It's mid-June and the Washington Nationals shouldn't have to prove anything by this point, having sat atop the rugged NL East for nearly all of this season. But the team delivered yet another statement-making performance this weekend, and this time it's the Boston Red Sox who must be wondering what hit them.
Rare Visit to Fenway
The upstart Nats marched into historic Fenway Park for an interleague series and made the most of their rare visit to Boston, sweeping three games in memorable fashion. To be fair, this isn't the best edition of the Red Sox, with the team hanging around the .500 mark. The magic of Fenway Park has been conspicuously missing, too -- entering the series the Red Sox had a better record on the road than at home.
But the Sox are still a dangerous team, and Fenway is still the most hallowed of baseball stadiums. And for what it's worth, the Nationals and their predecessors in Montreal had never won at Fenway Park, totaling a combined 0-9. This could have been an intimidating moment for a young Nationals team, going on the road to face an unfamiliar foe in a famous setting with a zealous fanbase.
But the 2012 Nats are proving this year that they don't get intimidated by much. They've dealt with more than their fair share of injuries, they're playing in a brutally tough division, and somehow they've raced out to first place and have been hanging on ever since. Now we know that the Red Sox uniforms and the ghosts of Fenway Park couldn't slow down the Nats either.
Playing Like a First-Place Team
The Nationals spent the weekend looking the part of a first-place team. And for the Nats, it all starts with pitching. The staff that leads the majors in ERA didn't disappoint, and the schedule lined-up so the Red Sox would have to face the top of the Nats rotation.
In the first two games of the series, the Nationals showed why their top two starters may be one of the best one-two punches atop any rotation in baseball. On Friday night, Stephen Strasburg made his Fenway debut a memorable one. After working out some early jitters, Strasburg finished with 13 Ks in just six innings of work as the Nats won 7-4. On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez notched his eighth win of the season, shutting out the Sox for six innings before departing in the 7th in a 4-2 victory.
On Sunday afternoon, the Nationals received another solid start, this time from Jordan Zimmermann. But the game was tied 3-3 heading into the top of the 9th. While Nats fans will have many highlights to remember from this series, the lasting image may be of a hustling Bryce Harper tearing around the bases from first on a two-out double by Roger Bernadina, sliding home with the go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the ninth, Boston's frustration bubbled over. Bobby Valentine yelled so much at the home plate umpire that he managed to get tossed from the game with two outs and two strikes. Tyler Clippard -- the Nationals' fourth option this season at closer -- then finished off the at-bat, the game and the series, striking out a desperately swinging Dustin Pedroia.
Fenway Park fell silent. If there are any ghosts roaming the 100-year-old ballpark, they just got a good look at the 2012 Washington Nationals.
KW Rosenfeld is a lifelong baseball fan who visited every major league ballpark in the summer of 1991. A longtime resident of Northern Virginia, he's still thankful that baseball has returned to D.C.
- Sports & Recreation
- Washington Nationals
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