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.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
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)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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