Playing the outfield can be lonely—or that’s how it’s always seemed to me—standing out there in your own giant swath of grass, waiting for something to happen, gazing at the infield huddled for a mound visit and wondering what those guys could be talking about. Are they talking about you??? This is why outfielders must stick together! Watch them forge powerful fraternal bonds as they meet in center field for a postgame hug or hold up the number of outs on their fingers as helpful little reminders.
This weekend, the spirit of the outfield brotherhood possessed young Nationals center fielder Victor Robles. Seeing his teammate Juan Soto uncomfortable in the glare of the national baseball media—Soto has said that he finds it “frustrating” that his imminent trade has become such a spectacle—Robles hatched an ingenious plan to redirect some attention away from Soto, and onto himself. The first step of the plan involved hitting a home run, which actually would not be easy for Robles. He had done so just twice this year heading into Saturday’s game against the Diamondbacks.
Though Robles was once a top prospect in baseball—even more highly esteemed a hitter than Soto at one point—his major-league career has been defined by atrocious exit velocities and hard-hit rates. (Maybe you already knew that because as of today Robles has, somehow, been the subject of three Defector blogs. This is the worst website on the internet and you should unsubscribe.) For the plan to work, this home run would need to come at a moment it could not be any less essential. It would also need to be hit off of one of baseball's sourest, most humorless guys. Robles executed: He took Madison Bumgarner deep, a no-doubt 413-foot solo shot to left field, to cut Arizona's lead to 7-2 in the top of the eighth.
If the plan ever neared derailment, it was because Robles didn't even celebrate all that much. He admired the dinger for a bit before taking a slow jog around the bases—nothing crazy. But it was enough to piss off Bumgarner, and certainly enough to set Victor's plan in motion. “Guy’s a clown. Golly. No shame. No shame," Bumgarner told reporters postgame. "It’s 7-1, you hit your third homer of the year, you act like Barry Bonds breaking a record. Clean it up.” One wonders whether allowing a home run to Victor Robles is not the real clown behavior here. Or whether any participant in the Nationals-Diamondbacks series is in a position to be calling anyone else a clown. “I’m the old, grumpy guy I know, but that type of stuff didn’t used to happen. It’s ridiculous,” Bumgarner said.
Robles, quite frankly, got his ass. “If he doesn’t want anyone hitting a home run against him or having any issues with that, then just strike people out or make better pitches to where he doesn’t have to worry about that,” he said, through a team interpreter. Then, to offer Soto some more relief from his superstar-sized burden, Robles injected the story with additional juice by showing up Sunday wearing a clown nose in the dugout.
Don't be misled by the supportive tweet from the Nationals account. The response from Nats manager Davey Martinez suggests Robles, in fact, went rogue-clown mode here. His was not an organization-sanctioned mission.
Martinez is right. That's not who the Washington Nationals, poised to trade away a generational superstar rather than attempt to improve their MLB-worst record, are.