Sunday, September 03, 2006
Wonderful Day & Fitting Farewell At RFK Stadium
1 Day, 2 Games, 20 total innings, 2 Come from Behind Thrilling Wins, One in a constant drizzle, the second under sunny clear skies and beautiful Moonlit night. Featuring the return of Livan Hernandez to Washington. Alfonso Soriano tying the franchise mark in Home Runs. In fact, 4 clutch home runs by four different National players. A Win AND a Save for The Chief. The debut of 5 new players. All in 9 hours--making for a WONDERFUL DAY AT RFK STADIUM in Washington, DC.
As the African Queen and I headed out to attend the first of today's Day-Night Doubleheader at RFK, a necessity after the torrential rains from Tropical Storm Ernesto that worked its way through the Mid-Atlantic States on Friday, you had to wonder whether even this makeup date would be played. Because, as we headed over the 14th Street Bridge in the Express Lane, it was raining HARD, and as we pulled into Lot 8, we counted a TOTAL of 42 CARS. 42!! And it was 12:45PM--20 Minutes before gametime!!
We made it to Section 320 at 12:55, and you could COUNT the number of folks in the stands. NOT MANY--In fact, easily less than 1,000, maybe even close to 500!! Even with the late arriving crowd, this game NEVER had many more in attendance (22,012 was the official tally), BUT IT DIDN'T"T TAKE AWAY FROM THE EXUBERANCE OF THE RFK FAITHFUL. Section 320 was Rocking!! With MickNats, NatsDelNegro, African Queen, Diane (Ms. ZIMMI), Shawn and myself. We were able to ROUND UP most of the 3rd base side of the crowd. And, if you are going to attend a game, in the rain, not originally scheduled--YOU HAVE GOT TO BE A SERIOUS FAN. And, those attending this one were. IT ALL MADE FOR A FABULOUS ATMOSPHERE!! No matter who you were, or how loud or low you yell, you could be heard in this one. I just can't tell you how great it really was. You had to experience it. One of the most FUN GAMES AT THE STADIUM THIS SEASON!! Screech was back in FULL FORM!!! Stopping by 320 and doing his usual theatrics. And, I want to thank Bryan, a faithful Nats320 reader for stopping by and introducing himself and saying how much he enjoys reading the Nats320 Blogs. Stop by anytime. I appreciate everyone that is kind enough to read my musings.
Baseballwise, it really didn't start out fun at all. Nats starter, Billy Traber, didn't have it from the start. Arizona had speedy second baseman, Orlando Hudson, on first via a single with 2 outs and Eric Byrnes at the plate with a 1-2 count. Traber couldn't finish him off and Byrnes ripped a deep drive to right center that Ryan Church (struggling in centerfield chasing drives) couldn't reach, but FORTUNATELY, the ball bounced over the centerfield wall for a ground rule double, stopping Hudson at 3rd. Orlando would have scored easily on the play. Hudson would then be stranded on 3rd when Traber was able to strikeout Johnny Estrada on 3 pitches. No one realized it at the time, but that ground rule double actually helped the Nationals win the game later.
In the second, with Damion Easley on first and one out, Stephen Drew would hit a chopper off the plate, that Traber could not handle on the wet turf. Both runners safe. And, after Diamondbacks pitcher, Miguel Batista sacrificed the runners to second and third, Chris Young (DBacks fine young centerfielder, that had a fabulous first game today) would drive both home with the first of his 5 RBI on another deep drive to right centerfield that Ryan Church missed by mere inches off of his glove. It looked like Ryan could have dived for the ball, but he did not. 2-0 Arizona.
Ryan Church would walk with one out in the bottom half, and Young would then make the defensive play of the game, when Brian Schneider would DRILL a deep liner right over Chris, Young running with his back to the ball the entire way to the warning track, would misjudge the angle on the ball, and at the last second running to his right, with his back to home plate, had to REACH BACK, over his left shoulder, turning right to left to STAB the ball out of the air, while falling right on his head. IT WAS A GREAT CATCH!! REALLY!! But with 2 outs, and Bernie Castro at the plate, Church would steal second and score on a full count slap single to center by Bernie. 2-1 Arizona.
Young would strike again in the 4th after Easley and Drew had singled, moving up on another Batista sacrifice. First pitch swinging, Young would drill a liner to left center that Soriano could only pick up and throw back in, both runners scoring and it was 4-1 Diamondbacks. Traber would make it into the 5th inning, but after a leadoff single by Byrnes, followed by another from Estrada, and me SCREAMING TO FRANK--"HE JUST DOESN"T HAVE IT!!" Frank stepped out of the dugout to bring on newly called up Chris Booker to make his Nationals Debut. Traber would leave after giving up 10 hits in 4+ ugly innings.
