We could spend the next week breaking down the Nationals’ insane, 8-5, 14-inning victory Wednesday afternoon. It happened to come at a pivotal moment, giving the Nationals a series victory against a potential playoff opponent and reducing their magic number to 17. But it was also the kind of afternoon that stands alone – the Nationals could flame out in the postseason, and it would not affect whatever feelings that game gave you, a loopy delight on its own terms.
Before moving on to the rest of September, let’s recall a few overlooked moments and takeaways.
Aaron Barrett and Xavier Cedeno need a nickname. We nominate Xaviaron Barreno. Done? Done.
The call-up tandem will make an impact throughout September, and possibly beyond, but the duo will not surpass what they did Wednesday. In the 10th inning, the Dodgers loaded the bases on three singles off Craig Stammen with one out. Manager Williams immediately made use of his expanded bullpen, calling on Cedeno to face Adrian Gonzalez as Barrett warmed up.
Cedeno held left-handers to a .135 average this year at Class AAA Syracuse, and he could be Williams’s specialist this month. He moved ahead of Gonzalez, 0-2, with a nasty slider that broke off the outside corner. Gonzalez flicked another slider foul, then a fastball. Gonzalez took a fastball in the dirt, and then Cedeno struck him out with a slider in the dirt.
With the benefit of a September bullpen, Williams continued to match up. He replaced Cedeno with Barrett – “our wipeout righty,” Williams called him Monday – for one more out. Barrett more or less turned Juan Uribe into a mound of dust. Barrett struck him out with procession of Frisbee sliders and fastballs above the strike zone.
“Bases loaded right there, I’m not going to give right there in that situation,” Barrett said. “I’m going to make him my best pitch. I got him to swing at a couple sliders early. Sandy [Leon] and I did a pretty good job over recognizing he was starting to bite, lean over the plate. So I threw one last fastball up and in. I ended up getting out of a big jam there. It was a lot of fun.”
Wednesday, Williams utilized Cedeno and Barrett exactly as he envisioned. They are here to match up in situations when the back of the bullpen – Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano – isn’t warranted. Barrett has been getting big outs all year, and Cedeno has been waiting for his chance. They could be a big deal this month. They both dominated in a one-batter chance Wednesday.
Jerry Blevins had some ridiculous at-bats. Because Williams had needed six relievers before the 11th, Blevins needed to fight through his own jam. Carl Crawford and Justin Turner both ripped singles up the middle with no outs. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Matt Kemp, Drew Butera walked to the plate. He fouled away three straight 2-2 pitches, then took a ball outside to even the count. He fouled off the first 3-2 pitch, on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, he popped up.
The next at-bat was crazier. Blevins started Gordon with a curveball that buckled him. He backed it up with an inside fastball. Gordon, determined not to be bent backward by another curveball, hung tough and swung. But the ball bored inside and nicked him on the hand. The crowd roared and Crawford trotted home, believing the Dodgers had won the game. But the umpire made the correct call that Gordon had swung, and so he got a strike. Two pitches later, he struck out on a curveball in the dirt, getting the Nationals out of their second bases-loaded, one-out jam in as many extra innings.
Ian Desmond had a rough day. But he made a key play at a crucial juncture. Desmond went 0 for 7 with four strikeouts, which made him 2 for his last 23 with 11 strikeouts, plus the mangling of a throw home Tuesday night.
But he still score the go-ahead run, and it came after a play that required all of his mental focus. Desmond reached base in the 14th when he grounded to short and Turner’s throw pulled Adrian Gonzalez off the bag. Desmond moved to second on Bryce Harper’s walk. With Adam LaRoche hitting, Kevin Correia threw a pitch in the dirt that scooted not far from Butera. But Desmond alertly bolted for third and slid in without a throw.
“Great play by Desi,” Werth said. “That was a key play in the game. That probably goes overlooked.”
When LaRoche grounded to short, Desmond came home with the winning run. That also required LaRoche hustling to first through back pain, nearly falling down like Jake Taylor at the end.
Jordan Zimmermann dominated for a while. Remember when he started and the game took about 80 minutes to play seven innings? He retired 15 of the first 17 batters he faced and struck out six of them. He rifled one fastball 96 miles per hour and mixed them with sharp curveballs and dive-bombing sliders. He showed his first sign of vulnerability to lead off the seventh, when Hanley Ramirez drove a fly ball to the warning track. Denard Span sprinted about 100 feet to make a running, snow-cone catch at the fence.
Crawford blooped a double into shallow right field, which brought Turner to the plate. The count ran full, and Zimmermann threw a 94-mph fastball. All days long, Zimmermann had dotted fastballs on the corners. Now, it zipped down the center of the plate. Turner mashed it to center field. As Zimmermann watched ball disappeared behind the pastel-blue fence, he threw his hands in the air.
In the end, Zimmermann allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings. It could have been good enough for a win, but the Nationals managed only three hits and a walk in six innings off Carlos Frias, a rookie making his first major league start. Afterward, Zimmermann said, “Just write whatever you want.”
The Nationals could see the Dodgers again. Can you handle a National League Championship Series like this? The Nationals are prepared for it.
“It’s always a possibility,” Jayson Werth said. “We’ve seen it before. They’ve got a good team. They’ve got a chance to be there. It was a good test for us, really.”
It will be different in October. The matinee start led to a small crowd at Dodger Stadium. By the end, the park had grown close to empty. As Bryce Harper hit in his last at-bat, he said, he could hear Vin Scully’s voice echo through the park. “I don’t think I’ll be able to hear when the postseason is coming,” Harper said.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Pawtucket 2, Syracuse 1: In the first game of Syracuse’s playoff series, Ryan Mattheus allowed a walk and a walk-off hit in the 10th inning. Taylor Hill allowed one run in six innings on seven hits and two walks, striking out five. Matt Grace allowed no runs in two innings on one hit and no walks, striking out two. Jhonatan Solano went 3 for 3 with a double. Brandon Laird went 1 for 4 with a home run.
Potomac 4, Lynchburg 2: In the first game of Potomac’s playoff series, Ike Ballou went 1 for 1 with two walks. John Wooten went 2 for 4 with a double. Randolph Oduber went 1 for 4 with a home run. Pedro Severino went 1 for 2 with a double and a walk. Hector Silvestre allowed one run in seven innings on five hits and three walks, striking out five.
Hagerstown 3, Greensboro 2: In their playoff opener, the Suns scored three runs in the ninth to walk off. Rafael Bautista went 2 for 5. Drew Ward went 1 for 4 with a double. Wilman Rodriguez went 2 for 4. Wander Suero allowed two runs, one earned, in four innings on four hits and two walks, striking out three.