Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Never Is It Easy
"No!! NO!!!! Don't Throw It!!!," I yelled. Blake standing next to me in Section 320 replied: "Its like watching your kids play Tee-Ball. You know they are about to make a Huge Mistake--and you scream out to stop them." Our Catcher Jesus Flores was scurrying to retrieve a Wild Pitch by "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game". The Houston Astros Chris Burke was rushing to third base. An over throw by Flores attempting to nail him--would have tied up this game at seven runs apiece. And, as usual--all the theatrics began with two outs and The Astros down to their final strike. Nothing is ever easy for Our Washington Nationals.
The Fact that Our Team was in such a bind was a self imposed drama all its own. Ahead 7-2 in the top of the 7th--Washington imploded in that game changing inning. A frame that saw Our Manager Manny Acta use three different pitchers to get three outs. Jason Bergmann had started and worked into the 7th--but ran out of gas. A Mike Lamb looping single to left, followed by a Luke Scott liner to right was the end of road for Our Number 57 this afternoon. Manny called on Ray King to face The Astros lefthanded swinging catcher Eric Munson. Only to see Ray give up a Ground Rule Double to the gap in left center--scoring Lamb with Houston's third run of the game and sending King to the showers right away. The Sight of Ray King walking off the mound, shaking his head and slapping his glove--a sign that he was mighty pissed-off. You can decide whether that irritation was at himself or not.
An annoyance that continued for not only Our Washington Nationals, but their fans also, when Saul Rivera trotted in and immediately gave up a Sacrifice Fly to" Sure to Be Hall of Famer", Craig Biggio--pinch hitting. With score now 7-4 and just one out--everyone was hoping Rivera would settle down and limit the damage.
He only made it worse.
Our Number 52 threw a wild pitch to Chris Burke--allowing Munson to move up one base to third. And, when Saul walked Burke to put runners on first and third, still with one out--Amazingly, The TYING Run was stepping to the plate in the hands of Hunter Pence. Yes, Hunter Pence--Houston's "Wonder Boy". This Young Phenom in line to become The Rookie of The Year in The National League, this season. Groans all around RFK from Nationals Fans. No one else was warming up in Our Nationals Bullpen.
Pence though, showed his youthful enthusiasm--when he swung at strike three--high up in the strike zone. A pitch called for by Jesus Flores. Our Number 3 STANDING NEARLY FULL UP as Rivera tossed the crucial out pitch. With two now out, hope was alive and so was the crowd. The rhythmic clapping loud--boisterous--until Houston's Lance Berkman killed it, when he lashed a hot grounder to the hole between first and second base. Ronnie Belliard, playing his usual short rightfield at second base--dove, but could only deflect it away, toward Austin Kearns. Dimitri Young playing close to the bag with a runner on first--had no chance at it. Munson scored The Astros 5th run, as Burke ran hard to third base. A five run lead was now nearly gone. And, Carlos Lee walked slowly to the plate--representing the go ahead run. How quickly this ball game had changed.
Momentum had shifted well in favor of The Houston Astros. With the VERY POWERFUL Carlos Lee (he of two Home Runs already during this series)--the nervousness around RFK STADIUM felt like Our Washington Nationals had already lost. "Not a Good Inning," I said to Troy--sitting to The African Queen's right. "That describes it in a nutshell," he replied.
Many standing along the third base side of the stands now. This game was on the line. And, it was Saul Rivera's to win or lose. And, Remember--I haven't gone to back to finish off Chad Cordero's Heart Palpitating Ninth Frame, yet. In fact, the final three innings of this ballgame, were downright THRILLING. Unexpectantly so.
With Lee at the plate, Saul looked in for the sign from Flores--delivered. Carlos liked what he saw and smashed a hot grounder to Ryan Zimmerman at third. "Z" handcuffed on the play--was able to recover--knowing Lee was a slow runner. With the Entire Crowd at RFK RISING realizing this game was at hand--Ryan threw to Dimitri Young--well off the bag. Chris Burke scored The Astros 4th tally of the frame--and Lance Berkman felt he could out run a Dimitri relay toss home to Flores. Our 2007 All Star--saw the play developing in front of him. Stepped well off the first base bag--retrieved the baseball thrown by Zimmerman--AND FIRED THE BALL TO FLORES AT THE PLATE. Home Plate Umpire Wally Bell, with The Flamboyant "OUT" Call at the plate. Flores blocked home with his left foot--then tagged out the diving Berkman has he attempted to get around the tag. Our Number 3 & Young combining to perform The Defensive Play of This Game. A Standing Ovation Given--for not only the fine defensive play, but also in great relief of this inning, finally ending.
