Sunday, April 08, 2007
Houdini, The Two Out Rally & We Might Have Found A Starter
Old Friend, Livan Hernandez returned to RFK Stadium this afternoon to pitch against his former Washington Nationals teammates. Our Nats knocked him all over the park. Line Drive and Scorching Liner after another. They had his number. Yet, somehow, Livo made it into the 6th inning pitching a NO HITTER. With SLOP pitches so slow the RADAR GUN could not determine its speed, Hernandez was at his HOUDINI BEST, escaping inning after inning. Really, his effort was quite remarkable.
There is no pitcher in Major League Baseball, I can ever recall who is so unfazed by virtually any game situation he faces. Whether, he's just given up a Huge Bomb Home Run; the bases being loaded and no outs; or, in today's case, Number 61 is cruising through The Nationals Lineup, "Livan bends, but never breaks" (Chad Cordero's father, Ed, gave me that comment today, Its only fair to recognize his insight). The very hefty Livan Hernandez is "The Rubber Band Man". And, I love him so much.
Certainly, I understand the reasoning behind Our Washington Nationals trading Livan to The Arizona Diamondbacks last August. This Franchise is rebuilding itself for the future and the two pitching prospects Washington received in return, Matt Chico & Garrett Mock have a good upside (personally, I like both of them, tremendously). But, as I stated previously, Livan Hernandez was a GREAT AMBASSADOR for our City, Washington, DC. HE LOVED PLAYING & LIVING HERE. Livo was fan favorite. I know, for a fact, Hernandez would love to return.
There is no doubt, that Our Washington Nationals are not going to win ANYTHING in 2007. And, hopefully come 2008, fans will begin to see a reviving Franchise. Livan Hernandez is a Free Agent after this season. He will not be playing for Arizona next year. If we ever needed a caretaker pitcher that understands and loves The Washington Nationals, its Livan Hernandez. Cheaply, I hope he returns to DC and throws The VERY FIRST PITCH ON SOUTH CAPITOL STREET. That Bookend Moment would be cherished by, not only me, but many Washington Nationals Fans. If you don't know, Livan Hernandez threw the very first pitch in THE HISTORY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS. Not only in their first game ever at Citizens Bank Park, in Philadelphia, but ON APRIL 14th, 2005-The Night Baseball RETURNED TO WASHINGTON, DC. A great night in my life.
As for today, Livan was helped tremendously by his three outfielders. Scott Hairston in left, Chris Young in center, and the always entertaining Eric Byrnes (who makes every fly ball an adventure all its own) tracked down smash after smash off the bats of Our Washington Nationals. Even Team President Stan Kasten, visiting Section 320 in the 6th inning, noticed the same scenario. Mr. Kasten stunned by Livan's shear luck today. Mr. Kasten sitting in MickNats seat in an attempt to jinx Livan and break up the No Hitter. "I might as well try this," he said, " I've sat everywhere else today." Sure enough, it worked. Ryan Zimmerman laced a looping drive over the head of, who else, the adventurous Eric Byrnes in right. Brynes stubbling, bumbling, badly, falling--not recovering in time to catch the ball. Hit Number One on the Board for our Washington Nationals. Thank You, Eric Byrnes.
When Zimmerman smacked that first Washington Hit, The Nationals were only down 2-0. If the world was fair, the game would have been scoreless. As lucky as Livan Hernandez was today-- the unlucky Shawn Hill found himself pitching his butt off. A TERRIFIC PERFORMANCE. Number 46 raised the level of his game and, hopefully, matured into a Major League Starter. Only a rough first inning, made worse by a terrible throwing decision on the behalf of Ronnie Belliard, set up an error and a two run first inning. Our Washington Nationals having now played 49 innings, and only held the lead on the final play of Game 3, against The Florida Marlins. 49 Innings completed without being ahead on the scoreboard before a pitch is thrown. That fact is no longer remarkable. Its UNBELIEVABLE!! (Make That 63 Innings--I Guess its all getting to my head--Thanks Brian)
During that Diamondback first inning with one out, Hill hit Connor Jackson on a 1-2 pitch. Then, Orlando Hudson drove a Shawn offering to deep right center. Jackson was going to score easily. Ryan Church tracked down the ball, and threw to Ronnie Belliard in short centerfield, playing the cutoff man. I don't know whether Felipe Lopez (SS) or Robert Fick (Today's First Baseman) were communicating, but Belliard took the toss from Church, wheeled to throw home, and in mid-motion, hips fully spread out, half cocked his throw, not to home, but now to third. All Ronnie really had to do was to eat the ball, and run it back into the infield. Belliard's toss surprised Ryan Zimmerman at third. Z leaped forward to stop the errant throw, but the ball skipped under his glove and to the railing in front of the Nats 3rd base dugout. Hudson advancing to third on the error. Although, I must say, Zimmerman getting charged with the fault on the play was a bad call by the Official Scorer. Whomever the Nats Official Scorer is, he doesn't seem to understand the nuances of the game. That error was on Ronnie Belliard, all the way.
