Saturday, June 30, 2007

Having a Great Time in Pittsburgh & PNC Park

Yes, The African Queen and I are here in Pittsburgh enjoying ourselves tremendously. This City has come a long way since the Blue Collar Steel Town of 25 years ago. The Downtown Skyline is quite attractive. And, from PNC Park, provides quite the stunning backdrop. If New Nationals Park is anything near The Pittsburgh Pirates Home Field, Sohna and I would be quite happy. The entire area surrounding the park is quite the happening place.

Although, that great adventure called baseball played inside tonight involving Our Washington Nationals did anything but provide us bliss. The Pittsburgh Pirates hammered Jason Bergman tonight in the second inning. Three Singles, Two Doubles, Two walks--all amounting to six runs. The Final three coming after two were out and it appeared Catcher Brian Schneider would be able to handle a pop foul by Freddy Sanchez. But, Schneider ran into the camera well railing behind home plate, toward the 3rd Base Dugout. The collision jarring the baseball out of what would have been a very fine basket catch to retire the side.

Sanchez's new life resulting in a run scoring single to center scoring Pittsburgh's 4th run of the night. Then Adam LaRoche put this game out of reach with a two run double into the right centerfield gap scoring the 5th & 6th runs for The Pirates. Just like that, this game was over. 7-2 the final score. There really wasn't much excitement for Nationals Fans in attendance.

Oh yeah, there was that so called third inning walkout by Pirates Fans disgusted in their ownership's ability to continue to field mediocre teams. It didn't amount to much. Maybe a few hundred or so fans, many dressed in Electric Green T-Shirts. All that many of them did-- was walk up to the concourse, stand for a half inning--then return to their seats. The Local Media was all over it. But, Honestly, it didn't amount to much. Although, there was this great bed sheet banner hanging over the left field pavilion early on--until police made the folks take it down. It read "Worst MLB Owners" You might be able to see it in this photograph. I was far from it.

But, this dreary loss didn't take away from the tremendous amount of fun we encountered in and around PNC Park.

So tonight, a little chance of pace. Its all about everything else, but the game.

We are staying at The William Penn. The Grand Old Hotel of Pittsburgh. A Registered Treasured Landmark. The William Penn is a throwback to those times when traveling was always Prestigious. What a Lobby. And, when they offered afternoon "Royal Tea" with Champagne Cocktail, Scones & Sandwiches--we were not going to pass up on the opportunity. Sohna is from A British Commonwealth Country--The Gambia--Afternoon Tea is in her blood.

After Tea, we walked across The Roberto Clemente Bridge to take in all the festivities. A Street Tailgate Party, and dozens of restaurants--packed with fans enjoying themselves before the game. The Atmosphere was Great.

What The Pittsburgh Pirates have done extremely well is bring forward, in time, Pittsburgh's very historical baseball past. It begins just outside the park with HUGE MONUMENTS to Clemente and Willie Stargell. Then continues inside PNC Park with Legacy Square--more monuments dedicated to Pittsburgh's Negro League Past and their famous team--The Pittsburgh Crawfords/Homestead Grays. These statues are just great. Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston and Buck Leonard--to name a few. Sohna and I loved them. We could only hope that The DC Sports & Entertainment Commission and Our Washington Nationals could provide a similar Proud Showing of Washington's Fine Baseball Heritage on South Capitol Street beginning in 2008. The fact that Gibson, Bell, Williams and Leonard are immortalized in "Grays" Jerseys, the same one worn when their team played at Old Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC--made our feelings that much stronger toward this fine art work.

From there, we continued inside PNC PARK.

We enjoyed The EXPANSIVELY WIDE CONCOURSE--stand up steel tables surround the bowl that allows ANYONE to eat and enjoy a meal--while still watching a game. There was not a single place around the concourse--that you could not watch baseball proceed--while attending to other business. That was terrific. Something New Nationals Park is supposed to mimic in every way.

And really, what more can I say about that Skyline Shot. Camden Yards has The B&O Warehouse. AT&T Park has the San Francisco Bay. PNC PARK has the nicest city backdrop imaginable. The simplicity of The Clemente Bridge--ceiling the deal for me. Sohna and I marveled at that Skyline from our seats--until nightfall. Then, the lighted Clemente Bridge looked better than ever. Just Stunning, really.

The Pittsburgh Pirates also provide a wealth of In-Game Entertainment. Stuff that Sohna and I came to enjoy throughout the evening. Their version of The NatPack are called DiamondGirls (I believe) and they travel around the ballpark with a host--similar to Clint doing NatsTV. They interact with fans--play trivia games--And, Of Course--set up The Piroge Race at the end of the 5th inning. Just like Our Racing Presidents--The Piroges run out from near the right field corner and race toward the first base dugout. Waved on by The DiamondGirls and their TWO PITTSBURGH MASCOTS--"Parrot & Pirate".

Just after this race, Sohna was heading up to the concourse level and a Pittsburgh Fan stopped her to show her his Most Prized Possession Picture at a baseball game in some time. The Picture was Our Racing Presidents. This Pirates Fan mentioned to The African Queen that they were HIS FAVORITE EVENT EVER at a Sporting Event. When Sohna told this fellow Bobbleheads of all four "Rushmores" were being given away over the next two months--she said you could see the envy in his eyes. This Pittsburgh Pirate Fan was very fond of something Our Washington Nationals have produced.

The PNC Park Scoreboard looms over the left field stands. The Video quality is excellent. Their Sound System First Class. Just before tonight's game began--a terrific History of Pittsburgh Baseball Anthology was played in the park. The Video Producers used some fabulous historical photos, then digitally removed the players of most interest out of the piece--nearly 3D in style--to emphasize their importance to the past. Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, Ralph Kiner, Clemente, among others--including Barry Bonds, the entire fine past of The Great Game in Pittsburgh was shown. IT WAS TERRIFIC!!

Then, followed immediately by a very funny animation of 1800's era warships flying Washington Nationals Banners sailing at sea. Only to come across THE GREAT BLACK SHIP--flying The Pirates Flag. Although there were 9 Nats Ships, this one Pirate Ship blasted away with cannon balls depicting The Pirates Fine Logo. Sohna and I couldn't stop laughing. Again, another well produced video. "I guess they aim to Blast Them Away--this Pirates Fans mentioned to us."

