Baseball is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball…
Last evening and early this morning as they faced an elimination game, the Nats forgot how to throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball. And so – no surprise – their season ended.
Throw the ball. A simple task. Unless you are Gio Gonzalez and can’t throw a strike with the bases loaded. Unless you are Aaron Barrett, and can’t find your catcher on two consecutive tosses (including an intentional Ball 4). Unless you are Adam LaRoche and you throw home when no one is actually coming home.
Catch the ball. Another simple task. Unless you are Gio (there he is again), and you do your best Billy Buckner impersonation and can’t pick up a gift of a double play ball that dribbles through your legs. Unless you are Gio, Anthony Rendon, and Wilson Ramos who converge on a sacrifice bunt – a gift of an out – and no one catches the ball.
Hit the ball. A not so simple task, but something that professional baseball players are paid to do. Unless you are…oh, hell, unless you are everybody in the lineup not named Bryce Harper (and Anthony Rendon earlier in the series).
The Nats lost a series they should have won, because they didn’t do the basics while the San Francisco Giants did. Their by-the-book manager tempted the baseball gods in Game 2 and lost that bet, and then last night he stuck by “what we’ve done all year” and got beat in the 7th with less than our best pitchers on the mound. Ryan Zimmerman was 1 for 4 as a pinch hitter, but he stayed in the dugout the entire series instead of coming in for the totally ineffective LaRoche at first base. It was pretty clear by Game 2 that LaRoche was not swinging the bat, but Matt stayed with him throughout the series. The Nats got very good pitching from their starters, but a couple of brain-dead plays in Games 1 and 4 negated that effort. (See LaRoche and Gio.) However, Matt Williams’ pitching decisions were questionable from the beginning, as Gio became the 4th starter over Tanner Roark – in spite of a so-so year and Gio’s tendency to (how shall I say this delicately) get “excited and do stupid things” in the playoffs.
Three Nats showed the type of smarts and resiliency in this series that the entire team will need to find to win. Jordan Zimmermann deserved a much better fate in Game 2 than the horrible no-decision he received after 8 2/3s innings of lights-out pitching. Doug Fister demonstrated a professionalism in his task during Game 3 that other Nats pitchers (I’m looking at you Gio) can only dream about.
And Bryce Harper finally arrived. Last night he hit McCovey Cove after barely missing in Game 3, but more than that he had professional at-bats and played sparkling defense in left field. When he hits his 22nd birthday in a few weeks, Harper will be looking at the brightest of futures. Would anyone have taken Mike Trout’s 2014 postseason over Harper’s? I don’t think so.
In a couple of days I’ll write a post of appreciation to these guys for the great 2014 season they gave us. Right now – less than 4 hours after the stinging loss that means the party is over – I have to agree with Tom Boswell that it should be.
The quote from the movie Bull Durham that I mention at the top comes from Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, quoting Crash Davis. And the full quote goes like this:
A good friend of mine used to say, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Think about that for a while.
Last night and this morning, while it was raining here in Washington, the Nats lost a game and a season.
More to come…