ATLANTA - This is why sports are so great. You look at the line score from tonight’s game and see that the Nationals won 3-2 and might assume that it was a nice, quiet, uneventful ballgame.
Uh, not exactly.
The Nationals lost their ace to an injury after two innings; they had a reliever retire all 12 batters he faced; they had their leadoff hitter smack two triples; they had another reliever hit two batters in an inning; they had their catcher feel like he might have broken his collarbone after a foul ball drilled him; and they had a potential game-tying home run come down in an outfielder’s glove just in front of the wall in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Oh yeah, and they picked up a game on the division-leading Braves.
“It was an outstanding effort and a big win,” manager Davey Johnson said. “We needed it bad.”
Craig Stammen might’ve been the MVP of the game, coming in after Stephen Strasburg was pulled after just two innings and throwing four perfect frames. Not only did he give the Nats a great chance to win tonight, he saved the bullpen for the rest of this series.
Stammen knew that Strasburg’s oblique had been tight in previous starts, but he wasn’t expecting to need to enter tonight’s game nearly as early as he did.
“Bullpen catcher (Nilson) Robledo said, ‘Hey, his shoulder’s hurting,’ ” Stammen said. “And I’m like, ‘He’s throwing 98. His shoulder’s not hurting.’ But then the second inning, you could just tell he was laboring a little bit. He just didn’t look the same. So, I guess I kind of got ready. Not really. I was praying he could keep going, I guess.
“Last time (Strasburg pitched, Robledo) said, I don’t know if he was screwing with me or not, but he said something like, ‘Hey, be ready.’ And I was like, ‘Shut up.’ And then today, I thought he was doing it again. But he was serious.”
You might think it would throw Stammen off to have to come into a game that early in such an unusual spot. You’d be wrong.
“I was really enjoying myself,” Stammen said. “Because it was early in the game, we were winning, I felt like I was a starter again. I was having fun. I was going to get to hit, I knew, so things were in my favor. ... It’s like showing up for your tee time two minutes before it and going out there and having fun. It’s probably better that way.”
An avid golfer, Stammen knows that feeling.
“I’ve ran to the tee box with my shoes untied and hit my first drive,” he said, laughing.
How’d that round turn out?
“Pretty good,” he said.
If it wasn’t enough that I declared Stammen my MVP of the night, Kurt Suzuki will me back up.
“That was the player of the game right there,” Suzuki said. “He just came up, threw strikes, kept us in the game with the lead. Shoot, that was pretty outstanding.”
Suzuki was asked how he would describe Tyler Clippard’s 32-pitch seventh inning that featured a run, a wild pitch, two hit batters and back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded to end the inning and preserve a one-run lead.
“A little eventful,” Suzuki said with a smile, “but I guess you guys expect that when Clip goes out there, right? He finds a way to get it done. Overthrowing maybe a little bit, a little pumped up. It was just trying to settle him down. He hit a couple guys, that’s unlike Clip, and threw one 10 feet over my head. It was a little eventful, and then struck the next two guys out. I was like, oh-kayyyy. But that was good. (Rafael) Soriano came in and made it easy.”
Except for Freddie Freeman’s long flyball to right that came down in Roger Bernadina’s glove just shy of the 390-foot marker.
“I was saying, ‘Bernie: Stop. Stop,’ ” Suzuki said. “And when he stopped, I said, ‘Thank you.’ “
Suzuki gave the Nats a scare when he dropped to the ground and didn’t move much for a minute or two after taking a foul ball off the collarbone in the ninth inning. After getting a couple minutes to compose himself and throwing a warm-up toss, Suzuki, one of the toughest guys around, stayed in the game.
“When it first hit, my arm went dead,” Suzuki said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, (crap.)’ I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ It hit me right on the bone. If it hit me (in the chest), I wouldn’t have probably even went down, it was no big deal. But it got me on the bone and stung me a little bit.”
After all that happened tonight, a loss would’ve stung a little bit. But the Nats were all smiles afterwards, thanks to a total team effort against a division rival.