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Thread: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    By Thomas Boswell
    Monday, May 25, 2009

    To understand what Adam Dunn's two home runs, one of them a grand slam, and his career-high six RBI, meant to him and his struggling Nationals yesterday in an 8-5 win over the Orioles, you have to go back five days. You have to revisit a moment typical of the frustration that has tormented the Nats all season. But may be starting to lift.

    The 30,880 in Nationals Park on a warm Sunday will remember Dunn's towering fly in the sixth inning that carried and carried until it cleared the center field fence for a two-run homer to put the Nats ahead 4-3. And they'll recall the moment just one inning later when Manager Manny Acta took the bat out of the hands of two men -- one hitting .349, the other .348 -- just so Dunn could hit with the bases loaded and the game at stake. They'll chatter about how the big Dunn-key drove his game-winning slam to the opposite field off the scoreboard clock above the Birds' bullpen to prevent an O's series sweep.

    But, for the proper context, let's rewind this long miserable 2-9 Nats homestand, a slump that has called into question whether the Nats were headed toward improvement on their awful '08 or were careening off the rails toward a dismal disaster of a season. Go back to Tuesday night when Dunn struck out in the ninth inning with the potential winning run on second base. The Nats then lost in the 10th inning to the Pirates.

    Long after the game, when other Nats had left the scene of their nightly bullpen crime, Dunn lingered on a stool, seeking blame, or at least facing accountability. He didn't want to talk about the homer he'd hit that night, only about his galling strikeout.

    "We came back to tie the game [in the ninth]. I thought, 'This is it. We're going to break out of it. We just need to get one big hit here,'" said Dunn. "But you have to step up and do it. I felt great. I saw every pitch good. But I swung through the last one. . . . I've always wanted to be a [team] leader. But to be a leader, you have to produce."

    Throughout his eight years with the Reds, five of them 40-homer seasons, Dunn was typecast as the easy-going lug who didn't care enough -- about the team, his defense, his conditioning. That image was part of the reason the Nats got him when the free agent market dried up and his phone didn't ring. Why, $20 million was enough to get a 275-pound slugger for two years. The Nats probably could have signed him for a third year, too, but shied away. Dunn says that image was never him. Whatever. It's not him now.

    All season the 13-30 Nats have found inventive ways to lose every sort of game. No recapitulations, please. In the seventh, the wheels of baseball malice seemed to be turning again. After two singles, Acta chose to have Cristian Guzmán (.349) sacrifice bunt, knowing the Orioles would walk Ryan Zimmerman (.348) intentionally so the slow-footed double-play-

    prone Dunn would have to face Walker whose role in life is to face hitters exactly like Dunn.

    "I thought, 'Let 'em pitch to Dunn,' " said Acta, ignoring Dunn's history of 170-strikeout years. "He showed how important he is to our lineup and how much we needed him over here. It's a totally different story when you have a guy like Dunn behind Zimmerman."

    "I like it," said Dunn, considering Acta's strategic sacrifice of Guzman and Zimmerman, just so he could be the man. "It's good to know my manager has confidence in me." With that, to his credit, he rolled his eyes to the sky.

    Even Dunn finds it hard to believe how perceptions of him have changed. Of course, when you're hitting .284 and are on pace for 52 homers and 144 RBI, you tend to get a lot of respect. When a teammate, Nick Johnson, shows up sick to his stomach before the game, and you volunteer to play first base -- where you've seldom played and sometimes been embarrassed -- then make two scoops in the same inning to save Zimmerman from errors, you will usually be appreciated.

    Some games mean more than others. If the Nats had lost 10 games in an 11-game homestand, something so ugly as to be almost a statistical impossibility, their season might have gone from pratfall to free fall. The slow improvement of their bullpen would have been easy to ignore. The emergence of five young starting pitchers, none dominant, but all promising and none of them named Daniel Cabrera, might have been overlooked.

    Instead, Dunn played Paul Bunyan and carried the whole load.

