Like no other sport, Major League Baseball is a series of ebbs and flows, game after game played out 162 times across the span of a six months regular season. The lows are worse for the teams with more losses than wins, but all ride the rollercoaster of emotions.
A recent case in point is the Washington Nationals. They remain in first place in the N.L. East, but they’ve been dealing with a pair of controversies.
The first came last month when Bryce Harper made comments that raised eyebrows.
As beat reporter Adam Kilgore put it:
On the day outfielder Bryce Harper returned to the Nationals lineup, he openly disagreed with how Manager Matt Williams filled it out. Harper, the 21-year-old star slugger who missed 57 games following left thumb surgery, said he believes Ryan Zimmerman should remain in left field, implying that the Nationals’ best chance would come with himself in center field and veteran Denard Span on the bench.
Span handled the situation with class. Harper, who turns 22 in October, proceeded to lapse into a hitting funk. His batting average made a dash for the "Mendoza Line" (under 200) with little pop in his bat.
This past Wednesday morning, someone asked Nationals skipper Matt Williams if sending the struggling young lad down to AAA was an option.
“Is it a terrible idea – just a wacky idea – to send him down to Syracuse for a week, just to get him right? Is that just a stupid idea on my part?”
Williams's reply balanced diplomacy with that sounded like - no, he’s not going down.
That afternoon, a reporter asked Williams – “Is sending Harper to the minors in the realm of possibility?”
Reporters sure do know their craft. In 1934, in a pre-season press conference, Roscoe McGowen with The Brooklyn Eagle asked Giants' skipper Bill Terry -
"What about Brooklyn Bill? What are their chances this year?"
McGowen covered the Dodgers and knew better than anyone that the team was not expected to challenge the Giants and the Cardinals.
With his guard down, Terry replied - “Brooklyn? Are they still in the league?” They were and despite being 10 games under .500, beat the Giants at season’s end to knock them out of the pennant race.
Matt Williams is smart and could see the fish bait. But he’s human and his ballclub had lost on Monday and Tuesday. He reacted by saying:
“I would caution everybody in this room: The minute you think you can read my freakin’ mind, you’re sorely mistaken. It [ticks] me off to even think about that somebody would take a comment I make on the radio and infer that I’m thinking one way or the other. I’ve had it. Don’t do it anymore. Bryce Harper is one of the guys on our team. He’s an important part of our team, just like everybody else is. It’s not fair to the kid. It’s not fair to the rest of the guys in that clubhouse to even think about sending Bryce Harper to the minor leagues, or to cause a stir. It’s unacceptable. It won’t happen. Is that good enough for you?”
Case closed, right?
No, Williams's response was described as awkward.
The game eventually takes care of these things, and isn’t it amazing how winning cures all?
The Nats got a two-fer deal in this regard yesterday afternoon. The game against the Mets at Nationals Park was one of those lazy 12:35 starts, a make up of a rain out earlier in the season and a getaway for both teams.
But not so fast on that early flight, beat the rush hour special. Into the 13th inning the game went knotted at three.
In the bottom of the frame, Harper stepped up to the plate. The scorecard showed him oh-for-four, with a strikeout in the bottom of the ninth. The kid with the nagging hand injury couldn’t bat an eye.
Carlos Torres, who once earned fame as a AAA Pitcher of the Year, but lately a journeyman reliever with the Mets, came in with the pitch. Harper deposited it over the left field wall.
The Nationals celebrated their 5 to 3 win with the usual hugging and jumping for joy.
And then it happened, Span and Harper were suddenly together at the foot of the pitcher’s mound, smiles exchanged, palms slapped together, a hug, the vet touching the rookie’s heart, the Kodak moment the two needed to bury any lingering bad feelings, and a moment of great satisfaction for Williams.
Ebb and flow. Game 114 tonight in Atlanta.