When Willie Harris got to the plate in the 12th inning of tonight’s game with the Blue Jays, Alberto Gonzalez was on first and there were no outs. Simple. Harris would try to move Gonzalez over with a bunt. He got two strikes, and a bunt became a hit-and-run. A full count, and the strategy changed altogether. Manager Manny Acta told Harris to swing away, and “don’t let the umpire decide (the at-bat) for you.”
Harris let it fly, hammering a slider into the Nationals’ bullpen for a walk-off win over the Blue Jays in the 12th inning. The Nats’ winning streak is now at a season-high four.
That’s even more impressive because all the wins have come against tough AL East opponents, but it’s also a function of the Nationals doing things they haven’t done all year.
They got another impressive start from Ross Detwiler, who went a career high 7 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on six hits. The left-hander threw 99 pitches in that time, adhering to the Nationals’ fastball-command philosophy that, by now, he’s heard for almost two years in the organization.
“That’s what we’re trying to develop here from top to bottom,” manager Manny Acta said. “When a guy gets up here, he knows what’s expected of him at the major-league level in every situation because he’s been through it in the minor leagues. That’s how you build winning franchises.”
The other key was Harris, who continued to do the little things that make him one of the most valuable utility players in baseball.
He doubled in the fifth inning, then stole third base off Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil. Harris had seen after Cristian Guzman’s first at-bat that Cecil would look once to the baserunner before delivering home, and broke for third as soon as Cecil checked him once. He stole third safely, which put him in position to score the Nationals’ first run on Wil Nieves’ sacrifice fly.
Earlier in the inning, he made a diving catch to rob Raul Chavez of a hit with Kevin Millar on first. If the ball got by him, the Blue Jays probably would have scored a run.
“In my heart, I’m an everyday player,” Harris said. “But in my contract, I’m a utility guy. It’s definitely not my decision. But whenever I’m out there, I’m going to try to put together a professional at-bat, and I’m definitely going to play defense hard, do everything the right way, and just get into the game.”
Harris is the kind of role player you usually see on a championship team — in fact, he was when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. If the Nationals didn’t view him so highly for his defense and his mentorship to young players like Elijah Dukes, it’d be easy to see him in trade talks. It’s not impossible, but the Nationals value him too highly and make too much use of him to envision him leaving.
“He’s a luxury to us,” Acta said. “He was a bright spot last year when we had very few. Willie understands his role, he brings energy every single day. His average probably is not what he wants it to be, but he comes out and plays good defense and does his thing. He had a good game yesterday. He had another great game today. He’s your dream utility guy.”
One bit of news: Jesus Colome, who came out in the 11th with a strained right quadriceps muscle, is day-to-day. He said the injury was hurting him most of the way through his matchup with Adam Lind, and Acta said the Nationals will monitor him in the morning. “If we have to make a decision, we’ll make one,” Acta said.
That’s it from here. Nationals go for their first sweep of the year tomorrow at 1:35 p.m.