This type of Quality Stuff continued throughout the ballgame. And, their music selection--excellent. Really, The Pittsburgh Pirates do a great job when it comes to In-Game Entertainment. They seem to care so much, that after the game ended, their scoreboard actually gave credit to each and every person involved in Tonight's Production by depicting everyone's name. That's classy. Too bad, their team hasn't been able to turn things around for some time. Of course--Our Washington Nationals have done a fine job of making The Pittsburgh Pirates look good in 2007.

Every seat at PNC Park is turned toward the Pitching Mound. Never does anyone have to turn their head toward the majority of the action--while sitting in an awkward direction. The Cup Holders on every seat--a life saver. No one could kick your drink over. Yet, not being use to it--I consistently kept reaching under my seat for my drink. Sohna and I kept chuckling over my continuing mistake.

As we left tonight, we took the long way around PNC PARK, and slowly walked back to The William Penn. Unlike RFK Stadium, where fans are quickly ushered out of the stadium--in Pittsburgh, we were allowed to linger for some time. One Usher telling us: "We have realized coming here is Big Thing for many. No one should go home, unhappy and quickly." It was a kind and considerate comment. Something, we appreciated greatly.

Yeah, I know and understand--Our Washington Nationals lost badly tonight. And, you know what--The African Queen and I didn't go back to the Hotel Unhappy. We would have loved a win--but tonight the experience outplayed that defeat. Our BASEBALL Adventure at PNC Park was JUST TERRIFIC. If Baseball is to be enjoyed--We felt that emotion tonight. I can't say anything bad about Our Time In Pittsburgh Today. Everyone was nice--including each and every Pirates Fan sitting around us.

What more can I say--Highly Recommended is a journey to Pittsburgh for a game versus Our Washington Nationals. Especially, if you sign up for "The Grand Slam Package" at The William Penn. This Deal included a fine suite at this Historical Hotel, Complementary Valet Parking, Sunday Champagne Brunch, 2 Box Seats to tonight's game, and a Pirates Welcome Gift--which included a Nice Pirates Home Cap, Pittsburgh Pirates Stein, Pirates Pen, Medallion, Peanuts and other various Pittsburgh produced Goodies. Total Cost--$189. Like I said: Highly Recommended. Its a GREAT DEAL!!

Despite the loss and Our Washington Nationals continued struggles--The African Queen and I are Having a Great Time in Pittsburgh and PNC Park!!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Saddened, But Not Sorrowful

Losing Late always hurts, especially after your "Learning On The Job Starter" carries a shutout through six complete innings and exits with the lead. This evening at Beautiful PNC Park in Pittsburgh, our bullpen let Our Number 47 down--resulting in a rough loss to The Pirates before a very enthusiastic crowd of 32,361. If Pittsburgh ever becomes a contender again, that ballpark will ROCK each and every night. Their long suffering fans are so very deserving.

Yet, I find it hard to feel overly sad. The Pirates have tormented their Fan Base for years, with mediocre teams. So much so, tomorrow night, during the 3rd inning of the Washington/Pittsburgh Game, there may well be a mass walkout by their faithful to signify their disgust over the direction of their team. Of course, since The African Queen and I are heading up to that game tomorrow morning--we are quite interested in the possible outcome of that protest.

Honestly, it all makes the struggle that is Our Washington Nationals a little more palatable. And, engenders my belief that better times are on the way in The Nation's Capital. Right now, are team is scuffling. Certainly, its difficult for Washington to score runs. And, as is always the case with a laboring team--when you score JUST ENOUGH RUNS to win, but can't close the game out--something else goes wrong--this time in the pitching department. And, you lose--in the bottom of the 9th, frustratingly so.

Matt Chico pitched well enough to win tonight. When you leave with a Shutout and up two runs--you have done well Young Man. I don't care if The Pirates are not The 1927 Yankees. Its tough to win in the Major Leagues--against anybody. Unfortunately, as happens so very often in this great game. Once a Pitcher is removed that has baffled an opponent, the reliever that follows--does not fool the upcoming batters, as well as, the thrower replaced. Leadoff walks KILL--and Our Number 52 gave up one to the pesky Jack Wilson in the 7th. Pinch Hitter Nate McLouth followed with a triple past Austin Kearns scoring Wilson with The Pirates first run. And, a simple sacrifice fly by Jose Bautista to Ryan Langerhans in Center tied this ballgame at two. Just like that--the momentum had shifted. The Delirious Home Crowd back into this Game.

You could visibly see the shoulders drop on Washington's players in the field. With two innings to go--Our Washington Nationals looked already out of it--sadly. And, when Big Jon Rauch was forced into a second full inning of relief in the 9th--instead of Chad Cordero--he, unfortunately, could not send this game into extra innings. After Ronnie Paulino led off the last inning of play with a clean single to left center, moving to second on a Wilson sacrifice bunt--this game got out of hand when "The Wookie" threw a pitch that Brian Schneider either didn't expect, or just plain fooled him. A scoop attempt in the dirt went right under Brian for a Wild Pitch, moving Paulino to third with just one out.

From that point it was just a matter of time. Pittsburgh showed patience. An Intentional walk to McLouth and an unintentional one loaded the bases. With THE ENTIRE PIRATES CROWD at PNC Park now on its feet rhythmic clapping--Jose Bautista hit a routine fly to left field, and with everyone playing in for the Double Play--Ryan Church had no choice but to fall back on the ball, heading away from home plate to catch it. The Pinch Runner for Paulino, Jose Castillo, scored easily to the great joy of The Pittsburgh Faithful. The Fireworks EXPLODED over The Clemente Bridge. Our Washington Nationals had lost a game that was very winnable, 3-2.

Disappointed I was--YES. But, not sorrowful. Our Opponents Fans, have felt much worse.

Hopefully tomorrow night--with Sohna, myself, Lewis, Colleen, Jeff and their Rally Monkey--Curly "W", all in attendance at PNC Park-- and all of us sitting near Our Nationals First Base Dugout--we can bring Our Team--Better Luck. Our Manager Manny Acta needs as much fortune as anyone can bring him right now.

As Our Washington Nationals are one scuffling team.

