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A 5-3 Win, Helped by a 6-4 Putout

The Nationals, on Sunday, broke their four-game losing streak with a 5-3 win against Pittsburgh because of several significant contributions, most of them evidenced by the box score. Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham combined for four runs and four hits; Willingham's seventh inning homer with Zim aboard lifted the Nats to a 3-2 lead. Collin Balester went 5-2/3, but got off to a sprinter's start, recording 17 outs over the first 19 batters. (A few base running outs and double plays helped with that.) The bullpen prevented any drama as Washington protected its lead. Jason Bergmann and Ron Villone combined for a scoreless eighth. Mike MacDougal closed things out with a quick ninth.

"A lot of good baseball today," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "We played clean. A lot of good pitching. So we're happy with that."

But for the purposes of this blog post, I wanted to focus on a smaller moment, way earlier in the afternoon. In the second inning, with the game still scoreless, Willingham led off with a walk. Elijah Dukes then singled, putting runners on first and second. That's when Ronnie Belliard, the No. 6 hitter, tried his best to put a fire blanket on the inning; he bounced to short, an assured double-play ball. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno flipped to second baseman Delwyn Young, who threw --

Wait.

6-4 never became 6-4-3.

That's because Dukes slid in hard to second. Real hard. From-a-different-era hard. (Think black-and-white movies. Think writers and ballplayers sharing train rides and bourbon shots.) Anyway, Dukes, while sliding, had his leg elevated about a foot off the ground. It was the fulcrum that flipped Young face-first into the dirt, before he ever got off a throw.

As a result of the play, Washington had runners on first and third, one out, not merely a runner on third with two outs. When Alberto Gonzalez grounded out to short, Willingham scored. Take away Dukes's slide, and the inning would have ended right there.

"That's how you play the game," Villone said. "Clean. Hard. That makes a difference. That was important, especially for a team that's been on and off and not finishing games."

By Chico Harlan  |  August 2, 2009; 6:39 PM ET
 
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Next: When the Situation Calls for Hits, Well ...

Comments

Nice description Chico. Sounds like Dukes wants to stay and wants to start. "Small" things like that get noticed by managers and players alike. Good for him!

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

What's the difference between "clean, hard" and "dirty, hard" when a player elevates his leg and spikes a foot off the ground to erase the 2nd baseman. If the 2nd baseman becomes injured by the takedown, does that change the description of "clean, hard"? Last year's Phils/Nats game, had Flores being injured on an Utley slide which was debated endlessly, mainly due to the injury and because it was a Nats player knocked out. I'm not arguing that it's not good baseball to try to take out the 2nd baseman when turning a doubleplay. Merely, pointing out that we must be consistent when applying this brand of baseball across all teams. Dukes is a hard nosed player (think Rose in Allstar game too) which scores him points in this article.....however, if Young got injured in this meaningless game, the Pirates and baseball would have a much different viewpoint and associated adjectives to share. A natural slide is on thing, whereas raising ones leg a foot off the ground, is quite another.

Posted by: gusgrace | August 2, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

And pitchers are well known to throw hard inside to "brush" hitters back. Great way to potentially kill a batter given the 90+ fastball in today's game. Even with a helmet? Shall we make that illegal? Constituting a 25-30 game suspension? That has to be worst than Steroid enhancement?

Yes, Pete Rose pretty much ruined a promising young prospect's career because, unlike Wil Nieves, Ray Fosse knew how to block the plate. That's hard to call ... baseball is game chock full of "gray areas" as opposed to "black-and-whites".

Chico, it looks like Rizzo used that last slot in the 40 on Ryan Mattheus? What's your take on that?

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 7:36 PM | Report abuse

gusgrace, I totally agree with you. There seems a very fine line sometimes between "playing hard" and "playing dirty" by popular definition.

It's like when you hear the old timers, between spits of tobacky juice, say they like so-and-so because "he's not afraid to throw inside". I always wondered what a pitcher had to be afraid of, throwing inside. Seems to me like it's the batter whose bone integrity (and life) is at stake. I suppose the pitcher needs to fear retribution during his next at bat, but... that doesn't usually seem to be what they're referring to.

There does seem to be a strain of irrational aggressive machismo in our culture that assigns qualities of merit and valor to those who are willing to put *others* at risk. I'll never get it.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 2, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

"I suppose the pitcher needs to fear retribution during his next at bat, but"

Or perhaps like Nieves, fear damage to a "pretty face". Not to mention knees, legs, etc?

Its precisely as Chico describes it, its a "throwback" to the "old-timey" baseball. Those "halcyon" days of Cobb, the master of "small ball", hitting behind the runner, and aggressive base running. And just as aggressive attacks against fans in the stands who called him the wrong names ...

