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Perspective: Thoughts From Game 5 of the NLDS
Reggie Yinger | Tuesday October 16th, 2012
What could have been, but never was. (US Presswire)
What could have been, but never was. (US Presswire)
Like many baseball writers and fans, we all have our favorite teams. Although we have our "own teams", we must stay grounded when reporting on baseball related events. It's professional and we don't want to come across as "homers".

However, as many of you may know, or perhaps don't know, I live in the Maryland-DC-VA area and have followed the Washington Nationals closely since their arrival in 2005.

I've seen a lot of bad baseball during that time, but I've also seen a lot of growth and potential. With the growth and potential, I've also personally seen games played at a makeshift baseball park (RFK) and I've seen games at the wonderful new Nationals Park.

While I'm much older than most of the players on the current Nationals roster, I feel like I've watched them grow up, as I've seen many of them play at near by minor league affiliates. From Drew Storen and Bryce Harper in Hagerstown, to Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg in Potomac. Overall, I guess you could classify me as a "Nats Homer" - but this isn't about being a "homer" - this is about watching one game and having so many emotions and up and downs during a four hour period.

Although the game was on Friday (October 12th) - it has taken me about three days to "wake-up" from this empty, shallow shell that I've been in since the game ended. I'm just now getting around to my thoughts and feelings on this game.

Here it goes:

Three days before the first scheduled pitch of National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals, I found out I would have a chance to attend Game 5. However, there would need to be a Game 5, as the Nats trailed the Cardinals two-game-to-one headed into Game 4. While we all know what happen in Game 4 between the Nats and Cardinals, let's just say - I was especially excited after Jayson Werth's walk-off home run.

With the series headed to Game 5, I knew I was in for a terrific pitching matchup (at least on paper). The Nationals were sending Gio Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright to the mound. Two pitchers who not only had excellent curveballs, but excelled in all areas of pitching. If anything, I thought it would be a low scoring game - boy was I wrong.

Adam Wainwright wasn't sharp early on, as the Nationals offense jumped on him for three runs in the first inning thanks to Werth's double, Harper's triple, and Ryan Zimmerman's home run. This was a good sign (obviously) for Nationals fans, especially seeing Harper bust out of his offensive funk. He had just one hit in the series prior to his Game 5 outburst. After the first inning, Nats fans were feeling good, and why wouldn't they? The offense just scored 3 runs against the Cardinals "ace" and the Nats had their own "ace" on the mound, but as the old saying goes:

"That's why we play the game for 27 outs"

Remember the above statement. You will see mentions of it later.

The offense kept coming strong against Wainwright; Bryce Harper found his stroke, hitting a missile of a home run to right center field. If you have ever seen Harper play in person, you know that when he hits a baseball square on the bat, it sounds like an explosion. Yup, this was one of those times.

Two batters later, Michael Morse got in on the action, hitting a home run of his own. After three complete innings, the score was 6-0 in favor of the Nationals. The Cardinals "ace" had lasted just 2 1/3 innings and allowed six runs. It felt great to get into the Cardinals bullpen early on.

At this point, heading into the top of the fourth inning, the stadium is electric thanks to "Natitude" red rally towels and thoughts of advancing to the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants. However, we still have to remember:

"That's why we play the game for 27 outs"

The St. Louis Cardinals finally put up their first run in the fourth inning. The crowd was a little let down, but the scoreboard still read "6-1" in favor of the Nationals. Fast forward to the top of the 5th inning, the Cardinals scored two more runs to cut the lead to 6-3. At this point in the game, at least to me, Gio Gonzalez looked like the old Gio Gonzalez of the Oakland Athletics. You know, the same Gio that issued 91 walks in 2011 and posted 4.1 walks per nine innings.

With the score sitting at 6-3 in favor of the Nationals heading to the top of the sixth inning. I still had a good feeling about the Nationals chances of advancing to the next round of playoffs. Although Gio was done for the night, the Nationals bullpen was more than capable of handling the final four innings of play. After all, this was the same bullpen that posted 3.3 fWAR (Fangraphs.com Wins Above Replacement).

The sixth inning goes quietly for both teams, but for Nationals fan, this is o.k. The goal now - get outs. To be more specific, get nine more outs.

Edwin Jackson entered for the Nationals in the top of the seventh inning. As a fan and someone who has reported on Jackson over his career, I wasn't happy. When I saw his name over the top of the bullpen (where they place pitchers who are warming up), I was unhappy and felt uncomfortable. I kept thinking to myself :

"Is Davey Johnson really going to let Edwin Jackson in this game?"

I also remembered that I was the one sitting in the stadium seats and Johnson was in the dugout trying to lead this team to a National League Championship Series.

"Forget it"
I said, and then carried on with waiving my red "Natitude Rally Towel".

Perhaps I was right with my original assessment on Jackson. The 29-year-old righthander entered the game and promptly serves up a walk to Jon Jay, followed by a double to Carlos Beltran, and an RBI ground out to Matt Holliday.

At this point, there is one out in the inning and the scoreboard reads 6-to-4 in favor of the Nationals. There is a runner on third and Edwin Jackson is still in the game for the Nationals. Allen Craig steps in and I'm thinking:

"he's a good hitter that will get the runner in" - he doesn't.