Game Notes & Highlights:

I don't know how he felt, and I know he had thrown 94 pitches to that point. But, considering how Matt Chico was consistently getting out of each jam and pushing his way through the game this evening--it would be interesting to see what Matt could have accomplished in the 7th inning. If 2007 is about teaching and learning--there has to come a time when a starting pitcher must be tested--when he's tiring. In the long run, the result could only help him. Tonight, Chico received a no decision for the 5th time after leaving with a lead this season.

With Rajai Davis on third with one out in the bottom of the first inning--Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez flied out to Austin Kearns in right. Davis tagged and Austin--continuing to be a solid outfielder, despite slumping at the plate, threw out Davis on a toss just up the third base line that Brian Schneider handled nicely, making the tag for the final out of the frame. Austin Kearns' 9-2 Double Play was The Defensive Play of This Game.

Batting Leadoff--Ryan Langerhans slammed a solo shot--his 4th homer of 2007 in the 3rd off Ian Snell. Although Ryan is not the perfect leadoff hitter--he does provide some power and seems to get on base far better than any of Manny's other choices. So, I was surprised when Langerhans was pinch hit for with Tony Batista in the 8th--eventually replaced by Nook Logan. With all due respect--Ryan Langerhans has produced over the past 3-4 weeks. Why not just let him play full time and see what he can do? How could he hurt us, anymore than any other choice?

Dimitri Young continues to wield that hot bat. Two more hits tonight raising his batting average up to .339. And, as Don Sutton mentioned on MASN tonight--it should not matter that other 1st basemen from other teams may well already be chosen. If MLB wants ALL STARS and one player from each and every team--then Young HAS BEEN our most exciting player, hands down. Number 21 is deserving. He's been a good citizen. And, most importantly--Dimitri Young has made strides to improve his personal life. That's being an ALL STAR in my book. So many other players would have BLOWN THIS OPPORTUNITY!! I'm giving him FULL credit for effort.

Curious I am, to see how FLop responds to being lowered to 7th in the batting order. Its a big fall for a former All Star Player that was expected to produce at the top of the lineup. No doubt, Felipe Lopez has not been the player of years past in 2007. Our Washington Nationals need him. Hopefully a gentle kick will help turn his game around. Number 2 is needed, badly--if Washington is going to be decent. How badly do you think he feels about, once again, moving back to shortstop? A position he probably was happy to leave to compete at a more comfortable level at second base.

At 7AM tomorrow morning--The African Queen and I will load up the car and head to Pittsburgh. We are planning to attend both Saturday Night's and Sunday Afternoon's ballgames before heading home to the friendly confines of Alexandria, Virginia. There was just no way we were going to miss Our Washington Nationals playing at PNC Park. AT&T Park in San Francisco, Camden Yards and The Pirates Home Field are MY FAVORITE PARKS. All three special for their intimacy and beautiful backdrops.

As great as The Game of Baseball Is---The BallParks many teams play in--make Our Enjoyment so much greater--and so very special.

Besides--Saturday Night is Bobblehead Night in Pittsburgh--Bob Walk Bobblehead Night. For those who may not know, Walk was a Pirates Pitcher, nothing special. But, has become a famous broadcaster for Pittsburgh. Well known throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Finally, I have always loved the "CLASSIC" Black & Gold of The Pittsburgh Pirates. Their uniforms are always beautiful, in a Respect to the Game's History sort of way. Like The New York Yankees--Perfect. But, those Red Vests they wear on Friday Night, they just don't look right to me. Realizing its all about money and merchandise sales to fans, I understand. Although, it doesn't mean I have to like them. Much the same feeling I have toward those Boston Red Sox Red Jerseys. Or, The Atlanta Braves Red Uniform Tops. They don't look right. Where as, Our Washington Nationals, just beginning their tradition--look OK to me in those Red "DC" Uniform tops. In fact, I love them. Odd, isn't it.

Tonight InGame Photos--(AP) Gene J. Puskar

Negotiating In The Media

Riding to work on Metro this morning--I was perusing through The Examiner Newspaper and came across Our General Manager Jim Bowden's weekly column that is ghostwritten for him by a staff writer. For the most part, I find most of the columns rather unnewsworthy, just a sounding board for Bowden to stick home a point on some Baseball Topic that has been discussed at length--elsewhere.

But, today's was a real doozie. Because, for the first time since The Lerner Group took over and Stan Kasten became Team President--someone in Management was Openly Discussing A Behind the Scenes Move--while that effort was still ongoing. Our Washington Nationals have been fairly silent on just about ANYTHING that occurs with this Franchise. No News, or Little News, is the way of life with Our Nats. Nothing released until the final decisions have been made.

Today's article was about ranting. A cry for Public Support negotiating with the 49th Pick in the recent 2007 draft, Michael Burgess. Its quite surprising in nature. Has, in just a short period of time, compromise on a contract so far from fruition, that Openly Discussing this topic, in the Media, will help Washington's cause?

The Article itself, is a good read, and gives some nice glimpses into what goes on and the details of any effort--to sign a young player. I understand any Family's Hesitation. Sometimes you just don't know whether you are making the right decision or not.

Those dollars thrown out at you by Professional Teams are, most likely, the highest amount of money you had ever dreamed of receiving at one time. The Pressure from your peers to just take that first offer must be overwhelming at times. Honestly, I hope Michael Burgess does what his best "GUT FEELING" is. Many times your "GUT FEELING" is the Best Feeling--it leaves you Confident and Clear.

Still--Today's Jim Bowden Article in The Examiner is very surprising. Really, I didn't expect to hear ANYTHING, about any negotiations with any Draft Picks, until they were signed or not. Are Our Washington Nationals changing a Policy of "Silence Is Golden"? Is this a Preemptive Strike to make sure Washington Doesn't Look Bad, if Burgess doesn't sign? Is this an effort to pressure The Burgess Family? Or, has Jimbo talked out of turn? So many unanswered questions come out of this unexpected story.

Whatever the reasons--the information revealed today, I found extremely interesting and timely. And, it makes me more interested than ever, to follow how well Our Washington Nationals do over the next few months in signing ALL THEIR TOP PROSPECTS.

PS--What do you think Austin Kearns is thinking now that Our Washington Nationals have put together a Number "25" Jersey with Burgess's Name on the back?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Appreciating The Braves

Despite the fact that The Atlanta Braves only won One World Series Championship among their 14 Consecutive Division Titles through 2005, I have come to appreciate them for so much.

