Welcome to a new feature we're trying out on MASNSports.com this morning. It's called Second Look, and it's a spot to revisit a few details from the previous days game you might have missed, as well as talk about what themes came out of the game that might be important going forward.
There will be a few different components to this: the Golden Geese and Goose Eggs awards that we started in spring training, a section called "In Case You Missed It," looking at a few of the important little moments in the game, and finally, a section called "Talking Points." That very DC-ish title is for the section where I'll pull out a few themes from the game, and give all of you a chance to toss them around. Remember, you can now sign in to the site with Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL Instant Messenger, OpenID, WordPress, Live Journal and Vox to have comments post automatically to the site. Go down to the "Leave a Comment" section like you normally would, and click the orange link that says "Sign In." You can also have the site remember you so you can bypass that step in the future.
Ryan ZImmerman: As I discussed in the game story last night, the Nationals got a number of clutch performances in yesterday's 7-5 win over the Phillies, perhaps none more important than Zimmerman's. The All-Star third baseman, who hadn't played in three days, instead stuck stewing in the clubhouse and dugout trying to "be a good cheerleader" while resting a sore left hamstring, was called on to pinch hit in the eighth inning with the Nationals down one. And he delivered a two-run pinch-hit homer to right, the first pinch homer of his career, to put the Nationals ahead for good. "They've beaten us up pretty good," Zimmerman said. "(It's nice) to come back, and I guess you could stay, steal one, if you want to use that lingo." Zimmerman has hit some big homers in his career already - the Father's Day walk-off against the Yankees in 2006, the Opening Night walk-off against the Braves in 2008 - but to put the Nationals ahead in a park where they'd lost eight straight has to rank just behind those.
Ivan Rodriguez: The catcher continues to deliver at the plate, hitting .407 with a .556 slugging percentage in seven games. And as big as Zimmerman's homer was, Pudge's contributions were just as important. He drew a walk in the eighth just in front of Zimmerman, making it so the Nationals could take the lead on the blast, and had a big ninth-inning hit to left to drive in two runs there. Without his offensive output in the final two innings, the Nationals lose 5-4, and Shane Victorino's leadoff homer in the ninth is a walk-off shot that hands the Nationals another crushing defeat to the Phillies.
Ian Desmond: The rookie shortstop was hitting .167 in the seventh inning, when he came up with two outs. But Desmond punched a single to center off Antonio Bastardo that pulled Washington within two and set up the eighth-inning comeback. And in the ninth, he led off with a single, stole second and scored on Rodriguez's single. Two big at-bats from the rookie.
Tyler Clippard: A rare off-day for the right-hander, who's been outstanding so far this season in relief. Clippard came in for Scott Olsen with the bases loaded in the sixth, intentionally walked Carlos Ruiz and then walked pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs to bring in a run. It was unclear if the intentional walk played with Clippard's control to start the inning, but he was uncharacteristically wild, throwing just 16 of 32 pitches for strikes.
Cristian Guzman: Batting third, Guzman went 0-for-4 with a walk, striking out in the ninth and grounding into a double play to end the sixth after the Nationals had put Nyjer Morgan on base to start the inning. He and Willie Harris also let a base hit fall between them in the eighth inning. He did have an RBI groundout in the third inning, though.
In Case You Missed It:
--There was a cool bit of gamesmanship in the ninth inning after Jim Riggleman had already brought Matt Capps in for the first multi-inning save of his career. The Nationals had men on second and third and first base open with two out. If the Phillies walked Rodriguez, it meant the Nationals would either have to pull Capps or let him hit with the bases loaded and a key chance to add insurance runs. So Riggleman put Adam Kennedy in the on-deck circle, signaling to the Phillies he was ready to keep the inning going if they didn't pitch to Rodriguez. They did, and he singled to left for two runs. So the Nationals had their insurance and they could leave Capps in to strike out in his fifth career at-bat. But was Riggleman serious? "I wasn't going to pinch-hit for Capps," Riggleman said. "And I think they knew that. But they got a couple strikes on Pudge, and I think they just figured they had a good shot right there." But getting an opportunity to call his bluff, the Phillies didn't do it, and Rodriguez came through with the big hit.
--Lost in all the late-inning heroics - some of them from first baseman Adam Dunn - was a key defensive play Dunn made in the third inning. With a man on second and none out, the Phillies had pitcher J.A. Happ at the plate for a sacrifice bunt attempt. Dunn knew it, and when the ball came down the first-base line, he charged it and fired to third in time to nail Carlos Ruiz at third. Had he not, Ruiz would have scored on Victorino's fly ball to left on the next at-bat. "I love that play. That's my favorite play in baseball," Dunn said. "I wish they'd do it all the time. I love when you know when they're bunting like that, getting in there and almost daring them to swing the bat. You kind of want a pitcher to swing the bat. I wanted to try and get there as quick as possible and do that."
--The Nationals stole four bases yesterday, and now lead the National League with 11 steals. What's more, they're 11-for-12 in attempts. And it wasn't even Nyjer Morgan; Willy Taveras, Ian Desmond, Josh Willingham and Willie Harris had the steals. The name of the game in baseball these days is controlled aggression on the basepaths; if you're going to run, you better not get caught. It's part of what has made the Phillies so successful over the last few years, and you'll probably see a little more of it from Riggleman than under Manny Acta. I'm going to write a longer piece on this in the next few days on the group coaching approach to the running game from Riggleman, first-base coach Dan Radison, hitting coach Rick Eckstein and special assistant Tim Foli. The Nationals aren't going to mimic the Cardinals teams Riggleman grew up with, but they'll be able to add that "element of surprise," as Riggleman put it yesterday, more often than in the past.
1. Where does Ryan ZImmerman's homer yesterday rank for you? It wasn't a walkoff, and didn't have the symbolism of shots against the Yankees or on Opening Night at Nationals Park. But with Zimmerman still a little gimpy and the Nationals struggling so mightily against the Phillies, it was big. He even pumped his fist a little as he ran gingerly around first base. There's no point in making the comparison out loud, but you get where I'm going.
2. What's your take on Scott Olsen? He pitched five solid innings, throwing just 63 pitches in that time and getting 10 groundouts in that time, but lost some control in the sixth and gave up three runs. Olsen's fastball hovered around 90 mph, and he made quality pitches for the most part. Can he stablize the back of the rotation, or do you need to see more?
3. How big of a win was this? The Nationals have lost to the Phillies in every way imaginable. The only common them is that they've lost. The victory yesterday put them at 4-5 despite playing the two-time NL champs six times, and ended their road trip with a 3-3 record. Is it too early to call this a key win, or could this be a springboard for better play going forward?
Boy, that was fun to write (nostalgic writing-wonky-baseball-stuff-while-sitting-on-a-train feelings cropping up again). Hope you enjoyed reading it. Let me know what you think, about the feature and about the questions I left at the end of it. The recap of yesterday's live thread is here, and audio from the day is here. Back with more this afternoon from Nationals Park.