Sep 9, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Matt Williams doesn’t much like talking about big-picture stuff. You’ve repeatedly heard the second-year manager asked about the state of his Nationals this summer, and you’ve repeatedly heard him refuse to take the bait.
But then comes a game like Tuesday night — a game that defied logic given the manner in which the Nationals’ bullpen turned a 7-1 lead into an 8-7 deficit in the horrific span of 12 batters spread among the seventh and eighth innings — and Williams couldn’t avoid answering the big-picture question.
How on earth do you come back from something like this?
“There’s times where things go well. And you understand that there’s time on the other side of that coin,” Williams said. “So, what do you do? You pick yourselves up by the bootstraps and you go. You don’t have a choice at this point. In all of those guy’s lives, and in mine, there have been good times and bad times. So we learn from the bad, appreciate the good, take nothing for granted and come with a fresh attitude tomorrow and go to work.”
It may not remind you of Knute Rockne. It may not inspire you to jump out of your seat and run straight through a brick wall. But there’s not much else Williams can say at this point.
And there’s not much else the Nationals can do at this point but show up to the ballpark Wednesday and try to beat the Mets. It may sound implausible, but it would still leave them 5 games back with 23 to play. Yeah, yeah … the odds are minimal. But it has happened before.
“I come from the school of: ‘Never say die,'” Jayson Werth said. “It’s not over ’til it’s over. We’re not out ’til we’re out. But, this one is tough to swallow.”
That’s the problem. Had the Nationals merely lost the first two games of this series in uneventful fashion — giving up too many big hits, failing to come up with enough of their own — the suggestion of bouncing back wouldn’t be so outrageous.
But consider how exactly they lost these two games. They essentially hit a grand slam in each of them to take what should have been a comfortable lead, not to mention energize a ballpark full of fans who desperately want to believe in this team.
“It was pretty crazy,” Michael Taylor said of his 360-foot scamper around the bases. “It was a good feeling. It was pretty cool.”
Taylor’s sort-of-inside-the-parker and Wilson Ramos’ traditional grand slam Monday afternoon should have been defining moments that turned this ballclub’s season around. And both of them were utterly wasted by wretched pitching performances, none of them more wretched that what transpired in the top of the seventh inning Tuesday night.
The Nationals led 7-1. Blake Treinen was on the mound. There were two outs and a man on first. Nothing about that scenario suggested cause for concern. Until it did. The next eight at-bats were straight out of a horror novel … or a Little League game: Walk, RBI single, pitching change, walk, bases-loaded walk, pitching change, 3-run double, walk, walk, bases-loaded walk. Tie game.
Throughout it all, the rest of the Nationals sat or stood helplessly, unable to do anything to save Treinen, Felipe Rivero and Drew Storen.
“It’s not easy,” Taylor said. “There’s not much you can do from center field in a situation like that.”
There was only thing more painful than watching that inning progress: Contemplating how Williams could summon any of them — but especially Storen — again Wednesday night or any night after that.
The second-year manager did what he could to have his pitchers’ backs.
“In the bad times, you need support,” Williams said. “And that’s part of my job. I’ve got confidence in every one of those guys in that room. Tonight wasn’t their night, but I’ve got confidence in them.”
That’s easier said than done, again especially in Storen’s case. It’s not like this was a one-time, out-of-nowhere occurrence. No, it felt like everything had built up over the last three years to this moment, the postseason blown saves, the temporary redemption, the sudden demotion to a lesser role after the acquisition of another closer and then this: a stadium full of irate fans booing him off the mound after the worst singular outing of his career.
“It is what it is, right?” Storen said. “It’s part of it. If you don’t do your job, they’re going to let it be known.”
Baseball players are trained to have short memories, none of them more so than relief pitchers. The grind of the season doesn’t allow for reflection mid-stream. There’s always another game to be played the next day. And the Nationals will play a game Wednesday night. And then three more over the weekend. And then three more weeks’ worth of games after that.
The question is: From where do they summon the fortitude to put this one behind them and move on?
“To the outside observer, it’s like: ‘Man, what have we got ourselves into?'” closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “For me personally — and I think I can speak for most of the guys in this clubhouse — we have to accept the challenge. Take it on and almost enjoy it and say: ‘Hey, this is the spot we’re in. Let’s do everything we can to get out of it.'”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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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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