After a very successful homestand that saw the Nats sweep the Dodgers and Braves, before taking two of three from the Phillies, it was off to Atlanta for a long four-game series with the Braves.
Life on the road has been tough on our ballclub this year, as wins have been hard to get, close games have always seemed to go the wrong way, and we hadn’t won an extra-inning game away from Nationals Park all season.
It’s hard to explain, but road games always seem to be twice as hard to win.
The crowd is against us and the home team gets the last at-bat. If the Nats are ahead, those last three outs are very hard to get; and if you’ve watched as much baseball as I have over my 24 years broadcasting Major League Baseball, you’re almost surprised when our closer, formerly Chad Cordero and John Rauch and now Joel Hanrahan, get those outs and you’ve somehow won a game away from home.
At Turner Field Thursday, the resurgent Nats offense couldn’t get anything going in a battle of pitchers making their big league debuts, and James Parr of the Braves outdueled our own Shairon Martis to win 2-0. Making the night even more unique was catcher Luke Montz also making his debut behind the plate.
Friday was a one-sided loss as Jason Bergmann struggled; the Braves scored early and hammered the Nats 10-5. Our guys didn’t go down without a fight as they managed three runs in the 7th to come up short 10-5. Things were about to get interesting.
Saturday, home runs started flying out of Turner Field, five of them by the Nationals to tie a record they set earlier in the year in Pittsburgh; and it was barely enough to win 8-5 in 10 innings.
The 9th was memorable, not really in a good way, as the Braves scored two runs off Joel Hanrahan, but here’s where baseball is always unpredictable. With the bases loaded, Kelly Johnson hit a drive to right-center that surely was going to drive in three runs and win the game 6-5. But, at the last second the ball hit the warning track and bounced into the bleachers to tie the game, and the runners were sent back to 2nd and 3rd bases on the groundrule double.
Then Brian McCann bounced a ball over Joel’s head that was a sure game-winning hit, but Cristian Guzman ran to the right side of the infield, picked it up and threw McCann out at first. If anyone but the slow McCann was running, the game was over, but the Nats got a reprieve and scored three in the 10th to win. Ryan Langerhans’ homer got the inning going, in a ballpark where he had played most of his career.
Sunday was just as crazy, another extra-inning game, and this one went 14 innings. Believe it or not, it was our third 14-inning game of the year, and this one turned out fine, a 7-4 win with two more home runs by Lastings Milledge and Alberto Gonzalez, the first of his career.
Around the 11th inning, I asked our stage manager Patrick to scout the press lounge for food and he came back with two slices of cold pizza. I had barely taken a bite when we came back from commercials for the 11th, and it took me two innings’ worth of breaks to finish that slice and half of another. The nourishment was badly needed and it got me through the 4-hour, 34-minute game.
When you play that long, it’s great to get the win, and the plane flight to New York was a light-hearted one. Dinner tastes better and the trip goes quicker after a win, and now the guys get to enjoy a day off in The Big Apple before we play the Mets Tuesday and Wednesday.
What a weekend! No extra-inning wins on the road all season, then we get two on consecutive days! It’s the unpredictability of baseball that makes this game so amazing. I watch it every day and still can’t believe what I see sometimes!
The magic number is now 8 ... 8 more wins and the Nats don’t lose 100. No one on this team wants 100 to happen, and they’ll do their best every day to make it to 63 wins or more!