Something struck me last night during the game. Not a bat or a ball, but a thought. And it resonated back to something Mike Rizzo kept saying over and over again on draft day, and something that Manny Acta has implied -- but has never outright said -- during the myriad press conferences, loss after agonizing loss.
Between getting perturbed at all the fans that usually wear Nats gear that were all decked out in their Red Sox finest last night, I watched the Nats and the Sox, not so much during play, because there the difference was obvious.
Boston plays with a "crispness", always attacking the ball, whether they are at bat or in the field or running the bases. The Nats are very reactionary, letting the play come to them. They have the game dictated to them instead of the other way around.
But beside the action on the field, there was the way both teams conducted their business; the difference between the two was remarkable. And it was quite noticeable in something as simple as tossing the ball around the infield after an out was made.
The Nats, as customary in baseball, toss the ball to the shortstop, who throws to the second baseman and then to the third baseman, who returns the ball to the pitcher. This practice is to allow the fielders that throw the most to keep their arms limber between plays.
But the way the Nats go about it, it's a lob, or a shuffle, or flip. There's no "crispness" to the exercise. Cristian Guzman lobbed the ball to Anderson Hernandez, who would shot-put the ball over to Ryan Zimmerman. And Zim would flip the ball back to the pitcher. They aren't practicing anything but a routine. It was mechanical and useless.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, were determined in the throws they made between outs. Nick Green would fire the ball to Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia would send a rocket to Mike Lowell. And Lowell purposefully delivered the ball to the pitcher. They were practicing throwing the ball as they would have been making a play.
Now, you might wonder what all this has to do with the implosion of the bullpen in the eighth inning. Nothing really. But that's simply a lack of talent. What I'm talking about is the difference between effort and intensity.
Back to Rizzo and Acta. Acta talks all the time about how his team works hard and expends energy and puts effort into their jobs. But there is a BIG difference between making effort and being intense. And for the most part, the Nats lack an intensity that the Red Sox obviously carry.
Sure, there are a couple of players that seem to have that intensity. Willie Harris prepared to field his position in center field during a intentional walk while others stood there, legs crossed, waiting for the at bat to finish.
But for the rest, where does blame lie? Was the intensity there at the beginning of the season before the losses started piling up? Do you fault the manager, who himself is very intense privately but remains stoic in public?
Should we fault the organization, for previously relying on "tools" more than "make-up"? How about the players themselves? Shouldn't being a big league player be about more than going through the motions?
And that's where it ties into Rizzo. The "acting" GM went out of his way during the draft to acquire players that he described as "character" guys, or guys with good "make-up". The whole point of the draft to him was to pick players that, all things being equal (and in some cases not quite equal), were of high character, at least in his judgment.
This implies that, in his opinion, the team does not have enough of those types of players.
So watch tonight the difference between the Nats and the Sox: not during play, but between play. Watch them warm-up between innings. Watch them in the on-deck circle. Watch batting practice, not for the tape-measure shots, but the intensity in the cage.
The difference is startling.