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Nats grind their way to walk-off victory

Apr 20, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT

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As Denard Span stepped to the plate late Sunday afternoon, bases full of teammates and the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, he paused for a moment to examine the Cardinals’ unusual-looking infield alignment.

“I counted,” he said. “I’m saying: ‘One, two, three, four, five. … A groundball is probably not going to do it. Try to get the ball in the air somehow.'”

Span is a groundball hitter, always has been, but he knew anything on the grass or dirt could play right into St. Louis’ hands, sparking the double play manager Mike Matheny was seeking to send this game into extra innings.

So he battled, fouling off four straight pitches, taking another borderline pitch with two strikes, waiting all along for something he could elevate. And when that pitch from Seth Maness finally came, when Span lofted a lazy flyball to left field that scored Danny Espinosa without a throw, everyone inside Nationals Park could finally celebrate after a long and mostly frustrating afternoon ended in a 3-2 victory.

“Talk about those opportunities and giving ourselves that multiple times in a game … you like your chances, certainly,” manager Matt Williams said. “Especially against a good team like that, we want to create those. I don’t know how many guys we had on base today, but it felt like a lot.”

The number, in case anyone else lost track, was 20. The Nationals put 20 men on base in 8 1/3 innings against a tough Cardinals pitching staff. But until the bottom-of-the-ninth rally, they had scored only two of them, stranding 15.

All along, though, the Nationals felt like they were putting good at-bats together, had a good approach against some really difficult pitchers, especially the left-handers Matheny summoned late to face the likes of Span and Bryce Harper.

That approach finally paid off in the bottom of the seventh, when four consecutive singles from Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Espinosa off flamethrower Carlos Martinez brought home two runs to tie a ballgame they had trailed most of the day.

“We’ve got the ability to come back,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “We’ve showed it. We’ve put some good at-bats on some tough pitchers. They’ve got some guys in their ‘pen that throw hard. I’m happy with today. I’m happy with the series. To get a split there, after the way we played a couple games, it was good.”

Indeed, Thursday night’s slopfest of an 8-0 loss — which prompted Williams to hold his first-ever postgame team meeting — was an afterthought by the end of a four-game series that saw the Nationals beat the defending NL champs twice.

“St. Louis is, if not the best, one of the best teams in the league,” said Bryce Harper, who rebounded from Saturday’s benching with a hit, a walk and a stolen base. “It’s fun to be able to play against guys like that and just battle and try to win ballgames. We were lucky enough to split.”

It took one final rally in the ninth to ensure that series split. It was ignited by Espinosa’s third hit of the afternoon, then catcher Jose Lobaton’s third single of the game. Pinch-hitter Nate McLouth, sporting an .074 batting average, battled his way through a tough at-bat to draw a walk and load the bases, leaving the game on Span’s shoulders.

First, though, Matheny decided to rearrange his defense. Allen Craig moved in from left field to play third base, with Matt Carpenter shifting to an extra infield spot right behind the pitcher. The two remaining outfielders then swapped spots, with stronger-armed Peter Bourjos taking right-center field and Jon Jay taking left-center.

Span’s flyball wasn’t particularly deep, but it was deep enough to force Jay to backtrack just a bit, leaving the left-handed outfielder in a poor position to even attempt a throw to the plate. Espinosa scored easily, and the rest of the Nationals dugout mobbed Span near first base following their first walk-off win of the year.

Barely 24 hours after being activated off MLB’s concussion DL, Span admittedly worried for a second about too much roughhousing from his teammates. Then again, you don’t get these opportunities every day, so he wasn’t about to turn into a party-pooper.

“I was screaming so loud. I was so into the moment,” he said. “At the same time, I’m thinking: ‘Don’t hit me upside the head too hard! I just came off the DL!’ In that moment, it’s the adrenaline and just the excitement. I was in the moment, having fun.”

