Vince Gray laments the Nats meltdown

October 15, 2012

Gray is a fearsome first baseman for the D.C. Dragons softball team. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The District of Columbia’s No. 1 baseball fan was among the approximately 45,000 on hand for Friday’s gut-wrenching Nationals loss in the playoff series clincher, and less than 12 hours later, Mayor Vincent C. Gray was still smarting. With Nats cap on his head, Gray indulged in a little postmortem Saturday morning after presiding over the unveiling of plans for a “gateway pavilion” for the St. Elizabeths east campus.

What went through your mind as you watched the game slip away?

Frankly, it was interesting, and I include myself in this, to watch the emotion. I was actually at the stage of trying to figure out how I was going to get down on the field. I just felt we were going to win. And then they started to put people on base, and then [closer Drew Storen] couldn’t get ‘em out; he was walking people. And then, when it’s tied up, I said, “You know what, we got the top of the lineup coming up in the bottom of the ninth, so maybe we can score a run maybe like we did the night before.” Then the guy gets the hit, and we’re down by two. And it was really deflating. You could see the team was deflated when they came up to the plate. The top of the lineup did nothing.

Did you find yourself questioning any of the decisions on the field?

It’s easy to second-guess, but I really wonder about the decisions around pitching last night. I still wonder today why they didn’t bring Jordan Zimmermann back in. He had a wonderful performance the night before. He pitched one inning, did extremely well. I don’t think they had another pitcher. Because as poorly as Storen was pitching, there was no one ever warming up while he was on the mound, so you have to wonder if they even had anyone else out there. So the question I would have for Davey Johnson is, as he thought through the game and the strategy of the game, how did he think through his pitching rotation at that stage? I think they used six pitchers last night. … They have more than seven pitchers. So who is it that he didn’t use, and why didn’t he use them? The reality is that there is no tomorrow when you get to this stage, so everybody who can pitch is down in that bullpen. So I think to the extent there’s an explanation that’s needed it really is what was the concept he was using around pitching.

Are you looking forward to seeing Drew Storen in a Nationals uniform next year?

Well, you know, I don’t want to judge a person by one performance, even though this is one of the most important performances of the year. But I think he clearly is going to have to compete and demonstrate that he is of the quality that is needed to make us a playoff team and a World Series team.

Is there any other heartbreak in your own baseball history that compares to what you watched Friday?

Wilson High School has historically been phenomenal. My senior year [at Dunbar High in the early 1960s] we had a phenomenal team, and we were actually winning. We were playing on Wilson’s home field and there was a bounder back to the pitcher. I was the first baseman. The pitcher turned, looked at me, promptly threw the ball on the street, and it was all downhill from there. And we would have been out of the inning at that stage. … [I]t was an analogous situation. I’m almost certain that would have decided who won the league.

***


Gray was still showing Nats pride the morning after. (Mike DeBonis/Th Washington Post)

Note that not every elected official in the city shared Gray’s anguish. Appearing with Gray at the St. Elizabeths event was D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who was unaware of Friday night’s drama the next morning. Here’s how he found out:

Me: “Mr. Mayor, I was just hoping you could give some voice to our civic anguish and perhaps help us all deal with … “

Gray: “The agony.”

Barry: “What’s the agony?”

Gray: “We lost.”

Barry: “We lost?”

Gray: “We’re gone. Not only did we lose, Marion, but it went down to the last strike.”

Barry: “We’re out of it?”

Gray: “We were up by two runs with one strike to go. One strike!”

Barry: “Ain’t that a [expletive].”

Gray: “We’re gone, man. The Cardinals scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning. … We were up 6-0 and lost.”

Barry: “I don’t like baseball that much. … I’m praying for RG3.”

Gray: “I love baseball.”

 ***

And a postscript: Pursuant to a mayoral wager, the Nationals loss means the official St. Louis flag will be flying over the John A. Wilson Building in the coming days. Spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said Monday that mayoral staffers are in the process of making arrangements. “We’ll make it happen,” he said. “The District of Columbia is good to its word.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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