Flores & Dimitri Young--with an assist from Ryan Zimmerman--had ended ONE SERIOUS RALLY. And closed the door on Houston's game tying run. BangTheDrumNatly, The African Queen, Troy, SenatorNat, Andy, Tom, Jim & I just stared at each other in disbelief. We all High Fived--knowing our Cheer was for More Luck than Good. Despite one terrible inning though--Our Washington Nationals still led by one, amazingly, 7-6.
An Advantage that held up through the 8th Inning, when Big Jon Rauch trotted out wearing Knee High Red Socks for, what we believe was, the very first time all season. The vision of "The Wookie" the tallest man to ever play this great game with long red socks--made him look 20 FEET TALL. Really, an impressive sight. Obviously--that perception was also dancing in The Astros Batter's Heads. Jon Rauch mowed Houston down in order--handing the game over to "The Chief Cardiologist."
With now only a one run lead--you just knew The Astros Final At-Bats were going to be exciting. Our Number 32 didn't disappoint. Although--his struggles were not all of his own doing. Eric Munson led off for Houston and laced a grounder to Zimmerman's left. Our Number 11 knocked it down, but was unable to get off a decent throw to Robert Fick at First. From the 7th inning on--it appeared every single hard hit ball--was BLASTED at Ryan Zimmerman. Munson's infield single, the harbinger of things to come in just three hitters. Ryan the centerpoint of this decisive frame.
Long Time Veteran and Professional Pinch Hitter--Orlando Palmeiro was next. Time after time during Orlando's successful Major League Career--he has flourished under similar circumstances. A destiny he appeared to be near fulfilling, once again, when he battled Chad Cordero deep into this wonderful At-Bat. Fouling off pitch after pitch--Palmeiro seemingly had the upper hand. "The Chief" wasn't fooling him. At least until--Chad jammed the eighth pitch of this At-Bat inside, inducing a WONDERFUL 4-6-3 Double Play. Ronnie Belliard to FLop to Robert Fick. The "ANNOUNCED" Crowd--and do I ever mean "ANNOUNCED" Crowd of 27,119 (No Way) was now stomping their feet, whooping it up. Our Washington Nationals were one out away from a Series Win.
Yet, once again--"The Baseball Gods" decided to make it even more interesting. And, they continued to direct their power at Ryan Zimmerman. Houston's Chris Burke was down to his final strike. The Astros down to their final out. Yet, somehow--Burke HAMMERED A SHARP GROUNDER--right at Ryan Zimmerman. "Z"--with nowhere to go, but put his body in front of the ball--saw the baseball take a bad hop and jump right into his stomach. Attempting to raise his glove to field the hot smash--he found the baseball striking his right throwing hand--and caroming toward the third base line. Zimmerman should have held on to the baseball--but like Hunter Pence before him--youthful exuberance--feeling you are always unbeatable--got the best of him. Ryan retrieved the baseball and heaved it, right into the Houston Dugout. Burke advancing to second on the overthrow. Although, I have to say--why in the world did Robert Fick just give up on the toss? Troy and I talked about this incident for some time. From our Vantage Point, it sure seemed Robert could have come off the bag to catch the errant toss. Maybe, the hard charging Burke--distracted him.
Which sets up where this all began. "The Most Thrilling Closer in The Game" throwing his Wild Pitch to, Yes--Hunter Pence. "Wonder Boy" was at the plate. The Game on the line. Out of nowhere, Chris Burke represented the TYING RUN. And, Thankfully--Jesus Flores had listened to the screams of All Those TEE BALL Parents--yelling at him not to throw the ball away on Cordero's unleashed pitch. Actually, Ryan Zimmerman had both hands up--screaming NO!!! right back at Flores. Its funny how, only in baseball, can you relate similar experiences from all age groups of play. Just another reason why, Baseball is The Greatest Game.
And now, Time for "The Chief" to settle down. Andy was having an connipiton in Section 320. Our Closer drives him crazy. "Does he have to do this most every time," The African Queen stated. Everyone just stared--saying nothing. BangTheDrumNatly--was working through his usual palpitations of his heart. Sohna telling him: "Don't worry, I still see that ambulance in the right field tunnel." Her hands were shaking. Not a sole was left sitting. The Crowd chanting. After over 2 Hours and 35 minutes--this game was FINALLY AT HAND.
Pence would work the count--going six pitches into the at-bat. The Sounds of RFK Living and Dying on each subsequent Cordero pitch. Finally, on that sixth toss--Chad Cordero induced a routine ground ball to Felipe Lopez at shortstop. The Roar beginning to rise from those still in attendance. FLop took his time and FIRED to Robert Fick at First Base to record that FINAL ELUSIVE OUT!!! That First Eruption heard was not the usual explosives. That was NOISE OF GREAT CHEER FROM THE GATHERED MASSES--VICTORY WAS FINALLY AT HAND!!