Traditions steeped in time, time honored? Predating slugging and home run hitting.

Change comes slowly ... still no aluminum bats.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Seriously? "A strain of irrational aggressive machismo in our culture that assigns qualities of merit and valor to those who are willing to put *others* at risk. I'll never get it."

That's sports. Dukes' play was hard, but clean. If he'd had his spikes up or went out of the baseline, that'd be a different story and, yeah, it's often a fine line.

But I don't see how you can be a sports fan and not accept that. Maybe we shouldn't but we do.

Posted by: baltova1 | August 2, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

In the end all that counts is that Dukes wants to win. Against the Pirates, against anyone (hopefully). Still think he should bat second behind "Captain Morgan". Let Guzman bat sixth or seventh behind Bard and before Gonzalez.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

My favorite part of the game was when Gonzalez hit the ground-rule double. As soon as the camera flashed to the outfield to watch the flight of the ball, you see Milledge way in and running 90 degrees toward centerfield. Then, as you see the ball rocketing over his ill-fated route, Milledge turns toward the wall. As someone mentioned earlier today, it looked like Hines Ward running a route. I forget the snide comment that Dibble made, but it was classic.

Posted by: hacmanindc | August 2, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Just good, hard baseball. Obviously B2O2 never played the game.

Posted by: truke | August 2, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Somewhere Frank Robinson was smiling,Dukes "old school take out" slide to break up a potential double play was critical to be sure as it led to a run being scored but even more than that it's a signal by Riggleman as to how this team will approach the game as long as Riggleman is at the helm. I'm all for it, play hard but clean ask no quater and give none expect 100% effort from every player, that should be the order of the day until the season ends.

Posted by: dargregmag | August 2, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Dukes should go on making that kind of play, and so should the rest of the Nats. What Uttley did at the plate last year was legal. The catcher blocks the plate, the runner forces the issue- we did not like the result but it is baseball. You can not play baseball scared, like Nieves does at the catcher position. How can you miss the tag that he had at the plate the other night--standing over the plate, tagging the runner on the chest when the runners foot was cleared to tag home? The throw was ahead of the runner, the runner was out by half a stride, Nieves failed to block the plate--old school. According to the radio call today Morgan made it to second ahead of the throw, but the base was blocked by the Pirate's infielder--resulting in Nyger sliding around the bag and an out. Its all part of the game.

Posted by: driley | August 2, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Well said, gusgrace. That Utley slide last year and the discussion that followed was exactly what I thought of today.

Posted by: Baldino | August 2, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

People criticize stats, that they aren't always the best measure ... but with pitchers the WHIP appears to come close.

In the minors the best WHIP I think is shared by JD Martin in Syracuse and Bucholtz of Pawtucket.

On the Nats the top 2 currently are Burnett 1.01 and Balester at 1.09, followed by Clippard, Stammen, Lannan, Zimmermann, Shell, Martis and Martin at 1.50.

The "bottom" appears just as "telling":

Kensing is at the very bottom, followed up by Ledezma, Cabrera, Sosa, Mock, Hinckley, and Colome.

"Middle" are Bergmann, Villone, MacDougal, Olsen, Detwiler, Tavarez, and Wells.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Manny would've told Dukes to read a self-help book and make sure not to hurt anyone. Only Minaya will ever hire him for anything again -- and Omar may be near the end of his rope. This team needed someone to tell them how to play -- and that it is ok to play hard. And glad to hear McCatty riding the staff when they lose their concentration. Riggs may not be a long term solution but at least he's a baseball man.

Posted by: grclarkdc1 | August 2, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

"In the end all that counts is that Dukes wants to win. Against the Pirates, against anyone (hopefully). Still think he should bat second behind "Captain Morgan". Let Guzman bat sixth or seventh behind Bard and before Gonzalez"

@periculum,

Doesn't Guzman has like 7 straight multi-hit games since returning to the #2 spot and you want to move him???

Posted by: curz | August 2, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

I didn't see the play, but from Chico's description, I don't think any serious baseball player, never mind pro ball player, would object. The runner has no intention of hurting anyone, but he is doing his best to break up the double-play, and Young has been aware of that since the first time he played second, if not sooner. That's why middle infielders are taught to jump and throw, and why the "proximity play" is called an out. Likewise, if he had gone in standing up, to make the second baseman throw around him, Young would have put the ball right at his head, and made him duck if he didn't want to get hit. "You play this game with fear and arrogance..."

