Thursday, June 07, 2007
The Good, The Bad & The Shoes
My day started at 5AM heading to Houston Intercontental Airport for a direct flight back to Washington National. Due to a cancellation, it became Houston to Charlotte, North Carolina to National. Which then became Houston to Philadelphia to National. And, finally-all due to various conflicts (no seats, gear couldn't make the transfer, Dulles Not An Option)--and MY ABSOLUTE DESIRE to make tonight's game versus The Pittsburgh Pirates--became Houston to Detroit to Philadelphia to Washington. Now--THAT"S BEING A DEDICATED FAN!!
And, of course the final connecting flight was 45 minutes late--not touching down at Reagan National until 7:03PM--two minutes before gametime. The African Queen was already in her seat--my ticket by her side. With a ton of television gear checked on board (all of which is my responsibility)--experience told me US Airways would NOT GET THE GEAR OUT until 30-45 minutes after landing. That's National Airport. That's US Airways. No way I make the game before 8:30PM. So, I went to the baggage counter at National and told them I was in a hurry--"COULD I COME BACK LATER TO PICK EVERYTHING UP!! DUE TO THE DELAY, I AM REALLY LATE. HOW LATE ARE YOU OPEN?!!" The handler told me midnight. "JUST HOLD EVERYTHING. I WILL BE BACK!!", I stated.
US AIRWAYS was good to their word. In fact, they were kind enough to call me on my cell phone to inform me everything was secure. When you're travelling with some seriously expensive television gear--I couldn't ask for more. They owed me--anyway--BIG TIME, after what I put up with today--without complaining. They understood and went out of their way to work with me.
Rushing to my car parked in Terminal C Garage--I hightailed it all the way to RFK STADIUM--called Sohna at Gate F, ran into Colleen walking past, told her to get The African Queen. Screech'sBestFriend sat down in his customary seat at 7:35pm--bottom of the second inning. Was I ever THRILLED. Life was back to normal. Our Washington Nationals were leading The Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-1.
Not five minutes later, Team President Stan Kasten walked by--looked up--pleased to see me--stating: "Should we play 18 innings for your benefit to make up for last night?" "No," I replied, "Just win this game." Mr. Kasten saying: "Yeah, that many innings would not be a good thing." My Best Friend Screech!! happened to walk by--STUNNED TO SEE ME!! Having paraded by at customary first pitch, saddened to not see me--Screech was EXCITED to notice me now. We hugged and high fived for some time. In fact, I can't say enough about so many of our friends at RFK Stadium---who went out of their way the past two days to make Sohna feel at home, with my assignment away at the Johnson Space Center in Houston-forcing me to miss Game One of the Pittsburgh Series.
And, when Our Washington Nationals took at serious 5-1 lead in the bottom of the 5th--this game looked like a HOMECOMING. My Favorite Team was going to treat me to a win. Ryan Zimmerman walked off Pirates Starter Zack Duke with one out. Dimitri Young continued to swing a SCALDING BAT (really his effort at the plate is approaching UNBELIEVEABLE) with a sharp single to left. Austin Kearns walked to load up the bases. My Main Main!!!, Ryan Church was next. On this night, Number 19 would be a key player--all under oddest circumstances.
Church would hammer a grounder to short at Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson--usually a solid fielder. Yet, this night, he was not--the hard hit grounder handcuffed him--Jack could not make the play--and in a harbinger of things to come for Church this evening--an unusual scoring play would be crucial. ZImmerman scored to make the game 3-1. Schneiderman followed with a well placed single up the middle to score Young and Kearns. Brian Schnieder's 2 RBI made this one 5-1. The party was on. With Micah Bowie again pitching solidly on the mound in another fine start for Number 59-this game looked over. Really, I thought so. That was much of The Good.
Then CAME THE BAD.
Bowie to Saul Rivera to Jesus Colome got Our Washington Nationals to the 8th still leading 5-1. And, Big Jon Rauch was called on by Our Manager Manny Acta to provide his setup role for Chad Cordero. Tonight, though, was not "The Wookie's" Night. What a struggle. Rauch would face 4 batters--three would reach base. A leadoff walk by Jose Bautista (you just knew Rauch was pissed at himself), immediately followed by a wild pitch to Freddie Sanchez put Bautista on 2nd. When Sanchez followed with a sharp single to left, moving Sanchez to third--we were in trouble. Just like that--the balance of the ballgame was turning. Never can you let your guard down in baseball. Never can you believe ANY GAME is in hand--especially with Our Washington Nationals.
Crying for an out--I was pleased to see Jason Bay just hit a sacrifice fly scoring Bautista. With the score now 5-2, I figured Rauch would close it out. But, when Pirates Catcher Ronny Paulino (this guy, by the way, is a really fine talent. I liked him last year and continue to be impressed by his efforts) singled to left, moving Sanchez to second. At that point, Manny Acta had seen enough. Big Jon didn't have it. Unfortunately--Billy Traber didn't also. Facing Pittsburgh's hard hitting but struggling lefthanded hitting Adam LaRoche--Traber served it up BIG TIME-- A THREE RUN BLAST--to dead centerfield to tie the game. Experience now telling me--this is a baseball game Our Washington Nationals LOSE!!
