Ted Leavengood: A special place makes for a special weekend

As Bryce Harper pumped for all he was worth to score the winning run on Roger Bernadina’s clutch double Sunday afternoon, the Fenway Park faithful had probably seen all they wanted of the Nationals and their young prodigies. Harper, Strasburg, and the rest of them. Espinosa, Clippard, Desmond, Gonzalez, they all had a hand on the broom that swept clean the old park on Lansdowne Street, “the little bandbox of a ballpark,” as John Updike lovingly called it.

With Yankee Stadium lost forever, Fenway Park is one of the only sacred places left in baseball. Hub fans saved it from the wrecking ball that it might celebrate 100 years of baseball history and, of course, so that the Nationals could remember winning three in a row there in 2012, the old park’s anniversary year. And that is just one reason that made this weekend special.

The weather was spectacular. But the baseball results -- not to mention basketball - could hardly have cheered the Royal Rooters, Red Sox Nation, or whatever you wish to call them. If they wanted to watch a winning Boston sports team this past weekend, they might better have been sculling on the Charles.

After the Nationals took the first two games of the series, Sunday’s became a grudge match, a gritty affair between tradition and those hungry for it. David “Big Papi” Ortiz had two doubles and a home run. But Jordan Zimmermann battled through that and after seven innings, he left in a dead heat with John Lester, a 3-3 tie still showing on the old scoreboard even as the ninth inning began. And that brought Harper to bat for the first time in the afternoon, pinch hitting for Tyler Moore. Harper managed but a walk against Boston closer Alfredo Aceves, but it proved enough to set the stage.

Bernadina had been a forgotten man for much of the past few weeks, appearing only once in a pinch-hitting role in the last seven days. But he started the game Sunday and, with Harper on first and two outs already in the books, he made his only recent appearance a memorable one.

He pulled a high fastball from Aceves over the first baseman and into the right field corner. Harper had been running on the pitch and he scored well ahead of the throw to provide Tyler Clippard a 4-3 lead. When Dustin Pedroia swung over the Clippard’s final pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning, it was done, a watershed win that stakes the Nationals to a two-game lead over the Braves atop the National League East.

It is more than beating a good team in a memorable park. The Red Sox have become an institution and one that has contributed more than its share of baseball futility for Washington. When Stephen Strasburg was slashing through the Red Sox hitters on Friday night, striking out 13, one could almost hear the sound of the big saw ripping through the giant logs of Tom Yawkey’s lumber mills.

Big Papi never played for the Yawkeys, but he is one more powerful cleanup hitter in a long line of such sluggers stretching back to Ted Williams and Joe Cronin, legends who fueled one of the most successful baseball franchises of the past 100 years, built with the Yawkey millions. And whoever management put in the middle of the order, be it the Splendid Splinter, Jim Rice or Carl Yastrzemski, Boston had its way with Washington.

When Yawkey paid the unheard of sum of $225,000 - in the worst of the Great Depression - for Washington shortstop Cronin, the two teams traded places. Boston had finished last most seasons after selling Babe Ruth, but after 1934, Washington became the poor stepchild of the American League, perennial cellar dwellers always looking up at the Red Sox who became first division contenders, always fighting the Yankees for AL supremacy.

Yesterday’s sold-out crowd at Fenway never even noticed the tables as they were effectively turned. Like Daniel Nava, who never quite saw the Strasburg heater, they sleepwalked through the debacle. And though Washington beat them in every aspect of the game this past weekend, the Boston faithful should realize the Nationals are only going to get better. Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse are back in the middle of the lineup and slowly beginning to warm to the situation. Harper is adjusting to big league pitching faster than anyone thought possible. Drew Storen is on pace to return in four weeks. Hub fans do not want to see Washington’s Nationals returning any time soon.

The Red Sox are at a crossroads. Whether Boston is destined to grow comfortable in the cellar or rise again is unknown. Regardless, the old park will remain a shrine for Hub fans and visiting teams alike. Fenway Park has seen it all and its faithful denizens know better than anyone all that baseball has to cherish. Good teams come and go and World Series rings are only the last piece in a wonderful and complicated puzzle.

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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