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Long day ends with Nats still breathing, barely

Sep 23, 2013, 12:22 AM EST

Associated Press AP

Davey Johnson didn’t know what exactly to expect when he arrived at Nationals Park Sunday morning. He had tried for weeks not to think about the fact his managerial career was nearing the finish line, focusing instead on the task of keeping his club alive in the NL playoff race as long as possible, despite the long odds this team faced.

So when his final day in uniform in Washington came and went Sunday, Johnson actually was surprised how much he enjoyed the experience, as draining as a pregame ceremony followed by a day-night doubleheader was for him.

“I was kind of dreading it, and then it was very pleasant,” he said. “I was very moved by ownership and the front office and the fans and the players. … It kind of wore me out.”

So did a full afternoon and evening of baseball, one that saw the Nationals lose the opener to the Marlins 4-2 but then salvage a walk-off, 5-4 victory in the nightcap to keep their last-ditch hopes on life support for at least one more day.

Make no mistake, the Nationals’ odds have just about gone kaput. But they haven’t been pronounced dead quite yet. They trail both the Reds and Pirates by 5 games for the final Wild Card berth in the NL, with only 6 games remaining on the schedule.

A loss in St. Louis on Monday night, combined with wins by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, would officially eliminate the Nationals.

“I’m not good at math, but I’m good enough to know that losing makes it tougher,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said following his team’s afternoon defeat. “But you’ve just got to keep playing and see what happens. We put ourselves in this situation. We’ve just got to keep trying to finish strong.”

The Nationals had a bit of extra motivation on Sunday, trying to celebrate their manager’s D.C. farewell with a doubleheader sweep. But they slogged their way through an uninspired performance in the opener, falling behind 3-0 early and then unable to mount a late rally.

“We had to win pretty much every game going forward, which is really just a matter of the hole that we dug ourselves,” said Dan Haren, who put the Nationals in that 3-0 hole via homers served up to Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. “We didn’t play good baseball.”

The Nationals played better baseball in the nightcap, though it was far from a perfect performance.

Stephen Strasburg, making his first start in 14 days following a bout of forearm tightness, was rusty from the time he took the mound. The right-hander gave up two quick runs and lasted only six innings, allowing three runs in total.

“He was actually awful,” Johnson said, never one to mince words. “He was. I mean, every pitch he threw was up. He’s got such great stuff, but everything was belt-high.”

Strasburg admitted the rust factor may have played a role in his performance and admitted he perhaps had to set the bar a tad lower than he usually does on days he pitches.

“Not really get too frustrated,” he said. “You’re probably not going to have too good a feel of your pitches. Just go out there and try to be as effectively wild as you can.”

Despite his struggles, Strasburg was in line to earn the win after the Nationals rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth on Denard Span’s two-run single. That lead, though, disappeared in the top of the eighth when Tyler Clippard allowed back-to-back doubles to Yelich and Stanton, leaving the game tied.

As it turned out, the Nationals had one final rally in them, just in the nick of time. Jayson Werth led off the bottom of the ninth with a double into the left-field corner. Pinch-runner Eury Perez then teamed up with Ian Desmond on a nifty double-steal to put the winning run only 90 feet away.

Up stepped Wilson Ramos, who hit a sharp chopper to third base, where Chris Coghlan booted the ball and couldn’t get a handle on it before Perez crossed the plate to a roar from the few thousand fans who remained at the end of a home finale that had to be rescheduled following Saturday night’s rainout.

“The first game was a little tough to swallow,” said Ian Desmond, who became only the seventh shortstop in MLB history to post multiple 20-20 seasons. “But we bounced back. That’s what’s important.”

And they gave their manager one last opportunity to walk off the home field a winner. As Johnson departed for the final time, he raised both arms out in celebration, smiled at the crowd and then ducked down the dugout tunnel.

His career isn’t over quite yet. There are six more games to play in St. Louis and Arizona. And, should the unimaginable happen, he could yet find himself back at Nationals Park sometime next week, having guided his final club to a rally that would be even more improbable than the famous one he pulled off 27 years ago with the Mets.

