Harris hits walk-off to save Olsen's gem
Lefty hurls 7 1/3 no-hit innings; shutout-inning streak ends at 20
WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Willie Harris and left-hander Scott Olsen admitted Thursday that they have a chip on their shoulders, and they took it out on the Braves as the Nationals won, 3-2, at Nationals Park.
Harris has the chip because he was non-tendered by the Braves after the 2007 season, even though he hit a respectable .270 with two home runs and 32 RBIs. He still doesn't know why he was let go, but that chip helped drive in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The score was tied at 2, and the Nats had the bases loaded and nobody out. With the infield drawn in, Harris took a 1-0 pitch from right-hander Peter Moylan and hit the ball past second baseman Martin Prado to score Adam Kennedy and give Washington its 15th victory of the season.
For Harris, it felt good to drive in the game-winning run against Atlanta. He grew up a Brave fans in Cairo, Ga., and was deeply hurt that he wasn't back with the team the following the 2007 season. Harris ended up signing with the Nationals, and he is a favorite amongst the fans and people in the front office.
"I've been non-tendered before, so I know the feeling," Harris said. "The feeling is, you know I'm going to come back and show these guys. I was non-tendered by the Braves. It irks you in the pit of your stomach. But what it does is, it give you a boost, if you know how to handle it. You take it, and you use it. It's just adversity tossed your way."
The walk-off win didn't overshadow the fact that Olsen was brilliant on the mound with 7 1/3 no-hit innings.
What a difference one month makes for Olsen. He was upset that he started the season in the Minor Leagues. The team felt right-hander Garrett Mock had better stuff, and Olsen needed more time to get his arm strength back after having shoulder surgery last July.
When he returned to the big leagues, Olsen was driven to show the Nationals that they made a mistake by having him start the season in the Minors. Olsen ended up having his best game as a member of the Nationals.
Olsen retired the first six hitters he faced before walking Melky Cabrera in the third inning. Cabrera would get as far as second base on a sacrifice bunt by Braves right-hander Tim Hudson.
After the walk to Cabrera, Olsen retired the next 16 hitters he faced before David Ross broke up the no-hitter with one out in the eighth inning. Olsen also had set a personal high of 20 consecutive scoreless innings.
"You've got to tip your cap to the kid over there," Hudson said about Olsen. "He's got pretty good stuff, but let's be honest, I don't think he's got no-hit stuff. He was mixing things up pretty good and had us off-balance, and we couldn't do much against him for a while."
Olsen admitted that he was thinking about the possibility of throwing a no-hitter as early as the fourth inning.
"I would be lying if I told you I wasn't thinking about it," Olsen said. "I was thinking about it early. I thought about it in the fourth and fifth innings. It's one of those things where it's real hard to do. I wasn't positive I was going to do it, but I was thinking about it."
Battery mate Ivan Rodriguez knows what it's like to catch no-hitters. He was behind the plate when Kenny Rogers pitched a perfect game for the Rangers, and when Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter in 2007.
Rodriguez said that Olsen's fastball was at its best on Thursday.
"Basically, we were using it a lot -- using it in and out. We gambled on those guys," Rodriguez said. "He didn't do anything different. He threw a lot strikes and they made great plays behind him."
It was Rodriguez who gave Olsen a 1-0 lead by hitting a fifth-inning home run off Hudson to give Washington a one-run lead.
Two innings later, Adam Dunn gave Washington a two-run lead with a solo homer.
But Olsen ended up losing his no-hit bid in the top of the eighth inning. With one out, Ross singled to left field. Rodriguez went to mound to settle Olsen down.
"I told him we were very close [to a no-hitter], but things like that happen," Rodriguez said. "The best thing for me is to go to him and say, 'We have a ballgame going. Let go back to the game and try to locate some pitches.'"
Cabrera came to the plate and hit a soft ground ball to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who tried to get the forceout at second base, but he didn't do so, as his throw was wide and all hands were safe. Nate McLouth then singled to right to load the bases.
Olsen then left the game in favor of Tyler Clippard, who gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Jason Heyward.
Olsen picked up a no decision, but it doesn't change the fact that Olsen is one of the most consistent pitchers on the Nationals' staff. Getting sent to the Minors to start the season has driven Olsen to be successful.
Earlier in Olsen's career, that same chip used to hinder his performance, but as the years went by, age and experience has helped him channel his emotions.
"I've been able to harness it a lot better," Olsen said. "Sometimes, you will see it get out, but usually, it doesn't. At first, it took all the focus from the pitches I was making. If I make a good pitch and some guy would get a hit, I would get upset, think about that during the next pitch. It was little stuff. I let things bother me that shouldn't have bothered me. It comes with age, experience."
Asked why he didn't let the demotion to the Minor Leagues affect him on the mound, Olsen said, "I wasn't going to let it bother me. It was not my decision. I wasn't happy about it. There wasn't anything I could do about it. I tried to pitch well and get back to the big leagues as fast as possible."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.