Dusty Baker Just Wasn’t Good Enough

Time has a way of illuminating mistakes made in the postseason.

I can remember arguing, in real time, Matt Williams made the right call by pulling Jordan Zimmermann from Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS after allowing his first walk against the Giants.

The Nationals had a one-run lead in the top of the ninth, and were one out away from tying the series. Zimmermann allowed only three hits all game, and not-a-one in six innings.

Williams was gifted nine more to second-guess calling Drew Storen out of the pen in relief. Can you imagine arguing that was the right call today?

It would be equally ridiculous, today, arguing against firing Williams in 2015. If anything, the Nats should have done it sooner.

They just couldn’t pull the trigger on canning the 2014 NL Manager of the Year. Optics wouldn’t allow it.

In letting Dusty Baker walk, the Nats are doing what they should have done after 2014: ignoring the optics.

And, man, are they wearing this one…

They have longtime, well-respected baseball scribes ignoring facts (Baker wasn’t fired) in headlines defending the not-renewed manager.

If Mike Rizzo is supposed to be the ‘Nationals’ in this instance, I can assure you from experience — believe me — Rizzo is anything but ‘gutless.’

At some point, fans will look past Baker’s charming personality and come to grips with reality.

When Chris Speier got the call to join Baker’s staff in Washington, he graciously told reporters, although he already had a World Series ring himself, he knew “Dusty doesn’t have one as a manager.”

“And that’s a big, big goal for me,” he said, “for him to finally get that, to put that on his legacy.”

‘Win one for Dusty’ has a nice ring to it, the type of rallying cry fans can tuck away in their subconscious each spring, then suddenly remember it come October: Let’s Win One For Dusty!

The players, too, were probably on board with winning one for Dusty. Several probably wanted to win one for themselves first, but they surely wouldn’t mind Dusty having a share of it.

Dusty Baker is a star, the biggest Nats fans have seen at the top step of the dugout yet. His popularity easily eclipsed Davey Johnson, who was a fan favorite in this market before ever stepping foot in the Nationals dugout.

Fans always side with the star.

It didn’t hurt Baker’s cause that he was following Williams, who was so tightly wound into his own stoicism that he once inadvertently dismissed the absurdity of leaving Jonathan Papelbon in a game — after Papelbon had choked out Bryce Harper — explaining it away as “he’s our closer.”

It’s frustrating to think the Nationals couldn’t break Dusty’s curse; nor could he, theirs.

It’s an unpleasant reality knowing, for the sixth time in 11 years, the Nationals are searching for a new manager. When they’ve only been in D.C. for 13.

I won’t pretend to know what was discussed between Baker and Rizzo, whenever it is they spoke after Game 5, but I can imagine.

Solis in a one-run bleeping ballgame? That could have swung the series!

I was hoping I could sprinkle a little… Dusty Magic on him.

You can take your Dusty Magic and shove–

You get the idea.

Baker bringing lefty Sammy Solis into Game 3 to face right-handed Albert Almora was nearly a stroke of brilliance. It got Kyle Schwarber out of the game, after all.

A one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh, Solis inherits a runner on second with one out. First base is open. If Solis intentionally walks Almora and then Baker brings in Brandon Kintzler, maybe Kintzler induces that double play ball he eventually got, only, before the game-tying single.

The Nationals hold that lead, you may not need Game 5. Blown umpire calls be damned.

Instead, Baker leaves Solis in to face Almora, who crushes a single to left, scoring Ben Zobrist.

The Nationals can’t risk making any more risky decisions in 2018, the season they’ve now been building toward for a decade-plus.

If Matt Williams can win 96 games with Jayson Werth tearing up his lineup card in daily protest, then the Nationals can find someone functional enough to play the percentages into October. If you’re working under the assumption they’re good enough to get there anyway, all you need is someone to make the right decisions when it counts.

Make no mistake: If they 2013 Davey this thing, someone’s getting fired. Maybe everyone.

Is it risky to boot a manager responsible for a two-year stretch of 192 wins and two division titles, the first consecutive pair in the franchise’s 48-year history?

Hell yeah, it’s risky. They’re practically waving a middle finger at the baseball gods.

But the greater risk would be to enter another postseason hoping Dusty Baker discards years of Dusty Baker behavior, including the last two, and expecting him to finally acknowledge Mike Maddux in his ear: ‘Go with Kintzler here. It’s the most important inning of the game.’

“Our expectations have grown to the fact that winning a lot of regular-season games and winning divisions are not enough,” Nats GM Mike Rizzo informed reporters on the club’s decision. “Our goal is to win a world championship.”

Washington’s back is firmly pressed against the wall. Whether the Nats channel Johnson’s hubris or not, a line’s been drawn in the sand: 2018 is World Series or Bust.

But Dusty’s proven his commitment to doing it Dusty’s way. He even got his magic moment — Michael Taylor shape-shifting into Reggie Jackson overnight — and it still wasn’t enough.

Odds are, it won’t be enough in 2018, either. The Nationals are doing what Dusty refused when it mattered most: playing the percentages.

Maybe someone, somewhere will finally win one for Dusty some day. As a baseball fan, I really do hope it happens.

But it won’t happen here, something fans will just have to accept.

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter

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