Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sept. 18, 2005

NEW YORK -- You may want to clip out the NL East standings from this morning's paper. (Or, if you don't get a paper anymore, just print out the standings off your computer.) This is a significant day for the Nationals, who at 18-14 are four games over .500 for the first time in 4 1/2 years.

The last time they found themselves in this position: Sept. 18, 2005, when their record stood at 77-73. Technically, they were still alive in the NL wild-card race. Realistically, all hope of a miraculous postseason appearance at RFK Stadium had been wiped out the night before.

Astute fans of this franchise no doubt remember the events of Sept. 17, 2005, a late-night game in San Diego that to this day still resonates as the worst loss in Nationals history. Despite their late-summer swoon in the standings, the Nats still found themselves 2 1/2 games back in the wild-card race. They were re-energized by some brilliant pitching performances from the likes of John Patterson (who out-dueled Jake Peavy the night before) and Hector Carrasco (the journeyman reliever who was pressed into emergency starting duties because the club had no reliable No. 5 starter at that point).

On that fateful night at Petco Park, Carrasco tossed six shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 2.01. Homers by Nick Johnson and Preston Wilson helped the Nationals take a comfortable 5-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. All they needed were three outs.

And then it all came crashing down.

Jason Bergmann, then a rookie right-hander with one month of big-league experience, began the inning for Washington. He walked Eric Young to lead things off but rebounded to strike out Ramon Hernandez. No worries, right?

Well, then Frank Robinson emerged from the dugout, walked toward the mound and signaled for left-hander Joey Eischen from the bullpen. Brian Giles was due up for the Padres, and Robinson was playing matchups in the ninth inning of a five-run game. From his booth next to the press box, San Diego GM Kevin Towers looked at one of the local writers, held his index finger to his head and pretended to pull the trigger. "Shoot me now," was the insinuation. The game was over. Why would Frank bother to drag this out?

Because it wasn't over, not by a long shot. Eischen got Giles to hit a fly ball for the second out, but he then gave up a single to Xavier Nady. Still, the Nats led by FIVE runs, with two on and two out in the ninth.

And then Robinson came out of the dugout again and signaled for right-hander Travis Hughes. The groans in the press box returned. What was Frank doing?

He was blowing the game, that's what he was doing. Hughes gave up an RBI single to Joe Randa. All of a sudden, it was 5-1, with two on. And since it was now a save situation, Chad Cordero was summoned to finish it off.

Cordero had been brilliant all season, but he had begun to show signs of cracking in September, perhaps from overuse, perhaps from the pressure. Whatever the case, Chief wasn't right that night. He immediately walked Mark Loretta to load the bases and bring Khalil Greene to the plate representing the tying run. Two pitches later, Greene sent Cordero's pitch into the left-field bleachers. I can still hear Mel Proctor's call on MASN: "Oh, no!"

The game proceeded for three more innings, until Jon Rauch served up a walk-off homer to Hernandez in the bottom of the 12th. The Nats' insurmountable 5-0 lead turned into a crushing 8-5 loss that all but eliminated them from the playoff race.

That night, inside a hushed clubhouse, Robinson apologized to his players for blowing the game. He took the blame, hoping the team could regroup the next day and keep its season intact.

Instead, the Nationals went back out the next afternoon and blew another late lead. The signature moments: With an 0-2 count in the ninth inning of a tie game, Eischen plunked Robert Fick (yes, Robert Fick) in the back. Moments later, Eischen threw wildly to first on Dave Roberts' sacrifice bunt attempt, bringing the winning run home and sending the Nats to yet another crushing loss.

With that defeat, the Nationals fell to 77-73. They returned home to RFK and lost their next two, then hovered around .500 the rest of the way before finishing 81-81.

This morning, for the first time since that fateful weekend in San Diego nearly five years ago, the Nats are four games over .500 again.


Anonymous said...

I stayed up and watched that game. Misery.

Rocket1124 said...

Why Zuckerman, WHY?!

::beats head on desk::

Chris Needham said...

Can we do a fundraiser for my therapy bills? I had repressed this one. Now it's back.

If you need me, I'll be balled up under my desk.

natinbeantown said...

This is cruel and unusual.

Mark Zuckerman said...

I should have put a disclaimer at the top of the post. "WARNING: Reading this may cause irreparable emotional damage."

