In such a scenario, it would make sense to drop either the extra starter (Lannan) or one of the long men (Gorzlanney).

SonnyG10 said...

Like so much this season, totally unbelieveable and totally enjoyable, now that we've won.

baseballswami said...

Just when I think they can't pull yet another rabbit out of a hat. That was just crazy. I have finished quite a few games with my jaw on the floor. Today- another one. I was hoping RZ would do something special on his bobble head day, and he did. It wasn't the walk off, but we couldn't have won without him .

Bill Simmons said...

NatsfanJim do you have one of those things called a radio?

Faraz Shaikh said...

Saw two games last two days at Nats Park. Missed ending of today's game because rain delay. Otherwise, pretty awesome time.

Seriously what is up with HR rates this home stand? 37 HRs in 10 games by both teams.

Donald said...

Wow, that was a fun game. Harper almost had two dingers. Storen looked strong again, too. Good game.

John C. said...

Every time I think this season can't possibly get any better, can't possibly be more enjoyable ... the Nationals prove me wrong. This team never gives up, and never surrenders! By Grabthar's Hammer, Detwiler was avenged today!

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Corey Brown has proven to be clutch a few times now including that pinch hit suicide squeeze.

Christian Garcia is real deal.

Jayson Werth is showing Rizzo got his man.

Dave said...

@Eugene in Oregon, yes, the Nats eliminated the Marlins with this victory today. I became aware of this possibility after filling in standings in my scorebook before the game.

peric said...

Four games to 90 wins. Just 4 games to an incredible feat!

Gonat said...

Peric, I can't wait for you to give Jayson Werth some compliments.

JaneB said...

We were taking Pre-wedding photos on the west coast right as the game was resuming and ending. Biggest smile, from 10 people, was a group shot where our second eldest said, "say Corey Brown." Waaaay better than, "cheese." Great win, GREAT wedding.

17. GYFNG!

baseballswami said...

JaneB- that is one of the best Nats fan stories I have ever heard!!!!!

rabbit34 said...

A guy like Garcia is going to help me forget.....? Milone

Positively Half St. said...

I brought up the elimination before the first game, but when it didn't happen, I didn't want to bring it up again until it had been accomplished.

The magic number for keeping San Diego from keeping the Nats out of the playoffs is 2.

The magic number for eliminating the Mets from NL East contention is 3.


Sarah said...

"When they shut down Strasburg there will be mutiny in the clubhouse." - Every so called expert. What better time to mutiny than the day they announce it? Or perhaps the team is biding their time and will pull a surprise mutiny later on.

Positively Half St. said...


Gio has made it easy to forget Milone, although it's really great to see both the Nats and A's thriving after the trade. I am not sure that the trade really is much of a reason for the A's success this year, though.

Tommy Milone is 11-10 with a just sub-4.00 ERA, or essentially John Lannan, as advertised.

Derek Norris had a spark, but with a .201 average and 0.640 OPS, he is showing he is not quite ready yet, about as expected.

Brad Peacock took a step back, and didn't see the Majors this year. He might have gone 12-9, but had a 6 ERA that even the Pacific Coast League can't fully explain.

AJ Cole went 0-7 in high A ball, but rebounded a little when he went 6-3 in low-A ball.

All-in-all, the A's will have to wait to see if the trade worked out for them. I won't likely forget Tommy Milone because of the home run in his first at-bat, but I think that Yoenis Cespedes meant more.

As for Garcia, it is just a reminder that even the best teams need to sift for gold in the mine tailings. It's just satisfying to be well beyond the days that Jim Bowden was dumpster diving to find most of our players.


Positively Half St. said...


Good point about the "mutiny." I have a feeling that walk-off wins can cure any aches and pains, though. If the Nats keep winning this week, and especially if Lannan wins in Strasburg's place, I have a feeling that everybody will be philosophical about the whole thing, at worst.

The question is whether the early shutdown stops the media from droning on about what is now a dead story.


Steady Eddie said...

1/2 St. The question is whether the early shutdown stops the media from droning on about what is now a dead story..

No, by itself it won't because they're invested in seeing, or finding, or inventing "evidence" to show they were right. The Nats continuing to win is the only thing that will quiet that down, at least until the playoffs. Far from a mutiny (I know it's the media idiots predicting it, not y'all), it will draw the team even closer together to be insulted that they'll fall apart without one single player.

Jim Webster said...

Doggerel --

I tire of thee.

Stras is shut down.
Critics shut up.

Nats on trajectory
to October victory.

waddu eye no said...

after giving up on my 4th run through of sportscenter on masn, i had lchanged channels and checked back just as the bases loaded. clearly, the vibes were reaching to herndon.

now to take the series.

Steady Eddie said...

Jim Webster - word. (All of them!)

natsfan1a said...

Yay, a happy game box score in the local paper. Atta way, NATS!

On another note, lots of bile in the local AM paper for an owner who moved his pointy ball team and died this week. Also talk about how the local baseball team is not spending enough and that their skipper, while not a bad guy, may have to take the fall this season. Oh, and how one of their local MiLB teams forced a playoff game 5. Can you guess where I am? :-)

Back on a game note: Go, Nats! Hope to read another happy game result later (stupid Bravos).

waddu eye no said...

Jim w -
Lots of queries:
"beltway series?"

Theophilus T. S. said...

Garcia has been an eye-opener. (Since NatsJack opened our eyes, anyway.) Three things are striking (no pun intended): (1) He's big as a horse, meaning that he not only has a power arm but he's probably going to be durable, also; (2) He has great command; those power pitches, even the handful that are not strikes, are close enough to make hitters wince; (3) He has great confidence in his slider; that sequence of shaking off Flores multiple times was all about getting back to the slider, which is what he wanted to throw -- Strike Three.

He's looking like a lock to be part of next year's BP, and between him, Mattheus, Storen and Clippard, the opposition is going to be looking at a lot of five-inning games.

Jim Webster said...

Waddu, Eddie

Broiled fish.
A lovely dish.

Scooter said...

Jim Webster's best one yet --
Webster wins the Internet!

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