Editor note: thanks for all the suggestions; this post has evolved and edited as I’ve gotten them in comments.
So, given the unbelievable comeback win this week against Atlanta, I dug up an old topic for us to argue about. The “Greatest” and “Worst” ever games in Nats history. I had an old draft of this from the off-season, and this week’s Atlanta game coupled with the franchise’s first ever no-hitter being thrown in the last game of the 2014 regular season, as well as some new truly gut-wrenching playoff losses, I thought it was a nice time to re-post this list.
(side argument; was last night’s game a “great” game given the comeback or an “awful” game, given the arguments we all just made in the last post?)
This list started with a throw-away post I did a couple years ago titled “the greatest Nats games I’ve witnessed,” but the comments section turned into a great list of the larger “greatest ever” suggestions. I’m counting on our crew to remind me of games that should make the best and worst lists.
Here’s my updated Greatest Nats Game List. Subjectively ordered from best on downwards. Feel free to argue.
- October 11th, 2012: NLDS Game 4: Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats. Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history. (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
- April 14th, 2005: First home game as a franchise: April 14 2005 (even though half the crowd was stuck outside waiting to go through metal detectors for the first two innings thanks to George W. Bush‘s publicized appearance to throw out the first pitch).
- March 30th, 2008: Nats Park Opener 2008. I was in Las Vegas for a bachelor party that weekend and took a 4am flight out of Vegas to get back to Washington in time to catch the game. It was cold, it looked like the bullpen had blown it … and then Ryan Zimmerman hit the latest in a long string of walk-off homers to win it in the bottom of the 9th. Fantastic.
- September 29th, 2014: Jordan Zimmermann‘s season-closing no-hitter 2014, with the amazing game-ending catch by Steven Souza.
- June 18th, 2006: Fathers Day versus the Yankees 2006. An attendance record that stood for this franchise until the 2012 playoffs, a walk-off win over the powerful visiting Yankees and a bright spot during an otherwise dismal season.
- June 8th, 2010: Stephen Strasburg‘s 14-k debut: still the franchise record for strikeouts in a game and just about the most electric debut this team has ever seen. A college-aged kid made the Pittsburgh Pirates look like a little league team. The Nats manipulated Strasburg’s service time to avoid the “super-2” status; it was worth the wait.
- October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team. In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series. Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever)
- October 6th, 2014: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
- September 4th, 2006: Ramon Ortiz‘ near no-hitter in 2006, a game where he took a no-hitter into the 9th, hit his first (and only) career home run, but wasn’t able to even get a complete game after Albert Pujols crushed a ball 450 feet to dead-center at RFK the batter after he lost the no-no. Still a fun night.
- April 28th, 2012: Bryce Harper‘s debut in LA , featuring his tomahawk double straight over Kemp’s head for his first hit and watching him run around the bases like the excited teen-ager he actually was. Should Harper have been up with the team from the get-go?
Not sure how we beat my #1 game until we see some dramatic walk-off post-season series winner.
- June 21st, 2015: Max Scherzer loses a perfect game with two outs and two strikes in the 9th, grazing the elbow of Jose Tabata. He retires the next hitter for just the 2nd no-hitter in Nats history. Scherzer’s previous start was a 1-hit shutout with 16 Ks, and these two games represented one of the best 2-game stretches for any starter in the history of the game.
- July 8th, 2010: Adam Dunn 3-homer day in 2010. There have been
twothree other Nats to hit three homers in a day: Alfonso Soriano did it in 2006 and Ryan Zimmerman did it against Baltimore in a losing effort in 2013, and Bryce Harper just accomplished it on 5/6/15, hitting homers in his first three at-bats against Miami (in his last at-bat, he had an RBI ground-out).
- Only two Nats have ever hit for the cycle: Brad Wilkerson did it in the 2nd ever game the team played (4/6/2005) and Cristian Guzman did it on 8/2/08.
