Thursday, July 27, 2006
The Final Tribute, 6-0, 12-0, 25-15
Nearly 30,000 showed up this afternoon at RFK Stadium in Washington DC to witness, not only the Nats second straight home sweep , this time at the hands of the San Francisco Giants (Winning 6-5 Today), but the possible Swan Songs for Fan Favorites, Alfonso Soriano and Livan Hernandez. As anyone with even the slightest interest in the Nats knows, Alfonso and Livo are top candidates to be traded by Washington before July 31st to bring the Nats much needed young prospects to build a future.
Livan was sharp from the beginning in the 95 Degree Heat with Humidity levels taking the temperature near the 100 Level, setting down the Giants in order through 2 innings. Alfonso, always one to swing for the fences--IN EVERY AT BAT, led off the bottom of the first with a towering HOME RUN, his 32nd, off Giants starter Matt Cain that hit the "Chevy First" sign and nearly bounced right back onto the field--TO THE ABSOLUTE DELIGHT OF THE RFK FAITHFUL!! As Alfonso jogged back into the dugout you could plainly see his SMILING PEARLY WHITES, he was so pleased-and was greeted with resounding HIGH FIVES by his devoted Nats Teammates. Soriano Lovers in the stands couldn't get enough of it!! Including, my wife, Sohna, The African Queen, to whom this game meant soooo much!!
Sohna has never been much of a sports fan, she has attended many baseball games with me over the past 20 years, but for her, attending was more about the atmosphere and those things happening outside the baselines. In Philadelphia, for example, she would always be enthralled by the Phillie Phanatic. At Camden Yards, the BIRD and the Food! When the Nats came to Washington and I received my Season Tickets in Section 320, she agreed to attend more than the usual amount of games. IN 2005, she actually made it to 45 games. And most of her excitement came from those that sit in our wonderful section. Sohna considers herself the den mother. She enjoys the company, the cheers, the friendships and all the fun we have there. But, in 2006, she became INTOXICATED with Alfonso Soriano!! From the beginning she loved his style, his proud posturing, and especially how he wiggled his butt at the plate. He quickly became known as "WIGGLY BUTT". She always stood up for him when he had his troubles in left field. And, with each subsequent Home Run by Alfonso, she cheered that he "HIT ONE FOR ME!!" At the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, she only wanted to see one thing, Alfonso introduced and hitting leadoff for the National League. When he was removed from the game, she lost interest. And, as the trade deadline has moved closer, Sohna is struggling with the real potential loss of her Main Man!! Sohna even has her own Soriano Jersey and has attended 43 of the 50 home games so far in 2006. Knowing that today might well be the last day she will ever see Alfonso in the Nats Home Red Or White was crushing. SHE HAD TO BE THERE!! Sohna went WILD!! when Alfonso hit his 32nd homer in the first today.
Livan would quickly give up the lead when the other Alfonzo, Eliezer, playing for the Giants, homered for the second time this weekend, in the top of the 3rd. But, Ryan Zimmerman would get that and more back in the bottom half, when Felipe Lopez was hit by pitch, stole second, but just jogged home on Z's 2 run home run on a looping curve ball over the outside corner that Ryan YANKED over the left field wall for a 3-1 lead. A Mark Sweeney single, Ray Durham Double, Eliezer Alfonzo Sacrifice Fly and two out Jose Vizcaino slicing single to center tied the score in the 4th, but Livo settled down nicely to retire the next 10 San Francisco batters in order and complete 7 innings with only 92 pitches thrown. Livo left the mound for the Dugout to a RESOUNDING STANDING OVATION, and tipped his hat appreciatively as he dropped down into the Nats 3rd base Dugout.
Matt Cain contined to HUM THE BALL for the Giants, reaching 95 MPH on his fastball, even on his last of 106 pitches in the stifling heat. But, it was in the bottom half of the 7th at Cain threw pitch number 106, and he was in trouble when he was removed by Giants Manager Felipe Alou. Robert Fick led off and walked. Livo sacrificed him to second. Soriano walked on a full count, advancing Fick to second. One OUT. Felipe Lopez would send a liner down the first base line, but Shea Hillenbrand was able to JUST GET HIS GLOVE ON IT, to retire Lopez at first for the second out, but Fick and Soriano moved up to 2nd and 3rd. Zimmerman again came to the plate and the anticipation from the crowd was GREAT!!.. Z has delivered many times in just such a situation. Cain, feeling the heat, (not just the humidity) pitched around Ryan, walking him on 5 pitches. Alou took Cain out on that 106th pitch to bring on Lefthander Jonathan Sanchez to face hot hitting NICK JOHNSON. The PATIENT ONE took two quick balls, now ahead in the count, Nick looked for something to hit and Sanchez threw one in over the inside corner of the plate and Johnson DRILLED it into right field, scoring Fick and Soriano, moving Zimmerman to 3rd for a 5-3 lead and the NOISE ERUPTED AT RFK!! Alou would replace Sanchez with righthander Vince Chulk. Austin Kearns would greet him with a seeing eye grounder up the middle to score Zimmerman and it was quickly 6-3 NATS.
