A win, a sin, some fightin’, Marlins swing & missin’

Friday’s game did not start-off the way you pencil it up. There was not the normal pleasantries that you would expect in a workplace. If a baseball dugout was a typical workplace, H.R. would get an urgent call, and MacKenzie Gore would probably be fired for fighting. Dugouts allow spitting on the workplace floor, and cursing is a norm — and they draw the line there to not allow fighting or gambling — two no-no’s. Actually nothing is normal in that concrete alcove. Every work day is unpredictable.

Third baseman Nick Senzel did not know the speed of the opposing catcher and lollipopped a throw to first base with two outs — and Nick Fortes beat the throw to score a run — the only run that the Miami Marlins would score in that game. The Washington Nationals would win 8-1, but Gore did not know it would turn into a laugher. After that throw by Senzel, there was a little physicality in the Nats’ dugout between Gore and Senzel. That got the juices flowing, and the Nats woke up, and never looked back after scoring 7-runs the next inning.

Senzel tried to explain his side of things and took responsibility, “I probably got to do a better job of getting rid of it with a better throw,” Senzel said. “Maybe a little lackadaisical. So that one’s on me.” Good on Senzel to say this. Gore had a lot to say too, and was apologetic.

We got the debut of the Uncle Sam home run hat courtesy of Ildemaro Vargas. We got an MLB tying high 25 swing & misses by Gore on the Marlins hitters along with 10 strikeouts, and the Nats got to hug it out in the dugout between Gore and Senzel — not once — but twice that we could see.

After Gore completed 7.0 full innings on 103 pitches, and exited with an 8-1 lead, the crowd of over 23,300 came to their feet to applaud their ace. Many in the crowd had no idea about the drama in the dugout after the top of the 2nd inning. They just appreciated Gore’s performance, and the fact that he gave needed rest to the back of the bullpen of Dylan Floro, Hunter Harvey, and Kyle Finnegan.

Many fans were there for the Mike Rizzo bobbleheads, and many decided not to attend as the forecast was once again calling for rain. The game was over so quickly (2 hours 22 minutes) that the rains held off until the after-party. Up north in Baltimore, they went to extra innings, and they got hit with a rain delay as their game extended into extra innings.

The Nats certainly took care of business, and Gore took over the team lead in WAR value at +1.8. Lane Thomas was the offensive star with a Howie Kendrick-esque CLANG off of the foul pole for a 3-run Weaver, and Thomas was the first to don the Uncle Sam hat that is popular around the National Mall at those souvenir shoppes. Well-done by Vargas as this team needed a home run celebration prop for the 2024 season.

As some would expect, the dugout drama was what the media wanted to talk about more than Gore’s 10 strikeouts and 25 swing & misses. The assembled media, of three people, kept peppering Senzel, Gore and their manager, Dave Martinez for details on the Gore-Senzel undercard that the newshounds were trying to treat like the main event. They wanted that quote that could go viral. None of the players fell in that trap, and didn’t give the media much. The whole dugout drama was nothing much in reality. Brothers arguing in the heat of a moment. Later on, and after the game, they took it back into their sanctuary, the player’s clubhouse, for a tête-à-tête.

“That’s on me. … Something that can’t happen.”

MacKenzie Gore stood up and took the blame for the dugout squabble with teammate Nick Senzel

Good for Gore to take the blame. It isn’t the first time he has yelled in the dugout at a teammate for not making a play. Last year, it was ex-teammate, Victor Robles who got Gore’s wrath. Mostly, the left-handed pitcher looks in the mirror and blames himself. He expects near-perfection when he is on the mound.

Baseball is certainly an imperfect game that is mostly about failure — especially from batters who fail well over 70 percent of the time on average. Those who fail the least — turn out to be the best. This is what makes baseball the best sport. Some say it is the game of chess spliced with the precision of archery, and the majestic force of nature’s strength.

“Today was about MacKenzie pitching his butt off. The boys came out swinging today. We did everything right offensively. We needed that. Our bullpen has been beat up a little bit, so for him to give us seven innings like that, strong innings, it was great.”

“All I’ll tell you is, I don’t know if you have any brothers, right? I mean, hey, I fought my brothers every day. It’s part of it when you’re around each other a little bit. I love it. It’s the competitive nature of them, and what they did after that was awesome. So the rest of it will stay in our circle.”

“You hope that it’s private. Sometimes it can’t be. It really can’t. So I sat back and watched. They’ll work it out. Good teams usually work it out and I know these guys are close. I see them every day. So they worked it out and it was good.”

“Like I said, all of a sudden we cleared the air and here we go. The boys stepped up and we got some big runs, we had a big inning. So it was fun. Led by Lane. But I love the aggression. I love the way we went out there and played. Everything’s good. Can’t wait to play tomorrow and go 1-0.”

— manager Dave Martinez after the game

This team had been described as a bunch of quiet personalities. But there was nothing quiet about Friday’s game. There was a whole lot of hot cheese thrown by Gore, and he nearly lit up the radar gun at 99 mph after he dotted a 98.4 mph heater early in this one. He had four pitches at 98 mph in the game. He was pitching on extra rest which certainly helped after he had a fingernail issue and swapped spots with Patrick Corbin who was skipped in the rotation by a managerial decision last weekend.

This is the Gore that the San Diego Padres drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the 2017 draft out of his North Carolina high school. Gore had a college commitment to East Carolina University and couldn’t turn down the Padres’ offer. Gore, CJ Abrams, James Wood, Robert Hassell III, and Jarlin Susana all came over together in the Juan Soto trade in mid-2022.

Gore and Abrams today have a combined +3.3 WAR value. They lead the Nats’ pitchers and position players today in WAR value respectively. Wood should be up soon, Hassell III is having a very good season, and Susana pitched a good game for Single-A Fredericksburg last night. Was this a breakout game in Gore’s career?

There is another game today. Senzel and Gore probably hugged it out again as they left the clubhouse. This should be something that they can both grow from. This was nothing like the Jonathan Papelbon incident with Bryce Harper back in 2015. That gave Papelbon the opportunity to offer some advice to the boys to do their arguing in the tunnel away from prying eyes.

The future is bright for these Nats who trail the NL Wild Card this morning by just 1.5 games. Did the Nats wake up their own sleeping giant within themselves?

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