Asked last night how he views his team at this point in the season, with 121 games in the books and a six-game lead over the Braves in the National League East, Nationals manager Matt Williams used the word “tenacious.”
That word choice seems apt given the comeback that the Nats put together last night.
Down 3-0 after seven innings, facing a tough Pirates bullpen, the Nats got on the board in the eighth when Kevin Frandsen drove in Michael Taylor with a bloop to right. An Anthony Rendon double play immediately followed, which seemed like it would crush the Washington rally.
Adam LaRoche’s two-run, line-drive homer into the Nats bullpen knotted the game, caused the 41,880 at Nats Park to go nuts and led to one of the more awkward curtain calls in recent memory.
The crowd wanted LaRoche to come out, the first baseman waited a few seconds too long, Ian Desmond was in the batter’s box and ready to hit, and when LaRoche popped out onto the top step of the dugout, he was barely noticed.
“I still don’t know what happened,” LaRoche joked after the game. “I take it I was a little late getting out there? Just a pitch or two?”
Regardless, the Nats again showed a late deficit isn’t an issue for them. They nearly came back from a 7-0 hole in Atlanta a week ago. Last night, they got the job done, winning their fifth straight game, tied for their longest winning streak all year.
“It was uplifting for us, but at the same time, we knew we were always in it,” Frandsen said. “With the guys that we have and the power that we have, there’s a chance that we can get back in it no matter what. I don’t know if it was a big range of emotion, but when Rochey hit that bomb, that place was going nuts. So you’re always excited for those moments.”
“I’ve been on some pretty good teams and this resembles a lot of those characteristics of not worrying about what happened yesterday, coming out every day is a new day, and not worrying about what the score is,” LaRoche said. “We’ve got 25 guys in here with the same goal and guys that don’t mind being in big spots, whether that’s pitchers or hitters. And that’s a good feeling.”
The Nats now have 24 comeback wins on the season. They’ve won 11 games when trailing at the start of the seventh inning, and six games when trailing at the start of the eighth.
The whole “we battle until the end” topic is a bit of a cliché in today’s game, but it is definitely a trait of a good team. The Nationals have a bullpen that can keep them in games when they trail (let’s give some love to Craig Stammen, who worked three scoreless innings last night, and Matt Thornton, who got the win with a perfect ninth and now has retired 11 of the 13 batters he’s faced as a Nat). And they have an offense that can get the job done in the late innings when the game is on the line.
“It hasn’t changed since Day 1,” Williams said. “We had a lot of games early in the season where we came back and won from pretty big deficits. They feel like they’re always in the game. We’ve got some guys that can hit the ball over the fence. We’ve got good situational hitters, guys that draw walks. And if you have that kind of team, then you can get back into a game. It hasn’t changed since Day 1.
“They believe that they can come back, they believe that they can string hits together and we can score runs, and that’s a good thing to have. That belief system is good.”