Two years before he was hired as the Nationals’ new manager, Matt Williams engaged in an angry exchange with two of Washington’s top players, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth. In early June 2011, the Nationals and the Diamondbacks faced off in a wild series in Arizona. In the four games, nine batters were hit with pitches. Werth was hit three times, as was Arizona’s Justin Upton, and Danny Espinosa was hit twice.
But it was the final game of the series on June 5 that sparked the fireworks. Werth was hit in the fifth inning by Ian Kennedy and warnings were issued to both benches. Two batters later, Michael Morse was grazed by a pitch but Kennedy wasn’t ejected. In the sixth inning, however, Nationals stater Jason Marquis hit Upton, who wasn’t pleased and Williams, the third base coach at the time, helped calm Upton down. This would only set the stage for the later drama. Still following along?
In eighth inning, Diamondbacks reliever Esmerling Vasquez hit Espinosa with a pitch while the Nationals clung to a 1-0 lead. The benches nearly emptied. One batter later, Ramos clobbered a three-run home run off Aaron Heilman and took a slow trot around the bases. Ramos took nearly 29 seconds to round the bases, and admitted later that the pace was on purpose.
“I didn’t feel bad,” Ramos said after the Nationals’ crazy 9-4 win in 11 innings. “I wanted to see those guys angry.”
Williams took offense. He stood at the top of the dugout, pointing and yelling at Ramos and then the Nationals bench. During his introductory press conference last week, Williams was asked about the incident and whether he had spoken with Ramos since. Williams had not, but his thoughts on the episode are an interesting insight into his personality and how he will behave as a manager.
After Williams began shouting and pointing at Ramos and the Nationals bench, Werth shouted back at Williams from the dugout. Reflecting on the moment two years later, Williams understood and respected the behavior of both Nationals players.
“I love the fact that Jayson Werth stood up in the opposing dugout and yelled at me,” Williams said. “That means that he competes. I love the fact that Wilson Ramos was upset that one of their guys got hit and he took exception. I love that fact. Doesn’t mean I don’t like the man. No. That’s competition. That’s baseball. That’s the way we play the game. Just because Jayson is yelling at me doesn’t mean he doesn’t like me. He plays for the other team. Now, I’m fortunate and pleased that I’m on his team, and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Werth shared that sentiment. He understood why Williams was upset with Ramos. They were opponents at the time and their reactions were natural and expected. Williams is fiery and competitive, but so are Ramos and Werth. Williams, known for his hard-nosed nature, has shown that he will stand up against what he believes is wrong and has no issue expressing himself directly to opponents, a different style than the more laid-back Davey Johnson. That personality may not win the Nationals more games, but it may endear him to his players.
“When you’re on the same team as somebody, it’s definitely a lot different than when you play against them,” Werth said. “That whole series, we went back and forth. We never cleared benches, but we had beanball wars. It culminated with Wilson launching a long home run and Matt being upset with Wilson and me being upset with Matt. I definitely remember that. For him to stand up and yell at Wilson, I respected that a lot, just as he respected me yelling at him. It just makes for stuff to talk about. Behind closed doors, I’m sure we can give each other a hard time about that. It is what it is. Baseball is baseball, and we will continue to be baseball players.”