WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 14: Drew Storen #22 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on June 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Top of the ninth. 8-6 Nationals. Nats' closer Drew Storen does the only thing he doesn't want to do, let a runner on so he'll have to face Albert Pujols with the lead on the line. Pujols already homered once early in the game on a line drive to left-center off Nats' starter Yunesky Maya. Cards' shortstop Ryan Theriot, in the midst of a rough night in the field, patiently takes a six-pitch walk with one down. Unless Storen can turn a double pla--stolen base. Theriot takes second on what's officially called "Defensive Indifference." Colby Rasmus goes down 0-2 quickly and eventually flies out to Laynce Nix in left. Two down. Storen vs Pujols. Closer vs Cleanup Man. Not going to happen...Washington Nationals' manager Jim Riggleman tells his 23-year-old closer to walk the Cards' slugger. Lance Berkman, who'd homered off Maya earlier in the game as well, stroking a line drive out to right, swings through a 95 mph sinker for strike one, and then grounds back to the mound. Ballgame. The Nats' manager was asked this afternoon, in an appearance on ESPN 980's the Sports Reporters with Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan, to walk the hosts through his thinking in walking Pujols to put the tying run on and bring the winning run up and explain why he thought it would work:
Jim Riggleman: "I wasn't sure. It's just I felt that was the thing to do. Berkman's a great player, and he certainly could have made that look like a bad decision, and that decision may come up again tonight, I may do it the same way and I may get burned. But, there are certain guys you go into a series against and you say, you know what this guy can't hurt us, we cannot let this guy beat us in a crucial time in the game. Even first base being open was not even the issue. If first base was occupied, I was still gonna walk Albert and put the tying run on first, then pitch to Berkman. A lot of things go into it, one of things is that, Albert being the tying run, we were gonna play so deep in the outfield on Berkman that unless he hit a homer, no double was going to score Pujols. So, we could get the ball back in and the next hitter, [Yadier] Molina would have to beat us. But, it's just one of those one, last night it worked out, it's not always going to work out, but I just really don't want Albert to beat us."
Riggleman went on to say that he might have even considered walking Pujols if the bases were loaded when he came up in a tie game, if he didn't think it was "getting into your pitcher's head a little bit," or could affect their confidence. Asked about Storen's reaction to being asked to walk Pujols, the Nats' skipper said, "When it was going on, I could [Storen] was a little upset, that's why I sent [Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty out there to tell him how to pitch to Berkman and so forth, and after the game I went to him, I said, 'I know you wanted to pitch to [Pujols], but you know what, you got refocused...' and he says, 'No, no, you know what, it was more about I'm just not really comfortable with Berkman,' so he just was a little concerned about pitching to Berkman, and that's why with McCatty out there to say, 'Look, here's what I want you to start him with, here's what I want you to finish him with, he handled it very well."
Rather than let Albert Pujols beat the Nats, the Nationals' Skipper went with what he felt was the best play, unconcerned about putting the tying run on and confident in his players' ability to get the final out and preserve the lead one way or another. Riggleman forced Berkman to tie it up (or give St. Louis the lead if he'd homered) in the top of the frame and was willing to make the Cards' catcher drive in the winning run, but not Pujols. The Nats responded, and last night at least, it worked in Washington's favor. Were you confident in the ninth last night, with two runners on and Berkman coming up that Riggleman had made the right decision? Were you sure Storen would get it done? After the way Washington fought back, did you think there's no way they lose this one, or were you watching to see how they'd blow it?
How confident are you in the Nationals' manager's decision-making abilities and how confident are you in the Nationals' themselves as they once again proved that they never quit? Express your confidence either through a vote or a comment below...