The Game of the Year

The Game of the Year

If the Washington Nationals edge their way into the postseason, if they nose another team out by a single game, they will look back on Sunday's game in Chicago and say, "That's why we're in." Even if they win the division by a comfortable margin, or narrowly lose out, they'll look back on their 5-4 win and know that it was one of their keys to a successful season.

There are a few reasons why:

--They had every reason to pack it in after the Cubs came back and handed Chad "Lights Out" Cordero his first blown save since April. With a 1:00 game back in DC on Monday, five straight close wins over Pittsburgh, three by one run and two by a single run, a lineup with four starters injured, and a Cubs team seemingly determined not to get swept, nobody would have blamed the Nats a bit had they waited until next week to pick up win number 50. But they just don't do that.

--Ryan Drese had another excellent start. He's had three very good ones in four tries and those who doubted Jim Bowden for trading Tomo Ohka and putting the team's fortunes in the hands of the waiver wire pickup from Texas are pretty quiet about that right now. With four in the rotation being Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza, John Patterson, Drese, and Tony Armas, perhaps some of the pressure to find another starter for the stretch run in relieved if not completely eliminated. Even if another starter is added, it will be adding to a strength, not an attempt to shore up a weakness.

--The game was another notch in their gun. Another reason to say that they can just keep on doing it even when their stud closer blows the save. Even when their best hitter goes on the DL. Even when their strength, the bullpen, fails them and, in addition to Cordero, another reliever blows a save. Even when they fail to take advantage of some good opportunities to extend their lead both in regulation play and in extras. Even when their #2 hitter, Junior Spivey, strikes out four times, diminishing the impact of five hits combined by Brad Wilkerson and Jose Guillen, and their hitter in the five hole, Marlon Byrd, goes 0 for 6 with four K's as well. Even if Jose Vidro, Ryan Church, and Cristian Guzman are missing from the lineup, too.

--After giving up the game-tying HR to Aramis Ramirez in the ninth inning, Cordero came back to strike out Todd Hollandsworth to send it to extra innings. It's safe to say that a lot of 23 year-olds would have lost their focus after not having known what it was like to fail after have succeeded for two and a half months. The Chief shrugged of Ramirez' home run, took care of business, and moved on. It's not a sure bet that the tying dinger won't haunt Cordero in similar situations in the future but it's a good one, especially considering that the Nats eventually won the game.

If the Nats played in the low minors, they would have wrapped up a playoff spot by now, having won the first-half championship of their division. Of course they don't and they have won absolutely zip as of now. But with 50 wins and a six-game division lead, they are playing with house money and there's a good-sized stack of chips on the table in front of them. Looking at the first half of the season in general and at Sunday's game in Wrigley in particular, one would have to believe that they will play that stack very wisely.

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