We’re certainly not out of the woods as far as the pandemic is concerned, but with new vaccines making their way into the world and 2020 now in the rearview mirror, we have entered a season of hope, which is as it should be after the holidays have passed and we start counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report. Or are scheduled to, at least.
This week’s platter of “Nationals Classics,” which includes multiple examples of a determined team snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, reminds us just how powerful a weapon hope can be.
It features never-say-die performances by the guy who endured every one of the Nationals’ postseason letdowns before the triumph of 2019, and the World Series MVP of that year getting a big win a few years before. You’ll also thrill to the exploits of Nats stars of the past, some of whom you might have forgotten.
So here’s hoping. Heck, the 7-9 Washington Football Team just won its division and heads to the playoffs this weekend. How can you not have at least a sliver of optimism for the new year? In any case, tint your glasses just a bit rosier with “Nationals Classics.”
Sunday, Jan. 10 - 11:30 p.m. - Few people thought anyone could top Babe Ruth’s career record for home runs. Then Hank Aaron did it. When Giants slugger Barry Bonds surpassed Aaron’s mark in 2007, it shook the baseball world all right, but didn’t cause as much astonishment. After all, Bonds played an entire career of 162-game seasons and benefited from various other evolutionary developments in baseball (I’ll let you enumerate those you think are applicable in this context). Bonds happened to break Aaron’s career record on a solo shot off the Nationals’ Mike Bacsik in the fifth inning of an Aug. 7 game in San Francisco. The Nationals happened to win the game 8-6. Ryan Zimmerman played third base and hit a three-bagger in the third. Felipe López, Austin Kearns and Brian Schneider homered for the visiting and victorious Nationals.
Monday, Jan. 11 - 7 p.m. - Zimmerman played his first full season with the Nats in 2006. On the Fourth of July that year, he wrote an early chapter in the legend of Mr. Walk-Off, hitting a three-run homer off Joe Borowski with two out in the ninth and the Nationals trailing the Marlins by a run. Marlon Byrd had a solo in the Nats’ 6-4 win.
Tuesday, Jan. 12 - 11 a.m. - This interleague game from early in the 2016 campaign offers practically a two-fer. The Nats won it in a walk-off, but it would take them nearly six hours as they tangled with the Twins for 16 innings. Matt den Dekker, Michael A. Taylor, Chris Heisey, Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth all enjoyed multi-hit games for the Nationals, while Minnesota leadoff man Eduardo Núñez went 4-for-7. Twins right-hander Michael Tonkin won the bad-day award, blowing a save in the 15th by giving up an unearned run on catcher John Ryan Murphy’s throwing error and then taking the loss in the 16th as Heisey homered to lead off the inning and bring the game to a sudden stop.
Tuesday, Jan. 12 - 11:30 p.m. - Here’s another Independence Day walk-off, this one from 2011. With the score knotted at 4-4 in the 10th inning, the Nationals plated the winning run by putting just one ball in play, one that didn’t even get out of the infield. Werth led off the home half with a walk, went to second on pinch-hitting pitcher Liván Hernández’s sac bunt, stole third, then raced home when Carlos Mármol threw a wild pitch. Werth and Laynce Nix each had a pair of RBIs in the 5-4 victory.
Wednesday, Jan. 13 - 3:30 p.m. - Bryce Harper hit two milestones with one swing on April 14, 2016, hitting his first big league grand slam and becoming the eighth-youngest player ever reach 100 homers in the majors. His third-inning shot propelled the Nats to a 6-2 win over the Braves. Stephen Strasburg pitched 7 2/3 innings of four-hit ball to earn the victory.
Wednesday, Jan. 13 - 7 p.m. - It was Aug. 19, 2011, and the Nationals were trailing the visiting Phillies 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Had ‘em right where they wanted ‘em. With Ryan Madson (who would later do a stint with the Nats) on the mound looking to earn a save for the Phils, Werth, Danny Espinosa and Jonny Gomes singled in succession to bring the good guys within a run. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, Ian Desmond got a base knock to tie the score. Madson struck out Rick Ankiel and only needed to get past Zimmerman to get out of the inning and send the game to extras. But with the count full, Zimmerman hit a liner that cleared the left field wall for a grand slam and an overkill walk-off.