These are strange days at Nationals Park, when pit-in-the-stomach moments do not keep the home team from winning games and the perpetrator is able to explain what happened afterward with a sheepish, yet relieved smile. When the Nationals are benefitting from, not committing, late-game bullpen mistakes. When they are taking wins away from an opponent, instead of giving them back.
All those things are out of character given the Nationals' past. And yet, they're becoming more of the norm for this team, and on Saturday, they contributed to a win Washington needed badly.
The Nationals recovered from the second inside-the-park homer hit against them in four days - a play on which Nyjer Morgan slammed his glove on the center-field grass, thinking the ball had gone over the fence, while Josh Willingham raced past to retrieve it from behind him - and climbed out of a 6-3 hole to beat the Orioles 7-6. They won for just the second time in nine games, got back to .500 and gave themselves a chance to win a series against the team with baseball's worst record.
Most importantly, they proved to themselves they could snatch a game they looked like they were about to give away.
"I think it's one of the bigger wins of the year for us, because of how the game played out," Willingham said. "To get behind three runs and come back, and have some of the things that happened, happen, and come back and win, it shows how big of a win it was for us."
There was as much talk after the game over Morgan's outburst as there was about the comeback it necessitated.
In the fourth inning, Craig Stammen floated a fastball over the middle of the plate to Adam Jones, who hit a fly to center that kept traveling and sent Morgan back to the warning track. As he leaped for the ball, it bounced off his glove and landed behind him. Morgan, thinking it had gone over the fence, spiked his glove to the ground and stormed away from the play, while Willingham, yelling to Morgan the whole way that the ball was behind him, raced over to retrieve it. The Nationals' relay was too late, and Jones beat Ivan Rodriguez's tag at home standing up.
"It was just one of those things where I let my emotions get to me out there, which I normally never do," Morgan said. "It cost the boys a little bit. It's just one of those things."
The crowd of 30,290 howled, and in the dugout, manager Jim Riggleman thought about removing Morgan from the game.
"My first instinct was to take him out of the ballgame," Riggleman said. "And then I realized, you know what, he thinks the ball went over the fence. He thought that he knocked it over the fence and it was a home run, so he was showing frustration."
The shot put the Orioles up 4-3, and when they scored two more in the sixth on Ty Wigginton's homer off Stammen, the Nationals looked like a team whose focus had eroded.
But Washington roared back for four runs in the sixth, with Roger Bernadina's triple driving in the first run. Morgan chipped in a sacrifice bunt, Cristian Guzman got hit with a pitch, and Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn followed with singles - the latter of which drove in two runs against the Orioles' shift.
Washington had a lead for its bullpen to protect, and Tyler Walker, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps did so flawlessly; Walker allowed a single, but that was the only baserunner any of them permitted.
Capps worked a perfect ninth, striking out two for his 16th save in 16 tries, and afterward, he could stick up for his longtime teammate in a much happier clubhouse.
"It doesn't surprise me he reacted the way he did," Capps said. "I obviously, like him, wish he would have stopped and looked around first. But that's the competitiveness in him. That's something you can't take away, and that's part of his game."
And for Morgan, the victory brought relief on a day where he could well have been the scapegoat.
"They bounced back after Wigginton hit that home run," Morgan said. "It just shows that we have a great team over there."