Sunday, August 05, 2007
When a ballgame is heading to the late innings, the score tied, any opportunity to score that crucial go ahead run is magnified. A Chess Match begins. Moves and counter moves, then many times, followed by one additional move. This is the part of baseball where any manager earns his just due. This Afternoon at RFK Stadium--The Chess Board was all laid out in the 8th inning. Our Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals provided the playing pieces. A Decisive Inning that became one of The Most Interesting Innings competed all season. A Nail Biter--that had everyone on the edge of their seats. A Frame that any baseball fan had to enjoy. Twists and Turns that held every one's attention. An ending that Sent RFK Stadium into A FRENZY!!
Luis Ayala was in trouble with one out and St. Louis runners on first and second base in the top of the 8th inning. The score was tied and The Cardinals Pitcher, Adam Wainwright was the scheduled hitter. Wainwright, who had already homered today, was standing in the On-Deck circle preparing to hit. But, The RedBirds Bench Coach, Joe Pettini was waiting to see if Our Manager Manny Acta would lift Luis first (St. Louis Manager Tony LaRussa had been ejected in the 5th). But, when Joe realized Manny was not showing his hand--Pittini sent the left handed swinging Adam Kennedy to the plate for the right handed hitting Wainwright. A move that Manny then countered with Ray King called in from the bullpen. Our Lefty Situational Man, against their lefthanded swinger. A decision that forced Pettini's hand in any effort to get the upper hand, again. Adam Kennedy, without even taking one pitch, was out of this game and replaced by Pinch Hitter, Yadier Molina. A Cardinals Strategy to, once again, regain the situational advantage by getting the right hand swinging Molina to bat against Our Lefty.
A move that backfired on St. Louis when King retired The Cardinals on just ONE PITCH. A back to the mound swat by The Cardinals Pinch Hitter Molina. A ball fielded by Ray, who whirled around--fired to Ronnie Belliard at second base. Whereupon Our Number 10, pivoted over the sliding Chris Duncan--threw to Dimitri Young at First Base-- A Rally Killing of St. Louis!! A predicament that Luis Ayala had started by allowing a one out double to center by Jim Edmonds and a walk to Duncan. A Game Saving Double Play that SET UP this game's Deciding Moments. But, not before Ray King strutted off the mound, ONE PROUD MAN. A Standing Ovation for Our Number 34, a smile so wide--everyone sitting in the Upper Deck along the third base side must have seen it. A Gleam that resulted in Fist Pumps by EACH AND EVERY MEMBER of Our Washington Nationals as he arrived in the Home Dugout.
Now only halfway through this exciting frame, another series of maneuvers in the bottom of the 8th, again captivated this crowd of 33,517.
Still tied at three runs apiece--Nook Logan led off against The St. Louis Cardinals' Ryan Franklin with a bunt down the third base line. A hard enough dribbler that Scott Rolen made the play on--but threw right into the back of Logan. An infield single that immediately renewed the Chess Match that played out throughout this edge of your seat of an inning. With Nook now on first with nobody out--Our Manager Manny Acta sent Robert Fick to the plate to pinch hit for Ray King. Opportunity was now at hand with Our Number 13 standing in the batters box. Not a single person, did not believe, that Fick was going to bunt. The only question was--Could he Execute? An answer that had many Nationals Fans shaking their heads when Robert POPPED UP Franklin's first pitch--fortunately, just out of catcher Molina's grasp. The baseball landing near Our Nationals On Deck Circle. Groans and worries all around. How many times have Our Washington Nationals failed to get down a bunt, safely?
An accomplishment rewarded with Great Cheer when Fick placed another attempt--a little to hard--toward Rolen. But, slow enough to allow the speedy Logan to advance to second base. With D'Angelo Jimenez now heading to the plate, there was an interesting conference to come. Many have noted some of the ill fated decisions by Our Third Base Coach, Tim Tolman, over the past few weeks. Tim has made decisions--to either send runners or hold them at third base--results which have been disastrous. With the game on the line in the bottom of the 8th, Manny Acta was taking no chances. He wanted to discuss strategy for the plays to come. With the potential for all the playing pieces to scatter on any hit--Our Number 14 wanted to get his point across. Now, I don't know what was said between them, but Manny called Tolman over to the Home Dugout. A 10 Second Conversation ensued with Tim just shaking his head, up and down. An interesting scenario which only had me wondering what they were chatting about.