Booker had the advantage of no Arizona players ever facing him, and he mowed down Carlos Quentin on strikes and got Easley to hit the very first pitch he saw, a chopper to Ryan Zimmerman that Z turned over to Castro at second, on to Nick Johnson at first for a beautiful AROUND THE HORN double play. Booker received a STANDING OVATION as he left the field, He and Schneider exchanged closed fist knuckle punches as they entered the dugout.
The Nats still could not get to Miguel Batista, but Frank brought on Beltran Perez, another new Washington player, just called up from AA Harrisburg. The Lanky Righthander mowed down the Diamondbacks over the next 2 innings. Keeping the game close. Perez also walking off the field in the 7th to a STANDING OVATION. But when Chris Schroeder entered the game, all looked lost by the time Chris left the mound in the 8th. Schroeder just didn't have it.
Estrada led off the inning and DRILLED another liner into deep right centerfield. It look like it would get down, only to see Ryan Church DIVE FOR THE BALL, at the very last moment, running right and diving right, snaring the ball just before it hit turf. TO THE TOTAL AMAZEMENT of the RFK SUPPORTERS. Church never dives for a ball. But he did this time, and it must have inspired him for his heroics to come later in the bottom half of the eighth.
But before Church changed the momentum, the Diamondbacks would attempt to put this one away when Carlos Quentin would jack a homer into the Mezzanine Level just to the right of the left field foul pole. 5-1 Arizona. Then Schroeder would lose his composure, hitting Easley, walking Drew and giving up a single to right to Tony Clark loading the bases, but Chris Young (Yeah the same Chris Young that was a Nats Killer today, would hit a sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring Easley and this one looked like it was over. 6-1 Diamondbacks.
Arizona Manger, Doug Melvin would take Batista out of the game and replace him with Tony Pena. It was the GAME CHANGING DECISION, and started the Nationals HUGE COMEBACK. With 2 outs and nobody on, Nick Johnson would lace a double to right center, Austin Kearns would work a full count, then walk.
Church would step to the plate and HAMMER the very first offering from Pena to right center field, clearly out from the get go, bouncing off the "Washington Hall Of Stars" Banner. The CROWD ERUPTED and remained loud throughout the remainder of this exciting game. 6-4 Arizona after 8. We had a chance.
Jon Rauch would pitch a scoreless ninth and the Diamondbacks would bring on Jorge Julio--I repeat, JORGE JULIO!! After watching Julio pitch for Baltimore over the past few seasons, one thing is obvious--he believes he can over power every hitter, Julio does not know how to get batters out with his stuff. ONLY HARD THROWING. We had a chance with him on the mound. And with Soriano batting third in the inning--We needed a baserunner. Bernie Castro would walk on 4 pitches to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Although Robert Fick would K badly it set up THE PERFECT STORM. A Hard Throwing Free Wheeling Fastball Pitcher, against the FINEST FREE SWINGING FASTBALL HITTER IN THE GAME. Alfonso Soriano stepped to the plate, and as I clearly stated to everyone, this was the our chance. The stars were aligned. And sure enough, Julio challenged Soriano with a Fastball that Alfonso Crushed over the left field wall to tie the game at 6!!
Pandemonium at RFK. There might only be a few hundred in the stands--BUT IT WAS LOUD!! Section 320 chanting the Alfonso!! SORIANO!!! cheer to serenade Alfonso. That home run tied the Expos/Nationals Franchise single season mark. Number 44 for 2006 for our MOST EXCITING PLAYER.
The game would move to extra innings. Chad Cordero shutting down the Diamondbacks in the 10th, and remain in to pitch a scoreless 11th. Its in the 11th when Washington would pick up the Curly W. Brandon Lyon on the mound for Arizona. Castro lead off walk, moves to second on a sacrifice by Robert Fick. Forcing an intentional walk to Soriano. 1st and 2nd, 1 out. Lopez then walked to load the bases. Zimmerman now at the plate. The CROWD SCREAMING, ROARING AND STOMPING!!! Z would take ball one, called strike 2, take ball 2, called strike 2. Ryan had not even taken the bat off his shoulder. On the 5th pitch, with great anticipation from the crowd, Lyon would throw a TERRIFIC looping off speed pitch that had Zimmerman fooled. Only to see Home Plate Umpire, Mark Carlson, call ball three. It was a great pitch, under pressure, Lyon just didn't get the call. Z would then foul off the sixth pitch and on the 7th and final pitch of game, would take an outside pitch, walking and scoring Castro with the game winning run. 7-6 Nationals!! Bang Zoom Went the Fireworks, the Nationals had come from behind late for the second straight game.
