Nationals gearing up for Red Sox
East Coast matchup to play out in Washington for first time
WASHINGTON -- Nationals pitcher John Lannan predicts that when the Red Sox come to Nationals Park for a three-game series beginning Tuesday, there will be an 80/20 split between the teams' fan bases.
That's 80 percent visiting Red Sox fans and 20 percent Nationals fans.
"For every big team, the Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, they come here and it's like a home game for them," said Lannan, who will get the ball on Tuesday. "We're a new team and we're gonna build a fan base, so when we beat them -- hopefully we beat them -- we'll get some more fans."
For Nationals fans, it's a mark-your-calendar-type game. All multigame ticket packages the organization sold included a game against the Red Sox.
For Red Sox fans, it's just another road trip fewer than 450 miles away to see their team play in a different ballpark.
The Red Sox swept the Nationals at Fenway Park in 2006. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since the club moved to Washington. The only current Nationals player to log action for the Nats in that 2006 series is Ryan Zimmerman, but Willie Harris and Julian Tavarez were both involved as members of the Red Sox.
"I had a good time playing there," Harris said about his brief stay in Boston. "I didn't play much, but I had a good time. It was just fun being a part of that organization, seeing the support they have -- wherever they go, they have 10,000-15,000 fans."
Harris anticipates those fans to be at Nationals Park in full force this week.
"Red Sox Nation -- they have fans across the world," he said. "This place is gonna be crazy Tuesday through Thursday. I'm looking forward to it. Our fans are going to be behind us and they're fans are gonna be behind them."
The results from the two franchises could not be more different.
The Red Sox have the best record in American League, with World Series aspirations once again after winning in 2004 and '07.
Meanwhile, the Nats -- who didn't exist in their current state until 2005 -- have the league's worst record, and their goal is to merely win as often as they can in order to reach respectability.
Recently, they've been able to do that, winning back-to-back series against the Yankees and Blue Jays -- who occupy second and third place, respectively, behind the Red Sox in the AL East.
"We have to do a good job of telling these guys -- we're not facing a name; we're facing a baseball team," manager Manny Acta said. "We're facing guys like us. We don't want to be intimidated by the name or whatever these teams have done. I thought they did a good job this past week in Yankee Stadium."
In addition to Harris and Tavarez, who played for the Boston in the teams' latest series, Nationals catcher Josh Bard is another former Red Sox player, sharing two ephemeral stays with the team.
In 2006, he was brought in to backup Jason Varitek, but after struggling mightily to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleballs (the typical task for a Red Sox backup catcher), he was traded to San Diego less than a month into the season.
Bard signed with the Red Sox again last December while Varitek's contract status was in limbo, but after Boston re-signed its mainstay, Bard was released in Spring Training.
Bard said he has nothing to prove to the team which let him go twice.
"I'm gonna go out and play good baseball," he said. "I play for the Nationals, not against the Red Sox. I'm going out to win games regardless of who we're playing; I'm not going to try any harder because it's the Red Sox."
As for Harris, the utility man is looking forward to taking the field against his favorite player in the reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia.
"He's small, he's a little guy and he plays extremely hard," said the also diminutive Harris. "He really doesn't care about all the hype. Petey Pete don't care about that. He just has fun -- he's a good guy to be around, he plays hard, what else can you ask for?"
Mark Selig is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.