Sunday, September 24, 2006

Guts & Guile For Nick

Today, Our Washington Nationals could have mailed it in, losing handily to the New York Mets, one day after a horrific injury to mainstay first baseman, Nick Johnson. And, no one would have said anything bad otherwise. Instead, the Nats gutted it out, with heavy hearts and pulled out a nice 5-1 Victory at Shea Stadium.

In honor of their fallen friend, the entire team wore knee high navy blue socks. Nick's Uniform, Number 24, hanging in the dugout. Even Pitching Great, Roger Clemens, starting tonight in Houston against the Cardinals, wore his navy blue socks at the knees, in honor of his former New York Yankees Teammate. It was a nice gesture by Roger. Clemens, to me, the finest pitcher of my generation--undeniably. Meanwhile, Washington Right Fielder, Austin Kearns, colliding with Johnson in the incident, given the day off to heal, mentally.

Frank Robinson threw out an unusual lineup to go against the Mets, a New York lineup that was missing David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Paul LoDuca. The Mets having clinched the Division Title and Best Record in the league, resting their players heading to the playoffs. The Nats starting nine included, Bernie Castro, Brandon Harper, Robert Fick (replacing Johnson), Ryan Church and George Lombard, filling in for Kearns.

Tony Armas got the start today for Washington, and was fairly effective for his second consecutive start. Eventually winning his first game since August 18--that last thrilliing win the The African Queen and I witnessed in Philadelphia in the Citizens Bank Park Suite. Armas raising his 2006 record to 9-12 after today's victory.

As per each and every Nats game, Washington had Mets Starter, Steve Trachsel on the brink of a blowout early. Each time allowing Trachsel to get out of it, barely touched. It all starting in the very first inning, when Bernie Castro would lead the game off with a full count walk. Threatening to steal, Trachsel could not find the plate with Felipe Lopez up. FLop eventually drilling a grounder to right, moving Castro to 3rd easily. 1st and 3rd, no outs. Alfonso Soriano, batting 3rd, in an effort to reach 100 RBI for the season, following and, on the very first pitch--no surprise, lofted a deep enough fly to right, scoring Castro easily, giving the Nats a early 1-0 lead. RBI number 95 for Alfonso. With Ryan Zimmerman now at the plate, FLop was yancy, and on a 1-1 count, took off for second. The Mets were expecting it, catcher Kelly Stinnett calling a pitchout, Lopez out by a mile. Not even close. Of course, Z would follow by drilling a double down the left field line. Flop would have most likely scored. Z now on second with 2 outs. Fick, looking to make up for the loss of Nick Johnson, stepped up, and, unfortunately, flied to right, ending the inning. 1-0 Washington.

Armas would give up a leadoff single to the very dangerous speedster, Jose Reyes. Reyes slapping a single to left. But, Tony would bear down and retire Endy Chavez, Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado to end the inning.

The Nats would frustrate everyone and me, especially, again in the second, when Ryan Church would drag bunt the very first pitch from Trachsel down the third base line for a single. Chris Woodward, today's Mets 3rd baseman made a nice running one handed grab and throw, for whatever reason, Carlos Delgado fielded the ball off the bag. Replays showed that if Carlos stretches, Church may well have been out. Lombard followed, and nicely slapped an outside pitch into left, moving Church to second. Brandon Harper worked a full count walk. Still no outs, but Tony Armas, Jr at the plate. Let Armas Bunt, Squeeze, anything but swing away. Tony swings away on the very first pitch, grounding to Reyes at Short, on to Jose Valentin at second, on to first for a double play. Church scored on the play, but Armas had KILLED THE RALLY! When Castro bounced on back to Trachsel, this potential blowout rally was over. 2-0 Nats in the second. It really is amazing how the Nats can rarely produce the BIG INNING with 2 men on and no outs.

Through 4 innings, Armas would allow only two more hit, a single by Trachsel, and a shot into the left centerfield gap by Cliff Floyd that Alfonso Soriano hustling all the way, corralled on one hop, Floyd trying to stretch it into a double, Soriano heaving the ball sidearm right on the bag at second, nailing Cliff easily for Alfonso's 22 assist of the season. Number 12 continues to improve his outfield game.

Washington would threaten once again in the 4th, Leadoff single by Fick, followed by a Church single to center. No outs, but, once again, The Nats would fail to rally, Lomabard striking out badly on 3 pitches--Harper grounding into an inning ending 5-4-3 Around The Horn double play. I just sat in my chair in the family room shaking my head. The African Queen saying "Don't want to hear it!"

