Consider the drama we've seen between the Nationals and Mets in the last two years. We saw Willie Harris make game-saving diving catches in not one, but two New York ballparks, causing the Mets to develop what I've heard is a strong dislike for him. We heard Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa refer to the Nationals' bench as "softball girls," and we watched Elijah Dukes give a lewd salute or two to the Shea Stadium crowd in the Nationals' final game there in 2008.
We've seen enough home run reviews to last a season, and in the Nationals' final home game of 2009, we saw Justin Maxwell blast a walk-off grand slam against Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez.
To put what happened on Saturday afternoon against the Mets at the top of that list reeks of a recency bias, but it might belong there anyway. On national television, with a sold-out crowd on hand to watch Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals stumbled into a 5-2 hole, but again, they clawed their way out against Rodriguez, the Mets' All-Star closer who might be developing a complex about facing the Nationals by this point.
Rodriguez did plenty to set the Nationals up for their eventual 6-5 win, walking three batters (one intentionally), but the way they won was much more dramatic than the simple act of a closer letting a team back into a game. Adam Dunn's bases-loaded shot, which would've won the game had it cleared the fence, bounced back into the field of play and was ruled a double after (another) review. Cristian Guzman and Willie Harris nearly collided as Guzman tried to go back to third, perhaps thinking the ball had been caught. But Harris slowed up, third-base coach Pat Listach sent them both home and Harris beat Rod Barajas' tag at home plate. And two batters later, Ivan Rodriguez sent everyone home with a walk-off-single to right. It was the Nationals' first win when trailing after eight innings since that walk-off win over the Mets last Sept. 30.
"I would probably put that up there with any game," said reliever Drew Storen, who pitched two scoreless innings as the Nationals started their comeback. "Today was a pretty good reminder of why baseball's so great, because it's a roller-coaster ride."
But you probably know most of that already. Here's what everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse had to say about it:
When the Nationals' cleanup hitter sent a Rodriguez fastball toward the center field fence, manager Jim Riggleman saw it well enough to know it would be close to a homer, but wasn't the kind of undeniable shot Dunn usually hits. "He doesn't really have to hit the ball to hit a home run," Riggleman said. "I knew he didn't get it the way he normally gets it, so I was hoping it'd scrape the back of the wall instead of the top of the wall."
It might have. There is a metal beam right behind the wall, and it's hard to tell from replays if the ball bounced off the top of the fence or hit the support structure just behind it. But reviews upheld the play, keeping the game tied after Guzman and Harris' frantic dash home.
Third-base coach Pat Listach was trying to sort things out at third base when Dunn's ball sprang back into the playing field. "I thought it was a home run, to be honest," Listach said. "I'm telling the ball, 'Go, go, go,' and I look up, Guzie's down here and he's running back this way. The bottom line is, we made a couple baserunning mistakes and we still won the game." Listach said he actually was hoping Ryan Zimmerman had already been at second base, so he could've waved the third baseman around third, too. "If he goes all the way to second and that ball hits the wall, I think he can score, too."
But he didn't, and the Nationals had their hands full with Guzman and Harris. "I'm sure he thought it was a home run, and he already was almost to home plate when he realizes, 'What if he catches it? I better tag up,'" Listach said. "He should've just stayed at third base. If he catches it, he walks in easy. If the ball hits the wall like it did, he's safe either way."
Harris said he saw Guzman with enough time to slow down at third, but "I barely touched third base," he said. "Barely."
Storen had already taken a couple steps toward the dugout rail to start the walk-off dogpile when the ball came back. "I kind of just followed everybody else out there, and then kind of stopped," he said. "I think I was straddling the rail there, because I didn't want to be that guy running out on the plate if it got called back."
As for Dunn? "I saw it hit, obviously, and bounce up. I didn't know if there was anything back there. I'm glad it worked out."
Rodriguez's walk-off single
Two batters after the pandemonium, with the bases loaded again and the Mets packing the infield with five players, the Nationals' 38-year-old catcher strode to the plate, seeking to put back Dunn's rebound.
He got a 1-0 fastball from Rodriguez, and sent a flare to right field for the game-winning single.
"It was a tough pitch to hit," Rodriguez said. "I was lucky enough that I was just trying to go with the pitch. I threw my hands to the ball, and made contact, and the ball went over first base."
"Pudge hit a tough pitch there," manager Jim Riggleman said. "There's a lot of fight there in the ballclub."
Said Listach: "It's good national TV. That's why they put us on there."