Sunday, April 25, 2010

An old-fashioned 1-0 victory

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats needed a brilliant performance from Scott Olsen to pull off today's win.
A lot of things have to happen to win a 1-0 ballgame. Your starting pitcher needs to be on top of his game. Your relievers can't afford to make a single mistake. Your defense needs to be flawless and produce a couple of highlight-reel plays on top of that.

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Nationals hadn't pulled off a 1-0 victory in some time before today's thriller over the Dodgers. Their last win by that slimmest of margins? Sept. 16, 2008 over the Mets, with stellar pitching performances from such luminaries as Odalis Perez, Mike Hinckley and Joel Hanrahan.

So this one should be cherished by all 18,395 who were there to see it in person and certainly by the 25 men in uniform who made it happen. It required big efforts from plenty of them to accomplish this.

"This was a great game to be a part of," said Tyler Clippard, who churned out another scoreless inning of relief. "We did the little things right. Played great defense. Just a good team win."

Scott Olsen was the biggest star, his seven innings of shutout ball a total shot in the arm for a Nationals club that had to go into the day hopeful of the best but fearful of the worst out of the erratic left-hander. Only five days ago, Olsen was shellacked by the Rockies for six runs in two innings, raising plenty of doubts about his future.

There was little doubt about his performance today. Plain and simple, it was a masterpiece. The seven scoreless innings are good enough. The eight strikeouts are even better. The 71-to-28 strike-to-ball ratio was downright staggering.

"His concentration level was really at a peak," manager Jim Riggleman said. "Every pitch, you could just tell he was driven to make a good pitch."

Olsen had no choice but to put everything he had into every pitch. With Adam Dunn's first-inning RBI groundball producing the afternoon's only run, the left-hander had no margin for error.

"In a game like that, where their pitcher is going just as well," Olsen said, "you go out there, try to have quick innings and get him back out there."

Which he did. After allowing three straight singles in the first, Olsen proceeded to retire 19 of the final 23 batters he faced. And with a devastating slider that left the Dodgers' lineup looking silly most of the day, he wound up turning in one of the best starts in Nationals history. Seriously, this one makes the top 10. Maybe the top five.

"He pitched as good as I've ever seen him pitch," Dunn said.

Yet this win still wouldn't have been possible if not for stellar relief work from Clippard and Matt Capps and two spectacular catches by Josh Willingham and Justin Maxwell.

Clippard, who has come out of nowhere to be the most-dominant reliever in the National League, retired the side in the eighth, striking out Russell Martin with a 1-2 fastball. The bespectacled right-hander now owns an 0.61 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings.

Capps, now a perfect 8-for-8 in save situations, allowed a leadoff double to James Loney in the ninth but then set down three straight to finish off a tense ballgame that might as well have been a pitcher's dream.

"Absolutely," Clippard said. "For a pitching staff, shutouts are always something you want to get. And then to throw a 1-0 lead on top of it, it makes it that much more exciting to go out there and get the job done."

But give a couple of huge assists to Willingham and Maxwell. Willingham came charging in to make a diving catch of Rafael Furcal's eighth-inning liner to left. Maxwell had to come even farther in to make a brilliant catch of Ronnie Belliard's sinking liner to right in the ninth.

Even more amazing: It was only the second ball hit Maxwell's way all afternoon, the only one he actually had a chance to catch in the air.

"Right before the pitch, I was like: 'Get ready because you're going to get one soon,'" Maxwell said. "And sure enough, I did."

It shouldn't go unnoticed that the Nationals are 6-2 this season in games decided by two runs or less. Their record last year in close games like that: 31-47.

What would have happened had today's game been played on April 25, 2009?

"Last year, something would have gone wrong and we would have lost that game," Dunn said. The flyball to Maxwell in the ninth "might have got lost in the sun, or it might have clinked off his glove."

Not anymore. These 2010 Nats aren't just finding ways to win close games. They're expecting to win them.

"This team didn't lose 102 games. That was last year," Dunn said. "It all started in the spring. The attitude was great in the spring. I don't know any guys on this team that don't believe we can't do some damage. And I don't just mean compete. I mean win."

More and more, as the Nationals keep pulling out victories like this, as the calendar approaches May and as the pieces begin to come together, you can't help but think Dunn may be onto something.


Spike94wl said...

As long as the current Nats can hold on to a .500 record, we're in good shape. Obviously it's very early, but you have to like the possibilities that arise when adding CMW, Strasburg, Storen and maybe even Josh Wilkie in June.

MurrayTheRed said...

It was a fantastic game, played in near perfect weather!

How much of this we can win any game "attitude" that the Nationals have is Riggs or Rizzo's player moves?

