‘The soft, familiar decline’ of the Nats, according to Chico

The Nats victory witnessed Sunday was rare but closed an eight-game losing streak. Our beat hero, Chico Harlan, for once, wrote about baseball in his lede, until the end. Sept. 7: “Late Sunday afternoon, the Washington Nationals, losers of eight in a row, orchestrating the same performance in the same distressing rerun, were down to their last three outs — the soft, familiar decline.” Ah, death. The search for meaning was at its end. Then Zimmerman homered to win the game. The months preceding the walk-off had been a long run down.

Once again, I update you on the existential ledes of Chico.

September losing streak
Sept. 6: “”In separation, neither is better off.” Sept. 3: “Since mid-July, operating with a new manager and a renewed ability to play baseball without causing abject self-humiliation, the Washington Nationals have done much to foster an updated identity.” Sept. 2: “Sometimes, losses feel almost conspiratorial.” Sept. 1: “Like few other stadiums in baseball, Petco Park imposes its personality.” Aug. 31: “Garrett Mock spent at least three years chasing stability and a good four major league starts in July chasing any form of decency, but now that he has both — a firm role in the big leagues, a recent track record that suggests he belongs — the 26-year-old finds himself searching for something even more elusive.” Aug. 30: “For as long as baseballs have been pitched, the men swinging at them have talked about the difficulty of their jobs.”

The typical late-August struggle with mortality
Aug. 29: “The 83rd loss of the Washington Nationals’ season didn’t look like a loss until the game’s final pitch — a Jason Bergmann slider in a tie game — was roaring somewhere toward the Missouri-Illinois state line.” Aug. 28: “Mike MacDougal is 6 feet 4, 190 pounds — maybe 175 if you give him a shave.” Aug. 27: “His old No. 61 jersey, stitched anew, hung in the clubhouse, and a few of his old teammates kept their eyes on the door, waiting for Liván Hernández to glide back into his old world.” (Dukes to Liván: “You smell good. You smell like you just came out of Macy’s.”) Aug. 26: “Though he’s been gone for a solid decade now, Jim Riggleman knows how it sounds — that communal sigh of sadness and acceptance that falls heavy upon Wrigley Field every year.” Aug. 24: “In a clubhouse filled with newcomers and squatters, men whose careers are young and might never grow old, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn represent the establishment.”

The first day of the Strasburg era
Aug.  22: “All summer, Stephen Strasburg — separated from the Washington Nationals by three time zones and one prominent sports agent — tried his best to distance himself from getting too much information about his potential future team.”

The battle for self esteem
Aug. 21: “This week, the Washington Nationals have devised a good half-dozen ways to boost their esteem.” Aug. 20: “If nothing else, the Washington Nationals were kind enough to submit several forcible warning signs that Wednesday night would be ugly and long well before it got too long.” Aug. 17: “Some decisions you don’t think about.” Aug. 16: “The Washington Nationals are not natural antagonists.” Aug. 15: “Hours before he took the mound on Thursday for a start against the Washington Nationals, Bronson Arroyo’s image greeted half the bleary-eyed business travelers in America.”

The winning steak cannot last forever
Aug. 15: “If Garrett Mock’s career progresses with the ideal arc – if he establishes himself as a deserving big leaguer; if he parlays his current opportunity into a merited starting rotation job – he will face situations far more significant and hitters far more dangerous than those he encountered Friday night.” Aug. 14: “The Washington Nationals, should they wish to finish their season with at least sporadic moments of pleasure, will wisely avoid familiarity at all costs.” Aug. 12: “It’s because of strikes – precise strikes, stenciled on the border of the plate – that John Lannan has become the Washington Nationals’ happiest paradox, a dominant pitcher with non-dominating stuff.”

The winning streak
Aug. 7: “Long after his team had fallen way behind and swaggered all the way back — and later, after the fireworks had popped, the clubhouse music had died down and most of his teammates had showered and left — soft-spoken relief pitcher Logan Kensing, still charmed by the afterglow, reclined in his clubhouse chair and said, ‘Lately it just seems like we’re alive.’ ” Aug. 6: “Submerged at the bottom of the standings, laughed at and mocked, pummeled by blown leads and punch lines, favored by comedians and federal investigators alike, the Washington Nationals unquestionably waited too long to detach themselves from perception.” Aug. 4: “Fangraphs.com is a Web site that specializes in seamhead mathematical analysis; it is the left hemisphere of a baseball nerd’s brain.” Aug. 3: “Beginning around the seventh inning on Sunday afternoon, the first trickle of fans headed toward the exits, winding down the curlicue ramps in left field, streaming onto the streets outside PNC Park, snaking over the Roberto Clemente Bridge beyond center. ”

The turnaround, relatively
Aug. 2: “In the local counties, at least, what Andrew McCutchen accomplished on Saturday night will be venerated as a modest form of history.” Aug. 1: “Now 103 games and 71 losses into their season, the Washington Nationals know the anatomy of defeat down to the most intimate detail.” July 31: “On Thursday, Jim Riggleman got tossed from a baseball game without quite getting angry.” July 30: “All year, the sixth inning has reliably tormented whatever Washington Nationals pitcher happens to be on the mound.” July 28: “Seventy-five games: That’s what Jim Riggleman was given.” July 28: “Before Monday — before a market correction on all his bad luck blasted a path into history — Josh Willingham was merely another middle-of-the-order outfielder who saved his best for the smallest moments.”

The continued career of Riggleman
July 26: “Interim manager Jim Riggleman on Friday watched his team play baseball with what looked like an interim attention span, which is why, following the Washington Nationals’ 68th loss of the season, players returned to the clubhouse and listened to an unerring critique of their numerous errors.” July 24: “This season, on 16 occasions, rain has interfered with the daily undertakings of the Washington Nationals — a grim misfortune, if only because the Nationals generally require no assistance when it comes to botching plans.” July 23: “In the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, their name placards — ‘LANNAN 31′ and ‘STAMMEN 35′ — are side-by-side, close as their friendship.”

The introduction to Riggleman
July 22: “Consistency is John Lannan’s hallmark.” July 21, my fav: “This season, at least before he appeared for the first time in a Washington Nationals uniform, J.D. Martin sufficed as this organization’s best story — a pitching Pecos Bill, the baddest pitcher of the minor league hinterlands, taming all opponents, disobeying all odds, possibly riding into visiting towns on a mountain lion.” July 20: “Start to finish, Julián Tavárez spent 128 days with the Washington Nationals, and though the relationship started out well, by the end he contributed dismal performances with such regularity that even the poorest team in baseball couldn’t keep him around.” July 18: “Jim Riggleman, newly appointed as the Washington Nationals’ manager, subscribes to a theory that managers don’t determine many wins and losses.”

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