Their Willingness to Patiently Build a Farm System of Top Talent.

The Confidence to Call Up Young Talent and Give Them An Honest Chance to Compete.

While Teaching that Young Talent all the Tools Needed to be Successful at The Major League Level.

Never being afraid to Trade or Let A Player Walk as a Free Agent, One Year Too Soon.

Catcher Johnnie Estrada & Pitcher Greg Maddux come to mind as good examples.

While replacing those two fine players--Maddux a Sure Fire Hall of Famer--with Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia & Young Pitchers like Kyle Davies and Chuck James--both lefthanders any team in The Majors would love to have in their own houses.

Although, I would have kept Tommy Glavine--one of the most underated Lefthanders of ALL TIME. I have always enjoyed his work.

Braves VP & General Manager John Schuerholz's ability to make some shrewd trades--like stealing Pitcher Tim Hudson from The Oakland Athletics, while giving up nothing. Or, knowing they could not resign Pitcher Kevin Millwood a few years back, trading him to Philadelphia for Estrada. Every expert denounced that move. Estrada was terrific. A Top Catcher and Run Producer. Then, Schuerholz realized Catcher Brian McCann and Saltalamacchia were coming up fast, and dumped Johnnie off, at value, for Oscar Villarreal & Lance Cormier.

Rarely, Overpaying for Top Talent. Many times, keeping their own like Andruw & Chipper Jones or John Smoltz with a contract, JUST LONG ENOUGH, to utilize their BEST ABILITIES--without killing their franchise future with Huge Contracts for Players past their time. You watch, Andruw Jones will not be an Atlanta Brave next season.

The Ability to constantly overhaul their 25 man roster, not just yearly. And, pick up All Star Players after having those players have a bad season--making them whole again. Edgar Renteria a PRIME EXAMPLE. In Boston, he was terrible for The Red Sox, completely out of his league. Yet, in Atlanta--he returned and revitalized his career. The Braves have to get some credit for that.

All these facts are what make the current efforts set forth by Our Washington Nationals promising to me. Our Team has little, neither did the Braves in 1990. Yet, just a few years later, Atlanta became a Franchise to Fear. A Team Disliked by Fans from many other cities.

The Atlanta Braves are winners. Masters of This Game called Baseball. A proficiency that Our Washington Nationals are far from calling "Mission Accomplished". A fact proven once again tonight when The Braves flat out crushed Washington 13-0, completing a three game sweep in Atlanta.

One Day, Our Washington Nationals will be winners, although definitely not this day. Although, it pleases me that Our Team President Stan Kasten first helped put The Atlanta Braves efforts in motion, many years back. Are his ideas fool proof? No. But, I am confident that strides are being made so when everything does comes to fruition, we as Washington Nationals Fans can expect all of the following:

A Farm System of Top Talent.

Top Talent that will get an honest chance to play and compete on The Major League Level.

The Shrewdness to Let Players leave, or trade them, a year too soon--knowing you have better young talent coming on The Farm.

Only Overpaying for Free Agent Talent when it benefits The Team--The Most. Yet, being in prime position to trade for Top Talent being dumped by some other foolish Franchise.

And, constantly overahauling their lineup to remain competitive for years to come.

When Our Team can consistently perform all those expectations--Many More will Appreciate Our Washington Nationals. None more than I.

Because of this proven track record, I Appreciate The Atlanta Braves--knowing better times are ahead in Our Nation's Capital.

Game Notes & Highlights:

Not a Whole Lot to speak of in this game.

Ronnie Belliard had two hits and helped turnover three double plays in the field. Our Number 10 continues to be a good player. A very valuable player--in fact. I am sure he has been noticed by many contending teams.

My Main Man!! Ryan Church, at least over the past two games, seems to be waking from his slumber. Three hits, including two doubles during that time.

Tonight was the very first game started by Micah Bowie that Our Washington Nationals Lost. Hopefully, the drive off his shin by Yunel Escobar in the fourth inning will not set him back. His rough effort was bound to happen, he had done extremely well thus far, surprisingly. If he comes back strong next Monday against The Cubs at RFK, everyone will forget about this one.

Who would want to remember this game, anyway--unless you were an Atlanta Brave.

Tonight's InGame Photo--(AP) Gregory Smith

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Running Yourself Out Of The Game

When its early in the game and your team is facing a struggling starter--a Journeyman looking just to stay on the Major League Roster--Why run yourself out of the inning? I know Its hard to believe that pitcher in Question was an Atlanta Brave. But, Buddy Carlyle was hurting right off the bat this evening at Turner Field. A bloop single to left by FLop, bloop single to center by Ryan Zimmerman; and Blooper to left by Dimtri Young--all with one out. With Dimitri's hit heading toward the always decent leftfielder Matt Diaz--Why did 3rd Base Coach Tim Tolman send Felipe Lopez home?

This game was just in its very first inning. A real chance for a BIG INNING. Just the type of opportunity that can break a game open--sending you cruising to a victory. And, Tolman must remember--Our Washington Nationals were ALSO sending a Journeyman out to the mound, in Mike Bacsik. The More Runs--The Better. Our Number 37, also just trying to hang on to the Major League Roster for another start. His chance, that appears to be diminishing with each and every passing week.

Yet, when Tim Tolman waved FLop home--Diaz--running in, scooped up the baseball and threw a multiple bouncer right to their catcher Brian McCann who blocked the plate beautifully--forcing Felipe to attempt to go around the plate to score. Lopez was out, easily. Then, Ryan Zimmerman attempted a run to third on the throw home--McCann, from his knees, slung the ball on a line to the overplaying Edgar Renteria for the putout of Our Number 11. Although, Ryan complained about the call from Third Base Umpire Marty Foster--the replays showed Zimmerman was safe. Nonetheless--Inning Over. Rally Over--unnecessarily.

There was NO REASON for Our Washington Nationals to run themselves out of a potential BIG INNING, so early in the game. Not Smart Baseball.