Souldrummer said...

I can't believe that bringing this one up is good for business. Both you and FJB are doing your best to pour water on the fires of irrational exuberance. I know it's part of your role as historian for the Nats, but I'd forgotten this one and did not need to recall it.

Thankfully, we've got more credible relief options waiting in Syracuse this year than we did in those dying days. Guys like MacDougal, Martin, and Padilla last year seem to give hope to veterans with potential that the Nats are a possible home to recover their careers.

Mark, do you think Storen will be the next reliever called up from Syracuse or do you think that there will be any other folks brought up in the midst of this heavy stretch? I personally believe that Taveras is a waste of a roster spot and I would be willing to see either another reliever or Mike Morse brought up instead.

GavCollins said...

I'm crossing all sorts of fingers that "four-games-above-.500" doesn't precipitate the same run of losses...

SpringfieldFan said...

I'm so happy to have a team that finds a way to win. Keep at it, team!

natinbeantown said...

Souldrummer, I hear you on the negativity. But as a Nats fan, we're conditioned. Literally, every day, I look at the standings and think, "we're (X) games over .500, so we'll be at least .500 until (X games from today). It's a sickness. And I thank Mark for helping me understand the origins of it with today's post.

Anonymous said...

Joey Eischen, that's a name I haven't heard of in awhile. He was a left-handed specialist whose specialty was coming in late in a game to pitch to, and walk one left-handed batter on four pitches. He was very successful.

cadeck13 said...

Oh no you didn't! Joey Eischen - it took him forever to throw a pitch - oh the emotional scars!

Anonymous said...

Classic Frank Robinson incompetence. That guy could not get in my rearview mirror fast enough. Great player, lousy manager.

Anonymous said...

"Literally, every day, I look at the standings and think, 'we're (X) games over .500, so we'll be at least .500 until (X games from today).' "

I do the same thing ... Right now, it's Saturday.

Wow. Just ... wow.

Sunderland said...

You know why I don't hate recalling this? Because '05 had so many good memories. I've always wondered why Nationals Park wasn't built with a section of seats that we could stomp on and bounce up and down and rattle the whole park with.
(Stan could charge extra for those seats!)

I like Nats Park enough, but I sure miss the craphole we called home, RFK, The Bobby.

Souldrummer said...

Generally, I tend to be the one pouring water on exuberance around Federal Baseball sometimes. Today, I had to go the other way because this was viceral and traumatic pain that Mark was trying to bring up here that will stamp out a lot of hope should the Nats play well enough to earn that hope.

I think it was 2006 and realizing just how much smoke and mirrors was behind 2005 was so painful for the fanbase. Who is left in the organization who was even in camp in 2005?

Livo certainly, but he was able to flee for a couple of years of safety. Desmond before his own minor league odyssey. Bergmann, blech? There were so few stable pieces among the regulars and we had neglible prospects after the Minaya razing. With his name on the trades that decimated the Expos/Nats, (not his fault for sure of course) it would be a wonderful thing for the Nats to be able to outperform the Mets over the long haul going forward and during this season.

Not counting on it. We feel more like a 4th place club to me with 75 wins than a 2nd place club with 83 as someone was projecting us to be earlier today over on NatsBlog.


Anonymous said...

Who is left in the organization who was even in camp in 2005?

You forgot one. GUUUUUUUUUUUUZ-man.

Souldrummer said...

Good god, I forgot he was here back then. He was a total out machine that year, even worse than he is now. He has a knack for playing just well enough to justify the next bad contract.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't think this team will fold like the last half of 2005.

BUT, we have to realize that this team has been pretty lucky the last few weeks, and we're bound to lose a handful of games before too long, probably painfully. It happens to everyone.

YES, there is a lot more talent on this team than 2005. YES there is a *whole* lot more talent coming. But seriously, if you looked at the roster and schedule in March, and knew that Marquis and Morse would be out of the picture already, and someone asked you the odds of them being 4 games over .500, what would you have said??

So this is nice. That's for sure. And there are somewhere between 1 and 3 good starters joining the rotation (meaning a few of the current starters add to the bullpen, plus Storen).

6 weeks ago, 75-87 would have been an awfully nice thought. Now, the Nats would have to go 57-73 the rest of the way to do that, which I'd say is a pretty safe bet. So they're already bound to exceed reasonable expectations.