A talk that once ended found Jimenez (in the game only because FLop was taken out with a sore knee) walked on seven pitches, putting runners on 1st and 2nd with one out. Many in the stands at The Old Ballyard now were rising to their feet. One of Our Most Clutch Players all season long, Ronnie Belliard was next. Time and time again--Our Number 10 has delivered with the game on the line. A result EVERYONE was expecting when Ronnie went DEEP into the count against Ryan Franklin. At one time ahead 3-2 in the count--Belliard proceeded to foul off, three straight pitches. Swinging so hard, that if he had connected solidly, at all--a sure run would have scored. With the noise level continuing to rise--Franklin rared back on this 9th pitch of this At-Bat and Struck Out Ronnie on a foul tip into Molina's glove. The Second Out of the inning that brought ROARS from The Cardinal Faithful. Only sighs and disgust from Washington's. Rarely is anything easy for Our Washington Nationals.
Ronnie Belliard walked dejectedly back to the dugout, upset with himself for not being "The Game Changer". A Title better suited for the man that followed him in today's batting order. Yes, who else would it be, but Ryan Zimmerman. Not a sole in attendance did not understand the circumstances. "Z" on fire all week, batting over .500. And, The Last Time Our Ryan--Zimmerman, met their Ryan--Franklin, Our Number 11 won the battle. A game winning single through the hole to leftfield, that won Friday's Nights contest. As is always the case in baseball--Ryan Franklin would get his chance for redemption. Franklin, needing just one out to send this game into extra innings--fired away. And, Our Ryan was swinging at EVERYTHING after called strike one. Swinging strike two, followed by foul, after foul, after foul, after foul ball. Zimmerman wasn't going down without a fight. And although Ryan Franklin was ahead in the count, he was not fooling "ZIMMY" either.
Once again--a hitter going deep into an At-Bat, most always has the advantage. The more pitches you see from any pitchers arsenal, gives you the better opportunity to adjust. A leverage earned by Our Ryan despite being down 0-2 in the count--when Franklin fooled "Z" with an off speed pitch on his 7th throw of this At-Bat. A toss that Our Number 11 was able to slow down his bat speed, JUST ENOUGH, to stroke a soft liner into left field, bringing RFK Stadium to its feet. A Eruption of Joy as Nook Logan trotted home with the go ahead run. AMAZINGLY!! Ryan Zimmerman had DONE IT AGAIN!! "Z" standing on first base clapping his hands in JOY!! Our Washington Nationals greeting Logan Warmly back into their Dugout. The Appreciative Faithful, boisterous in their applause.
This Chess Match--once favoring St.Louis in the top half of the 8th, had now turned dramatically in Washington's Favor. A 4-3 lead that was enhanced on the very next pitch of this game when Dimitri Young powered a Franklin pitch deep to the gap in left centerfield. A Bases Clearing Double scoring Jimenez and Zimmerman!! Ryan Zimmerman ROARING WITH DELIGHT as he crossed home plate to slap hands with D'Angelo. Young standing on second base wiggling his fingers in enjoyment at his Washington Teammates in the Dugout. At first, Washington had slowly felt its way around today's chess board. Now, Our Washington Nationals had taken control of it. A 6-3 Lead featuring A BELLOWING CROWD CELEBRATING IN TRIUMPH!! The Jumping Heads along the third base sidelines had returned. Through all the twists and turns, up and downs of this exciting inning, Our Washington Nationals had finally called CHECKMATE!! All of Many Acta's maneuvers and countermaneuvers had worked.
The St. Louis Cardinals had lost--for the third straight day. The Defending Champions Swept Out of RFK Stadium. Who would have thought that possible?
Yeah, "The Chief" had to close this one out in the 9th, with a fine assist from Austin Kearns diving to his right to catch a Scott Rolen liner to end the game--but Chad Cordero did earn his 23 save of 2007. The Bang!! Zoom!! of The Fireworks this afternoon signifying a SEASON HIGH 6 Game Winning Streak. Curly "W" Number 51 the continuing sign that Our Washington Nationals are on the rise.
