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October 2, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Soto and luck lead to win in 2019 NL Wild Card

After Max Scherzer surrendered a two-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the first and a solo shot in the top of the first, the Nats trailed the Brewers for the next two and a half hours. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post (whom I’ve frequently critizied) wrote a nice column analogizing the Nationals’ come-from-behind win to the way; they had fought from behind all season.

The Nats won with grit, with a hit batsman, with a bloop hit, with a walk and with a rocket of a two-run base hit by Juan Soto, who had been in a 5-for-47 slump that would numb the competitive soul of most 20-year-olds.

The incomparable Joe Posnanski of The Athletic gives a memorably detailed look at “the greatest half-inning in Washington Nationals history.” For example, here is his description of the Ryan Zimmerman at-bat that extended the inning and helped set the table for Juan Soto‘s decisive hit:

And then came what you can call the Flynn Moment of the game. Flynn, you might recall, was the first batter who needed to get a hit so that Mighty Casey could make it to the plate in the moment. Flynn was disparagingly called a “hoodoo” in the poem but he let drive a single, to the wonderment of all.

Flynn, in this case, was Washington Nationals legend Ryan Zimmerman, who is now 35 years old and whose body is roughly 93. He was once a brilliant player in every way — Gold Glove third baseman, terrific hitter, 30-homer guy — but in the last six seasons, he has played fewer than 100 games four times. For Nationals fans, seeing Zimmerman walk to the plate is like seeing a Dylan Thomas poem come to life.

Zimmerman began the at-bat by swinging right through a slider that Hader had mistakenly left up in the zone. Then Hader threw two of his demon pitches, those rising fastballs out of the zone, and Zimmerman somehow laid off. On the fourth pitch, a 97-mph fastball over the inside part of the plate, Zimmerman swung and connected, though to say that he “connected” is sort of like saying that Biff’s face connected with George McFly’s fist in “Back to the Future.” The bat broke in two pieces. The much larger piece of the bat ran away crying. Zimmerman found himself holding a piece of bat that was roughly the same length as a conductor’s baton.

Somehow, though, the ball carried far enough into the outfield to land for a base hit.

I also agree with Posnanski’s verdict on the major controversy of the game—did Hader actually hit Michael A. Taylor with the pitch, for which Taylor was rewarded first base, the first base runner to reach in the decisive bottom of the eighth inning, or did the ball deflect off the knob of Taylor’s bat? Cases like this illustrate a problem with replay, in that they revolve around technicalities made visible by high-resolution replay. The spirit of the situation is that Taylor wasn’t swinging, Hader’s pitch missed way inside off the plate. It would have easily been ball four if it hadn’t hit him, so a hit-by-pitch is the appropriate outcome when it did. regardless of whether it happened to knick the knob of Taylor’s bat. I’ve previously made a similar argument against calling out base runners when they momentarily lose contact with a base after successfully sliding into it. We shouldn’t let the technicalities of replay distort the simple spirit of the plays as they’ve traditionally been called.

Since I’m mentioning articles, here are a few others that I’ve enjoyed reading:

  • Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic provides a nice summary of “a wacky game.”
  • Mark Zuckerman of MASN on Davey Martinez‘s in-game decisions and how they affected the outcome. My main criticism is that I would have started Stephen Strasburg instead of Scherzer, but Strasburg was excellent in relief, so it all worked out fine in the end.
  • Jesse Dougherty and Sam Fortier of the Washington Post on how the Nationals’ 2019 season turned around after a disastrous three-game sweep by the Mets in May.
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