Keep that in mind, because we're playing with the house's money, and she's going to take some of it back. :-)


nattaboy said...

I agree that I don't mind recalling this since 2005 was amazing. Still technically having a shot at the wildcard that late beats the tar out of 2006-2009.

Especially the last 2 years, when my personal daily tradition was to look at the standings and figure out how many games out of 29th place we were. It was usually a lot.

Souldrummer said...

@Anonymous/aka Kevin
You also have to remember that I'm a Caps fan coming off a traumatic experience with high expectations. Anything these guys can do to make the summer interesting is a bonus. That they are now ahead of the Mets that my dad and brother root for is even better.

I don't think anybody is expecting much from Morse. He's basically a replacement level player, possibly above average offense, certainly below average defense.

Remember our rotation is Livo, Olsen, Atilano, Lannan (with a possible end to his potentially lucky ways), and Stammen (who appears to be a hittable strike thrower with a 5.5 ERA). That rotation ain't something that will engender long term confidence. Atilano's first inning last night reminds us how fine the line is between a quality start and a shelling. Thankfully we were on the right side of that line. There was certainly some luck on our side last night, though. Slaten doesn't get that double play, Walker doesn't get that call and it's a different outcome. Luck seems to be on our side so far and you hope that the offense or the starting pitching deeper into games can come around for when luck is not as kind.

2005 taught me not to bet against Pythagoras.

natsfan1a said...

That recollection didn't bother me, either. As with Sunderland, I have so many good memories of that season. For me, it wasn't necessarily about the first-half record, although that was an unexpected and fun ride. It was more about getting a team of our own, and the mutual appreciation society of the fans and team. As we were leaving the last game of the season, I got a little weepy. My husband asked me if it was because the Nats lost. I said it wasn't that, it was that the season was over and it would never be the same way again. That was one magical season, and the memory of an ugly loss can't tarnish it for me.

Of course, I don't tend to follow the late West Coast games live, and I was mostly radio-only back then. So the visual is not seared into my memory. That probably helps some, too. ;-) And for some reason I always associate the July series at CHC with the start of the downward trajectory. So I tend to feel more hinky about the Cubbies than the Padres. Go figure.

Carl in 309 said...

A good moment, Mark, for some reflection. And to recall what was in so many ways a fairy tale year when major league baseball returned to Washington, DC. Not a perfect tale for sure, but nevertheless, an emotional high that year. I do remember that September 2005 swoon, but was too happy to be able to take my daughter to games, and watch her engage with the Nats and baseball (an experience I missed in my youth).

While I suspect many readers waffle between new-found enthusiasm for the Nats and experientially-based conviction of their certain failure (I certainly am in that mode--oscillating back and forth while monitoring last night's game), we are on-balance in a good place--getting to complain about good things. That we get to wonder about why Desmond hits at the bottom of the order or whether Bruney is worth the effort, is a far cry from the embarrassment of two 100-loss seasons. And to be able to plead for Strasburg's promotion! Hah--could we have been so lucky in the past couple of years?

I'm also re-adapting my following of the Nats to a psychological approach I developed years ago to "handle" the roller coaster ride that I experienced as a Red Sox fan (I know, we New Englanders no longer have anything to complain about!). Somewhere along the line after too many late season (and playoff) disappointments, I just decided I would savor the wins and ignore the losses. It kept my expectations mostly in check, and winning as a singular event proved to be a special joy. Every time I find myself projecting on the Nats, I return to this theme: a Nats win is a gift from god (or insert you own deity or spirit)--revel in it and move on.

markfd said...

I had almost forgotten that moment in Nats misery, I mean history, no I probably mean misery! The problem was not Frank's intention that night it was the resources he had, look at what he had to work with Bergmann! Eischen! HUGHES! and an overworked CHIEF...Frank tried to make lemonade outof his lemons but it was a bit too sour, thank goodness our bullpen contains NONE of those guys now (I wish Rauch was still here).

Joey Eischen said...

You guys can suck on that memory. And you can like it.

The Great Unwashed said...

Maybe Mark is bringing up the September 2005 meltdown in San Diego to make the point that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

I don't see the harm in being reminded how bad it's been in the past so we can really enjoy how good it is in the present.

(fingers crossed)

Arlington Big Fish said...

