Benches empty, Nationals’ resolve is strengthened

My thoughts from Thursday’s two benches-clearing incidents against the Chicago Cubs in a game the Nationals won 9-2:

* Nationals third base coach Bo Porter is not one to be messed with. The dude calmly walked over to the Cubs dugout, where there were close to three dozen enemy personnel and told bench coach Jamie Quirk in no uncertain terms to (all my guesses, of course) keep his big trap shut and the Nationals were just playing baseball. You have to admire the cool, collected, but emphatic statement Porter presented to the Cubs about what Nationals baseball is all about.

* This is a pretty rough situation for the Cubs to find themselves in: that they have to complain about Jayson Werth swinging on 3-0 count or another player stealing a base while leading 5-0. This is not the weekend softball ragtag match-up or a charity event. This is baseball. Many teams have lost games when leading 5-0 in the fifth inning. It is just a sign of a desperate, frustrated and prideful coach who had had enough and went after the wrong guy.

* Outfielder Bryce Harper staring down Cubs reliever Lendy Castillo after an inside pitch at the knees was another powerful moment. But the key to all the benches-clearing incidents was that the initial punch never came. The problem with these events is when someone from the bench or the bullpen comes flying in and throws a punch after it appeared order had been restored.

Outfielder Michael Morse came flying in and almost started something that would have been uncomfortable and could have had long-term effect. Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger looked really bad when he barely swatted at Morse and the Nationals with his open hand while simultaneously backing away. Fortunately, except for Morse flying in and some jawing by pitcher Edwin Jackson, the Nationals stayed away from instigating. Cubs pitcher Manny Corpas, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and backup Bryan Lahair got some pushes and shoves in. But the bottom line is the Nationals had way more to lose in this manufactured fracas then the lowly Cubs and (hopefully) no suspensions and (thankfully) no immediate injuries came about.

* The camaraderie built up in the Nationals clubhouse, where every player has everyone else’s back, was fortified to its highest level with this incident and showed that this team is together and no one is going to intimidate them. Whether it is Porter, the bench, Harper, the bullpen or manager Davey Johnson, this pennant race is on and it was a major setback for the rest of the National League that the Cubs got this all started. Like the Nationals needed any other motivation to put the pedal to the medal in September. You can’t make up these type of bonding moments and bringing the Nationals closer together really seems like the final piece of the puzzle to what team means to this bunch and what they will do for each other when push comes to shove.

* Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann going back down into the batting cage under the stadium and light-tossing to stay warm during the long delay exemplifies the focus this team has on the big picture and the professional attitude the Nationals are continuing to implement. No wasted time on the field or on the bench, Zimmermann was worried about the next hitter and the next inning when all the pushing and shoving was going on. That is another great sign that this team is not going to be slowed down by another team’s moves. The Nationals dictate to them. Not the other way around.

After the season is over, win or lose, alongside the great pitching, the power hitting, the infusion of young talent and the re-emergence of hard working veterans, I believe the couple of almost dust-ups Thursday with the Cubs will go down as one of those important unforeseen moments that built this franchise to elite, respected status so many other teams dream of attaining.

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