In sports, when you don’t use your head, you open yourself up to getting beat. This warning has has played out to be truth time and time again for the Nats. Whether it’s a baserunning blunder, a throw to the wrong man, not running out a grounder that ends up getting bobbled, not pressuring the defense into making a throw, or any of a myriad of other brain farts, this season the Nats have always seemed to play poor mental baseball.
Once again this weekend, the difference between the winner and the loser was about hustle, about mental mistakes, about something that makes you stand up and go “Come on, did you guys really just let that happen?” It was one of those plays where you say, “I know I’ve seen that before, but never in real life.” The funny thing was, it wasn’t Washington who screwed up and lost. It was their opponent, Cincinnati, and the Nats were the ones that hustled, the ones that added pressure, the ones that won.
It was a simple play really. After Willingham ripped a single he was standing on first when Zimmerman came in to pinch hit, with Dunn at second base. Zim hit a little bloop to right, and with 2 outs they were off and running. The ball was almost caught, but rolled away, Dunn scored and Willingham went to third, the Nats tied the game up. The second baseman picked the ball up and lobbed it in to the infield. That’s when Willingham took off from third. By the time first baseman Joey Votto got the throw and gunned it into the catcher, Willingham was already there, knocking him over and touching home plate as the ball bounced harmlessly out of the glove and on to the dirt. Click on the photo below to see the play in all of its glory, unfortunately without getting the bonus of hearing Rob Dibble have a conniption.
It was a hustle play, the kind these team doesn’t make and certainly doesn’t capitalize upon. It allowed the Nats to win another series, their third out of the last four. It allowed them to continue their strong play since the post-All Star break Cubs series, in which they’ve only lost one series – the two gamer to Atlanta last week. It was the kind of play other teams make all the time against the Nats. It was a sign that maybe, just maybe, the Nats haven’t yet turned a corner, but maybe they see the corner and are looking around it, ready to make the turn. Ready for the franchise to move in a different direction. Although, tonight, there will be a much more obvious sign of Washington’s direction…