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Nationals’ nine-game winning streak is “absolutely epic”

Aug 21, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT

This shouldn’t be happening, not like this. It’s not that the Nationals have won nine straight games. And it’s not that they’ve won in walk-off fashion four of the last five nights. It’s that they’ve won three of the last four nights after blowing a lead in the eighth or ninth inning.

Really, who does this?

“I mean, just absolutely epic,” Bryce Harper said. “That’s the best word I can put on it for you. It’s been incredible.”

The events taking place each evening on South Capitol Street are beginning to defy explanation. Four nights after rallying from 3 runs down to beat the Pirates, three nights after watching Rafael Soriano melt down in the ninth before they came back to win in the 11th, two nights after watching Tyler Clippard blow his own ninth-inning lead before they again came back to win in the 11th, they did it yet again.

Leading by two runs in the eighth, the Nationals saw Clippard surrender another game-tying homer, only to pick up their All-Star reliever by producing another winning rally in the ninth, beating the Diamondbacks 3-2 for their ninth consecutive victory.

At this point, it sure looks like Matt Williams is drawing them up this way, going for maximum drama at the expense of everyone’s blood pressure.

“No, no. Not even close,” the rookie manager insisted. “That’s not the way you draw them up. But they don’t stop fighting, that’s for sure.”

The Nationals find themselves in this position — winners of nine straight, owners of a 7-game division lead, an NL-best 19 games over .500 — thanks to an elite rotation (starters have given up 10 total earned runs during these nine games) and an opportunistic lineup that thrives in pressure situations late (they’ve scored 27 runs from the sixth inning on during the streak).

They got both Wednesday night, with Tanner Roark tossing seven scoreless innings despite some early command struggles and then Harper, Kevin Frandsen and Anthony Rendon combining to produce the winning rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Harper ignited things with a base hit up the middle (his third of the game) after battling Arizona reliever Evan Marshall to a full count.

“Great at-bat,” Williams said.

After Wilson Ramos struck out on three pitches, Frandsen sent a sharp grounder up the middle, just past Aaron Hill‘s diving attempt. Harper, seeing the ball trickle into shallow center field, never broke stride and wound up on third base without drawing a throw.

That brought a familiar face to the plate in an unfamiliar role. Rendon was supposed to have the night off after 62 consecutive starts at either second or third base, but here was the 24-year-old being asked to pinch-hit for the first time this season, with the game on the line.

Rendon had spent the evening shadowing Scott Hairston, watching how the veteran bench player prepared for the possibility of late action.

“I followed Scotty throughout the whole game pretty much,” Rendon said. “I was like: ‘Alright, what do I do? Do I do this? Do I do that?'”

Rendon also remembered advice he got earlier this summer from former teammate Greg Dobbs, a pinch-hitting specialist for many years.

“He said to just get up like it;s your first at-bat of game. That’s what Dobbs told me,” Rendon said. “And that’s what I actually remembered from earlier in the year. So I was like: ‘Alright, I’m going to go up like it’s my first at-bat of the game and go up there and try to barrel the ball like I always do.'”

Rendon took ball one from Marshall, then turned on the next pitch. The ball was scorched down the third-base line, giving Harper a leisurely stroll home with the winning run while everyone else mobbed Rendon near first base, impressed (but not surprised) by his latest offensive exploits.

“A lot of guys around here will sing his praises all the time, because he is so levelheaded,” Frandsen said. “For him to finally get a day off today, you’d never know, because he was out there doing everything, coming off the bench. There’s one thing I think he was born to do, and it’s hit.”

And there appears to be one thing these Nationals know how to do right now: Win ballgames, no matter how much drama it requires.

“For me, it’s just a very good ethic that these guys have,” Williams said, who with one more win Thursday would have to make good on his pledge to break out his old Babe Ruth impersonation. “They believe in each other. They believe that we can stay in a game, that we can win a game, that we’re never out of a game. That’s a trait that you can’t force on folks. They get that amongst themselves in that clubhouse, and it’s enjoyable to watch. Sometimes it’s not a whole lot of fun, but it’s enjoyable to watch the way they go about it. So I’m proud of them.”