He strikes out on a nasty slider from Jackson. Two outs.

The inning finally concludes after David Freese strikes out on a 88 mph slider from Jackson. The slider has always been a "plus" pitch for Jackson, and I'm glad he used it to get out of the inning with minimal damage.

With the game headed to the top of the eighth inning and the scoreboard listed as 6-to-4 in favor of the Nationals, it was time for Tyler Clippard to enter the game. However, Clippard would enter the game and promptly serve up a home run on a changeup to Daniel Descalso.

At this point, I'm worried.

A one run lead over the defending World Series Champions is still a lead, but a slim one. Clippard works out of the inning and limits the damage to one run. The lead over the Cardinals is now cut to one run and the Nationals offense hasn't scored a run since the third inning. What better time than now for an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Drew Storen a two run lead to work with.

The Nationals get their run. Back-to-back singles by Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse sets up an at-bat that allows catcher Kurt Suzuki to single in LaRoche.

Here we go. Three outs and the Nationals will advance to the NLCS and have Game 1 in Washington, D.C. on Sunday. The score sits at 7-to-5 in favor of the Nationals heading to the top of the ninth inning.

Drew Storen enters from the right field bullpen to stadium speakers blaring "Bad Company" as covered by Five Finger Death Punch. Every fan in attendance is on their feet, waiving the red rally towel.

The first batter, Carlos Beltran, hits a double to center field.I'm glad we got that insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"Carlos Beltran has always produced in the post season." I think to myself.  Just get the three outs now.

Matt Holliday steps in next, and grounds out to the third baseman for the the first out of the inning. Although Beltran moved up to third base on the play, I would gladly trade his run for the second out of the inning.

In comes Allen Craig; he strikes out on a slider from Storen for the second out of the inning.

At this point, the Nationals are one out away from clinching a berth to the NLCS. Every fan is standing; every fan is ready for that final third out.

Yadier Molina steps in with two down and Storen appearing in full control of closing out the game. After working the count against Storen to 2-2, Storen is still one strike away from closing this game out.

The next two pitches are sliders down in the zone and away from Molina. They are both called balls and Molina takes his base. They looked like strikes to this "Bleacher Umpire", but it's still o.k.:

Storen has this, one more out.

David Freese is in the batter's box now. I remember what he did in the MLB Playoffs last year for the Cardinals, but I don't care.

This is the Nationals' time and they need one more out...just one more out.

Freese is down in the count 1 ball, and two strikes after three pitches. Once again, Storen and the Nationals are one strike away from closing out the game and advancing to the NLCS.

The next three pitches to Freese from Storen are called balls. Molina moves to second base, Freese to first base.

The bases are now loaded, and Daniel Descalso is headed to the plate. An inning ago, he hit a home run off Tyler Clippard.

But I keep telling myself "that doesn't matter right now" - Storen and the Nationals need just one more out.

It doesn't take long for Descalso to become a hero for St. Louis and a villain for the Nationals on one pitch. He rips a single off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond that allows Beltran and pinch runner Adron Chambers to score. Tied ballgame.

"That's why we play the game for 27 outs"

As it stands now, the Nationals and Cardinals are tied at 7-7 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Although the Nationals have blown a six run lead, they are still one out away from having a chance to walk off as winners just like they did a night ago in Game 4.

They still need one more out.

David Freese is on third base and Descalso is on first base. Pete Kozma steps in. Kozma is a 24-year-old late season call-up that was there for an injured player. He was a .232/.292/.355 hitter this season in Triple-A Memphis.

To say this was his biggest at-bat of his young career is an understatement. But at this point, it doesn't matter what he's done during his professional career, it's all about right now.

Drew Storen is still in the game. He doesn't care about Descalso on first base, and Descalso knows it; he steals second base easily.

That's fine, he can have it, the Nationals just need an out.

Storen digs in and gets Kozma in a two strike hole. After two quick strikes, Storen throws two straight balls. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Kozma hits a sinking fastball (that didn't sink) down the right field line. Both Freese and Descalso come in to score.

The game is now 9-to-7 in favor of the Cardinals. It's their first lead of the night.

"That's why we play the game for 27 outs"

After 33 pitches, 3 hits, 4 earned runs, and 2 walks, Drew Storen finally has his three outs.

After being ahead of two hitters with one strike to go for the the third out, Storen has allowed four earned runs.

What had just happen? It doesn't matter, as the Nationals Park crowd is stunned at this point.

Some fans have left the ballpark, and others have went from waiving their red rally towel to covering their face in disappointment.

Baseball and Nationals fans know the rest of the game story. The Cardinals recorded the final three outs and would win the game and the series. Congratulations to them. They never stopped fighting and didn't care what the score of the game was.

"That's why we play the game for 27 outs"

Several "What If" thoughts came across my mind as I had more time to think about this game. They obviously don't matter at this point, but perhaps they allow for some justification as to why this game turned out like it did. Maybe they don't matter at all - because this is what makes baseball a fun game, but also a cruel game.
Reggie YingerReggie is a writer and the co-founder of Baseball Press. He enjoys fantasy baseball and hates when players bunt in baseball.