On the night when Ryan Zimmerman returned to the lineup for the first time in over two months, the Nationals put together one of their more impressive rallies. In the seventh inning tonight, they plated six runs against the St. Louis Cardinals, four of which scored with two outs. The Nationals got to their former teammate Miguel “Miss Iowa” Batista for five runs in a “6-run, 5-hit, 3-walk, 1-hit batter, 1-wild pitch, 12-batter rally.”
Second only to the offensive explosion against the Cardinals’ bullpen was the quality of the fans this evening at Nationals Park. The crowd of 26,739 was on its feet for a good part of that 7th inning rally, likely fortified by the new Shake Shack at the ballpark. On a day when many feared that the fans of Nats Park could only be plied by fancy bawbles and gewgaws in the form of concessions, fans of the home team showed that they could get into a close game, and were on their feet and rallying around the home team as they beat the Cardinals’ bullpen into submission after being down by four.
After another rocky start by Yunesky Maya, replete with “goner” home runs to Pujols and Berkman, the Nationals found themselves down by four in the seventh inning, a familiar predicament in Maya’s starts. The Nationals found themselves in a rally after a walk to Jayson Werth, a single by Ian Desmond and an RBI double for returning 3B Ryan Zimmerman. With two outs, the rally grew more and more precarious, but each time, the Nationals delivered. Espinosa would single in Desmond. Ramos would move the runners over. Roger Bernadina was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Pudge Rodriguez. A wild pitch from rookie Andy Miller would plate Espinosa, and open first for Pudge to be walked intentionally. Laynce Nix fought a feverish battle against the new pitcher Motte for a 12-pitch walk that gave the Nationals the lead. Werth, batting the second time in the inning, would single in another run before the rally was stopped.
It was impressive to see the crowd get deep into the action, fervor building after each at-bat. During each of the last six at-bats, the Nats Park crowd was on their feet and cheering. Not lead by the scoreboard, but an organic roar that I’ve not heard since Strasburg’s first start, or really between then and the home opener back in 2008. For a crowd of just twenty-six thousand plus, they sounded a whole lot louder tonight.
The Nationals may have struggled with Maya on the mound, but the bullpen today was lights out. Ryan Mattheus made his MLB debut in the 5th, and went 1.1 IP of scoreless ball, getting four outs from five key batters, including a pair of strikeouts. Henry Rodriguez retired the side in the 7th with a strikeout and a walk and got Yadier Molina to ground out into an inning-ending double play. Tyler Clippard continued to look just about as dominant as he’s ever been, sending down three Cardinals in order with a pair of strikeouts in the eighth before Drew Storen pitched the ninth.
Storen’s line tomorrow will read 1 IP, 0 R, 2BB, which is only just a little misleading. After walking Ryan Theriot with one out, he got Colby Rasmus to fly out, bringing the tying run to the plate in the person of one Albert “No, I am baseball” Pujols to the plate. When asked after the game about the at-bat, manager Jim Riggleman said that he’d made the decision to walk Pujols no matter the situation: “I wasn’t going to let him beat us,” he said, “I wouldn’t have slept right tonight if he’d hit the homer there.” With the tying run aboard, and the winning run at the plate, Storen got Lance Berkman to ground out to finish the game.
Not all of the day’s news was good, and the bad news tonight came before the game was far underway. Reports began to come in before the first pitch that one of the Nationals was at George Washington University Hospital Center having surgery. Speculation immediately drifted to Adam Laroche, who the team said was being re-evaluated today after a torn labrum and rotator cuff were diagnosed in May. Craig Heist from WTOP broke the news in the first inning that Laroche had had surgery to repair the torn labrum and rotator cuff and that his season was likely done.
The blows kept coming. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Roger Bernadina entered the game for Rick Ankiel as a pinch hitter. In the 5th inning, the team revealed that Ankiel had strained his left intercostal muscle, and listed him as “day to day”. For a similar injury, the Nationals lost Ryan Zimmerman for 10 games late last season with a similar strain. It’s a fairly painful muscle strain, and deeply limits activity, so we may see a short DL stint for Ankiel here.
After the game, General Manager Mike Rizzo met with the media to discuss Laroche’s injury with the team doctor present. Laroche will have season-ending labrum repair surgery on Thursday in Washington. The team doctor said that the length of the recovery process will be subject to the damage that is found in Laroche’s shoulder. Should it be a simple repair, it’s likely that Laroche will be ready for Spring Training, but a more serious operation would result in a 6-7 month recovery time that would likely keep Laroche out through March and April of next year. More will be known on Thursday, we hope.
The Stars: Big night for Jayson Werth, who was aboard four of five at-bats tonight (2-4, BB, FC, 2 1B) as well as for Michael Morse (2-5, 2R, 2B, 1B) and Danny Espinosa (3-5, 3 1B, R). Huge at-bat for Laynce Nix off the bench, as well.
The Bars: Not as good a night for Jerry Hairston, playing left: 0-3, K. Yunesky Maya was pretty putrid tonight, as well. He sealed his marching orders back to the minors tonight, but at least the team won tonight: it’s the first time that’s happened when Maya has started the game.
Miscellany: Tonight’s goat for St. Louis was Miss Iowa, Miguel Batista, whose tenure with the Nationals had its ups and downs. I know he’s pitched like this before, so it wasn’t surprising, but it was surprising that LaRussa let him go so long.