Monday, April 16, 2007
A Perfect Night For Baseball
44 Degrees, 25 Miles Per Hour Winds, Gusting up to 50 MPH, and a constant swirling drizzle. What more could you ask for. This Was A PERFECT NIGHT FOR NATIONALS BASEBALL. Really, you had to be a complete DIE HARD to attend tonight's game between Our Washington Nationals and The Atlanta Braves. Maybe 1000 Folks showed tonight, and by the end of this most excellent affair, only a few hundred remained. On The Night Washington Honored Jackie Robinson, those that stayed witnessed The Most Complete Game by Our Washington Nationals in 2007--A 5-1 Victory over Atlanta.
This was a night, not ONE TIME, was the Braves' Tomahawk Cheer heard throughout the park. Not hearing that obnoxious chant, A VICTORY ALL ITS OWN. This was a night, Andruw Jones DID NOT make This Game Official. Andruw, 0-3 with a walk. This was a night Washington's Dimtri Young, not only Honored Jackie Robinson by wearing his famous Number 42, but acted like Jackie on the field. An instigator throughout the evening, Dimitri had three hits, including two doubles and The Two Decisive Runs Batted In of the game. Also, this was a night Matt Chico struggled so badly in the first inning, not a sole attending figured Matt would step to the mound for the 2nd inning. Yet, he survived, pitching into the 6th and taking home his Very First Major League Victory. Finally, this a night for The Nationals Bullpen. Saul Rivera, just called up from AAA Columbus, inherited 2 runners from Chico and no outs in the 6th--and put out the fire. Rivera to Jon Rauch to Chad Cordero, shutting down the potent Braves Bats.
Shortly after 2pm this afternoon, The African Queen asked me whether The Nationals would play tonight. Responding positively, "Why not." I stated. "If they can play with an impending Snowstorm and 32 Degree Weather (like during the first week of the season), whats a little rain and wind." We laughed. To the degree Our Washington Nationals have battled weather through the early portion of the Spring Schedule, you have to figure by the end of this year, fans will get the opportunity to also watch a game with an impending Hurricane in sight. That's about all that's left to run the full gamut. No doubt, Scorching Hot 100 Degree Baseball Games this summer are a given. The African Queen honored Jackie Robinson by wearing the "Robinson 42" Commemorative Button handed out to ALL MLB STADIUM EMPLOYEES throughout baseball for these special games--Many Thanks to Gloria, our favorite CSC Security Supervisor, for being kind enough to find The Button for Sohna.
And, as you would expect, a given that Sohna and I would attend this game, along with a near complete contingent of regulars in Section 320. No one can ever fault our group for dedication. MickNats, "The Noise Boys", Richard, FlyGirl Karen and her Mom, Sherrie--9 Hardcores, all posting up tonight. The Chants, Cheers and Noise radiating along the third base side of RFK. This on a night EVERYONE could be heard in the ballpark. Screech stopping by at Game Start STUNNED to see all of us sitting in our regular seats. No one else was. Festival Style Seating was in effect throughout RFK Stadium for this one.
Tonight's ridiculous weather affected Matt Chico from the very start. Throughout his 37 pitch first inning, Matt was constantly walking around the mound, moving his pitching fingers around, in an attempt to loosen up his grip. Number 47 had virtually no command, and less control. Obviously, he could not feel the ball in his hand. Only a well turned Felipe Lopez to Ronnie Belliard to Young Double Play hit by Edgar Renteria averted Chico's first problem--a lead off single by Chris Woodward. But with two outs, Matt proceeded to walk, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Jeff Francouer--Not coming close to getting anything over the plate. Fortunately, Atlanta's Brian McCann was over anxious, looking for The Grand Slam--and hit Chico's high 37th pitch of the inning to Ryan Church in centerfield to thankfully retire the side.
Unexpectedly, Chico would come back strong, and until he tired in the 6th--he only gave up three more hits, throwing 97 total pitches, 51 for strikes and WALKING FIVE. Much like "The Chief", Chad Cordero, Matt gets himself in trouble, but seems to have the guile to work his way out of any situation. For a 23 year old, never having pitched above AA Ball, he is impressive. Matt Chico does not back down to any hitter. I like that.
