Running Around and Pitching Around

Several things jumped out at me after the Nats lost the second game of the series to the Cardinals Friday night.

They were only simple things, but they were simple things that make a difference in winning or losing ballgames.

In the 4th inning, Elijah Dukes led off the inning with a double down the left field line. Jesus Flores hit a sharp grounder to shortstop, and Dukes took off for 3rd, only to be thrown out by a wide margin.

Baserunning wisdom says you never go to 3rd on a ball hit in front of you, and Elijah found out why. His out put the double play in order, and the next batter, Willie Harris, hit into a 4-6-3 ... inning over.

Fast forward to the top of the 8th, when Chris Duncan of the Cardinals doubled to lead off. Ryan Ludwick grounded to Guzman at short, and Duncan immediately retreated to 2nd. Same play as Dukes, different result.

St. Louis didn’t score as the next two batters were retired, but the Cardinals didn’t lose a runner on a basic play.

When I was with St. Louis, we always heard about “The Cardinal Way” to play the game. This came down through decades of teaching and hard work in the minor leagues, so guys were ready to play and knew how to play when they reached the major leagues.

The late George Kissel, who tragically passed away in a car accident last year, was the guru of fundamentals in the St. Louis organization. Over 50 years, he taught young players how to throw, catch, hit, run the bases and slide.

As the Nats continue to build their tradition, there will someday be “The Nationals Way” to play this game.

One other thing is painfully obvious from the first two games of this series. The Nats have challenged Albert Pujols, and here’s the result: 5 for 8, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs, 4 runs and rallies started and finished from the key #3 spot in the order.

The Cardinals pitching to Adam Dunn? The result: 0 for 6, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks. They aren’t letting Dunn beat them and, other than Ryan Zimmerman, the middle of the Washington batting order has been quiet. They’ve also held Cristian Guzman to 0 for 9. Thus our leadoff and cleanup hitters are a combined 0 for 15.

St. Louis has 17 wins, Washington 17 losses. You would be surprised to know that the difference between the two really isn’t that great - a baserunning play here, a well-placed pitch there.

As Rick Dempsey said in George Will’s “Men At Work,” and I’m paraphrasing, “Do the little things right for six months and in September, you look up and you’ve won.”

Here’s to better baseball and a fun September sometime soon!