“This is a good spell for us: nothing but good clubs,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We’re going to have to play. We can’t be thinking about nothing.”
Nobody knows better than Johnson that thinking and playing baseball cannot be done simultaneously. Thinking prepares you to play. But in the moment, you must be spontaneous, almost unconscious, and enjoy your gift.
More than any Nat, Dan Haren is in the midst of analyzing the sport between games, but trying to relish it when he’s actually pitching — no easy task when you have given up 32 hits in 181
After a winter of rehab exercises prescribed by the Nats, Haren’s velocity was back to 90.4 mph Monday, right in the middle of his 2009-11 norm and better than any game of ’12 when he averaged 89.5. That should spell success and perhaps a free agent steal by the Nats. But it hasn’t.
Haren’s first three awful starts epitomize the desire to win, prove he’s “back” and vindicate his $13 million contract rather than pitch in the brainy precise way that defined him his whole exceptional career. Now, Haren concedes he fell too much in love with his good health and revived fastball.
“I was throwing more than 50 percent fastballs,” he says sheepishly, knowing he was at 34 percent in ’11. Haren even threw his cutter too hard, erasing much of the gap in speed between it and his fastball while also decreasing his cutter’s late break. He had to throw it slower, locate better.
In his fourth start, he did, sort of, with five fine innings but a bad sixth. Haren has turned a corner, but that too is a process, not an instant correction.
“I’ve felt really good, so losing has been eating at me; it really has,” Haren said. “I told myself, ‘Have more fun’ rather than stress too much.”
As he said it, the lights in the Nats’ clubhouse flickered, and half of them went out. Haren continued his interview, saying, “Baseball will humble you.” At that, the rest of the lights went dead. The room was black. The Nats had just lost to the same team that turned out the lights on their ’12 season.
Nervous chuckles. In a minute, the lights came back on. Choose your symbolism or ignore it. The Nats briefly lost some of their luminous aura, but have they now glimpsed the necessary humility they may have misplaced?
For months, the Nats have been listening, talking and thinking about many distracting things: Game 5, the Cardinals, “World Series or Bust.”
This week, they came full circle. On Monday, the Nats were reunited with Pete Kozma and 10/12/12 was recapitulated. They saw Kozma single to right, get intentionally walked by Johnson with the pitcher on deck and face Drew Storen again but, this time, strike out. Is baseball a stand-up comic? The game must stay up all night thinking of ways to get in players’ heads.
A player’s job is not to allow it or, at least, not for too long.
Isn’t it time for the Nats, distracted by both past and future, to grasp the present and say, “We can’t be thinking about nothing” except the game?
The Nats actually say they have made that decision. How well and how soon that process produces results is a mystery.
When do the lights come back on?