For the Nationals to have an inside-the-park homer and a triple play go against the same game is rare enough; for them to have those things happen and still win relatively smoothly is even rarer. As I discussed in the game story, this felt like one of those games that the Nationals would have lost last year, with the oddball plays becoming guideposts for a struggling team. This year, it didn't matter.
The result was a 5-3 win over the Mets, the end to a five-game losing streak and a victory that put the Nationals back over .500 (at 21-20). They've got a chance to sweep the Mets today before the Orioles - who own the worst record in baseball - come in for the start of interleague play.
Time for the awards:
Livan Hernandez: When the Nationals signed Hernandez for $900,000 this spring, they thought they were getting an innings-eater who could be easily lifted out of the rotation for a younger pitcher. Instead, they paid for possibly the cheapest ace in baseball. At least for the first two months of the season, there's no question that's what Hernandez has been. He showed it again on Wednesday night, allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings of a start he told manager Jim Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty he would make on three days' rest to save the Nationals from having to add a pitcher. "That was huge," Riggleman said. "If I could do anything different, maybe I wouldn't have sent him out there for that seventh inning because I knew if someone got on I was going to take him out. But it's hard to take him out. He's just done such a great job, you feel as confident with him as anybody you have."
Cristian Guzman: As pleasant as a surprise as Hernandez has been on the pitching staff, the way Guzman has taken to a utility role has boosted the Nationals' offense just as much. He's hitting .328 after a 2-for-4 night on Wednesday, including an RBI triple in the seventh inning that turned out to be the game-winning hit, and now leads the team in batting average. He's even drawn five walks - not an impressive total, but enough to raise his on-base percentage to .351. Guzman is limited defensively at this point in his career, but he's play adequately in the field and is giving the Nationals a kick at the top of their lineup.
Drew Storen: The Nationals had talked about easing the rookie into the majors, and yet there he was on Wednesday night, making his second big-league appearance and first at Nationals Park with the game tied and a runner on first. But Storen threw fastballs for seven of his eight pitches, getting out of the inning when Ian Desmond fielded a couple of hard-hit balls - one lineout and one grounder. "I love coming in with guys on base because of the pressure," he said. "I'm a big fan."
Ivan Rodriguez: As well as Rodriguez started the season, a slump was inevitable, and he's in the middle of it now. He went 0-for-4 on Wednesday, grounding into a sixth-inning double play and leaving five runners on base.
Nationals' relay: It's tough to find much fault in the triple play the Nationals hit into - no one seemed particularly sure if Angel Pagan had caught Guzman's line drive or trapped it, and without a clear view of second-base umpire Bob Davidson, Hernandez and Nyjer Morgan could have been thrown out either way. But the relay on Pagan's inside-the-park homer was a different story. As Morgan crashed hard into the wall, Josh Willingham was slow to retrieve the ball, which caromed into left center. Ian Desmond had to come halfway into the outfield to take a relay, and the throw to Rodriguez was a hair late. Pagan got a great jump and the ball took a funny bounce, forcing Willingham to race all the way over from left. Between Morgan taking a chance by leaping at the wall and Willingham not getting to the ball quick enough, though, Pagan had room to score on the play.
In Case You Missed It:
--Adam Kennedy's pinch sacrifice fly in the seventh put the Nationals up 3-2. But the key to the at-bat, Riggleman said, came earlier, when the Mets pitched out on the second pitch of the at-bat, hoping to pick Roger Bernadina off at third and foil a squeeze play. Kennedy was able to stick his bat out and foul it off, preventing the pitchout from working and extending the inning to the point he could drive in Bernadina. "A great job by Jerry (Manuel) and his staff," Riggleman said. "They picked the right pitch, they pitched out, and Adam got the bat on the ball. He forced the count to continue on. He got some more pitches, and he got one he could elevate."
--On the triple play, Riggleman didn't have any huge issues with what Hernandez and Morgan did. Neither player was sure if Angel Pagan had caught Cristian Guzman's sinking liner or let it fall, so the runners could've potentially been out either way; had they retreated a base and the ball hadn't been caught, Pagan could have forced both of them out at second and third, though it would have been much tougher to turn a triple play by forcing out all three runners. "There's really not much you can do about it, unless you can find the umpire quick enough in your sights while you're in between the bases and see if he's made an out call or not," Riggleman said. "Livo read it immediately as a hit. He thought there was no way Pagan was going to catch the ball. If he holds up (and it's a single), then with Pagan's momentum coming in, he could throw it over to third and force him out at third. It's just one of those fluky plays in baseball that there's really not much you can do."
--The way Morgan went to the wall on Pagan's inside-the-park homer didn't bother Riggleman, either; he applauded his center fielder's aggressive effort, even though a more conservative play might have let him field the ball on the bounce and hold Pagan up at second or third. "When you're running full speed and now you're jumping, and you know the wall's there, you're kind of throwing your glove up there, hoping you've got it sighted," Riggleman said. "He went after it as good as you could. It's just one of those things. The angle it took off was way away from Bernadina, and Hammer's coming all the way over from left. It's a credit to Pagan, too. Out of the box, he must've been running hard. If he had been going easy, he probably would have had to stay at third.
1. Riggleman said the game "didn't have a good feel to it" with the inside-the-park homer and the triple play. Did you feel the same way, or did you think the Nationals would win this one in spite of the bizarre plays? It felt like a 2009 game, where strange things just seem to find the Nationals. But this time, they got through them. Did you expect that, or was it a surprise?
2. Between Roger Bernadina's impressive sliding catch in the fifth inning and his offensive contributions (a sac fly and a double that led to him scoring the go-ahead run), it was another solid night for the right fielder. Is he doing enough to assuage some of your worries there, or do the Nationals still need to make a run at another player? Any interest in Pat Burrell, who was cut by the Rays yesterday?
3. Cristian Guzman is hitting .328, Ian Desmond has been solid on both offense and defense and Adam Kennedy, though prone to slumps at the plate, is one of the team's smartest players and has been more productive lately. Grade Riggleman's handling of his three infielders. Personally, I think he's done a tremendous job with the three players, massaging egos and getting enough playing time to keep each one happy and productive. And there's no question Desmond's range at shortstop is a big reason why the Nationals are improved defensively this year. What grade would you give him for the three-infielder plan?
Leave your responses to the Talking Points questions in the comments, and we can discuss those topics, as well as anything else on your minds, for the rest of the morning.