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Nats can't shine on big stage

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Nats can't shine on big stage

For nearly five hours, Bryce Harper had flailed away at pitches out of the zone, taken borderline strikes and glared at plate umpire Tim Timmons and otherwise looked exactly like a 19-year-old overwhelmed to be in the big leagues.

Yet when the Nationals' rookie stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 14th inning late Saturday afternoon, every remaining soul among the once-sellout crowd of 41,287 couldn't help but dream about how Harper's otherwise awful game might end in dramatic fashion.

Even the players wearing the road uniforms admitted the thought crossed their minds.

"It's like one of those kind of storybook endings; you're hoping it wasn't going to be," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "That would've just been too good to be true, for Harper to hit a walk-off right there. The place might've fallen down."

Harper didn't hit a walk-off, and the place did not fall down. With a routine groundball to second on the first pitch he saw from New York closer Rafael Soriano, Harper completed a miserable, 0-for-7, five-strikeout day and officially sealed the Nationals' frustrating 5-3, extra-inning loss.

There were plenty of defining moments in this game, countless opportunities for the Nationals to push across the one run they needed to pull out a victory and some controversial calls that cost them along the way. But it was Harper's performance -- by far his worst in seven weeks as a big leaguer -- that left everyone shaking their heads by day's end.

It wasn't just that Harper struck out five times. It was the surprising manner in which he consistently chased pitches out of the strike zone from Andy Pettitte and three Yankees relievers. It was the disgusted look and words he directed toward Timmons after questionable calls. And it was the uncharacteristic lack of composure from a player who to date has relished every opportunity to star on the big stage.

"I thought he probably was really amped up," manager Davey Johnson said. "He came in there against Pettitte, and I've never seen him swing at balls out of the zone. He was chasing balls. Got in that mode where (he was) trying to make something happen. That's part of the youth."

Harper declined to comment after the game, saying "I don't want to talk." Teammates tried to offer the rookie reassurance.

"Shake it off," first baseman Adam LaRoche told him. "It's not the last time you're going to have a bad game. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of bad games because you're playing for a long time. Shake it off and hurt them tomorrow."

This will be a tough game for the entire Nationals roster to shake off, a second straight loss to the American League's best team and one that was eminently winnable.

The Nationals gave the Yankees an unearned run during a sloppy fourth inning that featured one official error (by shortstop Ian Desmond) and two other miscues (a blooper to shallow left field that fell untouched, a missed scoop at first base by Tyler Moore on what should have been an inning-ending double play).

Jordan Zimmermann gave the Yankees two runs in the sixth, turning a slim lead into a slim deficit.

For a moment in the bottom of the eighth, though, the Nationals thought they had retaken the lead and were three outs from victory. Desmond's homer off reliever Cory Wade tied the game 3-3, and shortly after Moore came scampering around the bases on LaRoche's pinch-hit single to right.

As catcher Russell Martin hauled in the throw from DeWayne Wise, Moore attempted a headfirst slide, brushing his left hand across the plate. Timmons, though, called Moore out on the bang-bang play, and it wasn't clear until after the fact that Moore's hand had narrowly beaten Martin's tag.

"I thought I got in there," Moore said. "But you know, I haven't seen the replay yet. It's just unfortunate it didn't go our way."

"We had other opportunities to win that ballgame," Desmond said.

Indeed they did, thanks in large part to some brilliant relief work from Ross Detwiler, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen, who combined to toss seven scoreless, hitless innings against one of the most-feared lineups in baseball.

But through it all, the Nationals lineup was unable to push across the winning run, going a collective 0-for-15 with five strikeouts from the ninth through the 13th innings.

So the game entered the 14th, at which point Johnson handed the ball to Brad Lidge, less than 24 hours removed from a shaky outing that contributed to a series-opening, 7-2 loss. The veteran right-hander was plagued Friday night by a seeing-eye, infield single, and he couldn't believe his misfortune when the same thing happened again Saturday. Jayson Nix led off with a single to deep shortstop. Derek Jeter then added a grounder through the left-side hole.

