When Friday’s Joe Ross 2018 debut was rained-out after 1 2/3 innings, the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs were scheduled to play one of those rare one-admission doubleheaders scheduled to start at 3:05pm with a Jayson Werth “Ring of Honor” celebration tucked in between the games. Well, so much for all of the re-planning on all of this as Mother Nature would wreak havoc again on Nationals Park with several inches of rain. Heavy rain delayed the start of the first game for 2 hours and 10 minutes which the Nationals rolled to a 10-3 win secured by a complete game by Max Scherzer. After the shortened Werth celebration finished up, first pitch by Jefry Rodriguez happened at 9:00pm with another rain delay in the 8th inning lasting 1 hour 29 minutes added to a 3 hour 15 minute game. The last out was at 1:44 am for anyone who waited up for the bottom of the 8th inning to finish and the top of the 9th inning save.
The second game of the doubleheader featured the first usage of the bullpen cart as Sean Doolittle made his second half debut in 2018 after returning from a DL stint that lasted nearly 60-days with a foot injury and on this day, Doolittle what celebrate the last out in the 8th inning like he just won the World Series. He looked up into the rainy skies and arched his head back and out-stretched his arms to reveal a rather impressive wing span. Many thought the game was going to finish there as the tarp went on the field with the Nationals leading 6-5, but MLB who controlled the call on the rain delay — restarted the game at 1:29 am which finished up quickly at 1:44 am on a Greg Holland save.
The Nationals swept the doubleheader beating the team with the best record in the National League, and the team that ultimately knocked the Nationals out of the 2017 postseason while also changing most likely the main reason the Nationals changed managers. Maybe this weekend was some payback to Joe Maddon and his team that the Nationals are still alive and kicking. In this doubleheader, the Nationals executed and made so many of Joe Maddon‘s moves backfire especially his decision to finally pitch to Bryce Harper in the 7th inning with the Nats losing 5-4 and Rendon on 2nd base. Harper had no official at-bats in the game because he walked 3-times, and with first base open, this time Maddon decided to pitch to Harper — and the former-MVP made Maddon pay for that poor decision as he tagged a blown-save-loss on Justin Wilson with this home run.
As MASN’s voice of the Nationals, Bob Carpenter, said mid-flight “that ball was murdered” matched perfectly with the look on Maddon’s face. What a lapse in judgment. MASN’s analyst, F.P. Santangelo, exclaimed, “I can’t believe they pitched to Bryce Harper. He’s been the hottest hitter in baseball since the All-Star break.” In the other dugout, it was manager Dave Martinez who seemed to strike gold with every move and his bullpen management was spot-on. Martinez anticipated the moment that the left-handed Daniel Murphy would be inserted into the game and had Sean Doolittle ready for what should have been an 8th inning save if the game was called at that point and not continued.
“I’m proud of the boys, all of them,” manager Davey Martinez said. “They played through some awful weather, and they battled for two games. And then through the wee hours of the morning. I’m really proud of all of them.”
Many wondered what Davey Martinez was doing? In this game, Martinez was playing chess and anticipated all the moves and never intended to pitch Doolittle for more than the final two outs of the 8th inning. DMart had Greg Holland in his back pocket for the 9th inning if the game was going to continue after the rain. To many’s surprise the game did continue and the game ended on a doubleplay ball.
The Nationals shocked the Cubs not only with Harper and Anthony Rendon, but also with Adrian Sanchez who was 2-for-4 with a triple and a double and 2 RBIs. Sanchez knocked in the first run of the game and the third run of the game. Who would have thought Sanchez would have that type of power. Earlier in the day, he also hit a ball to the wall that looked like his first career home run which was knocked back by the winds that were blowing in.
In Game 2, starter Jefry Rodriguez was cruising with a no-hitter until the 4th inning when he induced a grounder on Javier Baez on a 96mph sinker right to Ryan Zimmerman who didn’t have to move. The ball went between Zim’s legs and was initially ruled an error and later changed to a double by the inconsistent official scorer who has had many anti-Nats decisions in this homestand. This call would tag 4-earned runs on JRod as he served up a 2-out grand slam to the bat-flipping Victor Caratini who thought he just won the game. Not so fast Caratini. It was only the 4th inning and these comeback kids in the Nats dugout did it again.
“I think this was an awesome day for us,” Sean Doolittle said. “Having to wait around for an extra two hours last night and come in today with a lot of rain in the forecast. Coming from behind in the second game, that says a lot about our team.”
I’m proud of the way we put together such a complete second game with all the weather that we had to deal with and the weather and stuff. Guys still have energy. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and we’ve still got guys yelling at the TV about something. I think it says a lot about our group.”
It was a long day for the Nats and more rain is on the way for Sunday. If only the Nationals had played with this energy level we have seen recently during the month of August. We remarked a week ago about a non-hustle play by Anthony Rendon that seemed to indicate the Nationals had mailed it in, but since that game, the Nationals have been playing with high energy. We checked in with sources to see if there was a team meeting or anything that changed things up, and we were told there was not. But maybe some credit to Davey Martinez for changing things up. No matter how the season ends, these types of games are what we expected from the 2018 Nationals although we expected this all season.
The turning point in the Nationals season was on August 12th in the ESPN Sunday Night game against these Cubs and one out away from a 3-0 shutout and a 61-57 record on the season. Then pinch-hitter David Bote happened. A grand slam home run walk-off that would change the course of the Nats season. With two outs in the ninth inning against Ryan Madson, Bote led the Cubs to a stunning 4-3 victory over the Nationals. It was just the 25th known “ultimate slam” which is a walk-off shot with the bases loaded and a team down by three runs. One pitch. Days later the Nats went into an awkward sell-off.
When we do the post-mortem on the season, yesterday showed what we knew the whole time that this Nationals team is very good, but a few fateful plays changed the course of the season.