Ironically, three weeks ago, Morse said, in a general chat about pain and recovery, “It is amazing the things in this sport that we are expected to get over in like two days. But we do.” Not always with best results. Since then, Morse got hit in the right thumb with a fastball. He compensated in his violent slugger’s swing to play around the pain and that, in turn, injured his left wrist.
Espinosa’s stoicism has always been a trademark. But this time he went too far. His left shoulder hurt him so badly for more than a week that he could barely raise his arm to play catch before games. He said he felt “zero strength” in his left side when he swung. “I couldn’t get my top hand to the ball. I was late, late, late every time,” he said. The pain woke him in the night when he rolled over.
Why was he playing? Why wouldn’t he? No pro athletes play with more sprains, strains, bruises than baseball players during the 162-game schedule. They cope, unless they are truly hurt and know they risk further injury if they continue. Espinosa is the prototypical “gamer.”
Besides, he’d been hot at the plate for five weeks. Who sits when they can still hit? Then, suddenly, he just couldn’t. The Nats are lucky he went 0-for-11 in Atlanta with nine strikeouts. He was so helpless he had to admit the problem. At least for now, it appears he did himself no real harm.
After the Nationals left Atlanta, the Braves leader, Chipper Jones, dropped a message for the Nats in the next day’s papers, saying, “You like to leave a sour taste in the other team’s mouth as they’re leaving. . . . We can stand toe-to-toe with them.”
Some teams don’t know how to strike the right note when challenged. But the Nats probably do. Or, at least, Johnson almost certainly does after 50 years in baseball with his first pennant race way back in ’66, when he was a second baseman on the Orioles. “The Braves pitched two or three good games against us,” he said. “I like where we’re at. I wouldn’t want to switch places with ’em. Our destiny is in our own hands. We’ve been consistent and resilient all year.
“The Braves needed it more. We put our best foot forward. They won those three battles. It’s history. I’m not worried about that.”
What did worry him was Morse, who missed the Braves series, and Espinosa, who was crippled during it. Now, Johnson’s not worried anymore.
“Morse was getting electrocuted today,” joked Johnson of all the electrodes he had attached to him to help him heal. “And the doctor may have to fight Espinosa to keep him out of the lineup.”
If you wanted a late-season pennant dash, you have it. The Nats got their wish, too. They wanted their team back intact to play in it.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.