- June 22nd, 2011: Wilson Ramos walk-off homer to complete a 5-1 comeback in the 9th against Seattle.
- September 22nd, 2012: Gio Gonzalez gets his 20th win, a first for the franchise, and breaks the 200K barrier for the first time by a Washington pitcher since someone named Walter Johnson played here in in 1916.
- September 23rd, 2007: the last game at RFK, with the largest crowd of that awful season in attendance.
- Last game of 2012, beating the Phillies and clinching best record in baseball.
- September 6th, 2010: Danny Espinosa‘s 2-homer MLB home debut. Espinosa had debuted a few days earlier on the road, but in front of the home crowd and his family, he had a monster day, going 4-5 with 2 homers and 6 RBI. Was this the apex of his career?
- April 28th, 2015: 8-run comeback against Atlanta, winning 13-12 on Dan Uggla‘s 9th inning 3-run homer. I’ll put this in the “good” category considering the unbelievable win-expectancy odds the team beat to win this game.
- June 14th, 2005: The Frank Robinson–Mike Scioscia toe-to-toe argument game, which was followed with an “eff-you” homer from Jose Guillen to propel the Nats to a home win.
- September 17th, 2014: Nats clinch NL East in Atlanta; a great moment of course … but it wasn’t even here. But clinching so early and in Atlanta, which had owned the Nats head-to-head even when the Nats were good, was satisfying.
- October 1st, 2012: NL East clincher; even though the team lost … the crowd started buzzing in the 9th inning as those monitoring the Atlanta game on their phones learned that they were losing, thus clinching the division for the Nats and resulting in their first playoff appearance. The stadium finally posted the result, annointing the Nats as division champs and they started high-fiving … even though it was the bottom of the 9th and they were losing. The team had clinched a wild-card berth earlier in the week, but this was the event that the team openly celebrated. Should a game we lost be on this list?
- April 20th, 2009: Jordan Zimmermann’s debut vs Atlanta. A 3-2 win after a two-hour rain delay. Jordan goes 6 strong innings to provide the first glimpse of the Nats’ turnaround from what would be consecutive 100-loss seasons, though because of the rain and how bad the team was there were only about 5,000 of us in the stands that night.
- June 12th, 2005: Nats defeat Seattle 3-2 for their 10th consecutive home win win on the strength of a Junior Spivey(!) two-run homer. I never felt RFK rock like it did that day. Incidentally, Mike Morse played shortstop for Seattle that day.
- August 4th, 2005: John Patterson’s 14K game against the Dodgers. Nats win 7-0 in what was the highest ever game score (92) for a Nats’ starter until JZ’s no-no in 2014.
- August 21st, 2014: Nats defeat Arizona 1-0 on an Anthony Rendon walk off single in the bottom of the 9th–their fifth walk off win in six games. Except for Strasburg’s debut, I never felt the NEW stadium rock for a non-playoff game like it did at that moment.
- August 7, 2012. Roger Bernadina makes ridiculous catch behind a pillar in Minute Maid park to preserve a 3-2 Nats win in 12 innings. What everyone thought was a walk-off, game winning double for the Astros turned into a backbreaking loss.
- July 28, 2009. Josh Willingham hits two grand slams in same game. Arguably better than Dunn’s 3-homer performance because of the team aspect to it. This remains the greatest RBI performance in Nats history (8 RBI on the day, two more than the 2nd best 6-RBI day by Espinosa, mentioned above).
How about more generally a quick list of the non-game related Greatest Nats Non-Game related Events?
- September 29th, 2004: The day the team officially was announced to be moving to Washington.
- December 5th, 2010: The Jayson Werth signing. To me, that was a signal that a) the owners (previously accused of being penny-pinchers) were finally listening to the council of Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo and were investing in the team. It was also a statement contract to the rest of the league; the Nats were willing to spend, and were ready to compete. Within two seasons the team was in the playoffs after having two 100+ loss seasons.