“We ain’t finished,” Johnson said. “I take nothing for granted. I still think we’ve got a good shot. We need to win them all. Hey, I’ve been two runs down, one strike away and we came back. So don’t lose the faith.”

  1. Sonny G 10 - Sep 23, 2013 at 12:42 AM

    The Nats might still be breathing, but they need a CPAP machine to do it.

  2. NatsLady - Sep 23, 2013 at 1:09 AM

    I’ve never seen Soriano look as good as he did tonight. This must be what he was like in NY, what Mike Rizzo expected when he signed him. Charlie and Dave were sort of casually noting some changes in his approach, and suddenly boom, boom, strikeout.

    • jd - Sep 23, 2013 at 9:56 AM

      Nats Lady,

      Even in an excellent year with the Yanks Soriano was a 1.2 WAR player, this year 0.5. Haren is 1.2. That’s not a good spend of money. I absolutely hope that we don’t go that route again. I have no problem coming in with Jordan, Det, Roark and Karns for the last 2 slots in the rotation. Getting a young quality starter like Gio is one thing but trying to hit the jackpot with veterans is nearly impossible and it’s not worth it.

      Spend the money on JZimm and Desi, find a quality left handed bench bat, find our version of Avilan and Carpenter and most of all find a good young manager with a solid staff and a solid plan.

  3. NatsLady - Sep 23, 2013 at 1:15 AM

    Also, Davey managed the second game very well.

    However, I won’t mind at all if I never set eyes on Ryan Mattheus again. Right after the video tribute where he thanks Davey for showing faith in him, Davey shows faith in him and he craps all over the seventh inning. Then he took the world’s SLOWEST walk off the field. He looked like he thought Steve McCatty was waiting in the clubhouse with a blistering lecture–which he probably was!

    • Candide - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:21 AM

      We’ve seen Ohlendorf give 4-5 strong innings time and again this season, then lose it completely in the space of a batter or two. If that doesn’t scream “long relief” in 72-point bold italic, someone please tell me what does. Thank Mattheus for a nice 2012 and send him off.

      I’m liking Cedeno for lefty work out of the bull pen.

      • NatsLady - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:59 AM

        Me, too. But then I also liked Abad and Krol. Eh, lefties…

  4. natsfan1a - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    We were at the first game but couldn’t stay for the second. Seeing as how we’re 3-5 at Nats games this year (and 0-1 at the P-Nats), maybe it was better that way. You’re welcome. Despite the game 1 loss, enjoyed the Davey tribute and catching up with some baseball buddies. Had a quick bit to eat with some of them after the game and, as we were heading home on the Metro, noticed an influx of somber black-clad and uniformed folks carrying some sort of folded bulletin. I figured they were coming from the Navy Yard memorial service. Nothing like a little perspective on life, eh?

    • NatsLady - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:46 AM

      Yeah, it’s been a rough week. Nats had a moment of silence in the night game, also had the Navy color guard. Not forgotten. Also got to hear DC Washington for the day game and the bat-violin guy for the night game. I really like that we are developing our own traditions.

      I decided I would drive down to the park around noon and get my scarf, and then zip over to 1:30 rehearsal because it’s pretty near the park. Well, you know the song, “With a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck–when temptation comes you’ll give right in.” It was a beautiful afternoon (weather-wise) and I gave right in. So blame me for the afternoon loss…

      Dan Haren and Stephen Strasburg both pitched 6 innings and gave up 3 runs (“Quality Start”). I wouldn’t mind having Haren back if he’ll take a substantial paycut, but he probably won’t–or his agent and the players association won’t let him. He took the day game with Solano, which was the plan, I’m sure, and I’m sure they had done the prep work, but he still got the short end.

      Odds are stacked against us. Really stacked. 0.2% That’s double the O’s odds though, they are at 0.1%. ;)

      • karlkolchak - Sep 23, 2013 at 10:49 AM

        Haren will be taking a substantial cut froom SOMEBODY. He’ll be lucky to make even half of what he made this year next season as he is in Jason Marquis-land now. I really hope it isn’t the Nats that give him even that much. Time to let the kids pitch and stop with the crappy veterans on one year contracts.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:51 AM

      And that would be quick “bite” to eat. Going to put the coffee on now. Later, folks.

