If the Washington Nationals can’t get a fight from anyone in the NL East, they’re finding takers on the West Coast.
For the second time on the road trip, the Nats cleared the benches after their 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday. Lip readers say Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was upset over Nats reliever Koda Glover telling him to get back to the bench after striking out to end the game. Puig asked Glover to repeat the demand before walking out to the mound to hear better. Glover dropped his glove in anticipation of a fight. Suddenly, everyone is on the field ready to scrap.
Did I mention the game was over?
Those battling Nats, ready to dispel the reputation they’re soft. Contenders who become pretenders come the playoffs. (Sounds like another team in town.) San Francisco pitcher Tim Hudson labeled Washington soft during the Giants’ 2014 playoff victory over the Nats and the stain has never quite cleared.
It’s one thing for Bryce Harper to charge the mound in San Francisco after being intentionally hit by a pitch by Hunter Strickland. Harper was suspended three games for that melee despite being in the right while delivering a right cross. Harper’s competitiveness is well known.
Washington needs a sharper edge if it wants to advance in the postseason, though. Three division titles over five years led to three first-round exits. The timetable for this roster to make the World Series is probably down to two seasons and Washington already seems ready to pillage the land this season with a 12.5 game lead.
The NL-best 37-20 mark is terrific, but the goal is a championship. Washington not only needs to improve its bullpen, but raise its testosterone. It’s not easy mauling opponents for 162 games. Most great teams really wait until late August before making every game seem vital.
But Washington doesn’t have that luxury. They need to exit every road series by leaving an impression they’re no longer soft. That come the fall, Washington is going to be a tough out.
Given many of the Nats are rather mild-mannered, especially leaders Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, not to mention manager Dusty Baker, it’s not an easy task. And that’s why Glover celebrating a save over a likely postseason opponent is important. Show some emotion, have fun with winning. Make it seem like a big deal every time.
Now Glover could have skipped talking trash to Puig directly. The game was over so there was no sense in that. It might lead to a beanball war that nobody wants. A scuffle on the mound usually is no big deal, but a 95-mph fastball to the head threatens not only careers, but lives.
Surely, the umpires will warn Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Baker at home plate before Wednesday’s game of no more chest bumping. Any close pitch might mean an ejection.
But there’s nothing wrong with the Nats showing their teeth. It’s time to create some fear of Washington.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.