The Washington Nationals and their fans suffered a shocking reversal of fortune on Friday and embodied the old cliche of ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’. They’d manage to scrap to a decisive game five against the St. Louis Cardinals and quickly opened up a 6-0 lead. Unfortunately, they’d only score one more run as they watched the Cardinals roar back to life capped by a 4 run ninth. When the smoke had cleared the Redbirds had advanced to the NLCS with a wild 9-7 victory and the Nats were left to ponder what might have been.
One of the more loathsome thing about mainstream sports fans is that they have to find a scapegoat for any misfortune their team may endure. In this case, the scapegoat is General Manager Mike Rizzo. Rizzo made the call to ‘shut down’ Nats’ ace Stephen Strasburg in September due to a pitch count established prior to the season and after consulting with medical experts. Strasburg wasn’t far removed from Tommy John elbow surgery and the team wants to be cautious with a pitcher that could be a dominant cornerstone of their rotation for years to come.
That far sighted logic and desire to err on the side of caution and what is best for the player’s longevity as a Major Leaguer is lost on overly emotional Washington fans who just want someone to blame. In a bizarre argumentative rationalize the fans are now suggesting that things might have been different with Strasburg in the lineup. Maybe–but the Nats would still have been at the mercy of a bullpen that had been erratic for long stretches this season. And had Washington *not* shut down Strasburg and later in his career it appeared that he’d been ‘overpitched’ they’d be complaining about that. Dusty Baker made essentially the opposite decision with a couple of star pitchers during his days in Chicago–Kerry Wood and Mark Prior–and there’s at least anecdotal evidence that they suffered for it later in their career.
To his credit, Rizzo is unapologetic about his decision and maintains that the ‘big picture’ is what is most important:
“I stand by my decision, and we’ll take the criticism as it comes but we have to do what’s best for the Washington Nationals, and we think we did.”