Seeing some of the names from that '05 pitching staff refreshes my interest in a question that's been rolling around in the back of my head for several weeks. How many guys have actually pitched for the Nats since they (the Nats)got here? It seems like hundreds -- most of them God-awful at worst, mediocre at best. And a corollary of that question would be how we rank against other teams in that respect.

6thandD said...

Preston Wilson and Joey Eischen? Dude, why don't you say something positive for a change?

Section 222 said...

As painful as it was to remember, this was an absolutely fabulous post! I remember this game very well. I was out of town with no TV or radio coverage so followed it for awhile on espn.com on my Blackberry. But not being as obsessive a fan as I am now, I went to bed with the Nats comfortably ahead. The next morning (a Sunday if I remember right), I woke up and checked to see how the game finished. Stared at my Blackberry in disbelief for several minutes. This game has alot to do with my fear of going to sleep at night when the Nats are still playing.

Thanks for the memories Mark.

Doc said...

Great retro MarkMeister. Speaking of the future, wad's the skinny on this kid Daniel Rosenbaum. Is he being seriously touted?

Steve M. said...

Mark, your mention of the possible over-use of Chad Cordero resonates with so many that have held the fireman's spot on the mound in the 9th.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Oh, man, I'm with Chris. I had totally repressed this game, but now I remember it like it were this morning. Khalid Freaking Greene. I still hate that guy, that goofy haircut of his and certainly that ninth-inning home run.

In the immortal words of Mel Proctor: "Oh, no."

These Nats are the mirror-opposite. Thanks to Clip and Save, it's basically a seven-inning game. Not to say I don't break out the bourbon and Maalox when Capps is dealing, but at least my liquor bill is manageable these days.

Great back-in-the-day tale, Mark. Great writing.

Anonymous said...

"Slaten doesn't get that double play, Walker doesn't get that call and it's a different outcome. Luck seems to be on our side so far and you hope that the offense or the starting pitching deeper into games can come around for when luck is not as kind."

Maybe its not luck? Maybe it a combination of good fielding (Zimmerman) and a guy who used to be a pretty fair relief pitcher pre knee problems. Maybe the luck was manufactured through some really superb defense starting with Pudge.

Also noting that Atilano fought a lot harder with an edge with Pudge as his battery mate instead of Nieves. Nieves is a good catcher I believe. But IRod seems like he is pretty amazing in that role.

SBrent said...

Joey Eischen was sure good for some good quotes, though. And what was that other crazy guy's name -- the one that Frank pulled mid at-bat and then got all teary-eyed about it? The player later said that "my own daddy woulda pulled me out of that game the way I was playing" or something close to that.

The Great Unwashed said...


I think the player Frank pulled and then got upset was a catcher named Matt LeCroy. I think he's a manager in the Nats farm system now.

Softball Girl said...

Is there a term for laughing and wincing at the same time?

I see a new feature on Nats Insider: reliving the painful games of past as we (hopefully) improve.
I look forward to the Damian Jackson and Tony Armas Jr. yarns especially.

Seriously, I enjoyed this Mark. Good proof that you've been there with us this whole time too.

Anonymous said...

As far as 2005. I've NEVER seen Bowden come down and sit behind home plate ... interested, intently watching, keeping tabs on his "product" the way Mike Rizzo does at almost every game. He told Ben Goessling that he spends 30% of his time down there and the rest up in the box with his staff.

He lies. He has to be there more often than not.

He is there right along with everyone else ... when he said he got tired of "watching Cabrera pitch" he was right there front and center suffering through each and every one.

He isn't going to be as patient with the big league pitchers as Bowden was and he is going to be a lot more patient and less aggressive about promoting the minor league prospects as Bowden was. Let's see if that works.

Anonymous said...

(I wish Rauch was still here)

In place of Batista, perfect!

SpringfieldFan said...

Maybe we can save the rehash of the Matt LeCroy 6-steal game for another day? The scabs are healing, but they still bleed if you pick 'em.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Hmm, I'm kind of liking this "Relieving the Worst Moments in Nationals History" idea. May need to turn it into a monthly feature or something. Matt LeCroy would definitely qualify, though that whole incident and Frank Robinson's reaction remains one of my favorite stories I've written about this team over the last five-plus years.

Softball Girl said...

Matt LeCroy? Now you're going to make ME cry!

Juan-John said...

