Sunday, July 01, 2007
Ronnie Belliard took the warmup throw from Catcher Jesus Flores at second base--signifying the crucial bottom of the 9th inning was about to get underway. Our Washington Nationals held a very slim one run lead. And, after losing five straight during this six game round swing--it looked like Washington needed some Divine Intervention. "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" was on the mound. And, Many Pittsburgh Fans still remaining at PNC Park were expecting The Miracle Comeback.
A Fortune Belliard obviously did not wish to see handed to The Pirates. Upon taking the toss at Second Base--Ronnie turned his back to the infield, looked over at Robert Fick manning First Base, took the baseball in his right hand--and gave The Sign of The Cross, smiling at Fick. Only then, did Our Number 10 continue throwing the ball around the infield, eventually getting the baseball to Chad Cordero in hopes of a Washington Win.
With Our Washington Nationals struggling mightily of late--I have no doubt--they were looking for ANY ADVANTAGE--REAL OR NOT.
Of course--when "The Chief" got behind in the count to Pittsburgh's Adam LaRoche and allowed a lead off single ripped to right center--It certainly appeared as if The Baseball Gods hadn't seen Ronnie Belliard's plea. But Destiny changed when The Pirates next hitter, Jose Castillo couldn't lay down a first pitch bunt. And, when Castillo squared around again--Our Number 32 threw his second pitch--right at Jose's face--Castillo's only maneuver was to bunt the ball in protection--fouling the pitch off for strike two. I am sure Chad Cordero did not do this on purpose--but he had made a point. Jose Castillo was now worried. "The Chief" struck him out badly for out number one.
Could it be? Maybe, The Baseball Gods had seen Ronnie's plea after all.
Pittsburgh's Catcher Ronnie Paulino was next. On the Large Scoreboard in left field at PNC Park--A Game Note read that 4 of Paulino's 5 homers this season have been for go ahead or tying runs. Were The Pirates maybe hoping for some Divine Intervention of their own? Their fans must have sensed something when "The Chief Cardiologist" got everyone excited, going 2-0 in the count, then fighting back like he always does, but still reaching a FULL COUNT on the Pittsburgh Catcher. Who was going to win this afternoon's battle for the Almighty Baseball Gods attention.
Paulino stood in the Batters Box, standing straight up--bat at the ready. Chad Cordero looked in for the sign from Jesus Flores. This very pitch would decide this exciting affair--the result giving credence to Ronnie Belliard's initial instinctive call. Our Number 32 threw his best slider that Ronnie Paulino swung at and grounded strongly to shortstop. FLop picked up the baseball tossed to Belliard at second--who took his time--and threw to Robert Fick at First Base to Retire The Pittsburgh Pirates for a Game Ending 6-4-3 Double Play!!
The African Queen and I erupted out of our seats--directly behind Washington's First Base Dugout in great cheer. Colleen & Jeff sitting in front of us--also were on their feet in great joy--pointing at "The Chief" thrilled at his efforts.
The Baseball Gods were looking down on Our Washington Nationals today. Chad Cordero fist pumped his right hand in salute, high fived with Flores--then proceeded to thank Ronnie Belliard and the rest of his teammates. Curly "W" Number 32 was a nice close 3-2 victory, and a well pitched one at that. A Game that saw Mike Bacsik pitch his best game this season. And, found Our Manager Manny Acta's bullpen up to the challenge of saving a lead handed over to them by a starter. Luis Ayala calmed down a serious jam in the 7th. Then Manny rode Big Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero home the rest of the way. A game that saw Jesus Flores get his baptism of sorts in Major League Baseball. His first Major League Home Run. A HUGE ONE, in fact--a two run shot in the sixth that gave Our Washington Nationals all the runs they needed today to end their losing streak. With the team near a Freefall, this was one HUGE WIN--sending Washington home to face the HOT CHICAGO CUBS, featuring the return of Alfonso Soriano!!! No doubt--Section 320 will enjoy Alfonso's efforts this week at RFK Stadium. How do you think The African Queen will react to seeing Her Love Again--Alfonso Soriano??
But today, a win that left The African Queen, Colleen, Jeff, Curly "W" and myself All Smiles at PNC Park this Gorgeous Sunday Afternoon. And, finished off our far too brief stay in Pittsburgh this weekend--in style. Of course--we all still had to drive home to Virginia--knowing a major Interstate artery heading out of Pittsburgh heading east was completely shutdown for this weekend--Major Construction. So, all of us--had to head North, then East--to end up coming South. We made it--after nearly six hours. Normal Drive Time--4 Hours, 30 Minutes.
