Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Great Non-Sweep

This was going to be one of those “we’re not so bad off, look at [some other team]” type of posts we used to revel in last spring and summer, when we’d lift our weary DC-supporting spirits by pointing out the worse straits occupied by some other city’s franchise(s). The team in question would have been, of course, the Nationals, that lovable bunch of low-expectations-saddled, Manny-led ballplayers who had just been swept my Minnesota, taken down in 2 of 3 by the Rangers, and seemed destined to be a three-game speedbump for the AL West buzzsaw Angels.

We’ll still go in that direction a bit, but this was all before doings of increasingly clutch-seizing Elijah Dukes and the anti-LoDuca, Jesus Flores. We all remember Dukes, right? He of the dugout blowout vs. our Man Manny, for reasons classily undisclosed, on June 10? He who was, from that point forward, destined to tear apart this Nats team with his rank terribleness? Since that day and his subsequent non-suspension/benching, Dukes has hit .327 with 8 RBI and a trio of fabulously stolen bases, highlighted by an early-career-defining 5-6 performance against Texas, wherein he managed to knock in the tying and winning runs (separated by six, mostly extra, innings). The projected clubhouse cancer has become a reliable 2-slot hitter, freeing up also-resurging Lastings Milledge to bat third and do things like hit his seventh home run against the Angels.

It’s kind of like Manny (again) knew best how to back a player down from the emotional edge and re-state his confidence in such a player. It’s like an extended version of last June’s calming down of an ejection-bound Felipe Lopez prior to a game-seizing triple. Lopez, at that brink, was 0-5 (sub-.100 batting average?) before his game-winning stroke (.327 tear?). Dukes, likewise, could have been on some manner of brink, prior to Manny keeping the faith and keeping him in the lineup.

So there was Elijah, putting behind early season indignities and getting that badly needed ninth-inning single. By the time stolen-from-the-Mets Jesus Flores stepped up with Dukes on second and one out, the inevitability of yet another Nats bottom-of-the-ninth-or-later victory (their seventh of the year; thanks, ESPN, for actually acknowledging the Nats existence AND for providing us with this nugget) was baldly palpable. Dukes of course came trotting home on Flores’ convincing single to deeeep right center and the Nats avoided the sweep. Cue “there’s someone worse off than us” portion.

While the Nationals were busy losing 2 of 3 to a division leader and World-Series contender, what of one of my allegedly new “hometown” teams, the NY Mets? That debacle-in-waiting of a franchise that does not quite want to admit it may be headed for a rebuild ($100 million+ roster notwithstanding)? They were performing an encore to their classless manager firing entitled “Losing 2 of 3 to Seattle”.

That’s right, the same Mariners these Nationals seemingly effortlessly swept, keeping that “worst team in the Majors” moniker safely at bay. In their three games vs. Seattle, Washington managed to avoid the horrid, blasphemous indignities of: A. Having their “ace” (an expensive and highly touted one, at that) serve up a grand slam to an American League pitcher with eight career at-bats. B. Losing by 11 runs to the Mariners.

Such awfulness would have put any Nats losing streak in perspective. Sure they may be wallowing in the injury-filled depths of last place in the NL, but at least they are fulfilling expectations rather than falling miserably below them, a la the Mets, who can say a prayer of thanks today to those expectation-shattering Rays for visciously taking care of the Marlins and allowing them to gain a badly needed game in the NL East. The Rays might yet become something of a “sister team” to us Nats fans, seeing them so maligned and declared retraction-worthy by so many before their ascension into division-contending glory. Sounds like something out of the not-too-distant future in DC.

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