August 20, 2014

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 5 Review: Four-run ninth seals Nats fate in series ending 9-7 loss to Cardinals

How long does it take for unbridled joy and optimism to dissolve into utter disbelief and then despair? A half inning, apparently.

A stunning four-run ninth inning by the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals turned a raucous Nats Park into a mausoleum as quickly as that as the Cardinals came back from two runs down and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a period of three outs, beating the Washington Nationals 9-7 and winning the best-of-five series, three games to two, to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Nats closer Drew Storen, on the mound for that fateful top of the ninth inning with a two-run lead, got two outs while allowing a runner to reach third base. After that, he threw five pitches when the Cardinals were down to their last strike before elimination. The Cardinals swung at none of those five pitches, taking them all for balls, as Storen first walked Yadier Molina after having him 2-2, then David Freese, whom he had at 1-2. Then, as they had done all series long, the bottom two hitters in the Cardinals order — Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma — did the Nats in. [Read more...]

Frank Howard throws out ceremonial first pitch

Frank (“Hondo”) Howard, the former Washington Senators/Texas Rangers slugger, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Washington Nationals Third Baseman Ryan Zimmerman before the NLDS Game Four against St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, October 11, 2012.

Frank Howard threw out the ceremonial first pitch – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Frank Howard threw out the ceremonial first pitch – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman caught the ball from Frank Howard’s ceremonial first pitch – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Frank Howard chats with Nats Manager Davey Johnson before throwing out ceremonial first pitch – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman and Frank Howard catching up – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Cheryl Nichols is a Columnist and Photographer for District Sports Page. She is credentialed to cover the Washington Capitals and has reported on the community service and fan events for Nats News Network and Caps News Network since 2006. Cheryl is an accomplished action photographer and has been published in The Washington Post and many other local media. She was a credentialed photographer for the 2010 season covering the Washington Nationals. You can follow her on Twitter @cnichols14.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 4 Review: Werth’s walk-off homer beats Cardinals 2-1; forces Game 5

“That’s the way that game should have ended.” Nats manager Davey Johnson

“That was loud as I’ve ever heard a place.” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright

Jayson Werth leaps into Nats teammates awaiting his arrival at home plate after walk-off home run – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jayson Werth saw everything that Lance Lynn had. For 12 pitches, he fought off pitch after pitch. Werth looked at a curveball — on pitch 11 — that didn’t miss by much for a ball to run the count full. After one more foul ball, Lynn — an 18-game winner and All-Star starter for the St. Louis Cardinals this season — left one a little too far over the plate. Werth put a perfect swing on the 96-MPH offering and delivered it to the back of the Cards bullpen in left center, giving the Washington Nationals a 2-1 victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series and forcing Game 5, to be played Friday night at Nats Park at 8:37 pm.

You want excitement? Try watching this.

“[Lynn]‘s tough,” Werth said after. “We’ve faced him a lot over September and in the series. So I knew what he had. But I think he threw a hook, 2-2, to get to 3-2, and I figured from there I wasn’t going to get off the heater.  Fouled a couple more off and finally got one to hit.”

So how big was this one in Werth’s personal collection? “You know,” he replied,”I can’t even remember any of the other ones right now. This one’s pretty fresh. This is, given the situation, definitely pretty big.”

“He’s a remarkable guy,” Nats skipper Davey Johnson said of Werth. “He can force a pitcher to throw a lot of pitches, and he did that time.”

Werth’s heroics would not have been possible without the performance of Ross Detwiler and a trio of hard-throwing relievers — including Jordan Zimmermann, making the first relief appearance of his young career.

Detwiler, the Nationals nominal fifth starter and pitcher most commonly referred to as “replacing” ace Stephen Strasburg in the Nats playoff rotation, was simply brilliant. He did not have gaudy strikeout numbers (he only fanned three), but he limited the Cardinals offense to three hits and three walks over six strong innings. The only run the Cardinals pushed across came via one of those walks (to No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma), an error on a ground ball to Ian Desmond, and a sacrifice fly.

Other than that, Detwiler kept the ball out of the middle of the plate and Cardinals hitters off base.

“I tell you,” Johnson said, “I was proud of him. He pitched. He didn’t start the game overthrowing. He pitched.”

“He was outstanding. Unbelievable. Won the game for us.”