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:42 PM

    “cayucosbaseballconservancy – Apr 20, 2014 at 7:27 PM

    He’s likely to be the next shortstop given that Desmond eschewed the long-term deal over the offseason. And Desmond appears to be swinging at everything that moves this season as well …”

    I thought I would copy this here for great comic relief. Any time Espi has a good game, Peric pops up.

    • nats128 - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:58 PM

      Ian Desmond is signed thru 2015. Are we going to start a debate on Desi’s sucessor the first month of 2014 because Espinosa got some big hits?

      • nats1924 - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:20 PM

        no, its def it early to start thinking of Desi’s replacement.

        I do agree tho, I think its a real good possibly that Desi or JZim get dealt if they dont get extended. Its an absolute must so we can get something in return.

        Go Nats!

      • nats128 - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:27 PM

        I agree with that and the Nats have pitching which would make sense to deal JZ if he isnt extended. I also believe Desi will be extended. Hes going to get a $100 million deal.

      • nats1924 - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:44 PM

        I like Desi — But if he continues to hit like this, do you really want to give him that $100M type deal?

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:00 PM

        I’m hoping that both Desi and Jordan are signed long term…

        The only way id be okay with letting JZimm walk were if we were to get a dominant LHP and then move Roark in the starting spot (don’t think Taylor Jordan is ready yet)

        Desi is an aggressive hitter/batter… Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t… Bunt his defense shouldn’t be over looked… Yes he wasn’t as sharp this series but we know what Desi can do…

  2. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:46 PM

    No Bryce, they are lucky they got the split… We should have won the game Saturday night…

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:54 PM

      “nats128 – Apr 20, 2014 at 7:04 PM
      Just got home. What a game!

      11 hits, 7 walks, 1 HBP and 1 runner reached on an error for a total of 20 baserunners of which 17 were Left-on-Base. Team RISP: 2-for-12.

      The only way you win a game like this is great pitching and fielding which the Nats got.”

      If you mean batting .167 with RISP, then yes you would think a team who didn’t hit any HRs would have a hard time winning and like you said the Nats pitching really was good.

      I didn’t think the Nats fielding was great today but it was better than the Cardinals and good enough to hold the Cardinals to 2 runs.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:58 PM

        Pitching was huge today… SS was taken out for scoring purposes of course but he did exceptionally well today… And so did the BP…

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:08 PM

        I also hope those who have complained about Strasburg’s velo are happy. He averaged 95.7 on his 4 seamer and had a max 97.4 mph in the game.

        By the way, Strasburg threw zero sliders. Did anyone find out why?

      • unkyd59 - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:13 PM

        Didn’t see today, Ghost, but it doesn’t seem like he needed it… Prolly could’ve buckled some knees, if he need to dagger somebody… Especially if their scouts had them looking for it, all day. A side benefit of expanding the arsenal… Keep’em guessing?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:22 PM

        Stras did pitch well and probably had some opps to throw the slider. My enquiring mind wants to know why!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:39 PM

        Interesting, Kilgore 15 minutes ago entitled “Slider-free Stephen Strasburg strikes out nine”. He has a quote from Strasburg “I felt good with my other stuff today”.

    • npb99 - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:43 PM

      They (the Cardinals?) were lucky? They trashed the Nats in Game 1, and led the series 2-1 before the last game.

  3. unkyd59 - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:47 PM

    :)

  4. sjberke - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    If the Nats can sweep the Angels (not easy but not impossible, since neither Trout nor Pujols can pitch) they will be 14-8. In 2012 the season didn’t start until April 5; at the end of the month the Nats has played 22 games and they were–14-8.

    • unkyd59 - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:32 PM

      I’m through with expecting to sweep even the bad teams! Let’s just win as many of these series as we can, and the sweeps will be pleasant surprises…

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:54 PM

      Let’s focus on winning the series first… :-)

      • NatsLady - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:01 AM

        Let’s focus on winning Roark’s game first.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:19 PM

    Shelby Miller was handed a net of 8 strikes today called incorrectly. That is a poor strikezone as that was 8% of his pitches.

