"I tell you," Davey Johnson told reporters after last night's 10th-inning win over the San Diego Padres, "That one gave me a few more gray hairs and I don't need a few more gray hairs."
The Washington Nationals took a 5-3 lead into the ninth and after a one-out "error" by Ryan Zimmerman on a Chris Denorfia grounder toward short, the home team rallied to tie it at 5-5 with three straight two-out singles off Nats' closer Rafael Soriano that sent the game to extra innings. Padres' closer Huston Street came on in the top of the tenth, looking to give his team a chance to walk off, but Chad Tracy, who entered the game with just one hit in his last 10 at bats and no home runs in 37 ABs this season, took a 1-1 change out to right to help the Nats reclaim the lead.
Drew Storen came on in the bottom of the 10th looking for his first save of the season, and after back-to-back one-out singles put runners on the corners, battled back to earn the S by striking Chris Denorfia out with a 2-2 change before Padres' shortstop Everth Cabrera grounded out to third to end it. Ryan Zimmerman even dropped the grounder before recovering it and making a clean throw to first for out no.3, and though that may have added another gray hair or two to his manager's head it got the job done. 6-5 final. And a big win for the Nationals according to Davey Johnson.
"Great comeback," the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said, "Guys hung in there. Great hit by Tracy. Gio [Gonzalez] pitched a good ballgame. I was a little mad at him for hitting [Chase] Headley in the foot, because I thought he could have handled him pretty good. And that was a blip for Soriano, he's been really good. But good opportunity for Drew and he did the job."
It was a little bit of redemption for both Tracy and Storen. On May 17, 2012, Tracy had a .293/.362/.561 line with 12 hits, two doubles and three home runs in 47 PAs. After making the most of his one at bat last night, Tracy is 7 for 38 this season with a .184/.244/.263 line and just the one home run on the year. As Davey Johnson said last night, however, he's not concerned about his bench bat's performance so far this season.
"I'm not worried about [Tracy]," Johnson told reporters, "He's a really good hitter. And he just started slow. Last year he started real fast. This year it's been a little slow. I mean, that makes up for anything he's done in the past. But, he hit a heck of a closer and hit the heck out of it. But he's been swinging the bat good. Just like a lot of the other guys, a little anxious, a little over-anxious at times. But that was a great at bat."
As for Storen, the once and possible future closer who took the Nationals within a strike of the NLCS last October only to find himself in a set-up role after things fell apart in that game and the Nats signed Rafael Soriano this winter, it was a big opportunity to save his first game of the year after he'd save a combined 52 games in his first three MLB seasons. Storen's sinker was in the mid-90s. His slider had bite as his manager put it. And he got a big strikeout on Chris Denorfia with runners on first and third and one out with a devastating 2-2 change that the Padres' hitter chased for a swinging strike three. A 1-2 change to Everth Cabrera got Storen a weak grounder to third and Ryan Zimmerman's throw to first ended the game.
"Instead of just raring back and throwing, he actually pitched," Johnson said when asked about Storen earning the save. "Big strikeout on Denorfia. That was huge. Threw a great breaking ball, that had bite to it. In the past he's been kind of muscling it, leaving it kind of hanging up in the zone. So we regrouped a couple of guys, we got Storen back and we got Tracy. It was a big night."
As for the Ryan Zimmerman "error" in the ninth that gave the Padres a base runner who would eventually score the first of the two runs they needed to tie it, Davey Johnson said he had no problem with Ryan Zimmerman cutting the grounder off on its way to short and trying to make a throw across his body and the infield in that situtation. "Desi might have been calling him off on the ball," Davey Johnson said, "but I mean, Zim makes that play 99 times out of 100. So I like to see it, because he's going to get to it quicker and just pulled him off the base, that's all."
Zimmerman, for his part, told reporters, including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, that though he rarely complains about errors, he had a real problem with the official scorer on that play:
"'I would never complain about a play, but that’s not an error," Zimmerman said. "I don’t know if they have Brooks Robinson as a scorekeeper here or what. . . . I’m almost near second base and throwing across against not a slow guy. If that’s on the base, it’s bang-bang. We’re not supposed to complain about that stuff, but that one’s a little ridiculous.'"
It was Zimmerman's ninth error of the year, and his eighth throwing error of 2013.
Going back to the start of the game, Gio Gonzalez struggled to throw strikes early, and needed 46 pitches to get through the first two innings, but he battled all night and held the Padres to three runs, two earned in 6.2 IP before, as Davey Johnson mentioned, he hit Chase Headley in the foot with his 115th pitch, a 1-2 bender that put two on with two out and ended his ninth start of 2013.
"[Gonzalez] was flying open in the first couple of innings," the Nats' skipper said after the game, "but then he got it back under control. Then toward the end of the game he was really throwing pretty good. I don't know how many pitches he threw. Close to 115 pitches, that was about the limit, but he hung in there and got things going. But he's a gamer. He has fun out there, but for some reason or another a couple times this year, he's been flying open and the ball's been going everywhere."
Luckily for Gio and the rest of the Nationals, they have a red-hot bat in the middle of their lineup right now, held by Adam LaRoche, who has four home runs, (two last night), in his last three and a 14-game hit streak going that stretches back to May 2nd in Atlanta. Over that stretch of 57 plate appearances, LaRoche is 19 for 48 (.396/.474/.688) with two doubles and four home runs. LaRoche went 2 for 4 with two home runs in the win over the Padres on Friday night and he's gone from a .129/.204/.247 line on May 1st to a .226/.307/.406 line on the year thanks to the resurgence he's had. Davey Johnson, who saw signs that LaRoche was turning it around and showed faith by continuing to send him out there, said last night that any concerns about the first baseman have gone away.
"That's dispelled," Johnson said, "He's been on fire. Had a huge night tonight, but he's been swinging the bat good for a couple weeks now. Been great. And Zim too. The middle of the lineup is carrying us." After hitting his second home run of the season and going 2 for 4 in the win, Zimmerman has a .348/.455/.500 line so far in May, lifting his season slash from .211/.292/.333 on May 1st to .283/.379/.424 after last night.