Still, they'll probably put one in his ribs tomorrow night. And he won't rub it.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 2, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

The pitcher has to be afraid of seriously injuring someone, which many people are averse to doing. It doesn't come naturally to most folks.
Yeah, he has to be afraid of someone charging the mound and kicking his buttocks, too.

******************
It's like when you hear the old timers, between spits of tobacky juice, say they like so-and-so because "he's not afraid to throw inside". I always wondered what a pitcher had to be afraid of, throwing inside. Seems to me like it's the batter whose bone integrity (and life) is at stake. I suppose the pitcher needs to fear retribution during his next at bat, but... that doesn't usually seem to be what they're referring to.
Posted by: B2O2 | August 2, 2009 7:44 PM |

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 2, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

And Flores, by his own account, hurt his leg blocking the plate against Utley because he was doing it wrong, and his cleats stuck.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 2, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

One of the interesting things in sports is that baseball has changed so little, while athletes in so many others have gotten better. Walter Johnson, 100 years ago, threw upwards of 100 mph on his better days, according to the best estimates. Sidearm. I've read he didn't like to pitch inside, because 1) he didn't have to, and 2) he didn't want to kill anyone, and he would have if he'd hit them. Apparently there are physical limits on how hard a human arm can throw a baseball, and they haven't changed (yet) in all the years the fastball game has been played.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 2, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

I listened to the P-burg radio broadcast on XM. No complaints about Dukes's slide - clean, hard, his job was to break up the DP.

What would be said if it was a different player sliding hard - say, Nick Johnson, or Ryan Zimmerman, or the current fave Nyjer, or the sainted Jeter? Is Dukes judged harshly because of his reputation?

That's why they call it playing hardball. Reminded of it this week - my wife reached to try to barehand a foul liner. Raised an ugly bruise. Had to ice down her finger. Those suckers hurt. And she's no wimp. At a game in Denver, nice park, nice experience.

Geezer

Posted by: utec | August 2, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

"Doesn't Guzman has like 7 straight multi-hit games since returning to the #2 spot and you want to move him???

Posted by: curz | August 2, 2009"

He doesn't walk. Dukes likely is a better base stealer, looks to be a more aggressive base runner. Guzman has 9 walks in 367 at bats. Dukes at least has 19 in 200. Their OBP is pretty much the same and shouldn't be given that Dukes is hitting .240 and Guzman .305. Guzman's should be up with Willingham and Dunn in the .400 range.

Guzman's is .321, Duke's is .305. Guzman has 1 SB, Dukes has 2. I'm sure he could do better batting from the #2 position. He swiped a few in Syracuse. He has been caught seven times with the Nationals ... hopefully he worked on that down there. That said Nyjer should be walking more ... his OBP is only .372. Willingham and Dunn lead in this category: .471 and .404. I should think you would like to have your #1 and #2 hitters up there and ahead of your middle of the order sluggers if at all possible. At. .372 Nyjer is ahead of Zimmerman.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Here's Riggleman's stance on it:

"I've been accused of being a little soft on the issue. I'll tell you, ... I don't think we can afford to have Zimmerman or Dunn get one off the wrist if we hit somebody. ...

I go back to my days with Sammy Sosa. In 1998, he hit 66 home runs. Our team gave up a lot of home runs. I was told to knock somebody down. Sammy doesn't hit 66 home runs if we are out drilling people.

The solution is to throw better pitches. You pitch better, you don't get into the situation. As my mentor George Kissell said, '[Hitting a batter] went out with World War II.' ... It doesn't operate that way anymore."

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

OH, skip the above about Mattheus. It looks like there are still 39? I thought Storen ... but ... maybe they are holding it for Strasbug?

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 10:01 PM | Report abuse

I thought Jorge Sosa became #40?

Posted by: curz | August 2, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

I don't know ... ? I hand counted the roster ... ** means non 40-man roster. It came out to 39?

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

truke:

"Just good, hard baseball. Obviously B2O2 never played the game."

LOL. Actually did. Second base in fact. Still have a scar on my ankle, 30+ years later, from someone's spikes.

I didn't *see* this slide, and wasn't passing judgment on Dukes or that particular instance. I was making a wider point that people blithely ascribe all kinds of adulatory things (manliness, guts, character, integrity) to the act of harming another individual at no risk to one's self, and I just find that weird. In baseball or the rest of life.

And to the poster who worried I might be applying a double-standard to Dukes. LOL. Ask periculum here. I have tested the patience of half the posters here for several days running with my detailed defense of him. I'm glad he's back, and I hope he continues the *highly productive career* that he began racking up during the second half of 2008.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 2, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

B202,

I also hope that Dukes proves out ... so far Rizzo's intuition about these guys has been close to dead on ... as he moved further past the Bowden "template". He wasn't ready to give up on Dukes.

