Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn clubbed two homers and drove in five runs tonight.
"Sign Adam Dunn! Sign Adam Dunn!"
The big guy could hear it, and he appreciates the sentiment.
"Like I said all along, it's really good to feel wanted," he said. "I mean, who doesn't want that feeling? You really can't put that kind of thing into words. That's special."
If Dunn, sitting in the first-base dugout at Nationals Park, could hear the chant, surely Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner sitting a few feet away in the front row could hear it as well. The fans' preference in this matter has been known for some time. More and more, it appears Dunn (who carried his team to an 8-3 win over the Braves with two homers and five RBI) shares their passion.
"It's starting to become home," he said. "The way the fans have received me, it's good. I don't know how else to put it. That's something that doesn't happen often."
Is that enough to convince Dunn to sign whatever the Nationals' best offer winds up being this winter? We still don't know. But it's been obvious all along -- and it should really be obvious at this point -- that the two sides genuinely want to get a deal done. Dunn may feel obligated to declare free agency and gauge what else exactly is out there, but his preference has been (and will continue to be) staying in D.C.
Nights like this should make it clear how much both sides need the other. The Nationals need Dunn in 2011 and beyond. Well, let me amend that: They need a player at least as good as Dunn in 2011 and beyond. If they can get their hands on someone equal to or better than him, by all means. But good luck 1) finding that guy and 2) convincing him to sign with a team that has finished in last place five of the last six seasons.
This, of course, is a two-way street. The Nats have to make a good faith offer to keep Dunn, but he also has to display some commitment to the organization that has employed him the last two seasons. This shouldn't be an issue, because Dunn clearly wants to be part of this franchise moving forward. He's never been the guy looking to play in the glitziest market under the brightest light. He doesn't need to play in New York or Boston. He's happy to be The Man in Washington ... provided he's paid market value, of course.
The feeling inside the Nationals clubhouse hasn't changed on this matter, either. They want Dunn (who now ranks second in the NL with 37 homers and fifth in the league with 101 RBI) around for a long time.
"I'd love to have him here for three or four years or more," said Jordan Zimmermann, who earned his first big-league win since June 25, 2009, with five strong innings tonight. "He's a huge part of our offense. He drives in runs. He hits home runs. His defense at first has gotten so much better. He's an all-around great player."
Anyone opposed to re-signing Dunn usually feels that way because of his lack of defensive skill. It's a fair point, but it also depends how much you believe defense matters.
Yes, Dunn committed his 12th error of the season tonight (one behind Ryan Howard for tops among NL first basemen) and it allowed a run to score. He also drove in five runs with two homers and a clutch single off left-hander Mike Dunn (no relation) that broke this game open.
So for the game, Dunn was a +4. Capitals fans would happily take that from Alex Ovechkin. Nationals fans should do likewise with Dunn.
There was plenty more to this game than the exploits of the cleanup hitter. Zimmermann put together his best performance since that dominant start in Florida on August 31. Tyler Clippard continued his late-season surge out of the bullpen, retiring all six batters he faced and striking out four. The Nationals as a team beat Tim Hudson for only the second time in 18 career encounters. Oh yeah, and they also own their first four-game winning streak of the season. (Only took five months and three weeks to do it.)
But the emotional highlight of the night (non-Dunn division) came when Willie Harris launched a drive off the center-field wall, watched it carom well out of Nate McLouth's reach, saw third base coach Pat Listach waving him around and realized what this meant.
"I felt like I had a chance to make it," Harris said. "But I wasn't sure if I wanted to go."
Harris had to huff and puff his way through the plate, but he slid in safely with the first inside-the-park home run of his life. Yes, of his life. He can't remember ever doing it in the minors, in high school or even in Little League.
Harris immediately had thoughts of his mother, Geraldine Harris, and his grandmother, Elizabeth Hudson, back home in Cairo, Ga., hooting and hollering over the dramatic play.
What does he think Mrs. Hudson's reaction was? "Oh my god! My baby!" Harris squealed.
Of course, both ladies (lifelong Braves fans) couldn't have been too happy with the end result: the latest in a string of blows to Atlanta's playoff hopes. After leading the NL East most of the season, they now trail the Phillies by seven games with eight to play. They're also barely hanging on in the wild-card race.
Perhaps Mrs. Harris' pain will be eased when she receives a gift from her son: Tonight's home run ball. Harris certainly is proud of the accomplishment.
"It's definitely a great thing to be able to say I hit an inside-the-park home run," he said. "Dunner hits 40 a year, but he can't do that. I think I've got the edge on him on that one."
OK, so Dunn isn't the most complete ballplayer in the world. What he does do well, though, is worth a lot.
And in case anyone didn't remember that, a bunch of fans in the upper deck at Nationals Park tonight pronounced it loud and clear.