Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Church On Wednesday
A Good Leader is someone that allows those under him to succeed. Prosper under the right conditions, never expecting too much. Not looking for the miracle. But, definitely, going to Church. As April has turned to May, Our Manager Manny Acta better understands his players. Their roles better defined. And, Our Washington Nationals are becoming a better team. Tonight was a perfect example.
With Shawn Hill on the Disabled List with a Dislocated Left Shoulder and Sore Right Elbow, Manny had little to choose from to start tonight's game against The Atlanta Braves. When you lose three starters in ten days (Hill, John Patterson and Jerome Williams) from a pitching staff already depleted, you have to be creative. So, Our Manager went with a Bullpen By Committee approach. Levale Speigner was given the start and told to hang in there as long as you can. Boy, did he ever hang in there. Speigner was on the ropes during each of his four innings. Then, Manny handed the ball over to six successive relievers in an attempt to get back into the game after an early deficit. Each given a specific role, every one's assignment defined.
Meanwhile, his batters sat back, patient at times, looking for mistakes. You don't need to pummel each and every team with 15 hits to win a game. Ask The Braves after tonight's affair. Atlanta gathered 10 hits. Our Washington Nationals just 5. Key hits win games. Some luck at times. Composure also. When a hitter steps to the plate, he needs a game plan. You can't just swing at everything. Being down 2-0 early and 4-1 beginning the bottom of the 4th this evening, The Nats used their new found confidence to pull back into this game.
And, if you take the struggling Robert Fick out of the equation at first base, Washington's Defensive setup right now is above average. Ronnie Belliard got the start tonight at Second Base for the slumping Felipe Lopez. Belliard moves to ground balls really well for a man his size, can gobble up balls and pivot the double play as well as any second sacker in the game. He is impressive turning over relay throws. All three outfielders, My Main Man!! Ryan Church, Ryan Langerhans and Austin Kearns are Plus Outfielders. Ryan Zimmerman has all the talent in the world. Cristian Guzman continues to impress. Even Brian Schneider is coming around--throwing out base runners again, calling a good game--especially with a constantly revolving Pitching Staff.
Manny Acta took all these players tonight and cobbled together a win. An unlikely victory in comeback style, because he pressed all the right buttons. And, chose wisely when to insert the substitutions. His batters staying ahead, being aggressive in the strike zone--with the game on the line. And, while Levale wavered through 4 innings, he never broke. Speigner was down--right off the bat. A single to Edgar Renteria (who continues to slam the ball), double down the line in right by Chipper Jones to score Renteria and a Single to by Andrew Jones made the score 2-0 Braves, just 12 pitches into this ballgame.
Yet Number 36 continued to pound the strike zone for Washington and got Brian McCann to hit into an inning ending Guzman to Belliard (Gorgeous Pivot) to Fick Double Play. It was obvious, Manny told Speigner to let Atlanta hit the ball, allow your defense to assist you. Don't try to be fancy. Which Levale did. Yeah, he got in trouble again in the 4th, giving up a double down the right field line by Jeff Francouer, singles to Scott Thorman and Willie Harris to drive in two more runs. But, he didn't give up and left only down 4-2. Thanks to some fine defense behind him, and some key hits by Ryan Zimmerman, early.
Zimmerman had his most consistent game of the year. Looking like the "Zimmy" we all remember from 2006. Ryan stroked an opposite field double down the right field line in the bottom of the first off Atlanta's Kyle Davies, scoring Belliard who had singled before him. Then, in the bottom of the 4th, Ryan FLATOUT HAMMERED to right center (His Power Alley) a TITANIC opposite field shot that hit off the Budweiser Banner just under the Upper Deck to make the score 4-2 Atlanta. The Home Faithful roaring their approval. Everyone realizing "THAT's The Ryan Zimmerman we remember." In each At-Bat, Zimmerman was specifically looking for a certain pitch. Each time, Davies threw exactly what Ryan wanted to see. That's composure. That's trusting your instincts.
From there, Manny played Chess--calling on his relievers to keep the game close. Newly recalled Billy Traber for one inning. Ray King and Winston Abreu for another. Each pitcher given "X" number of hitters. Batters Our Manager felt they could handle, individually. And, when Our Washington Nationals fought back in the bottom of the 5th at the plate--Manny Acta looked like a genius.
With one out, Langerhans singled to right, followed by Pinch Hitter Jesus Flores. MickNats and I discussed how this was an interesting decision by Manny. Its still early in this game, yet Our Best Backup Catcher was being used right now, possibly wasted. Manny feeling this young man had a better chance against a lesser experienced Starter in Davies than facing Atlanta's more experienced Bullpen. It worked, Flores walked to put runners on 1st and 2nd. And, when a little luck put Guzman on first due to a error by Kelly Johnson loaded the bases on a routine grounder, the stage was now set for Our Washington Nationals to turn this game around.
