Monday, May 14, 2007
THE MIGHTY ANDREW HAS STRUCK OUT
Pete Orr was standing on second base. Edgar Renteria on first. Our Washington Nationals largest NEMESIS--Andruw Jones was standing at the plate for The Atlanta Braves. Two Outs, Bottom of the 9th, Washington holding the slimmest of leads, up 2-1. What was left of 18,929 Fans ALL STANDING. All enrapured in PURE DRAMA. The NOISE LEVEL inside the Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street at an ALL TIME HIGH for 2007. This game was SPECIAL. A BASEBALL FANS DREAM. And, it was coming down to the FINAL AT-BAT. Most likely, The FINAL PITCH.
"The Chief", Chad Cordero was really unavailable-having just returned from The Bereavement List, being at the bedside of his beloved Grand Mother, when she passed. No Way Our Manager Manny Acta puts him into this game, without throwing for over one week. Especially, with Andruw Jones batting. Jones Owns "THE CHIEF". So, tonight the CLOSER duty fell to Jesus Colome. He of the hard stuff, sometimes WILD STUFF. Not a sole on either side DID NOT REALIZE--The Mighty Jones has hammered 7 Home Runs at RFK Stadium over the past two plus years. Andruw Jones KILLS THE HARD STUFF.
Turning to MickNats, RallyTimeRichard and BangTheDrumNatly--I exclaimed: "Will Andruw make this game official?" In Section 320, no Nats/Braves affair is ever OFFICIAL until Andruw Jones BANGS ONE OUT OF THE PARK. Its become so standard--We expect THE BIG FLY from him. RallyTimeRichard swung his head around toward me so quickly, I thought The Devil himself from "THE EXORCIST" had arrived. "Don't you have me come back there!!" RallyTime a big believer in THE JINX.
With the Crowd Roaring for the final out--Colome looked in to catcher Brian Schneider for the pitch, looked over to both baserunners to keep them close. Wound up and threw ball one. "OOOH" responded the crowd, disappointed. Jesus retrieved the ball from Schneider, repeated the process AND THREW BALL TWO!!! Worry now beginning in the stands. No way do you want to see Andruw Jones with a hitters count. Colome, who can show his emotions on his sleeve, angrily took the ball back from Brian, snapping his glove shut with the baseball. 2-0 the count. Number 43 looked in again for the sign, reached back and THREW BALL THREE!!! MOANS & GROANS ALL AROUND. The handful of Atlanta Fans Cheering.
Could it be?? Our Washington Nationals were going to blow it. No matter what side you were cheering for--the excitement level was rising. The MOST IMPORTANT PITCH of this At-Bat was next. If Colome walks Jones to load the bases--Atlanta, is most likely going to win. It did not matter who the Next Braves' Hitter was going to be--Jesus needed a strike. And, he needed it now. Yet, its reasonable to expect Number 25 for Atlanta is going to take the next pitch. No way Jones swings unless it right down the middle of the plate. Jesus needs to paint a corner of the plate. Sure enough--Andruw took Colome's next toss over the outside corner for STRIKE ONE. Some sense of relief for Nats Fans. Audibly, you could hear the collective breaths exhaling from the TENSENESS of the moment. Turning to RallyTimeRichard---"He's going to get him now," I stated. " Jesus strikes him out. He just needed to settle down."
And, here came his 5th pitch--A CALLED STRIKE TWO by HOME PLATE UMPIRE MIKE EVERITT. The Roar at RFK STADIUM now reaching near FEVER PITCH. No one sitting, everyone yelling--EVERY SINGLE PLAYER AND COACH FOR BOTH TEAMS HUGGING THE TOP RAIL OF THE DUGOUTS!! The MOMENT, EVERY ONE EXPECTED, NOW UPON US--INTOXICATING IT WAS-- no one wanting to miss the very next pitch of this THRILLER. Full Count, 2 Outs, a One Run Lead--All runners about to take off. This Game not for the faint of heart. The suspense nearly unbearable.
Jesus Colome looked in for the sign. Andruw Jones dug in deep. It was all or nothing time. And, at 9:13PM Colome reared back and heaved a 95 MPH FASTBALL RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE PLATE. Andruw Jones saw it coming. Knew he could WHACK IT--and swung hard, his back right knee touching the ground--AND MISSED!! STRIKE THREE!! A SWING AND A MISS, and This GAME IS OVER!! The Mighty Andruw HAS STRUCK OUT!! And the explosions that immediately followed were not just The BANG!! ZOOOM!! OF THE FIREWORKS. The NATS FAITHFUL THUNDERING THEIR APPLAUSE. High Fives and Hugs All Around. The Noise at a decibel level not heard for some time at RFK STADIUM. Was this ending ever SWEET!!
Curly "W" Number 13, Our Washington Nationals 4th win in a row--WAS A NEAR KILLING, DEFINITELY CHILLING and One Downright--THRILLING BALLGAME. A 2-1 win. Jesus Colome saving his first game since 2004. And, amazing as it seems, that last AT-BAT was only the Dessert. Jason Bergmann provided The Main Course.
The 25 year old Bergmann pitched the FINEST GAME OF HIS MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER. 7 Innings into this affair, Jason was throwing a No Hitter, having only allowed one baserunner (a walk to Kelly Johnson in the 4th) while striking out 10 Atlanta Batters. There are some nights when you have your best stuff. There are the RARE NIGHTS when you have EXCEPTIONAL STUFF. Those night, as a pitcher, you are IN THE ZONE. Jason Bergmann was in THE ZONE this evening. It didn't matter if Barry Bonds, Albert Puljos or Ryan Howard faced him this Monday Night. Number 57 had everyone elses number.
