|Nationals celebrate Canada Day! (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson held an extensive, wide-ranging press conference early Friday afternoon, and in it he remarked more than once that in order to win, he would need the best efforts of all 25 men on his roster. He also spoke about the necessity of having a power bat on his bench to give the other manager something to think about in the late innings, using the euphemism of having a guy with a "big, hairy chest" sitting next to him in the dugout.
Last night, in the Nats 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Stairs was that big, hairy guy Johnson needs him to be. As it happens, the New Brunswick native played the hero on Canada Day, which celebrates Canada becoming an independent kingdom on July 1, 1867.
Stairs drove a 95-MPH fastball from reliever Tim Wood off the right field wall, scoring pinch-runner Alex Cora from third to deliver yet another walk-off win at Nats Park. The embattled veteran has but seven hits to his credit this season, and certainly none were as big as the one last night.
|Veteran Matt Stairs came though for the Nats. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
The win pushes the Nats back to the .500 mark, kicking off this 10-day, 11-game homestand in grand fashion. It also marks Johnson's first win as a major league manager in eleven years.
“You win pennants with 25 players,” Johnson said in the pre-game press conference. “They’re all invaluable. You can’t win with 24, 23, 22, so my job as manager is to try to take care of all 25. [Stairs] had some sporadic at-bats, and he wasn’t hitting too good. We need his capabilities coming off the bench late in the ballgame.”
Certainly the burly Canadian had tried everyone's patience this season, batting just .138 with a lone RBI until last night's game-winner. But the 43-year old has had rough stretches before, and he figured eventually he would pull out of this one too. While that remains to be seen, he's appears to have benefited from getting three starts in a row as designated hitter while the team was out in Anaheim taking on the Angels.
While the decision to give him all those at bats might not have paid off in that series, rarely this season has Stairs hit a ball harder than the one that he lashed halfway up the wall to the left of the Nationals bullpen in right field.
"[Stairs] swung the bat pretty good out in L.A., and he's still not quite 100 percent, but that looked like 100 percent right there. That was a rocket," Johnson said from his office after the game.
Johnson sent Stairs up to hit for Ian Demsond, who is struggling in his own right. "I told Desi, 'Look, you're not swinging like I know you're capable of. Normally, I wouldn't do this, but there's a chance. I got to try to put everything I got in this thing,' " Johnson said. The 68-year old skipper had already lifted his first baseman, Michael Morse (who singled to start the inning), for the pinch-runner Cora, and now was pulling his starting shortstop in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth.
As Johnson described, he rolled the dice a little bit, and on this night he came up a winner.
The heroics came too late to do anything for starter Tom Gorzelanny, who threw another terrific ballgame. He went seven innings and allowed just one unearned run on six hits and one walk, striking out eight. The Pirates got a run off him in the third on a single, an error on a sacrifice and a ground out.
The Nats first run of the game came courtesy of Roger Bernadina's fifth home run of the season, who also singled in the game. The Nats center fielder got support from his new manager during the post-game as well. Johnson said Bernadina "deserves a chance to play every day, and I'm gonna give it to him."
THE GOOD: A win! Davey Johnson is as crusty a manager as there ever was, but even he admitted feeling relief notching his first win after three consecutive losses to start his Nats tenure. "Now I'm going after number two." he said post-game. "First win... [being out] 11 years in the big leagues, here in front of the home crowd. That's special. ... It's been a while."
THE BAD: Ryan Zimmerman. 0-for-4 with a K and a couple of ground outs. The Z-man isn't making very good contact right now.
THE UGLY: Wilson Ramos went 0-for-3 with a walk, and did drive a ball to right that moved the runner up in the ninth inning. But after his strong start this season, he's now hitting just .235.
THE STATS: Six hits, five walks, six strikeouts. 1-for-7 with RISP, eight LOB, Three GIDP. E: Gorzelanny (2), Morse (1).
NEXT GAME: Doubleheader Saturday against the Pirates. Game One is at 3:35 pm and pits John Lannan (5-5, 3.48) against James McDonald (5-4, 4.52). Game Two is at 7:05 pm and Livan Hernandez (5-8, 3.81) will start for the Nats. Pittsburgh has not announced a starter for the second game as of this post.
NATS NOTES: Before the game, the Nationals announced they dismissed first base coach Dan Radison and replaced him with Trent Jewett, who was serving as bench coach when John McLaren was reassigned. Radison was a very close confidant of former manager Jim Riggleman.
Morse made his first error at first base. In fact, it's his first error since when he was with the Seattle Mariners in 2005.
|Danny Espinosa shows off his high jumping skills. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
|Alex Cora advanced to third on Wilson Ramos' fly ball to right in ninth inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|