Those baserunning mistakes giving The Braves Buddy Carlyle a new found confidence--regrouping--after Washington assisted him out of his opening jam. The Atlanta Starter going 7 strong innings--giving up just two hits the rest of the way. While his Braves teammates eventually got to Bacsik, being patient--knowing on most nights--any pitcher just hanging on in the Major Leagues--is going to make mistakes. Which Bacsik did, by allowing three HAMMERED SHOTS, all for Home Runs that decided this one rather early. Two from that man with the fabulously long last name--Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the last one--from "Mr. Official" himself. Yes, that's right--Andruw Jones hit, yet another NO DOUBT Homer to left off Our Washington Nationals. It doesn't matter if Andruw is currently struggling through his worst season in the Major Leagues--because This Jones Boy--Clubs seemingly shot after shot each and every time his Atlanta Braves meet up with Our Nats. Its pretty amazing actually.

Our Washington Nationals had no offense tonight--for the second straight night at Turner Field. And, they ran themselves out of their very best opportunity to knock out a Journeyman Pitcher, when he was down. Instead, that pitcher, Buddy Carlyle righted himself and knocked out Our Washington Nationals--with the help of The Long Ball. The Result, a rather lackluster 6-2 loss to The Atlanta Braves.

Do you think Tim Tolman would like to play that first inning over again? If so, this game may well have had a far different outcome.

Game Notes & Highlights:

In the bottom of the 4th--Atlanta's Jeff Francouer singled to left, and with their contact hitting catcher McCann at the plate--Braves Manager Bobby Cox put on the Hit & Run with two strikes on Brian. Bacsik struck out McCann, and Brian Schneider heaved a gorgeous throw right on the bag at second base, that FLop took on the fly to easily retire Jeff Francouer attempting to steal. This "Strike Em Out-Throw Em Out" Double Play was The Defensive Play of This Game.

Already after just two games without Cristian Guzman, you can see the dramatic difference in Washington's Lineup. Without "The Guz" batting either 1st or 2nd in the batting order--there has been little spark. Brandon Watson went 0-4 last night leading off. Ryan Langerhans got the call tonight--did hit a run scoring ground rule double--scoring Schneider--but Langerhans also struck out twice--looking. The Top of Our Manager Manny Acta's Lineup is in terrible flux right now. A problem that will reverberate throughout his 9 choices each night. Less opportunity for both Ryan Zimmerman and Dimitri Young to hit with runners on base in front of them. And, yet another reason for Opposing Pitchers not to fear Zimmerman batting third. Ryan's "Sophomore Slump" is exacerbated by those teammates not doing their jobs, consistently, around him. With no one on base in front of Our Number 11--Teams like The Braves can just go right after him. No fooling around. You have to feel sorry for Ryan Zimmerman.

And, Our Washington Nationals have NO BENCH Right now. Tony Batista, D'Angelo Jimenez, Brandon Watson, Nook Logan and Jesus Flores is not a Major League Bench. Shades of early April, when Our Manager had little to call for in good choices then, off the pine, to help out in the clutch.

A situation that slightly changed immediately after the conclusion of this game with Robert Fick activated off the Bereavement List and Brandon Watson optioned back to AAA Columbus. "00" had an option, so this decision was probably not in doubt. But, it does say that, somewhere, someone within Our Washington Nationals still believes in Nook Logan. Yet, despite that move--Why do I have this odd feeling Our General Manager Jim Bowden has something up his sleeve? This is the exact type of situation where he always pulls something off. Just a hunch.

Personally, I don't have anything against Mike Bacsik. He's doing the best he's capable. Its just not good enough. Our Washington Nationals have better, younger choices, in AAA that need experience. Bacsik, in all likelihood, has little left to show. We may well see Joel Hanrahan or Emiliano Fruto in a Nationals Jersey very soon. Washington has nothing to lose.

FLop made the very first error by Our Washington Nationals in five games tonight, playing shortstop in place of "The Guz". His throw--an air mail toss on a sure out grounder by Edgar Renteria. Felipe is a far better Second Baseman than Shortstop. His Error tonight was his 6th of the season playing short. Lopez has only 1 error playing second base in all of 2007--that's playing 43 games at second, just 29 at short. That stat says it all.

Dimitri Young continues to swing out of his mind!!! "The Hottest Hitting Player On Planet Earth" knocked two more pokes tonight, including his 21st double of the season--scoring one run on another Double by My Main Main!! Ryan Church in the 9th. Dimitri Young now hitting a robust .342. No doubt--Our Number 21 has got to be Our All Star Selection--if anyone with MLB has any heart.

I noticed on the bench tonight in Atlanta--Alex Escobar was dressed and in Uniform for Washington--but obviously not activated. Does this mean he is close to returning? If Our Number 44 is--Manny--please just throw him out there in Centerfield to see what he can finally do, regularly, if not injured. We have nothing to lose. If he could ever get over his constant injury problems--Alex Escobar would be a terrific player.

Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Gregory Smith.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"The New Guz"

He arrived on the scene in December, 2004 by inking a 4-Year Free Agent Contract with Our Washington Nationals. Along with Vinny Castilla, these two BIG SIGNINGS signified Major League Baseball's commitment to Baseball's return to Our Nation's Capital. Our Interim General Manager Jim Bowden had made THE BIG SPLASH!!. Despite concerns of MLB not really caring and limiting Our Teams Budget to a measly $50 Million---Our New Found Home Team would make an effort to compete.

Our Washington Nationals were a bonified Major League Team.

On the day Cristian Guzman showed up at ESPN Zone in Downtown DC for the Big FanFare Public Announcement, the Fan response was palpable. EVERYBODY WANTED SEASON TICKETS to Our Washington Nationals. "The Guz" was, to many, The New Face of the "Former Montreal Expos" And, when Our Team got off to that INCREDIBLE 50-31 Start--Washington, DC was AGAIN A BASEBALL TOWN, with a First Place Team--in a Pennant Race. Those early Summer Days of 2005 were quite Special. Really, July 1st--2005 was an amazing day in my life. Our Washington Nationals leading the pack--unexpectedly. PLAYOFF FEVER was reaching FEVER PITCH.

But, through it all--somehow, someway--Washington continued to win--WITH A SHORTSTOP NAMED CRISTIAN GUZMAN HAVING THE WORST YEAR OF ANY STARTING SHORTSTOP IN, MAYBE, THE HISTORY OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. Our Number 15 was terrible. Horrible in the field. Worse at the plate. Never could he get his batting average above .200 until September of 2005. Well after Our Nats had faded out of contention. Countless times during 2005--"The Guz" failed repeatedly with runners in scoring position. His fielding not much better.