Andrew said...

So glad I went today. The game was amazing and it is a shame the weather know-it-alls put out those dire storm predictions as so many stayed away.

Congrats to the Nats and Scott Olsen for that gem and the way his team backed him up in the field!

natsfan1a said...

Wish we'd been there, but it was a fun game to watch on tv.

Anonymous said...

Great game. I suspect that Strasburg is leading a "tidal wave" to the majors? Aaron Thompson is on the forward tip. Promotions from Harrisburg to Syracuse will come soon enough and then the overall pitching may actually improve quite a bit. One can hope.

Jeff Wang said...

Oh come on, it didn't start in Spring Trainging... 0-11 anyone?

Unknown said...

You picked a great year to free lance!

Hopefully, a lot more interest (and some day, more fans in the seats at the game) in 2010. Right now everything is possible!

Your insightful writing brings the story to life. How about a New Yorker article .....or a book. In the movie, Kevin Coster can play Pudge!

Doc said...

Any time the Nats beat the hated Dodgers is good. Rick Monday(PHing) beat Steve Rodgers (in relief) and the Expos out of a WS spot--1981. I think it was the only time that the Expos made it that far in post-season play. Now that we got them down, we don't need to let them up!

Presidents Race Fan said...

So you've sort of begged the question of what the top 5 pitching performances in Nats history actually are...

Mark Zuckerman said...

Presidents Race Fan: Hmm, I'm gonna have to mull that one over. But off the top of my head, the ones that come to mind are John Patterson striking out 15 Dodgers in 2005, Ramon Ortiz's near no-hitter against the Cards in 2006 and Jason Bergmann's 1-0 win at Shea in 2008 (the one with Willie Harris' game-saving catch).

PDowdy83 said...

@ Jeff Wang, they started out 0-11 when all of the people who DIDN'T make the team were playing. Then they played rather well once the number of players was cut from 55 or 60 to 35. I would say, since the group of guys who are actually playing now were the main group in ST they are definitely a couple games over .500 (counting the 2nd half of ST.)

Anonymous said...

What about when Bergmann took a no-hitter into the 7th at RFK in May 2007 against the Braves? I was at that game and he was untouchable. I don't remember this, but according to his wikipedia page he struck out 5 of the first 6 batters and ended up with 10 K's on 2 hits (giving up 1 run) in 8+ innings.

Farid said...

One of the best of all time: Dick Bosman in 1969 when he came within four outs of a no-hitter against Cleveland (from memory but I'm pretty sure I'm right).

True, that was a Senators' pitcher, but he wore a red "curly W" cap nonetheless.

Sec3mySlotman said...

"So you've sort of begged the question of what the top 5 pitching performances in Nats history actually are..."

No, he didn't.

Farid said...

I looked it up: May 2nd, 9 innings, 1 hit, 7 strikeouts, against Cleveland for Bosman.

Not bad for a 53-year-old brain

Suicide Squeeze said...

Decided at the last minute to go to the game today, and what a great decision THAT turned out to be! Was blessed with a ticket directly behind home plate (up a section or two) and can say that Olsen got squeezed on the pitch that supposedly was "ball four" for his lone walk. And his slider was indeed nasty, right out of the instruction manuel. The ball seemed to be on laser guidance to the back foot of right handed hitters.

One Riggleman decision that I loved that didn't end up being a factor -- leaving Dunn and Willingham in for the 9th and not sending in the defensive replacements. They were set to be 1-2 in the bottom of the ninth and I like making the balanced decision to leave them in the game. (I'm sure The Hammer's great grab in the 8th eased his mind some....and the Big Dunnkey has shown a surprising deftness at first.)

Mark -- any comment in the press box when Dunn and Willingham trotted out to left and first, respectively, in the top of the ninth?

Suicide Squeeze said...

Oh....and Mark, you broke the unofficial Nats Insider rule: "Upon referencing a great Will Harris catch, the phrase "The Mets must HATE Willie Harris" must follow, if only parenthetically."

(The Mets must HATE Willie Harris.)

Anonymous said...

On TV it looked like Olsen left some changeups up late but the Dodgers missed them (perhaps because Scott was mixing his speeds so well).

"Will Nieves!"

NatinBeantown said...

This has got to be the best Nat's pitching performance since Livan's gem on 4/18. Oh wait, that was last week.

Seriously, I love's me some Olsen, but what moves this game from "great" outing to "top 10" outing?

Mark, where would you put Lannan's 6/18/09 four-hit/1 BB gem in 8.1 innings at Yankee Stadium?

Sec3 said...

