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Is a rare night of joy for the Nationals fleeting or something more?

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Is a rare night of joy for the Nationals fleeting or something more?

It’s hard to put stock in anything this ensemble does this year. Six weeks of the season has provided letdowns and questions, disgust and bad baseball, so little to embrace. Heat under the manager’s backside has increased day-by-day like a stovetop burner progressively cranked around. Breaks were few. Punishment for opposition miscues is even less common.

Saturday night held a similar temperament for seven innings. Max Scherzer threw a center-cut fastball to Justin Turner which turned into a two-run homer. Walker Buehler, the Dodgers’ young and buoyant starter, snuffed out the Nationals offense. No runs for seven innings. He bested Scherzer for 21 outs.

Had the game stopped then, postgame would have a familiar sound. “The boys battled” would be uttered. One bad pitch lamented. Talk of a solid effort against the back-to-back National League champions would exist. Instead, Gerardo Parra took a spot-on swing at a 95-mph fastball with the bases loaded in the eighth.

Parra’s second career grand slam caused Scherzer to scream in the dugout. It put the Nationals in front, 5-2, and six outs from taking the first two of three in the series. For a moment, things felt refreshed, the perils of a 16-23 start stalled because a 32-year-old signed two days prior hit the unlikeliest of home runs. The fly ball to right field produced Parra’s second career grand slam in 4,580 at-bats. It came against Dylan Floro, who had struck out Anthony Rendon and allowed a .194 batting average against him this season. Against the grain, to say the least.

Can the feeling of such a shot last? Not typically, not in baseball where momentum comes to die. But for the Nationals, it’s such a needed respite from their doldrums, it makes Sunday at a minimum watchable, if not enjoyable. Rarely this season has that been the case to close a series.

What the Nationals have shown so far is they don’t like to partner too long with joy. Remember the comeback win in extra innings in Philadelphia? Remember the Matt Adams walk-off win? Remember what came after those? More up-and-down, further sputtering and grousing, a manager fired 100 times over by caterwauling social media users.

Juan Soto returned Saturday. His eighth-inning, nine-pitch at-bat was followed by Rendon’s eight-pitch at-bat. They differed in the outcome, but personified the level of difference when each is in the lineup. Soto fought through a matchup left-hander. Rendon was in immediate trouble once the count dipped to 1-2 after he swung at and missed back-to-back sliders. He took the next slider, fouled off a fastball, then took another slider. In a span of six pitches, Rendon went from fooled to discerning. Those kind of at-bats were abnormalities without them, when the lineup was flooded with four-A players or not-there-yet prospects staring at big moments in their stead.

Washington looked close to whole Saturday because of their dual presence. The bullpen situation may be slowly pivoting, too. Trevor Rosenthal threw a scoreless inning for Double-A Harrisburg a couple of hours before Parra’s grand slam. Rosenthal needed just 11 pitches to pick up a strikeout, groundout and fly out. Eight of the pitches were strikes. Bizarrely, it was his best outing of the season, a token of promise against the formidable Hartford Yard Goats, a task he never anticipated setting out on before the season began.

Saturday’s rarity -- a break and a bomb -- made one night pleasurable around the Nationals. It allowed them to keep pace with wins across the division. Stephen Strasburg is on the mound Sunday. Washington carries a chance to take three of four from the Dodgers. The Nationals just winning three out of four games would be notable without such a stalwart of an opponent; it’s happened just twice this season.

So, pocket the enjoyment from Saturday night. It’s all right. Most of the season has shown it’s not going to stop by again any time soon.

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Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

There was a down time for Gerardo Parra. His non-stop bubbliness lost some perk once he entered a month-long slump. Parra did not ride his scooter into the clubhouse with the same joy. His work in the dugout during games dialed back to enthusiastic, living below his usual level of a rocket being launched into a volcano. He wasn't himself. So, Davey Martinez called him into the manager’s office.

“I sat with him. I said, what's going on?’” Martinez said during the postseason. “He said, ‘I don't know, I'm not doing good.’ And I go, ‘And?’ And he looked at me and said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Your job is to bring the energy every day. I don't care if you're 2 for 100. Bring the energy. Play that music, get loud, and have fun. Have fun.'