  5. adcwonk - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    I was looking at some stats, and I was surprised to see that the Nats are 6th in the league in batting (!!) — after being so close to the bottom for so much of the year. Sixth in runs, too. Unfortunately, that seems to be translating to 6th best record in the NL, but only 5 make the playoffs. Even more surprising: Nats are 3rd in SLG, and 3rd in HR’s. (And, 4th in sac bunts). 6th in team ERA. 6th in K’s. (But fewest walks!)

    Over the past month, they’ve been playing like the best team in the league. Unfortunately, putting that together with the rest of the season . . . . they’ve been the 6th best.

    • NatsLady - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:53 AM

      There are a lot of years where 88 or 89 wins would get a playoff spot (imagining that a second WC was in play). In the NL, this is VERY unlikely to be one of those years. If Cincy and the Pirates sweep the Cubs and Mets, it could take 93 wins.

      Someone said (I’m not sure it was here), well, who comes out with “urgency” in April? I think Atlanta did. They were determined not to repeat last year’s experience. The Nats, right or wrong, came out with, “We’ll play our game, steady as she goes.” And they pretty much did, through April and May. But injuries, injuries, and under-performance, and six under .500, that’s a big hole in mid-August. Davey always likes to get off to a hot start in April. But we didn’t.

  6. scnatsfan - Sep 23, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    I stopped posting because of the frustration with the season as well as my posts becoming more negative… then the boys turn things around lol. Proud of the finish of the season, the team showed heart. We were just doomed by a poor start but this is a good team.

    • adcwonk - Sep 23, 2013 at 10:40 AM

      It’s a pretty solid team. Consider:

      – starting pitching is top-notch — with a 1-2-3 of Stras-JZ-Gio. JZ and Gio are are only 27; Stras is only 24 and is improving his mental toughness; still need help on the back-end
      – relief pitching — Clip was terrific this year, Storen is still young, too, and may get it together; Soriano got the job done, but did it while walking a tightrope too many times for my taste
      – outfield — Span finally got it together and showed what he can do at the top of the order (in the field, he’s the best CF Nats have had); Werth had a standout year (which he credits Davey’s hitting tutelage, btw); and Harper’s results were solid even though he played half the year injured. As he’s 20, he’s still got huge upside to be realized
      – infield — Desmond (if you combine hitting and fielding) is one of the top SS’s in NL; Rendon’s got good upside if he can continue adjusting; RZ — what would he have done had he not been injured?; ALR – the only serious disappointment — what’s going on with him?
      – catcher — Ramos showed what he can do while healthy (and he’s only 25); need help with backup catching

      It’s a solid team that, if left untouched, would get better next year. With a few acquisitions, ought to be right in the running next year, and, given the age of most of the players, for years to come.

      • Hiram Hover - Sep 23, 2013 at 12:04 PM

        Agree with a lot of that, but can’t be quite so optimistic, Wonk. Consider:

        SP – the top 3 are top notch, but after that are a pair of question marks at 4 and 5, which is one more question mark than I’m really comfortable with. Haren was too expensive and a disappointment, but the Nats can’t count on internal solutions to put together a real contender–because they just can’t count on Det, period, and we don’t know which if any of the baby pitchers will prove good enough to stick.

        BP – some stand-outs but some glaring weaknesses this year as well. The way the BP was assembled last off season doesn’t really inspire my confidence, either. An overpay for Soriano, no attention to lefties, sticking with HRod, etc. Here’s hoping Rizzo learned some lessons.

        OF – Agree on Span and Harper. Werth is having close to a career year and I’m loving it while it lasts, but I also know that it won’t. He turns 35 next year and his defense is in decline. Love him for his presence and mentoring, but be prepared for some regression at the plate and likely more time missed to injuries next year.

        IF – agree about the middle IF, but the corners still worry me–last 4-6 weeks have been ok for ALR and great for Zim at the plate, but can we count on a season’s worth of that from each? I’m also not sold on whether they are defensively.

        C- agreed

        Bench – you didn’t mention, but has been a disappointment.

        Manager – I will not be sorry to see Davey go after this year, but his departure creates a huge question mark. He seemed complacent and unengaged far too often. If they won more this would matter less, but I’m really, really tired of his folksy/aw-shucks/addled grandpa shtick.