    "Bless the Lord we won this one," said Acta. "This was a really bad homestand. That was going to be a long train ride to New York."

    Now, instead of being merely bearable, it will be a kind of pleasure.

    "We've been getting better work from the bullpen. The rotation has been getting better," said Josh Willingham. "But things kept going against us. When it finally clicks, we could string off seven or eight wins in a row."

    Of course, all teams, including bad ones, believe this. Or at least they still do in May. But it's also the reason that almost every team, including the poor ones, actually do have winning streaks that can turn a bad season into a productive one.

    "In a snapshot world, this is just one game," said interim GM Mike Rizzo. "But, in a longer view, the way we've been playing so well, so close lately, you need some things to go right. Because things have definitely been going against us.

    "That's when you need your best players to perform. That's why we brought Adam here. He's never been anointed the leader before. But he's become a quiet leader here. He'll take it on. And he'll deflect criticism from his teammates onto himself."

    Now, instead of riding the rails to New York thinking how dismal they are, the Nats can, if they choose, focus on a kind of mythic strongman in their midst who takes pressure off Zimmerman, who hit balls off scoreboards in Arizona that nobody believed would ever be reached and who cracks jokes while he's doing it.

    "Adam makes everybody feel better," said reliever Joel Hanrahan who, in recent days, has rediscovered his 96 mph fastball and even added a bit of bravado to his mound manner. Is this the Dunn swagger?

    "Don't know," said Hanrahan. "But I need to get some 'attitude' out there."

    Right now, what attitude the Nats have, or even aspire to, comes from Dunn. "If you ask him what he was thinking in that at bat, he'll probably say, 'Oh, I was just trying to get the bat on it and I happened to hit it hard,' " said Zimmerman.

    So, Adam, what were you thinking?

    "I was thinking, 'Grand slam home run,' " he said.

    And almost kept a straight face.
    “In the same way that a baseball season never really begins, it never really ends either.” - Lonnie Wheeler, "Bleachers, A Summer in Wrigley Field"

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    Member Sea Ray's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    It's going to take a lot more than grand slams to turn the Nats season around. It'll take pitching

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    It's going to take a lot more than grand slams to turn the Nats season around. It'll take pitching
    I don't think Boswell is saying that's all it will take. Again, I think he's looking deeper. What struck me about the article is that Dunn seems to be stepping up and being a leader for a young club. I'm not surprised, but I think Boswell is finding a plus there. No one questions the club desperately needs more pitching, particularly of the relief variety.
    “In the same way that a baseball season never really begins, it never really ends either.” - Lonnie Wheeler, "Bleachers, A Summer in Wrigley Field"

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    Danger is my business! oneupper's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    To his credit, Acta has put Dunn in situations where he can succeed and Dunn has delivered. Dunn has ONLY hit cleanup and with Zimmerman ahead and Dukes or Johnson behind, he has gotten some better pitches to hit.
    (not to mention that Zimmerman himself is getting pitches to hit).

    Not the same as being 5th between Phillips and Encarnacion, IMO.
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    Senor Votto Degenerate39's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Dunn is 3rd in the NL in home runs and RBIs. I'm happy he's having a good season so far but I wish it was with the Reds
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    Unsolicited Opinions traderumor's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    My pessimistic side says the Nats will find the holy grail for a couple of weeks this season, just about the time the Reds are playing them.

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    Member Sea Ray's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Quote Originally Posted by redsmetz View Post
    I don't think Boswell is saying that's all it will take. Again, I think he's looking deeper. What struck me about the article is that Dunn seems to be stepping up and being a leader for a young club. I'm not surprised, but I think Boswell is finding a plus there. No one questions the club desperately needs more pitching, particularly of the relief variety.
    I can't read the writer's mind but what good is a leader doing for a team with a .295 winning percentage?

    We've seen this sort of team here because the architect was the same. A pitching starved/power laden team. This team, like ours of yesteryear, will have its share of exciting, come from behind wins but they'll lose many more than they win because the pitching is so poor.