Nats starting pitcher Ross Detwiler starts delivery with his high kick – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

After Detwiler departed, Johnson called first on Zimmermann, who was roughed up in Game 2. On his normal day to throw a side session, Zimmermann was sent to the pen in case Detwiler struggled early. But with Detwiler’s strong performance, Zimmermann then became a weapon the veteran manager could employ strategically instead of out of necessity.

“He came in, and I mean, he was hyped,” Johnson said of his starter-turned-reliever. “That’s the hardest I’ve seen him throw all year.”

Zimmermann channelled that energy — and probably a little left over frustration from Monday’s pounding — to strike out the side in the seventh inning, hitting 97 MPH on the radar at times. “I mean, his slider was like 91, and he just — some guys in our club said, ‘That’s our next closer.’ I said, ‘No way.’”

After that, Tyler Clippard — he of the 32 saves this season — came on and struck out the side as well in the eighth. Drew Storen struck out the first two in the top of the ninth, to make eight straight outs via strikeout, before he popped up Matt Carpenter to end the inning, setting the stage for the biggest at bat in a season full of them.

THE TAKEAWAY: Now THAT was playoff baseball. Good pitching. Tension. A walk-off winner. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s good for the soul. Some are already calling Werth’s homer the greatest sports moment in the city in recent memory. While I think that sells short a lot of moments the Caps have had in the Ovechkin era (Winter Classic, the Fedorov winner just to name two off the top of my head), it was way up there and the park just exploded as soon as the ball left the bat.

The crowds have been tremendous the last two games. Loud, involved, appreciative, standing-room only, red. Most folks stood for every two-strike count. They stood for the entirety of the Nats at bats in the eighth and ninth. It’s just great to see the Nats Park crowd look — and feel — like a playoff crowd in a baseball city.

Werth said it best: “You know, our fans have been great. They have been showing up in record numbers. When I signed here, my first day here, I went to a Capitals game, which the place was packed. Somebody said, ‘Just a few short years ago [Verizon Center] was empty.’ So I knew that a winning ballclub would bring the fans. Here we are, two years later and they’re showing up and it’s awesome.”

THE GOOD: Adam LaRoche. His solo home run was all the Nats offense could muster up until Werth’s heroics.

THE BAD: Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa. Both batters are struggling terribly. Both went 0-for-3 last night.Harper’s hitting .056 in the series and Espinosa is .083.

THE UGLY: Jim Joyce’s strike zone. In a word — terrible. He was bad for both teams. It seemed like every time there was a called strike it was wrong, at least according to the broadcast pitch-track. Matt Holliday was called out on strikes against Clippard in the eighth on three pitches, all called strikes, none of which were in the pitch-track box. Holliday slumped on strike three, and laughed as he went back to the dugout.

THE STATS: 3 hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks. 0-for-0 with RISP, 2 LOB, 1 GIDP (Morse). E: Desmond (1), no DPs.

FIRST PITCH: Frank Howard threw out the ceremonial first pitch. [Photos]

NEXT GAME: Game 5 Friday night at 8:30 pm at Nats Park against the Cardinals. Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89; 0-0, 3.60) hosts Adam Wainright (14-13, 3.94; 0-1, 1.59).

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Jayson Werth walk-off homer forces Game 5 of NLDS

After a 13-pitch at bat in the bottom of the ninth, Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, crushed a 3-2 pitch into the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen, delivering a 2-1 win and forcing a Game 5 in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

“He’s a remarkable guy,” Nats skipper Davey Johnson said. “He can force a pitcher to throw a lot of pitches, and he did that time.”

“That’s the way that game should have ended.”

Ross Detwiler turned in the start of his career, allowing one unearned run on three hits and three walks over six innings, and Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen all pitched shutout innings in relief to keep the Nats in the game.

We’ll have much more soon at District Sports Page.

Nats gather at home plate to greet Jayson Werth after walk-off – NLDS Game 4: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 11, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Washington Nationals playoff hopes now ride on “The Other Guys”

Popular Internet meme, created by @JWerthsBeard and @jackobeam.

All season long, the Washington Nationals have boasted not only of the quality of their starting pitching, but of the depth as well. In Games 3 and 4 of the National League Division Series, they’ll get a chance to prove just that. With ace Stephen Strasburg available solely as a cheerleader and confidante in the playoffs, the Nats post-season success now lies in the right arm of Edwin Jackson and left arm of Ross Detwiler.

