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Nats pounce late on Mets

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Nats pounce late on Mets

NEW YORK -- As the night wore on and they helplessly flailed away at every 84 mph fastball Chris Young flung toward the plate, there was perhaps no sweeter sight for the Nationals than that of the Mets bullpen door swinging open for the top of the eighth and someone other than the 6-foot-10 right-hander trotting to the mound.

"When he came out of the game, some of the guys felt better," left fielder Michael Morse said. "I know me, I felt better."

It took two more innings of unproductive swings, but finally in the top of the 10th the Nationals took advantage of the worst bullpen in baseball, pounding Pedro Beato into submission during a six-run explosion that led to one of the odder line scores you'll ever see: Nationals 8, Mets 2 (10).

"It's kind of the makeup of our team," Morse said. "We just never quit. ... We just kept coming, kept pushing. Lately, it doesn't matter how many runs you get, you just have to keep adding them and keep going."

What had been a tense pitchers' duel played under a light rain, with Young and Jordan Zimmermann swapping zeroes, turned into a lopsided Nationals victory once the game advanced beyond regulation. Held to four hits through nine innings (three in the first, one in the ninth) they exploded for five in the top of the 10th alone, four of them coming in rapid-fire succession.

It began with a Roger Bernadina single that ricocheted off left-hander Tim Byrdak. Bernadina then helped break up a potential double play by sliding hard into shortstop Ruben Tejada, spikes against shin. A botched sacrifice bunt attempt by Mark DeRosa led to an out and took the speedy Bernadina off the basepaths. But Steve Lombardozzi's single up the middle loaded the bases and set the stage for the meat of the Nationals' lineup to deliver when it really counted.

First up was Bryce Harper, who had clubbed a two-run homer way back in the top of the first, and now smoked an 0-1 curveball from Beato over the second baseman's head, bringing home the go-ahead run.

Harper's strategy in that situation?

"Don't roll over and turn it into a double play," the 19-year-old said. "That was the only thing I was thinking up there. I was trying to get some backspin on something and just get it to the outfield, score the guy on third. In that situation, that's all you try to do."

The bases still loaded, Ryan Zimmerman stepped up. The hottest hitter in the NL over the last month wasn't the least bit relaxed now that his team held a 3-2 lead.

"No. We want to get as many runs as we can," he said. "Especially in that situation with less than two outs and the bases loaded. We needed to tack on a few there."

So Zimmerman calmly mashed a double to the gap in right-center. DeRosa scored. Lombardozzi scored. Harper scored, nearly lapping Lombardozzi in the process.

"I didn't think anything of it," Harper said. "Third base coach Bo Porter said: 'You gotta go.' I thought: 'If he slides in front of me, I better slide the other way.'"

Now leading 6-2, Morse dug in knowing he could take as big a hack as he liked. Boy, did he ever, launching the ball to deep right-center for his sixth homer in 31 games and turning this once nip-and-tuck ballgame into an 8-2 laugher for the visitors.

"It was nice that the bats woke up," Davey Johnson said.

The 69-year-old manager had made a couple of curious decisions with his pitching staff that perhaps allowed the game to reach extra innings in the first place. He pulled Zimmermann after six stellar innings and only 89 pitches, though he explained that was his plan all along, not wanting to push the young starter too far knowing he'll need him to remain fresh come September and beyond.

Zimmermann, who now has pitched at least six innings in all 20 of his starts and boasts an 0.95 ERA over his last six games, seemed to understand his manager's thinking.

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "I haven't been throwing too many pitches, so it's a long season and we still have a long ways to go. I hope I'm still fresh at the end of the year."

With Zimmermann out of the game, Johnson turned to Drew Storen to face slugger David Wright in the bottom of the seventh. And that's all he faced, because Johnson returned to take the ball from the recently activated right-hander after he got Wright to fly out to deep center field.

Johnson is still trying to ease Storen (who missed 3 12 months following elbow surgery) back into a late-inning role, and the right-hander said he knew this appearance would be brief. But it still had to be painful to watch lefty Michael Gonzalez enter and immediately serve up a game-tying home run to Ike Davis on his very first pitch.

"I'm still organizing the bullpen to where I'm comfortable with it," Johnson said. "I don't want to constantly put the heat on Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard. I have a lot of confidence in all the guys out there, I just need to get them a little more lined-up here so I feel comfortable with them and they feel comfortable."

The method might have been a bit unconventional, but ultimately it worked. Ryan Mattheus pitched a scoreless eighth, and Tom Gorzelanny kept the Mets from scoring in both the ninth and 10th innings to secure the win.

Combined with the Braves' loss in Miami, the Nationals saw their lead in the NL East jump to 4 12 games.

All thanks to a sudden flurry of clutch hits from a team that for nine previous innings could barely buy one against the Mets.

"We're a confident team," Zimmerman said. "We know if we can hang around and give ourselves a chance, that's all we need."

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Will the 2019 and 2020 free-agent classes stir things up the way this one hasn’t?

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Will the 2019 and 2020 free-agent classes stir things up the way this one hasn’t?

There’s an old Magnum, P.I. episode called “Home at Sea”. Magnum has been knocked off his surf ski after a too-close speedboat zips by, leaving him alone to survive in the water. His mind wanders. Flashbacks from childhood, the war, and his family, fill his head. He’s treading water and waiting.

