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Nats' rain-delayed win is worth the wait

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Nats' rain-delayed win is worth the wait

Jayson Werth was ready to step to the plate for the bottom of the ninth inning, Heath Bell on the mound, the Nationals trailing by a run. And then a wall of black clouds appeared from behind the third base stands, a fierce wind kicked up and rain began falling in buckets as a storm system that produced a tornado only a few miles away in Northern Virginia overtook Nationals Park.

Thus the Nationals retreated to their clubhouse for what proved to be a 2-hour, 33-minute delay, followed by sudden word from the umpires' room the game was about to resume.

"We had like 11 minutes," Werth said. "An 11-minute warning. Usually they give you 20 or 30. Today was 11. And it turned out to be the right number."

Indeed, because 11 minutes were all the Nationals needed to restart their engines, retake the field and ultimately retake a ballgame that will long be remembered as one of the wildest (and most satisfying) in club history.

Werth's towering home run off Bell to open the bottom of the ninth tied the game and sent it to extra innings. That set the stage for September call-up Corey Brown to loft the game-winning single to right in the bottom of the 10th, the final blow in a 7-6 victory that was witnessed by only a couple hundred faithful fans but resonated far beyond the confines of South Capitol Street.

With perhaps their most improbable win of an improbable season, the Nationals moved one step closer to their first NL East title, maintaining their 6 12-game lead over the also-victorious Braves while lowering their magic number to 17.

That they did so under such unusual circumstances, at the end of a long day at the ballpark that began with news of Stephen Strasburg's immediate shutdown by management, only sweetened the mood.

"You guys had to rewrite a few stories, huh?" manager Davey Johnson said with a smile as he sat down for his postgame news conference. "What a game."

The dramatic rally actually began in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Zimmerman clubbed a two-run homer off Miami reliever A.J. Ramos to bring the Nationals to within one run. They were champing at the bit to complete the rally in the bottom of the ninth, only to have everything put on hold when the storm arrived.

So as fans rushed to take cover while getting doused, players retreated to the clubhouse to catch some college football on TV and grab a snack. They didn't know when -- or if -- the game would resume, and indeed for a moment it appeared the umpires might call the game and award an eight-inning victory to the Marlins.

"I was really worried, and so was general manager Mike Rizzo," Johnson said. "He was worried that they would bang it. We kept hoping they'd hold on, because I think it was real close. It just looked like there wasn't going to be much window. And Riz said, 'Let's wait 15 minutes,' or something, and we did."

Thus the game was restarted in rapid-fire fashion, with Bell retaking the mound more than 2 12 hours after he originally did, and Werth stepping to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He worked the count full, fouling off two 3-2 pitches before finally connecting on a fastball and sending it soaring into the Red Porch area beyond the left-center field fence.

"Once I got to 2-2, I figured he probably wasn't going to be messing around with any breaking stuff," Werth said. "He's got a good fastball and likes to work up in the zone, and I got a pitch that was probably top of the zone but was up just enough."

The game proceeded into extra innings, with Drew Storen striking out the side to complete a dominant performance by the back end of the Nationals bullpen. Storen, Tyler Clippard and rookie Christian Garcia combined to retire nine of the 10 batters they faced, eight via strikeout.

"Nice," said Storen when informed of the strikeout total. "Yeah, that's usually a pretty good sign right there."

The game-winning rally developed over the course of five batters, ignited by Adam LaRoche's single off reliever Chad Gaudin, then boosted by Ian Desmond's base hit to right, with the slow-footed LaRoche chugging all the way around to slide safely headfirst into third base.

"I mean, he's not your fastest runner," Johnson said. "But he had made up his mind: He was going to third, and he did a heck of a job. Haven't seen him slide headfirst -- ever -- so you know emotions were running high."

With runners now on the corners and nobody out, the Marlins intentionally walked Danny Espinosa, loading the bases and forcing manager Ozzie Guillen to shift left fielder Justin Ruggiano to a spot just in front of second base as part of a five-man infield.

And when Kurt Suzuki immediately pounded a groundball right to Ruggiano, who fired to the plate for the wholly unconventional, 7-2 force out, the Nationals suddenly had to wonder whether their luck had run out.

"I have never seen it work," Johnson said of the five-man infield. "That was the first time I'd ever seen it work."

No worries, because moments later Brown stepped to the plate and delivered the game-winner. After sitting around for six hours playing no role whatsoever in the ballgame, the 26-year-old rookie lofted a soft liner to right field, the ball glancing off Giancarlo Stanton's glove and falling to the ground as Desmond crossed the plate with the winning run.

