Thursday, May 24, 2007
Nurturing His Best
Yeah, "The Guz" hit his first home run since 2005. Dimitri Young and Felipe Lopez continue to wield Hot Bats. "The Chief" closed out a tight 4-3 win. And, Our Washington Nationals are no longer the holder of the WORST RECORD IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE. Yet, none of those points were the lead story tonight.
This evening featured a Pitching and Catching Tandem working together as a team--mowing down The Cincinnati Lineup through 7 and 2/3rds innings. Mike Bacsik got that starting call and was terrific. But, he couldn't have done it without the knowledge of Brian Schneider. Sure, Bacsik is basically an unknown quantity, so he has the element of surprise, early. No way though he gets through The Reds Batting Order 3 or more times, without his catcher's understanding of each and every hitter faced. Number 23 nurtured Mike Bacsik's best stuff throughout this game. Most every Cincinnati Hitter was left off balance and fooled. Only a mistake pitch home run to Adam Dunn in the 5th and a terrible high fastball that Alex Gonzalez just hammered to dead center for a two run homer in the 8th, ruined Bacsik's night.
Really, I can't say enough about the effort by Brian Schneider tonight. There is NO WAY Bacsik goes so deep into this game without Brian's help. Mike has not faced any of Cincinnati's hitters many times. Sure, he ran across some in Spring Training and Minor League Games, but he certainly does not know their tendencies. Our Catcher does. Brian Schneider's knowledge is in many respects, far greater than the sum of his hitting stroke. Pitchers love to throw to him, because Number 23's done his homework-allowing Washington's Pitchers to just concentrate on their game--not anyone else's. Its an important factor, and should not be overlooked.
Fortunately for Mike Bacsik, those two home runs allowed, still left him with the lead. A lead held up by Billy Traber retiring the ALWAYS DANGEROUS Ken Griffey, Jr to end the bottom of the 8th. A lead 'THE MOST THRILLING CLOSER IN THE GAME" came on to finish off, despite a lead off walk in the bottom of the 9th. Chad Cordero hung in there, as always. And, when Jeff Conine popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt to Robert Fick for out number one--all Number 32 had to do was to find two more outs--right through the heart of the Reds Lineup. And, THE POWER HITTING DUNN. Which, he promptly did. With the overshift on for the extreme pull hitting Adam--Chad got Dunn to ground to FLop, who AMAZINGLY decided to backhand, underarm toss (really, I couldn't believe this throw, with me jumping out of my chair yelling NO!!!, fearing an error) to Ryan Zimmerman, crossing the 2nd base bag for Out Number 2. Ryan, who turns the double play at second base, as well as any shortstop we have ever seen in Washington-- fielded the shallow throw and glided across the bag, avoiding the sliding Phillips. Then, tossed to Robert Fick to end the game. Chad Cordero's 6th save of this season.
All on a night, a veteran, savvy catcher--nurtured a journeyman pitcher to his best performance in The Major Leagues in over three seasons. Only in baseball does stuff like this always happen.
Just like that!! Three out of 4 at Cincinnati. The first Road Series Win of the Season for Our Washington Nationals. Curly "W" number 19 moved us ahead of The Reds in the standings. Since returning from their disastrous 1-8 road trip through San Diego, Chicago & Milwaukee--Washington has won 10 or 14. Now, its on to St.Louis to play an equally struggling team in The Cardinals.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Cristian Guzman continues to step up his game. In the top of the first, he slapped a Matt Belisle pitch over the right field wall for a home run. Later, in the 4th, with Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman on first & second with singles-- "THE GUZ" scored from second when Austin Kearns bounced a seeing eye grounder to left field, just outside the reaches of both Reds Infielders. 3rd Base Coach Tim Tolman was sending Cristian all the way--Adam Dunn got off a nice throw to the plate. Our Number 15 with a GORGEOUS slide to the outside rear corner of Home Plate, slapping his left hand down on home to score, mere splits seconds before the tag by Cincinnati Catcher David Ross.