Armas would allow New York right back into the game in the 5th, throwing a change up right over the middle of the plate to Valentin, leading off the inning. Valentin launching it over the right field fence, and just like that, despite dominating the game to this point, the score was only 2-1 Nationals. Armas then retiring the last 3 hitters in the Mets lineup to keep the lead after 5 complete.

But our Nats showed their Guile in the sixth, when Soriano rapped a double to left, leading off. Z following with his 45th double of the season, a ground ball down the left field line. Soriano scoring easily. 3-1 Nats. You could see the happiness in the Washington Dugout. A sense of relief that they were playing competitively, despite the sorrowful feelings. Frank giving Soriano a MEANINGFUL HANDSHAKE returning to the dugout after scoring.

Trachsel would be replaced by Pedro Feliciano. Feliciano shutting down the Nats the rest of the inning. And, with Armas making it through 6 complete, up by 2, Frank Robinson, rightly, decided to take Tony out of the game and hand the game over to the bullpen. The 7th inning was the deciding frame of this game. Darren Oliver now on the mound for New York. Brandon Harper would lace a liner just out of reach to the left of the fast moving Endy Chavez in center. Harper stopping at second with a leadoff double. Frank would then send the light hitting Henry Mateo to the plate to pinch hit for Armas, Jr. Mateo working a full count on Feliciano before drilling a shot down the right field line that First Base Umpire, Tim McClelland originally called foul, but then changed his mind instantly, waving fair, the ball bouncing into the stands for a Ground Rule Double, scoring Harper. Mets Manager, Willie Randolph, slightly complained, but the ruling stood. 4-1 Nats. Bernie Castro would bunt Mateo to third with one out. FLop would follow, and send a grounder up the middle, scoring Mateo and closing out today's scoring, 5-1.

Jon Rauch would attempt, once again, to make it interesting in the 8th, walking the leadoff and 3rd batter of the inning. With one out, Chavez would line a shot, that looked to be OVER rightfielder Lombard's head, only to see George not give up on the ball--snaring the ball over his shoulder, running with his back to the ball, at the very last moment. Out Number two saved the inning, not only for Rauch, but Washington. Ironically, the slower moving Austin Kearns, not playing right field today, may well not have made that play. Rauch retiring Shawn Green when Ryan Church made a beautiful sliding shoestring catch to end the threat. Charlie Slowes on WTWP, sighing some serious relief. ME, watching on MASN, letting out a HUGE--"WOW!! We Can Never Make it Easy!!"

Saul Rivera would close it out for Washington in the bottom of the 9th. The Nats congratulatory hand slaps on the infield were very jubulent. Knowing they had fought off all their bad and down feelings, to defeat the Division Champions. No doubt, New York played a lesser lineup, but the Nationals fought hard today, attempting to win for Nick Johnson. I am sure many more players visited Nick Johnson in his New York Hospital Room tonight. Frank Robinson standing proud, slapping and shaking hands with each and every player as the Nats walked off the field, led, as always, by Soriano.

On a very good note, it was reported, both on MASN and Radio by Charlie Slowes, that Nick Johnson's operation went extremely well. Nats Trainer, Tim Abraham, reporting that Nick's Femur bone in his right thigh was a CLEAN BREAK, instead of a fracture. The Doctors in surgery were able to fit the broken bones back together, perfectly, inserting a titanium rod in the bone for stability, along with 3 screws, 2 around the break, another at the hip. Surprisingly, Abraham says that Nick Johnson will begin walking rehabilitation, as soon as tomorrow. No caste was needed. The Nationals reported up to 6 months for recovery, in full. That would make Nick available to train in Spring Training. I would not be as optimistic, feeling he should properly give the healing process up the 8 months. As I have said before, we are not going to win anything soon, lets get Johnson right, don't rush it. The Nationals can fill in until he's 100% ready. In the meantime, this temorarily solves the Vidro, Lopez, Cristian Guzman glut in the middle of the infield. Jose can now move to first base, develop some better skills, and, quite frankly, become a better all around player, more desired by other teams. Time to look at Nick's injury in a positive way.

It would be fabulous if the Nats could win this series tomorrow night. If so, they would come home at 69-87 in the standings. With then six games to play, the Phillies and Mets on the schedule to complete the season, if would be conceivable they could go 4-2, and avoid the 90 loss season. I know that's not much to be proud of, but considering all we as fans and The Nationals have been through this year, I would call that---ending the season on a high note.

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