"In my situation, you got to always be ready to pinch-hit at any time," Brown said. "I had some confidence in myself. I was just trying to relax a little bit in that situation."

Brown may have been relaxed in the moment, but as soon as he reached first base and was mobbed by teammates, there was nothing but excitement on display from the best team in baseball after one of its signature wins of the season.

So what if it happened three hours after everyone originally hoped it would. It was still well worth the wait.

"Oh, yeah," Johnson said. "Got to use everybody. It was fun."

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 4

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 4

It's week 4 of the fantasy baseball season, and patterns are starting to emerge. 

It's still early, certainly, but by week 4 it's time to start taking some of the season's breakouts and slumps a little more seriously. Is Joey Votto really this poor a hitter? No. But Patrick Corbin might actually be an ace in the Diamondbacks rotation, as is Gerrit Cole for the Astros.

With games every night, it's tough to pay attention to every storyline around Major League Baseball, so let us help you by providing a weekly outlook on what to expect from your fantasy roster, and some players you may not realize could be difference-makers.

As always, these tips will have a Nationals slant, offering some players in D.C. to avoid, and some you definitely want to play in any given week. We’ll also suggest some players around the league you should have interest in.

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 4 (4/23-4/29)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

We'll get more into this recommendation in the two-start pitchers section (spoiler alert, Gonzalez is lined up to start twice this week), but the simple sell is this: he's no longer a stud, but when Gonzalez is pitching well and gets two starts in a week, start him.

One Nationals position player to start: Ryan Zimmerman, 1B 

Zimmerman has notoriously struggled out of the gate this season, and given that half their games this week will be in San Francisco, it might make sense to sit him. That said, entering the Dodgers series, Zimmerman had the highest average exit velocity in baseball, so he was bound to turn it around, and against the Mets he went yard twice and hit a triple. It seems like his ability to hit the ball hard might be translating to the field for him, and you definitely want him in your starting lineups when his hot streak comes. And it will come.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Jeremy Hellickson

This isn't the most inspiring selection, since it's pretty unlikely Hellickson is owned anyways. That said, just to be safe, you definitely don't want to buy into his "decent" start in New York. Every other Nats starter is worth using this week, though, so Hellickson is the only option that we recommend sitting ion week 4.

One Nationals player to sit: Howie Kendrick, 2B

This may seem blasphemous, since Kendrick has been a consistent source of a high batting average this season, and hitting in a quality lineup you expect the runs to be there. That said, the Nats face a killer rotation this week in the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley, and Robbie Ray. It's probably for the best to sit the non-stars in the Nats' lineup this week in particular.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

Gio Gonzalez, who we recommended last week (you're welcome), and we're going to double down. Gonzalez pitched well vs the Mets, and one of his starts this week comes in San Francisco, probably the best pitcher's park in baseball. He also faces the Diamondbacks, but with Goldschmidt struggling to start the season, it's not the nightmare matchup it once was. Start Gonzalez with confidence.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

Tyler Skaggs, a member of the Angels rotation. I know what you're thinking; we're supposed to start a guy facing the Astros and Yankees this week? Yes, those two may be the best offenses in baseball, but I'd rather start a good pitcher in a bad matchup than a bad pitcher in a good matchup. Follow the talented, and believe me, Skaggs is talented. Health has always been the key for him, and with the Angels' 6-man rotation, he won't have many opportunities for two-start weeks, so take advantage while you can. If it helps, he avoids the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, so his matchups are actually quite good from a location standpoint. 

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Gleyber Torres, SS (Yankees) 

If you pull up Torres' stats, you'll notice he hasn't played a single major league game this season. Rumors are, however, that the uber-prospect is going to be called up this week, and he's the type of talent you want on your fantasy squad, period. Last year, rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger led many teams to fantasy titles, and Torres has the ability to be that kind of difference maker. Don't feel obligated to start him until he proves himself, but he should be rostered in every league as soon as he reaches the majors.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Matt Harvey, SP (Mets) 

Harvey was a popular deep sleeper entering draft season, and it's not hard to see why. He's immensely talented, has pedigree, and has flashed incredible stuff in the big leagues before. That said, it appears his comeback just isn't going to materialize, and even Mets manager (and pitching guru) Mickey Calloway looks less confident in Harvey's future this season. If he starts getting his velocity back, and it translates to the games, feel free to jump back on the bandwagon. For now, though, it's safe to drop him for another flier.

RELATED: 2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.

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