With trade rumors, injury news news, and Bryce Harper all circling Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals went out and won a ballgame 6-4, finally fending off the Philadelphia Phillies, a five-game losing streak, and quite a few demons.
The latest display of resilience came from closer Brad Hand, who not only ended a personal two-game blown save and loss streak, but retired three straight batters after yet another ninth-inning leadoff man reached base.
As sad and desperate as the Nationals have looked in the past few days, Hand and the team, as Davey Martinez loves to point out, “went 1-0 today.”
Tuesday’s first setback came before a pitch was thrown when Martinez said Stephen Strasburg will have season-ending surgery for neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome.
Even this news didn’t stop rampant Twitter speculation about which Nationals will be traded and where they’ll be going.
Just googling the name of a Washington player and a random major league city might have called up a tweet or ten.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that buzz around the clubhouse,” said starting pitcher Erick Fedde. “It’s going to be stressful, thinking about guys that you consider your really good friends that could be gone, but when it comes down to game time at 7:00 you got to put all that aside and just play, so I think it’s just something that once we get through this week it will be over and just right on to the next thing.”
Twitter got real when Trea Turner left the game after a half-inning, and some people had to be talked down off the virtual ledge. After an inning or so of possible injury speculation, we learned Turner had tested positive for COVID.
That’s never a good thing. But in this case, especially after manager Davey Martinez confirmed after the game that Turner was asymptomatic, it turned out to be the best of all possible immediate outcomes.
“He’s got to go get isolated right away, and now he’ll get tested and from there we’ll see what happens,” Martinez said.
Turner’s situation is similar to the one Fedde faced earlier this season after a positive test.
“I can’t speak for him, but I know that I went through just shock of feeling fine,” Fedde explained.
“I’m sure he felt that same way and just wanted answers ... answers you can’t get on where you got it and how it happened.”
So with Turner more likely to play again this season in a Nats’ uniform, there was only the matter of a second consecutive night of watching a division rival whittle away a big early lead.
Who better to take care of that than Bryce Harper, the perfect foil for frustrated Nats fans, sprinting around the bases on the closest thing anyone might ever see to a no-doubt inside-the-park home run. Then, another noted Nats-killer, Andrew McCutchen went deep, and... Here we go again!
But we didn’t go there. This time, the bullpen came through after Fedde faded quickly in his fifth inning of work. This time, Sam Clay got the Nats out of a jam and Fedde off the hook.
When Clay got into a jam in the sixth, Wander Suero came in and got Alec Bohm to fly out and struck out Jean Segura, and when Harper came up in the seventh, Suero retired him on two pitches, with foul fly to Alcides Escobar
Then it was Brad Hand’s turn to slay a dragon, and he got a familiar one when Jean Segura became the third straight ninth-inning leadoff hitter to reach base against him, courtesy of an error by Carter Kieboom.
But Hand responded by not only retiring consecutive batters for the first time in three appearances, he challenged three of the Phillies’ top hitters and won.
“He’s our closer, and his pitches were better,” said Martinez. ”They were down in the zone, and when he’s good, his pitches are all down in the zone.”
J.T. Realmuto needed just one pitch to line out to Gerardo Parra, and Harper saw just two before popping out again, this time to catcher Tres Barrera.
Hand then carved the strike zone for McCutchen, fooling him inside, outside and then down and in with a slider to lock him up for strike three.
“I’ve got all the trust in the world for him, I really do,” Martinez said of his closer. “A couple blown saves are not going to change what I feel about him and how I’m going to use him, so he got a big save for us today.”
So with no less uncertainty about anyone's future than when the game began, the Nationals and their fans could live in the moment and feel good about it.
“It’s huge. It’s just nice playing the music nice and loud and having lots of smiles around where winning ballgames is always more fun than losing, so glad we could do that today,” said Fedde.
“It feels great,” said Martinez. “After this I’m going to go in and grab a glass of wine and enjoy the victory.”
That’s about all we can ask at this point.