Maybe we should have asked Ronnie Belliard to provide some Divine Intervention for Our Trip Home As Well?
Game Notes & Highlights:
It would not be far from the truth to speculate that if Mike Bacsik did not pitch well this afternoon--he may well not have been a Washington National by tomorrow night. Our Number 37 has not thrown decently lately. Today, he must have saved his spot in the rotation, at least for another week. Bacsik had CRUISED through the first six innings, giving up just three hits and just one walk. Then, Manny attempted to stretch him out into the 7th, and in just three batters--this game was headed for a seriously bad turn. Ahead 3-0, Mike gave up a leadoff single to LaRoche, followed by a drilled shot to the right centerfield wall by Jose Castillo. Neither Nook Logan in center or Austin Kearns in right had any chance for the ball. Out of nowhere, Bacsik was on the ropes. Then, he nearly gave up the ballgame. With all The Pirate Faithful fully expecting a key hit--Ronny Paulino stepped up with a pitcher in trouble and swung at the first pitch (thank you Ronnie)--hitting a tapper between home plate and the pitchers mound. Mike Bacsik called for the ball, had plenty of time with the slow moving Paulino--but rushed the throw into the dirt. Dimitri Young could not make the difficult play. Bases were now loaded. Just like that--nothing looked good for Our Washington Nationals.
A situation that found Our Manager Manny Acta going to veterans in an effort to save this game from getting out of hand. Luis Ayala was called on and Number 56 did an admirable job on shutting down the rally. Yeah, two runners scored, both on Sacrifice Flies--but Luis PUT OUT THE FIRE--leaving the mound still with Washington in the lead. When Ayala took the toss from Dimitri Young on a grounder to retire Nate McLouth to kill The Pirates Rally--you could clearly see, not only a sense of relief on Luis' Face. But, more importantly, knowledge that he ended his first serious jam since returning from his long rehab from injury. Luis Ayala realizing he was once again--whole--as a Major League Pitcher. That's a good sign.
Ronnie Paulino was on first base via a single in the bottom of the 4th with two outs and Jack Wilson at the plate. Paulino took off--Jesus Flores, once again, with a CANNON SHOT to second base that Ronnie Belliard handled easily to retire Paulino stealing for the final out of the inning. Flores throw out was The Defensive Play of This Game.
Of course, Flores was also The Offensive Player of This Game. Considering how everything else played out this Sunday Afternoon, why should I be surprised that Jesus was The Star. His two out Home Run off Paul Maholm a line shot--just over the wall in left field at PNC Park. And, only as a result of Robert Fick blooping a single to left, right before his Crucial At-Bat.
Jesus Flores also got lucky on retrieving a certain Memento of The Homer. A Fan dropped the ball back over the left field fence onto the field. Pittsburgh Left Fielder Xavier Nady heard the calls from Washington Bullpen in left center and kindly threw the ball to them for safe keeping. It was nice gesture by Nady. Something many other players for opposing teams would have never even considered.
Dimitri Young just IS NOT letting up at the plate--and I am not talking about Dinner Plates. Our Number 21 knocked two more hits this afternoon, raising his average to .340. And, was justly reward later with the nod as The All Star Game Representative for Our Washington Nationals in San Francisco a week from Tuesday. Young was deserving. His next nod may well be Comeback Player of The Year.
As well as Dimitri is smoking the ball--Ryan Zimmerman continues his struggles. Many times swinging at pitches well outside the strike zone. Today, with the bases loaded and two outs in the 3rd--"Z" got up 2-0 on Maholm, but for some reason, swung at Maholm's third offering that was off the outside corner of the plate--pulling the baseball to short for an easy inning ending out. Ryan Zimmerman is pressing a little too much. He does not look comfortable at the plate.
Chad Cordero's Save today was his 14th of the season.
Despite the fact that Our Washington Nationals have lost 11 of their past 15 games--they have the Exact Same Record after 81 Games this season, 33-48, as they did in 2006.
Sohna and I are going to miss PNC Park. We enjoyed our visit--tremendously. Everyone treated us nicely there. The Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Stadium is truly Outstanding. By the way, we walked up to The Ticket Sales Office at PNC Park this afternoon--one hour before game time--and picked up Box Seats, 14 rows from the field--$27 apiece. OUTSTANDING!!
Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Keith Srkocic
Photo of Sohna & I In Crowd--Colleen & Jeff Sherman