Less than 6 months after signing his $16.8 Million deal to move to Washington--Guzman was the Fans Most LOVABLE PLAYER TO HATE. Was he ever booed--continuously--and it never let up. Honestly, only The African Queen and BangTheDrumNatly supported him throughout his extended slump. Playing in one of the most Political Cities in all the world, Cristian Guzman was maybe the only person in Washington that could build a near unanimous decision, from both sides of the aisle, to be run out of town.

During the off season of 2005-06 many Shouted and Exclaimed just to release "The Guz". Or trade him for a Bucket of Baseballs. Really, as far as The Fans were concerned--he was worthless. Then, during Spring Training 2006--after Laser Eye Surgery and sporting a fresh New Attitude--"The NEW GUZ" announced he was ready--Our Number 15 proclaimed he would help his team in the new season. He was tired of disappointing his teammates. Cristian Guzman was ready to play ball.

And, I felt there was NO WAY he could be anywhere near as bad as 2005. I thought Cristian Guzman would surprise--EVERYBODY.

Then, out of nowhere, he developed a slap tear in his right labrum. Surgery followed. And, many Washington Fans Rejoiced!!! Our Washington Nationals didn't have a shortstop--but many of their faithful did not care. As long as Cristian Guzman was not in the lineup--they would be happy. Content to have journeyman shortstop Royce Clayton fill the role. A position that Clayton was less than stellar at. Royce now a journeyman playing late into his career.

Cristian Guzman spent the entire 2006 season rehabbing his shoulder. Telling everyone he would be ready for 2007. And, when Our New Manager visited him in The Dominican Republic over the late winter months before Spring Training, Manny Acta proclaimed him fit and ready to go. Then, "The Guz" showed up in Viera, Florida and couldn't heave the ball across the diamond hard. Every Fans deepest worry began anew. The Calls for his dismissal renewed.

Manny--being the most patient man I have ever met--waited the entire situation out. Never panicking. Knowing Spring Training is a long 6 week affair--not a sprint--Our Number 14 allowed Guzman to get strong on his own terms. And, you know what--Cristian Guzman was ready for Opening Day--2007. He even singled in his first At-Bat off Dontrelle Willis of The Florida Marlins at RFK Stadium. Our Number 15 received a Standing Ovation for that Hit. Cheers that turned to sorrow--when Cristian pulled up lame trying to run out a grounder to first base later that day.

Injured again--Guzman would miss another 5 weeks of the season. Again, no one seemed to miss him. Especially, with Ronnie Belliard playing a decent second base. Felipe Lopez--well, he was just being FLop--at Shortstop. But, Our Washington Nationals survived.

Then, the date of May 6th arrived. Cristian Guzman was activated from the Disabled List. And, he hasn't looked back, since. "The NEW Guz" stormed on to the field--hitting triples here, running the bases hard there--and playing a decent--if unspectacular shortstop. Along with the Very Hot Hitting Dimitri Young--Our Number 15 was playing All Star Caliber Baseball. And, The Fans of Our Washington Nationals had quickly changed their opinion on him. I guess batting .329, knocking six triples, scoring 31 runs in just 43 games will make anyone think twice. "The Guz" was playing well, and drawing fan support--for nearly the first time in his Nationals Career.

Cristian Guzman, despite all the knocks, boos and hatred had become a VALUABLE PLAYER FOR OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS. The boos had turned to "GUZ"--The African Queen and BangTheDrumNatly relishing in their unwavering support of Number 15.

Really, no one could complain anymore about his contract. In fact, it looked cheap and affordable. A full year with "THE NEW GUZ"--the exciting "Guz" appeared quite fulfilling.

Then, just when you expected Our Number 15 to establish himself as that Most Valuable Everyday Player--a freak injury sent him to the sidelines. Guzman's left thumb slamming into Cleveland's Josh Barfield's Helmet on Sunday, while taking out Barfield on an attempted steal. First appearing just to be sprained and out for two weeks--Today, surgery was performed at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC.

Cristian Guzman was pronounced Out For The Season.

And, I couldn't be sadder.

From a long way back--"The Guz" was winning My Heart Back. In his brief appearances in 2007, he was an exciting player. No One--AND I MEAN NO ONE--ran the bases from 1st to 3rd for Our Washington Nationals better than Cristian Guzman. Yeah, he occasionally made the lax fielding play--could show some more patience at the plate. But, no doubt, Guzman was fast becoming A SOLID PLAYER.

A Competitor, who despite all the negativity surrounding his misfortunes since early 2005--had turned his game, his attitude and his career around. Cristian Guzman was again a Major League Player--worth watching--and enjoying.

In 2005, I could never have imagined saying this: But, I will miss Cristian Guzman. His loss will be a difficult hole to fill. And, may well dramatically change Our General Manager Jim Bowden's Trading Deadline Decisions. Bowden will have to get very creative. So much changes due to this loss.

What happens now to Ronnie Belliard? Once a sure bet to be tossed off to a contender.

What happens to Our Ever Improving Bench with Ronnie now an everyday player?

What happens to Cristian Guzman--who--despite all disbelief--had turned around his Major League Baseball Career?

Today, This Monday--June 25th, 2007 is a sad day.

No one more downcast than The African Queen. "The New Guz" had brought "New Life" to Our Washington Nationals.

A Person now unfortunately lost for the 2007 season. A loss felt more so than ANYONE COULD EVER HAD THOUGHT POSSIBLE--just three short months ago. How Times Have Changed.

Be well--Cristian Guzman.

Manny--A Moment Please

Manny--I have mentioned this thought before. In fact: here. Yet, you continue to puzzle me with your insistence on removing both Dimitri Young and Ryan Church from the game--as early as the 7th inning for Defensive Replacements. Manny, if the ballgame is in the 9th inning--believe me--I am all for it--in certain circumstances.

But, once again, this past Saturday Night in that terrible last inning defeat--a loss that if Major League Baseball had any sense of humor--would have cost Our Washington Nationals a Two Count in the "Loss" Column--Young was removed and replaced by Ronnie Belliard in the 8th with the game still in the balance. You had to realize that Dimitri Young was Our Second Scheduled Hitter in that bottom of the 8th. And Yet, you make this move each and every game seemingly without looking at the score.

