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New Rockies closer goes after Harper, gets him

Aug 8, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT


The shock of Carlos Gonzalez’s grand slam off Drew Storen in the top of the eighth was still fresh in everyone’s mind inside Nationals Park late Friday night, but all hope wasn’t lost quite yet. Because there was still time for a last-ditch rally, and Bryce Harper was stepping to the plate.

And the man on the mound for the Rockies with two outs in the ninth wasn’t a feared, experienced closer, but rather the previously anonymous Tommy Kahnle, a right-hander celebrating his 26th birthday with the first save opportunity of his career.

“That’s the guy we want up there in that situation,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “We’ll take our chances every single time.”

The question — for a moment, at least — was whether the Rockies actually would pitch to Harper in that situation. The notion of intentionally walking a batter to advance the tying run into scoring position and the winning run on base would be ludicrous most of the time. Harper’s performance this season, though, sometimes forces a manager to think about ludicrous things, and so manager Walt Weiss strode to the mound to talk things over with Kahnle.

The plan: Go after Harper. But with extreme caution.

“He came out and he said he was going to give me a few pitches to go at him,” said Kahnle, a second-year reliever promoted to the closer’s role only last week after veteran Jon Axford blew a couple of games. “And that’s the guy I wanted to face. Pretty much just do what I usually do: Just attack hitters.”

Harper had never seen Kahnle before, but he knew the right-hander featured a fastball and a changeup (though Harper referred to it as a “split-finger”). And given the scenario, he didn’t think he’d get a fastball over the plate.

“I was sitting on that split-finger that he throws,” Harper said. “He threw me some heaters, but I didn’t really want to swing at the heaters, didn’t think they were going to be over the plate at all. So I sat on those two split-fingers, swung at both of them.”

Turns out Kahnle’s fastballs were the only pitches in the at-bat that actually did find the strike zone. His first pitch was 96 mph, right down the pipe; Harper took it for a strike. After another fastball way outside for ball one, Kahnle turned to his changeup, getting Harper to chase one just below the knees. Then came a fastball in the zone, though up and a bit away; Harper fouled it off.

So now the count was 1-2, and Harper had a hunch he was going to see another changeup. Which he did, even if it wasn’t necessarily Kahnle’s decision to throw it.

“Really, I just go with whatever [catcher Nick] Hundley puts down, I guess,” Kahnle said. “I had an idea that changeup would work in that situation.”

It did. Kahnle’s 89-mph offspeed pitch started at the knees, then darted down and away. Harper flailed helplessly, striking out to end the game and trudging off the field as the crowd of 33,622 quietly departed.

“It’s pretty special,” Kahnle said. “Pretty excited about it.”

“I definitely wish I had a better outcome for the game,” Harper said. “But I stuck with my plan up there, so I’m happy about that.”

  1. stoatva - Aug 8, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    Clippard and Detwiler each gave up a go ahead run, but vultured the win when their teams came from behind. Too bad Harper couldn’t get Storen the trifecta.

    I too blame The Wave for the loss, by the way. Might as well.

    • coolhandbane - Aug 8, 2015 at 10:58 AM

      I was at the game and I didnt participate in it. Something about the wave I dont like.

      We need to get it together and go on a winning streak.

      • stoatva - Aug 8, 2015 at 11:11 AM

        I think a few people in 223 sort of waved their arms as it went by but I didn’t see any significant number of people standing up. I mean… why not just hold up a sign saying: “Not interested in the game. Just waiting around for the fireworks.”

        And boy howdy they sure got some.

      • Candide - Aug 8, 2015 at 11:48 AM

        …I didn’t see any significant number of people standing up.

        Then you must have been paying close attention to the game, because it went around the park FIVE times, according to the guy sitting next to me, who was apparently counting.

        The wave is bad juju.

      • zmunchkin - Aug 8, 2015 at 12:06 PM

        Agree that the baseball gods don’t like the wave.

        I was sitting in my regular section 312. None of the regulars in that section did the wave. A number of others did. And I got dirty looks when I loudly (but not too loudly) said that the wave simply should not be done at baseball games.

        And it was way more than 5 times.

      • stoatva - Aug 8, 2015 at 12:28 PM

        I meant specifically in 223 where my seats are. Yeah, the usual suspects were having a grand old time.

    • dcwx61 - Aug 8, 2015 at 12:16 PM

      very distracting….i was isn 319. I did the bird.

