Ted Leavengood: Stealing home

Last night’s “Sunday Night Baseball” game was not good to the Nationals, despite the overall success of the “Our Park” campaign. When Bryce Harper stole home in the first inning, he stole Nationals Park back from the Philly faithful, but the loss of Jayson Werth to a broken wrist undermines any sense of triumph. It is a blow that will hurt Washington for the remainder of the season and a tragedy for Werth, who was playing so well and assuming such a large role in mentoring Harper.

Werth’s three-run home run Saturday afternoon was the highlight of the weekend series and evidence of his importance to the team. I heard one Nationals fan in the Stars and Stipes Club ask a Philly fan after the shot that put Washington ahead 3-1, “So whatcha got to say about Jayson Werth now?” There was no rejoinder and the fans from the City of Brotherly Love were a quiet and somber group going back home that evening, thanks in many ways to Werth’s contributions.

But it is Nationals fans’ turn for somber reflection as we consider moving forward without Werth. The overall success of the “Our Park” weekend remains, regardless Werth’s injury or the sour note that Hunter Pence and Cole Hamels sounded Sunday night. There is still the beauty of Bryce Harper sliding in safely under Carlos Ruiz’s tag in the first inning and the longer term implications of the play of Gio Gonzalez, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and the rest of the young Nationals.

It was clearly a message pitch from Hamels, the Philly left-hander, that drilled Harper in the opening inning. It was Werth who moved Harper to third with a single with two outs. When Hamels threw to first to keep Werth close, Harper broke down the third base line for home and was safe on what was not even a close play. Hamels and the Philly faithful were visibly deflated and whatever message was intended for the brash young outfielder boomeranged immediately.

It was a great night for Harper, who also stretched a bloop single into a double with his hustle. But Pence brought the Phillies back, first with a two-run home run in the fourth and then with the clincher in the ninth that put the game away for good, 9-1 being the final score.

The fans who traveled down from Philly may have won the evening, but the series belonged to Washington. The play of Harper is just part of the story. It was the overall effort of the Nationals’ young players that underscores the long-term trend that does not favor Philadelphia. Whether it was Ramos on Friday night, or Gonzalez on Saturday, the weekend belonged to all of the young Nationals who all played a role in taking the first 2012 head-to-head meeting between what now looks to be two blood rivals.

The bottom line is that the National League East is not moving in the direction of the Phillies, but toward the much younger Nationals.

Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released last June. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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