WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Go back to opening day on April 5th at Wrigley
Field in Chicago. Who sparked a rally for Washington in the eighth
inning? It was reserve infielder Chad Tracy.
Same thing goes for April
24th against the Padres, when clutch RBI's from Tracy resulted in a 3-1 Nats
victory, and a 13-4 streaking-out-of-the-gates record. Of course, there was Tracy's RBI single this past Monday in
the 13th inning against the Braves.
Clearly, Tracy's left-handed bat has had a substantial impact on the 2012
But possibly more importantly, Tracy coined the
moniker Goon Squad, creating a much needed identity for the Nats group of bench
"We've got a good group. We've kind of got it covered," described Tracy, who printed t-shirts for his fellow goons in May. "[I'm] your lefty bat.
You got Lombardozzi as a switch-hitter. You've got Bernadina, your speed guy. You got
Tyler Moore, your power right-hander. It's just a good mix of guys. We can
matchup with whatever the bullpen is, over there."
For rookie Tyler Moore, Tracy's guidance and expertise has been
invaluable. The big swinging righty was drafted on three separate occasions by the Nationals, he latest being in the 16th round in 2008.
Moore was only
expected to grab a cup of coffee in the big leagues -- and had been thought about more as trade bait, than having a significant impact on the team. But the
25-year-old has been able to craft his niche role in the Goon Squad.
"It's just kind of cool to have our own name, especially when we aren't
starting. It kind of helps us have a tight knit group and help each
other out. What pitcher is coming in, what pitches does he have," said Moore.
Like Tracy explained above, each Goon Squad member has their very own unique skill set. But each player also has their own storyline which has propelled them in 2012. For the most part, each of these players are battling redemption.
Roger Bernadina, it was switching to a smaller bat, advice given to him
by veteran Mark DeRosa, an on-again off-again member of the goon squad
due to injuries. The player affectionately nicknamed 'Shark', had always been a flash in a the pan and lacked consistency. That is until 2012.
The results? Bernadina is having his most
productive season since he debuted in 2008, boasting a .298 batting average, 10 doubles, 22
RBI's and 13 steals. Manager Davey Johnson has been quite consistent in
using Bernadina too. As of Wednesday, Bernadina had played in 17 of the Nats 21 games during August.
"Your cold coming from the bench. That's the toughest part of the [Goon Squad]. Things have been going good, but you have to keep it up. It's a long season," said Bernadina, who came up with a memorable ninth inning home run July 29th in Milwaukee, which later turned into a victory.
Utility man Steve Lombardozzi has summed up the essence of the Goon Squad this season by producing at an eye-opening rate for a rookie. He's played a substitute roll at an incredible five positions: shortstop, second base, third base, left field and center --and he's committed just four errors all season.
Juggling all the fielding is not even the hardest task Davey Johnson has asked of his rookie, who posted a .279 average in the 54 games he served as a lead off man. At just 23-years-old, Lombardozzi has become one of the most interchangeable players in the entire league.
"You know we're just having fun with it. It's a way for us to
rally together. It originally came up in spring training," spoke Lombardozzi. "We would be
together a lot during the road games, we were the traveling squad
[within the split squad games]. We're a little bit out there, but it's
Finally, for Chad Tracy, this experience is one that has come completely full circle. The 32-year-old spent the entire 2011 baseball season playing for Hiroshima in Japan, anxiously awaiting a call from a major league club. The phone never rang.
kind of tough to describe the biggest difference unless you get over
there and see the culture. Everything about it is different. The way
professional baseball is run, it's just a different world," reminisced Tracy about the experience.
An eight-year MLB veteran, Tracy realizes that not many players on the Nationals roster have experience in a pennant race. He himself does. While with the Diamondbacks in 2008, Arizona choked away an eight game lead down the stretch and missed the playoffs. A lack of quality bench play crippled the D-Backs chances.
go on an eight game losing streak...it takes all of eight days to be
back to even. We had L.A. walk us down one year when I was over in
Arizona and it's not a good feeling. You can feel them coming. Off the bench, you have to be able to come through late in games."
So the next time you praise how good Washington baseball has been, don't forget about the Goon Squad's importance. Their overachieving efforts and comeback stories are the epitome of the 2012 Nationals.