This Nationals‘ season was a memorable and historic one, filled with seminal moments and transcendent performances. This week, we will look back at many of them and ask you to rank them. Today, we look at the best defensive plays of the season, and you can vote below. (Links to videos of the plays provided, too.)
- Rick Ankiel’s throws a strike from center field, APRIL 17: Ankiel’s left arm may be a gift from the baseball gods. With the bases loaded in the sixth and no outs, Stephen Strasburg got Carlos Lee to loft a ball to deep center field. Ankiel, a former pitcher, settled under it and fired an unbelievable bullet to Wilson Ramos at home plate that never came close to the ground. Jordan Schafer, the Astros’ fastest base runner, took no more than two steps towards home before stopping and returning to third. The crowd gave Ankiel a standing ovation for an out he never got to make.
- Roger Bernadina’s crashing catch, AUG. 7: We’re not trying to handicap this debate but this may be among the best catches in recent memory given the situation: the Nationals leading 3-2, two Astros on with two outs in the bottom of the 12th. Bernadina, who has a penchant for making the dramatic, gravity-defying catch, sacrificed his body to save closer Tyler Clippard and the game, disappearing out of view for a second and slamming into the left field wall and metal grating at Minute Maid Park. Craig Stammen’s reaction in the bullpen was priceless, as was the entire team’s.
- Bryce Harper’s throw home from left, MAY 1: It was only the rookie’s third game for the Nationals but he already showed one aspect of his prodigious talent: his cannon arm. He has made plenty of slick running grabs in center field, but in this game he was playing left field and fired a strike home to Wilson Ramos that nearly nabbed Gerardo Parra at home plate. Home plate umpire Jeff Nelson called Parra safe but replays showed that Ramos’ tag may have beaten the slide at home. Harper has gunned down plenty of runners at home but the distance on the throw was impressive.
- Jayson Werth’s home run-saving catch, OCT. 7: Holding onto a 2-1 lead in NLDS Game 1, Craig Stammen had a base runner at first and faced Daniel Descalso with only one out. Descalso lifted a ball deep to right field at Busch Stadium, high into the troublesome afternoon shadows and sun. Jayson Werth, panicking because he couldn’t see the ball, stepped into a sliver of shadows to shield the sun and timed his grab to save a potentially game-changing two-run home run.
- Ian Desmond’s diving catch to save a run, OCT. 11: With the score tied at 1-1 in NLDS Game 4 and Pete Kozma at first with two outs in the ninth, Matt Carpenter lifted a ball to shallow left field. The ball was in between Michael Morse and a racing Ian Desmond. But Desmond used his speed to track it down and dove back over his right shoulder to end the inning. Kozma was nearly around third by the time Desmond caught it, saving a crucial run with an acrobatic snare.
- Adam LaRoche purposely lets bunt fall for double play, AUG. 3: The Nationals led the Miami Marlins by two runs in the second but were in an early jam. John Lannan had two base runners on with only one out and pitcher Brad Hand was going to bunt them over. Hand’s bunt popped up near the mound and Adam LaRoche charged in, told Lannan at the last second to stay away and let it fall. It was a curious play at the time but a quick-thinking play that epitomized LaRoche’s even-keel play. He scooped up the ball started an easy 5-4 inning-ending double play.
- We would be remiss to point out that throughout the season Ryan Zimmermann and Danny Espinosa also made spectacular defensive plays — diving stops and leaping grabs — but almost too many good ones to point out a truly outstanding one. So for the purposes of this debate we’ll include both of them in one category to be fair. (If you think of any, please point them out in the comments section below.)
Best pitching performance (Winner so far: Ross Detwiler’s NLDS Game 4 start)
Best comeback (Winner so far: Nationals 7-6 win over the Marlins in 10 innings on Sept. 8 thanks to a rain-delayed game-tying home run by Jayson Werth.)