This reminds me of "Many A Manager" that continually takes out a Pitcher throwing a shutout or one run game heading to the 9th to bring in his Closer--just because everyone else does--without regard to the effectiveness of the Starting Pitcher. And, that Closer, not having his top stuff, or the same effect the Starter just replaced had on his facing batters--gets knocked all over the park--and you lose. That's giving the opposing team a gift. A "Present" that opponents of Our Washington Nationals seem to get near the end of each and every ball game.

Are you telling me that "THE HOTTEST HITTER IN THE GAME"--Dimitri Young--is more of a disadvantage to place at first base late in any game--than his Bat Potential at the plate?

And, are you telling me that My Main Main!! Ryan Church's Defensive Liabilities (which I don't consider to be actually bad at all--everyone was raving about his Centerfield Efforts earlier this season) are a far lesser choice over Brandon Watson moving from centerfield. Watson is a slap hitter. Church is a Game Changing Hitter. And believe me, I VIVIDLY RECALL--that Brandon Watson is a nothing outfielder from his 2006 appearances at RFK Stadium. A mediocre fielder with ZERO ARM. For some reason, I think you know that fact, also.

So Manny--How is replacing just about our ONLY POWER in the lineup for far lesser players a good deal? After "The Chief" blew up in that 9th on Saturday Night, Our Washington Nationals were left with some their best talent sitting on the bench--unnecessarily--out of the game. Yeah, I want Nick Johnson back in the lineup at first base soon, too. And, hopefully, you will have to deal, with this sticky situation, less so in the future.

Unfortunately, We Do Have To Deal With It--Right Now.

So,I am sure I don't need to remind you about that final out at third base.


I Don't Think So.

Manny--you know I love Ya!!--until the end of time. But, please keep Young & Church in the game until the very last moment. Their removal is far too risky for a SHAKY TEAM like Our Washington Nationals.

PS--While I am on the subject of players. Do me a favor--put Ryan Langerhans back in Centerfield. He's a PLUS OUTFIELDER. And, before someone decided to sit him down for the erstwhile Brandon Watson--he was showing some decent power and ability to hit for the extra base. Something Watson and Logan have NO CHANCE OF DOING--no matter how fast they may be. Why are Our Washington Nationals infatuated with Speedy, No Hit, No Arm Outfielders?

Oh Yeah, I Forgot--I should ask for a Moment with Our General Manager?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ronnie, Jesus, Chad & SCREECH!!!

Ronnie Belliard is a good player. Jesus Flores is going to be a lot better. And, when "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" returned to form this afternoon--walking his tightrope--but surviving--you had to be One Very Happy Washington Baseball Fan. Except for a Three Run Explosion costing Our Washington Nationals a Sure Win last night--The Powerful Bats of The Cleveland Indians were shut down this weekend at RFK Stadium. A convincing 3-1 victory this Sunday Afternoon and Series Win over one of Baseball's Best Teams. I'll take it--even after last night's deadly depressing defeat. All on a weekend I unveiled something special for My Best Friend--SCREECH!!.

Our Two Best Bench Players--Belliard and Flores--led the way--getting their usual Sunday Starts. In fact, the more I see Belliard--the more impressive he becomes to my eye. From the get go this season--I have always been impressed by his ability to move his entire body right and left to get in front of ground balls and liners. No one uses his burly body better at grounders than Our Number 10. Of course, Ronnie is nowhere near the fine young talent he was earlier during his "Prime Time" with these same Cleveland Indians. But, when Our Manager Manny Acta throws him out on the field for a start--whether at second base or shortstop--he's provided valuable support. And, A WINNING ATTITUDE. Today--three hits, one run scored and a fine assist and defensive effort involving The Defensive Play of This Game. Ronnie Belliard HUSTLES EACH AND EVERYTIME HE COMES OUT ON THE FIELD. I can't tell you how much I appreciate his efforts. I realize Our Number 10 is not likely in the Future Plans of Our Washington Nationals. But, when that day comes, when Our Team, is A TOP TEAM--Players like Ronnie Belliard are to be cherished. He is just SO VALUABLE.

A Value that rose dramatically late this afternoon, when Our General Manager Jim Bowden placed Cristian Guzman on the 15 Day Disabled List immediately following today's game with a sprained left thumb ligament. How Highly I have come to praise him at times these days. Our Number 15 has actually been a good player for us in 2007. Solid at the plate--decent, but erratic in the field. As hard as it is for me to believe--since I questioned his ability mightily in 2005--Cristian Guzman will be missed. Hopefully, his thumb problem is not extraordinary. The BIG Question Now?--will FLop move back to shortstop? Or, will Belliard take "The Guz's" spot in the field. Although its expected that D'Angelo Jimenez will be recalled from AAA Columbus before tomorrow's game--I can't imagine Manny Acta starting Jimenez. Our Manager has a tough situation to deal with. Lopez has more range. Belliard the better glove instincts.

An aptitude that Jesus Flores continues to show each and every time he gets a start. Yeah, I understand Our Number 3 was in a 1-23 Slump and had not driven in a single run since May 13th--but he continues to grow, shows confidence, all the while becoming a Better Major League Player. This Man has come a long way since Single A Ball last season for The New York Mets. Jesus has that Cannon Arm--One of the most valuable commodities in the game--and today he displayed that golden rifle by throwing out the fast moving Josh Barfield in the third. All the while exhibiting his maturation at the plate--with a solid single up the middle with TWO Outs in the bottom of the second to score Dimitri Young with today's first run. And, this afternoon's MOST IMPORTANT 3rd insurance run with a one out grounder to Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta at shortstop--scoring his tag team partner this Sunday--Ronnie Belliard, from third base after Belliard had doubled to deep left center to lead off the bottom of the 7th--advancing to third on a Ryan Langerhans sacrifice bunt.

From there--this affair became ALL ABOUT "THE CHIEF". Our Manager Manny Acta stated after last night's devastating loss in the 9th, that if he held a two run lead heading into the 9th again today--he would take that oppportunity. And, he would throw Chad Cordero right back out there. Life always seems to give you want to you claim. Not only did Our Washington Nationals have a two run lead heading to the 9th--but the score was the exact same as last night. Oh yeah--and Victor Martinez (he of the 3 Run Game Winning Homer off Chad) was due up in the inning.

Baseball always has a way of evening everything out.

