Saturday, July 21, 2007
Less than two years ago, he was one of Baseball's Best SetUp Men. For three seasons, he pitched in 214 Games to a Very Solid ERA of 2.70. No, he wasn't an All Star--only because he played in Major League Baseball's Wasteland--Montreal--for two of those seasons. But, when those Expos moved south of the Canadian Border to Our Nation's Capital--people took notice.
Luis Ayala was one seriously good reliever. No, Our Number 56 had not been named an All Star--but he was celebrated among his teammates. During that Fabulous 2005 Inaugural Season of Our Washington Nationals--then Manager Frank Robinson sent Luis out to the mound, seemingly, every single night. If he wasn't setting up "The Chief", he was extending a ball game to get a win in Extra Innings. And 68 games into 2005, his elbow had enough. He was shut down, had minor surgery--done for the season. But, then came back way too soon to compete in The World Baseball Classic the following spring. Pressured by former Teammates Esteban Loaiza and Vinny Castilla, his Native Land--Mexico--wanted him for that Inaugural Classic during Spring Training--2006.
Despite Pleas from then Nationals Management--Major League Baseball--Ayala succumbed to that pressure to pitch for his Home Mexico. And, he blew out his elbow. Year Ending Surgery the result. Not only had Luis lost his season, but the respect of some of his Washington teammates, as well. For 18 Months, Luis Ayala sat on the sidelines wondering if he would ever enjoy This Great Game Again. Injuries will do that to you. Never do you know, until you actually toe that rubber and pitch with the game on the line.
Since returning to The Major League Roster in June--Our Number 56 has been brought along slowly. Get an out here, save a big inning from developing there--but never has Our Manager Manny Acta put Luis Ayala out on the mound--WITH EVERYTHING TO LOSE. At least until this afternoon. Our Washington Nationals held the slimmest of leads, 1-0 on the heels of Felipe Lopez--YES, FLop!!--blasting out, lefthanded, a NO DOUBT Home Run to Right Field in the bottom of the 6th. Never did I believe Felipe would EVER HIT ANY HOMER at RFK Stadium, except for a liner down the line. Yet, like Ronnie Belliard earlier this week, when he also Homered to Left Center against The Houston Astros--Baseball continues to surprise me. The Rockies Rodrigo Lopez served up Felipe Lopez' Homer.
The Baseball Gods were looking down on FLop this Saturday. A Glance those Deities were also giving toward Luis Ayala this afternoon. This past Monday, against those Astros--Luis pitched his worst inning of his short season. Facing just three batters, he hit the first one, then walked the final two. Many times, pitchers recovering from elbow surgery, lose their control--their working parts no longer in unison. After being away for such a long time recuperating--you have to expect it. A recovery that Luis made up for just two nights ago against these same Colorado Rockies. Called on to stretch the game to allow a Washington Comeback--Our Fine Set Up Man returned to form--going an impressive two complete innings. His Six Up & Six Down Performance gave his teammates the opportunity to win in 10.
A victory that night that gave Our Manager "The Confidence" to put Luis Ayala into this afternoon's affair against The Rockies. Washington Starter Mike Bacsik had pitched six strong innings and was working his way through the 7th--when he finally tired. Two walks, to Todd Helton and Ryan Spillborghs, had put runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs. Manny has said, all season long--he doesn't want to see a good start, by any of his starters wasted, by keeping them in the game too long. So, after Spillborghs walked--here came Manny--walking slowly to the mound.
Acta could have chosen any number of relievers, including newly arrived Chris Booker from AAA Columbus. But, he stuck with the veteran. Someone with experience. Someone who had faced this exact situation before. Manny trusted Luis Ayala.
Ayala trotted out to the mound and took his warmups. Colorado's Young Star, Troy Tulowitski, was watching intently in the On Deck Circle. Tulowitski--he of the TITANIC HOME RUN to Section 444 of RFK, in the first game of this series. Finally, Home Plate Umpire Adrian Johnson motioned "PLAY BALL". While Luis dug his foot into the mound, Troy burrowed his feet in at The Batters Box. Each knowing, The Game Was On The Line.