Both players have impressive enough pedigrees. Jackson has a no-hitter and World Series ring to his credit. Detwiler is a former No. 6 overall pick in the MLB draft. Both players have established themselves as key components in the Nats rotation this season. But both have also had enough trouble — especially lately and especially against today and Thursday’s opponents — that there is reason to be concerned about how they will react and perform against the St. Louis Cardinals, with the Nats hopes of advancing in the playoffs hinging on their performances.

“They’re quality pitchers,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said in Tuesday’s media availability. “Jackson’s got a lot of experience. He pitched a heck of a ballgame against the [Cardinals] one of the outings. He’s certainly up for it.”

As for Detwiler, Johnson said, “At times has gotten into the same mode [as Zimmermann], hard sinkers away. He’s got great offspeed stuff, and when he uses offspeed stuff, and when he uses both sides of the plate, he’s tough. I don’t care how good a hitting club you got. But this is part of the maturation process of this staff.”

This is a big start for Jackson, both in his responsibility to the Nationals and for his immediate and long-term future. He spurned a multi-year deal last off-season to sign with the Nats for just one year, with the very hope that a strong season and successful post-season appearance would earn the 29-year old a lucrative, multi-year deal that will set him up for the rest of his career. Jackson fulfilled the first part of the equation, going 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA, 1.218 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 2012. Wednesday’s start could complete his resume for his off-season pursuit of happiness.

In Tuesday’s media availability, Jackson stressed the simple things as the keys to his success in Game 3. “It’s all about throwing strikes and coming out and establishing that you’re going to throw strikes early in the game,” Jackson said. “And make them want to swing. Like I said, if you get behind in the count to these guys and let them get comfortable and they know you have to come across the plate, they’re going to do what they’re paid to do and they can hit the ball real well.”

Detwiler, the 2007 No. 6 overall selection in the MLB Amateur Draft, has finally started to live up to his pedigree. Stunted thus far in his career by injury and inconsistency, both due to an overly pronounced cross-body delivery, Detwiler has been proving critics wrong all season. He still has an unattractive delivery, but it is much smoother and consistent, allowing his heavy sinker to do much of the damage against opposing batters, allowing the 26-year old to put together an impressive 10-8 season with a 3.40 ERA and 1.223 WHIP.

It’s the biggest start of Detwiler’s young career, but in his media availability Wednesday before Game 3, he joked about how his last start against the Cardinals, a 2 1/3 inning appearance where he allowed seven runs (three earned) on four hits and five walks, was an example of “what not to do,” against a Cardinals team that has power and puts the ball in play, from the leadoff hitter down to the No. 8 spot.

Jackson and Detwiler have both had dominant appearances in 2012, but they also have had their share of disaster starts as well. The Nationals have exhibited confidence in both starters all season long. They’ve even banded together to form “The Other Guys”, a reference to how the two may have been overlooked this season with so much attention to the top three on the Nats staff, based on the Hollywood movie of the same name and a now a popular Internet meme.

But all the attention on Stephen Strasburg, 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t matter at all anymore. The Nats very playoff lives hinge on the performance of “The Other Guys” the next two days. Nats fans hope their performance matches the Nats organization’s confidence in the pair.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Washington Nationals set to play at 1:00 pm in Game 3 of NLDS

Multiple sources are reporting the Washington Nationals first home playoff game, Game 3 of the National League Division Series, is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:00 pm at Nationals Park. The game will be aired on MLB Network with Bob Costas and Jim Kaat on the call.

 

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 1 Review: Moore’s pinch-hit delivers Nats a 3-2 win

If someone told you a rookie outfielder would deliver the key hit in for the Washington Nationals in the top of the eighth inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, it probably wouldn’t come as that big of a surprise, considering the Nats have one of the most celebrated first-year players to ever play in the majors. But the hero in the Nats 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals probably isn’t the guy you would have thought of first.

No, it wasn’t Bryce Harper that delivered the key hit. It was Tyler Moore, one of several rookies that made the Nats post-season roster, who singled to right off Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski to drive in two in that pivotal at bat in the eighth inning to give the Nats a lead that eventually turned into a win to take a 1-0 series lead over the Cards.

This one wasn’t pretty. There were several defensive miscues. Both team stranded a ton of runners. Nats starter Gio Gonzalez walked seven batter. Yes, seven. But in the end, a Major League team from the District won their first playoff game since 1933.

