Harper snags two of Nats' seven GIBBY nominations
Phenom's two-HR Opening Day, first walk-off shot named among year's top plays
There was no playoff run for the Nationals during a season that fell short of lofty expectations, but from the very beginning, the Nats produced an abundance of memorable plays and performances. Many of these now have the chance to be recognized with a GIBBY, MLB.com's Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards.
From some Opening Day heroics by Bryce Harper to an impromptu grooming session by Ian Desmond, the dramatic and wacky highlights from Washington's 2013 campaign earned the club seven GIBBY nominations. Harper, pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Tyler Clippard, center fielder Denard Span and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman all earned nods for top individual performances.
Major League Baseball's A-listers will take home 2013 GIBBY trophies -- the ultimate honors of the industry's awards season -- based on votes by media, front-office personnel, MLB alumni, fans at MLB.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.
This year's GIBBY Awards feature nominees in 22 categories. Individual honors will go to the MLB MVP, in addition to the year's best starting pitcher, hitter, closer, setup man, rookie, breakout hitter, breakout pitcher, comeback player, defensive player, manager, executive and postseason performer.
GIBBY trophies also will be awarded for the year's top play, storyline, hitting performance, pitching performance, oddity, walk-off, Cut4 topic, regular-season moment and postseason moment, from MLB.com's Must C highlight reels.
In the past five years, fans have cast more than 50 million votes across the various GIBBY categories, none of which was restricted to individual League affiliation. Fan voting runs through Dec. 1.
Winners will be presented their GIBBY trophies at the MLB.com Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards extravaganza during the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Harper snared nominations for both regular-season moment and walk-off, showing a flair for the dramatic befitting the hype that surrounds him. At age 20, he began his second Major League season April 1 by becoming the youngest player in history to homer twice on Opening Day, taking the Marlins' Ricky Nolasco deep in his first two at-bats. His swings powered Washington to a 2-0 victory and brought out Harper for a curtain call from the Nationals Park crowd.
"You just shake your head," Span said afterward of his young teammate's feat. "You just shake your head in amazement."
The rest of Harper's sophomore season didn't quite live up to that precedent -- and how could it? Injuries cut into his playing time and performance. But he still provided plenty more thrills, including on July 25, when his two-run shot in the ninth inning off the Pirates' Bryan Morris gave Harper his first career walk-off homer and snapped a six-game losing streak for the Nats.
"It's great to get the 'W,'" said the understated Harper. "We really needed it. Going through that [at-bat], I was trying to put something in the gap so [Roger Bernadina] could score."
Harper wasn't the only one to deliver a memorable moment. Span earned a nomination for the year's top play with a game-saving diving catch, Zimmerman earned one for the best hitting performance with a three-homer game and Desmond is part of the oddity category due to a midgame shaving of his beard.
For their high level of performance throughout the season, Zimmermann received a nomination for best starting pitcher, while Clippard took one for top setup man. Zimmermann was selected to his first All-Star Game this season, tying for the NL's best with 19 wins, to go along with a 3.25 ERA. He was especially strong in the first half, posting a 2.58 ERA. Clippard acted as a stabilizing force in an often shaky bullpen, posting a 2.41 ERA over 72 appearances while striking out more than a batter per inning.
Span displayed his stellar defense in center field throughout his first season in Washington, and his glovework truly sparkled in a home game against the Giants on Aug. 14. With closer Rafael Soriano struggling to hold a 6-5 lead with two runners on base and two outs, Span somehow chased down Hunter Pence's drive into the left-center gap to make a sliding, snow-cone-style grab.
"I said, 'Oh [man].' I just put my head down," Span said. "I looked up and it seemed like I gained ground on it and that's when I said, 'I'm going to be able to reach for it,' and once I caught it, I tried to hold on to it. Once my hand hit the ground, [the ball] tried to come out, but I wouldn't let it go."
Zimmerman's huge offensive performance came in an Interleague battle against the neighboring Orioles on May 29, when he took Chris Tillman deep three times, once to each part of the field. It was the first career three-homer game for Zimmerman, who finished the year with 26.
Desmond took baseball superstition to another level during a July 9 game against the Phillies. Instead of waiting until between games to shave his facial hair in an effort to jump-start himself at the plate, he did so after grounding into a double play in his first at-bat, following a pair of hitless outings. Desmond did away with the scruff he was carrying on his chin and later singled to ignite an eight-game hitting streak.