Thursday, June 14, 2007
No Margin For Error
Right down the middle of the plate. And, HE BLEW HIM AWAY!!! That, my friend was the ballgame. There is nothing like seeing your Best Set Up Man, lost these past two weeks, return in style and do his job. And, in doing so, raise the spirit of each and every player on your team.
Big Jon Rauch entered tonight's tight baseball game at Camden Yards with the game on the line. Tonight's starter for Our Washington Nationals, Jason Simontacchi, had pitched well, lasting into the 8th inning. But, when Jason gave up a lead off single to the dangerous Miguel Tejada there was NO WAY Our Manager Manny Acta puts Simontacchi in the position to lose. You don't waste the confidence of your starter. A now impressive starter, that Simontacchi, recently out of Major League Baseball for the past three seasons. Our Manager had then called on lefthanded Billy Traber to face lefthanded hitting Aubrey Huff. The problem was Traber could not find the strike zone--walking Huff to put runners on first and second with No Outs.
In a 2-1 ballgame now playing the bottom of the 8th, Our Washington Nationals could not have been in a worse position of losing that one run advantage. With no outs, there was no margin for error. So, Manny called on "THE WOOKIE". Rauch has struggled of late. No command of his pitches. Everyone has seen the frustration in his eyes. The Tallest Player to ever play this great game can show his emotion right down one of his extra long sleeves. And, as you would expect, when your game is not its best, you get thrown into the fire. No place to turn. No Place to Hide. No Margin For Error.
For the first time, in some time, Big Jon was in a nearly No Win Situation.
And, wouldn't you know it, Rauch pitched THE FINEST inning of his season, thus far.
Facing the free swinging Jay Payton, The Orioles called for the bunt to move the runners into scoring position. The only problem was that Payton could not bunt (Sounds like a Nats problem doesn't it). First a deke bunt, called strike one on appeal by First Base Umpire Ed Montague. A call vehemently protested by Baltimore Manager Sam Perlozzo. So much so, when Rauch struck out Payton two pitches later on another missed bunt attempt--Both Jay and Perlozzo decided to have it out with Home Plate Umpire Marvin Hudson. Both ejected, and quite honestly, changing the mood of the game.
You talk about killing your teams momentum. What in the world were they thinking?
After play resumed following the arguments and ejections, the one time very dangerous Jay Gibbons stepped to the plate for Baltimore. Gibbons is no where near the fine power hitter he was just two seasons ago. He looks like he's lost nearly 25 pounds. You can speculate all you want--but Jay Gibbons is no longer a game changer, Big Bopper, hitter. Its a shame. Our Number 51 well knew this--and went right after him. Firing a called first strike and then two waste pitches--looking for Gibbons to swing at crap. When he didn't, Rauch hammered one in on his fists--Gibbons meekly flew out to Ryan Langerhans for out number two. This was some fine pitching. A liner to the gap or down the line--most likely wins the game for Baltimore.
But now, was it possible--Big Jon could wiggle himself out of this jam? Even though two were now out, Kevin Millar was next. Millar now an aging veteran, but still also has some pop in his bat. Rauch must have realized this too--as he never gave Millar anything decent to hit--walking him on 5 pitches.
It was the smart move. Why pitch to a potentially dangerous hitter, when you can face a real journeyman in Paul Bako. Ray King and Saul Rivera were warming up in Washington's Bullpen, but as I told The African Queen--"This game is on the line. Manny is trusting his best." And, when pitching coach Randy St Claire trotted out to the mound to speak with Jon before Bako's At-Bat, I would bet Randy St Claire passed on that very same information.
What was left of the 20,770 were on their feet. The Bases were now loaded. Two were out in a 2-1 game. Washington with the lead. The moment of this game was upon everyone. The game to truly be decided over the next four pitches. Not fooling around, Big Jon Rauch slipped in a called strike one, followed immediately by a outside corner fastball waste pitch that Bako fouled off for strike number two. Having entered this ballgame with runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs--"The Wookie" was now one strike away from saving Simontacchi, saving Our Washington Nationals, and REVIVING his own reputation--all in a matter of minutes.
