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Nationals respond to Williams’ challenge

Apr 18, 2014, 11:31 PM EDT

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Matt Williams wanted his players to be upset at themselves after Thursday night’s debacle of a loss. But the first-year manager also wanted them to forget all about that game the moment they left Nationals Park and return Friday committed to making things better.

So what transpired over the course of 2 hours and 31 minutes of crisp, clean, well-played baseball was especially pleasing to Williams and the Nationals. That they also happened to win the game, beating the Cardinals 3-1, was merely the cherry on top.

“We needed something like this,” said left-hander Gio Gonzalez, among the more-instrumental participants in this victory.

Some 24 hours after they kicked the ball all around the park, flailed away at pitches at the plate and skulked off the field at the end of an 8-0 loss that left Williams livid, the Nationals put forth one of their best all-around efforts of the young season. They got a big-time start from Gonzalez, who allowed one run over seven sterling innings. They got a couple of key hits at the right moments. They got some bang-up relief work from Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano just when things were starting to look tenuous late.

And, perhaps most importantly, they took advantage of the opposition’s mistakes for a change.

The decisive runs both scored on a series of seventh-inning screw-ups by the usually sure-handed Cardinals, who committed two errors and uncorked a wild pitch in the span of five minutes.

“Certainly the reason they’ve been in the playoffs and they’ve been so good is because they do things right,” Williams said. “We just happened to take advantage of one tonight.”

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. The Nationals were ready and perfectly willing to seize upon a botched throw-and-catch on a sacrifice bunt attempt, then on the double-whammy of Michael Wacha’s wild pitch and Yadier Molina’s subsequent wild throw back to the plate, a play that allowed both Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa to score.

“You never see a ball get away from Yadi. Ever,” Williams said of the six-time Gold Glove catcher. “But that’s heads-up baserunning and aggressive baserunning.”

Desmond, perhaps the most prominent of several goats from Thursday’s loss, jumped at the opportunity to make amends in this one.

“You don’t ever expect Yadi to let one get away,” he said. “And then I saw it bounce off a little bit. I said: ‘We’ve got to take a chance here.’ And fortunately for us, it worked out.”

Things continued to work out for the Nationals the rest of the night. Storen wriggled his way out of an eighth-inning jam created by Tyler Clippard, retiring sluggers Matt Holliday and Allen Craig on a total of five pitches to strand the tying runner in scoring position.

And then Desmond made a picture-perfect turn of a game-ending double play, receiving Soriano’s throw and then leaping over a hard-sliding Mark Ellis to make an on-target throw to first.

As the crowd of 31,237 roared with approval, the Nationals gathered in the center of the diamond for a ritual not performed in some time: High-fives at the end of a game against the Cardinals. They hadn’t beaten St. Louis in their last eight tries, a stretch dating all the way back to Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS.

Given all that context, not to mention the manner in which Thursday’s game was lost, this was a particularly sweet victory.

“Any time you can beat a team like that, you’re going to be excited about it,” Storen said. “It’s never easy to beat those guys, and late in the game, they’re grinding it out. They’re a tough team all around. Any time you can get one from those guys, it’s a good night.”

  1. Sonny G 10 - Apr 18, 2014 at 11:42 PM

    Great game and its coming on for the second time on MASN as I write this, so I’m going to watch it again…until I can’t stay awake. WooooooooHooooooo!!!!!!!!

  2. MicheleS - Apr 19, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    WOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! That was so much better than Thursday! and with NatsJack in the house, I knew hew would bring us luck! See you all tomorrow!

    • Joe Seamhead - Apr 19, 2014 at 6:10 AM

      I sat with that beer swilling, rabble rousing curmudgeon for a while before the game. He makes me feel like I ain’t so bad after all. But in spite of all of that, it was good to see him and Gator John.

  3. Candide - Apr 19, 2014 at 3:45 AM

    After Thursday’s debacle, it was tempting to get all gloom and doomy.

    But consider this: the last three games, we’ve faced, in succession, Fernandez, Wainwright, and Wacha, and won two of those three.

    • realdealnats - Apr 19, 2014 at 8:22 AM

      +1

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 19, 2014 at 9:15 AM

      Exactly! And that’s why they play the games. Great starting pitching and mistake free baseball was the difference. Baseball Gods smiled on the Nats and some vindication for Storen.

  4. laddieblahblah - Apr 19, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    That’s more like it. Great pitching, solid defense, and opportunistic, aggressive base running. Just like Matt drew it up in ST.

    Great job by Storen, especially, to put Game 5 where it belongs – in the past.

  5. Joe Seamhead - Apr 19, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    How about a little love for Soriano here? The guy had not one, but two very good defensive plays in the 9th. I never knew the guy could move as quick as he did with picking up the deflected come backer and making a great throw for the first out.And not exactly a 1-2-3 inning, but it was 3 up and 3 down.
    His stats are pretty impressive so far this year.7 appearances, 7 innings, 1BB,10K’s, no runs scored.

    • Candide - Apr 19, 2014 at 6:24 AM

      … and in the post-game show, they mentioned he’s converted 16 straight save opportunities. Maybe he doesn’t suck that bad…

      • Joe Seamhead - Apr 19, 2014 at 6:26 AM

        I wonder if that’s the longest current streak of converted saves?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 19, 2014 at 8:16 AM

        He had his slider on the move last night.

    • NatsLady - Apr 19, 2014 at 9:14 AM

      Soriano put on a CLINIC last night fielding his position.

  6. JayB - Apr 19, 2014 at 6:30 AM

    That is one win of the 8 of 10. Yea you were right Joe I was not in the clubhouse for Matts butt kicking….but enough has come out that it since to confirm the tone….just what they need now and in the past when the get too soft….not a big hug like Davey would give.

  7. Joe Seamhead - Apr 19, 2014 at 7:03 AM

    There’s something wrong with my computer. All it says is: blah,blah, blah, crackling static, blah, Yea you were right Joe, blah,blah,blah, more crackling static, blah, blah, blah….

    (No disrespect intended, Laddie).

    • laddieblahblah - Apr 19, 2014 at 7:34 AM

      Don’t forget to give credit to Moses, either. He knew he could have made it home on that bad throw from Wacha past 3rd, but that would have spoiled his streak. No problem. Thrown out at home on the next AB, keeping alive a perfect record, thus far this year.

      What is the record, anyway?

      • Brookstoor - Apr 19, 2014 at 7:49 AM

        What record/streak are you talking about? I was also a little surprised he didn’t break for home there but keep in mind he had already blasted his ankle with a foul ball. Plus he got thrown at at home already this season and we all crapped on him and the 3rd base coach for that.

      • laddieblahblah - Apr 19, 2014 at 8:04 AM

        Brookstar, you woke up this morning, but your sense of humor is still asleep.

      • Brookstoor - Apr 19, 2014 at 9:04 AM

        Haha well I knew you were making a joke or referencing something else. I was sort of asking what that something else was while also commenting on the game action at hand. Besides my sense of humor doesn’t wake up until the afternoon.

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