- May 2006: MLB picks the ownership group led by Ted Lerner to buy the team. The group includes vastly experienced baseball man Stan Kasten and his vision is clearly seen with the new stadium’s design.
- August 2010: Signing Strasburg
- August 2011: Signing Harper
- October 3rd, 2012: Teddy wins for the first time. We had privately wondered when Teddy would finally win the president’s race; would it be on his bobble-head night? Nope; turns out the night after clinching our first playoff appearance, Teddy won.
… And now the Worst Games in Nats History. I don’t have any way to really quantify the “worst” games for a team that lost 100+ games two years in a row just recently. So please feel free to add on your suggestions. I don’t think any of them will beat the top three losses listed here though:
- NLDS 2015 Game 5 (Drew Storen 9th inning meltdown)
- NLDS 2014 Game 2 (Zimmermann yank, another Storen post-season blown save, and then subsequent 18-inning loss)
- NLDS 2014 Game 4 (7th inning Aaron Barrett/bullpen debacle)
Honorable Mentions for me (with plenty of input from Zuckerman’s lists, links at the bottom, readers):
- April 5th, 2010: The “Phillies Invasion” game; Opening day. What started as a fantastic opening day (it was sunny and 80 degrees in early April) turned into a nightmare for Nats fans: the team got beat 11-1 on the field … and the park was perhaps 75% filled with Philadelphia fans. Turns out the team “courted” event planners in Philadelphia and sold them thousands of tickets, which they turned into day-trips to/from Philadelphia on drinking buses for Phillies fans who (at the time, since they were great) couldn’t easily get home tickets. As you might imagine, the crowd was incredibly pro-Philadelphia, booed the home team, was mostly drunk and aggressive having been drinking since 9am on their party buses, and there were times that we (sitting in the upper-deck, having given up our season tickets after getting screwed in the seat relocation process), literally felt afraid for our safety. It was an embarrassment to everyone involved and led to some very specific changes (I believe from then on you had to be calling from a DC-local phone number to book tickets to opening day).
- September 8th, 2015: After blowing game 1 in a critical head-to-head series against the division leading Mets, the bullpen implodes and blows a 7-1 lead, losing 8-7 in a must-win game that left the team 6 games behind with 24 to play (in other words, effectively eliminating them from the divisional race). Over-manager Matt Williams yanked Jordan Zimmermann after just 100 pitches and then watched his bullpen issue six walks with two outs in the 7th, turning a 7-1 deficit into a 7-7 tie game. The team at one point had a 99.2 win probability and turned the game into a loss. To add insult to injury, Williams ordered Anthony Rendon to bunt in the 9th, which he failed to execute successfully, leading to a GIDP to end the game.
- July 15th, 2005: Mike Stanton, making his Nats debut, committed a walk-off balk. Quite a rarity; its only happened a few times that baseball researchers can find in the last 30 years or so.
- April 18th, 2010: Jason Marquis failed to record an out on April 18th, 2010 against Milwaukee. The team was down 10-0 before they even came to bat. That’s a gut punch for the fans who paid to get into the game … to basically know that you’re going to lose before you even get a beer.
- July 2012, the Nats blew a 9-0 lead against Atlanta. With Strasburg on the mound. And they blew that lead in just four innings.
- September 6th, 2006: Nick Johnson breaks his leg on the field, colliding with Austin Kearns going after a pop-up. Johnson missed the entirety of the 2007 season recovering from this injury, in his prime as a player.
- April 19th, 2009: judgement day for Jim Bowden‘s cattle-call bullpen construction for the 2009 season; after blowing their third straight 9th inning lead, new GM Mike Rizzo cleaned house; releasing two relievers (Shell & Ledezma) and demoting a third (Rivera). Within two days their opening-day closer (Hanrahan) was demoted as well, and the tone was set for an ugly 103-loss season.
