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Morse's big blast saves Nats

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Morse's big blast saves Nats

ATLANTA -- As he grabbed a bat and helmet before the eighth inning Friday night, Michael Morse stopped to let manager Davey Johnson his hamstring was acting up a little bit and that he might need a pinch-runner if he reached base.

"It's fine," Morse insisted later. "It was tightening up a little bit in Colorado. He told if I feel anything to let him know, so I said: 'I feel a little bit. A little tired.' That was it."

Yes, that was it in more ways than one. Because when Morse promptly crushed the first pitch he saw from Chad Durbin into the right-center field bleachers, he no longer had reason to test that weak hamstring. He could take as much time as he needed to trot around the bases, his solo homer having just given the Nationals a 5-4 lead over the Braves they would not relinquish.

As Johnson said to Morse as the latter returned to the dugout: "That's the way to keep me from running for you."

Morse's tie-breaking blast was a fitting way to cap this tense game that saw some wild swings of emotion and momentum over the final few innings. Up 4-0 most of the night thanks to the offensive exploits of Morse (4-for-4), Ian Desmond (2-run double) and Jesus Flores (solo homer) and six innings of pitching brilliance from Ross Detwiler, the Nationals nearly collapsed.

Given a chance to complete a seventh inning for only the third time in 56 career starts, Detwiler suffered through a major meltdown. In a span of minutes, he plunked one batter, mishandled a comebacker, was charged with a balk, served up an RBI single and then served up the game-tying home run to rookie Andrelton Simmons on a letter-high curveball.

What thoughts were racing through Detwiler's mind as he slumped over on the mound, hands on knees as Simmons rounded the bases to a roar from the Turner Field crowd of 32,299?

"I can't really say that on camera," the left-hander said with a smile. "They gave me four runs, and I gave them all back. Obviously I'm not going to be very happy about that."

That late implosion soiled an otherwise brilliant start for Detwiler, who carried a streak of 18 13 consecutive scoreless innings into that fateful bottom of the seventh. This outing might not have ended the way he wanted, but it nonetheless came at a most opportune time for a Nationals club that needed eight innings out of its bullpen the previous day in Denver and thus desperately needed a lengthy outing from its No. 5 starter.

"I'll tell you, Det gave us just what the doctor ordered," Johnson said. "It's a shame that he made really one bad pitch and it cost him the ballgame. But a strong effort. We needed it so bad, I can't even tell you."

In the end, Johnson needed to turn to his two best relievers -- Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard -- to record the game's final seven outs. Burnett wound up inducing a double play from Matt Diaz to end the eighth. Clippard managed to escape a self-made jam in the ninth, stranding the tying runner in scoring position after a leadoff double to earn his 13th save in as many tries since assuming the closer's role.

"I wasn't expecting to be my sharpest, by any means, but I was little more off than I wanted to be," said the right-hander, who hadn't appeared in a game in six days. "It's something I've experienced before in the past. I feel like when I'm not feeling my best, I can make it work. And that's what I had to do tonight."

Clutch pitching performances aside, it was Morse's clutch home run that ultimately made this victory possible.

It's been a long, slow road back from a torn lat muscle for the outfielder, who needed nearly a month of big-league at-bats to rediscover his hitting stroke. Throughout his early struggles, Morse tried to convince himself it would all come back, he just needed to stay patient.

But that's easier said than done.

"It's very tough. Very tough," he said. "Right off the bat, you're trying to go out there and do some impossible stuff. But when everything fails, you've got to go back to square one. That's just: Go up there, see the ball, hit it, try to have quality at-bats every time."

Morse has had plenty of those in the last week. He's now 12 for his last 19, a stretch during which he's raised his batting average from .217 to .294 and completely changed the makeup of the Nationals' lineup.

"Oh my goodness, my goodness," Johnson said, adding he plans to move Morse back to the cleanup spot on a daily basis.

Last year's team MVP couldn't have picked a better time to deliver his biggest hit of 2012, a knockout blow against a division rival that further solidified the Nationals' standing as the team to beat in the NL East.

"We've been playing a lot of close games, and we're comfortable in those games," Clippard said. "But this atmosphere tonight was a lot like a playoff atmosphere. I've never been in the playoffs, but I can imagine. It's huge for us, especially because we're a young team and we need these games to get us confidence when it's going to count down the stretch. And I think it does that."

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Cal Ripken Jr. finds nothing wrong with Bryce Harper's swing

Cal Ripken Jr. finds nothing wrong with Bryce Harper's swing

Bryce Harper hasn't been the Bryce Harper we're used to seeing in 2018. 

the 2016 N.L. MVP is seen his batting average drop to a career-low .214 and ranks among NL leaders with 100 strikeouts. On Saturday after their game vs. the Mets, manager Dave Martinez had a talk with the right fielder after he failed to run out a ground ball in the fifth. 

There have been several theories thrown out there as to why the 25-year old is slumping. From simply being mentally checked out to his "unconventional" swing at the plate. But before you take that theory and run with it, baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. sees nothing wrong with his technique. 

