Redding's Strong Outing Helps Mets End Six-Game Skid
Sunday, September 20, 2009
NEW YORK, Sept. 19 -- A week ago, when interim manager Jim Riggleman decided to experiment by playing shortstop Ian Desmond at second base, he shrugged his shoulders and said, by way of an explanation, "It's not going to cost us the pennant." Point subsequently proven -- Desmond fared just fine at second, and Washington's playoff odds held steadfast at zero -- Riggleman took his experimentation one step further. Saturday, he played Desmond in right field. Not since high school had Desmond played out there. But oh well. He borrowed the mitt of teammate Justin Maxwell, jogged out to his new position, and hoped to survive without a screw-up.
"If he can play short and he can play second," Riggleman said before the game, "I'm not saying he's going to be a Gold Glove outfielder, but I think he should make the routine play, and if he doesn't, that's on me."
In a way, Desmond's trial at a new position crystallized the Washington Nationals' philosophy for the final weeks of the season. Its consequences also cost them a ballgame. In large part because of Desmond's seventh-inning fielding blunder, the Nationals lost to the Mets, 3-2, on Saturday. On a line drive right at him, Desmond charged in when he should have stayed put. The guy who hit the ball, David Wright, ended up scoring the go-ahead run. Had Desmond made the play, perhaps Washington still might have fallen. But the more purposeful lesson from Desmond's right field debut was this: Riggleman only played him there because, at this point, he's willing to risk a loss to try something new.
The Nationals don't envision Desmond as an outfielder. Best case, his trial there -- he might play there a few more times before the year is over -- can afford him a utility player's versatility, and boost his odds for a 2010 roster spot. More telling for the short-term, Washington's incautious late-season juggling of position players reflects several of Riggleman's beliefs. He sees in Washington's record a license to move things around. He also sees no reason why athletic baseball players can't do many tasks well.
"You know, we're last in the league in defense," Riggleman said. "So I think there's no wrong answers. We've got to try everything. It's not like we've been Gold-Gloving it all over the field and can't try something."
Deep into the afternoon, Desmond and the Nationals found themselves in a tight, quick-as-rapids pitcher's duel. John Lannan and Tim Redding were going back and forth, up and down, and at one point, Desmond turned to an umpire and joked, "Man, I'm running sprints back and forth between right field." Redding, through five, had allowed only a bunt single. Lannan, through five, had thrown just 45 pitches. When the sixth inning ended, the game was just 74 minutes old.
Washington tied the score at 1 in the top of the seventh with Adam Dunn's 100th RBI of the season, but its failure to add more proved costly. Had the Nationals jumped ahead, Riggleman would have moved Desmond to second base, sending left-handed hitter Pete Orr to the bench and placing Elijah Dukes in right. As it happened, Riggleman kept Desmond at his unnatural position, preferring to maintain a lineup with Orr, a left-handed batter.
That decision, Riggleman said, "backfired."
To be sure, the liner that New York's Wright blazed toward right field in the bottom of the seventh was a tricky play. Tricky for an outfielder. Trickier for a non-outfielder. "I've seen a lot of people make that mistake," Desmond said.
"Well you know what, that ball was tough," Lannan said. "It was his first time out there. Yeah, we needed to get his bat in the lineup; he's been swinging a hot bat. So, I mean, the ball should have been caught, but that's how the game goes sometimes."
Take away Desmond's misplay -- it was ruled a double, not an error -- and perhaps the Mets still might have scored that inning. But without a doubt, Jeff Francoeur's subsequent double down the left field line wouldn't have driven in the go-ahead run. By the time the inning ended, New York, aided by a Dunn error on a chopper to first, had a 3-1 lead, and Lannan (seven innings, five hits, three runs) was due for a tough-luck loss.
Hours earlier, Desmond, anticipating his first outfield experience, had explained his willingness to try anything that would get him on the field. One mistake later, he hadn't changed his mind. "I just played nine innings in a big league baseball game," he said, smiling. "That's pretty much all you can ask for."