Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I was proud of Our Washington Nationals Tonight. Without thinking twice, Team President Stan Kasten agreed to a fans request for the team to Honor Virginia Tech by wearing Hokie Hats in remembrance of those lives lost in Monday's tragic shootings on the Blacksburg, Virginia Campus. Our Nats showed heart tonight. The spontaneity of the thought, making the moment all the more genuine. And, I love them even more for their kind efforts.
Heart, Washington almost used to pull out a thrilling come from behind victory. This on another CHILLING COLD NIGHT for baseball at RFK STADIUM against The Atlanta Braves. Will the weather ever turn decent again for baseball, you have to wonder. Not a creature was stirring inside the old ballpark, and definitely not THE NATS, at least until the 6th innning. When the first of three THRILLING At-Bats by Washington, all with the game on the line, would ultimately decide the outcome.
Sure Fire Hall Of Famer John Smoltz was cruising along with a comfortable 4-1 lead, thanks to another bad first inning by a Washington Nationals Starter, this time Jerome Williams. With 2 outs in the 6th inning of until that point, rather lackluster affair, Ryan Zimmerman would get the fans blood finally pumping again when he laced a single up the middle off Atlanta's John Smoltz. Dimitri Young followed with a liner to left bringing Ryan Church to the plate. Church, struggling tonight against Smoltz would top a grounder to Edgar Renteria at short, a sure inning ending out. Only to see Renteria charge in and the ball bounce off his glove into short left centerfield. Zimmerman running all the way, scored easily making it a 4-2 game. This was Renteria's second error of the night. Nats Fans really stirring now.
Up stepped Robert Fick. Fick was Washington's Starting Right Fielder Tonight. Our Manager, Manny Acta deciding to rest the struggling Austin Kearns. Ironically, Kearns has the best career stats hitting against Smoltz. But, what happened next set off a series of fabulous At-Bats over the next two innings that made this game, more than interesting. Rarely in the course of any baseball game does any batter reach 10 pitches or more during any one At-Bat. Tonight at RFK Stadium, Our Washington Nationals had three separate players perform such a feat. Each Time, the Game Tying and Go Ahead Runs were on the line. Each time the crowd of 17,391 were on their feet watching breathlessly.
With runners on 1st and 2nd and Fick representing the go ahead run, Smoltz attempted to battle back. Robert equally up to the task. Number 13 would foul off the first pitch, take ball one, swing and miss at a slider in the dirt. Then, proceed to foul off 6 straight Smoltz offerings. The Crowd watching restlessly. Usually, when a hitter goes so deep into the count, the batter wins. Fick took ball two on the 10th pitch of this At-Bat. Finally, on the 11th toss and his 98th pitch of the night-Smoltz would win this battle, getting Robert Fick to fly out to Ryan Langerhans in left to retire the side, ending the two out rally.
And, when Kelly Johnson would score Atlanta's 5th run of the evening in the top of the 7th on a Johnson single off Micah Bowie, wild pitch by Ryan Wagner, walk to Chipper Jones and single by Brian McCann--you had to figure this was not to be Our Washington Nationals night. Yet, amazingly, Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox sent John Smoltz out to start the 7th inning. Number 29 barely made it out of the 6th. On a cold night, nearing 100 pitches, the third week of the season and a comfortable lead, what was Cox thinking? Thankfully, Our Washington Nationals took advantage of the situation.
Brian Schneider sharply singled to left and Chris Snelling immediately followed with lacing liner down the right field line into the corner. Atlanta Braves right fielder Jeff Francouer had trouble getting to the ball and when he did pickup the baseball and turned to throw the ball, he dropped it. Schneider running all the way scored easily, "Yoda" running as hard as his left knee brace would allow, stumbled a little rounding second base but made it safely in to third for an RBI TRIPLE!! The Crowd Roaring Now. Not in my lifetime did I ever expect Chris Snelling to hit a triple, EVER!! Just does not seem possibly.
Now, Bobby Cox finally decided to remove John Smoltz from the game, replacing him with Oscar Villarreal. Austin Kearns, in the game due to a Double Switch in the top of the 7th, would hit a hard topper to Chipper Jones at third. The ball would spin right into Jones' glove and pop out. Error on Jones. Kearns safe at first, Snelling holding at third. Still no outs. Felipez Lopez was next and grounded sharply to the left of Renteria at short. The ball glances off Renteria's glove, again. Really, Edgar should have made the play. Instead the ball rolled into centerfield, scoring Snelling, advancing Kearns to second. Now 5-4 and EVERYONE WAS ON THEIR FEET CHEERING. Once again, The Nationals Official Scorer ruled a questionable call. Renteria was not charged with his 3rd error of the evening. All season long, The Official Scorer has made some very odd decisions at RFK Stadium.
Still no outs, Ronnie Belliard at the plate. Once again--Our Washington Nationals CAN NOT BUNT!!! Belliard nearly gets hit by his first attempt, yet fouls off the ball more by accident in protecting himself-then fouls off his second bunt attempt. Now, in the hole 0-2, he strikes out badly swinging at an off speed pitch, well off the plate. You could hear the groans from many in the stands. How difficult is it to BUNT! Players today just don't seem to care about bunting, yet the skill is very important to the game. I just don't understand it.
With Ryan Zimmerman and Dimitri Young due up next, Bobby Cox went to his bullpen to bring on FIREBALLER Rafael Soriano. Soriano can reach the high 90's. Tonight, Rafael was bringing the hard stuff. Three Times reaching 98 MPH on the radar gun--consistently hitting 97. As Zimmerman walked to the plate, the entire crowd waited, many standing--this and the At-Bat to follow would MAKE THIS NIGHT. Even My Best Friend, Screech, was into the action at this point. During the entire two dramatic plate appearances to come, Screech was in Section 320 attempting to put the WHAMMY HEX on The Braves. Not a sole at RFK Stadium was going to miss out. THIS WAS THRILLING STUFF!!
