Nationals Park public address announcer Jerome Hruska thanked D.C. Police, Fire and EMS responders, stadium personnel and fans themselves for the way they responded to Saturday night’s shooting on South Capitol Street and the subsequent chaos inside the ballpark. The smaller-than-usual crowd in attendance applauded.
And then the Padres took the field, Pierce Johnson began his warm-up tosses, Victor Robles made his way to the plate and at 1:08 p.m., the bottom of the sixth began some 15 hours and 37 minutes after this game came to an abrupt halt following an incident nobody present ever wants to experience again.
The Nationals, who already trailed by four runs when Saturday’s game was suspended, proceeded to give up two more in the top of the seventh. Continuing a recent trend of poor pitching and sloppy play in the field, they wound up losing 10-4 and dropping their sixth straight. They’ll need a clutch performance from Max Scherzer later this afternoon to avoid a series sweep and another missed opportunity to gain ground on the equally struggling Mets.
But the outcome of the game, while important in the standings for both clubs, felt secondary to the events that forced it to be completed the day after it began. For those in the stands and in the dugouts, there perhaps wasn’t as much energy as you’d normally find on a warm July afternoon.
“For the most part, they’re calm,” manager Davey Martinez said of his players during his morning Zoom session with reporters. “They want to get back to some kind of normalcy today and just play baseball. That’s why we’re all here. We want to go out and play baseball.”
That, of course, was easier said than done. As much as everyone would’ve liked to devote their full attention to the game itself, it was impossible not to consider what transpired here Saturday night.
“Coming and finishing a game under those circumstances, I think was a little bit weird for all of us,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “But you have to kind of move on and play the game. But, yeah, it was definitely different.”
In the first public comments from uniformed Nationals personnel since the shooting, Martinez shared his firsthand experience, what he heard and saw as soon as the top of the sixth ended, and what he did after that.
“I heard the gunshots, obviously, right away,” Martinez said. “I looked above the third base dugout, where I thought the shots were coming from. And at that particular moment, ... I didn’t know what was going on, but I wanted to make sure everybody was safe. As things went on fairly quickly, I heard that it was outside the stadium.
“Everything happened so quickly. People started to get a little frantic, which we don’t blame. When a situation like that arises, you try to follow protocol. But honestly, protocol is to get to safety and take care of your families and hope that everybody stays safe.”
So it was that family members of Nationals players and coaches were brought into the clubhouse to join their fathers and husbands and sons. And so it also was that a number of fans who had jumped from their seats along the first base line and crammed into the home dugout also were allowed to enter the corridor that leads to the clubhouse and the manager’s office.
“I’ve said it before: For me, they’re family. They’re our fans,” Martinez said. “They sweat just like the players do, just like I do. They’re here for us. And a lot of these people I’ve seen before. They sit above our dugout. I just wanted to make sure everybody was safe. It was a reactionary thing. There wasn’t really much ... I just wanted to make sure everybody was safe.”
After a few minutes, once it was clear the ballpark itself was secure, those fans departed the clubhouse tunnel. And others among the announced paid crowd of 33,232 made their way out of the stadium, using only the center field and right field gates, with everything outside the third base side of the facility shut down by police.
The Nationals, like all Major League Baseball clubs, attend mandatory safety meetings every spring and are instructed how to handle a variety of scenarios that could arise at a ballpark.
“But you don’t ever think it’s going to happen,” Martinez said. “And when it does, it’s definitely a different situation. You’ve got 30,000 fans. You’ve got security workers. You’ve got vendors. You’ve got tons of people that are out there that you worry about. But I thought yesterday everybody in this stadium handled it well. I thank the fans for doing the best they can to stay calm.”
Martinez stuck around until at least 12:30 a.m., joined by some other coaches and staffers as they watched the news, processed what had taken place and tried to shift their attention to the 12 1/2 innings of baseball that were now scheduled for today.
Eventually, though, the fourth-year manager made his way home as well. He has lived in countless cities throughout his baseball life, and he continues to maintain residences in several of them. At this particular moment, though, he fully felt like a Washington native.
“I love this city. This city’s my home,” he said, beginning to choke up. “It can get crazy, we all know that. And we all want to feel safe. I can tell you that inside this ballpark, I feel safer than ever, I really do. We care about each other. We don’t want anybody getting hurt. For me, yesterday, I tried to protect as many people as possible.”