Not very often over the five-plus years I've been here have we been able to utter the words ".500 road trip," but we did this past weekend as the Nationals came from behind to capture the series in New York.
If not for two muffed fly balls, the trip to Florida and the Big Apple could easily have been 4-2 or even 5-1. Still, we'll take it as an early-season indication that the Nats are indeed better and can be competitive in the talented National League East.
Sunday's win at Citi Field was huge; the difference between a losing or break-even trip, and a game that probably would not have gone in the win column in years past. After being shut down by Chris Young for seven innings, Washington found a way to scratch out two runs in the eighth when Ivan Rodriguez led off with a ringing double to right-center, the Mets bullpen opened the door with a walk to Matt Stairs (whoever heard of a good pinch-hitter with four walks this early in a season, anyway?), Ian Desmond managed to bloop a single to center and Rick Ankiel had a grind-it-out at-bat to bring in another run.
From there, the bullpen was brilliant, again, as Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett shut down New York for the final four innings, and even Chad Gaudin had his wicked stuff in the strike zone.
Rodriguez delivered again in the 11th and Laynce Nix hit a long homer into the bullpen to ice the game and give D.C. the series.
How significant was the trip? We may find out in a hurry as the Phillies and Brewers bring their big bats into Nationals Park this week. Washington needs to beat Joe Blanton in Game 1 Tuesday with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to follow. The next road trip takes the Nats to beatable teams in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, and after a homestand against the Mets and world champion Giants, there's a true test waiting on the following trip.
Try this one on for size: From May 3-12, there are three games at Philadelphia, three at Florida and three at Atlanta. Now, there's a gauge for you!
When F.P. Santangelo and I interviewed Jim Riggleman after Sunday's win at New York, I could hear whoops and hollers coming from a happy clubhouse down the hall. This team seems to enjoy each other, and away wins are a thing to celebrate for a traveling road show that has had a few flat tires and phony mirages on the horizon in recent years.
If those celebrations are heard on the next two trips, we may really be onto something with these getting-better-all-the-time 2011 Nationals.