The eighth inning rally started with Michael Morse’s hard hit grounder to short, which Pete Kozma misplayed into an error. Ian Desmond (3-for-4, run) singled, moving Morse over to third. Danny Espinosa, who had struck out three times to that point in the game, tried to bunt for a base hit and was out easily when his bunt dies about 10 feet in front of home plate, but Desmond did move up 90 feet. Kurt Suzuki struck out against righty Mitchell Boggs, bringing up the pitcher’s spot.

Nats manager Davey Johnson sent up lefty Chad Tracy to hit in the spot, so Cards manager Mike Matheny called upon his left-handed specialist, Rzepczynski. Johnson countered by pulling Tracy and instead inserting Moore into the key situation in the game. Moore got into a 2-2 count, then flared a 93-MPH fastball ont he outside corner into right field, scoring both Morse and Desmond, who’d gotten a terrific jump on the ball.

That left the Nats needing to record just six outs to notch the win. Tyler Clippard, who struggled down the stretch and eventually lost the closer’s role, did his job, allowing just one base runner, who reached on a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error. Drew Storen pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record the first playoff save of his career and allowed the Nats to earn no worse than a split in St. Louis.

But this was a nailbiter all the way. With the Cardinals nursing a 2-1 lead much of the game, every inning saw a key play or decision that might have swayed the outcome. In the sixth with a runner on, Cards second baseman Daniel Descalso lofted a fly ball to the right field wall, but Jayson Werth leapt at the last and caught the potential homer with the heel of his glove, keeping the score at 2-1.

In the following frame, the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs against Craig Stammen, pitching his second inning of work. Johnson asked for his other right-handed middle man, Ryan Mattheus, and the unheralded reliever threw two pitches — and recorded three outs. Mattheus coaxed a grounder to short from cleanup hitter Allen Craig, and Desmond calmly threw home to force the runner at the plate. His next pitch was grounded to Zimmerman at third by Yadier Molina and Zim started a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat.

Gio Gonzalez did not have the playoff debut he would have hoped for. The 21-game winning lefty fought his control all game, walking seven in five innings. Of his 110 pitches, only 59 were strikes. But with as many runners as he gave the Cardinals, they never could come up with the big hit to bust things open, only reaching Gonzalez for one hit in his erratic performance.

THE TAKEAWAY: It was absolutely imperative the Nats earn a split on the road in St. Louis and they were able to do just that right away in Game 1. In the ludicrous situation the Nats find themselves — having won the N.L. East, earning the league’s best record along the way, and being forced to play the first two games of the series on the road — they needed to split to make what little homefield advantage they’ve been given in this series worth something. The Cards, down 0-1 now, are really behind the eight ball having to with three of the next four games, with the last three coming in D.C.

And kudos to Davey Johnson, sticking to his guns by using Moore in a big pinch-hitting spot interchangeably with Chad Tracy. In fact, he could have been massaging the situation by going to Tracy in the first place, knowing Matheny would counter with a lesser pitcher for the presumably more favorable handedness matchup. It didn’t work though, as Davey used his whole roster, just as he did all season and just as he said he would continue to do in the playoffs.

THE GOOD: Desmond, Moore, Mattheus, Clippard and Storen all played the hero today. Add in Suzuki for delivering the Nats first run on a tow-out hit in the second inning.

THE BAD: Jayson Werth. The home run saving catch was great, but Werth had a rough day at the plate, going 1-for-5 and leaving the bases loaded twice. He stranded seven runners in total.

THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa. He’s been in the doghouse quite a bit lately, and his performance in Game 1 won’t do anything to get him out of there. Officially, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a sacrifice bunt, stranding four runners. Twice he came up with a runner on third and one out and couldn’t make contact to bring in that run. In his last at bat, with runners on the corners, he swung through strike one and then bunted on strike two, getting thrown out in the process. Replays showed Michael Morse wasn’t coming on a squeeze play, so either someone missed a sign or Espinosa was trying to bunt for a base hit. Not a good play, either way.

THE STATS: 8 hits, 4 BBs, 13 Ks. 2-for-9 with RISP, 10 LOB, no GIDPs. E: LaRoche (1), Zimmerman (1), 2 DPs.

NEXT GAME: Monday at 4:30 pm in St. Louis. Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94) faces lefty Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92).

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

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