Sunday, September 02, 2007

Being Guarded

The San Francisco Giants Reliever was visibly dismayed. Brian Wilson believed he had just struck out Ryan Zimmerman on a 2-2 count. A 91 MPH Slider that "Z-Man" had no chance of hitting. A taken pitch that Home Plate Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called ball three. A Decision that completely changed the bottom of the 9th inning this afternoon at RFK Stadium. Altered, because a full count gave Our Washington Nationals another shot at winning this ballgame with their Best Clutch Hitter at the plate.

The score was tied 1-1. FLop was on second after a one out, two strike drive, to left center for a clean double. Felipe Lopez now representing the winning run with just about the most seasoned 22 year old out there playing Major League Baseball--due up next. Yes, Ryan Zimmerman has delivered in seven previous last At-Bats since the beginning of the 2006 Season. Many in Dramatic Style. With the game on the line--there is NO ONE Our Washington Nationals would love more to see batting. A position every single Nats Fan watching at RFK Stadium relished. A situation Brian Wilson thought he was out of--believing he had struck out Zimmerman.

The Announced Crowd of 27,310 was now on their feet anticipating the next move. For most of this Sunday Afternoon, those attending basically sat on their hands. Little excitement on the field. Little venom to spew at The Giants Barry Bonds. Again, The New All Time Home Run King sat this one out--at least until a suspenseful Pinch Hitting Appearance in the 8th. More on that in a moment.

Brian Wilson retrieved the baseball from his catcher Guillermo Rodriguez and looked pointedly to the sky, then over his shoulder at FLop at second-finally showing an almost lost look of disdain. Frustration noticed that immediately had me telling The African Queen, "He's lost his edge. He's letting the call get to him." A 99 MPH Fastball Pitcher was worried over one pitch call. His San Francisco Giants were still in this game, and Ryan had been outgunned and overmatched throughout this now 5 pitch At-Bat. Our Number 11 not even close to hitting Wilson's extreme heat. Yet, The San Francisco Reliever was beginning to have second thoughts. Worries that Ryan Zimmerman might now have an edge. This from a hot pitcher that since being recalled from AAA Fresno last August 11th, had yet to give up a single run in ten appearances. Go Figure, for a guy sporting a 0.00 ERA.

What's been important in the development of Our Star Third Baseman has been his ability to adapt. You can fool him once or twice--but he learns quickly. After realizing Wilson was overpowering him--he cut down on this swing, became guarded. No longer just looking to knock the baseball out of the park. All Ryan really needed to do was get a clean single. The Speedy FLop would provide the rest. As Brian checked his emotions and looked in for the sign from his catcher--Zimmerman looked for that exact same pitch--Wilson's slider.

Sure enough--Their Number 38 delivered another slider over the outside corner. A pitch "Z" swung on and looped into right field. The roar from the stands erupting in joy. Everyone could see this base hit was going to get down. The Game was at hand. Felipe Lopez wasn't stopping for no one. Third Base Coach Tim Tolman waved FLop on. The Giants rightfielder, Randy Winn, scooped up the rolling ball and fired it past first baseman Ryan Klesko. A far too late throw, as Our Number Two slid across Home Plate banging down his left hand, for emphasis, to score today's Winning Run.

Another Game Deciding Hit for Our Best Player! A Walk Off Single scoring Felipe Lopez to give Our Washington Nationals a well fought, well pitched, 2-1 last at bat win over The San Francisco Giants. As the Bang!! Zoom!! of the Fireworks!!! began raining over RFK Stadium--The Entire Team for Our Washington Nationals sprinted out of the dugout to Mob Ryan Zimmerman. Even Our Manager Manny Acta joining in the celebration--high fiving everyone in sight. The now exuberant faithful rhythmically clapping along the third base stands. Salutations and Hand Shakes all around in Section 320.

And, Oh Yeah--Brian Wilson--he just lowered his head and walked off the field. Raw Emotion in the clutch--had cost him and his San Francisco Giants dearly. Brian Wilson allowed his very first runner to score all season due to indecision. An Umpire's Call had given him, not only pause, but doubt. By late Sunday Afternoon at the Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street, all that had earned him--was his very first loss of 2007. Letting his guard down, The Giants paid the ultimate price.

For Our Washington Nationals, Curly "W" Number 60 was, not only a good victory, but the guarded signs of the continuing maturation of a Rising Star. Ryan Zimmerman, once again--The Hero. Really, No one cheering for Our Team would have wanted to see this ballgame end, in any other way. Another Stellar Moment for Our Franchise Player.

Game Notes and Highlights:

This Afternoon witnessed the return and resurgence of "Our Starter In Training". Matt Chico was given the start and proceeded to show off his newly taught shorter stride. A change in his mechanics by Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire to get Our Number 47 to quit throwing across his body--which gave him less control and command of his pitches. An adjustment that sure seemed to work for Matt Chico against The Giants. 7 extremely strong innings. Just One Walk and 3 hits. His only real blemish--a typical Chico allowed Home Run. Another blast in to the Upper Deck--Section 444 down the left field line by San Francisco's Rich Aurilia. Other than that drive--Matt pitched arguably his finest performance of the season. Staying ahead in the count--The Giants mostly couldn't figure him out.

Good thing too--because San Francisco's Barry Zito was giving an equally as impressive performance for The Giants. Just two hits allowed by Their Number 75 and one walk in seven innings. His only blemish, a two out triple allowed to Nook Logan on a drawn in outfield in the 3rd--with Ronnie Belliard on first via a single off the glove of Omar Vizquel. A run scoring RBI for Our Number 7--that only occurred because The Giants did not believe Logan could hit anything, with authority, off Zito. A Scouting Mistake that gave Our Washington Nationals their first and only run--until Zimmerman ended this game with his walk off single.

