They’ve won the National League East. God only knows what’s ahead. But we sure know what’s behind. One of the most interesting, historic, crazy-insane regular seasons you could imagine. Here now, IMHO, are the ten most significant or just plain weird moments of the 2012 Washington Nationals most excellent campaign. In chronological order and all in the written word:
Bryce Harper’s 1st Game in the Big Leagues, 4/28/2012, Los Angeles, California
The One, The Kid, the Run-Until-He’s-Tagged-Measure-Testing, Laser-Throwing, Eyeblack-Oozing Baseball Cyborg* makes his 1st appearance in a major league baseball game. The injury-racked, sputtering offense had forced Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo to call up the 19 year-old after just a brief stay in Triple A. The teenager takes his position in Left field, looking all around the ballpark at Chavez Ravine, visibly drinking in the entire scene. He goes 1 for 3 with a booming double, a tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the 9th and fires a throw from left field so wicked and powerful it nails the runner while the disbelieving umpire, unable to accept what his eyes have just seen, calls him safe.
Cole Hamels Hits Harper, Rookie Steals Home, 5/6/2012, Washington, D.C.
Sunday Night Baseball. The national spotlight shines on Philadelphia Phillies lefty ace, Cole Hamels, as he faces the teenage phenom and promptly smacks him in the middle of the back with his first pitch. Jayson Werth singles to left and Harper never stops running. Nobody goes from 1st to 3rd with a ball hit to left. Harper does and is now 90 feet from home. He’d been told earlier in the game that Hamels has a slow throw to 1st when he checks runners. He sees his opportunity. Hamels throws lazily to 1st base for a second time. The TV camera catches a stunned, wide-eyed look on Werth’s face.
The Kid has just stolen home. WHAT? He’s called safe, pops up and gives a glance at Hamels as he heads back to the dugout. Hamels later admits he’d hit the kid on purpose as an old-school welcome to the Bigs. Harper shows the world what he’s made of. Don’t get mad. Get even.
Strasburg and Harper Take over Fenway Park, 6/8/2012, Boston, Massachusetts
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, both students of the game and its history, are amped up, playing their first game at revered Fenway Park. And the future unfolds before our very eyes. Strasburg strikes out 13 confused Red Sox hitters. Red Sox beat-writer, Gordon Edes says it all:
Strasburg, featuring a fastball that touched 100 mph, a changeup that violated the laws of nature and a curveball bereft of compassion, struck out seven Red Sox in a span of eight batters…
But if Strasburg (7-1) is the rainbow, then center fielder Harper is the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that appears, oh, once a century or so. Harper homered to the right of the 420-foot triangle in center, doubled and singled, driving in three runs and scoring two, in one of the most precocious performances the 100-year-old edifice has ever seen.
Throw-Back Day and the Dancing Deer, 7/5/2012, Washington, D.C.
The San Francisco Giants and the Nationals are decked out in 1924 uni’s in a celebration of the last time a Washington baseball club won a World Series. Matt Cain, owner of a perfect game earlier in the season, dominates the Nats taking a 5-1 lead into the 7th inning. He gets two outs. Then Ian Desmond homers. Then Danny Espinosa homers. Cain is taken out. Lead cut to 5-3. And then this happened in the bottom of the 9th inning, duly noted in a post up here about three months ago:
Three rookies up to bat, all in a row. Pinch-hitter, Tyler Moore, on the verge of striking out opens the frame with a solid double to the gap in center. Steve Lombardozzi bunts and the pitcher botches it and now it’s first and third with nobody out. The stadium is going nuts. Bryce Harper comes to the plate again. As a deafening, spontaneous chant of “Let’s go Harper” reaches its boisterous crescendo, Harper is steeped in the moment and raps a base hit- game tied 5-5.
Ryan Zimmerman is intentionally walked to load the bases and still no outs. The anticipation is as thick as the humid Washington air. Michael Morse is up but he hits a grounder and the Giants get a force at home. One out, game still tied. Adam LaRoche comes to the plate and hits a double-play grounder. They get the out at second but the shortstop sends a low throw to the Giant’s 1st baseman. It glances off his glove and wouldn’t you know it- Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old and the representative of all that is young about baseball, dashes in for the winning run.
As they celebrate LaRoche’s walk-off error, it appears the players surrounding him are running in circles doing deer imitations, waving hands over their heads to simulate antlers. Turns out Gio Gonzalez had designed a LaRoche walk-off celebration during a long ride on the team plane. LaRoche, an avid hunter, would launch imaginary arrows at players circling him like ripe deer. Explaining to reporters after the game, LaRoche says he thought he bagged one just before he was tackled by teammates.
The Houston Astros: And We All Fall Down, 8/6/2012, Houston, Texas
A veritable circus of errors dooms the lowly, loveable Astros:
Nobody out, top of the 11th inning of a 4-4 game. There’s hardly anyone in the stands because this is the Houston Astros- the worst team in baseball. There is not a camera angle possible that doesn’t show a sea of empty seats. It’s so quiet and dead in the stands that everyone in the stadium can hear the wailing cry of a single infant seated with its parents somewhere close to home plate.
Washington National’s centerfielder, Roger Bernadina singles to right. And now the fun begins. The Nationals’ new catcher, Kurt Suzuki, attempts a sacrifice bunt to try and get Bernadina to second. Suzuki screws it up and instead of bunting on the ground, he pops the ball up. A tiny, little, baby pop-up.
Houston 1st baseman, Steve Pearce, moves toward the ball at the same time as the pitcher, Wilton Lopez. The ball eludes them both and drops softly to the ground. Lopez can’t seem to locate it between his legs. Pearce literally pushes his own pitcher out of the way like a linebacker and picks up the ball.