"We're they saying that about it when it was working?", Ripken said Monday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington. 

"'Cause its essentially the same swing. And if you look at videotape, there's some subtle difference that you see. He has a signature way he swings the bat. Sometimes your engine's running a little high inside." 

Those who are more in-tune with the fundamentals will find his swing a bit out of the norm, but Ripken would not describe it as "unconventional."

"No, I don't think it's unconventional and I think he's been consistent. It's just the way he hits. Everybody has this unique sort of signature on how they swing the bat and if you're trying to help him, you don't go change everything and say you gotta go. You just try to bring him back to his comfort and his timing and his confidence and then that'll happen. It's proved that his style of hitting works for him and so I wouldn't try to make him somebody else."

Well, that way of hitting obviously works considering he does have 23 home runs this season and just won the 2018 Home Run Derby Monday night after launching ten 450-foot home runs and nine home runs in 47 seconds.  So what will it take for him to carry that momentum into the second half of the season? Ripken senses the need for a clearer mental game during a stressful contract year. 

"It's a slump, so what are the reasons, what are the causes for that? And probably it's a little more mental than physical."

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How to effectively spend money at the Fan Shop at the MLB All-Star FanFest

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USA Today Sports

How to effectively spend money at the Fan Shop at the MLB All-Star FanFest

FanFest is overwhelming. There are a ton of different things going on at once in a giant convention center hall. But there's one safe area to go and be at peace. The Fan Shop.

The problem with the Fan Shop — and it's not just unique to this one — is that everything is too expensive. Everything.

But fear not, we've done our research, and have a plan for how to (and how not to) spend your money as well as some interesting items you can buy.

The most efficient way to spend $20

Ok kids, your parents just gave you a nice crisp 20 from the ATM over in the corner and told you to be back in 15 minutes. That's not nearly enough time to scour the whole Fan Shop and find the best things to buy. Don't worry. We've spent hours in the Fan Shop researching for this very situation.

We're going for variety here. We could theoretically just get five All-Star Game buttons to wear, but that's no fun. We could blow it all on one item: a pair of socks, a shirt, a small stuffed animal, a mug. Unless one of those things are the greatest of that thing you've ever seen, let's not make that our only purchase.

Let's go with an All-Star Game decal for $6.99 to start. You can put that on your car, laptop, refrigerator, or basically anything. The possibilities are endless. With our remaining $13, we don't have a lot of options if we want to buy more than one thing, and we do. To make that happen, we're buying an All-Star Game coozie for $6.99, snagging a button for $3.99 and walking back to mom and dad with some change.

The most efficient way to spend $50

Well it's our lucky day. Somebody just got paid and sent you into the Fan Shop with a green Ulysses S. Grant. Now you can actually buy legitimately useful things.

An All-Star Game t-shirt is a must. You can wear it over and over to show off how cool you are. That'll cost $30, though, so now we've got to scramble again.

Do you hear that? It's a shot glass calling your name. Even if you're not 21, it's probably more fun to drink that nasty, liquid children's cough medicine out of a shot glass than the plastic cup that comes with the bottle. Pony up the $8 and move along.

All the cool kids have sweet key straps nowadays, and the one that's hanging on the rack five feet to your right is only $10. Go get it, put some keys on it and get twirling like that cute lifeguard at the pool.

The most efficient way to spend $100

Let's get one thing out of the way. If you can't efficiently spend $100, then before reading this you should probably go get some help.

That being said, it's summer and you need to keep the sun out of your face. Go get a $35 hat.

One very nice store attendant was kind enough to point out that they were selling the same socks the players will wear for both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game. You have to get them. They're $25, and we've got $40 left.

It's time to be a kid again. A 17-pack of baseball cards is only $10, and maybe one of those guys will make your great-great-great-great grandson some money when he finds the card in a box in the attic in like 150 years. Who knows, but the potential return on investment seems worth a 10-spot.

Oh wow you just remembered your aunt just had a baby a few months ago. You know what that baby wants? A stuffed animal. Grab that one over by the checkout counter for $20. While you're over there, spend your last $10 on a mug.

The most and least expensive items in the Fan Shop

This one took some digging. But after several hours searching through the depths of the Fan Shop, we're confident we've found the most and least expensive things you can buy.

The most expensive item wasn't that hard, honestly, given it screams "I'M SUPER EXPENSIVE."

That's right, this Dooney & Bourke custom team gigantic bag is $399.99. Now, if you're insane and/or wealthy enough to spend that kind of dough on a bag that has your favorite baseball team on it, be my guest. My advice would be to save your money for something better, like 66 beers at one of the concessions stands. Remember, you're the one with the problem, not I.

The cheapest item was much harder to find for a few reasons. First, it's tiny and nowhere near the entrance. Second, it's something people generally won't be looking for because it's a button and, well, who wants a button? Nobody. Nobody wants a button.

This button costs only $3.99 plus however many hospital trips you have to make because you can't stop stabbing yourself with the pointy edge of the fastener. On second thought, this may deceptively be the most expensive item in the Fan Shop. Well played, MLB Fan Shop, well played.