Sunday, June 17, 2007
"You watch, Kearns is a professional hitter, he will hit the ball to the right side of the infield," Don Sutton stated. Not 5 seconds later, Austin Kearns rapped a slicer down the right field line scoring Dimitri Young with Our Washington Nationals first run of the game. Sutton continued on MASN--"When you do the right things, it rubs off on everyone. Austin Kearns understands the game."
And, with the TONE now set, Our Washington Nationals went on to take this final game of their nine game road trip. Having won five of their first six games at Minnesota and Baltimore this past week, Washington found a less friendly foe North of The Border in Canada. The Toronto Blue Jays had pitched their way convincingly through the first two games of this three game set. A sweep by The Blue Jays would put a serious damper on the tail end of these away series. Yeah, at the start of this road trip, if someone had told me Our Nats would win 5 of 9--I would be pleased. But, losing those final three in Toronto would be disheartening and a momentum killer. Especially, heading back to RFK Stadium to face two of The American League's Best---The Detroit Tigers and The Cleveland Indians.
Today, it was important for Our Washington Nationals to understand that fact. Understand how to end a losing streak. Understand how to win, when you are not playing your best. Understand how to play within yourself. Baseball is a team game. Understand, if you do your job--everyone else will follow. Understand--you are better than believed.
With Dimitri now in with that first Washington score in the top of the 2nd, Brian Schneider understood the situation at hand when he advanced Kearns to third on a ground ball out, up the middle. And Tony Batista followed, with another shot up the middle that bounced off the top of the mound and caromed into centerfield for Washington's second run of the ball game. Neither trying to hit the baseball out of the park, both hitters just looking to take what they were given and produce. Schneider and Batista understanding--just get the lead run home. Mission Accomplished--Washington 2-1 after two.
And, although "The Big Hurt" Frank Thomas would club a Micah Bowie pitch to the nether reaches of left centerfield at SkyDome for a game tying Home Run in the bottom of the 3rd--every Washington player understood--the game was just tied. The Blue Jays had not taken the lead. They had no momentum.
Something Ryan Zimmerman always understands. His gained experience telling him that when you can stay close in a ball game--you can also get lucky. Something hoped for, but never expected, can happen. Zimmerman looking for something to drive, leading off the 4th, received just what he wanted--a hanging slider that Number 11 rarely misses. The Result: A TOWERING HOME RUN into the Second Deck down the left field line off former Baltimore Oriole Starter Josh Towers for his 12th Homer of the Season. Just like that, Our Washington Nationals were back in the lead.
An advantage that Micah Bowie understood was his for the taking, if he continued to pound the strike zone--be aggressive, and don't give in. What more good remarks can I say about Our Makeshift Lefthanded Starter. Our Number 59 Striking Out the dangerous Vernon Wells twice and inducing an inning ending double play at the hands of Curtis Thigpen on the very last of his 96 pitches thrown today in the bottom of the sixth. Really, I want to know. What is it at an Age approaching 33 years that has given Micah Bowie an UNDERSTANDING of the game? An Understanding of how to pitch? An Understanding that he belongs in The Major Leagues. More and more--even The Media has to Understand--Micah Bowie is becoming a fine story--worth following. Number 59 pitching like a 10 year veteran.
An established veteran role that Ronnie Belliard understands. Ronnie's given talents are to fill in when needed--give an everyday player a rest--Be an emergency replacement. Or, Pinch Hit in the clutch. Today, Our Manager Manny Acta rested the slumping Felipe Lopez. So, Our Number 10 started at second base. And, when Ronnie Belliard stepped to the plate with two outs and runners on 1st and 3rd with two outs in the fifth--Belliard, using his veteran savvy, understood he needed to shorten up on his swing. No Time To Be Manny Ramirez, Jr. (as Ronnie's swing so beautifully mimics). With The Blue Jays Towers again in trouble, Belliard also just took what Josh threw--and lined a clean single up the middle for an all important 4th insurance run scoring Robert Fick.
A 4-2 lead Our Manager Manny Acta understood was now, the appropriate time, to hand this affair over to his bullpen. And, only to his Best Guys. Time to steal a win, on the road--in a difficult arena to play. Manny understanding, it was time to close this one out. Time to fly home to Washington, one Happy Group.
Giving the baseball to Jesus Colome, Our Number 43 understanding his role in the 7th. Throwing Strikes, Getting Outs--then handing the baseball over to "The Wookie" for the 8th.
Big Jon Rauch, understanding his situation. While inheriting that two run lead in the 8th--Number 51 threw mostly strikes. And, when he got in trouble with three balls on the very dangerous Vernon Wells--he spotted a gorgeous fastball over the outside corner that Wells had no chance of hitting, tipping it into Brian Schneider's mitt for an important out number two. That's not overthinking. That's not over throwing. That's not trying to do too much. That's understanding the ballgame and the situation you are in. Why test a slider, that can hurt you--when your best stuff, your fastball and location, is working for you.
All, which leads (like all Nats leads) to "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game". With his Father (and Section 320 Favorite) Ed, on hand in Toronto to Celebrate Father's Days with his Son--Chad Cordero understood it was time to close this one out--no time to mess around. Going right after the Dangerous "Big Hurt", Thomas was handcuffed on a backdoor moving fastball and lazily flied to center for out number one. Aaron Hill was next, and Our Number 32 kept pounding the outside corner--until Hill skied a foul ball down the right field line that Austin Kearns ran hard for, to the first row of the seats, to retrieve it for out number two. And, finally--Chad Cordero closed out Curly "W" Number 30 by getting Pinch Hitter Matt Stairs to pop out to Ryan Langerhans to end the game.