But, after Ayala threw his first two pitches for balls one and two--everyone in the VERY LARGE CROWD of 31,674 began to worry. After all, Luis was in trouble--Tulowitski figured he would get something to hit. A swing that on Ayala's third pitch Troy fouled off for strike one. Then, Colorado's Shortstop took a called strike. Just like that--Manny's Choice to keep the slimmest of leads was back even. Ayala had something to play with--which he did, by throwing the 5th pitch of this At-Bat off the plate. Tulowitski didn't bite.
The Count was now full. All the runners would be going on the very next pitch. A single in the gap, may well give The Rockies the lead. Luis Ayala looked in for the sign from Brian Schneider. Ryan Tulowitski steadied himself at the plate. Many Nationals Fans slowly rising to their feet. The Crescendo had been building. The Climax now upon us. Luis Ayala, looking for redemption, wanting to belong again, willingly rared back and fired a 92 MPH Fastball RIGHT PAST THE SWINGING Troy Tulowitski. RFK STADIUM ERUPTED IN GREAT JOY!!. Luis Ayala fist pumped in glory. A feeling he had not felt in quite some time.
This was A SEMINAL MOMENT. After nearly two years of inactivity--the harboring thoughts of doubt, remorse and the ability to compete at the Major League Level--Luis Ayala was again significant. A Gravity not lost on anybody watching at The Old Ballyard. A WELL DESERVED STANDING OVATION from the faithful. A meeting at The Dugout by each and everyone of his fellow Nationals Teammates. His Manager, Our Manager welcoming one of Baseball's Top Set Up Men, back into the fold. The Baseball Gods had spoken--Luis Ayala had suffered enough. He had EARNED BACK HIS RESPECT. The World Baseball Classic now a distant memory. He deserved this so much. I couldn't be happier for Our Number 56.
Today, this Saturday, Was REDEMPTION DAY for Luis Ayala.
A 1-0 lead was preserved, added on to later with a two run single by Pinch Hitter Tony Batista, and saved by Chad Cordero. But really, this game was all about JUST ONE OUT. Our Washington Nationals needed 27 outs to defeat The Colorado Rockies today 3-0. But, none Bigger than Troy Tulowitski Striking Out to end the 7th inning.
Curly "W" number 41 was one solid win. Washington 4th Shutout of an opponent this season. The Bang!! ZOOM!! of the Fireworks!! the final celebration of Luis Ayala's return to form.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Yeah, I know Mike Bacsik pitched strongly into the 7th, leaving with a shutout in tact. And yeah, I know, Tony Batista knocked in two key insurance runs with two outs and two strikes in the 8th. They will be the top stories in all the media outlets. But, tell me--which of those players respresents the Future of Our Washington Nationals more than Luis Ayala. Bacsik has pitched well of late--but is not an answer. Tony Batista is on borrowed time. Ayala's efforts today is key in deciding his Future With Our Washington Nationals.
Luis Ayala was one of Our Highlights of attending Spring Training in Viera, Florida this past February. The entire week The African Queen and I were there, he would always stop to say hello, take a picture or chat for the blog. We couldn't thank him enough. Another reason, Sohna and I are so very pleased at his successful comeback.
FLop not only providing the game winning run, but also a top fielding play. In the top of the 8th inning, The Rockies Willy Taveras laced a hard grounder into the hole between Lopez and Ryan Zimmerman. Felipe dove, full out, to snare the baseball while slamming his body to the ground. Then, had enough presence to quickly get up, fire a toss across the infield, in the dirt--which Tony Batista scooped--TO JUST GET THE FAST MOVING TAVERAS. Unquestionably, FLop with The Defensive Play of This Game. Felipe Lopez is mighty talented, he just seems lost at times. It would be great to get a better understanding about Felipe Lopez, the person. Maybe then, we can understand him more.
