With two outs in the ninth inning Friday, the situation was all too familiar.
Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen was on the mound. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was at the plate. It was a matchup that had played out on this field just nine months earlier, with Posey’s single contributing to Storen’s blown save in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
This time, Posey hit a harmless fly ball to left field, and the Nationals won, 2-1. Storen picked up his 24th save, and Washington won its first game of the homestand. The teams will return to the stadium in less than 12 hours for a rare 11:05 first pitch on the Fourth of July.
THE RUNDOWN: Giants starter Jake Peavy utilized a strategy that will become more popular as the season goes on: He walked Bryce Harper at every opportunity and challenged the rest of Washington’s lineup to beat him. And for six innings, it worked. The Nationals mustered only a single and double in the first inning off Peavy until finally making him pay in the seventh. After Harper’s third walk of the night, rookie Clint Robinson crushed a home run to right-center field. The bullpen, following a strong outing from Gio Gonzalez, took it from there.
THE HIGHLIGHT: Four months ago, Robinson was a 30-year-old journeyman with 13 major-league at-bats in his career. He was competing with Kila Ka’aihue for one of the final spots on the Nationals’ bench. On Friday, with no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, he hit the go-ahead two-run home run in front of a sellout crowd and a national television audience. A curtain call followed. What a moment for him, and what a story he’s been this season. Since Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have landed on the disabled list, and Robinson has received regular at-bats, he’s made tremendous strides. He’s now hitting .266 on the season with four homers and 15 RBI.
STAR OF THE GAME: After throwing less than two innings in a rain-shortened start in Philadelphia, Gonzalez was excellent Friday night. He held the Giants to only five hits and a single run, which came on a solo home run by Posey. Perhaps most impressive of all: Gonzalez didn’t issue a single walk Friday, avoiding what has often been his Achilles heel. Also, in unrelated stardom, a friendly tip of the cap to the newest racing president, Calvin Coolidge. It took more than 500 races for Teddy to win, and Calvin won his first time out, even shoving Teddy into the wall in the process. Yes Teddy fans, it’s true: Life isn’t fair. Kudos to Mr. Coolidge all the same.
THE TAKEAWAY: The chatter Friday afternoon was about the series, and game, that haunted the Nationals all winter. Before Friday, they had not faced the Giants since last year’s NLDS. And they had not faced the Giants at Nationals Park since Game 2, when Matt Williams infamously yanked Jordan Zimmermann with two outs in the ninth, Storen squandered the aforementioned save opportunity and Washington lost in 18 innings. On Friday, Williams was asked about that series, and facing the Giants again. Not surprisingly, he downplayed the matchup. But from my vantage point, a win over the Giants still holds a bit of extra significance. It’s not a dramatic exorcising of demons or anything, but a small dose of redemption? Absolutely.