I think of Ryan Drese's first Nats game, against the Angels.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Suicide Squeeze: I certainly noticed when Dunn went back out for the ninth. Was a little surprised, but as someone else and I realized, he might have been pulled if the Nats were up 2 or 3 runs. But only 1 run, you probably wanted to keep his bat in there in case the Dodgers tied or took the lead.

NatinBeantown: What made Olsen's start today stand out (for me) was his incredible control: 71 of 99 pitches for strikes. Plus his unhittable slider. Plus the 8 strikeouts. Plus the fact it was a 1-0 game from the beginning. Put that all together, and I thought this one ranked up with the best in the Nats' brief history. Probably not top five, but definitely top 10. Oh, and yes, Lannan's win at Yankee Stadium would make the top five. (Wait, how many top five do I have now?)

Sec3MyOwnHairSoFar said...

And where do you get those wigs, anyway?

Doc said...

Some of Olsen's breaking stuff was left high with the last two hitters in 8th. He was getting tired towards the end of a gutsy performance. Let's hope he can continue along the same path of success.

Dave said...

@Anon 10:17 PM: I also was at that game vs. Atlanta. Bergmann beat Smoltz that day. It was a real feel-good game for Nats fans.

Anonymous said...

I just opened the Post. From a quick look at the paper today you'd think that this is a hockey town. Look closer, and you'll see that the lead sports story and huge picture is about a game that hasn't even happened yet. It's not obvious from looking at the first sports page that there's a baseball club in this town - much less one that just produced a win for the ages. What's up with this? [Note that this happens every time; most days I'm not as eager for the story.]

Anonymous said...

The historic win is on the last inside page of the Post sports section? I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

I think the all time game is when Camillo Pascual....yes Camillo with the wicked over the top breakin ball...blanked the Yankees on 3 hits back in 66. And as Yogi said "You can look it up"

Richard in Bethany said...

Well --now that you brought up Pasqual--How about the opening game one year(forgotten the year, sorry)but I WAS at the game. He struck out 17 Red Sox--allowed only 1 run--that was a screaming line drive off Ted Williams bat that hit the back wall of the Senators bull pen in dead center @ 420 feet away. The ball never got over 10 feet off the ground!Had to be there.

Andrew said...

The end result was great but Mark, were you surprised when Capps trotted out for the 9th after pitching 2 innings of relief the day before in the extra innings game?

Dissecting Riggles' decisions, I thought you leave Clippard in for the 9th or at least bring out Burnett to go lefty/lefty with the 1st batter like Riggles did earlier in the month then bring in Capps.

I was also glad Torre had Casey Blake swing away instead of bunting over Loney with no out. Gonzalez was up on the grass also thinking Blake would be bunting. Here Torre brought in Jamey Carroll to pinch-run for speed and he got stranded at 2nd.

Anonymous said...

How about the time Walter Johnson struck out 16 Red Stockings? Or when the Big Train whiffed 17 Boston Braves?
I was there, sitting in old Griffith Stadium, Teddy won the Presidents races back then, and we listened to Carpenter and Drivel on the ol' wireless.
Still fumes me about the concession prices. Beer was 10 cents fer cryin' out loud.

natsfan1a said...

I didn't live here back in the day but, speaking of Pascual, if you haven't yet seen it, you may want to put The Bases Are Loaded in your Netflix queue (yeah, even Luddities can use Netflix). My husband and I both enjoyed viewing it some time ago (see synopsis below, from the film's site).

"Baseball Hall of Fame legend Monte Irvin returns to Cuba to reunite with former teammate and Cuban baseball icon Connie Marrero after a 50-year separation. The journey reveals the cultural, social, and political complexities of Cuban baseball and America’s relationship with the island nation, while highlighting a unique friendship."

Oh, and I was at both the Patterson and the Livo complete-game shutouts. Yeah, the team should probably front me some tix or something. :-)

natsfan1a said...

Crud. It wasn't Pascual. hehe (sheepish grin)

Slidell said...

Anonymous 8:04--- There was no beer at Griffith Stadium at any price until the late-50s, and then you had to sit in the "Beer Garden" in left CF where they had added new seats. The new seats were put in to bring the fence in closer so as to accommodate Sievers, Allison, Lemon and Killebrew. It was not until '60 or so that beer got into the stands. (Despite the huge National Boh sign that had hung for many years above the RF fence)

greg said...

"The historic win" anon?

was there really something "historic" about yesterday?

is it really historic to go back to 1 game over 500 in april? great win, nice pitching job by olsen. but historic? is a 7-hit shutout historic? is 8 Ks historic?

come on, even when a team is coming off two straight 100-loss seasons, that's just a good day, not "historic."

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