Thursday, May 17, 2007
"Aura" In The Afternoon
When baseball games go late into the night, like this past Saturday against The Florida Marlins, many fans leave--and as the crowd dwindles an "Aura" tends to glow around the game. Fans becoming a part of the game, feeling a sense of belonging. The same sensation I get, each and every time I attend a Weekday Afternoon Matinee at RFK Stadium with Our Washington Nationals. Sure, there are quite a few thousand more folks watching, but there is this sense of "GETTING AWAY WITH SOMETHING". You know full well the rest of the DC Area is working, going through the daily grind. Although I had scheduled today off (No Way I Miss A Home Game), these Getaway Games are usually remarkable, entertaining affairs. No Team wants to go out or continue their road trip on a loss. A bad taste in your mouth. Traveling gives EVERYONE the time to re-think, sometimes, over analyze, the just completed game. Both Our Washington Nationals and The Atlanta Braves shared that same sentiment this afternoon. No one wants to end a series on a loss. So, in as entertaining of a good baseball game as you can expect to see, The "AURA" showed brightly this afternoon in an ABSOLUTE THRILLER. A Good Crowd of 24,631 was into it from the beginning. And, they were treated to a most excellent 4-3 come from behind win by Our Washington Nationals over The Atlanta Braves.
Today's game was well pitched, well played, and Our Washington Nationals continued to impress, and more importantly--improve, showing some swagger. Matt Chico continued to convince his doubters--HE BELONGS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES. Felipe Lopez AWOKE from a distant slumber with his FINEST GAME OF THIS SEASON. Some Keys Hits with the game on the line. Some Terrific defense, especially by Ronnie Belliard (with one of the finest up the middle plays of this season). Our Bullpen continues its development into ONE OF THE BEST IN THE GAME (even with so many players on the Disabled List). And, what more can I say--Our Manager Manny Acta is pulling the right strings. For the second game in a row, Manny was shrewed, understanding his given talent-and making it work into today's winner.
Years from now, Manny Acta will be remembered as an EXCELLENT MANAGER. We all know he has CHARISMA. Everyone finding out right now--Number 14 can also MANAGE. Can you imagine how well he will do WITH TALENT? What more can you possibly want from your Field Manager? Never down, never publicly angry at his players, always positive. I just love the guy. And, nothing Manny Acta has done so far has detracted me from my fondness of this fine young man.
This afternoon he sent Matt Chico to the mound. Our work in progress Starting Pitching, who each and every time, stumbles but somehow survives. Number 47 is going to be good Major League Pitcher. Nothing seems to bother him. He can laugh off REALLY wild pitches. Those that land over the first base dugout. Chico's learning to pound the strike zone, mix things up--keep hitters off balance. Yeah, he gets beat every once in a while. Remember he is only 23 years old. Ask Tommy Glavine (sure fire Hall of Famer for The New York Mets and longtime Atlanta Brave, how he did at the same age). Sometimes Chico beats himself with control problems, but today--only a bad pitch to a DANGEROUS HITTER in Chipper Jones cost him badly. Jones SLAMMING a Matt Pitch directly over the 410 Foot Sign in Deep Centerfield for a two run homer in the top of the 4th for an Atlanta 2-0 lead.
Chico though would settle down--give up one additional run in typical fashion in the 5th. A Scott Thorman single to center, followed by today's Braves' Starter Chuck James sacrifice bunt and a Matt Diaz RBI grounder to center for Atlanta's third and final run of this game. That's small ball folks, nothing to be ashamed of. And, when Our Manager took Chico out of the game down just 3-2, after six complete innings, Matt had pitched his finest game as a Major Leaguer. Throwing 59 of his 89 pitches for strikes. He gave up just 5 hits and two walks--allowing Our Washington Nationals to fight back into this game--one half inning later. Washington starting RALLYTIME Early. Even RallyTimeRichard impressed--we all didn't have to beg for it in Section 320, during the 8th and 9th innings.
Earlier in this matinee, Our Nats had scored two runs. The first score in the 4th, when Ryan Zimmerman continued to rebound from his slow start by singling through the hole to leftfield. Followed by one of the strangest doubles you will see. My Main Man!! Ryan Church launched a HIGH FLY down the right field line. Atlanta's Jeff Francouer was playing Church to hit away, to the opposite field. With the ball having serious HANG TIME, for some reason--Francouer thought it was landing in foul territory--possibly in the stands down the right field line. He gave up on the ball. A baseball that landed RIGHT ON THE WHITE CHALK! Bouncing over the wall for a ground rule double. 2nd and 3rd, no outs. Austin Kearns would strike out for out number 1--but Tony Batista (YEAH--That TONY BATISTA), he of the outrageous open batting stance, today's starting first basemen--reached out to stroke a James pitch and line it cleanly into leftfield for Our First Run of This Game. Of course, with just one out, Our Washington Nationals reverted to the old accustomed style by stranding both remaining runners.