Like every single Nationals player before him today--"The Chief Cardiologist" brought his "A" Game for Save Number 11. Chad Did His Job--with the Understanding that everyone else had his back.
That's Understanding How To Win--As A Team.
Our Washington Nationals 30th win today, In Canada, marked a 21-14 record since that terrible 9-25 start.
Everyone watching them--Now Understanding--Our Washington Nationals are not a bad team.
How will they do against The Tigers & Indians this week? Badly, I have waited for these two upcoming series. Possibly the best six game stretch anticipated at home in 2007. Two Excellent American League Teams against The Nationals League's biggest upstart.
Do you think Detroit & Cleveland "Understand" Our Washington Nationals?
Game Notes & Highlights:
In the top of the 6th inning, Austin Kearns hammered an Astroturf grounder that was skidding up the middle. Toronto Second Baseman, Aaron Hill quickly scooted to his right, dove--skidded some more on the hard, unforgiving turf--caught the baseball in his glove, quickly got up and JUST TOSSED OUT Kearns at first for out number two. It was The Defensive Play of This Game. And, I could only wonder, immediately--how much I would love to see "The GUZ" and "FLop" give it up more for Our Team, like Hill just did for The Blue Jays, in similar situations. Remember Hill plays a majority of his contests on that unrelenting field turf. You had to appreciate Aaron Hill's effort. No doubt--he's got some serious scrapes and burns.
Micah Bowie has now started 6 games for Our Washington Nationals in 2007. He sports a 4-0 record, in those starts, and has led Washington to wins in all six games. Incredible. Just Incredible!
And also understand--the very day Randy St Claire IS NOT The Pitching Coach for Our Washington Nationals--we should all begin to mourn. As far as I am concerned Randy St Claire has the job FOR LIFE. What a Pitching Coach!!
Although he has yet to breakout with power--Austin Kearns is beginning to get on base more--drive in some runs--be a better all around performer. His fielding has never suffered during his prolonged slow start at the plate this season--but its nice to see him coming around with the bat. His 5th spot in the batting order needs to produce more--especially with, THE STILL HOT, Dimitri Young and Ryan Zimmerman getting on base in front of him.
How much FOUL TERRITORY can you possibly have in a ballpark while keeping your fans a significant distance from the field? McAfee Stadium in Oakland has a Monster Amount of Foul Territory. But, I never recalled until today the vast distances between the first row of seats and the baseline at SkyDome. If there are 90 feet between the bases, there must have be at least 60 feet between the dugouts and the baseline. Hitters must HATE SkyDome. There was a pop up by Toronto's Adam Lind that Zimmerman ran so hard to retrieve that if he were playing at RFK Stadium-"Z" would have caught the baseball 10 to 15 rows back in the field boxes. That's Amazing to realize. And, also very funny. But sad, if you are a baseball fan in Toronto. No one wants to pay the big bucks and sit that far from the action. NO ONE.
Oh Yeah--those black Blue Jays Jersey's--EVEN UGLIER THAN THE HOME WHITES I decried the other day. What an awful set of uniforms for a team playing in one of the most Cosmopolitan and Wonderful Cities in North America. What A SHAME!!
"Pre-programmed music just to get a crowd response is ANNOYING!!" stated Don Sutton this afternoon on MASN from SkyDome. I couldn't agree with him more. That's why sitting in Section 320 each and every Nationals Home Game is special. Our Chants, Cheers and Song are Heart Felt--not contrived. And who needs pre-programmed music when BangTheDrumNatly and The African Queen perform as The Orchestra. When that man is accompanied by The African Queen pounding away on her beer bottles--usually provided by Budweiser--Section 320 is a Rhythmic Wonder!! Truly a Sight to Behold, And Hear. And, I have not even mentioned RallyTimeRichard--his voice, the linchpin to the operation.
Speaking of Section 320--it was fun to see Royce Clayton face his former team today. During his half-season in Washington in 2006, Royce was basically a caretaker shortstop with no long term commitment. But, he became a Section 320 Favorite--only for the fact that BangTheDrumNatly and I would always pronounce his last name "Claytouun" with a French Canadian Accent, immediately followed by "HEH HEH, HO, HO" Always got a chuckle out of someone surrounding us. "HEH, HEH, HO, HO!!"
Finally, MASN showed something on TV today that I had noticed during the last home stand. As Our Starting Pitcher emerges from The Bullpen after warming up before the game--The Entire Nationals Relief Corps stands in line to slap hands with that Starter, his Catcher and Pitching Coach Randy St. Claire--Wishing today's starter Good Luck. Just another sign that Our Washington Nationals are Relaxed, Close and Building Support, from within, for each and EVERYONE OF THEIR OWN. A very nice gesture.
Today's InGame Photos--(CP) Nathan Dennette
PS--Just a personal note. Usually, I would never mention something like this. But, If you can make it, at all, to one of each of the upcoming series against Detroit and Cleveland, you should. This is MUST SEE BASEBALL when it comes to the competition . Most likely, better teams all season long, will not show up at RFK STADIUM--back to back.
Just a thought, not a sermon.
Happy Father's Day To All You Dad's.