Things are not life-and-death severe during this offseason as the baseball world wades through what has become the sigh-inducing drudgery of free agency. But, big names remain unsigned, reduced to sending out social media pings via a hat (Manny Machado seen in the background of a video in a White Sox lid) or tweet (Bryce Harper having fun with everyone’s emotions by making weather jokes or referencing Tony Romo’s prognostication abilities).

What we don’t have — yet — are results. Everyone is just treading water. Which leads to thoughts beyond today. In particular, the coming free agents in 2019 and 2020.

This class was supposed to be epic. Harper, Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson. Cy Young and MVP winners along with young, generational talents. A mix rarely, if ever, seen before.

(Jose Fernandez, the talented young pitcher in Miami, was also expected to play a major role in this free agency class before he tragically died in 2016 at the age of 24.)

Instead, ongoing shrugs and muted exuberance have met this market, which gives next year a chance to deliver comparative heat. Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, J.D. Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, Gerritt Cole, Chris Sale, Kenley Jansen, Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner could all be available. Even Stephen Strasburg could join them in the unlikely situation he exercises his first opt-out.

That grouping would be more well-rounded than the current top-heavy one. It also could suffer from the same lack of investment occurring now, which has already begun underground rumblings about the pending fight between players and owners once the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.

Several things need to align in order for the 2019-20 free agency crowd to be awash in such prominent names. Martinez, Jansen and Strasburg would have to opt-out. Rendon would need to make it through the season without signing a contract extension in Washington, something both sides are working on and open to.

Though, if everyone hits, around-the-diamond needs will be filled.

Need a third baseman? The best and arguably second-best are available.

Need a top-of-the-rotation starter? Sale, Bumgarner, Verlander and Cole are there. 

Need a reliever? Jansen or Dellin Betances would be there.

The class also has interesting middle depth: Yasiel Puig, Khris Davis, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas, Brett Gardner, Matt Kemp, Scooter Gennett, Jose Abreu, Ryan Zimmerman (if the Nationals do not pick up his $18 million option). 

Another monster class hits the following year. Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jacob deGrom can become free agents after the 2020 season. George Springer, Robbie Ray, James Paxton and J.T. Realmuto are also in the mix. Even Giancarlo Stanton could hop in by opting out, though who would want to leave that contract?

Languishing negotiations from Harper and Machado have led us here, treading water and wondering what’s to come. It at least sounds interesting. We’ll see if it turns out to be so.

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Baseball Hall of Fame Results 2019: Rivera makes history with first ever unanimous induction

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Baseball Hall of Fame Results 2019: Rivera makes history with first ever unanimous induction

The question coming in was this: three or four?

Two locks were set to be voted into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday: Legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who became the first player to be named on 100 percent of the ballots cast, and starting pitcher Roy Halladay, both first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Seattle’s Edgar Martinez was expected to finally make it. He did with 85.4 percent of the vote.

That left Mike Mussina, 49 votes short last year, to hold his breath this time. He made it, narrowly, with 76.7 percent.

Mussina spent spent 10 years in Baltimore chasing 20 wins and providing annual durability before joining the New York Yankees for eight more seasons. Longevity and consistency keyed his entrance into the Hall of Fame. Mussina made 30 or more starts 12 times on his way to a career 123 ERA-plus. Only three times across almost two decades was Mussina’s ERA-plus below league average. All that work allowed him to compile 3,562 ⅔ innings pitched, 2,813 strikeouts and a 1.192 WHIP.

Rivera dominated the league with a single signature pitch, his cutter, for 19 years. His preferred music of “Enter Sandman” ran counter to Rivera’s pleasant and forthcoming demeanor off the field. He viewed the accidental discovery of his cutter as a gift from God, which made him willing to share information about the pitch with whomever asked. The slim right-hander anchored one of baseball’s great winning runs while with the Yankees. Rivera is a 13-time All-Star who owns five World Series rings. His 205 career ERA-plus is an all-time record as is his 652 saves, which is more than 50 ahead of second place and a record unlikely to be broken.

The wait, and push, for Martinez was extensive. Martinez find himself at the core of an ongoing debate about Hall of Fame candidacy for designated hitters. He didn’t become a full-time player in the major leagues until age 27. He was perpetually on base from there until his age-41 season, delivering a career OPS of .933 and on-base percentage of .418. Martinez walked more than he struck out 10 times in his 18-year career, finishing with more bases on balls than whiffs. Seattle denizens long pushed for his conclusion. It took the maximum 10 years, but Martinez is finally in.

Halladay’s inclusion is a bittersweet moment. The right-hander died Nov. 7, 2017, when a small plane he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He previously told reporters his possible Hall of Fame induction would be a “tremendous honor.” Halladay twice won the Cy Young award — once in each league — made eight All-Star teams, and finished with a 3.38 ERA. He also threw a perfect game and in 2010 became the second pitcher in history to throw a postseason no-hitter.

The central characters from baseball’s so-called “steroid era” remain on the outside. Roger Clemens (59.5 percent) in his seventh ballot and Barry Bonds (59.1 percent) remain well below the 75 percent threshold for enshrinement following slight increases from 2018 voting. Curt Schilling (60.9 percent) and Larry Walker (54.6 percent) also moved up significantly in year-over-year voting. Fred McGriff moved up in his final year on the ballot, however remained well short. He should get in when considered by the Today’s Game Era Committee based on their recent selection of Harold Baines.

 

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