But, in the bottom of the 5th, Washington would load up the bases with one out on a FLop DRIVE to left center for a double. Ronnie Belliard walk, Ryan Zimmerman high chopper ground out to move the runners up--followed by a Ryan Church walk. Austin Kearns was next--and HAMMERED A LINER down the left field line--But Foul. EVERYONE was standing--hoping for the Grand Slam. After slamming the baseball 310 feet foul, Kearns battled back-- KNOCKING A 15 FOOT BOUNCER down the 3rd base line. James quickly scooted in to pick up the ball, as FLop was scurrying past--CLEARLY OUT--James tagged Felipe, yet Chuck James DROPPED THE BALL! Everyone safe. Our Washington Nationals making this one a 3-2 game. Luck had shifted. The Faithful on their feet Roaring. This baseball game was shaping up to be a good one. And, of course--with the bases still loaded--We didn't score the go ahead runs--again.
Yet, that turned out OK--because the DECISIVE 6th inning comeback MADE THIS--ONE FABULOUS GAME. Speed wins, especially on the basepaths. Manny Acta knows this and would make his finest IN GAME move of the season. The ever emerging Jesus Flores (Honestly, I don't think I could be prouder of this young man--He IS one heck of a player) BLASTED a Chuck James pitch off the wall in left centerfield leading off the bottom of the sixth inning. Give Flores credit, despite the fact that EVERYONE thought his drive would clear the wall for his FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HOME RUN--Jesus ran hard from the start, seeing the ball carom off the wall--Number 3 trotted into second with a stand up double--to GREAT CHEERS from the faithful. Followed immediately by Nook Logan sacrificing Flores to third.
With one out, Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox decided James was done--and called for the hard throwing Chad Paronto. Paronto may have helped The Braves last night, if Cox had called on him before the game got out of hand. But today, Bobby signaled for Chad who promptly allowed this game to get out of hand, in electrifying style. With the righthanded Paronto on the mound and Matt Chico the scheduled hitter, Manny set the switch hitting Dimitri Young to the plate to pinch hit. Young, nearly imobile due to an achilles strain, can still swing the bat. Which he did, lining an opposite field grounder to left scoring Flores with the game tying run. EVERYONE on their feet, cheering. RFK STADIUM was beginning to ROCK. The very next hitter--Felipe Lopez would make the old ballyard shake.
FLop has struggled lately. Not hitting, not getting on base, not being a decent leadoff hitter. The All Star Lopez of just two years past has faded. And, his play in the field, as I mentioned recently, less than stellar. Our Manager Manny Acta sat him down yesterday. And, FLop got the message. Having singled and doubled in his first three At-Bats this afternoon, Felipe UNLOADED on a Paronto FASTBALL DRIVING THE BALL TO DEEP LEFT CENTERFIELD. The hardest hit ball Felipe Lopez has EVER HIT at RFK Stadium. Even the Great Atlanta Centerfielder Andruw Jones was stunned by the stoked ball. No way Jones tracks this one down. Manny Acta had inserted Cristian Guzman into the game as a Pinch Runner for Young, just before this hit. There is NO ONE that runs from 1st to 3rd as well as Cristian Guzman on Our Washington Nationals. Not even Nook Logan. Number 15 was MOTORING (as RallyTimeRichard noted), swiftly moving around the bases, scoring easily with the 4th and final run of this game. FLop HEADFIRST DIVE into third with a clutch RBI Triple.
The BOISTEROUS Crowd PUMPING UP THE VOLUME to it HIGHEST POINT TODAY. Our Washington Nationals had fought back to take the lead--with some serious clutch hitting, and some even better managerial decisions. 4-3 Washington now and Manny Acta went to his bullpen to close this one out. First Billy Traber with a 1-2-3 7th.
Then, Our Manager called for The PITCHING SURPRISE of 2007. Jesus Colome trotted out for the 8th and may well have shown--FINALLY-Number 43 is A LEGITIMATE MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER. Always touted, but never developed--Jesus Colome's right arm had scouts drooling for years. First ,The Oakland Athletics groomed him to be their closer, but gave up on him, trading the volatile pitcher to Tampa Bay. In Tampa, Colome was well know for throwing a pitch as hard a physically possible, then turning around looking at the radar gun. All he cared about was speed. Never did he learn how to pitch.