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    Member membengal's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Redsmetz:

    Thanks for posting that. Nice read.

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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Tom Boswell is a great writer, writes some really great baseball books

    http://www.amazon.com/Why-Time-Begin.../dp/0385184093
    http://www.amazon.com/Life-Imitates-.../dp/0385175957

    Guy's been around Ripken and Weaver and numerous other stars and has a great insight when it comes to the game and the people who play it.

    WE?

    Oh we have Paul Doughtery writing these "types" of articles on the Reds, makes one kinda sad.

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    Waitin til next year bucksfan2's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    I can't read the writer's mind but what good is a leader doing for a team with a .295 winning percentage?

    We've seen this sort of team here because the architect was the same. A pitching starved/power laden team. This team, like ours of yesteryear, will have its share of exciting, come from behind wins but they'll lose many more than they win because the pitching is so poor.
    One of my best recent baseball memory was the Dunn walk off grand slam against the Indians. It was a poorly played game but it had a great ending. Problem was those walk off home runs were few and far between. Bad pitching and bad defense that continued to place the team behind the 8 ball get hard and harder to overcome as the season goes along.

    The Reds were built like the current Nats team for almost a decade. Offense first pitching and defense second. Quite frankly I am much more happy watching the current Reds than the Reds of years past. I don't yearn for the days of Jr and Dunn to return. Call me crazy but articles about walk off HRs on poor teams are fun to read, but I would much rather read lackluster articles about a Reds team that is playing good baseball and currently sitting 4 games above .500 after Memorial Day.

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    I can't read the writer's mind but what good is a leader doing for a team with a .295 winning percentage?

    We've seen this sort of team here because the architect was the same. A pitching starved/power laden team. This team, like ours of yesteryear, will have its share of exciting, come from behind wins but they'll lose many more than they win because the pitching is so poor.
    No need to read Boswell's mind. He's saying it very clearly in the stories he's highlighting and showing Dunn's leadership and not shirking answering for his failures along with his success. I would not be surprised to see Dunn possibly re-up with Washington because if they get the pitching they need, they'll be a good club. But again, Boswell couldn't have been clearer about Dunn. No mind reading needed whatsoever.
    “In the same way that a baseball season never really begins, it never really ends either.” - Lonnie Wheeler, "Bleachers, A Summer in Wrigley Field"

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    Charlie Brown All-Star IslandRed's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    I can't read the writer's mind but what good is a leader doing for a team with a .295 winning percentage?
    Well, we're talking about a writer for the Washington paper writing about the Washington Nationals, so we can presume the team's deficiencies are being duly reported. Every article doesn't have to cover the same ground, does it?
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    Member Strikes Out Looking's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Quote Originally Posted by IslandRed View Post
    Well, we're talking about a writer for the Washington paper writing about the Washington Nationals, so we can presume the team's deficiencies are being duly reported. Every article doesn't have to cover the same ground, does it?
    As a suscriber to the Washington Post, they have covered the failures of this team in depth. Bos and the other writers are fully aware of the lack of many things, including pitching.

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    Member OnBaseMachine's Avatar
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Nice article. Thanks for posting that, redsmetz.

    Dunn is having a monstrous season so far. I hope he keeps it up except when he plays the Reds.
    I miss Adam Dunn.

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    All dyslexics must untie!
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    Re: Boswell: A Paul Bunyan in Their Midst

    Quote Originally Posted by bucksfan2 View Post
    Quite frankly I am much more happy watching the current Reds than the Reds of years past. I don't yearn for the days of Jr and Dunn to return. Call me crazy but articles about walk off HRs on poor teams are fun to read, but I would much rather read lackluster articles about a Reds team that is playing good baseball and currently sitting 4 games above .500 after Memorial Day.
    Ditto

    Run-scoring ground-balls instead of rally-killing strikeouts?
    3 consecutive 2-out singles by the bottom of the lineup?

    What a breath of fresh air
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