Of course, as most errors end up, they are costly. Now on third, Hudson would score easily on a single to right by Scott Hairston before Shawn Hill could stop the bloodletting by getting Miguel Montero to fly to left and end this unfortunate first inning. Hill deserved better, and to his credit, he returned strong for the remainder of this outstanding outing. Shawn Hill would pitch deep into the 7th inning. And, when he left the mound with 2 outs, replaced by Micah Bowie, Shawn received a well deserved STANDING OVATION. Going farther than any Nationals starter through the first 7 games of 2007, Hill pitched 6.2 innings, giving up 2 earned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks. I was very happy for him. Shawn Hill has been a favorite of mine for some time. And, once again, he proved today, this Canadian Native can not only pitch, but help himself by laying down a solid sacrifice bunt. Something many Nationals Pitchers have been unable to Master. Shawn Hill may well be Our ACE!!
For the first time today, I actually found myself questioning Manny's in game decisions. In the bottom of 7th, Livan Hernandez was tiring. He was ready for the taking. Ryan Church led off the inning with a sharp single to center, followed by a Belliard single to center. For the first time today, the game was on the line. Nats First Baseman Robert Fick flied out to center, bringing Rookie Rule V Draft Pick, Jesus Flores to the plate. Giving Brian Schneider a well deserved breather, the talented Flores was starting his VERY FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE GAME TODAY behind the plate. Hitless for the season, Manny decided to pinch hit for Jesus. I have no problem with that. What I have an issue with is The Choice to hit. Livan has been ducking disaster all day long. With all of Livan's looping off speed junk, you need someone with bat control. That choice was Chris Snelling. Acta chose Dimitri Young instead-looking for the three run homer. To me, Young needs to be held until the late innings, when you need him the most (and that scenario would happen today). Young can power fast pitching, he's going to get fooled, more times than not, on junk. Snelling was perfect for this scenario. Dimitri would fly out to center. And, Schneider, now pinch hitting for Micah Bowie, would weakly ground out to first, killing the rally.
When you blow a chance to get back into the game, many times your team falters during the very next half inning. Its the letdown factor. And, that also played out in the top of the 8th. With Jon Rauch now on the mound for Washington, Scott Hairston hammered an offering to deep left centerfield. Ryan Church ran all the way, hard, drifting to his left, expecting to hit the wall on the fly. Instead, he appeared to either lose the ball in the late afternoon sun or just flat out misjudge the ball's drift. Church got a glove on the ball, but it glanced off, deflected to the ground. Hairston now standing on third base with a triple. And, would score Arizona's third and final run on a cheap grounder to third by Chris Young. Zimmerman attempted to backhand the roller, running in on the ball and crossing over into foul territory, but the ball hit the heal of his glove and bounced away. It was very unlikely, Ryan had any chance to throw out the swift moving Young. 3-1 Arizona heading to the bottom of the 8th.
Never have I attended a Nationals game with such little fan participation as today. Throughout most of today's game, the fans were simply not into the game at all. In fact, with two outs in the bottom of the 8th, you could actually hear Charlies Slowes Radio Broadcast being aired from the speakers on the Main Concourse. It was THAT QUIET!! And, when some fan's cell phone rang sitting near the Nats Dugout, you could clearly hear another fan yell from behind Home Plate, "Would you please Answer That!! GEEEZ!!" It was very hilarious. And, saddening at the same time.
But, it was right after that funny moment, Section 320 finally got the crowd of 17,224 to make some noise. With two outs, Section 320 started up the "Two Out Rally" Chant, and it worked. With Brandon Lyon now in the game replacing Livan Hernandez, Zimmerman would lace a deep drive to right center off the wall for a stand up double. Kearns followed with a liner to center scoring Zimmerman for today's first Nats Run. The Crowd now on its feet, cheering. Section 320 continuing the "TWO OUT RALLY!!" Chant. Ryan Church would walk. And shades of Jorge Julio, were dancing in Nationals Fans heads. Ronnie Belliard was up next and smacked a hopper right up the middle. Diamondbacks second baseman, Orlando Hudson, would field the ball cleanly, then, somehow miss the underhand easy toss to second to retire Church. Everyone SAFE!! And, amazingly, The Official Scorer granted Belliard A HIT!! What could that Offical Scorer be thinking?