    In comparison, Strasburg had a net of 3 strikes given to him. That was 3% of his pitches called incorrectly.

    The disparity continues.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:53 PM

      It was amazing the judgement by the blue today…. Did you see the many times he hesitated… But I didn’t complain too much becuz he was inconsistent with both…

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:59 PM

        He was inconsistent with both but the disparity is enormous at almost 5% between them as that’s the largest divide this season.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:03 PM

        Well you know the adage/game… (And no IM not saying it was right)

        SS was attacking the SZ… And throwing strikes most of the afternoon… It was like the blue was looking for them with Miller..

        Again, not saying it was right.. But we’ve seen it happen to and for the Nats…

      • Steady Eddie - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        No, to echo Steve, I’ve never seen a significant disproportion of gift strike calls like that go in favor of the Nats. A relatively even split, sure, but it wasn’t even as if this was Wainwright or even Wacha, who the umps will mostly give marginal calls to because they expect them to be dominant.

        Even with the 8 gift strikes, Miller still threw balls for 42 out of his 99 pitches. That means if it had all been called correctly, he would have thrown more balls than strikes. The guy was called for five walks in 5.1 innings as it was — he had a lot of trouble finding the zone at times.

        No excuse for umping that bad under those circumstances.

      • veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:22 PM

        He was high, low, inside, outside, squeezed some, but all in all absolutely inconsistent.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:44 PM

        I made the comment in-game that Miller hasn’t been a good pitcher this year. He looked good today with help from the ump in some key at-bats and the Nats were .000 with RISP against him. His 1.69 WHIP is not good nor is 5 walks in 5 1/3 innings. A few of those 7 K’s were gifts.

        Normally in a game a 2% disparity between pitchers is something you can live with but 5% disparity is awful.

      • thelatencn - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:46 PM

        We should go to electronic calling of balls and strikes.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:54 PM

        “thelatencn – Apr 20, 2014 at 9:46 PM
        We should go to electronic calling of balls and strikes.”

        No, but I think if the umpire forfeits his chance to be a homeplate ump during any more Nats games this year. Where is the accountibility? 2 different strike zones working today. That stinks.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:04 PM

        I hope we don’t go to an electronic way of calling K/balls… But something does have to give.. I mean we’ve seen this countless times… 1 time getting the benefit of the doubt and the other getting screwed (more times it’s the Nats like that)

        But blues need to be held to a higher level of standards…

  6. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    Boz with a nice article on the Harper situation and while many have their opinions on it, I think after reading Boz I’m firmly in right move and move forward.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/bryce-harper-needed-a-reality-check-and-matt-williams-gave-it-to-him-with-benching/2014/04/20/4d207b18-c8ce-11e3-93eb-6c0037dde2ad_story.html

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:12 PM

      I thought it was a good move by MW… Didnt comment yesterday as I knew it was blown out of proportion… People pay to see BH, he needs to give it his all regardless if it’s a routine play or the opposite…

      But water under the bridge now…

    • Sonny G 10 - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:43 PM

      Good article by Boz. Thanks for posting the link, Ghost.

  7. Drew - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    The Nats’ organizational depth is an important factor in their resilience.

    Consider that of the 30 players who have suited up for Syracuse this year, a remarkable 21 have played in the major leagues.

    1. Solano
    2. Walters
    3. Souza
    4. Burriss
    5. Brandon Laird
    6. Perez
    7. Peterson
    8. Komatsu
    9. Moore
    10. Kobernus
    11. Daniel Stange
    12. Garcia
    13. Roenicke
    14. Delcarmen
    15. Tyler Robertson
    16. Mattheus
    17. Madrigal
    18. Laffey
    19. Treinen
    20. Cedeno
    21. Barrett

    Goodwin — who is up to a .300 average with .444 on base percentage and .800 OPS — is learning from a lot of guys who know what it takes to be a big leaguer.

    • veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:21 PM

      Is Goodwin back in the drivers seat to being Span’s successor?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:48 PM

        Yes, if Goodwin can take walks, then he will be doing what Rizzo wants him to do. Goodwin has had an identity crisis thinking at times he’s a power hitter and carrying a high K rate when Rizzo wants him to be a high OBP guy first and foremost.

        Still a small sample size but that’s encouraging news!

    • Doc - Apr 20, 2014 at 11:05 PM

      Correctomundo Drew!

      Goodwin definitely has a chance to bring his game up.

      Hope he keeps it up. He’d look good in CF for us.

  8. knoxvillenat - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:49 PM

    Didn’t see it on Mark’s Instant Analysis or here either but let me give a little love to Craig Stammen for his inning of relief in the seventh today. Bridged the gap between SS and Blevins in the eighth very efficiently.

    • Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:27 AM

      +1

    • NatsNut - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:20 AM

      Like!

  9. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    Alex Gonzalez was released… Wasn’t he apart of the Fister trade? Or Lombo?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:19 PM

      Indirectly. Lombo was in the Fister deal then the Orioles traded Gonzalez for Lombo.

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    Lombo up with game on the line on ESPN

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:21 PM

      Failed to score runner from 3rd with 1 out.

      BTW, in the game that transfer rule about the ball drop cost the Orioles badly in a botched doubleplay.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:26 PM

        Forgot that game was on… Was watching the wizards playoff game…

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:34 PM

        Me too. Now back to watch to the Red Sox game. This is high drama in a tied 9th inning.

  11. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:30 PM

    Wow…. That’s a Hr!?!?!?!

  12. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:39 PM

    Ouch O’Day… I’m hurting for Napoli…

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:41 PM

      These guys are warriors. How do you stay in after that.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:42 PM

        You got that right… I would be on a stretcher somewhere… Lol

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:43 PM

        Now that is a bizarre walk-off. Did Pedroia touch 3rd again?

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:44 PM

        I thought he went back… And then came off again and waited… And when he saw the ball was lost then he ran…

        He did the right thing…

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:45 PM

        He did in fact get back to 3rd. They said it wasn’t reviewable anyway.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:41 PM

      Napoli staying in??? No PR, interesting…

  13. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    Wow… What an ending…

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:45 PM

      Something you don’t see every day.

    • dcwx61 - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:55 PM

      Mad Men ?

  14. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:43 PM

    What’s there to challenge????

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:47 PM

      Buck is such a *****. There was nothing to challenge. Orioles choked a big lead and lost.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:49 PM

        I’ve never been an O’s fan… Even when DC didnt have a team… Did like Cal R but that was about it..

        Never been a Buck fan… Think he is a pompous jerk…

        With that said, I’m trying to understand why Schopes didnt catch the cut off throw?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:58 PM

        I agree on Buck.

        Not sure why that throw wasn’t cut off.

        I was an O’s fan after the Senators left but lost interest in them until Cal Ripken but when Angelos fired Jon Miller and Davey Johnson and meddled in everything, I was done with the O’s. Now I have to say I hate them with the way they I believe they are cheating the Nats on the MASN deal. I also hear they are advertising on billboards inside the Washington Beltway. Is that true?

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 11:05 PM

        I can’t even talk a out the TV deal…

        Yep, it’s true… I guess Peter feels DC is still his market…

  15. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    How does no on make mention of the yanks losing 16-1…

    • NatsNut - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:22 AM

      Yawn
      ;)

  16. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 11:00 PM

    Pirates pitcher was absolutely wrong in the brawl… He doesn’t want CarGo to admire his own hit, don’t serve him a damn meatball for him to admire….

    Dumb

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      Thanks for the link. The audio was great. Eff Angelos!

      I hope the billboard gets doused in a dozen eggs!

  17. NatsLady - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    Didn’t see anything last night. Got home and went, literally, straight to sleep. Man, that game was EXHAUSTING. And I’m just a fan.

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ATLANTA 75 75 11.5
MIAMI 73 76 13.0
NEW YORK 72 79 15.0
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TUE: Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.
THU: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
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SAT: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
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