Willie Harris's inside-the-park homer and other leftovers
As Willie Harris circled the bases last night, he changed speeds twice. First, he sped up around second base, when he noticed the ball bounding away from Nate McLouth in center. Second, he slowed down around third base, when his tired legs left him no choice.
"I felt like I had a chance to make it," Harris said. "But I wasn't sure if I wanted to go."
Harris did go. "Just get there," he repeated to himself as he chugged home. When he saw catcher Brian McCann peel off to catch the relay throw, he knew he had made it. "Wow," he thought.
"It's definitely a great thing to say, 'I hit an inside-the-park home run,' " Harris said. "Dunner hits 40 a year. But he can't do that."
About two minutes after Harris slid home, MASN showed a classic shot of Harris in the dugout, dripping sweat and still gasping for air. Harris didn't recover fully into the next half inning.
"I was out there in there outfield, and I was like, 'Man, can I do this?' " Harris said. "I think we made a pitching change. I think that's when I finally caught back up."
Afterward, Harris had the ball in his locker. He planned to give it to his mother, Geraldine, who watched from home in Cairo, Ga. Harris's grandmother also lives in Cairo, and Harris may have explaining to do. She has been a Braves fans for 60 years.
"She loves herself some Bobby Cox.," Harris said. "She tells me, 'Baby, I want you to do well. But I also want the Braves to get the postseason.' "
The Nationals, of course, dealt the Braves a harsh blow. The Braves entered up a half-game in the wild card, and after their loss they had to sweat out the result of the Padres' game against the Reds.
"You've got to treat it like it's your playoffs," Adam Dunn said. "They're in their pennant race. We can look as it as we've got these guys and the Phillies coming in. It could be ours."
Said Harris: "It's good to beat them, but you want to see Bobby Cox make it to the playoffs in his final season. But we also have a job to do on our side."
The Nationals did theirs on the arm of Jordan Zimmermann. Manager Jim Riggleman felt Zimmermann had his best game tonight, even better than his one-hitter against the Florida Marlins. Zimmermann will make one more start this season, and he started gathering a promising finish with his work tonight, allowing three hits and a run in five innings.
"I needed a good start after the rough one I had," Zimmermann said. "There's still room for improvement."
Zimmermann's slider betrayed him in his last start, when the Phillies beat him around. He was not getting the full extension necessary to throw it with an over-the-top arm action. He threw his slider well in the minors, he said, "I got up here, and it hasn't been that good lately."
On Friday night, Zimmermann thought he threw better sliders, but he relied mostly on a sharp curveball as his breaking pitch. "The curveball has been the good the whole time so far, and the slider has kind of gone away," Zimmermann said.
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