Marty Niland: Difo's gaffe ranks with the most infamous in Nats history

The emotional roller coaster that is a Major League Baseball season hit its wildest stretch for Nationals fans over the past week.

After the high of winning eight of their previous 10 games came the plummet of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers, the franchise that skipped town in 1971, leaving Washington without baseball for 34 seasons.

All those emotions were at play in Saturday's 6-3 11-inning loss to Texas. After a fine performance on the mound from Gio Gonzalez, a clutch home run from Adam Lind and a potentially game-saving outfield assist by Bryce Harper, the Nats were done in by their own mistakes.

The most head-shaking was by Wilmer Difo, on third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, representing the winning run. Trea Turner laid down a bunt, and Difo started for home, but then froze in his tracks and was tagged out.

The play is among the most notorious gaffes in the 12 seasons since the team moved to Washington from Montreal. It conjures up memories of Nook Logan's baserunning blunder on June 23, 2007. The Nats had taken a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning against Cleveland at RFK Stadium, but normally reliable closer Chad Cordero gave up a go-ahead three-run homer to Victor Martinez.

Still, in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats had a chance to at least tie the game. With one out and a man on first, Logan doubled, putting runners on second and third. Cristian Guzman was intentionally walked to load the bases. Nats second baseman Felipe Lopez hit a comebacker to Cleveland closer Joe Borowski, who threw home for a force and the second out. Logan should have stopped at third base, giving Ryan Zimmerman a chance for a walk-off hit. Instead, he rounded third and was easily tagged out. Game over.

Other gaffes in Nats history have come in the field. Perhaps the most infamous of those came on May 22, 2010, when the Nats were hosting the Orioles. With a man on first in the fourth inning, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones launched a fly ball to deep center field. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan went for a leaping catch, but missed, and the ball bounced off the top of the wall and back into play. But Morgan didn't notice. He had thrown his glove to the ground in disgust and hung his head, thinking the ball had gone over the fence. By the time left fielder Josh Willingham could run over to pick up the ball, Jones was rounding third, on the way to a two-run inside-the-park homer. After falling behind 4-2 on that play, the Nats actually came back to win 7-6.

But the strangest, and rarest, gaffe in Nats history came on the mound, in the team's first season in Washington. On July 15, 2005, the Nats were playing in Milwaukee. After a surprising surge to the top of the National League East standings in the first half of the season, they had started their slide toward an eventual last-place finish, and were still looking for their first win of the second half.

The Brewers tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, and the game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, the Brewers had runners on first and third after an intentional walk to Rickie Weeks. Manager Frank Robinson summoned Mike Stanton to the mound for a righty-righty matchup with Milwaukee's Lyle Overbay. Stanton, a 16-year veteran at the time, was making his first appearance for the Nats after the Yankees had released him. Stanton tried to pick Weeks off first base, and first thought he had succeeded. But he had not. Umpire "Balking" Bob Davidson raised his arm and delivered his signature call, and the Nats fell 4-3 on just the 14th walk-off balk to that date in major league history.

At time like this, we need to look back on some of the darkest moments in Nats history to give us some perspective. At 15 games over .500 and with a nine-game lead in the NL East, things could certainly be a lot worse for the Nats and their fans, who are certainly hoping this weekend wasn't a sign of worse things to come.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. Follow him on Twitter: @martyball98. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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