I would like to see how he does in the #2 slot ... more speed at the top of the line up can't hurt.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I meant to add that Delwyn Young is not a very experienced second baseman (mostly OF in recent years), so it's possible Dukes knew he could disrupt his flow more easily than some other infielders. So it could have easily been well within the "clean" range while still ensuring its desired effect.

That the Pirate announcers were not complaining sort of seals it, I imagine.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 2, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

In any case; I was wondering if holding the last spot on the 40-man was in advance of a soon-to-occur Strasburg signing?

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

"I would like to see how he does in the #2 slot ... more speed at the top of the line up can't hurt."

Yeah, it's kind of a trade off. On the one hand it would cool to see some double steals with him and Morgan on base... but I think you potentially sacrifice some runs that they'd score with his power following Dunn and Willingham's walks.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 2, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

"but I think you potentially sacrifice some runs that they'd score with his power following Dunn and Willingham's walks."

Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham? Following a 1-2 of Morgan and Dukes? Guess you'd want a healthy Flores to follow Willingham ... and then wouldn't it be nice if there was a slugging second bagger or shortstop they could somehow get? I guess I see Dukes speed and power best utilized at the top of the order. But I guess I think both he and Morgan need to take a page of Nick Johnson's, Dunn's and Willingham's books on taking walks.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Nice to see Dukes get some positive pub. It was a great play!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | August 2, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Yeah B202, I wasn't paying attention to the posters' identities in asking my double standard question.

I'd like to see Dukes in the 2 hole too so Nyjer could see some pitches and Dukes could get more at bats, but Guz would probably tank again if moved down. I am reluctant to accuse players of dogging it because I don't trust that I can tell effort from results through the TV, but Guz is just too much to ignore. He didn't run out a hit today, turning a double down the line into a single by waiting for it to go foul, according to the radio call.

Geezer

Posted by: utec | August 2, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Morgan and Dukes at he top of the line up together may end up handing the most 'caught stealing' calls of any team in history.

Posted by: soundbloke | August 2, 2009 11:12 PM | Report abuse

Small ball, baby...small ball!

Posted by: derbyparty007 | August 3, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Sorry being late to the game, but here's a different perspective on Duke's take-out slide: Watching on MLB-TV, the Pirates announcers repeated this play endlessly and attributed the whole thing to Delwyn Young's inexperience at 2B. They said he should immediately have realized he had no shot at a DP, and should thrown back to third to try to get Willigham rounding the bag.

In my view, Dukes did everything right, including picking up Young's hat and handing it to him ("No hard feelings, bud'')

Posted by: nats24 | August 3, 2009 1:21 AM | Report abuse

I'll admit I didn't follow the dollars on this one, but it's hard to believe the Marlins gave us Willingham (and heck, forget about Olsen for now) for Bonafacio. Unless little Boni has an amazing turn-around, this looks like one we'd be hard pressed to knock JimBo for.

Posted by: nats24 | August 3, 2009 1:41 AM | Report abuse

"Baseball trivia is a dialect — you can start a conversation with anyone with it."
MICHAEL CARAGLIANO, a 37-year-old radio engineer from Flushing, N.Y., who won a contest held by the Society for American Baseball Research.
======================
Good morning. Please discuss.

Posted by: Intrudr | August 3, 2009 7:30 AM | Report abuse

Guzman running out routine grounders and actually got credited with a hit over the weekend on a lollipop throw then he goes from 1st to 3rd on a Zim hit. HUGE

Riggles seems to get a lot out of these players. Adam Dunn has 1 defensive Web Gem all year and that occurred this week too on his sliding catch in the outfield.

2 guys accused of "sometimes" slacking showing hustle. Let's hope it is an always thing.

For that reason, keep Guzy in the #2 spot. The lineup needs some pop in the bottom of the order so Dukes #6, and then Gonzalez and the Catcher would be your #7 and #8.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | August 3, 2009 7:32 AM | Report abuse

If I read it right, Ballester says he was "satisfied" with his outing. Here's a big-league pitcher who cannot finish the 6th inning and he's "satisfied." I understand now why Tracee calls Lannan the team's "ace," because the remainder of the starters cannot seem to get beyond the 4th or 5th innings. And yet they're "satisfied."

Posted by: JohnRDC | August 3, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

IMHO, it was a "good" slide and not a dirt slide because he did not lead with his spikes. His spikes were facing towqard third base. He went in with his shin leading, "bout yea high". That's clean.

That was a very good ball game. Watched it all while patching drywall. Just great.

Posted by: henhen11417 | August 3, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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