We’ve noticed it in the broadcast booth, and so have the media covering the Nats. Our fans have noticed, at least the ones coming to the ballpark in not-so-great numbers so far to support a team that fights to the end.
Opponents have noticed, like Atlanta’s Matt Diaz, who called the Nationals “gritty” after his extra-inning hit beat Washington Wednesday night.
But, I have to disagree with something else Diaz said when he noted, “The Nationals are a little different this year.” - No, Matt, they’re a lot different!
I noticed it from the first time I walked into the clubhouse in Viera back on March 1. There was a different atmosphere around this team, and I wrote about it at that time. But, none of it means anything until the regular season starts, and now we have found that the sense we got in spring training is real. This team is tough, hard to play and harder to beat,.
April ended with a record over .500, and the Nationals really hadn’t piled up impressive offensive numbers yet. Plus, the team ERA was among the highest in the National League. The defense was stellar, and it shows how far a team can go if it catches the ball, throws to the right base, and occasionally makes a spectacular play to quell a rally.
Soon-to-be Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog once said, “I can wait for offense. I can’t wait for defense.” He nailed it, and his protege Jim Riggleman knows how true those words are nearly thirty years after Whitey uttered them.
Where does the grit come from? Some of it was already here with Ryan Zimmerman, who has played hurt already this year, tough as nails Josh Willingham and clubhouse icon Adam Dunn. Add to the mix, players from championship teams like Adam Kennedy, Pudge Rodriguez and Livan Hernandez and you get a nice mixture of veterans who’ve “been there, done that” with confident youngsters like Ian Desmond and Justin Maxwell.
Give up 10 runs in the first inning to Milwaukee? No problem, battle back and have a chance to tie before losing 11-7. Give up an eight-run inning to Colorado? Battle, collect 12 hits, and lose only because 11 baserunners were stranded. Take on the ‘09 Division Series champion Dodgers? Nearly sweep them, losing just one game in the series in a 13-inning clash. Livan shuts them out the next day 1-0, and you know the Nats can now play with anyone. Go to cold and windy Wrigley Field against the high-priced Cubs? Nearly sweep them in taking two out of three.
I think you’ll agree that we like what we see so far. With great young pitching on the way and an offense yet to “hit” full stride, it’s going to be an interesting and exciting 2010.
And that’s a gritty promise!