After long delay, the Nationals face a pivotal doubleheader

September 22, 2013

(Alex Brandon/AP)

A pair of Craig Stammen’s spikes served as the tee box. The hole was located somewhere past the entrance to the showers. As the Nationals killed a 3-hour 46-minute rain delay Saturday night, part of their clubhouse became a par-3 chip-and-putt contest. Nobody won. They just kept playing.

“It’s really tough to read these greens,” reliever Drew Storen said this morning, pointing at the carpet. “A lot of sneaky breaks. Plus they just mowed them yesterday.”

As a few thousand hardy fans huddled in concourses and under umbrellas, the Nationals checked radars, watched college football, slept, snacked and generally staved off boredom. The confluence of rain and the last home series of the season led to an unusual circumstance. Major League Baseball wanted to play the game, and the league held control of when it would start.

“I understand why we wanted to play the game,” Stammen said. “But – I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus – it didn’t look like we were going to get to play until at least 11 or 12. At that point, what’s the point of playing then if you’re going to play at 1 [on Sunday]? I don’t know.

“We were just here for no reason. But, whatever. It would have been two extra hours at home. We got to hang out with each other.”

Before the Nationals ended up scheduling a split day-night doubleheader today, they discussed several options. One briefly considered idea was making up the game Thursday, a mutual day off for both teams. Under that scenario, the Nationals would have flown from St. Louis to Washington to Arizona, playing three games in three cities from Wednesday through Friday.

With a day game Sunday, the Nationals wanted to avoid starting the game at 11 p.m. or midnight. The Nationals would have left Nationals Park at about 3 a.m., then returned about seven hours later to prepare for another game.

“We said we were going to play a night-day doubleheader,” said Storen, the Nationals representative to the players’ association. “It got to the point where, it was not in our hands anyways, but we were going, ‘This is going to be tough. If we’re going to fire up and play a game right now, we’re not going to go to bed.’ You can’t just flip the switch off and take a power nap before a game. You’re going to play a doubleheader split, anyway. So hopefully, just call it.”

The players had essentially no say in the decision last night.

“During the season, it’s usually pretty simple,” Storen said. “The players’ association, they come to me. Then I ask some of the guys, and we make the decision, what we think is going to be best and what’s ideal. Before the said, we kind of said our preferences. Once the rain started happening, it kind of got out of our hands.”

The Nationals had nothing to do but wait it out. “We just got a little team bonding,” Manager Davey Johnson said. College football played on the televisions. In one corner of the clubhouse, players chipped and putted. They made frequent trips to the food room.

“I think I gained about 20 pounds,” Jordan Zimmermann said.

Rookie infielder Zach Walters took a nap in a backroom. He woke up, checked his phone and saw the clock approaching 10 p.m. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, I’m late,’ ” Walters said. Then he walked into the clubhouse and felt relief when he saw the rest of his teammates there.

“We were looking at the radar also,” Stammen said. “If it would have been a little more positive outlook, we might have been a little more focused. And then were going to give us a half-hour, 45-minute notice, anyway.”

The Nationals today will focus on what could be the most – or last – significant day of their year. If they sweep the Marlins and the Pirates beat the Reds, the Nationals will finish Sunday three games out of a postseason spot with six games to play. They could also end the day six games out. The Nationals could swing between renewed hope and a stay of execution.

“It could determine the fate of our season,” Stammen said. “We’ll see. Doubleheaders are statistically tough to sweep. But we did it once. Let’s see if we can do it again.”

The Nationals will have to keep winning after today if they want to keep alive their slim postseason odds, which Baseball Prospectus pegged at 1.2 percent as of this morning. Their bullpen will be tested with a doubleheader today and a series starting Monday against the Cardinals, perhaps the best offensive team in baseball.

“What stinks about it is, we’re going to play the Cardinals and hopefully our bullpen is not short after two games,” Stammen said. “We need to be all-hands-on-deck. Not that we don’t against the Marlins, but they’re probably a little bit better than the Marlins.”

“It’s September, man,” Storen said. “It’s all good. We got good depth down there. We got guys who can throw in a bunch of different roles. And we got a lot of confidence in our starters. That’s kind of part of the fun. It’s the end of the year. Just throw it on the table, man.”

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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James Wagner · September 22, 2013

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