“He said, you're right, and he went back and started playing music, having fun. Lo and behold, he went on a tear again, and he comes back in my office, and he said, you know, I kind of forgot what it was like to just be myself. And I said, exactly. So I don't ever want to see you do that again, you know? You're another heartbeat of this team. It's not just about you, it's about everybody else. Like I said, 2 for 100, you've got to be yourself.”

Parra being himself turned into one of the grand storylines of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series season. His daily arrival was stirring, like someone tossed a bag of sunshine into the clubhouse. His scooter-propelled entrances included horn-blowing and extra laps and what-the-hell-is-this-guy-doing smiles. Often, he wore blacked-out sunglasses when circling the clubhouse, darting right back to the training area, then pulling a u-turn to zip through the other side of the clubhouse and past the dining room before an abrupt halt at his locker.

Parra’s next stop -- scooter inclusion to be determined -- is Japan. He signed a one-year contract with the Yomiuri Giants late Tuesday, the team announced. His departure ends arguably the most memorable, non-quantifiable, pervasive bit player show in organization history. It’s 2020 on-field impact is nil.

“When Gerardo Parra joined the team, something happened,” managing principal owner Mark Lerner said during the postseason. “Whatever it was, it was magic.”

Parra caused Freddie Freeman’s bewilderment. His presence led to a stadium-full of adults -- by age -- clapping along to a child’s song which included lyrics and a beat never to be extracted from one’s skull once heard. His father sat at Parra’s locker on the red cushion of a folding chair in his “Papa Shark” T-shirt. Even founding principal owner Ted Lerner, a 94-year-old man of business and sternness, paused to mention the “Baby Shark” situation at the team’s parade. 

“I want to say a special word to the veterans on this team: from now on, you can call me, ‘Grandpa Shark.’”

Max Scherzer cackled.

Parra’s May 11 grand slam in Los Angeles was one of the few palatable points in the month and indicative of his ability in big spots. He finished the season with a 1.117 OPS with runners in scoring position. 

Late in the year, Scherzer said the team had an “it factor.” Asked how he knew, he couldn’t explain. “You just know it when you see it.” This stance applied to Parra because moments became his.

The pop culture surge of his song choice -- a result of his daughter’s relentless listening and an attempt at slump-breaking -- put Parra in front of cameras all season. A television hit on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” was part of his media rounds. Afterward, he beamed. 

Parra, born in Venezuela, went back to the clubhouse to describe his success. “I nailed it,” he said. He went on to tout the quality of his English during the segment. It was so good, he thought a name change was necessary.

“My name is no more Gerardo, it's Gerard,” Parra told Martinez.

Martinez’s reaction?

“You can't be serious. You've got to laugh at him, but he was dead serious. And he started going around the clubhouse saying, ‘You call me Gerard from now on.’ Whatever.”

Gerardo, Gerard, the song, the scooter, the smiles and rose-colored glasses are off to Japan. Staying is a legacy of fun, which won't go away.

 

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The best moments Gerardo Parra, 'Baby Shark' took over Nationals Park in 2019

The best moments Gerardo Parra, 'Baby Shark' took over Nationals Park in 2019

Baseball's viral sensation Gerardo Parra, of World Series and "Baby Shark" fame, signed with Japan's Yomiuri Giants on Wednesday.

Parra will always be remembered by Washington and baseball fans alike for his cheery personality, but more importantly for the phenomenon he started at Nationals Park during the Nats' 2019 campaign and subsequent World Series victory. 

It started back in June, when Parra first changed his walkup song to "Baby Shark." After that, it only grew.

By the end of July, Nationals Park had gotten the hint and the path to the eventual World Series premiere of "Baby Shark" had begun.

Here's a video from just two days later, when Parra stepped in to pinch-hit.

Then, after Parra had a clutch grand slam on Sept. 28, which helped the Nationals secure the home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card, Washington finally made it to the NLCS and "Baby Shark" took over Nationals Park in the first divisional championship series game at the satdium.

Here's another angle from Game 3 of the NLCS. The sound of the shark chomps is deafening in this video from the same night.

And finally, the moment we all hoped would come: "Baby Shark" takes on the World Series.

Game 3

Game 4

Game 5

And, finally, the last "Baby Shark" in Nationals Park, possibly ever, at the Game 7 watch party.

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