There’s a Hungarian psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who says that there is a zen state called Flow that exists when skill level and challenge level are high. The Nationals found their flow in the eighth inning amid a day of ugly baseball when fans feared that they were headed toward the Worry octant of the chart. Tyler Moore, with two on and two out, took a 2-2 four-seam fastball into shallow right field and drove in the runners from second and third.
In a day full of gaffes, the Nationals had the last laugh.
Gio Gonzalez had a start whose line score is simultaneously baffling and astonishing: 5.0 IP, 1H, 2ER, 7BB, 5K.
The five strikeouts in five innings stays close to his 9.7 K/9 season average, and the single hit is certainly the sort of start that they’d like to see more of. The seven walks, four of which came in the second inning, tied with Gio’s single worst performance in his career. For a time, it looked as if Gio had lost the strike zone in its entirety.
110 pitches, and just 59 strikes, Gio had an incredibly difficult first start of the playoffs, but the bullpen came to his aid, and Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen each turned in an inning of strong work. Most impressive of the day had to be Ryan Mattheus, who entered the game with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning. On two pitches, Mattheus turned a pair of ground balls into three outs, which set the table for their rally in the eighth.
This was not a pretty baseball game, though, and carried with it the sort of stress-induced miscues that can doom a ball club without multiple tools. Errors from usually rock-steady Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche could have cost the club more than they did.
In the end, it was rookie outfielder Tyler Moore, on to pinch-hit against the Cardinals’ Mark Rzepcyznski, that brought the took the Nationals over the top. The Nationals had put the leadoff man on five times, but had stranded the runners aboard in three of those, ahead of the eighth inning rally. Twice, they left the bases loaded, both times with Jayson Werth at the plate. Moore, in the biggest at-bat of his career, looped in a single and plated the pair of runs. After the game, he’d say: “I’ve failed a lot, too, during this thing, & it’s helped me keep my heart rate down & just come up & try to put the ball in play.” Moore found strength from failure, like the rest of the
I have four things to look at, for Nats fans:
1) The defense of Jayson Werth
Let’s leave Werth’s 6 LOB aside for a moment and think about the catch he made in the sixth, robbing Descalso of a home run, and finishing off the Cardinals’ hopes of a rally. So many times this season, the Nationals have benefitted from their defensive prowess, and this was just one case among many.
2) The strength of the bullpen
In most of the Nationals’ early seasons, the bullpen was where wins went to die. The Nationals’ pitching has been sparkling this year, with rare exception, and it was good indeed to see a bullpen as adept at damage control as previous bullpens have been bereft of skill.
3) Don’t play cards with Davey
The Nationals’ cagey manager managed to get the exact situation he was hoping for in the eighth. Rzepczynski has been the Cards’ reliever most likely to surrender runs this year, and he used the goon squad to get the Cards right where he wanted them – forced to pitch to Tyler Moore with runners on base. Nationals pinch hitters lead the league this year, batting .288. There is not a part of the Nationals that can’t hurt other teams, and their bench has been quite strong.
4) Every player can hit you
That’s the thing about this club. There is no respite. There is no refuge. There are only rocks and hard places.