Which they promptly did. Thanks to HUSTLE. Belliard grounded into the hole between 3rd and short. Renteria retrieved the ball for The Braves, throwing to second for the force on Guzman, But, Kelly Johnson's pivot throw was too slow to retire the hard charging Ronnie Belliard. Number 10 didn't dawdle down the first base line, beating the throw, scoring Langerhans. The Braves still up 4-3, but the momentum had changed. And, when Ryan Zimmerman walked to load the bases, it was "CHURCH ON WEDNESDAY" time in Section 320. One of Our Favorite Cheers.
There is nothing like hearing "CHURCH ON WEDNESDAY" echoing throughout the lower third base side of RFK Stadium. Just the other day, another Nats Fan came up to Sohna and I telling us that the last time she attended a Nats Home Game, on a Wednesday, she and her husband sang "CHURCH ON WEDNESDAY!!" for the next two days. They couldn't get it out of their minds (Of course, we had them going again this past Sunday, when instead of the customary "CHURCH ON SUNDAY"--Section 320 bellowed out "CHURCH ON MOTHER's DAY!!"). Those folks must REALLY LOVE US?
And, so far this young season, Our Manager must really love Ryan Church. In 2007, a hitless night doesn't bench My Main Man!!. One mistake doesn't send him to the Minor Leagues. Just go out there and play says Manny. And, Ryan Church has. Number 19 has been our BEST PERFORMER.
Everyone knew, the Braves' Davies, was ripe for the taking. Everyone except Bobby Cox. The bases were now loaded. There were two outs. Kyle had good stuff, but not great stuff, and had already given up 4 hits and 2 walks, along with those three runs. Atlanta's bullpen is actually very decent. Chad Paronto was warming up. He was ready, yet for some reason Braves' Manager Bobby Cox left Davies in the game. There is NO WAY you leave a tired RIGHTHANDED Pitcher in a game with a POWERHITTING Lefthander coming to the plate. A GAME CHANGING HITTER, in a GAME CHANGING MOMENT. Yet, that's what Cox did. "Why is he doing that? He's going to pay for that," I said to The African Queen. And, sure enough MY MAIN MAN!! made Atlanta PAY DEARLY when Ryan Church SLAMMED a Davies' Full Count fastball deep into right centerfield. With everyone running, everyone was going to score!!! The DECISIVE DRIVE for this game was a bases clearing Stand Up Double by Number 19. Our Washington Nationals had roared back to take the lead, 6-4. An appreciative home crowd of 20,329 yelled and stomped its approval. This comeback, granted with a little luck, was made possible by every player just doing their job. My Main Man!! doing what he does best--hit well, with power, ahead in the count. And, thanks to an assist from Bobby Cox.
Our Manager then utilizing his new late inning setup on the mound to close this one out. Saul Rivera in the 7th. Chad Cordero, flatout fabulous in the 8th (just 11 pitches, 3 up 3 down) and Big Jon Rauch to close this fine win out with his second save of the season. Manny's bullpen going 5 STRONG INNINGS, giving up NO RUNS, just two hits, and ZERO walks. Each pitcher specifically arranged to have success tonight.
Curly "W" number 14 was an excellent effort. A triumph because Our Players knew what was expected of them. Our Work in Progress, The 2007 Washington Nationals, showing definite signs of improvement in this 6-4 win over The Atlanta Braves. We are competitive. Not great--but far from terrible. Manny Acta is making the best of what he was given. You can't fault him for that fact.
Our Manager keeps preaching the gospel of being positive, getting some big help this evening from "CHURCH ON WEDNESDAY".
Tonight's Game Notes & Highlights:
Despite this afternoon's Torrential Rains, the game started on time at 7:05PM. The field in terrific shape.
Although he gave up 8 hits and 4 runs, Levale Speigner pounded the strike zone. 58 pitches, 45 for strikes. Now, if only he had better command--he has some talent. Levale, though, has yet to realize his potential.
Its very strange seeing "THE CHIEF" come out as a setup man to Jon Rauch. Far more relax right now, with minimal pressure, Chad Cordero looks SHARP.
In the top of the 3rd inning with Renteria on 2nd base with a one out double, Chipper Jones (batting lefthanded) stroked a smash toward the 3rd baseline to the right of Ryan Zimmerman. If the ball gets by him, its a clean double and the Braves score easily. A potential rally in the making. Instead Ryan slid toward the ball, lunging to his right, almost feet first--snaring the hard grounder with a backhand "OLE'" grab. Then, proceeded to stand up and wing the ball, sidearm flip to first to retire Chipper and leaving Renteria at second base. It was The Defensive Play for This Game.
Later, Zimmerman made one of his patented runs to foul territory this time toward the Nats 3rd base dugout to make a fine catch near the railing to retire Brian McCann.
In his first day back in The Major Leagues since late 2006, Billy Traber received The Win Tonight.
"Mr. Official" Andruw Jones is SWINGING AT EVERYTHING. Tonight, both Levale Speigner and Saul Rivera struckout Andruw on pitches so far in the dirt, you had to laugh. As dangerous as he is, Jones is not the same hitter so far in 2007 as has been the case in the past. Now, just watch him knock 4 Homers out of RFK tomorrow afternoon.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass