The Washington Nationals had a 2013 season in which they failed to live up to the lofty expectations of the previous campaign. Despite this disappointment, 2013 was filled with moments that are well worth remembering. Here now are the top 10 moments of the 2013 season, starting with moments 6-10.
Davey Johnson’s retirement ceremony — September 22nd, Miami Marlins (video)
10. Denard Span’s game-saving catch — August 14th, San Francisco Giants
After a disappointing July, the Nationals were looking to get their season back on track in August. They had won four straight, and were looking to draw within one game of the .500 mark. They took a 6-1 lead into the 8th inning, but Ian Krol and Ryan Mattheus had given back three of those runs in the eighth. So Davey Johnson again summoned Rafael Soriano to close the game, and Soriano, as he seemed to have a habit of doing, made it interesting. With two outs in the inning, Soriano gave up an RBI single to Brandon Belt, trimming the lead to one. Another single put two on for Hunter Pence, and Pence lined a Soriano cutter high and deep to straightaway center field. All appeared lost. And indeed, all might’ve been lost, had anyone but Denard Span been roaming center field for the Nats. Span ranged back on the dead run, dove to his right, and somehow, against all odds, came up with the ball. In an instant, sure defeat had transformed into exhilarating victory.
9. Gio Gonzalez’s near no-no — September 9th, New York Mets
On a night where one DC team struggled, another team thrived. Gio Gonzalez faced a Mets lineup that featured Andrew Brown as their three hitter. Gonzalez did what one would expect with a lineup like that and completely dominated them. Through six innings, Gio had allowed only a Daniel Murphy first-inning walk, striking out 7 Mets in the process. In the bottom of the 7th, infielder Zach Lutz was the leadoff hitter for the Mets. Lutz poked a Gonzalez fastball just down the first base line. Replays were inconclusive, but first base umpire John Hirschbeck called it a fair ball — the Mets’ first base hit. The no-hitter was over.
[edit: an earlier version of this piece stated that Gonzalez carried a perfect game into the seventh. This was not the case, and the mistake has been corrected.]
Gonzalez went on to pitch his lone complete game of the 2013 season, striking out 8 on 110 pitches. While it wasn’t the first no-hitter in Nationals’ history, it was still one of the team’s best-pitched games — truly a fine performance from Gonzalez.
8. Bryce Harper homers in return — July 1st, Milwaukee Brewers
After starting off his season in torrid fashion, Bryce Harper suffered numerous injuries due to several wall collisions, causing him to spend the entire month of June on the DL. The loss of his presence in the lineup caused the Nationals offense to stall. They desperately needed Bryce Harper back. After playing several rehab games with the Nationals minor league affiliates, Harper and the Nationals set a return date for July 1st at home against the Brewers. The night finally came, and after Denard Span and Jayson Werth got out, it was time for Bryce Harper to make his return at the plate. After taking ball one outside, Harper crushed a Yovanni Gallardo curveball into the visitors bullpen. The 25000 fans in the crowd were on their feet, cheering for Harper to come out for a curtain call. Bryce Harper’s return gave the Nationals something that they hadn’t had since April — hope.
7. Bryce Harper’s walkoff home run — July 25th, Pittsburgh Pirates
Coming out of the all-star break, the Nationals had lost six straight games, dropping to 48-53, and had seen their deficit in the East balloon to 9 games. Having dropped the first three games of a four game set against the Pirates, they needed to win one to avoid starting an 11-game homestand 0-7. The team scored four runs in the first, then watched their lead cut to one by the eighth. In the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals once again widened their lead to four on an Adam LaRoche RBI triple. Randy Knorr, replacing an injured Johnson, sent out Rafael Soriano to close out the game, but Soriano struggled to put the game away, and Knorr replaced him with the young Ian Krol. But Krol, who entered with a two-run lead and runners at the corners, proceeded to give up that lead, and the Nationals went into the bottom of the ninth tied at 7. With two outs and Roger Bernadina on first, Bryce Harper came to the plate. He gashed a Bryan Morris fastball to deep center field, over the wall and into the Red Porch. Harper’s first career walkoff home run saved the Nationals from heartbreak, giving them a much-needed win.
6. Stephen Strasburg’s first career complete game — August 11th, Philadelphia Phillies
Throughout his career, the biggest knock on Stephen Strasburg has been his seeming inability to go deep into games. Due to a variety of factors — pitch counts, innings limits, and Strasburg’s own struggles with pitch efficiency, Strasburg had never even pitched into the eighth inning entering the 2013 campaign. In 2013, he started to improve, managing 8 innings 3 times. But on the 11th of August, Strasburg, if for just one day, managed to silence all his doubters. In a masterful performance, Strasburg managed to be both effective and efficient. He threw 99 pitches, 66 of them strikes. His fastball sizzled, curveball buckled, and changeup darted. He baffled Phillies’ hitters, striking out 10 of them, including Darin Ruf thrice. In the 9th, with a 6-0 lead, Davey Johnson decided to send Strasburg back out to complete the game, earning raucous applause from the crowd. Strasburg got the first two hitters quickly, but fell behind Kevin Frandsen 2-0. Frandsen then lined a ball down the third base line, but Ryan Zimmerman, like so many other times in his career, was there to snare it. Strasburg had his first career complete game, and it was a shutout.
Look for Part 2 of the series, in which reveal moments 1-5 of 2013, tomorrow.