"Z" took called strike one and then ball one. Swinging away, Ryan missed the third pitch, now down 1-2 in the count. Rafael tried to throw one away to see if Zimmerman would bite, he didn't, taking ball two. Then, Number 11 would hang tough--fouling off 5 straight pitches to stay alive. The Nervous Crowd now watching anxiously. Soriano looking to close this At-Bat out, Zimmerman looking to be the game changer. Rafael would rare back and fire in a 98 MPH letter high HEATER--Ryan Swung Mightily--MISSING!! The sounds of OOOOHH!!! throughout RFK. Zimmerman mad at himself, slapping his bat into his right hand dejectedly walking back to the dugout. The Crowd shaking their heads in sadness.
Two outs now, and believe it or not--Dimitri Youngs At-Bat was EVEN BETTER and EVEN MORE DRAMATIC!! Batting Leftanded, Young would take called strike one, swing and foul off the next two offerings by Soriano. Take ball, one, foul off a third pitch, take ball two. Fans just living on each and every pitch. No matter what the outcome, this was exciting baseball. With the count now 2-2, Dimitri Young would foul off 5 STRAIGHT PITCHES. This Terrific At-Bat now reaching an even dozen tosses. With fans all around RFK standing, riveted with this GREAT BATTLE, Soriano would, once again, fire in a blazing fastball--Dimitri would connect and DRIVE THE BALL the opposite way down the left field line near the corner. A sure bases emptying double to tie this ballgame. Everyone ROARING. Only to see Ryan Langerhans positioned in left field right on the line, waiting to catch the ball for the final out of this FABULOUS INNING!!. You could hear the air rushing out of the stadium from every single Nats Fan. What is Langerhans doing playing on the left field line?
As Jeff & Colleen stated to me later, Langerhans could have been sitting on the grass, having a picnic, he was positioned so well. The Atlanta Braves, through good Major League Scouting, were positive Dimitri Young could not get his bat around on the hard throwing Soriano. Atlanta played the odds, and won. That positioning decision by The Braves was the deciding factor tonight. Our Washington Nationals might have lost the battle in this terrific 7th inning, but they showed tremendous heart, against all the odds.
It was A GREAT HALF INNING of baseball, nonetheless.
Chipper Jones would later hit a 9th inning homer off Jon Rauch, but it really didn't matter at that point. This game had been decided in the 7th, when Our Washington Nationals gave their all, but couldn't push across the go ahead runs. Every team has at least one chance to pull back into every game. We had two tonight, but could not make it happen, despite three fabulous, yet failed, At-Bats by Fick, Zimmerman and Young. Final Score, 6-4 Atlanta.
Despite the loss, The African Queen and I went home content and proud. Our Washington Nationals had shown HEART, both ON & OFF THE FIELD.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Atlanta's John Smoltz started this game tonight looking like the rightful Hall Of Famer he is destined. Washington's Starter, Jerome Williams, looked like a journeyman. A rough start by Our Washington Nationals Starter on the mound led to another early deficit. Williams just could not find the plate in the first. 35 pitches thrown, 4 singles, 1 walk and a sacrifice fly resulted in 3 Braves runs before The Nationals took their first At-Bats against Smoltz. Williams struggled so badly, you had to wonder whether Manny Acta would warm up Jason Bergmann to be the long man tonight. Due to last Sunday's rainout, the rotation had been pushed back one day. Bergmann could have been ready. As it turned out, Jerome would settle down, laboring through 5 innings. But, the damage had been done in the first. Our Washington Nationals had to play from behind yet again.
In that Top Of The First, only a Ryan Church beautiful sliding backhanded grab of a short blooper to center by Ryan Langerhans saved Jerome Williams from not lasting the first frame. With two runners on base and 3 runs already in for Atlanta, Church's fine catch easily saved another run or two.
Felipe Lopez is beginning to show a hot bat. 5 hits over the past two games, raising his average to .288. FLop needs to be the table setter at the top of the lineup. So far this early season, he's been struggling at the plate. From shortstop tonight, Felipe could not get his feet into position to make a throw across the diamond to first for an out. Instead, he rushed the throw bouncing the ball into the camera well down the right field line. His error could have been avoided, if he would only take his time.
After tonight's game, Kory Casto was sent down to AAA Columbus and Michael Restovich's Contract was selected by Washington. This is a move I actually like. As you may recall, I had a fine conversation with Michael at Spring Training. Before we met, I really did not know much about him. Since that date, I have been rooting for him.
Today was My Best Friends Birthday. Screech was hatched on April 17, 2005. Section 320 sang Happy Birthday to Screech. The now 2 Year Old stopping by a few times throughout the evening. HAPPY BIRTHDAY SCREECH!!!
Today was also Mary and MickNats 25th Wedding Anniversary. Gotta give them credit for attending a Nats Game on such an important date. Screech, in the festive mood--also wished them well!!
Jay Hilbert from The NationalsPride.com Blog and This Base For Rent stopped by to introduce himself and talk with The African Queen and I. We were very pleased with his visit. Thank you, Jay. Then, Sohna and I were honored by THE PRESENCE of Chris Needham himself. The Author of Capitol Punishment was kind enough to stop by and chat for a half inning of tonight's game. We had never met. I was very happy he made the effort. As I told Chris as he was leaving, obviously, everyone can recognize us, because of all the pictures on The Nats320 Blog. Sohna and I don't have a clue who most of the other bloggers are. Which makes it, at times, all the more interesting.
Tonight's In Game Photos--(AP) Kevin Wolfe
Manny Acta (VT Cap) Peter Lockley--Washington Times