At least, until Our Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire got ahold of him this past spring. St.Clare taught Jesus that you can throw that 95 MPH Fastball, but you need an affective off speed pitch, 10-12 MPH slower--a change up-that makes hitters believe you are throwing smoke. The Lightbulb must have gone off in his head, as Jesus Colome has resurrected his floundering career. Jesus Colome HAS FINALLY MET ALL THOSE EXPECTATIONS of years past. In the top of the 8th, Number 43 got Diaz to ground out, Renteria to pop out, then flat out retired Chipper Jones on one of the nastiess off speed pitches he will ever throw. Jones had never seen it. No one else apparently, also. Chipper struck out looking at one of the most wicked 88MPH falling off the table pitches you will ever see--right through the strike zone. I have no idea what Colome threw--but was it ever a terrific pitch. Jones walking away fooled. Jesus walking off the mound no longer the fool, but a respected pitcher. The Nats Faithful realizing--this man may well be for real.
And, when Big Jon Rauch closed this one out in order in the 9th--BANG! ZOOM!! went the Fireworks!! Our Washington Nationals had won their second straight series, 15th game and 6 out of 7 on this Ten Game Homestand. No longer are WE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF BASEBALL. What a turnaround. Good Pitching, Timely Hitting, Excellent Defense and Wise Managing. If building a team is what the 2007 Baseball Season is all about-Our Washington Nationals are beginning to glow. That "AURA" shining brightly this afternoon at RFK STADIUM. A Wonderful Weekday for baseball in The Nation's Capital. Just a terrific fun game to watch.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Previously, I have stated the fact that you can quibble about Ronnie Belliard, but you can't deny his effort fielding grounders. Despite his rather portly body, he moves well from side the side and gets his body in front of nearly every single ball hit his way. Today, Chris Woodward lined a hard smash up the middle off Matt Chico's glove in the bottom of the 4th. Belliard, today's starting shortstop, ranged all the way ACROSS second base to glove the hard moving baseball, then proceeded to pivot off his wrong foot, his left foot--firing the ball IN THE AIR to Tony Batista at first to retire Woodward and The Braves in the 4th. It was CLEARLY--The Defensive Play of This Game. A fabulous play--by ANYONE, ANY GAME. Yet, this was only Belliard's 2nd game ever at Shortstop in The Major Leagues. The other time, nearly 7 years ago. What an impressive play he made. Iris & I couldn't stop talking about it.
Tony Batista got the start at first base today. With Lefthander Chuck James starting for Atlanta, Robert Fick was not going to start at first. Neither was Dimitri Young--he's still not 100%. So Manny, desperate, gave the job to Batista. Tony did provide a key RBI Single, yet twice was unable to track down foul balls--catchable foul balls, due to the fact--he has NO MOBILITY. Fortunately, that did not cost Our Washington Nationals today. But, no doubt--The Baseball Gods will find him, sooner than later. He will be costly playing first--in the long run. Nick Johnson--PLEASE GET BETTER. First Base is our biggest sore point right now, in the field.
Felipe Lopez was a marvel at the plate today. Its amazing what one day off can do for a player. Yeah, I am sure FLop will say he needed to collect his mind. Make no mistake about it, his sitting last night by Manny Acta WAS A MESSAGE. Time to play ball. During his last At-Bat this afternoon, FLop had the opportunity to hit for the cycle. He just needed a Home Run. Unfortunately, Atlanta walked him.
The Atlanta Braves Starting Catcher today was Jarrod Saltalamacchia. WHAT A LAST NAME. We couldn't help but marvel at his name on the back of his Atlanta Jersey. 14 Letters go a long way on the arc above the number on the jersey back. I am sure there have been even longer names, but Saltalamacchia is a Pretty TERRIFIC NAME. In Section 320, we couldn't stop talking about it.
Finally, today was the final appearance in Section 320 for Original Member--FlyGirl Karen. "Ms. Chipper Jones" as she is so fondly known (Karen is a HUGE BRAVES FANS) is leaving the FlyBoys from Andrews to Fly Again in Savannah, Georgia. We figure the closer to Chipper, the better for her. All of us in Section 320 shall miss Karen. Always fun, always a joy at every single game she attended at RFK Stadium over the past two plus seasons of Naionals Baseball. Really, Karen is a GREAT LADY. Section 320 will never be quite the same without her. We really mean it.
Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Pablo Martinez Monsivais