How about that game in Colorado against the Rockies the year they won the Central Division title by a playoff game with the Padres? Shawn Hill pitches a six (or was it seven?)-inning gem, up by four or five runs (I scored this game from home but don't have my scorebook with me) in the 9th, and Chad Cordero pitches in the bottom of the 9th and allows something like four or five hits (singles and doubles) back to back before Acta pulls him for Jon Rauch. Rockies win it in the 9th. Without that win, they don't make the playoffs, plain and simple.

This game still hurts because I wasn't smart enough to just rip the scoresheet out of the doggone book and burn it.

sbrent said...

Matt LeCroy! That's just the guy, thanks! Awesome attitude, and what a character! Is he really in the Nats farm system as a coach now? That'd be pretty cool.

Mark Zuckerman said...

sbrent: Yes, LeCroy is manager at low-Class A Hagerstown. Players love him, as you might imagine. Here's an article my former colleague Bob Cohn wrote on him last year for the Wash Times:


natsfan1a said...

awww, man... Okay, but only if we can alternate with Best Moments in Nationals History.

(Can I say that Nook Logan ought to be in there somewhere? D'oh! Sorry about reviving *that* particular memory, Nats fans.) :-D


Hmm, I'm kind of liking this "Relieving the Worst Moments in Nationals History" idea. May need to turn it into a monthly feature or something.

Carl in 309 said...

So many names from the past mentioned above. Couldn't help wondering where they all were today--so with help from Google, I found the following:

John Patterson, P, released 2008, retired 2009.

Hector Carrasco, P, became a free agent in 2005; rejoined Nats with a minor league contract in 2007, presumably retired in 2008 after signing a minor league contract with the Cubs.

Nick Johnson, 1st, traded to the Marlins in 2009, now the DH for the Yankees (and on the DL).

Preston Wilson, OF, became a free agent in 2005, presumably retired; was with the L.I. Ducks in 2009.

Jason Bergmann, P, still with the Nats, on the Syracuse Chiefs AAA roster.

Joey Eischen, P, released in 2006, now pitching coach for Tri-City Dust Devils, Rockies Short-season A team.

Travis Hughes, P, became a free agent in 2006, presumably retired after pitching last year in the minors (York Revolution).

Chad Cordero, P, became a free agent in 2008, now pitching with the Tacoma Rainiers, a Mariners' AAA affiliate.

Jon Rauch, P, traded to the Diamondbacks in 2008, is now the Twins closer.

Christian Guzman, SS/2nd, remains with the team.

Matthew LeCroy, C, didn't join the Nats until 2006; became a free agent in 2007, now manages the Nats Minor League A Hagerstown Suns.

Damian Jackson, 2nd, didn't join the Nats until 2006; and was released the same year, may be out of baseball; last year he apparently played for the independent league Orange County Flyers.

Tony Armas, Jr., P, became a free agent in 2006, is presumably out of baseball; played minor league ball in 2009 for the Braves.

Shawn Hill, P, didn't join the Nats until 2006, now with the Blue Jays AAA Las Vegas 51s and is on the DL.

Nook Logan, OF, didn't join the Nats until 2006, traded from the Tigers; and became a free agent in 2007, is presumably out of baseball; last played minor league ball with the Long Island Ducks in 2008.

johninmpls said...

The awfulness of reliving this memory was somewhat offset by remembering the performances of some of the guys you mentioned, like Patterson and Carrasco. Even these horrific memories find me somewhat wisful about the good old days.

I guess it's a demonstration of just how far this franchise fell. I mean, I'm reminiscing about Joey freaking Eischen!

The game Juan-John recalls was brutal. Absolutely brutal. I also recall Ayala walking in the game-winning run that season. I listened to it on the radio (MASN wasn't carried by my cable provider in College Park), and the notion of the walk-off walk kept me up all night. But I think a Zuckerman post about these moments might salve these wounds. It would be like group therapy.

So count me in, Mark. Let's have an exorcism!

johninmpls said...

Oh, and best moments? Listening to the Brendan Donelly pine tar incident in Anahiem on the radio that year. That was amazing. And Guillen calling Scioscia "a piece of garbage" after the game just made the moment that much more special.

And even though the Nook Logan moment to which 1a refers was awful, the Charlie Slowes call remains a Nationals gem, second only to the Father's Day Walk Off call. And yes, that's kind of sad.

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