“If we win ballgames, that’s how we’re going to take this stadium back. We’ve got an attitude. I don’t know how to spell Natitude, but I don’t mind the attitude. The better the team you play, the more you better have it.”
Later this year, and perhaps for seasons to come, the rising Nationals and the clinging-to-the-top Phils are going to match talents and attitudes, toughness and health. By the second half of this year, if both heal, they may be classic duelists in a playoff chase.
“This is killing me,” said injured cleanup hitter Michael Morse, grinning but shaking his head. “All I want is for this to keep going so I can get back and be part of the fun.”
But for now, with both teams lacking so many heart-of-the-order hitters, this game was a determined, taut battle between what is left of the offenses of the Phils and Nats. That it went extra innings bespoke lost firepower for both.
“We’ve always had injuries. That’s part of baseball nowadays,” said Phils Manager Charlie Manuel, with emphasis on “nowadays” as if, in his time, there was a padlock on the training room door and a injury containing a words as obscure as “oblique” or hard to spell as “abdominal” probably shouldn’t bother a real major leaguer. “Some teams use those excuses. Our players don’t choose to think of it that way.”
The Phils’ grit is never challenged. The mettle of Nats fans sometimes is. In a role reversal, the Phils were booed when introduced, the Nats cheered. Incipient chants of “Lets Go Phils,” usually starting in the right field bleachers, were quickly drowned out with boos.
Washington’s demographic is No. 1 nationally in education and disposable income. But, as far as baseball is concerned, Nats crowds in some past years have cheered as though they’ve each brought along their personal dog-eared copy of Emily Dickinson’s collected poems and were working their way through “I like a look of agony because I know it’s true” during their team’s eternally fruitless pseudo-rallies.
In utter contrast, few fans of any team travel better (or worse) than those of the Phils, who carry copies of Attila the Hun’s four-word autobiography — “Outta My Way, Sucka.” They are loud, rude as needed, confident and feel deeply entitled to back their recent powerhouse of a team after generations of suffering and more than 10,000 defeats. Come on, setting aside the worst 5 or 10 percent of them, don’t Phils fans deserve their few years in the bright lights before their stars get older and the Nats, Braves and Marlins keep getting better?
No one knows when baseball tides change. But sometimes you can start to feel them shift. That began, between the Nats and Phils, late last year when the Nats under Johnson won “meaningless” series from the runaway 102-win Phils.
Now, those victories and the pride they bred in the team’s players and, perhaps, in its fans feel like a precursor. To what? The next two installments — of many — await us.
“Come enjoy the party,” said Storen, one of many Nats still smiling long after the game. Though barely.
For Thomas Boswell previous columns, visit washingtonpost.