  1. mybrunoblog - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    Pretty remarkable. The media will soon start calling the Nats a “team of destiny”. That and is it just me or does Bryce Harper look like the Heat Miser in the picture?

  2. rcali - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    That’s a Clown comment bro.

  3. SocraticGadfly - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    “Absolutely epic” is a clown comment. Ahh, the Internet and the hyperbolization of hyperbole.

  4. Glenn - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    It’s fun to see a little luck turn into “chemistry”, “destiny”, and “grit”.

  5. freedomofspeechyesway - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    As an O’s fan I enjoy seeing the Nats succeed as I think it invigorates Maryland’s love for professional baseball even more; and in my experience the two fan bases get along quite well, which makes for some fun conversation, unlike the Ravens/Redskins crap.

    • mybrunoblog - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      Football just seems to bring out more aggression in fans. That and Ravens have been very successful during their first 18 seasons while the Redskins have been average to bad over that time frame. Probably some bitter Redskins fans a little envious of Ravens success. No, I’m not trolling.

      • wethog66 - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:15 PM

        This Skins fan is bitter that the powers that be decided to name an NFL team after a poem written by a drunk who married his 12 year old niece. That, and Baltimore did the same thing to Cleveland that Indy did to Baltimore. I was very excited, initially, that Baltimore was getting an NFL team again, then the details on how the team got to Baltimore, what the team would be called and the sweet heart stadium deal came to light. Been bitter ever since.

        As for Baseball, I am an O’s fan first and foremost. Went to my 1st professional sporting event to see the O’s play at Memorial Stadium. Been an O’s fan ever since. But I have room in my heart for the Nats as well. Love the team name, uniforms, and how/why it came to DC. The exact opposite of the Crows.

      • cktai - Aug 21, 2014 at 2:25 PM

        I’m not sure that as a Redskins fan, you get to take the higher moral ground when it comes to team names.

      • wethog66 - Aug 21, 2014 at 3:32 PM

        Didn’t know I took the high road. Simply listed my reasons for not liking the team, primarily the name. I was 7 when the Colts left town so growing up all I knew was the Redskins. When the Browns came to Baltimore I was ready to switch my allegiance. Being born and raised in Annapolis, MD, fully embrace the new Baltimore team. But the factors I listed turned me away.

        As for the Skins name, oh please. Cracker is well established racial slur for us white folks but that doesn’t stop Ritz and Cracker Barrel from using it. Where is Redskins is used for one thing, the name of the NFL team.

  6. wethog66 - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    F the Crows!

  7. karlkolchak - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    The bullpen failures that have led to these heroics are likely being caused by Williams’s overuse of Clippard and Soriano while underutilizing Drew Storen, who is having a fantastic year himself. MW needs to balance the workload better among those guys.

    As for Harper’s comments–sounds like he’s having fun again, and that’s good news.

    • recoveringcubsfan - Aug 21, 2014 at 2:09 PM

      Totally agree on the bullpen use – and add Matt Thornton to that list, too. Williams had him up and throwing in the 8th. Talk about going back to well until it runs dry! As for those who want to discount this streak, and Harper’s comment, as nothing special/overrated/whatever: the Nats do not win games this way. For 1.5 seasons, they have folded immediately upon falling behind or losing a lead late. That is why this is “epic.” It’s not who the team is, but it’s a lot of fun to be part of. Last night, people were going nuts with excitement as soon as the Nats started batting in the 9th, because they’re now expecting good things to happen. You can see the change in players’ approaches at the plate. There is something to the chemistry effect on a team that’s winning – for a short time, the character of the Nationals has actually changed. It will be interesting to see what kind of effect that has, if any, for the next month.

  8. natstowngreg - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Major potential, not yet fully realized. Mentioned as “should have made the All-Star Game.” Playing almost every game, and expected to do so for many years to come.

    Following a bench guy around to learn how to pinch-hit.

    Anthony Rendon grows on you.

    • NatsLady - Aug 21, 2014 at 2:03 PM

      He’s tired, though. Since the All-Star Break .254/.306/.388 Jul 18 – Aug 20.

      Williams needs to manage that, too. He’s not an iron-man like Desi, at least, not yet.

  9. randomjoeblow - Aug 21, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    Why is it epic? This article is about as boring as a Posnanski piece..

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