At least until the 8th, with Brian McCann at the plate for the Braves. Since the beginning of the 6th inning, the crowd was into this game. Everyone realizing a No-Hitter was in the works. Each subsequent out was robustly cheered. Section 320 in FULL FORCE TONIGHT--MickNats, Andy, "The NOISE BOYS", Joe Riley, John, Bill, The African Queen and Myself living and dying on each out. Only RallyTimeRichard had ever seen a No Hitter among us, in person. Never have I been involved in a No Hitter, on the field or in the stands--IN MY LIFETIME. Badly, I wanted to see one. Badly, I wanted it for Jason Bergmann.
Leading off that 8th, McCann swung and missed strike one. The Cheers continuing throughout the park. Then, on Bergmann's 88th pitch of this game, he made his sole mistake, letting loose a rising fastball--a ball Brian McCann simply does not miss. The Atlanta Catcher HAMMERING THE BALL DEEP TO RIGHT. Not one player on the field for Our Washington Nationals moved. Only their heads turned to watch. The baseball banging off the Washington Hall of Stars Banner in rightfield, above The Nationals Bullpen. And, just like that, Jason Bergmann's No Hitter and Shutout were sadly gone. Silence among Nats Fans. Great Cheers from The Tomahawk Faithful.
There was only one thing for Our Fans to do now. Everyone STOOD AND CHEERED for Jason's WONDERFUL EFFORT. A tremendous feat, unpleasantly lost--late, in this terrific well pitched baseball game. You had to feel sorry for Bergmann. Its hard to get so far with a no hitter. And, painfully disappointing to lose one. With the Main Course now having been served--Dessert was on the way. Jesus Colome & Andruw Jones topping off a GREAT EVENING OF BASEBALL.
You can take all your Home Runs, all your High Scoring Affairs you want--I'll take a good old fashioned pitchers duel any night. This was a riveting game to witness. Never a dull moment. Never, not holding my attention.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Atlanta's John Smoltz was equally as good. Only being touched up by Cristian Guzman in the very first inning. "THE GUZ" continuing to resurrect his reputation by roping a Smoltz pitch down the right field line. Number 15 continuing to run as fast as he's EVER RUN BEFORE--galloping into third with a Stand UP Triple. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a grounder to second to get Guzman home for the game's first run. Later in the bottom of the 7th, Our Washington Nationals would get to this Sure Fire Hall of Famer for the decisive game winning run. My Main Man!! Ryan Church grounded a single through the hole on the right side of the infield, followed immediately by a Austin Kearns drive deep into the gap in right center---Church scoring with a pop up slide, beating the relay throw easily. Kearns on second with an RBI Double.
Just two batters later, a near catastrophe occurred. With Kearns now on 3rd with one out, after Schneider moved him up on a ground out, and Robert Fick on first with an intentional pass, Ryan Langerhans attempted to bunt Austin home. As has been the case throughout each previous season of Nats Baseball--WE SIMPLY ARE NOT GOOD BUNTERS. With Kearns halfway home on the safety squeeze play, Langerhans MISSED THE BALL. Austin was WAY TO FAR from 3rd base. Catcher McCann fired the ball to Chris Woodward at third. Smoltz moved in near home but 1/3 the way up the line. When Austin Kearns turned to run toward home, Woodward fired the ball toward home. Smoltz cut off the ball, then reached out to tag Kearns out. As Austin tried to avoid the tag, Smoltz jammed his right hand into the body of Kearns. And IMMEDIATELY began to scream. The OUT CALL was given, but John Smoltz threw down his glove, fiercely--holding his right hand. And, proceeded to CUSS OUT AUSTIN KEARNS SOMETHING AWFUL. He was pissed and was immediately taken out of the game.
Not seeing a replay, it looked to us in Section 320 that Kearns just tried to turn away from Smoltz's tag. Although John claims Austin deliberately hit his hand. The Doctor's examination confirmed a dislocated right pitching pinkie finger. Not sure when he will return.
If Jason Bergmann had thrown a No Hitter tonight, he would have been the very first Washington Pitcher for any Franchise to throw a NO-NO since Bobby Burke of The American League Washington Senators did so on August 8, 1931 versus The Boston Red Sox.
Tonight was also Jason's first 10 strikeout effort in any Major League Game. He threw 110 total pitches, 81 for strikes. That's pounding the strike zone. And, it was his first victory EVER as a starter.
Who would have ever guessed that RFK Stadium would chant "Bergmann!! Bergmann!!" to get Jason out of the dugout in the top of the 9th for a curtain call. No doubt, Jason himself never expected to hear such love. His most special night as a Major League Ballplayer.
As much as I would like to find one--There really were no Great Defensive Plays for This Game. The Pitching was just too outstanding, giving most fielders an easy night.
Total time for this thriller: A swift 2 Hours, 8 Minutes.
Oh--and by the way--MY BEST FRIEND, SCREECH--Threw Out The Ceremonial First Pitch! Give my bud credit, from the mound he threw the ball all the way to the plate--in the air. Ray King receiving the toss.
Tonight's InGame Photo--(AP) Haraz N. Ghanbari