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The Nationals and Fragility (with "Where's The Podcast?" explanation)

Sitting here at a bar at the Toronto airport, having just finished watching Tiger Woods come a bounce or two away from forcing a playoff in the U.S. Open. (Time to note a Journal staff policy: You can have a beer - particularly a Molson - while writing for the Journal. You cannot do so while you're writing for the Post. It's a new world, and someone has to make up the rules, so I figure it might as well be me.)

Anyway, Tiger's brush with reaching 5-over and Angel "Miguel" Cabrera - hitting it through the green on 17 had to hurt - brings me to the concept of fragility. Athletes are so often described as sturdy, resilient, resolute. I do it myself. But the more you consider sports, the more you realize different athletes are basically at different states of fragility - both mental and physical.

Here is what Micah Bowie, perhaps 30 minutes after pitching six innings of two-run ball in the Nationals' 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, said to a few of us reporters Sunday: "I thought my career was over a long time ago."

He said it matter-of-factly. He is 32. He has a son, Brayden. He has a wife, Keeley. And instead of pitching in the big leagues on a sunny Ontario Sunday afternoon, with the roof at Skydome - er, Rogers Centre - open and all right with the world, he could have been back in Texas coaching a high school team.

A few weeks ago in Cincinnati, after Mike Bacsik shut down the Reds, I asked him if he ever thought his career was over. "Sure," he said. "Last April 1." That was the day the Nationals cut him - not from the major league roster, but from the minors as well. "They said, 'We don't even have a spot for you in Triple-A," Bacsik said. So he went home, worked the phones, had his agent work the phones, threw in his yard - and hoped.

That Bacsik and Bowie are in the Nationals' rotation right now is remarkable enough. That they are - Bowie in particular, Bacsik less-so - pitching well is ridiculous.

Consider that Bowie's first professional game came in 1994, with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Braves. Pitching for the Nationals represents pitching for his 18th professional team. You want 'em all? Well, this is the Journal, where space is not a limitation, so - Gulf Coast Braves, Danville, Macon, Durham, Greenville, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago (Cubs), Iowa, West Tenn, Sacramento, Oakland, Modesto, Gulf Coast League Nationals, Harrisburg, New Orleans, Washington.

You don't think his career could have stalled? You don't think, after he had ligament replacement surgery in 2003 and he missed all of 2004, that he could have fallen off the face of baseball's cruel earth, never to be heard from again?

"I love pitching, and I love playing this game," Bowie said. You have to think he means that more because he knows he might not have been playing it. This guy is now 4-0 with a 3.81 ERA for the Nationals, one of the main reason the team has held together even with four-fifths of the rotation out.

Bacsik's first pro appearance was with Class A Burlington in 1996. The stops: Columbus (Ga.), Kinston, Akron, Buffalo, Cleveland, Norfolk, New York (Mets), Oklahoma, Texas, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Tucson, Columbus (Ohio), Washington.

"I haven't gotten the ball in the big leagues too many times in my career," he said a few starts ago. "I don't want to give it up."

He added another time I talked to him, "I love playing this game."

The ride for either of these guys could end in the next year, month, couple of weeks. But talk about fragile: What if they hadn't been here when the Nationals' starters went down?

"We were talking about that," Dmitri Young told me after Sunday's win. He watched all the pitchers walk by, packing their bags, noting each one who had helped and where he came from. And as I was walking away, he reminded me of his own fragility. "You know it's going to be a big day tomorrow," he said.

Ah, I had forgotten. The Tigers are coming to D.C. The Detroit media is going to want to rehash his off-field travails a year ago and wonder how he's hitting .333 now.

It's all fragile. The Nationals' run of 21-14 is fragile. The rotation remains fragile. A losing streak could start Monday. A winning streak could begin. It all depends on how these athletes - with these crazy pasts and unpredictable futures - respond to the different stresses placed on them.

Gotta finish my beer and catch my flight. See you at RFK Monday night.

(Oh, one more thing (added Monday morning). So I've been a personal disaster with the podcast the past week or so, forgetting one piece of equipment or another more often than not. That culminated in somehow losing my digital recorder -- the only way these things get done. The good people at the Yorkville-Bloor Marriott in Toronto were convinced it was their fault -- perhaps it was stolen -- so they made up for it by paying for my room, which was nice. (Perhaps it has something to do with having 500,000 Marriott points?) But the bottom line: Producer extraordinaire Tim Richardson of WPNI (which is the fancy name for The People Across the River, Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive) will deliver a new recorder to me tonight at the game, and I promise not to miss these things anymore. We want to build a consistent product around the club, and I dropped the recorder on this one. Look for a new podcast tomorrow.)

By Barry Svrluga  |  June 17, 2007; 8:11 PM ET
 
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