And certainly tonight's ridiculous weather affected every ball hit throughout this evening. At one point, in the 3rd inning, the flag pennants circling the top of RFK Stadium were whipping in the High Winds so hard they looked STIFF AS A BOARD!! Any pitch hit high into the air carried tonight, none more so than a Brian McCann routine fly to right, that Austin Kearns slowly drifted back to his right, drifted some more, and then proceeded to run harder, finally catching the ball on the warning track for the out. Kearns, laughing as he threw the ball back into the infield, had travelled a good 20 yards to track down that errant hit.
Dimitri Young would use that wind to his advantage in the bottom of the 3rd. With 2 outs, FLop would single to left, followed by a bloop single to center by Ronnie Belliard off Atlanta Starter, Chuck James. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a lacing grounder to right field scoring Lopez, putting Washington up 1-0. Section 320 starting up the "WE GOT A LEAD! WE GOT A LEAD!!" Chant. Except for the final play of Game Three against The Florida Marlins, Our Washington Nationals had never led during any of their 8 Homes Games thus far in 2007.
Then Number 42 for tonight, Dimitri Young would step to the plate, fouled off the first James Pitch and JUST HAMMERED the second offering. Getting carry from the wind and speed from his swing, even The GREAT OUTFIELDER, Andruw Jones could not get to this shot. The Ball landing near the base of the wall in left centerfield. Belliard and Zimmerman Scored Easily. Young stopping at second with a stand up double. Dimitri Fist Pumping in great joy, saluting himself, and then to his Nats Teammates in the Dugout. Washington up 3-0, the few fans in the stands jumping for joy. This Crowd may well have been small, but was extremely vocal.
With Chico settling down, this game was cruising along. When the top of the sixth rolled around, it was barely 8:20PM. This game was moving fast. Yet, when Matt walked both Francouer and McCann with no outs--he was done. Our Manager, Manny Acta slowing walked out to the mound to call for Rivera. What was interesting to witness, was the entire infield walking in to the mound to congratulate Chico on his performance tonight. Matt savored the well wishes, but then, unlike most other pitchers that leave the mound immediately, he waited for Saul Rivera to trot to the mound. Both said something to each other. Manny then commented. Finally, Chico and Acta turned and slowly walked back to the Nats 3rd Base Dugout, to a well deserved standing ovation from the hardcore faithful. Then, THE ENTIRE NATS DUGOUT MET Chico at the steps to offer their thanks, as well. As happy as I was for Matt, I was pleased by his desire to remain on the mound for Rivera. It was a classy act. A sign of respect from a young pitcher acting well beyond his years of experience. A Nice Touch to the evening.
And Rivera didn't let Chico down. Saul Rivera was Fabulous Tonight. With the score still 3-0, and those two runners on base with no outs, Number 52 would get Matt Diaz to fly to Kearns in right, Francouer moving to third. Get Pinch Hitter Scott Thorman to ground to Belliard at second, although Francouer would score Atlanta's only run of the night. But, Rivera would effectively shutdown the mini-rally by getting Kelly Johnson to fly to deep left on a wind aided ball caught by Chris Snelling drifting all the way back to the warning track. Saul Rivera would walk off the mound to another Standing Ovation. Then, return for the 7th and mow down The Braves. Woodward Strike out swinging; Renteria on a grounder and Chipper Jones called third strike. Like late last season, Saul Rivera was lights out tonight. The more this man pitches, the more impressive he becomes. His versatility is nice. Rivera can go long or short out of the pen, be a set up man or back up closer. You just can't ask for much more from a reliever. Hopefully, Saul stays on the 25 man roster.