What was left of today's crowd now on its feet, screaming. Fick was next, and this is where Manny's decision in the 7th to use Dimitri Young came back to haunt him. Young was perfectly set for this role today, but Fick had to bat. Acta had no other first baseman to replace Fick at first. There are not enough multi-position players on this team. So, Robert hit and meekly flied out to left, killing the rally. This was Our Washington Nationals chance to win. They failed. What was left of the thinning crowd got up to head home for Easter Dinner.
Although Brian Schneider would draw a one out walk in the bottom of the ninth. Jose Valverde would close this 4th straight loss for Washington and sweep by The Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1. The Nationals 1-6 after the first week of this young season. Livan Hernandez successfully returned to Washington, defeating his former team. Hopefully, The Nationals found a healthy solid young starting pitcher.
Now, we can only hope for some cold bats to heat up and drive in some runs on this upcoming road trip.
Today's Game Photos: AP-Lawrence Jackson
Game Notes & Highlights:
For Ryan Zimmerman, I feel badly. He has NO ONE to protect him in the batting lineup. Zimmerman is pressing, trying to make a difference. Last season, Felipe Lopez batted second, with Nick Johnson sandwiched behind "Z". Now, the number 2 spot in the batting order is totally in flux. Cristian Guzman started there, now Kory Casto--none of whom have been very successful. Austin Kearns took the cleanup spot for all but one game, when Dimitri Young was penciled in there. Neither has the ON BASE PERCENTAGE OR RESPECT at the plate that Nick Johnson enjoys. That's a HUGE DIFFERENCE. THAT HURTS RYAN ZIMMERMAN.
Fundamentally, Our Washington Nationals have been unsound. Physical and Mental Mistake after another throughout this fist week of The 2007 Season. Our Manager, Manny Acta, stressed during Spring Training that Washington would not be giving away outs, as has been their history during their first two seasons in DC. Defensively, Washington has been mediocre at best. Kearns and Zimmerman I can give a pass (and Ryan Church is TOTALLY OUT OF POSITION), as they are trying to do too much. But, we are finding out very quickly, that Ronnie Belliard, Josh Wilson are now journeyman ballplayers. DImitri Young can still hit. For a few games per week, they can raise the level of their game, and be very productive. For the remainder, their deficiencies are exposed and they can hurt you.
Chad Cordero was called upon for Mop Up Duty in the 9th. An opportunity for "The Chief" to get some much needed work in. Number 32 was able to get out of the inning, unscored upon, but he struggled, having little command of his pitches. Cordero walked two and only threw 11 strikes over 26 pitches. I know he had a slight cold, hopefully our closer will come back strong. One of these days, we are going to need him to save some games.
I will post up more on this topic later, but the In-Game Entertainment Music by The Nationals at certain points of the game, is less than enjoyable. Nothing stood out more so than during the 8th inning of the XM Satellite DJ Dance segment where Screech is on top of the 3rd base Nats Dugout while the Stadium Announcer states the three songs that Screech will Dance For to get the crowd going. The Crowd SUPPOSEDLY CHEERS FOR THEIR WINNING CHOICE. For most of this game today, not many fans showed much interest in the game at all. Some in the modest crowd sat on the hands, doing little. When the Dance Segment started, The Stadium Announcer first mentioned "Shout" for the first Dance Choice. IMMEDIATELY! The Crowd Woke UP and hollered to this song. The same for "The Twist". NO ONE and I Mean NO ONE cheered or danced for the third choice--Tom Jones' "Its Not Unusual" Yet, IMMEDIATELY, The Stadium Announcer names this Tom Jones Tune as The Winner. "Its Not Unusual" begins to play all over the stadium. EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE SAT DOWN!! No one was interested in this song to dance to music. All week long at RFK Stadium, a similar outcome during each XM Satelitte DJ Dance. Who is deciding this, and ARE THEY LOOKING AT THE RESULTS!! Is not the sole reason for this segment to get fans up and involved. Sometimes you have to trust your fans instincts.