Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Enduring, Bonding & JUST A FABULOUS BASEBALL GAME!!
Except for Opening Day, you had to be a DIE HARD Washington Nationals fan to put up with all bad weather during the first 9 homes games of 2007. Tonight, you just had to endure. Endure 13 innings of exciting, thrilling, frustrating and, at times, downright scary baseball. All words to describe tonight's affair between Our Washington Nationals and The Philadelphia Phillies. This one had it all, including a very unusual 4-5-3 Double Play and A Second Presidents Race. Section 320, faithful as ever, was in FULL FORCE, chanting, cheering and hanging on each and every twist and turn. We all stayed to the Climatic Ending. If RallyTimeRichard gets his voice back by next weekend, I will be amazed. Folks, games like this one are the sole reasons why The African Queen and I attend each and every Nats Home Game.
Nothing was held back,not OUR VOICES, not even nearly every player. Both teams emptied their bullpens, their benches (except for The Nats Jesus Flores), and were forced to use every last available resource to pull out a win. The Phillies used a pitcher to pinch hit. Philadelphia Slugger Ryan Howard went 0-5. Manny Acta was forced to use a Rule V Draftee in a crucial situation--only because he had NO OTHER CHOICE. And, Our Washington Nationals experienced the arrival of Michael Restovich in GRAND STYLE. Restovich should not have even been playing late into this game, if not for a managerial mistake by the Phillies Charlie Manuel. What a ROLLICKING GAME!! JUST TERRIFIC!!
From the 7th inning on, Our Washington Nationals put 13 runners on base, none of whom scored until the very last play of the game. Fans were tested tonight. And, those Nats Fans that lasted throughout this late ending "Friends & Family" Affair were justly rewarded, witnessing a beautiful walkoff 5-4 win. When Chris Snelling belly sled across Home Plate with the Winning Run, it did not matter that only a few hundred remained to witness the event. The sight of the entire Nationals Team running onto the field to first jump all over Snelling, then attempt to chase down Felipe Lopez and tackle him, a beautiful sight to see. That, and The MARVELOUS PLEASURE of seeing Phillie Fans, heads down, walking dejectedly out of RFK STADIUM. Our Washington Nationals bonded tonight. This was a team effort and no one was left out. Even Our Manager Manny Acta, personally ran over to Restovich to congratulate him on his terrific late inning performance, hugging Big Number 29. Michael returning the hug and patting Manny on his back, thrilled at his first day back in The Major Leagues.
All this drama set in motion by an unusual move by Philadelphia Manager Charlie Manuel. With Washington up 4-3 in the bottom of the 7th, Brian Schneider had singled, followed by a walk to Snelling, no outs. Manuel had seen enough of his left hander Matt Smith. On consecutive tosses, Smith had thrown away a pickoff throw to first and then proceeded to throw a pitch off the screen behind Home Plate (Shades of Nook LaLoosh from the movie "Bull Durham"--everyone in the stadium cracking up laughing). With Micah Bowie scheduled to hit next, Manny Acta sent Restovich out to the On Deck Circle to pinch hit for the pitcher. Manuel, for whatever reason, did not wait for Home Plate Umpire Sam Holbrook to officially announce Michael as the Pinch Hitter. The Philadelphia Manager just walked out to the mound and called for Righthander Geoff Geary. Acta called Restovich back and Robert Fick stepped to the plate. Eventually, The Nats would not lengthen their lead in this frame, but since Restovich was never officially in the game, Manny could insert him later in a crucial double switch in the 11 inning. Acta did. It was The Key substitution of the game.
Of course no one would have had to sit through this barn burner 13 innings if "The Chief Cardiologist" as The African Queen now calls Chad Cordero, had held on in the 9th. He didn't. Once again, Chad Cordero had no command, and less control, giving up two singles, a sacrifice and a run scoring ground out to The Phillies to send this one to extra innings. Personally, I don't know whats wrong with Cordero, but he looks lost at times. Someone pitching without ANY confidence. And, "The Chief" must have been ashamed when he walked off the mound, because tonight's Nats Starter Jason Bergmann deserved this victory, blown by Chad, and assisted by Saul Rivera.
