- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2012

PHOENIX — As the Nationals packed up and prepared to head to San Francisco Sunday afternoon, the third leg of their longest road trip of the second half, they did so digesting their first loss in over a week. And as they were shuffling through the motions, catcher Kurt Suzuki put a little perspective on the winning streak.

Since Suzuki arrived on Aug. 3 he’d never been part of a Nationals game that didn’t end with handshakes and high-fives on the field. Suzuki knew when he left Oakland that he was joining the team with the best record in baseball, but he did assume they’d lose occasionally. In that regard, Sunday was “a little different.”

“Any time you lose, it stinks no matter what,” Suzuki said. “But, I mean, that’s the first time I lost here.”

Suzuki is also intimately aware of the challenge that awaits the Nationals in San Francisco: the National League West-leading Giants, looking for their rematch with the Nationals. After a three-game sweep back in D.C. over the Fourth of  July in which the Nationals hit seven homers and 10 doubles and averaged eight runs per game, the Giants, no doubt, have been waiting for their next crack at them.

Things will probably be a little bit different this time around. The Nationals will be heading into the Giants’ home stadium, a place where runs don’t come nearly as frequently, against a Giants team that is 34-24 inside AT&T Park.

“They’re a good team, obviously,” said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “They’ve got some good pitching and we’ve got some really good pitching. I doubt they’re going to be high-scoring games … but they’re a good team. To go and play teams like this, it’s the kind of teams we’re going to have to beat to get to where we need to go. It’s going to be a tough three-game series, but we look forward to it.”

The Nationals have spent most of the summer trying to beat the heat. They’ve rarely played on days that have been under 90 degrees, often much hotter, and are leaving Phoenix where the high temperature never dipped below 100 (though they played indoors).

San Francisco will be a bit different.

The forecast doesn’t contain a high temperature over 73 degrees for the three days the Nationals will be there, and around game time Monday, it’s expected to be around 59 degrees. Throw that in with the quality opponent, a tough hitters’ ballpark and a place where the crowd is one of the more raucous and rambunctious of any the Nationals have played in this season and it should be a fun few days.

“It’s definitely a rowdy place,” Suzuki said. “The Giants do play well at home. When I was in Oakland, we played them this past year. It gets rowdy out there, and the team plays well. I think it’ll be fun, more than anything.”

It’s a challenge, no doubt, and it’s a break in the routine for the Nationals. But as they gear up for what seems now to be an all-but certain playoff run, it’ll be an important series.

“I think anytime we can go on the road and get into atmospheres like the one in San Francisco [it’s good for us],” Zimmerman said. “We’ve all played in it before, so it’s not a huge deal or a thing we need to be exposed to, because if you’ve been in the big leagues, you’ve played in front of crowds. But on the road in kind of a hostile environment is always good for any of us to experience and get ready for.”



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