The end of another baseball season is never a good thing for 29 teams, but at least players and fans can take small comfort knowing that the next February will bring about a fresh start and a clean slate. For one member of the Washington Nationals however, that 2014 clean slate will take place in Bora Bora as opposed to the baseball diamond.
Manager Davey Johnson walked off the field for the last time on Sunday in Phoenix, his Washington Nationals having dropped the final game of the season, 3-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The result of this one wasn’t really the big thing however — mostly it was a chance for those around the team to reflect on a season that has to be ultimately described as disappointing, along with a managerial career that was anything but.
Johnson wrapped up his tenure exactly 300 games over .500, a goal he somehow convinced his team was a big deal before the series started on Friday. The Nationals assured Johnson’s “milestone” by winning the first two games of the three-game set and could have gone home with a sweep but for a shaky eighth inning by relievers and umpires alike. Nonetheless, Washington players and fans have to be satisfied knowing that they’ve spent the last two and a half years in the custody of a likely Hall of Fame manager.
With Johnson’s 300 over .500 secure, the skipper turned Sunday’s finale over to his B-team, with Anthony Rendon the only regular making an appearance in the starting lineup, albeit at third base. Tanner Roark was given one last opportunity to leave an impression on the club in regards to the 2014 starting rotation, and as has been his routine since being called up, he did not disappoint. The rookie gave up an unearned run thanks to his own throwing error in the first inning, but settled in from there and allowed just three hits over seven innings, wiggling out of a jam in the seventh to close out his first big league season with a 7-1 record and a sterling 1.51 ERA.
It could have been enough for another victory, as by the time Roark was through, the Nationals lineup — seven of whom spent some time in AAA Syracuse this season — had cobbled together a pair of runs off Arizona left-hander Wade Miley. Tyler Moore led of the sixth by reaching on a two-base error on Martin Prado, and scored when Zach Walters tripled. Steve Lombardozzi then singled Walters home to give Washington a 2-1 lead, which held until the eighth.
Ryan Mattheus, entrusted to hold the lead, could not, surrendering four hits in his 2/3 of an inning that resulted in two runs and the Diamondbacks taking the lead back. The last of those hits was the most painful, in a number ways. With two outs and runners on the corners, A.J. Pollock hit a hard grounder off the leg of Mattheus, who recovered in time to make the play close at first base. Pollock, who dove into the bag head first, was ruled safe by Tim McClelland, when replays showed the throw beat the runner, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
It was a good last couple of months for the Nationals, who felt like August and September were more representative of the talent level of the club than the months previous. As it ended, the Nationals finished four games out of a play-in game, and there are certainly plenty of games early in the season that can be pointed to as missed opportunities, spots where a clutch hit here or some dumb luck there could have gotten the Nationals back into the post-season.
But that now has to be a goal for next season, and for a new manager. We have to hope that whoever is in charge of the Nationals in 2014, he has the same kind of success as Davey Johnson did in his career.