Bergmann worked into the 7th inning, and was masterful at times. Shutting down the heart of the Phillies Lineup. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Howard a combined 0-16 tonight. Jason was touched early by, of all folks, Phillies Pitcher Adam Eaton, who slammed a two strike, two out pitch to the wall in left field, scoring Rod Barajas in the second inning. NO ONE IN THE STADIUM COULD BELIEVE THAT DRIVE, yet it put the Phils up 1-0. And, although Bergmann left the mound in trouble in the top of 7th inning with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out--he received a MUCH DESERVED STANDING OVATION. Number 57 had completed 6.1 innings, thrown 108 pitches, given up just one run to that point. Bergmann had to be happy with is performance. Only to see Rivera come on and immediately give up a run scoring 2 RBI single by Pinch Hitter Greg Dobbs, putting the Phils back in the game, the runs charged to Jason.
From that point forward, Our Washington Nationals did all the following at the plate:
7th Inning--bases loaded, no outs--DID NOT SCORE
9th Inning--runners on first and second, no outs--DID NOT SCORE
10th Inning-runners on first and second, no outs--DID NOT SCORE
11th Inning-With two outs, back to back singles by Restovich and Lopez--DID NOT SCORE
12th Inning-Austin Kearns & Josh Wilson singles--DID NOT SCORE
Baseball is the singuarly most frustrating sport to play and watch. That fact proved tonight, many times over.
In Section 320 we were losing it. Whether it was" Rally TIME!!", a "TWO OUT RALLY", or just plain "WE WANT A HIT!" Nothing was working for luck. Fortunately for Washington, except for Cordero and Rivera, The Nats Bullpen would be LIGHTS OUT, once again. Ryan Wagner came on to relieve Jesus Colome in the 11th, shutting down a Phillie rally with runners on 1nd and 2nd. Then, in the 12th produced one of the oddest double plays you will EVER SEE. After Shane Victorino singled to right for Philadelphia, Chase Utley flied out to Austin Kearns, now playing centerfield. Then, Howard stepped to the plate. Our Washington Nationals were in an EXTREME SHIFT for this slugger. Zimmerman at the normal shortstop set position. Lopez nearly at the customary 2nd Base Position. Ronnie Belliard in right field toward the first base line. Ryan Howard would drive a hard hit grounder at Belliard, who scooped up the ball in the grass, fired to Zimmerman at 2nd who pivoted BEAUTIFULLY, tossing to Dimitri Young at first for the inning ending Double Play. Ryan Wagner FIST PUMPING IN JOY at Zimmerman as he trotted off the field. What was left of this crowd going bonkers over the excitement. How could this game get ANY MORE EXCITING?!!
Yet it did.
Rule V Draftee Levale Speigner was Manny's LAST CHOICE to pitch in this game. Except for a Starter, NO ONE ELSE was available. On trotted Levale for the 13th inning. After retiring Michael Bourn on the grounder to Belliard at second, two of the most heart thumping defensive plays of the night ocured. Wes Helms would drive a Speigner pitch to the wall in deep centerfield. Kearns TURNED TWICE chasing the fly, but finally, THANKFULLY, retrieved the ball for out number two. Then, Aaron Rowand popped to short rightfield. Restovich, now playing right, and Belliard did not communicate, both figuring the other was going to catch the lazy pop. Neither went after it, until Michael, at the very last moment, slid onto the grass, making a shoestring catch. MICKNATS, BANGTHEDRUMNATLY, RALLYTIMERICHARD, THE AFRICAN QUEEN and I thought we were going to have heart attacks!! The anxiety level continuing to rise throughout this long night. Really, how could this game get much better? Somehow, someway, baseball always finds a way--to grip you.
Finally THIS THRILLER came to a head. Fireballer, Francisco Rosario stepped to the mound for Philadelphia. As I mentioned to RallyTimeRichard, Rosario gives us a better chance. Our Washington Nationals can hit fastballs, they struggle mightily with off speed junk pitchers. Snelling leading off, was overpowered by Francisco, but was still able to pop the ball up between shortstop and leftfield. Jimmy Rollins overran the ball looking up over his head, And, when he turned his body in an attempted basket catch, the short fly fell cleanly to the ground. A single For "YODA" sending Restovich to the plate for the pivitol At-Bat of the night. Restovich, looking for something to drive, was sitting on a fastball, which he promptly got on Rosario's very first pitch. Michael Swung AND DROVE IT DOWN THE LEFT FIELD LINE. The Few Hundred FANS NOW ROARING as Snelling quickly moved to third, Restovich stopping at second with a STAND UP DOUBLE. Restovich shaking his fists IN JOY over the moment. 2nd and 3rd, NO OUTS--Could we FINALLY END THIS! The Few left in the stands at RFK STADIUM making a ton of noise.
