The great thing about sports is that you don’t have to be the best player or play on the best team to make a remarkable play. The Washington Nationals are 46-46 as we stop for the All-Star game, but there was no shortage of superb plays both offensively and defensively for the D.C. squad. Here’s a look back at the Top 10 plays of the first half!
10. Morse hits a slam in extras against Arizona: On June 5th, the Nats were involved in a game against the Diamondbacks that won’t soon be forgotten. There was bad blood between the two dugouts, as four ejections were handed out for beanball. The D’Backs scored three runs off closer Drew Storen to send the game into extras. Then, Michael Morse hit a ball to dead center off Joe Paterson to blow open a close game. Washington won the game in 11 innings and this proved to be the spark plug to their 14-5 run in 19 games in the month of June. A signature moment for Morse in a season that basically came out of nowhere.
9. Livan sees life flashes before his eyes: Livan Hernandez needed every nanosecond to react to a line drive hit by Chris Denorfia in a June 9th contest against the San Diego Padres. The former Reds prospect hit a liner straight to the mound and Hernandez caught the ball and then fell to the ground, adding to the dramatics. The crowd was full of “ohhhs” as Livo took the ball from his glove and checked if his left hand was still there. A screaming liner towards a pitcher’s head is one of the scariest plays in sports, but thankfully, the veteran was fine.
8. Werth ends game with double play: Jayson Werth didn’t do many things right in the season’s first half, but one play he made gave the Nats a win. He caught a fly ball and threw out Andrew McCutchen at home plate to end an April 24th matchup against the Pittsburgh Pirates. McCutchen was criticized heavily for the move because his run didn’t matter since the Pirates needed his run and two more to tie the game. In fact, the electrifying outfielder was safe, but ruled out by home plate umpire Kerwin Danley.
7. Bixler’s 180 foot dash: In another exciting moment against the Pittsburgh Pirates, utility infielder Brian Bixler stole a win from his former team, named after a group of people who feast on loot. Trailing 3-2 in the nightcap of a July 2nd doubleheader, Bixler was brought in as a pinch-runner for Michael Morse. Bix had a gutsy steal of third base and scored on that same play when Eric Fryer’s throw got away from third baseman Brandon Wood. The Nats wound up taking the lead later that inning and won the game.
6. Meteor shower in D.C. as Nats walk off against San Diego: Michael Morse took the first pitch from Padres reliever Mike Adams into the visitor’s bullpen to give Washington a win on May 27th. Earlier that inning, Jason Bartlett hit a home run on the first pitch from Drew Storen, tying the game at 1-1 at that point. The victory gave the Nats a win in that series opener between the two worst hitting teams in the majors. The former shortstop showed serious pop during the month of May and there was more where that came from.
5. Espy shows Han-Ram some serious range: Danny Espinosa showed in a May 7th showdown against the Marlins why he’ll win multiple Gold Gloves at second base in his career. On a full-count pitch, Hanley Ramirez hit a flare to short right-field and Espinosa made a diving catch, covering a lot of ground in the spacious Florida ballpark. The former Long Beach State shortstop had to make the play because Jayson Werth, who was playing right, had no chance at it. At first glance, neither did Espinosa, but his closing speed and athletic ability resulted in a highlight reel grab.
4. Ramos makes baseball fans sleepless in Seattle: Rookie catcher Wilson Ramos blasted a game-winning home run on June 21st to sink the Seattle Mariners in one of their interleague games. Down 5-3 with two on and two out in the 9th, Ramos crushed a ball to left off David Pauley to left to send the Nationals Park crowd home happy. In that game, Doug Fister made Nats hitters look silly all game, but manager Eric Wedge turned to his bullpen. Closer Brandon League left the game with an injury and Pauley couldn’t get the job done. Once the bat hit the ball, everyone in the venue knew that baseball wasn’t coming back.
3. Nix doubles his pleasure against Colorado: Since Washington has been playing in so many close games this year, every play and every pitch is that much more magnified. Things hadn’t changed during a game against the Rockies on July 9th. Former Ole Miss quarterback Seth Smith hit a sinking liner to left with two runners on and two outs in a 2-1 game. Laynce Nix made a diving catch and threw out former Tennessee quarterback Todd Helton at second, who was running on contact. Interestingly enough, both Colorado players backed up a Manning brother as signal caller on the gridiron. This great individual effort saved two runs and ended the inning.
2. Trio of Nats turn wicked double play against Phillies: One play on May 31st during the Phillies/Nationals game exemplified how baseball is a team sport. With the shift on, Ryan Howard hit a sharp ground ball to Michael Morse at first base. Morse, who started the year playing in the outfield, made a nifty play and sidearmed a ball to second base. Because of the shift, third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. was at the shortstop position and caught the ball. He then avoided a sliding Chase Utley and threw to first in the middle of a jump. Pitcher Cole Kimball caught the ball on a dead sprint to first base, covering the bag because Morse was so far over from starting the play. This would have been the top play of the first half for the Nats if it wasn’t for this…
1. Roger Bernadina gives you wings: In a playful pun on the energy drink Red Bull (RB, get it?), Nats outfielder Roger Bernadina made a catch that some baseball people say is one of the best they’ve ever seen. In a 4-4 game, Berny broke back to deep center, chasing a ball destroyed by Marlins outfielder Michael Stanton. Bernadina made a full lunge with his back to home plate to snow cone a ball hit well over his head. This catch brought shades of Jim Edmonds’ grab when he was with the Angels years ago. It’s debatable whether or not this play was not only the best this year by the Nationals, but the best since their existence in 2005.
So there you have it, folks! The Nats aren’t a household name and don’t have the biggest name players in the league, but some of the plays they’ve made during the first 92 games have turned heads throughout baseball. The great thing about sports is that everyone has their own opinion on everything and I can guarantee you that there is a play here or there that was not ranked properly or not even on the list at all. Baseball is back in the nation’s capital and it may have been near its best during the first half of 2011.