Of course--Ryan may never have come to the plate with the game winning run on the line--if "The Chief Cardiologist" had not got himself out of his own two out jam in the top of the 9th. Aurilia again was the nemesis, facing Chad Cordero, ahead in the count 2-1. Our Number 32 tossed in his 4th pitch of this At-Bat over the outside corner. A potential waste pitch that The Former National League All Star reached out and scooted the baseball past a surprised Dmitri Young at first base and down the right field line. A two out double that now found "The Chief" in serious trouble. The Nats Faithful worried: "Here we go again!" Especially with San Francisco's Lefthanded Swinging Rookie Power Hitter Daniel Ortmeier up next. Who didn't envision--a dribbling grounder through the hole between first and second, scoring the extremely fast pinch runner Dave Roberts. Fan anguish that got only worse when Cordero and Ortmeier teamed up for a NINE PITCH AT BAT. After being ahead 2-1 in the count--The Giants Hitter fouled off 4 of Chad's next 5 pitches. A Familiarity that was slowly giving Daniel the advantage. Leverage that Our Cordero wasn't giving up on. Ultimately, on the 9th and final pitch of this At-Bat, "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" finished off Ortmeier on slop in the dirt. A strike out that brought huge relief to those watching. And, a fist pump from Chad Cordero for a job well done.

For his part--Ortmeier was also involved in The Defensive Play of This Game--although he was on the receiving end. In the top of the second--he laced a looping liner to center off Matt Chico. A stroked hit that, once again, found Nook Logan originally BACKING UP ON THE PLAY. A mistake with the baseball a good twenty feet in front of him. Fortunately--Logan's greatest talent is speed. An ability he used to redirect himself, sprint in and snare the baseball while diving to the turf. A good recovery by Our Number 7--an out giving Nook--The Defensive Play of This Game.

As this swiftly moving ballgame reached the late innings, there was little excitement and virtually no suspense. At least until Barry Bonds was called on to Pinch Hit for Barry Zito in the 8th with no one out and Kevin Frandsen on first base via a leadoff single off Saul Rivera. The VERY MOMENT Number 25 stepped out of the first base dugout, the murmuring, booing and spectacle began. Just like that--The Crowd was Alive and Into this Game. Yeah, I don't like the man either, but I can't deny the always inviting thrill he brings to the plate with every appearance. Barry Bonds is MUST SEE TV. In person--its even better. Not in some time, can I remember ONE SINGLE HITTER that all eyes are turned to--the moment he steps to the plate and the umpire yells "PLAY BALL". As The Home Run King got ahead in the count 2-0 on Rivera--many were sensing a long drive. A game changing Home Run that never happened. Because Our Number 52 bared down and threw Barry one wicked pitch in on his hands. At 43 years old, The Aging Star couldn't get around on the pitch. Barry Bonds grounding out meekly to Ronnie Belliard at second base. An out that may well have been HIS FINAL APPEARANCE IN OUR NATION'S CAPITAL. Their Number 25 Booed all the way back to The Giants First Base Clubhouse.

As we all discussed in Section 320 during this memorable plate appearance--we were happy to see Washington go after Bonds. Our Team has nothing to lose--whether he hits a home run or not. But, if you strike Barry Bonds out--you will remember that forever. Bravo for pitching to Barry Bonds--all five times he batted at RFK Stadium this weekend.

Wily Mo Pena continues to struggle in his plate appearances at RFK Stadium. The word must be out that he can't hit a curveball. His problem, Wily Mo can't seem to distinguish the difference between pitches. Really, Our Number 16 is swinging at everything. A fastball he has rarely seen over the past three days. Of course Colleen was grossed out to see that Pena "LICKS" his bat--For Luck--as he walks from The On Deck Circle to Home Plate for everyone of his At-Bats.

FLop was back wearing those gorgeous White Shoes with Black Trim that he wore much earlier in the season for a few home games at RFK Stadium. From Our Vantage Point in Section 320--his cleats looked like Running Shoes. Although this time, Felipe Lopez wore his pant leg down over the high top portion. The first time out, FLop had turned up his pant leg to show the High Top. As Gordon, visiting Section 320 today mentioned: "As of Labor Day, those white shoes will no longer be in fashion." We all laughed. Since Tomorrow is Labor Day--will Felipe Lopez wear those shoes again?

Finally, today was a frustrating cheering day for The African Queen. Still not 100%, she still posted up for this afternoon's affair, but really wasn't able to bellow out any of her favorite cheers and chants that so many have come to expect. With "The Noise Boys" nowhere to be found and MickNats in Quiet Mode--it was all left to me to pick up the slack for her. Sadly, I couldn't do it all myself. And you know--I am pretty darn loud. Also, even Screech was shocked when he stopped by Section 320 for customary first pitch and NOT SEE ME SITTING IN MY CUSTOMARY SEAT. Sohna sitting alone while I was chatting with my friend, Neal, a few rows back. For the briefest of moments--Screech thought his BEST FRIEND was actually missing a game. After I yelled out to him--he relaxed--relieved The World Was Back To Normal Again.

PS--This is WHY SOHNA AND I LOVE OUR MANAGER MANNY ACTA. Responding to a post game question about whether Our Washington Nationals are excited to play against The NL EAST TOP Teams as the season winds down--Our Most Charismatic Manager responded:

"We are like a construction site for the teams that are going to come in," Acta said. "You can walk on a construction site all over the place barefooted, but once in a while, you are going to step on a nail and you are going to get hurt. We are going to hurt somebody. We are going to give everybody our best effort. We are not going to roll over for anybody. That's the way it should be."

That's a GREAT Quote--anyway you read it. Our Number 14 is Special.

Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Gerald Herbert

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