Sweet comeback shows Nationals' fortitude
Maybe this is the one the Washington Nationals have needed. This has to be the day, right? Nothing else makes sense. If they're slinging chocolate sauce around, who knows what craziness will follow?
If rallying from an eight-run deficit to win doesn't do it, there's a chance nothing will. OK, if twice rallying from an eight-run deficit doesn't do it, we may have been wrong about this baseball team all along.
The Nats dragged a six-game losing streak into Turner Field in Atlanta on Tuesday night. At 7-13, they were in last place in the National League East, eight games behind the first-place New York Mets.
And, finally, something good happened to the Nationals in a 13-12 win over the Braves. Something miraculously good. After Washington's rookie starter, A.J. Cole, subbing for the injured Max Scherzer, had been hit hard, and after the Nats had fallen behind, 9-1, in the second inning and 10-2 in the fourth, they did not give up.
The Nationals would eventually win after they kept punching and chipping away. They kept telling one another in the dugout to keep at it, that anything could still happen. Little by little, it did.
Jose Lobaton hit a three-run home run in the fifth. Dan Uggla tripled in two runs in the seventh. Others contributed here and there. Suddenly, it was a 12-10 Braves lead in top of the ninth, and that's when the Nats got the hit they hope changes an entire season.
It was their second baseman, Uggla, the guy who'd been released by the Braves and Giants last season, the guy who began this season trying to prove he still belonged in the big leagues, who delivered.
Four years ago, Uggla was a big deal in Atlanta after signing a five-year, $62 million contract. That was the kind of contract players dream of. For Uggla, it was the beginning of a nightmare.
Uggla played 499 games for the Braves and batted .209 before being released. The Giants picked him up and let him go after four games. He showed up at Spring Training this year as a long shot to even make the Nationals. Seeing how Atlanta was paying him $12.7 million, he was no financial risk.
Suddenly, there Uggla was standing at home plate with two runners on base in the top of the ninth inning on Tuesday. When Braves closer Jason Grilli let a 93-mph fastball catch too much of the plate, Uggla delivered a moment he'll be remembered for forever.
Uggla's towering, franchise-shaking home run over the wall in left-center completed a stunning comeback. It was his first home run in 379 days. Heroes? Here, there and everywhere. Center fielder Denard Span had five hits, Lobaton three. Uggla had three hits and five RBIs in all. Afterward, Scherzer sprayed Uggla with chocolate sauce as he did a postgame television interview.
"Just one of those crazy nights in baseball," Uggla said.
"I can't lie," Uggla said. "That felt pretty good."
This victory made as much sense as a 7-13 start. Then again, the Nats have too much talent, too much depth, too much experience to thrash around at the bottom of the standings for very long.
Here's the strange part. For most of this season, they've looked exactly like a last-place club instead of one that was supposed to run away with a third division championship in four years.
This season was going to be about playing deep into October. Sometimes teams with great expectations thrust upon them have to be reminded that it's important to play April, May and June before September and October.
That made no sense, either. These Nationals know this. They have great leadership in such veterans as Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Scherzer. They have the fire and energy of 22-year-old Bryce Harper.
Oh, and they have the deepest and best starting rotation in baseball. They began the season with some important players on the disabled list, most notably third baseman Anthony Rendon, but the Nats still shouldn't have been 7-13.
Their shortcomings were spread all over. They began Tuesday 24th in runs, 12th in ERA and first in blown saves and errors. And that rotation? Ten other teams had lower ERAs.
Give the Nationals credit for staying the course. Every single day, they showed up thinking, "This is when it turns around." Their effort and attitude were never an issue.
As the losses continued, pressure increased. Doubt surely had to at least visit the psyche of the players who continued to say all the right things.
Pressure is a strange thing. Players in every sport will tell you the exact thing. Sometimes, one wild night at the ballpark does something to a team. Amid the laughter and the bear hugs on Tuesday, a team might just relax and become what it was always supposed to be.
That's the feeling the Nats surely will take away from this one game. That this is the beginning. That normalcy will be restored.