Fortunately-Traber would retire the side the rest of the 8th. And, "The Chief", Chad Cordero was ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS in the top of the 9th. No fooling around tonight, Number 32 was firing strikes, going after hitters. Striking out Chris Duffy on five pitches, getting Rajai Davis to ground to FLop (more on Lopez in the notes) and then flatout BLOWING BAUTISTA AWAY on three pitches--Chad Cordero threw his finest inning of 2007. He was GREAT. If anyone saw his performance tonight--you would have to be impressed. Wow!! Chad Cordero was good!!! (His ERA now at an impressive 2.63--I couldn't be happier)
Cordero's efforts would set up the pivitol bottom of the 9th. The Pittsburgh Manager, Jim Tracy, called on the hard throwing, but erratic, Solomon Torres (If Our Pitching Coach Randy StClaire ever got ahold of Torres--Solomon would be one of the finest closers in the game--I truly believe that. Torres is an OUTSTANDING TALENT). Yet, for The Pirates he is very inconsistent. This evening it showed. The results the game deciding plays.
After FLop struck out to lead off the 9th, Cristian Guzman followed with a solid hard hit single to right field. Zimmerman was next. Our Number 11 continues to struggle at the plate. Good games, followed by poor games--Ryan has yet to find a consistent groove. Having no hits this evening--not a single Nats Fans was not hoping for Ryan to Break Out. And, as most always happens in a slump--an excuse me swing--provides the big play. Zimmerman would check swing a nubber down the third base line. Jose Bautista had no play at 3rd. First and second--one out--and, yet even though you figured the advantage was ours, Our Washington Nationals were in trouble.
Manny Acta had replaced the hot hitting Dimitri Young with Robert Fick in a double switch in the 8th when Jon Rauch was brought on to pitch. I have said it before and I will state it again. I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS IS A GOOD MOVE!! If we are winning in the 9th, and our closer is in the game--fine--bring in a defensive replacement for Young. But, the game IS NOT SECURE in the 8th. As it turned out, Rauch and Traber had bad nights. The game was now tied. Our Offense now significantly less. I don't agree with move. A decision that cost us tonight--until we got lucky.
Fortunate with Tony Batista and Ronnie Belliard only available to pinch hit off the bench. Manny chose the experience in Belliard. Tonight though, Number 10 struck out. Two were out now--runners on first and second, Austin Kearns at the plate. Many now standing at RFK Stadium--24,755 (a good crowd) looking for the conclusive play. "BLUEGRASS" as I fondly call him, was patient, realizing Torres was struggling. Good for him, it paid off--Kearns walked to load up the bases. Not a sole NOT STANDING NOW. The Pressure was on. Would Torres survive? Or would My Main Man!! get the last laugh.
Ryan stepped up and swung at Soloman's first pitch, off speed--was fooled badly for strike number one. Then, Church would take ball one, in his classic style, of moving his body forward--almost lunging, but not swinging. With the count now 1-1, the bases loaded--Torres very next pitch would decide this game--in unusual style.
With the remaining crowd on its feet, clappping, Solomon rared back and threw the final pitch of this game--IN THE DIRT--Ronny Paulino could not handle the toss, the ball squirting past the Pirates Catcher, only about 10 feet, but just enough for HARD CHARGING "GUZ" to score easily, sliding, for the Game Winning Run!!!
6-5 Washington--Bang!! ZOOM!! went the FIreworks!! Curly "W" number 24 was won without a game winning RBI. A Good Win because Ryan Church simply showed patience. Cristian Guzman simply recognized opportunity.
After such a tryingly long day attempting to get back to Washington, DC--I could not have asked for a finer ending. Any win by Our Washington Nationals always makes my day, A GOOD DAY!!
Game Notes & Highlights:
Now--about those Shoes!! Originally, this post was going to be entitled "Its All About The Shoes"--unfortunately, Felipe Lopez was not a star tonight--although his cleats shined brightly. In Section 320, we could not stop talking about his shoes. FLop wore HIGH TOP white cleats, with a Black Tongue (top) and a side design of black lines over the white I had never seen before. Coupled with his desire to wear these new shoes with highly drawn Red Socks and PANTS CUFFED just below his knees--it looked DOWNRIGHT DIFFERENT. Was this a new FASHION STATEMENT? All night long--Scott, John & I kept on commenting how this game, was ALL ABOUT THE SHOES! I would love to know what brand he was wearing. Just weird looking. If he wears this style again--questions need to be asked. Answers need to be found.
In the top of the 4th--Pittsburgh's LaRoche hammered a Micah Bowie pitch to left center. The baseball appeared like a sure gapper. Nook Logan ran hard all the way--and caught the ball while running into the wall. It was a nice catch and The Defensive Play of This Game.
What is it with Nationals fielders continually afraid to run into each other? Again, the same situations occured tonight. Kearns and Logan got confused on a routine ball to right center. Dimitri Young and FLop couldn't make a decision on a pop up. Both balls were caught. But, come on Guys!!--this is not rocket science.
Micah Bowie deserved a win tonight. He may well have walked 5, but gave up only 2 hits and left having given up just 1 run in five innings. What an effort, from a guy that no one considered more than a situational pitcher during Spring Training. You have to be pleased when players, usually long forgotten, rise to the occasion when give the chance.
During the 3 run 5th inning by Our Washington Nationals--John and Scott (who sit just to my left) asked me what are the 9 ways a team can score with the bases loaded and less than two outs. We were all discussing this question, when I mentioned: "Yeah, that's great, but Our Nats are not good at playing those percentages." Sure enough--Ryan Church would score the third run of the game on a error (one of nine ways). Then My Main Man!! was at the plate when Torres threw the game deciding Wild Pitch with bases loaded (another of the nine ways). Scott was the soothsayer tonight. His conversation proved prothetic.
Again--thanks to the many that stopped by to comfort The African Queen while I was away. And, to NatsNation who stopped by Tuesday Evening, met Sohna but not me--please stop by again some time. We would love to talk to you.
Tonight's InGame Photos (AP)--Haraz N. Ghanbari