While taking nothing for granted in a COVID-ravaged world, we can reasonably assume that the sight of Spring Training 2.0 and a shortened - but certainly sweet - 2020 season on the horizon is not a mirage. With the target window now in the Independence Day/All-Star break vicinity, we can almost smell the hot dogs and the horsehide.
In the meantime, we’ll tide ourselves over with Nationals baseball from seasons past. Not a bad deal, really, considering that many of those seasons produced winning teams in Washington and the most recently completed campaign gave us a World Series champ.
Right out of the gate this week, you’ll get a double dose of the stuff that is good for Nats fans enduring baseball withdrawal. Today’s “Nationals Classics” entries feature big moments from the face of the franchise and from the club’s No. 1 starting pitcher. Then in the coming days you’ll see stirring comebacks, breathtaking power displays and marathon wins.
So do check these listings before you schedule your next video conference so that you won’t miss an inning of “Nationals Classics.”
Thursday, May 21 - noon - Ryan Zimmerman has made a career out of the kill shot. When he’s up to bat in Nationals Park with a chance to seal the deal in the ninth inning, the smart money says that he’ll come through for the home team. Sept. 6, 2009 marked a chapter in the legend of Mr. Walk-Off, who got an assist that day from infielder-outfielder Willie Harris. With the Nats trailing the Marlins 4-2, Harris led off the home ninth with a home run on the first pitch he saw from Juan Carlos Oviedo. Christian Guzmán then singled, setting the table for Zimmerman, who sent one over the wall in left-center for the instant win.
Thursday, May 21 - 4 p.m. - Even for a strikeout specialist such as Max Scherzer, 20 Ks in one game is a lot. And while it’s politic to say it doesn’t matter that you did it against your former club, Scherzer could be forgiven for taking pleasure in bullying the Detroit Tigers for nine innings on May 11, 2016. The Tigers - who wouldn’t meet Scherzer’s free agent price prior to the start of the 2015 season, opening the door for the Nationals to sign him - did get to the right-hander for a couple of solo homers that night at Nats Park, but couldn’t score beyond that as the Nationals won 3-2.
Friday, May 22 - 7 p.m. - In a storybook season riddled with improbable comebacks, Sept. 3, 2019 stands out. After falling behind to the Mets 10-4 in the ninth, the Nats came to bat in the bottom half. Victor Robles hit a leadoff single. After Howie Kendrick flied out, Trea Turner doubled and Asdrúbal Cabrera, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto each singled. With two runs in already and the game no longer a laughing matter, Mets manager Mickey Callaway summoned closer Edwin Diáz. Zimmerman drove Diáz’s 0-1 pitch to right-center for a two-run double, bringing Kurt Suzuki to the dish. The catcher’s three-run homer sent Nats Park into a frenzy and sent Diáz to the showers wondering what had just happened.
Sunday, May 24 - 11:30 p.m. - Barry Bonds got the headlines but the Nationals got the win on Aug. 7, 2007. The Giants outfielder in the fifth inning that day in San Francisco surpassed Hank Aaron’s career mark of 755 home runs, with Nats starter Mike Bacsik earning the dubious distinction of surrendering the record-breaker. Down two runs heading into the eighth, the Nationals batted around to take an 8-6 lead that would stand.
Monday, May 25 - 7 p.m. - The newly christened Nationals started life in D.C. with a 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on April 14, 2005 in their very first home game at RFK Stadium. Third baseman Vinny Castilla led the charge (Zimmerman would make his big league debut at the position that September), going 3-for-3 with four RBIs. Nats starter Liván Hernández threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings before he got into trouble in the ninth. He came out after giving up Chad Tracy’s three-run homer, and Chad Cordero recorded a save.
Tuesday, May 26 - 4 p.m. - The scoreboard at Marlins Park on April 19, 2016 was all zeros, with one exception: a seven-run top of the seventh. That’s when Werth and Ramos took Adam Conley over the wall and Harper and Zimmerman did the same to Chris Narveson, with Harper’s homer coming with the bases loaded. A stingy Strasburg allowed just three hits over eight innings of work.
Tuesday, May 26 - 11 p.m. - Back to the inaugural season in D.C. for this one, a 12-inning thriller against the Phillies at RFK on Sept. 3, 2005. The Nationals scored a couple in the first inning and took a 4-1 lead into the ninth, but the Phils got back-to-back homers off Cordero to send the match into overtime. Nats reliever Gary Majewski bent but didn’t break while pitching the 10th and 11th, and Héctor Carrasco got credit for the win when Preston Wilson hit a walk-off RBI single.
Wednesday, May 27 - 9 a.m. - So far this week, we’ve brought you a couple of 12-inning games. That was just to build your stamina for this one. It took place April 24, 2016 as the Nationals and Twins were wrapping up a three-game interleague series on South Capitol Street. With the score tied 1-1 in the eighth, Twins second baseman (and future National) Brian Dozier chased Strasburg with a three-run homer. Ramos hit a two-run double in the home half to get the Nats within a run, and Harper led off the ninth with a homer to force extra innings. Miguel Sanó singled off Yusmeiro Petit to give the Twins a one-run lead in the 15th. Oliver Pérez came out of the bullpen to get the third out, then batted for himself with two out, reaching on an error to allow Danny Espinosa to score the tying run. Pérez pitched a scoreless 16th and got a win when Chris Heisey homered to lead off the bottom half.
Wednesday, May 27 - 7 p.m. - The Nationals’ tilt with the Rockies at Coors field on April 25, 2017 was all about the offense, and I won’t tax you with a full scoring summary here. Suffice it to say for now that Trea Turner hit for the cycle and had seven RBIs. Daniel Murphy drove in a measly five runs. Gerardo Parra (in pre-Baby Shark days) homered for the Rockies off Shawn Kelley in the ninth, but the visitors won 15-12.