BANG!! ZOOM!! GO THE FIREWORKS!! Cury "W" Number 39 was a cliffhanger to the very end. At 3:36 Eastern Time, "The Chief" had closed the door on the very Pesky Houston Astros for his 17th save of 2007. A 7-6 potboiler that NOT A SOLE BELIEVED would be so close--just one hour earlier. Our Washington Nationals had nearly "SNATCHED DEFEAT" from the Jaws of Victory. Never, DO THEY EVER--make any game easy. At least you can say, its GREAT ENTERTAINMENT.
More details coming in the Game Notes & Highlights.
Never did anyone in attendance believe this game would go down to the wire. With rain coming down in the bottom of the first inning, Houston's Starter Jason Jennings was jumped all over by Our Washington Nationals--all with two outs. Successive walks to Ryan Zimmerman and Dimitri Young was followed by My Main Man!! Ryan Church blistering a Jennings pitch to the gap in right, scoring "Z" with the games first run. Then, Austin Kearns followed, and delivered--a key two run double grounded sharply just inside the third base bag--scoring both Young and Church. Just like that--Washington was up 3-0. SenatorNat yelling out: "BREAK UP THE NATS!!"
Playing small ball--Jesus Flores singled to lead off the second inning. Advanced to second on Jason Bergmann's sacrifice bunt. Then, lumbered to third on FLop's ground out to first base. And scored when, yet again--Ronnie Belliard hammered a Jennings pitch into the gap in left--scoring Flores with Washington's 4th run and landing himself on second with his 18th double and 29th RBI of 2007. Ronnie now with an 11 game hitting streak, tying My Main Man!! with Washington's Season High Hit Streak. SenatorNat and I actually got into a serious conversation of how Belliard Hits. Unlike most other Nats Batters--Ronnie fully extends through the strike zone on every swing. That extra effort gives him his power. An aptitude that many of Our Hitters do not seem to practice.
Potential which Ryan Langerhans, to me--continues to show when given the opportunity to succeed. Again this afternoon, Our Number 4 showed power--launching a Jennings pitch DEEP OVER THE RIGHT FIELD WALL--into the Mezzanine--just under Section 465 with THE GAME CHANGER--Three Run Blast--putting Washington out in front 7-2 in the bottom of the fifth. Langerhans 5th Homer of 2007 scored Young and Kearns, who had walked in front of his plate appearance. Shocked I was to read that Our Manager Manny Acta believes in Nook Logan today. Honestly, Langerhans may not be the answer, but he's a quality player. Someone that can help a Winning Team--as a 4th outfielder. The Man's got talent.
Jason Bergmann got his well deserved 2nd victory of 2007. It just happened he received that "W" on a day he was not his best. Our Number 57 gave up two home runs (Mike Lamb & Luke Scott), but he wasn't that sharp starter seen earlier this season. Maybe he's still putting his act back together again, after a long layoff. When Manny took him out after two consecutive singles by The Astros in the 7th--you can bet--Our Manager was just looking to get him that win. A Victory I am sure--even he did not feel was going down to the wire in hair raising style.
Felipe Lopez was The Lead Off Hitter this afternoon for Washington. On the postgame interview--Manny mentioned that He and Flop had talked about this for some time. With Alex Escobar returning, neither Nook Logan or Langerhans had separated themselves from the pack. So, Our Number 2 will be given the assignment, until he proves otherwise.
When it rained during the first inning--the temperature became quite comfortable. But, once those showers went away, even with partly cloudy skies--RFK STADIUM was a Sweltering Sweat Box this afternoon. No air seemed to be moving on this 90 Degree Plus Day. So, why were The Astros wearing those Crimson (DARK) Red Uniforms. Yeah, I like them too, but Grey would have been a bit more comfortable. Of course, the African Queen has her specially woven Fan, from her Native Land, The Gambia for comfort--that can provide a cool wind like no other hand fan in existance. Just a simple waffling of that weave can send refreshing air a good three seats away. Its special. Sohna's thinking of weaving a Red Curly "W" version.
Finally--The National Anthem was sung today by Brendan Sacks. Why do you say that is Special? Little Brendan is FIVE YEARS OLD. YES--5 Years OLD!! He WAS TERRIFIC!! Wearing a tailored Vintage Washington Senators Jersey originally worn by his Grand Father--this little guy was GREAT. You can see his entire rendition at this link: Brendan's family resides in Arnold, Maryland.
Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Gerald Herbert