African Queen and I retired to Lot 8 for dinner and wine, then returned to our seats for Game 2, featuring the return of Crowd Favorite, Livan Hernandez, starting for the DBacks. Significantly more were in attendance for this one (22,922--officially), but the noise was no where near as fun as the first game. The Diehards attended the 1pm game, the 7PM start feature the more casual fan. The difference was strikingly noticeable.
Arizona would jump on Washington Starter Jason Bergmann right away when Chris Young would lead off the game with a walk, and with 2 outs, score on a 0-2 count single to center by Eric Byrnes. 1-0 DBacks.
As Livan Hernandez walked to the mound to pitch the bottom half of the 1st (he looked mighty strange in his Arizona Gray Pinstripe uniform), Livo picked up the ball, stood momentarily on the mound, facing the Nats 3rd base dugout, tipping his hat to the Nationals. Frank Robinson and the entire team tipped their hat back to the burly righthander. A moment of respect for long time friends, now competitors. As nice as it was to see, Sohna and I were very sad over it. We both liked Livan alot. He's a great competitor. He loved playing in DC. And, as I have said before, a great Ambassador for our city. Sometimes you need to look at more than the WINS AND LOSSES.
Livan was on his game, throwing alot of pitches, giving up a hit here and there. And the Diamondbacks would make it 3-0 in the 3rd when, again with 2 outs, Bergmann would lose his concentration, giving up a walk to Hudson, followed by a first pitch home run to right center by Luis Gonzalez. The Nats would get one run back in the bottom half when Soriano would create a run, all on his own, lead off single, stealing second for his 35th stolen base of the season, moving the third on a bad throw on that play and scoring on Zimmerman's ground out to short. From that point on, Livo and Bergmann would pitch shutout ball. Bergmann leaving after 7 strong innings, 108 pitches, only giving up 4 hits and 2 walks. Hernandez would continue to dance the ball around Washington Batters, no one making headway against the fine magician from Cuba.
At least until the 8th, when Livan, at 107 pitches and one out, Ryan Zimmerman would turn on a 1-2 off speed pitch over the inside corner and lofting a line shot off the CHEVYFIRST.COM sign just above the Arizona Bullpen for a home run. 3-2 DBacks and the Crowd was back in it again. The "RALLY TIME" chant going full force in Section 320.
Nick Johnson would follow, first by fouling a opposite field drive over the left field fence, but just foul, drilling a liner down the right field line, JUST FOUL, then lacing a single up the middle. Austin Kearns next. Kearns has not done much for Washington since his arrival from Cincinnati. But this time, he delivered and HAMMERED a DEEP DRIVE to right center field, over the wall, just left of the Washington Nationals Clock. AND JUST LIKE THAT!! The Nationals had the lead for the first time today. And for the third straight game had come from behind, LATE to take a lead. Recently recalled Melvin Dorta and newly acquired Nook Logan would follow with singles. And, that was it for Livan today. Doug Melvin came to take him out of the game.
As Livan slowly walked to the first base dugout, THE ENTIRE CROWD STOOD CHEERING AND CLAPPING FOR LIVAN--GIVING THE BIG GUY HIS DESERVED FINAL OVATION, AN OVATION HE NEVER HAD THE CHANCE TO RECEIVE AFTER BEING TRADED, FROM SO MANY THAT ENJOYED HIS EFFORTS FOR WASHINGTON. As Livan reached the first base coaches box, he took his glove hand and tapped his heart, then TO GREAT CHEERS from the RFK STADIUM FAITHFUL, Livo, looking teary eyed, DOFFED his hat to the crowd, A CLASSY MOMENT FROM A DECENT MAN!! Number 61 then dropped his head down into the dugout, sitting dejectedly on the end, ALONE--for the remainder of the inning. It was touching and VERY SAD--all at the same time. You had to feel for him. Sohna couldn't hold back the tears.
The Chief, Chad Cordero, would then come on to close it out in the 9th. Not as sharp after pitching 2 innings in the opener, Byrnes would walk to lead off the inning. Steal second while Cordero struck out Clark for out number 2. Then get Craig Counsel (the very first batter to ever hit in a regular season game against the Nationals at RFK on April 14, 2005--facing Livan Hernandez) on a called third strike!! Striking out the final three hitters of the game. Giving the Nats a THRILLING 4-3 comeback win, and Cordero's 24 save of the season. Curly W number 58 of the season.
September 2, 2006 was a WONDERFUL DAY OF BASEBALL AT RFK STADIUM. The Nationals showed some spunk. Hung in there despite being behind early. Got some solid pitching late. Clutch Hitting, and Nationals fans got the opportunity to bid farewell, properly, for an Original Nat. IT WAS A GREAT DAY!!