- August 21st, 2010: Strasburg motions for his pitching coach to come to the mound … because he’s blown his UCL. Ironically, the team announced his surgery and year off on the same day (two days later) that their previous high-profile TJ surgery survivor Jordan Zimmermann makes his season debut after his own rehab from the surgery. The fall-out from this also included Rob Dibble, who on-air basically challenged Strasburg’s manhood for coming out of the game. Dibble never called another game for the team.
- May 25th, 2006: Frank Robinson is forced to remove emergency catcher Matt LeCroy mid-inning after he had committed two throwing errors and allowed *seven* steals. Robinson was so embarrassed for what he was forced to do to LeCroy that he broke down at the post-season press conference.
- September 17th, 2005: The Nats blow a 5-run lead in the ninth inning to officially eliminate themselves from post-season contention. It is hard to believe now, but the 2005 Nats were 51-30 at the halfway point and in first place … and then went exactly 31-50 the rest of the way there as the MLB-stewarded team failed to make any meaningful acquisitions at the trade deadline to improve the team (and why would the owners-by-occupation? Why help a competing, owner-less ward of the league team beat them to the playoffs?). I don’t recall this as being that significant a game or event, having long since seen the writing on the wall as the team clearly was floundering to the finish line.
- September 2nd, 2008: Jesus Flores injury game; Chase Utley barreled into Flores’ left leg in what I always thought was a dirty play. Flores missed the rest of that season. This is exactly the kind of play that now is barred thanks to too many catchers having season-ending injuries. In the grand scheme of things, this might not be that “bad” of a game but it really sticks with me.
Perhaps a separate category for “Worst Nats ‘Events’” would include the following (partly pulled from Zuckerman’s crowd-sourced 2010 lists, but updated post 2015 season with the ridiculous Baker/Black manager incident. Also using Dan Steinberg‘s worst 10 Nats events post on 11/3/15)
- Aug 2008: Failing to sign Aaron Crow at the signing deadline. While in hindsight this was a fortunate miss for the Nats (Crow has been a good but not great reliever and is currently out for TJ surgery, while his comp pick turned into Drew Storen), at the time this was an embarrassing misstep for the organization and another black mark on its GM Bowden.
- Feb 2009: the team is forced to admit that “Smiley” Gonzalez is not who he says he is, that he’s *four* years older, and that his $1.4M bonus was probably a sham. Combined into this event’s fallout of course was the forced resignation of Bowden (which to many DC fans was one of the “greatest” events in Nats history), the termination of Jose Rijo and a complete dismantling of our operations in the Dominican Republic. Our pipeline of DR talent would basically disappear for years, a situation that affects the team to this day.
- June 27th, 2009: Jim Riggleman abruptly resigns as manager the day he finally guides the team above .500 after years of ineptitude. While nearly everyone in the baseball world blamed Riggleman, my take at the time was a bit more supportive of his reasoning. But this was still a huge amount of unwanted press for this team.
- May 22, 2010: Nyjer Morgan misses on an attempted catch, throws his glove down like a petulant little leaguer and gives up an inside-the-park homer. Just one more embarassing moment for Morgan, who was also suspended for throwing a ball at a fan.
- 2012 Shutdown-gate; how do you feel about this event? Do you find yourself *still* defending the team’s actions? Or, if you didn’t agree with them, still irritated that the team went into its first post-season series without its Ace? I call this a “worst event” because, frankly, I just wish the team was never in this position.
- Sept 27th, 2015: Jonathan Papelbon chokes Bryce Harper in the dugout after Harper flies out in a 4-4 game in the 8th the day after the Nats were eliminated. And then Papelbon is *allowed to go out for the 9th* inning where he promptly gives up 5 runs. He’s suspended for the rest of the season the following day and the Nats become a national punching bag.
- November 3rd, 2015: Word leaks that the team vastly low-balled Bud Black and had to re-neg on the managerial job offer, a week after it was offered and the team thought it had its man. Hours later Dusty Baker was named manager.