        So yes, there’s a solid core there, but there are enough question marks that I don’t think the Nats can go into the offseason with last year’s complacency.

  7. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 23, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    NatsLady @ 8:46 a.m.,

    I respect your opinion tremendously, but the notion of bringing Dan Haren back at any price just doesn’t fly. He may be a wonderful person, he may have had some solid starts (including a few hard-luck losses), but as someone noted yesterday the Nats record with him starting was well below .500 while with anyone else starting they had a playoff-level (or thereabouts) winning percentage. And even if you could make a solid stats-based argument that it wasn’t Mr. Haren’s fault — which I don’t believe you can — from a fan-optics perspective (i.e., let’s sell some season tickets) there is simply no way Mike Rizzo is going to re-sign him, period. I know Mr. Haren never intended to have such a disastrous year and probably feels awful about it. And I wish him well (except when pitching against the Nats) for the future. But I sincerely hope — and fully expect — that he’ll be in another uniform next season.

    • adcwonk - Sep 23, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      Ditto. The plain fact of the matter is: he’s got the worst ERA on the team (starters) — by a whopping full 1.5 runs. (resulting in Nationals are 10-19 when he started). Even if he comes at a bargain, it’s not worth signing a guy who can be a lead weight. I’m not smart enough to know whether Taylor Jordan, or Roark can step in, but, if not, there’s got to be somebody with better potential than Haren.

  8. dgourds - Sep 23, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    FP continues to amaze me. In the first game in the bottom of the 6th with two outs, Nats trailing 3-0, and Span up, FP said that it was a huge at bat in the ball game. I thought “huh?” He explained that Zim was on deck. I thought “come on–a huge at bat with two out, no one on in the sixth. That can’t be a huge at bat!” Sure enough, Span gets on and Zim crushes a dinger.

    Also, Bob impressed in the first inning stressing how first base was open with two outs, runner on second with Stanton up. He kept emphasizing that you didn’t want Giancarlo to beat you. Sure enough, Haren leaves a fat fastball over the plate and Giancarlo put the hurt on. That was the difference in the game. I am so done with Haren.

    People complain about our TV guys, but I really have to say I think they are really very good–especially FP. It’s hard to stay so upbeat in such a frustrating season. I tip my hat to them.

    I’d love FP to be considered for manager next year. He’s special.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 23, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      I don’t know about manager, but I am more than satisfied with the current announcers. For the first couple of years after I left Washington, I went the cheap route and got MLB.tv basic, which meant that I always got the home-term feed. Thus, when the Nats were away (half the games) I got the home-team announcers. There are some awful ones out there, I assure you. And some good ones. I’d put the current Nats crew in the top quarter and certainly worth keeping and keeping together.

      • adcwonk - Sep 23, 2013 at 12:41 PM

        I’m back and forth on this.

        FP does know his stuff — but sometimes he is just _such_ a homer it’s grating. Being a homer is OK, if you balance it with reality (Charley and Dave are homers, but objective).

        Carpenter: he seems like a really likeable guy. Good Q factor. Good voice. Friendly. But, sheesh, not only is he a homer, but he makes so many mistakes.

        OTOH, Eugene is right, there are a rather large number of other home-team announcers that are really awful.

        OTOOH, Charley and Dave show what good announcing can be.

  9. dgourds - Sep 23, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    I agree that it got annoying how positive they were about the Nats early in the season–I swear I would have lost it and totally ripped into the team if I had to announce every out of this season. But they work for the team and part of their job is to keep viewers and stay positive. Many announcers have acted like they were independent “journalists” and then found themselves without a job. I remember this happened with the great Tim McCarver when he was color for the Mets in the 80’s.

    I was lucky enough to hang out with FP during the home games of the playoffs last year (he was hanging in the Lexus club). He was a different person off the air. Totally real—ripping into players and Davey’s decisions. Boy did he go off on Gio in game 5 for all those walks. But he can’t do that on the air. He’s a really smart baseball guy. I think he’d be an awesome manager. He knows how to build a player up, but at the same time isn’t delusional.

  10. Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 24, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    This is only a test.

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