I’ve always liked the Nationals. In deference to the bad old days, I have a thing for poor teams with an underrated star or two, and the Nationals of a few years back, headlined by Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham, were a perfect example. But now that they’re the hot, young team on the block, I no longer get those warm, fuzzy feelings. When I think of the Nationals now, I can feel my nose elevate, and my lip curl into a snarl.
This is a reaction to be fought.
We Rays fans are used to being the "New Guard." We had the hot prospects everyone wanted to see. We were the lovable upstarts that neutral fans rooted for. To some degree, we still are (informed baseball fans were nearly as excited about Matt Moore as they were about Stephen Strasburg), but if I’m being honest I’ll admit that the Nationals have taken over that role. And that’s okay.
It’s okay to become the establishment. It’s okay to be the oppressors of the league. We are not the Red Sox, and I am not a Red Sox fan. A few consecutive years of success don’t make the Rays inherently more worthy than those still looking to join the ranks of competitive baseball. I can enjoy Bryce Harper. I can be happy that Zimmerman may finally get to play meaningful games in August. I can.
It’s a lot easier to think this way when we’re successfully oppressing, as we did tonight.
Recap, including the Joel Peralta Ejection Drama below the jump.
The Rays got off to a good start when Jennings worked the count full and then grounded up the middle for a single. Pena hit a single of his own that Nationals first baseman Adam Laroche could probably have fielded had he not been holding Jennings on. After taking what may have been strike three for a ball, Upton lined a single between third and short to score the opening run of the game.
In the bottom of the inning, Danny Espinosa singled up the middle to bring Bryce Harper to the plate with a man on base. Now I’m certain that David Price would have liked to "welcome Harper to the big leagues" Cole Hamels style, but the situation would not allow it. Price did the next best thing (Price did the much better thing), and blew Harper away with three fastballs. That’s how a real pitcher proves a point.
Espinosa would steal second with Zimmerman up to bat, and advance to third on a groundout. Next, Michael Morse hit a ground ball to Will Rhymes at third base, and although Rhymes had plenty of time to set up his admittedly long throw, he bounced it well short of first and wide off the tip of Pena’s glove, prolonging the inning and tying the game. Pena was given an error on the play, but it should have been an E5. Morse wasn’t close enough to first to allow Pena to attempt anything tricky like coming off the bag early in a bang bang play, and he was stretched as far as he could. Price did what an ace is supposed to do when his defense lets him down. He struck out the next batter with a 98 mph fastball.
In the bottom of the second inning, Ian Desmond put the Nationals in front with a solo shot to center on a changeup that hung up in the zone, but Washington’s lead would not last long. In the third inning, our Desmond worked a four pitch walk against Chien-Ming Wang, who was struggling with his command, and Pena launched his ninth home run of the year out to straight center. Later that inning, with only one out and the speedy Upton at third, Wang induced a grounder to his drawn in infield, getting the out at the plate. It seemed that Wang was going to escape the inning with minimal damage, but after Jose Lobaton drew a walk, Elliot Johnson knocked a flyball to opposite field that bounced high off the wall. Harper misplayed the carom into a triple, and two more runs scored. That was all the Rays would get, but it was all they would need.
Price wasn’t perfect on the night, but he was still very good. Morse tightened up the game with a two-run homer off him in the sixth inning that just barely cleared the wall, but sometimes oversized men like Michael Morse will do that (oversized men like Michael Moore will not do that, but they have other skills so they shouldn’t feel too bad). On a hot night in Washington, it seemed like the ball was carrying pretty well. Price relied mostly on his fastball and his curve tonight, only throwing four changeups (for no whiffs). His 25 curves produced three whiffs, but his fastball was the real star, averaging over 97 mph in 68 appearances, and inducing six whiffs and plenty more defensive swings. Price’s overall repertoire is good enough at this point that he has options to fall back on if his Plan A (mix four pitches masterfully) isn’t happening. His development as a pitcher is a testament to what the Rays’ staff can do when given a little bit of talent to work with. It’ll be exciting to see Chris Archer tomorrow, and hopefully exciting to see Archer for years to come.
Some additional notes:
- Price even got in on the offensive action by drawing a boo-beginning walk against Wang.
- Back to Michael Morse for a second. He really is an intimidatingly large man. But as he steps into the box, he takes a quite dainty looking, slow-motion practice swing. It’s cute.
- In the bottom of the fifth inning, Sean Rodriguez replaced Matt Joyce, sliding many of the Rays’ fielders around the diamond. It was later reported that Joyce left the game with back tightness.
- In the very next inning, Espinosa lined straight into Price’s lower abdomen. Price retrieved the ball and threw Espinosa out, but as the trainers checked to make sure he was okay, Maddon looked distinctly unamused. If Joyce and Price were to miss any amount of time now, I think there would be nothing left to do but laugh.
- The "W" that Washington uses as their logo look distinctly like a Walgreens ad.
- After Matsui pinch hit for Price in the seventh, Maddon turned to Joel Peralta to protect the lead in the eighth. Davey Johnson, the Washington manager, asked the umpires to examine Peralta’s glove, and when they found a "significant" amount of pine tar, Peralta was ejected. McGee filled in admirably, and Rodney slammed the door in the ninth, but this incident will likely define the series. The truth is that pitchers on every team, especially relievers, use all sorts of foreign substances to doctor baseballs (at least according to Dirk Hayhurst in Out of My League). Peralta used to pitch for the Nationals, so this was merely a case of one team with a bit of inside information using it to get an advantage. I won’t pretend to know the unwritten rules of baseball honor governing this type of occasion, and as Pena said in the post-game interview, it’s probably a little bit upsetting for Peralta right now, but there’s nothing terribly insidious about Davey Johnson acting on his tip. The Rays won’t face Edwin Jackson this series, so I doubt Maddon has special information on any of the Washington pitchers’ preferred cheating methods, but I’d love to see him catch someone. As drama and strife goes, this is way more palatable than a beaning war.