Pitching has been their strong point most all season long. Timely Hitting and Defense are now finally coming around. What was needed next played out before everyone in visual sight today. Our Manager moving his Pawns, Rooks, Bishops and Knights deftly, with a fine assist from His King--Ray King. While his players made the game winning plays this afternoon on East Capitol Street, Manny Acta played Chess To GET THE WIN!! Our Number 14 calling CHECKMATE at 4:47PM Eastern Time.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Many Times Matt Chico has me wondering how he gets away with it. Never pitching a 1-2-3 Inning today, "Our Starter In Training" struggled through five innings, allowing two homers. One to Ryan Ludwick off the GEICO BANNER in left field during the top of the 2nd. Then, a MONSTER BLAST by his opposing mound mate. Adam Wainwright flat out crushed a Chico pitch above the Toyota Sign in left centerfield and nearly into the open walkway used during football. What a CLOUT!!, easily the finest stroked baseball by a pitcher at RFK Stadium since the return of baseball to Washington, DC.
Our Number 47 then got lucky when, on his final pitch of this game--he allowed a two out, double down the right field line by Jim Edmonds. Albert Pujols scored easily from second base with The Cardinals third run of the afternoon, but failed to plate the go ahead run when Austin Kearns hustled into the corner, retrieved the ball--throwing it to Belliard--the cut off man. With the baseball slightly over his head, Ronnie reached behind and over his head, snared the baseball, turned and threw a one hopper to Jesus Flores blocking home plate. Juan Encarnacion arrived a split second too late, running all the way from first. Home Plate Umpire Brian Runge with the EMPHATIC OUT CALL!! A BANG-BANG PLAY that retired St. Louis, prevented the key go ahead run--and was appreciated mightily from the Home Faithful. With the game changing run about to score, Kearns to Belliard to Flores combined, for The Defensive Play of This Game.
Just moments before this Key Play--The Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa was ejected by First Base Umpire Mark Wegner. A removal from the ballgame that was very unexpected. Ludwick had just struck out on a check swing that Washington appealed. Wegner ruled Ludwick had swung the bat. As Washington's Fans cheered the outcome, LaRussa stepped out of the dugout and walked toward HOME PLATE UMPIRE Brian Runge. Without turning toward Wegner positioned at first base--Mark signaled that LaRussa was out of the game. A decision that set Tony Off. LaRussa proceeding to quickly move down to Wegner and berate him for some time. I am sure Tony LaRussa was pissed with the strike out call, but from my vantage point--I did not see LaRussa personally jawing away at Wegner as his walked out of the dugout. In fact, it appeared LaRussa was only heading onto the field to keep Ludwick from being thrown out of the game. It was an Odd and VERY UNEXPECTED MOMENT.
Zimmerman with three more hits today. Now batting a Robust .274. Dimitri Young may be the Clubhouse Leader, Ryan The TEAM Leader with any game on the line. Speaking of Dimitri--3 more hits also (two doubles) and three RBI. Young with 60 Runs Batted In, Zimmerman 61. As a side note, there is little more fun, than seeing Our Number 21 scurrying around the bases. He's not fast, but he hustles. The African Queen gets a kick out of him every time Dimitri takes off running.
Luis Ayala looked good during his first inning of relief, the 7th, but tired quickly in the 8th. Although Our Number 56 completed 1.1 innings, only Ray King saved him from a potential loss. Luis was having problems finding the plate in that 8th inning. Good thing Manny pulled the plug on him. But, I did enjoy Ayala wearing his red uniform socks HIGH to the knees today. Something I don't ever recall him doing before. And, the white socks showing under stirrups around his ankles--excellent!! Very Retro.
And, "Teddy" again came by to lead the "Lets Teddy Win!!" Chant during the 7th inning. But, when Clint got in the way--Teddy and The NatsTV Host almost came to blows. Clint better learn quickly--even he can't overshadow "Teddy's" Fame in Section 320!!
Finally, Sunday was "BACK TO SCHOOL DRIVE" Day at RFK STADIUM. Washington Nationals Players Wives and Girlfriends gathered outside The Main Gate, Gate A & Gate F to receive fan donations of school supplies. Sohna and I brought some items for the kids and chatted with Sherrie Langerhans and Tammy Schroeder at the Main Gate. Its seemed that many fans brought stuff for this event. The Collection Boxes were stuffed!!
Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Haraz N. Ghanbari