And, when Dimitri Young singled sharply to center during the very next At-Bat, scoring Ryan Zimmerman--this game was now 3-0 Washington. A lead that would increase to 4-1 (after Dunn's homer in the 5th) when Young again lofted a short fly to medium left field. Adam Dunn for some reason tried to dive for the ball. BIG MISTAKE. Dunn misplayed the ball badly, the baseball rolling behind him toward the warning track. Austin Kearns, on first base with a single--ran hard, all the way home for The FINAL RUN of the evening. Dimitri Young's average, all of a sudden, up to .286. It was .237 just last week.
FLop continues to be more a the leadoff hitter everyone wants to see. Two more slap hits tonight. His batting average now at .250 With Austin Kearns now hitting .249, the six top hitters in Our Lineup now are above that mark, for the very first time this season. No longer are most Washington Nationals hitting .238 or so. As the weather has heated up, so have the bats. 11 more hits tonight in that Stadium known at The Great American Ball Park. A Ballpark I will NOT MISS Our Washington Nationals playing in again this season. That park is scary!! Far too hitter friendly.
At a time Our Washington Nationals needed a starting pitcher to go deep, give their much overused bullpen a rest--Mike Bacsik CAME UP HUGE. Getting into the 8th inning and leaving with the lead CAN NOT BE UNDERSTATED. Washington needed just such a performance tonight. It could not have come at a better time. Mike Bacsik pitched a terrific, and unexpected ballgame.
When do two errors, one mental, SAVE THE NIGHT? Well tonight, Felipe Lopez was involved in one of the oddest plays you will ever see. In the bottom of the 8th with nobody out--David Ross was on first after scorching a grounder past Ryan Zimmerman. Norris Hopper was next and placed a gorgeous bunt between the mound and first base. Robert Fick came in on the ball, picked it up, turned to toss to first, but FLop was late. Not there. Fick's underhand toss didn't get there in time. Neither did Lopez. On MASN, Bob Carpenter made the excuse that FLop had a long way to run. I am not buying that. Please just give the facts Bob, don't cover for the players. Our Manager Manny Acta does not even do that. So, why should you?
Now, with First & Second, No Outs--Ryan Freel lined a hot shot to FLop at second. Felipe caught the ball, then underarmed, backhanded the ball to "The Guz" at second--throwing the ball into short leftfield, behind the shortstop's set position (Now you may understand better why I was SCREAMING at FLops similar game ending double play toss). Zimmerman rushed out from third base to retrieve the baseball. Ross saw opportunity, and ran to an apparently unguarded base. Mike Bacsik charged over to beat Ross as "Z" threw a perfect off balance toss to Bacsik at third for a very odd 4-5-1 Double Play. It was The Defensive Play of This Game. And, GAME SAVING PLAY--Especially, when Cincinnati's next hitter, Alex Gonzalez, knocked out a two run homer to make this game a one run ball game, in favor of Washington.
Finally, when Gary Majewski trotted out to pitch in the 9th inning tonight for The Reds, I had mixed feelings. In 2005, he was one of my favorite Nats Players. I adored how "TEX" ran hard from the then left field bullpen at RFK Stadium, ALWAYS JUMPED OVER the baseline. Long Hair Flopping in the Wind. Whenever he got out of jam on the mound, Gary always pumped his fist and jogged excitedly to the home dugout. And, on that FINAL DAY of the 2005 season, when he walked off the mound for the last time during the Inaugural Season--he stopped, pointed, and pounded his heart to THE FANS of Our Washington Nationals, thanking them for their GREAT SUPPORT. Gary Majewski received a STANDING OVATION that day. Over the coming winter months, he personally told me how much HE LOVED PLAYING IN WASHINGTON, DC. "The Most Magical Year of My Life!!" he said. I never forgot those words. And, when he was included in last July 13th trade to Cincinnati, I was saddened. Gary Majewski will always be close to my heart.