The following story was reported during The Student Journalist Program’s five-day Summer Newsroom Workshop in August, 2016.
Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker likes it when his team gets on base early and often Even with a rookie starting in place of Bryce Harper, they did.
After tallying three runs over the last three games, the Nationals offense turned it around and more than doubled their scoring production over that span – providing a much-needed break in the 91-degree heat against another playoff-contending team.
Without Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup, someone needed to step up and take charge. Jayson Werth – a team leader in the clubhouse at age 37 – decided that he was going to be that player.
Werth went 2-for-3 with a double, a home run and three RBIs. He walked and scored three times, reaching base for the 40th consecutive game in the process, the longest streak in the majors this season, and just three shy of Zimmerman’s team record set in 2009.
When asked about the streak after the game, Werth, shaking his head, responded, “Not a record, means nothing.”
He attributed his struggles earlier in the season to an aggressive mind-set – something that he has recently tried to forego.
“Just getting back to being myself, I think that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “I’ve been a pretty good player over the course of my career, and I think it was a product of having good at-bats. It is what it is – whether it’s a streak or it’s not a streak, I feel like myself up there. I’m the same player I’ve been since I got to the league.
The rest of the lineup built on Werth’s performance to score four runs in the first two innings.
Indians starter Josh Tomlin was pulled from the game in the fifth after allowing all seven runs – a testament to Dusty Baker’s philosophy of getting ahead of counts early and taking advantage of scoring opportunities.
Even in a game where Gio Gonzalez was not at his best, the Nationals were still able to get the win. The left-hander gave up four runs on seven hits over five innings. The last time he allowed as many runs was June 30. Yet, Gonzalez is a perfect 70-0 in 87 career regular season starts when he gets at least four runs of support.
“Our offense came alive to put us in that position,” Baker said.
To cap off the offensive outburst, Brian Goodwin made his first career start in right field and singled in the eighth inning for his first major league hit. Every position player in the lineup reached base.
“I think finally seeing one go through was kind of like a relief,” Goodwin said.
The 25 year-old has been with the Washington Nationals organization for five years now, and the team remains hopeful that he can be apart of the future lineup as an everyday player. After hitting for a .284 average with an improved track record against left-handed pitching in Triple-A Syracuse this season, the Nationals decided to call him up to make his debut.
“It was amazing,” Goodwin said. “I think a lot of [my teammates] were more excited than I was. But those guys just rallied around me and supported me and they were positive with me the whole time. Everybody was ecstatic.”
It did not take long for Goodwin to feel comfortable in the Nationals team clubhouse. He was drafted 28 picks after Anthony Rendon in the 2011 draft (34th overall) and played with Joe Ross, Pedro Severino and others in spring training.
“Kind of just been here enjoying the moment, just trying to take it and enjoy every minute,” he said. “A lot of the guys I came up with playing in the lower levels, Trea and Anthony and Severino – a lot guys like that have just been helping me. They’ve been here for a while and they kind of know the routine so they’ve been helping me and keeping me along and not showing up late.”
With Bryce Harper out of the lineup for the third consecutive game due to neck stiffness, the Nationals went with Goodwin, who played nine games with them in spring training because Baker wanted him to get the experience. Michael A. Taylor or Matt den Dekker would have been more obvious choices, but Taylor was sent down to get consistent playing time.
“Brian has a lot of talent,” Baker said. “Everybody was so happy for him tonight to get your first hit because everybody remembers, everybody has that moment that you get your first hit and you never forget it.”
So what’s next for Goodwin? The rookie will probably join Clint Robinson, Pedro Severino, and Wilmer Difo on the Nationals’ bench – but he will do so knowing that one of his most memorable career milestones is out of the way – and he has the special ball from his first big-league hit to remember it by.
“My mom’s outside,” Goodwin said. “So I assume I won’t have it much longer.”