Twice this weekend, the Nationals won in dramatic late-inning fashion. Saturday night, they put a late rally together, having been shut out for the first seven innings, forcing a blown save against the Pirates’ setup man. Adam LaRoche picked up a clutch home run in the eighth, and Bryce Harper’s hustle was crucial in the 9th to cement the victory.
Sunday, the Nationals would repeat the come from behind routine in a game where the win probability chart looked more like a rollercoaster at Six Flags than your typical WPC. What began as a pitchers’ duel, would turn into an intense tit-for-tat. The Pirates would force some errors from the infield, before the Nationals would do the same just an inning later. The Pirates would get to closer Rafael Soriano, working his fourth appearance in five days, and go up 5-4.
Ordinarily, the story here is “local sports team can’t overcome lousy performance by key member of the lineup.”
Had the game ended there after the ninth, that would’ve been the narrative device employed by a lot of the media, complete with quotes absolving that performance from coaching staff members, and supportive quotes from teammates. This is how things would have gone had the Nationals not turned it around in the 9th to force extra innings, where they played clutch baseball and eked out a win over the Pirates 6-5.
These late-inning theatrics show a team that’s capable of overcoming the adversity of a 162-game schedule, a team that’s ready to face the grueling challenges of August, September and everything after.
Some may lament a team that needs to come back from a deficit; no one likes it when a team with high expectations has to battle to live up to them. I would suggest that those fans are living in some sort of peculiar mirror world where baseball is a simple game like checkers or parcheesi, not a grueling sport where three hours games require laser-like focus, and where even the most talented of athletes fail more than they succeed in given situations.
Come from behind wins are the hallmark of a team that has come together into a cohesive whole, cognizant of the every day challenges of the game, and who find reasons and ways to succeed amid the difficulty. This Nationals team is so deep that it can beat you in so many different ways it may not matter if they’re not batting 1.000 and striking out the side with impunity. It’s hard for me to find the excitement in a perfect team the way you find it inone that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
To borrow language from Bull Durham, “Strikeouts are boring, and beside that, they’re fascist.” This isn’t a team that will beat you the same way every time, dominating you in every situation, they’re going to be the team that beats you when you make even the smallest mistake, and the Pirates learned that the hard way this weekend.
Look for these late inning theatrics to continue, and revel in them, Nats fans, for they are the hallmark of a team ready for the postseason, and a team that treats their success not as a given, but as something they must work for, must strive for, and achieve through strength of will and perseverance. Don’t find fault because they weren’t perfect, find success in overcoming that fault, and triumphing regardless.