Sep 4, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
Ample time has now passed since the Nationals wrapped up their 8-5, 14-inning win in Los Angeles yesterday evening, enough time to process everything that happened during the longest game in club history (5 hours, 34 minutes). And the primary takeaway continues to be this notion: That was simply an epic baseball game, no matter how it ended.
It would’ve been an epic game had it been played in mid-May by a couple of struggling teams. That it was played in September by the top two teams in the National League — two teams that very well might see each other again sometime in October — only adds to its significance.
Given how much transpired, and how many times the storyline changed over the final, oh, 2 1/2 hours, it’s worth revisiting several key aspects of this remarkable ballgame.
— Adam LaRoche carried the Nats on his wounded back. There’s no two ways about this. LaRoche’s performance and effort yesterday were phenomenal given the situation. Out of the starting lineup for the second straight day due to a lingering back injury that had left him 1-for-23 on the road trip, he came up to pinch-hit for Tyler Moore in the top of the ninth and with the Nationals trailing by 2 runs. At which point he proceeded to launch the game-tying homer off Kenley Jansen. That would’ve been enough, but LaRoche was just getting started. He was hit by a pitch on his elbow in the top of the 11th, left writhing in pain. He singled home two more runs in the top of the 12th, giving the Nats a lead they would not hold. And then came his best effort of them all in the top of the 14th, when he had no choice but bust down the line to beat out a potential inning-ending double play, his hustle allowing Ian Desmond to score what proved to be the winning run. You can only imagine how LaRoche’s back felt at that moment; it couldn’t have been pleasant. But the soon-to-be 35-year-old sacrificed his body for his team, and it was well worth it. That gave LaRoche five RBI on the day, a remarkable (and record-tying) achievement considering he wasn’t even in the starting lineup. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is only the second player since 1961 to enter a game in the ninth inning or later and drive in five runs, along with the Orioles’ Harold Baines in 1999. Mighty impressive.
— Bryce Harper is on a tear at the plate, and he’s not about to slow down. LaRoche got all the attention postgame, but much of what he did wouldn’t have been possible without the guy hitting directly in front of him in the lineup. Harper had a big day at the plate, going 3-for-6 with a walk and setting the stage for LaRoche. He opened the top of the ninth with a single off Jansen. He singled with two men on in the top of the 12th, putting LaRoche in position to deliver another of his big hits. And he showed patience to draw a walk in the 14th that advanced Desmond to second (putting him in position to take third on a pitch in the dirt and ultimately score on LaRoche’s grounder). How good has Harper been lately? Over his last 22 games, he is now hitting .329 with a .371 on-base percentage, seven homers and .968 OPS. More than that, he is playing with supreme confidence, the kind of stuff we haven’t seen from him since April 2013. And there’s no reason to believe he won’t keep this up the rest of the way (provided, of course, he stays healthy).
— Xavier Cedeno, Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins all came up huge in relief. Any one of those three relievers easily could have given up the game-winning hit. Each faced a bases-loaded jam in extra innings, but each escaped the jam not by luck but with brilliant pitches. Cedeno entered with one out and the bases juiced in the bottom of the 10th, then proceeded to strike out Adrian Gonzalez on a fantastic, 1-2 slider. Barrett immediately followed and struck out Juan Uribe with a high-and-tight fastball. And one inning later, Blevins got out of his own, self-made, bases-loaded jam by getting Drew Butera to pop out and Dee Gordon to whiff at a curveball down in the zone. For Cedeno and Barrett, this was perhaps the first of several opportunities to prove they deserve a spot in a potential postseason bullpen. And for Blevins, this was an opportunity to deliver a big performance in a big spot near the end of a frustrating season. All three displayed — as the late, great, Gorilla Monsoon would’ve called it — “intestinal fortitude” to come up huge in those situations.
— Matt Williams managed a very good game. Aided in part by an expanded September roster, Williams nonetheless pushed all the right buttons to help make this win possible. He was willing to set up advantageous matchups late thanks to mid-inning pitching changes. He managed to have Tyler Clippard available for a save situation in the 12th (even if Clippard wound up blowing the save). He had two fresh arms available late in case the game kept going in Blake Treinen and Ross Detwiler. He wound up using a club record 26 players (10 of them pitchers) to pull this one off, and he deserves credit for it.
— The Nats just beat two very good teams on the road in September. There seems to be a perception that the Nationals can’t beat good teams. Perhaps this has to do with their longstanding struggles against the Braves and Cardinals, but it’s not particularly accurate. They just took two of three from the Dodgers on the road and went 4-2 against L.A. for the season (the two losses were to Clayton Kershaw). They also took two of three in Seattle against a playoff contender. And get this: They’re now 15-11 this season against the four other NL clubs currently in position to make the postseason (the Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers and Giants).
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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