So add Rizzo and, to a lesser degree, Johnson to the naughty list from the weekend’s Philly fiasco. “Davey protected his players. He did his job perfectly,” Rizzo said. “He deflected criticism from them.”
Of course, galling mistakes (that “can’t happen”) keep occurring all the time in baseball. Then you play again the next day. The game doesn’t create good mental health; but it certainly selects for those who are resilient and can reboot their psyches the next day. “Bull Durham” almost had it right: Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose; sometimes it rains. Sometimes you just have to cuss till you feel better. But with the door closed.
The atmosphere of the current Nats is reminiscent of the old First Amendment Orioles under Earl Weaver where Johnson broke into the big leagues. There, freedom of speech was the rule. When Mike Cuellar complained about being taken out of the rotation, Weaver said, “I gave Cuellar more chances than my first wife.” When Jim Palmer got grumpy, Weaver said, “I’m going to send [pitching coach] Ray Miller out to the mound to bring Palmer back in by his diapers.”
Now that the Nats are a good team, awful things will happen to them. Or at least they will feel awful. Good teams, and their fans, suffer more.
Behavioral psychologists have experimented to measure how people react to winning or losing money. Even when the subjects are “spotted” the cash, so that they can’t really lose, they still have much more powerful emotional reactions to losing than to winning — about two-to-one.
The Nats, and their fans, are going to go through something similar. They’ll visit every emotional purgatory, this year, for several years. On the way to winning under pressure, a learning curve is required. They call it that because it sounds mean to call it what it really is: a suffering curve.
“The defeats are much more difficult to accept now when you’re good than when you were bad,” Rizzo said. “That’s another reason it’s so good to have Davey. He’s smooth and steady.” (Hold that thought.)
What is a proper baseline for measuring baseball exasperation? So far, the Nats have had seven “losing streaks” of at least three games. The worst has been 0-5. In those skids, combined, they are 0-26. How bad is that?
In 50 years in baseball, Johnson has endured everything. He breathes “context.” His first full year in the majors, his team had nine losing streaks that totaled 0-31. Those were the ’66 Orioles. They won the World Series. In ’96, when he managed the Orioles, they had eight slumps that totaled 0-32. They reached the AL Championship Series. The manageable bumps the Nats have suffered this year actually suggest an excellent team, not a weak one.
There’s a small chance this skid becomes a slide that turns into a full-blown slump that mutates into a collapse. But that takes weeks, not days. And it’s unlikely, in part because the Nats themselves know how close — and unfiltered — Rizzo and Johnson have always been.
Two days after the fuss, how are things now?
“We’re beautiful,” Rizzo said.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/