"I'm in a bit of bad luck right know where they're kind of hitting them where they ain't," Lidge said. "They're the groundballs you want, but they're hit perfectly between guys. It's tough, but you just try to do the best you can to get out of it."

Lidge did strike out Curtis Granderson, but he then left a 2-1 slider over the plate and watched as Teixeira laced it down the right-field line for the two-run double that gave the Yankees the lead for good and raised Lidge's ERA to an unsightly 9.64.

The Nationals nearly bailed him out in the bottom of the 14th thanks to one-out singles from Jesus Flores and Steve Lombardozzi. But Danny Espinosa flied out to right and Harper couldn't summon any magic to erase his dreadful afternoon and lift his team to an inspiring victory.

Suddenly, the Nationals' six-game winning streak has morphed into a two-game losing streak. And the most-anticipated series in the team's brief history has already been won by the Yankees, who will go for the sweep Sunday afternoon against a young ballclub that has to learn how to brush off a pair of demoralizing losses.

"Right now, obviously they seem bad," Lidge said. "These games are magnified. But at the end of the season, these are two of 162 games we play. They're regular-season games. And hopefully, if nothing else, we can learn from whatever we take from these two games and get better from it."

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Astros’ arrogance on domestic violence an unseemly start to World Series

Astros’ arrogance on domestic violence an unseemly start to World Series

At some point during the World Series this week against the Nationals, Houston Astros pitcher Roberto Osuna will step out of the bullpen and take the mound in a big situation.

A top-flight closer with 38 saves and an 2.43 ERA, Osuna is only in Houston because the Astros were willing to deal with the optics of acquiring an accused domestic abuser while he was suspended 75 games by Major League Baseball in 2018 for violating the league’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy.

They traded a struggling relief pitcher and two minor-league pitchers to the Toronto Blue Jays and got an elite talent in return. Now, the butcher’s bill has come due and the organization is refusing to pay the price.  

Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein reported Monday night that during the locker room celebration after Houston clinched the American League pennant on Saturday, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman repeatedly yelled in the direction of three reporters, all women, his profane support of Osuna.

What an odd thing to do. Taubman knows Osuna’s history, he knows how controversial that trade was at the time. To the reporters who witnessed the outburst it seemed “shocking” Apstein told the Washington Post in a phone interview.   

Osuna had almost just blown Houston’s season when he allowed a two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning against the Yankees in Game 6. If New York rallied to win, there was to be a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday. That didn’t happen thanks to Jose Altuve’s game-ending two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. 

“Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna,” Apstein quoted Taubman shouting in her story. She was one of the three reporters he was allegedly talking to. 

That’s where the story really goes off the rails. Apstein was going to write about the incident and said she wanted to talk to Taubman. An Astros media relations staffer denied the request, Apstein said. She wrote it anyway. 

Late Monday, Houston put out a statement calling the story “misleading and completely irresponsible” and chastising Apstein for an “attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

In the Astros’ version, Taubman was simply voicing his support for Osuna as he answered questions after a rough game and not directing his comments at any reporters. 

Except reporters from other outlets disputed that version immediately. Houston Chronicle reporter Hunter Atkins tweeted that he witnessed the exchange. So did Yahoo baseball writer Hannah Keyser. Osuna wasn’t answering questions in the immediate area, according to a witness quoted by the Chronicle. And Taubman did seem to be making a point yelling at the reporters, one of whom wore a bracelet in support of domestic violence awareness, according to the Sports Illustrated story.   

So the team would not make Taubman available to clarify any misunderstanding and then called the reporter a liar. The organization went radio silent until Tuesday afternoon. On a day the Astros should have been focused on Game 1 of the World Series against the Nats, they spent the morning trying to put out a fire they ignited. It did not go well. 

Official statements released by the organization were a cliché of the genre. Taubman was “deeply sorry and embarrassed” but still claims it was all misinterpreted. He is “a loving husband and father.” He is a “progressive and charitable member of the community.” And yet…”I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.”

