- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2014

The great John Lowenstein — Baltimore Orioles outfielder and philosopher — put winning streaks in perspective when he declared, “The secret to keeping winning streaks is maximizing the victories while at the same time minimizing the defeats.”

So there you go.

The Washington Nationals have tested that theory during their current winning streak, to some extent, with this simple philosophy — just bat last.

While the Redskins pass time by playing out the NFL’s pretend portion of the football schedule — with their hands covering their eyes watching their franchise quarterback run for his life — the Nationals have captured Washington’s attention by winning.

Winning every game.

Winning games that they seemed intent on losing, in the nightly drama that has played out at Nationals Park.


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Thursday afternoon, the Nationals won their 10th straight, which in and of itself was worthy of notice and celebration. But they have won five of their last six games in the last at-bat — the highlight of all highlights, the walk-off victory.

It takes hard work to win like that night after night. You almost have to try to set up that dramatic scenario, night after night.

The Nationals have been doing their part, with three of those five wins coming after they blew the lead in the eighth or ninth inning.

It is like the lion tamer sticking his head inside the lion’s head, night after night, with a steak tied around his head.

In other words, not just tempting fate, but daring fate.

“That’s not the way you draw them up,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said after their 3-2 come-from-behind victory Wednesday night over Arizona — a triumph set up by their All-Star set up hurler, Tyler Clippard, blowing a two-run lead in the eighth inning. “But they don’t stop fighting, that’s for sure.”

Now, the down side in this is that the Washington Nationals are not supposed to be the cardiac kids. They are not supposed to be the Little Engine that Could. This is a team that some observers considered the most talented in the National League before the season began. They should be dominating teams, not saving themselves from losing.

But what sells the underdog theme is how many injuries this talented team has suffered this season — one of their main stars, Ryan Zimmerman, remains out with a severe hamstring strain — yet they have remained competitive atop the National League East and are now distancing themselves from their rivals, the Atlanta Braves.

“Earlier in the year, we had some injuries and still kept fighting and winning ballgames without three or four of our starters at a time,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who had a walk-off home run in Washington’s 11-inning, 5-4 victory over the Diamondbacks Tuesday night.

It makes for great drama night after night at Nationals Park, as the crowds wait in anticipation for the latest magic act from their never-say-die heroes instead of rushing to beat the traffic.

And it creates an offensive confidence that this team has lacked at times when its streaky lineup has struggled — the notion that no matter how much of a hole they dig for themselves, they can battle their way out of it.

“I’ve said it all along: this team is relentless,” said Kevin Frandsen, the last-minute, 25th-man roster addition this spring who has brought passion into the Nationals’ businesslike clubhouse. “No matter if we’re eight runs down, guys still grind out at-bats. With our type of offense, one swing can get you back in it.”

Grind it out. Relentless.

Who doesn’t love a never-day-die team?

“For me, it’s just a very good ethic that these guys have,” Williams told reporters. “They believe in each other. They believe that we can stay in a game, that we can win a game, that we’re never out of a game. That’s a trait that you can’t force on folks. They get that amongst themselves in that clubhouse, and it’s enjoyable to watch. Sometimes it’s not a whole lot of fun, but it’s enjoyable to watch the way they go about it. So I’m proud of them.”

So is Washington. This is the kind of team fans fall in love with, tell stories about years from now — a team with an identity that connects to everything we love about sports.

A team with heart.

“We got a lot of heart,” Bryce Harper told reporters after a walk-off win against Pittsburgh. “We come in every single day trying to win ballgames, trying to win series and keep in first. That’s the biggest thing.”

Like we know from the musical “Damn Yankees,” a Washington baseball team has got to have it:

“You gotta have heart

“All you really need is heart

“When the odds are saying you’ll never win

“That’s when the grin should start.”

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

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