Michael Morse immediately got a single, breaking up Ricky Nolasco’s no-hitter. But a double-play grounder ended the inning and sent the game back into its balmy breezy mood, as if a spring training game had broken out with 24,396 spectators. When Davey Johnson started resting regulars in an 8-0 loss, you swore you were in Viera, Fla.
“Ain’t much to say about that one, so . . . ” said Johnson, attempting, unsuccessfully, to negotiate the first eight-word news conference in baseball history.
Actually, this dud by the Nats served a purpose. You thought: “What’s going on here? Who’d watch this trash?” Then you realize that it’s what passed for big league ball for most of the years when D.C. had a team from 1901 right up until mighty recently.
“That’s maybe how it used to be,” Jayson Werth said. “Not anymore.”
Now, a lousy game is so out of character with the whole season that it shows how easy it is to be spoiled by winning baseball. Now, the Nats lead the majors in walk-off wins (19), including one less than 24 hours earlier when Werth tied Saturday’s Nats comeback in the bottom of the ninth with a homer after a 153-minute rain delay.
Now, even when they get stomped, the Nats still have baseball’s best record by 21
2 games over Cincinnati, which could lead to home-field advantage if they make the League Championship Series. And they lead the NL East by 51
2 games over Atlanta. The Braves are hot, winning seven of 10. But the Nats have been slightly hotter. When this homestand began, their lead was five games.
Check back next Sunday night, after the Nats finish a six-game road trip with three showdown games in Atlanta, to see how much, if any, of the buzz has been killed.
“We’ve got a lot of big games coming down the stretch. It’s going to be up to us. It’s not going to be easy,” said Werth, hitting .308 and flourishing as a leadoff hitter in what has emerged as one of baseball’s best second-half power-hitting lineups with four hitters who’ve had 30-homer seasons, two more who’ve had 20-homer years and another, Bryce Harper, who has 18 bombs as a 19-year-old rookie.
“We need to play good baseball and be the same team we’ve been all year,” Werth said. At least, after this laugher, the Nats should arrive in New York chuckling. Their seven rookies — yes, it’s the annual hazing trip — dressed up as the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.
The team the Nats “have been all year” is a club that does amazing things almost routinely. How different are expectations now? Trailing 8-0 in the eighth, much of the crowd — 99 percent probably praying that their DVRs had recorded Robert Griffin III’s debut properly — was still around, starting a rally chant. Hey, the Marlins lost a flyball in the sun. Isn’t that all it takes for a Nats comeback, just a crack in the door? No, of course not. But old assumptions have been slain — with lots of reason.