Washington Nationals Pitcher Will Harris Faces Rare Obstacle

New Washington Nationals reliever, Will Harris, will face a rare psychological challenge after surrendering a go-ahead, and eventual game winning, home run in Game 7 of the World Series to Howie Kendrick.

The Nationals added Will Harris on a three year $24 million contract to serve as a back-end bullpen fixture, and the dude is legit. Harris had an ERA of 1.50 last season and a career ERA of under 3.00 in eight Major League seasons.  He has made more than 60 appearances five times, and was selected to an All-Star team in 2016. He will absolutely help to stabilize the back end of the bullpen, but there are some concerns.

Harris is 35, and while I am hopeful that the Howie Kendrick home run in game 7 of the World Series doesn’t hinder his psyche, those types of moments can alter a players mindset.

Here are a few of the other pitchers in MLB history who have coughed up a World Series lead, and how it impacted the rest of their career:

Jeff Reardon is one of the most underrated relievers in MLB history.  He had 20 or more regular season saves in eleven consecutive years and an ERA under 3.50 in 14 of 16 seasons prior to the 1992 World Series.  But everything changed after Reardon gave up the winning runs in games 2 and 3 while pitching for the Braves.  Ed Sprague delivered a 2-run homer in Game two, allowing the Jays to pull out the win and Candy Maldonado (one of the best names in baseball history) delivered a game winning single in Game 3.

Reardon was never used again in the series and Atlanta ended up losing four games to two.  Reardon was never the same.  The one time,MLB career saves leader, pitched just two more seasons saving a combined 10 games with an ERA well over his career average.

“Wild Thing” Mitch Williams had 43 saves during the 1993 regular season.  He entered Game 6 of the World Series with his Phillies holding a one run lead over the Toronto Blue Jays.  Williams then put two men on base and gave up a series clinching 3-run walk off blast to Joe Carter.

Williams attempted to pitch in each of the next three seasons, but never had an ERA below 6.75 again.  Just like that the Wild Thing was done.

The 1986 World Series is most remembered for Mookie Wilson’s ground ball going in between Bill Buckner’s legs at first base.  This is convenient for Calvin Schiraldi, because he struggled to keep two leads in the same game.

Schiraldi was terrific for the AL Champion Red Sox in ’86.  He had 9 saves in 25 appearances and posted a 1.41 ERA.  He collected a save in Game 1, but didn’t fair as well in Game 6.  Schiraldi entered with a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning but gave up a sacrifice fly which sent the game to extra innings.  Somehow, Schiraldi was still in the game entering the tenth inning as the Sox held a 5-3 game.  He gave up two out singles to Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight before being replaced by Bob Stanley.  Stanley threw a wild pitch which tied the game and the Mets won on Mookie Wilson’s ground ball between Buckner’s legs.

Schiraldi actually entered in Game 7 as well with the game tied 3-3 and gave up three runs to complete one of the greatest collapses in World Series history.

Schiraldi played five more major league seasons but he was never as dominant as he was in ’86.  His ERA hovered around 4.50 and he collected only 12 saves in five seasons.  Buckner has most widely been criticized for his error, but there are plenty of members of the 1986 Red Sox to point the finger at.

Mark Wohlers had a career year in 1996.  He had 39 saves, 100 strikeouts and was named to the All-Star team.  He was called on in the World Series to record a two inning save in game four with the Braves leading 6-3 in the game and 2-1 in the series.  After a misplayed double-play Jim Leyritz delivered a three run home run to tie the game.  The Yankees would go on to win that game and the series in 6.

Wohlers was solid the next year, but in 1998 he began struggling mightily with his command, unable to hit his target.  He was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and while he attempted to remain in the league for several seasons, he was never the pitcher he had been during the 1996 season.

Byung-Hyun Kim was only 22 years old when he was part of the 2001 Diamondback World Series squad.  He entered Game 4 with a 3-1 lead and promptly struck out the side.  In the 9th he coughed up a two-run home run to Tino Martinez which sent the game into extra innings.  Kim somehow remained in the game. He recorded the first two outs before Derek Jeter deposited a game winning home run into the seats.

Kim then entered the game THE NEXT NIGHT in the 9th inning as the D’backs clung to a 2 run lead.  But it felt like Groundhog Day, as Scott Brosius hit a two-run homer to tie the game and send it to extras.  Miraculously, the Diamondbacks would eventually win the series but Kim was never seen again.

Kim had a long career, but will be most remembered for the 2001 World Series.  He was actually an All-Star in ’02 but by 2004 it seemed the league had picked something up on the submarine thrower.  His ERA bounced around in the 6’s for a few years before he was out of Major League Baseball at age 28.

I don’t anticipate lasting effects on Will Harris, from his experience in the 2019 World Series.  He seems grounded and poised for a strong season. If anything, I think joining the Nationals may help him in moving past the game.  But these moments can take an emotional toll on players, and we won’t know for sure how this has impacted him until he pitches in big moments again.

There aren’t many who have endured a challenge like coughing up a lead in the World Series. Hopefully Harris can harness his experiences to teach young Nationals pitchers how to ride the emotional waves of an MLB season.

 

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