Matt Williams has heard the fervor building over the last few weeks. He knows the criticism being levied at him. But he knows he can’t get caught up in any of that.
“Well, it’s never any fun. I can tell you that,” the beleaguered Nationals manager said Wednesday afternoon. “But if I know anything about our group, or if I know anything about myself personally, when times are difficult, you put your head down and you go. You don’t have a choice in this game, other than to be prepared for today and let ‘er fly. That’s what we do.”
Williams has taken heat for in-game decision nearly since he started the job last season, from his controversial benching of Bryce Harper for a lack of hustle to his by-the-book pitching changes during the playoffs. He wound up winning NL Manager of the Year honors over the winter, but the criticism hasn’t subsided in his second year in the dugout, again much of it focused on his pitching moves and in-game strategy.
“It’s part of the job,” he said. “I know that we’re all, to a man in that clubhouse over there, doing everything we can to win a game. We stand by each other. I support our guys. I support our coaches. And we’re in this together.”
Media criticism has been present for awhile, but fan criticism has perked up considerably this summer. Rarely does Williams make a trip to the mound without hearing at least a smattering of boos.
The nadir likely came Tuesday night, on the heels of an 8-7 loss to the Mets that featured a seventh-inning meltdown by the Nationals’ bullpen, followed by Williams’ questionable decision to have Anthony Rendon bunt with no outs and the tying run on first base in the bottom of the ninth against New York closer Jeurys Familia. (Rendon wound up working the count to 3-1, then bunted a high, 98-mph fastball too hard, resulting in a force out at second base.)
Then came Williams’ postgame press conference, at the end of which a couple of fans watching from the adjacent Presidents Club could be heard booing as the manager wrapped up. The visual — a beleaguered skipper walking away after a horrific loss to boos in a location where that wouldn’t typically happen — was as bad as it gets.
“Our fan base is fantastic,” Williams said Wednesday. “They’re passionate about this team. They want us to win desperately, as we do. And we want provide that for them. We want to provide a quality team that they can come and enjoy watch play and they can get behind. Hopefully that starts today, and we can make a race of it.”