Our Washington Nationals played a very interesting bottom of the 7th inning. My Main Man!! Ryan Church led off with a sharp double to right--followed by an Austin Kearns walk. The Rockies then replaced their starter, Rodrigo Lopez, with Jeremy Affeldt. With Robert Fick the scheduled left handed swinger, against the the lefthanded Affeldt--Manny Acta sent D'Angelo Jimenez to the plate. I don't have a problem with the move, just why would you pinch hit--just to bunt the runners up. Which, is what Jimenez accomplished. Then, after Brian Schneider grounded out to Jamey Carroll at second base, send up Dimitri Young to pinch hit for Nook Logan--knowing, in all likelihood, Colorado would intentionally walk Our Number 21?
Which they did also. Thus, setting up Our Manager's Final Move--pinch hitting for Ayala with Tony Batista after pinch running for Young with Ryan Langerhans. And, wouldn't you know it, Batista would stroke a two out, two strike grounder through hole in left to score Church and Kearns with the final two runs of this game. Sure--in the long run--those maneuvers all played out in Washington's advantage, but at the expense of their entire bench, save Jesus Flores.
I am not saying Manny Acta is wrong. I just would love to ask him why? Why this way?
Mike Bacsik picked up his 3rd win of the season today. Just a few weeks ago, Our Number 37 appeared to be on borrowed time. Now, its likely he will last the remainder of the season. "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" was lights outs in the 9th today. Chad Cordero picked up his 18th save of the season, that included a terrific strikeout of Colorado's Best Hitter, Matt Holliday on a 90 MPH HEATER in the top of the 9th. After missing that third strike, Holliday looked at his bat to see if there was a hole in it. Even he could not believe, he was overmatched by "The Chief". I think I even saw Chad chuckle to himself over the sight of Holliday.
Ryan Zimmerman made one of his patented charge in on a bunt throwing hand pickup and tosses--all in one motion to retire Yorvit Torrealba for an out in the 9th. When Ryan does not rush himself, and just executes he is arguably one of baseball's finest fielders. But, when he starts thinking too much, he gets himself in trouble. As he did on the very first play of this game, when Taveras bunted down the line, Ryan ran in--scooped up the ball barehanded--had plenty of time--but threw the baseball down the right field line. You could just see, he was trying to be too perfect. Instead of just reacting. Not complaining--just something we have all noticed from Section 320.
On Veterans Appreciation Day, among the ceremonies honoring those who protect our Freedom, was the FABULOUS SIGHT of The US Army "BlackDaggers" Parachute Team landing on the field at RFK STADIUM. While a Parachute Spotter trailing red smoke targeted the stadium from the sky--three separate "BlackDaggers" parchuted onto the field to HUGE APPLAUSE. Clapping that rose to an even greater level when Two Additional Parachutists--one standing on the shoulder of another landed in leftfield waving an American Flag. It was a GREAT EFFORT. The Sight of many pointing to the sky and watching the show--exciting to see.
And what a crowd to watch it. On the afternoon of the only game played by Our Washington Nationals this entire season--not on television--31,674 posted up on a GORGEOUS LATE AFTERNOON. To attract such a following against a team like Colorado, that does not travel well--when it comes to their fans--a really good sign that Our Team may well reach 2 Million this season in attendance, after all.
Finally--We had a medical emergency for a patron in Section 320 during the last half of the 6th inning and parts of the 7th. Fortunately, the sick fan will be fine. But, the fact that Ushers and Security called EMT's--A Medical Crew that is stationed just two sections away from us, down the left field line--AND DID NOT SHOW UP FOR 20 MINUTES--WAS INEXCUSABLE!! The EMT's claimed they had another call. Yet, more than one of the Ushers said they were definitely just sitting in their Medical Office. What would have happened--if this incident had been far worse. Even when they finally arrived in Section 320--they showed little hurry. Thanks for caring.
Today's InGame Photos-(AP) Nick Wass