Night Terrors and Day Drinking: The Self Inflicted Trauma of Being a DC Sports Fan Part 10
As 2012 became 2013 there was hype around the Washington Nationals. All the talk was how this could be the best team in baseball history. Bryce Harper was another year older, the Nats were going to have Strasburg for an entire season, Anthony Rendon would eventually take over at second base, Jayson Werth was going to be healed fully from his broken wrist, Ryan Zimmerman had finished 2012 ridiculously hot, and the Nationals had traded Michel Morse and traded for Denard Span to improve the lead-off spot and outfield defense. Everything looked great and then there was Rafael Soriano. A completely unnecessary move that at the time I thought was good to shore up the bullpen, but little did I know that Drew Storen wasn’t mentally tough enough to have his job taken away. He just wasn’t good enough to attempt to earn the role back and floundered every time he made an appearance that wasn’t in the ninth inning. The 2013 Nationals were a disappointment but they still could have made a run. The big problem is manager Davey Johnson gave up on his players early on.
In an early game against the San Francisco Giants with starting pitching in recent games failing to go deep and Stephen Strasburg on the mound Mike Rizzo called up Yunesky Maya to be an emergency long reliever. If things got out of hand Maya could be brought in to take one for the team and wear the inevitable loss. Instead the game was close and the Nationals had a chance to win after Strasburg pitched seven solid innings. Davey Johnson still brought in Maya and he gave up a walk-off homerun to Pablo Sandoval. It was Davey Johnson’s swinging gate moment except the Nationals weren’t out of it and still could have made a run, but he had completely given up on the team and the season. Davey Johnson should have been fired at that moment. It was clear he no longer cared and the Nationals and the fans deserved better.
After the suffering of getting so close to the NLCS and having it all ripped away there was something far worse about not living up to expectations. We all thought we’d get a second chance immediately, but that wasn’t to be. The Nationals scuffled the entire season and were overwhelmed by a combination of injuries, poor management, and an ineffective bullpen.
The Washington Redskins didn’t fair much better in their post RGIII injury life. The entire story is almost too weird to explain. RGIII was all in for week one even though he shouldn’t have been and it was almost like Mike Shanahan was letting his personal feelings about RGIII’s over the top personality allow him to put the young quarterback in dangerous situation after dangerous situation. Mike Shanahan never once wanted to be the adult or to take RGIII under his wing and teach him how to be an NFL quarterback. His philosophy was if RGIII wanted to sink he was going to let him do so, and so the feuded and RGIII’s father showed up in the locker room and criticized the coaching staff to the media and RGIII in a knee brace was forced to be a pocket passer and couldn’t handle it. He just wasn’t good and it looked like he was both two afraid to get hit anymore and physically unable to be the same player he was in 2012. Looking back now it is clear that the injury was more detrimental than was being said at the time and RGIII would never be the explosive and exciting player we saw at the beginning of 2012.
The Adam Oates era as Capitals coach is almost not worth mentioning. He coached for two seasons. Lost to the Rangers in the first round of the strike shortened season and then failed to make the playoffs the next season and was done. The Wizards were just about to take off with John Wall and Bradley Beal. In the same season that Oates got fired Randy Whitman inexplicably led the Wizards to the second round of the playoffs where they lost to the Indiana Pacers. This wasn’t disappointment. Not yet. It was much like that first season the Capitals made the playoffs in the Ovechkin era. It was a disappointing end but just being there was an unexpected surprise. The real horror of 2014 was watching Matt Williams bungle his way through the bullpen in the Nationals game four loss to the San Francisco Giants.
It was a cold autumn night and I had given up my tickets to the Nationals game to go to a concert with my wife. We didn’t go to hat many concerts and I wanted to spend time with her so I let my nephew and father attend the game. Just as it was time for the main act to take the stage the DJ for whatever radio station was hosting that even announced that the Nats had a 1-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Jordan Zimmermann about to secure a 1-0 victory. By the time I got my phone out to look the Nationals no longer had a 1-0 lead. Drew Storen had blown another post season save. I know the argument has been made that Matt Williams should have left in Jordan Zimmermann but he was starting to get hit hard and your closer at home should be able to get one lousy out. It was truly incomprehensible that Drew Storen would blow it, but since he blew the game in 2012 he had done nothing right for the franchise. He couldn’t handle a set up role when Rafael Soriano was brought in and here he was again unable to handle getting one out at home in a big playoff game.
A lot like the Joel Ward penalty in 2012 that allowed the Rangers to steal victory from the Capitals with seven seconds left in regulation the Giants stole victory from the Nationals and forced extra innings. Those extra innings would last an entire second came and the Nationals and Giants would play 18 innings and the Nats would lose when Brandon Belt hit a go ahead homer off of Tanner Roark. That shouldn’t have been the series but now the Giants were up 2-0 and only needed to win one at home and thanks to Matt Williams it would be the easiest victory they could get.
What Makes Matt Williams handling of the bullpen so bad in game four of the 2014 NLDS is that the Nationals had just tied the game on a Bryce Harper homerun off of Hunter Strickland. They needed a clean inning and to get back to the dugout. They had Strasburg, Clippard, and Storen in the bullpen but instead choose to use Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett, and Rafael Soriano. It was an insane series of events and bullpen managing that had no logical explanation. Matt Williams would often times make the suboptimal decision but most of the time you could see the thinking process. In this game there was no thinking process.
Before we leave 2014 we have to get to the absolute poop show the Washington Redskins had become. RGIII had won his feud against Mike Shanahan and he was out of town. Or more accurately a 3-13 record had defeated Mike Shanahan and the coach who once that Rex Grossman and John Beck could be winnings quarterbacks for the Redskins was shown the door. RGIII shouldn’t have been that happy because he now had a reputation as someone hard to work with and his cute messages of positivity had a toxic side to them. Griffin would later prove the type of person he was when he left his pregnant wife for an Instagram model. The reason no one ever really bought into RGIII once he stopped playing well is his cute catch phrases and sayings had a sudden air of phoniness to them. Plus his body was broken and he never could recover the lack of fear of being hit it takes to be an NFL quarterback.
Jay Gruden was the new coach of the Redskins and he had led them to a typical Redskins record of 4-12, but it wasn’t anything that he or the team did that made 2014 so memorable. No. It was Bruce Allen when he gave what might be one of the strangest press conferences of all time. He informed the media that the Redskins were winning off the field. This is one of those pivotal moments in the DC sports landscape like Clinton Portis dressing up as Southeast Jerome and Sheriff Gonna Getcha or Marcin Gortat praising the free chicken. This is one of those moments in DC sports that lives on and will continue to live on long after Bruce Allen is gone. The Redskins will forever be winning off the field.