Inexplicably, Astros 3rd baseman, Matt Downs, seemingly thinking maybe he has a play on the ball, dives over the fallen pitcher and succeeds in partially interfering with the 1st baseman’s desperate throw to 1st base. The ball flies over the head of Houston 2nd baseman, Jose Altuve and well into right field.
Bernadina sees all the madness and takes off, easily passing 2nd base and headed to 3rd. Houston right fielder, Brian Bogusevic sees Bernadina completely ignoring his own 3rd base coach’s pleas to stop and sprints for home. Bogusevic’s throw is airmailed over the catcher’s head, Bernadina scores and Suzuki, who had moments ago tried to make an out by bunting the ball in the infield, is now securely at 3rd.
The Shark’s Amazing Two-out, Extra-Innings Catch , 8/7/2012, Houston, Texas
The Nationals and the Astros had battled all night. The Astros enter the bottom of the 12th, trailing 3-2. MLB.com takes it from there:
Roger Bernadina glided back toward the fence, trying to make a play on a ball that would decide the game one way or the other.
Washington held a one-run lead over Houston with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the 12th. If Bernadina catches Brett Wallace’s line drive, the Nationals win. If he can’t get there or he drops the ball, both runners could have scored and the Astros would have walked off.
He kept striding back to the corner between the bullpen fence and one of two big, green pylons. Reliever Craig Stammen stood right behind the fence, where the ball was headed, screaming, “You’ve got room! You’ve got room!”
Bernadina didn’t have much room, but he jumped toward the corner, disappearing from the sight of everyone in the Nationals’ dugout. He nabbed the ball, collapsed to the ground and held his glove high. He made the catch and saved the game, preserving Washington’s 3-2 win over Houston at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night — the second straight four-hour, extra-inning game between these clubs.
Dancing in the Rain, 9/8/2012, Washington, D.C.
It’s the day Washington decides Stephen Strasburg is done for the season. The Nats play a sloppy, unfocused, error-filled game. The Miami Marlins lead 6-5 as Washington goes to the bottom of the 9th. The Baseball Gods decide it’s time for rain. Lots and lots of rain. After a 2-hour and 33 minute delay, Jason Werth comes to the plate and promptly launches a game-tying homerun. In the bottom of the 10th, the Marlins use five infielders to try and escape a bases-loaded jam. Corey Brown lofts a soft single that just eludes Miami right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, scoring Ian Desmond with the winning run.
Gio Wins 20th Game, Celebrates with a Face Plant, 9/22/2012, Washington, D.C.
Cy Young award-contending Washington ace, Gio Gonzalez, reaches the pitching milestone but not before tripping on the mound in the middle of a pitch in the 7th inning. The baseball flies to the backstop. Gio lands on his face, spread-eagle on the ground, motionless for several long seconds while trainer, manager and players convene to see if he’s alright. Turned out to be mortification not injury. Gio gets up, his teammates laugh and he doffs his cap to the adoring crowd. Later, Ian Desmond remarks, “A perfect 10. I’m just glad he didn’t mess up his hair.”
Werth Gets His Philadelphia Revenge, 9/26/2012, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
From the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg:
So now we’re in the top of the ninth. The Phillies have closed within one run. The crowd is back into the game. A Nats loss here would lower their division lead to just three games. What fun for the Philadelphia crowd. The Philadelphia television broadcast is filled with audio of fans heckling Jayson Werth, especially after he walks into the on-deck circle. So he fields a foul ball, and pretends to toss it to the crowd, then thinks better of it and gives the ball to the Nats dugout.
The boos rain down. Philadelphia fans have their target for the unfairness of life’s charade, and they fill their role with gusto, in the form of saying “BOOOOO” really loud.
Werth’s take: “I was going to flip the ball. There was a group of kids. Behind the kids there were these unruly middle-aged men that to me appeared to be snarling. It’s the ninth. Who knows. I kind of got the sense that maybe they were intoxicated. I was going to flip it to the kids, and then I thought, maybe I shouldn’t, because of the people right behind the innocent little children there.”
There were only two possible things that could happen next. Werth could strike out, and the fans could celebrate, and wave their arms in triumph, and be filled with genuine feelings of joy and elation that this hairy man had been shown, had been defeated, had been denied. Or Werth could single in two runs, filling the Nats fans watching at home with similar feelings of joy and elation, that this hairy man had made up for so much past frustration and pain, had transferred those feelings to the enemy.
Nats ended up winning 8-4.
Best Baseball Headline Ever: National’s Morse Hits Invisible Homerun, 9/29/2012, St. Louis, Missouri
It’s the very 1st inning in a pressure-packed game at Busch Stadium. The bases are loaded and Michael Morse smacks a shot to Right field. The Washington Post’s DC Sports Blog again offers a hilarious take on the MASN broadcast of the bizarre events that unfolded:
…on Saturday night Michael Morse hit a grand slam that was called a single and then changed to a grand slam, but the umpires weren’t satisfied, so they sent everyone back to their original places, and after running the bases in reverse Morse then fake swung and hit a fake home run which Bob Carpenter fake called in his real voice.
There it goes!!” he said, as nothing happened.
“Are you kidding me?” F.P. Santangelo asked.
”Right field, it is deep!!” Carpenter continued, as no ball went into no outfield where it was not watched by any outfielder and no fans threw their hands up in frustration. “SEE. YOU. LATER. Grand Slam, the Nationals are on top by four.”