  2. Joaquin - Aug 8, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    Williams ,you cannot folow prtocol. In baseball , Drew was. Imploding why you did not bring Rivero to replace Storen ,you truly dissapoint me,please show. Some courage our season is. Sinking. Because of your. Managerial deficiencies .

    • unkyd59 - Aug 8, 2015 at 12:04 PM

      Thank you, Mr. Shatner…

      • natsjackinfl - Aug 8, 2015 at 12:30 PM

        Drew was guilty of the lead off walk and the mistake pitch to Gonzo. Other than that, he was fine. A ground ball through the right side of the infield and a swinging bunt get chalked up to BABIP, not quite classified as “imploding”.

      • sec112 - Aug 8, 2015 at 2:45 PM

        Biggest laugh I’ve had all day – and I needed one after last night!

      • sec112 - Aug 8, 2015 at 2:46 PM

        To be clear – referring to the pitch perfect Captain Kirk reference.

      • dhamm6500 - Aug 8, 2015 at 3:09 PM

        Now THAT is funny….

      • unkyd59 - Aug 8, 2015 at 3:14 PM

        Y’all are too kind😉

      • natsfan1a - Aug 8, 2015 at 4:15 PM

        Very funny. :0

  3. alexva6 - Aug 8, 2015 at 12:26 PM

    great write up Mark.

    the game within the game could not have been detailed any better.

  4. zmunchkin - Aug 8, 2015 at 12:29 PM

    I don’t know why the Nats are having the problems they are having. I hope they can figure it out. And will continue to root for them. 

    A lot of folks want to lay a lot of this at the feet of MW complaining that he plays too much by the book. My observation I that he does not seem to be consistent in that regard.  Just one example:

    – he plays lefty/rightly  batting CRob instead of, say, Rendon. If CRob, gets on base, you have to run for him – and that is probably Rendon. So why not send Rendon up to begin with. With the top of the lineup coming up, don’t you want a guy to get on base and get into scoring position?

    – but he doesn’t when he fails to bring in Rivero against CarGo for a struggling Storen whose splits against lefties are dramatic. 

    I wonder if the football focus of all the sports press in DC contributes to this? In virtually any other city, such inconsistencies would be discussed ad infinitum. And managers/coaches have to grow and learn. MW is not getting enough such feedback because 980 and 106.7, and the papers are too busy worrying about RG3s tweets. 

    • senators69 - Aug 8, 2015 at 1:22 PM

      Digression off baseball —
      Zmunch – I’m with you on the Redskins stuff. RG3 gets a hangnail, and it’s front page news!
      Look, I grew up with the ‘Skins and want them to do well. But ~20 years wandering in the desert with a bozo owner, bozos running the team, a crappy stadium experience, etc have killed my desire.

      Back to baseball —
      That’s why it is SO nice to have quality owners and a quality baseball guy running the Nationals (in spite of this inconsistent season). It’ll be interesting to see how the team rights the ship after this year. That will say a lot about the future of this franchise. Do the Nats try to copy the consistent quality of the Cardinal organization (recent hack aside), or do the go the route of others, competing for X years and then rebuilding.

      I’d like to see the Nats win a WS in my lifetime!

  5. Doc - Aug 8, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    Harper will get another chance against this reliever—and the outcome could be quite different.

    Bryce is a better hitter than Kahnle is a pitcher, so I’m willing to wait.

  6. Section 222 - Aug 8, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    I thought it was curious to leave Rendon on the bench too. I guess MW was hoping for a game tying homer from CRob, but really, how likely was that?

    In the end, the Nats scored 4 runs. That ought to be enough to win the game.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 8, 2015 at 2:23 PM

      Talked about the fact he used CROB instead of Rendon in the game thread last night. I got that the pitcher had terrible splits against lefties but if the choice is CROB and Rendon… how do you not choose Rendon.

      But whatevs, new game today.

  7. Section 222 - Aug 8, 2015 at 1:14 PM

    For those going tonight, get there in time for the anthem. My group is singing it. Last year, we sang before the infamous Soriano meltdown game against the Phillies. Nowhere to go but up from there, and from last night.

    • NatsLady - Aug 8, 2015 at 4:18 PM

      Break a leg tonight. Heard your group last time, ==> GREAT! Hope to make it in time.

  8. stoatva - Aug 8, 2015 at 1:26 PM

    I hope the Nats head into the late innings with a small lead this evening. I’ll be extremely interested to see how Williams sets up the bullpen.

  9. Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 8, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    Think I’m going tonight. Not quiet sure. My record this year is pretty good at Nats Park… *fingers are crossed*

    Good luck tonight 222 with your singing group.





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

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