Later in the 8th, Zimmerman would get his 2nd hit of the night (hopefully he's coming out of his slump) with a liner to center. Young would hammer another double (batting lefthanded this time) to right center off Tyler Yates. 2nd and 3rd, no outs. Austin Kearns would "K" on a check swing and Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox wanted no more of Yates. With an all lefty batting order due up for Washington, on came fireballing lefthander, Mike Gonzales. This man can throw smoke. But, tonight the former Pittsburgh Closer HAD LITTLE AMMUNITION and less control. Ryan Church would walk to load the bases. Brian Schneider would also walk, to force in Zimmerman for the 4th run of the game. Then, an absolute GIFT RUN, courtesy of 2nd Base Umpire Sam Holbrook.
Chris Snelling stepped to the plate with still one out, bases still loaded. "Yoda" would knock a grounder right up the middle to the 2nd base side of the bag. Atlanta Second Baseman Woodward would field the ball as he was crossing over the base. Clearly, Woodward had one foot on the bag with ball in his glove as he ran across 2nd, pivoted and threw to first for an apparent inning ending Double Play. To just about EVERYONE's Amazement, Holbrook called Schneider SAFE AT SECOND!! claiming Woodward DID NOT HAVE CONTROL OF THE BALL as he crossed over 2nd base. Even Schneider thought he was out, as Number 23 was about to run off the field. Bob Cox argued to no avail. Not a single Washington Fan was going to be unhappy over that bad call.
The now 5-1 lead would hold up. Our Washington Nationals now having won 3 out of 4 and looking more and more like a competitive team. The Braves were shut down tonight. I don't care how bad the weather was, this COMPLETE VICTORY made for an enjoyable night at RFK STADIUM. More Wind and Rain expected for tomorrow. Same Two Teams. Same Start Time. Same Stadium.
Game Notes & Highlights:
The Official Attendance: 16, 316 (Yeah, Right).
Over their last seven games, Nats Starters have pitched to a 2.27 ERA. That doesn't suck.
No matter how bad the weather was, for Matt Chico, his First Major League Win will be warmly remembered.
In the top of the 4th, Matt Diaz would hit a hard grounder into the hole between 2nd and 3rd, to the left of Zimmerman, right of FLop. Lopez would backhard the ball on the lip of the outfield and FLAT OUT FIRE THE BALL across the infield to retire Diaz at first. FLop may make some mind numbing errors at times, but he's got a CANNON for an arm. If he ever played the outfield, few would run on him.
Chad Cordero finished off tonight's win. He only faced 4 batters and threw just 16 pitches. But, one pitch was flat out WHALLOPED by Scott Thorman. The Lefty Swinging Thorman, who struck out with the bases loaded last thusday night against "The Chief" to end the game, got ahold of a Cordero outside fastball--CLEARLY YOU COULD HEAR THE "CRACK" OF THE BAT HITTING BALL--and this ball just soared to left center. A liner off the bat that continued to rise until it hit the yellow line on top of the wall in left center, missing a home run by mere inches. Chad got lucky, but WOW!! what a SMASH! RallyTimeRichard and I just could not stop talking about it.
Section 320 started up a new cheer tonight for our favorite Australian. Whenever Chris Snelling stepped to the plate, we all cheered "AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE"-"OY!!, OY!!,OY!!"--to a nice appreciation from the faithful.
Thomas Jefferson Won The Presidents Race tonight in an ACTUAL FOOTRACE to the bitter end. Teddy as usual stopped to talk to fans, but Abe, GW and TJ WENT FOR IT!! Jefferson JUST NUDGING OUT GW AND ABE--REALLY BY HIS NOSE!! It was good.
"Bustin'Loose" was played in its entirety in the 5th. Quite a few got up to dance, or just attempt to stay warm. Unfortunately, "Sweet Caroline" reappeared in the 7th for the first time this season. Of course Section 320 happily sang "I HATE THIS SONG" as the lyrics to "Sweet Caroline". "Always HAVE AND ALWAY WILL!!' One of our favorites.
MickNats honored Jackie Robinson Tonight by wearing a Replica Jackie Robinson Montreal Royals Minor League Jersey and Cap.
And, of course, Neal came by to join in on the pleasantries.
Tonight's Game Photo's--(AP)-Nick Wass