The final play of tonight’s (or should I say, last night’s) ballgame epitomized how strange the contest was as a whole.
We had a 56-minute rain delay. The Nationals scored four runs in the first inning, then didn’t score again for another 12 frames. The major league leader in ERA, Jordan Zimmermann, had an outing which tied for the shortest of his season and in which he allowed tied for the most runs he’s allowed all year. The Nats and Braves combined to go 5-for-25 with runners in scoring position.
This one was ugly, strange and, at times, awkward. But it was a win.
“They had their chances, we had our chances,” manager Davey Johnson said. “It was one of those games.”
It was only a win because Dan Uggla bobbled Chad Tracy’s ground ball with one out in the 13th and runners on the corners. Once that bobble happened, with Danny Espinosa sprinting for home and with Kurt Suzuki wisely holding at first base and not running into a double play, Uggla had nowhere to go.
He looked home, looked to first, bobbled the ball again and then slumped over as the winning run crossed the plate. The ball remained on the field as Uggla and the Braves walked off and as the Nats celebrated around Tracy at first base.
“He wanted to go to first and get the double play, but that’s the only way to be able to get it,” said Johnson, who, as a former second baseman, said the correct play was to make the throw home regardless of whether a double play might have been possible. “After he tried to go to Suzuki and saw he couldn’t, he couldn’t make the play. ... He was thinking he could get two on a ball hit that hard. And then his option was to either tag Suzuki and get the runner, (but) if he goes to first base and then they tag him, the run scores.”
Tracy was on pinch hitting for Craig Stammen, who had already worked two innings of relief the day after throwing 1 1/3. Johnson had intentions of staying with Stammen as long as possible until the Nats put a runner in scoring position when Espinosa made a heads-up play motoring from first to third on an infield single by Suzuki.
That forced Johnson to pinch hit for Stammen and have Edwin Jackson - who threw seven innings and 103 pitches on Saturday - start warming in case the game went to the 14th. Monday was scheduled to be Jackson’s day to throw a bullpen session, but because of Thursday’s off-day, that got bumped back to Tuesday, allowing him to be ready in a relief role tonight.
Got all that?
“We went to him and said, ‘Could you pitch?’ and he said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Johnson said. “He didn’t throw today and he had the option. And also, we called down there and asked, ‘How does it feel? Is he OK?’ He was fine.”
The backdrop for all the weird extra-inning goings on was that this was a big game between two teams vying for a division title. As the game got deeper and deeper, that made the stakes seem that much larger.
“It was almost like a playoff game,” Johnson said.
After it all ended, the Nats found themselves 30 games above .500 for the first time this season and holding a six-game lead over Atlanta in the division, the largest edge they’ve had all season.
They won’t sleep much tonight and they won’t want to replay much of the game in their minds after tonight is done with, but if you think that matters to anyone in that clubhouse in the slightest, you’re insane.