Section 320 starts up the "SEND THEM HOME" CHANT, as FLop stepped to the plate. Phillies Fans NOW QUIET--THANKFULLY. Lopez would take ball one, foul off Francisco's second offering, take ball two, then ON THE FINAL PITCH OF THIS GAME!!--Felipe Lopez would loft a drive to medium left field. Snelling was tagging all the way. Philadelphia leftfielder Michael Bourn does not have a strong arm. Bourn made the catch. THE RACE WAS ON. Chris barreling down the line as the ball came into the infield. Number 8 DIVING HEAD FIRST ACROSS THE PLATE--SAFE!!!!!! with the game winning run!! Snelling so happy, he leaped into the air, both arms extended in TRIUMPH. BANG!! ZOOM!! went the fireworks!! The Party WAS ON!! Four Hours and 16 Minutes after this game began, A TRIUMPHANT 5-4 Victory, was in hand, to be remembered for some time, on so many levels. Curly "W" Number 5!
If you were a Nats Fans and waited this one out, the sheer sense of Joy was palpable. None wanted to go home with a loss to The Phillies. Our Washington Nationals deserved to win this game. A loss would have been devasting. One of those terrible losses you remember for quite some time. That's why the ON FIELD CELEBRATION was so special. Players jumping all over themselves. What was left of the Crowd ROARING ITS APPROVAL. A Huge Sense of Relief and Satisfaction over a hard fought, intense and downright FABULOUS GAME!!
What more can I say. Same two teams, 13 hours from now. Wow!!
Game Notes & Highlights
In the bottom of the second inning, with Dimitri Young on second via a hit by pitch and Kearns on first with an infield single, SenatorNat, The KING OF WIT, yells out--"BRIAN SCHNEIDER--Home Run KING!!!" as Schneider stepped to the plate. Everyone in Section 320 laughing and chuckling at the comment. Only to see Brian, in his FINEST AT-BAT of this season, go 10 pitches into the count, fouling off four two strike pitches, then HAMMER a Adam Eaton fastball over the wall in right for a Three Run Homer. As happy as we all were, everyone in Section 320 just shaking their heads over SenatorNat's prophecy.
Ronnie Belliard continues to play a decent second base. Once again involved in turning two double plays and leaping to catch a Chase Utley Drive in the 3rd. Ronnie may well have been on the downward side of the leap, but it was a nice catch, nonetheless. RallyTimeRichard noting that when Belliard moves to retrieve a grounder, he gets his entire body behind the fielding effort. He is low to the ground, almost a pouncing position. Some can criticize him for some mistakes so far in the young season, but quite frankly, Ronnnie Belliard has played, unexpectantly, well. When Cristian Guzman comes off the Disabled List, Manny Acta has an interesting dilemma.
Levale Speigner would gain his VERY FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE VICTORY TONIGHT.
Personally, I could not be happier for Michael Restovich. He has endured, stayed positive and was rewarded tonight for his efforts.
For all of us in Section 320 this game was so similar to "The Wonderful Morning; Last Night Game" this past September 29th. The Fabulous Midnight Start Game against these same Phillies. The Intensity Level. The Excitement. The Excrutiating Twists and Turns. Few left in the stands when the game counted the most. And, most of those left, Obnoxious Phillies Fans. Section 320, shouting them down. What a pleasure to sit through and enjoy. TRULY, A Remarkable Evening For Baseball.
George Washington Won tonight's 1st Presidents Race in the customary 4th inning. Thomas Jefferson took the honors in the middle of the 13th inning.
Finally, as The African Queen and I got out of our car in Lot 8, parked in our customary spot--Lo & Behold, sitting right next to us--tailgating were THE CURLY W BOYS!!--Brandon and Ben enjoying pregame festivities, living it up. The Shocking Surprise for all us, quite enjoyable. We all talked for some time, pleased with the unexpected company. Brandon and Ben are two of the most fun Nationals Fans Sohna and I have ever met. We like them alot. Thrilled, we were, to see them, again.
As The African Queen and I returned to our car, after this thriler, The Curly W Boys had left the following notes:
Brandon: Rest-O-Vich!! Rest-O-Vich!! Nats Win!! Woot!!
Ben: (knowing Sohna was a little under the weather) Good thing the African Queen's worst night was the Nats LONGEST GAME!!
You got that right Ben. What a trooper, for hanging there! You guys really have no idea how lucky I am.
Tonight's In Game Photos--(AP) Kevin Wolfe
(Washington Times) Joseph Silverman--Snellings head first slide into home (Top Photo)