Our Number 32 trotted out to a fine ovation from what was left of 26,413 on this gorgeously sunny afternoon. Not a single Nationals Fan wanting to see a repeat of last night. "The Chief Cardiologist" went right after Cleveland Third Baseman Casey Blake and got that Most Important First Out on a swinging strikeout. Yet, as seems most always the case--Chad Cordero never seems truly comfortable until a runner gets on. Which happened when Victor Martinez was given nothing to hit and walked on 6 pitches. You could hear the rumblings in the crowd. The Worry was on. A Nervousness that became alot worse when Our Number 32 reached a Full Count on slugging lefthander Travis Hafner. Hafner just not the batter you want your struggling Closer to face as the game tying run. But, Chad did not give in and induced a hard hit grounder near the hole--between 2nd and 3rd. "The Guz" made a fine backhand glove play on the ball--firing the baseball to Belliard at second. Ronnie--who pivots the double play as well as any player in the game--threw off balance and high with the hard charging Martinez barreling him down. If on target--the final out of the game may well have been recorded. But, Ronnie's toss sailed high and over Tony Batista at first base--bouncing off the Indians Dugout Protective Netting.

Hafner on first with two outs--and Jhonny Peralta at the plate. Peralta is a fine hitter, but had struggled this weekend, hardly a factor in the batter's box. "The Chief" knew this. Jesus Flores knew this. Our Manager Manny Acta, also, knew this. So, Cordero went firing away--getting called strike one and then the CLASSIC outside corner fastball any hitter most always will swing at, when the game is at its end. Peralta swung and lined the baseball right into Austin Kearns Glove.

"Bang-Zoom!! Went The Fireworks!! Our Manager had shown his undying faith in Our Number 32. And, "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" had rewarded that trust with a turnabout performance. Save Number 13 was not a perfect effort--But, Chad Cordero had redeemed himself--happily FIST PUMPING with Jesus Flores and Ronnie Belliard--today's other Heroes as Our Washington Nationals Celebrated on the field at RFK STADIUM.

Curly "W" Number 32 was a well played game. And, a HUGE MENTAL UPLIFTER after last night's terrible loss.

Only in Baseball, is a depressing defeat forgotten, with a Mind Clearing Win less than 18 hours later.


Game Notes & Highlights:

After The Detroit Tigers Rocked Our Washington Nationals all over RFK Stadium this week--The Cleveland Indians came to town, with one of the Top Offenses in the game--AND ONLY SCORED 6 Runs in three games. That's some mighty fine pitching. Excellent Hurling that Matt Chico showed last night after being HAMMERED BY Detroit last Monday. And, also tossed today by Jason Simontacchi after becoming the only person, in my lifetime, I have ever seen give up 10 Earned Runs in one single Major League Game--That 15-1 Laugher this past Tuesday Night at the hands of those same Tigers.

Jason was solid through 6 innings on Sunday. Only allowing a Franklin Gutierrez mistake pitch homer to left center for Cleveland's only tally of the day. This afternoon, Jason had control--only walked one--and really was never threatened. He deserved his 5th victory of the season. A win that must relieve a ton of doubt after that pasting he took at the hands of Detroit. I know, I would feel a whole lot better, and more confident.

A confidence shown by Big Jon Rauch all week long, that must not be understated. "The Wookie" is back, as a reliable Set Up Man. Again, completing a scoreless 1-2-3 8th, sending this game to "The Chief". Big Jon now having completed 10.1 scoreless innings. If only we could get Luis Ayala (now since Colome is on the DL) to Rauch to Cordero on the same page--each and every day. Our Washington Nationals would win a few more games.

In the top of the second inning--Jhonny Peralta laced a hard grounder up the middle--toward the shortstop side of the bag with Travis Hafner running from first. "The Guz" dove face forward toward centerfield with his back to ball, and past him--but still managed to glove the ball. Thinking he had little time to toss to Ronnie Belliard at second--Cristian backhanded his glove hand with the ball toward second base--but off the bag. With Hafner sliding hard into Ronnie--Our Number 10 stretched as far as he can possibly do--barehanding the baseball with, most likely, just his left big toe of his shoe still on the bag. 2nd Base Umpire Bill Welke with the Flamboyant OUT CALL!! "The Guz" and Ronnie Belliard combined for The Defensive Play of This Game.

In 10 straight starts--Ronnie Belliard has hit safely in each of those game. A combined .439 average during those contests. Like I said earier--the man can still play--productively.

Last night--During The Presidents Race--Thomas Jefferson not only lost his balance in front of The Indians Dugout during the 4th inning race--but stumbled and fell--with a serious face plant thud. Then, stumbling to recover--again fell flat on his face. Eventually TJ got up and finished the race--not without some serious "OOH's, AAH's and Laughs". Today, someone was thinking within Our Washington Nationals. Directly before today's race-the Video Board in right center replayed last night's hilarious falls by Thom. Whereupon Thomas Jefferson limped out for the Sunday's Race with Broken Nose Bandages covering his face and a sling over his right arm. Just a GREAT CONTINUATION of a very funny happenstance. Nice Job Nat Pack and Coordinators. Everyone that understood the stunt--enjoyed it.

Finally, this weekend was the Unveiling of MY SPECIAL JERSEY. For some time I have worked on this project. The Details were difficult to accomplish. would not produce the jersey for me--too many letters and numbers. But, finally--"BILL" who runs the Nationals Gift Shop behind Home Plate on the Lower Level of RFK--behind Section 213 worked everything out--for an additional price.

My Washington Nationals "SCREECH's BEST FRIEND" Jersey. Number "320" What other number could it possibly be!!

My Best Friend--SCREECH!! I know was grinning all across his rather large beak with he first glanced at it. The Jersey a huge hit around RFK STADIUM.

Even The African Queen had to say she loved it!! You just KNOW that means I will be springing for "The African Queen" Jersey very, very soon!!! My Man "Bill" at the Nationals Gift Shop is going to get a repeat customer.

By the way--That Mesh Red, White & Blue Nats Cap given out last night and worn in all my pictures with SCREECH--By Far--the most comfortable cap ever given out at a Nationals Game. Just a terrific baseball cap for hot summer days. I just love it.

Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass
Thomas Jefferson Photo--Mary Wolverton (Mrs. MickNats)