Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Vote For Pedro
The crowd was standing on its feet, rhythmically clapping. A great majority of the 24,036 still in the stands, wanting to see something no one in attendance expected. Pedro Astacio stood on the mound, raising his right forearm and wiping his dripping wet forehead. The RFK Faithful continued to ROAR!!. Section 320 CHANTING "WE WANT A SHUTOUT!! WE WANT A SHUTOUT!!"
Astacio looked in for the sign from Brian Schneider. Dropping his right arm down so low it was dangling sweat on the mound from mere inches. Matt Diaz was down to his last strike. The Atlanta Braves down to their last out. Astacio reared back and threw pitch number 89 on the night. Diaz --SWING AND A MISS!! Slider on the outside corner of the plate!! And game IS OVER!! RFK STADIUM SCREAMED IN JUBILATION!! Astacio finishes off a COMPLETE GAME SHUTOUT!! 5-0 whitewash of the Braves. Bang Zoom Went the FIREWORKS!! Fans were dancing in the Aisles. You would have thought the Nationals had just made the playoffs!! The Crowd stayed for a STANDING OVATION for the Nationals as they walked off the field in triumph. Astacio nodding to the fans in thanks.
No one. And I mean NO ONE, could have expected Pedro Astacio to pitch the finest game of the 2006 season for the Nationals tonight. A two hour, one minute affair that saw Pedro throw 66 strikes, not walk a single batter, pitch a PERFECT GAME until a 2 out single by Jeff Francouer in the 5th and allow only one additional baserunner, a single in the 7th by Adam LaRoche--facing just 29 batters.
By throwing this complete game shutout, the Nationals avoided the possible embarrassment of being the first team, in the history of the game, to not have a starter pitch a complete game in a season. The Chicago Cubs are now the only team in 2006 yet to toss a complete game by a starter.
Astacio was outstanding, retiring the side in order in 7 of 9 innings. Number 34 struck out 5, only reached a 3 ball count on 2 batters. Mixed his pitches well, pitching confidently throughout the game. Not a single Braves hitter got good wood on the ball. Pedro had them fooled all night long.
As the game moved further along and the shutout continued, the crowd began to ramp up its anticipation of the possible final outcome. I can't recall a game in quite some time that no one seemed to leave the park early. And the 2 hour playing time certainty didn't hurt. Sohna and I made it home in Springfield by 9:45pm. The game started at 7:05PM The crowds approval at the end made the wait worthwhile for every Nats fans in attendance. And shut down the TOMAHAWK Chop for the entire night.
To help along Pedro, the Nationals received a couple of clutch base hits with runners in scoring position, a sacrifice fly and, for once, a terrible fielding play--this time by Atlanta--leading to 2 additional Washington runs.
Bernie Castro continued to show promise as an igniter of the offense. In the second with 2 out and nobody on, Alex Escobar would beat out an infield single to 3rd that Chipper Jones really didn't have a play on. Schneider would then ground a single into the hole between 1st and 2nd moving Escobar to third. Castro stepped to the plate, and realizing the Braves were playing deep, laid down a perfect, first pitch bunt between pitcher Lance Cormier and Braves first baseman LaRoche. Marcus Giles gave up on the play, seeing Castro BURN HIS WAY DOWN THE LINE!. Escobar scored easily to make it 1-0 Nats. There could not be many, IF ANY, faster runners in the game than Bernie Castro. THAT GUY CAN FLY!! AMAZING SPEED RIGHT FROM THE GET GO!!
The RFK Stadium crowd applauded its approval of, not only a DECENT BUNT, but a GUTSY ONE with 2 outs. A very nice surprise. Castro has potential to be a game changer, but on a much smaller level than Alfonso Soriano.
The Nats would actually put the game out of reach in the 3rd, but not without a bizarre play involving Felipe Lopez (FLop). Soriano led off with a soft liner to center for a single. Lopez would work a 2-2 count, and with Soriano running, would hit a softly hit grounder deep into the hole at 2nd. Soriano was going to easily make second, Marcus Giles hustled all the way to eventually pick up the ball on the outfield grass. FLop believing it was an easy single was just jogging down the line. Giles, seeing he could still get FLop, hurried his throw, as Lopez speeded up. A good throw would have had him, but the throw went wide of LaRoche and down toward the Braves first base dugout. Soriano looked around at second, and did not see 3rd base coach Tony Beasley waving him on to third, but Alfonso seeing the play develop was smart enough to jog to 3rd. In the meantime, first base coach, Davey Lopes, NEVER ONCE, told Lopez that the ball got past LaRoche. It actually appeared that FLop thought he was out as he rounded first base and stopped, briefly, between 1st and 2nd, until realizing the ball was still in play. Seeing Braves Catcher Brian McCann setting to fire the ball to 2nd to throw him out, Lopez speeded up again, barely beating the throw at second.
It was just an amazing sequence of fundamental incompetence, on the part of 2 coaches and FLop. SenatorNat and I discussed this for about 10 minutes in Section 320. Very few Nationals seem to be able to accomplish the basics. Felipe just doesn't seem to have his head in the game--like ever!!
With runners on 2nd and 3rd, no outs, Ryan Zimmerman would come to the plate (and not having a good night) and strike out for the second of 3 times tonight. Atlanta would intentionally walk Nick Johnson, setting up the force play, to bring up the struggling Austin Kearns. Kearns would oblige the Braves by hitting a perfect slow rolling double play grounder to shortstop Tony Pena. Pena COMPLETELY MISSED on the charging pickup, the ball rolling into left field, Soriano and FLop scored. Johnson to 3rd. Austin safe at 1st. 3-0 Nats. Escobar would get Johnson home with a deep enough fly to right that Jeff Francouer threw up the line as Johnson scored Washington's 4th run.
Another interesting Note about this inning, was that SCREECH was visiting around our section during this rally. As Kearns was batting and about to swing on the decisive error of the night, Screech wanted to move from 320 down toward 319. As he walked, MY MAIN MAN!! POLITELY GOT "DOWN IN FRONT" No one else noticed, but it cracked me up something awful!! After the 2 runs scored Screech jumped on top of the railing in front of 320 and put on his show. It was great.
Screech its OK to walk through Section 320 during game action. JUST DON"T STOP. I love you nonetheless. I really did appreciate your attentiveness to the action though. THANKS!!
The Nats would close out the scoring in the 5th when Johnson walked with 1 out and Austin Kearns drilled a deep liner to the left centerfield wall that Matt Diaz eventually tracked down, Johnson running all the way ( and running as if he's pulling a tractor load behind him--the guy seems to run in perpetual motion, knees completely locked up) and was able to beat the relay throw from Pena to McCann with his usual awkward slide somehow ending up completely on his stomach sliding backwards across the plate. But you just got to love his hustle. Johnson never gives up on a play, EVER!!
Not often that National Fans get to enjoy a no doubter. Although the Chief, Chad Cordero, was warming up in the 9th, this one was ASTACIO ALL THE WAY!!!. Good pitching, defense and timely hitting always wins. We just don't have enough of it. But WE DID TONIGHT. FUN NIGHT AT THE BALLPARK!!
Thank you---PEDRO ASTACIO.