Knowing Paul Bako was in precarious position--Our Number 51 threw another waste pitch. This time, Bako did not swing. But, that was OK--as that ball set up the final toss of this inning. With most everyone on their feet, stomping for either Baltimore or Our Washington Nationals--Big Jon Rauch looked in for the sign from his catcher Brian Schneider--agreed with the call--set himself--and fired a fastball RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE PLATE. Paul Bako saw it coming, realized the fastball, swung and still could not get around on the pitch. Bako HAD NO CHANCE TO HIT IT. Striking Out Badly. The baseball pounding loudly against Schneider's catcher's mitt.
Schneider jumped up from his catching position in great exultation. Rauch jumping off the mound, both his right fist and glove hand in the air--returning the happy salute, then proceeded to slap his hands together in great joy. "The Wookie" was pumped. And, he should be. Not only was this a Huge Inning Ending Strike Three, but a rally killing final out. Even with Chad Cordero coming on to save this one in the 9th--at that very moment, THIS GAME WAS OVER!!
Although Baseball is a team game, and he was not credited officially with The VICTORY, Jon Rauch won Curly "W" Number 29 for Our Washington Nationals--make no mistake about it. Big Jon Rauch well knew that with No Margin for Error this evening--He not only didn't hide, he TURNED THIS GAME, AND HIS GAME, AROUND. What a night for "THE WOOKIE"!!
A three game Sweep of The Angelos Orioles now complete. Both teams now sporting the very same 29-37 records. The difference being Our Team is beginning to soar ever higher. The Baltimore Orioles beginning a possible freefall. For 2007, the bragging rights belong to Washington, winners of four out of six against The Orioles. Tonight I go to sleep content and happy--not just for another Washington Win. But, a thrilling win won with some EXCELLENT PITCHING!!
Welcome Back--Jon Rauch.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Jason Simontacchi was OUTSTANDING for 7 plus innings. He earned his 4th win, getting in and out of trouble a few times. So much so, its hard to believe Simontacchi allowed 9 hits and 4 walks (three of them leadoff walks) and still survived by giving up just one run. Either Jason has the Houdini Spirit of Our Former Starter Livan Hernandez or The Orioles simply are not good hitters in the clutch. I would imagine the answer is a little of both.
In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Melvin Mora was on second base after walking and moving to second when Nick Markakis singled. There were no outs. Simontacchi was in serious trouble. As Mora took his usual lead of second base, Cristian Guzman sneaked in behind Melvin on a timing play--Jason whirled and threw A PERFECT STRIKE to the bag that "THE GUZ" caught in stride right on the sliding Mora's foot. Melvin Mora was out by a mile. It was The Defensive Play of This Game. The pickoff was Jason's 4th such putout assist so far in 2007. That's remarkable.
And, when Tejada followed that pickoff with an inning ending double play--Simontacchi to Guzman to Ronnie Belliard, The BOO BIRDS were out in force in Baltimore.
Our Washington Nationals scored their first run in the top of the fifth--when Felipe Lopez clubbed a Jeremy Guthrie fastball to right center with Ryan Langerhans and Guzman on first and second with two outs. Unfortunately, the baseball bounced over the wall for a ground rule double--calling back "The Guz" from scoring the second run of the evening for Washington. Ryan Zimmerman did follow with a absolute ROCKET SHOT heading to left field--that Tejada leaped and grabbed to end the inning. Leaving the score at 1-0 Washington after 5.
Washington's second run scoring on small ball. A Guzman walk, FLop bunt and Zimmerman hard grounder to centerfield for the go ahead run. Their final run coming when Nook Logan stole second base in the 9th after reaching on a fielder's choice. Then scored when Langerhans laced a liner down the right field line for the insurance run. The Third and final tally of the game for Our Washington Nationals. Langerhans is beginning to produce. Two keys hits over the past few games. Our Number 4 beginning to takeover the everyday centerfield job from Logan. This Ryan a far more dependable hitter than Nook.
Leading 3-1 heading to the bottom of the 9th--"The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" redeemed himself for last night's difficult blown save. Chad Cordero got Brian Roberts to ground out to "The Guz" (although Cristian made the out interesting by making a lazy toss, saved by Ronnie Belliard), then struck out Mora on a wicked slider for out number two. And, finally closed out his 10th save of 2007 by getting Markakis to fly to Langerhans to end this fine baseball game.
Really, this was a good win. And a Fine Sweep. For Nationals Fans, you couldn't be happier with the results over the past few days from Camden Yards. Do you think Peter Angelos still believes there are no baseball fans in Washington?
Tonights InGame Photos--(AP) Gail Burton