Demi Lovato thinks that was a good statement. Sorry. Not sorry. Have we checked all the boxes? Refuse to clarify on the record when given the chance. Call the reporter a liar. Wait until the story creates an uproar and then hide like a coward behind a non-statement that clings to your self-appointed status as a good person and a dad. And at this point any media relations executive who puts “I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions” into a statement should be fired on the spot. You are not helping.  

It is all so very arrogant. Lots of nominally good people do and say stupid things they should apologize for. Lots of dads and husbands are terrible people. Lots of abusers are enabled by organizations – sports teams, businesses, political administrations – who care more about winning than about what is right. 

Does everyone deserve a second chance? Sure. Osuna’s accuser, the mother of his then three-year-old son, left for her native Mexico and refused to testify against him in court in Canada. Charges were dropped there when Osuna paid a $500 peace bond. His lawyer insisted that his client was not admitting guilt.  

But that’s exactly how domestic violence works. Victims often refuse to testify in court. They are the ones being abused, after all. There had been enough evidence for MLB to give that 75-game suspension. Domestic violence isn’t a mistake or a misunderstanding and it is not something a person or a team gets to push aside because it’s inconvenient or they don’t want to talk about it. And they sure as hell don’t get to gloat about how smart they are at recognizing it as a market inefficiency. 

At least Astros manager A.J. Hinch had the ability and the sense to put the issue perspective during his pre-game press conference Tuesday. 

“No one, it doesn't matter if it's a player, a coach, a manager, any of you members of the media, should ever feel like when you come into our clubhouse that you're going to be uncomfortable or disrespected,” Hinch said. “So I wasn't there. I don't know to the extent of what happened. I read, like everybody. I haven't talked to every single person in the organization, as you would expect. I've been knee-deep in the Washington Nationals. But I think we all need to be better across the board, in the industry. I understand why it's a question today, and I appreciate it. But I was disappointed.”

If that had been Houston’s initial response, maybe this firestorm of criticism is contained. 

It is no small irony that the man who ultimately did blow Game 6 of the American League Championship Series was Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, a player with his own history of domestic violence. That caused heartburn when New York traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 2016 – less than a year after he was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing a gun into his garage wall eight times. 

Chapman helped the Cubs win a World Series for the first time since 1908. The Yankees were so bothered by this that they signed him to a five-year, $86 million contract that offseason. They needed a closer, you see. Too often that is all that matters. 

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Best D.C. bars to watch Game 1 of the World Series

Best D.C. bars to watch Game 1 of the World Series

The time is here, let the party begin!

Several spots are celebrating the Nationals advancement to the World Series. From food-specials to all-day happy hours, here's a list of the top D.C. bars with the best deals and atmosphere to watch the game. 

Several spots are in competition as there's a #BattleoftheCocktails taking place. Various bars and restaurants have created #Nats inspired drinks with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Nationals Dream Foundation.

The Bullpen

This venue is located right outside of Nationals Park. It's great for a pregame drink but is also planning to at least show the first two games of the series with the Astros. On Nationals game days, it opens at least two hours before the team’s home games. all drinks are $5 from the 3rd inning through the 7th. 

Mission 

This Navy Yard restaurant is definitely taking part of the fun, during every Nationals game its calling itself “World Series HQ." It will offer food and drink specials for every game. Mission opens at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday and 11 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The kitchen will remain open late for post-game parties.

Bluejacket

The Navy Yard bar is introducing a new beer just in time for the first game of the series. Eighty-six years, which alludes to the time since a Washington baseball team was in the World Series, is a “hazy double IPA double dry-hopped with Galaxy,” the brewery said. Food and drink specials will be available for every away game.

Agua 301

The Mexican restaurant will offer $7 margaritas that get discounted $0.25 with every run the Nationals score. Bud Light bottles start at $2.50, and each game will have its own food specials. Game 1 will feature $3 tacos, and Game 2’s offers include $3 empanadas. 

The Brig 

The Navy Yard beer garden will celebrate with $6 Bold Rock rose bottles, $13 Brig Lager liters and $25 bucket specials. The sound will be played with every game.