It looked like it was over. Micah Bowie came on for Washington in the 8th and quickly put down the Giants in order. And, when the Nationals came to bat in the bottom of the 8th, there was great anticipation. Alfonso Soriano was scheduled to bat 4th in the inning, and there was NO ONE in the crowd that did not realize that this could be ONE LAST CHANCE to Show PUBLIC SUPPORT for All Soriano has done for Washington in 2006. Ryan Church led off and struck out swinging. Robert Fick reached a 3-1 count, the crowd began to stir, but Fick would ground out to first. Daryle Ward would come up to pinch hit for Bowie and take 3 straight balls, 3-0 Count. Alfonso was swinging his bat on deck, and the crowd was anticpating their grand reception. Alfonso nodding to fans yelling and waving to him on deck. Ward would take strike one, foul off strike two, and, to the disdain of those in attendance, would meekly ground out to first to end the inning. Leaving Alfonso in the ON DECK Circle. There was a collective GROAN at RFK.
As the Nats headed out to the field for the 9th, Soriano, sensing the possible finality of this inning, delayed his running out to left field. When the team was in place, Alfonso stepped out of the dugout, and began jogging to leftfield. The fans along the 3rd baseline stood in unison clapping and cheering. Then, the fans down the leftfield line rose. Finally the entire UPPER DECK in Left Field joined the celebration. Soriano took 2 warmup tosses from Ryan Church and turned toward the leftfield line crowd. He raised his right arm, waved and tilted his head back in THANKS!!. Alfonso then turned to the UPPER DECK in Left and repeated the gesture. THE CROWD ENJOYED THE MOMENT. Everyone relished the brief moment, and then, the game continued.
The Chief, Chad Cordero, would come on for the save situation in the 9th--AND ONCE AGAIN MADE IT VERY VERY INTERESTING!! Mark Sweeney would lead off for San Francisco and send a routine ground ball to Marlon Anderson at 2nd. For whatever reason, Marlon could not get a steady throw off, on the slow runner, and threw it badly in the dirt, but Nick Johnson was able to scoop the errant throw and touch his left foot on the bag to retire Sweeney, just in time, for out number 1. Durham would single on a looping liner to center, but Pedro Feliz would check swing a roller up the first base line that Nick Johnson picked up before going foul and tagged out Feliz for out number 2. The RFK Stadium Crowd rose to it feet, clapping rythmically for the final out. Eliezer Alfonzo--NATS KILLER ALL WEEKEND, stepped to the plate. Swung at Strike One. The Chief, feeling confident, tried to sneak a fastball in over the outside corner of the plate. Unfortunately, it came in, once again, into Alfonzo's wheelhouse and Eliiezer CRUSHED IT HIGH OVER THE LEFT CENTERFIELD WALL for a 2 run homer--HIS 3RD HOME RUN OF THE WEEKEND and second on the day. 6-5 Nats and the crowd became restless. DeJaVu all over again!! Journeyman Catcher/First Basemen Todd Greene would step to the plate. Chief would throw 2 quick strikes, the crowd continued to clap, then threw a ball, and on the 4th pitch of the at bat, Greene swung at a pitch in the dirt, that Fick blocked, picked up, threw to first for the final out. Save Number 17 for Cordero. Nats win their 6th in a row. Longest Win Streak of the Season.
As the Nationals came off the field, the entire 3rd base side began yelling Soriano's name. Number 12 was leading the team off the field after the congratulatory handshakes. As he was about to drop down into the 3rd base dugout, he sheepishly picked up his right hand and waved, with a HUGH SMILE, and then he stepped down, and just like that, it was over.
Soriano was quoted by the AP after the game leaving RFK "I'll see you fellas. I had a good time with you guys."
Livan Hernandez was quoted, almost pleading to stay with Washington: I [am not] going to feel good [if I'm traded]," Hernandez said. "I've got to say the truth. I do a lot of good things for this organization. I want to be here. I want to be in the new stadium. I think it's very important for me. They treat people first class here -- the organization treats me perfect. It's hard for me, hard to leave. I'm not going to feel good [if I'm traded]. I think I'm going to feel so bad. I don't want to think about that."
Despite the sweep, win and 6 game winning streak, there was a hollow taste to the ending today. I found it very sad. And, as I have said before. When you follow a team closely, you become close to the players, players you might never even meet once in your lifetime, but you feel, are your closest friends. Alfonso was OUTSTANDING for the Washington Nationals. He is a GREAT PLAYER and better than ANYBODY IN DC EVER EXPECTED. Livan provided some of the most entertaining moments of the first 272 Games the Nats have played as a Washington Team. He tossed the very first pitch in Nationals History, was remarkable in the first half of 2005, making the All Star team. And, showed a tremendous casualness to the game like no player I have ever witnessed. Even if he was coming to bat, with the game on the line, he would be talking to the fans in the stands from the on deck circle. He would joke with opposing players, during the game. And, who didn't love Livan's terrific hitting and then watching him run it out. Great Stuff.
IT IS EXTREMELY HARD TO SEE THEM GO!! And, if Soriano is traded, as expected, the games at RFK will never be the same for Sohna.
This win also meant the following:
Nationals are 6-0 under the Lerner Group Ownership
Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez are 12-0 in all their games at RFK Stadium
(including 6-0 as members of the Cincinnati Reds)
The Nationals are 25-15 at RFK Stadium since starting the season winning one of their first 10 home games. (In fact, from September 4th of 2005 through May 4, 2006, covering a span of 30 home games at RFK, the Nats had a woeful 3-27 RECORD!! 3-27 Record.
It was only after Soriano consistently started to pound the ball all over and out of RFK that Nationals Players shut up their whining about the Home Run Distances. The Players realized it was a mental problem and began to hit more gappers, played team ball and turned their efforts around at home.
Sohna and I were glad we attended today's game. We brought home many moments today, both happy and sad. Speaking from the heart, I would love to see Livo and Alfonso stay, but I am sure that will not be the case.