Baseball is an emotional game and those emotions are shared equally by either side. Some of the best baseball pictures are the ones of teams celebrating on the field while the opponent stands and stares in disbelief at what has just happened. Baseball is about moments. Moments that may have happened years before only to be repeated time and time again with different players with different names in updated uniforms. The greatest quality of baseball is how it can take us out of time and to a transcendental place where we find a kinship with the past.
Last night was the first walk-off hit of Bryce Harper’s career. So far Harper has done nothing but deliver on the immense promise that was Bryce Harper, but Harper’s walk-off happened due to the play of another player. Ian Desmond has been one of the best Nats in clutch situations this season. That is a statement of fact it says nothing about the nature or the existence of a skill known as clutch in a human being, and anyone that can stand the pressures it takes to become a major league baseball player shouldn’t fold under the pressures of a singular at bat no matter the situation.
The fact though is that in high leverage situations Ian Desmond is hitting .365/.370/.596, and last night he had three hits that tied the game three different times after the eighth inning. Nats fans shouldn’t get to use to this small sample size performance from Desmond though. Over his career he has hit .291/.310/.410 in high leverage situations which is only marginally better than his overall career numbers of .262/.301/.396.
Ian Desmond’s three game tying hits might have set up the win but it was Bryce Harper who delivered and picked up a couple of his teammates. It looked like Elvin Ramirez wanted to walk in the winning run and if Nady hadn’t swung that just might have happened. He did swing though and hit into a fielder’s choice where Ian Desmond was out at the plate. Harper came up with two outs and the bases loaded and quickly fell to 0-2 while looking like he was trying to do too much, but on the 0-2 pitch he took a short compact swing and lined the game winning single the other way into left field. It also should be mentioned that Harper is hitting .355/.417/.581 in high leverage situations. Harper is also hitting .288/.375/.528 overall with a mature approach at the plate looking more to take what is given than to make something happen.
Players aren’t the only ones that feel the emotions of the game. Fan bases are subject to the ups and downs of a baseball season as well. 162 games spread out over six months is a long time, and it can be draining. It can also cause people to have strange emotional outburst. Last night during the course of the game I overheard some very interesting comments from the crowd. One individual no less than three times declared that this was the last Nats game he would ever come to and despite the record they were the same old Nats. Another person declared every player striking out or hitting a pop-out to be the expected outcome. I even heard one person exclaim that Desmond was falling back to his career average OBP after a ground out. For the record Desmond’s career average OBP is .301 and this season it is .289.
Fans are entitled to their emotions, but with the high drama games the Nats have played this season fans are going to have to find a way to relax or they will have a collective coronary by season’s end. The Nats are built to score just enough runs to win while their pitching staff stifles and suffocates the opposing batters. That can cause games that begin to feel more like torture than a joy to watch. Nats fans have found very little time as the team has played to a record of 12-9 in one run games and 5-3 in extra inning games. The only team that has played in more than the 21 one run games that the Nats have are the San Francisco Giants who have played in 23.
With the way the Nats are constructed games like last night are going to be the norm. If the Nats are going to continue to win on the season it will be done as an old fashioned baseball cliche of pitching, defense, and timely hitting. The best thing for fans to do is to sit back, strap in, and enjoy the ride, because it doesn’t get any less bumpy.