Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Memorable Ball Game

If Our Washington Nationals had not come from behind tonight--everyone would have been talking about one bonehead decision on the base paths.

If Our Washington Nationals had not pulled ahead tonight--EVERYONE would most likely have not have seen, not only, The Defensive Play of This Game. But, Arguably--The Entire Season--Every Single Major League Team's Season. It was a DOOZIE!!

And, If Our Washington Nationals DID NOT show patience at the plate--they would NEVER have fought back to defeat The Cincinnati Reds at RFK Stadium before a delighted crowd of 20,165.

A Victory that SOMEHOW gave Matt Chico a most improbable win. A victory that once again proves, This Great Game, never ceases to amaze me.

Its funny how Baseball can INFURIATE you one moment. DELIGHT YOU with ABSOLUTE JOY the next. And, Thrill you when Your Team--Our Team--fights back with a furious rally. Then, puts the icing on the cake, with a key insurance run and solid bullpen help down the stretch.

Yeah, just another mid-season match up against two teams going nowhere in the standings. And, it provided a huge amount of entertainment tonight. This Ballgame was A MEMORABLE BALLGAME. One that anyone that witnessed it, will not soon forget.

Let's begin with that BONEHEAD DECISION!!

With two out and Brian Schneider on first base via a walk--Nook Logan laced a Bobby Livingston pitch down the right field line, deep into the corner. Schneider was running has hard as possible. Logan was RACING AROUND THE BASES, actually near taking over Our Number 23. Ken Griffey, Jr loped into the right field corner--AND CONCEDED THE RUN SCORING. Not a sole at RFK STADIUM did not believe that Brian would score EASILY!! At least, everyone except Our 3rd Base Coach--Tim Tolman. With Schneider rounding third and Logan heading toward third base. TOLMAN--for WHATEVER REASON--decided to hold Brian at third. On a play, Ken Griffey, Jr just lobbed the baseball back INTO SECOND BASE--just off the bag. On a play, that Our Starting Pitcher--Matt Chico--was the next scheduled batter.

Ah Tim? What in WORLD WHERE YOU THINKING?? Really, not even well trained baseball minds want to know your answer. Even The African Queen, still learning the game--was mad at you. SenatorNat I thought was going to run down onto the field and personally ask for your response. If not, your resignation. Was he ever pissed. Along with just about every single person at RFK, not cheering for The Reds. Boy, would I have loved to hear what Our Manager Manny Acta said to you about this poor baserunning decision.

A few weeks ago--I applauded you for being aggressive at times on the bases. Especially when Our Washington Nationals have difficulty scoring runs. But, lately--you seem far too conservative. And, this call was a NO BRAINER. Brian Schneider should have scored this game's first run. The Fact he did not, set off OUR FANS into a Feeding FRENZY. Did you notice the VENOM being spewed around the lower bowl of The Old Ballyard? Honestly, I don't think one single play in the short history of Our Washington Nationals received such deserved BOOS--than you received when Matt Chico made the final out of the 2nd inning, stranding both runners. A Five Year Old Child, sitting directly behind us, asked his Father why all the booing. His Father, mad as could possibly be, responded--"Son, The Bad Guys Just Scored."

Anger Mr. Tolman, I have no doubt--carried over into Washington's Dugout. The Pitcher was the next scheduled batter. Sometimes you have to be aware of the ENTIRE SITUATION. Brian Schneider should have been sent home--just about--NO MATTER WHAT.

Fortunately, at least for this night--you were saved. Salvation at the hands of patient hitters standing at the plate in the bottom of the 5th inning. A frame that started so poorly when Chico--after getting in and out of jams each and every single trip to the mound--finally faltered. Cincinnati scoring two runs with two outs on singles by Edwin Encarnacion and Jeff Conine. A 2-0 deficit for Washington that did not last the completion of the 5th.

How often have Our Washington Nationals stepped to the plate, with the game in the balance--swinging at the very first pitch. The Pitcher's Out Pitch, not their pitch to hit. Well, this evening--did everyone in attendance get treated to a scene not enjoyed on a regular basis. It all began when Nook Logan (who reached base in all four of his plate appearances tonight) laced a single to left. D'Angelo Jimenez followed with a Pinch Hit Walk for Chico. A Full Count Free Pass that actually set the table for this big inning. As bad as Jimenez was most all this season--I have to give him credit of late. Off the bench, he has actually produced.

With Washington Runners now on first and second with no outs--FLop decided to join the action--with a first pitch clean single to center, loading the bases. That one time outrage of the crowd--now turning to cheer. Opportunity was at the plate in the name of Ronnie Belliard. "The BallPlayer" had his game on tonight. And, he got it started when he also laced a Bobby Livingston pitch into center, scoring Logan with Washington's First Run of the evening--bringing Ryan Zimmerman to the plate. How many times have Nationals Fans witnessed the rising stardom in Our Number 11. "Zimmy" has produced time and time again. And, with a stirring crowd focused directly on his appearance--"Z" produced the game changing moment.

The lefthanded throwing Livingston was losing it. And, after throwing ball one, well off the plate--served up a patented Ryan Zimmerman clout. An outside pitch in over the plate that "Z" powered into the right centerfield gap. This was a BASE CLEARER. Even Our Third Base Coach realized this. While Griffey, Jr moved as fast as his aging legs can carry him--THE MERRY GO ROUND was in motion on the basepaths. First Jimenez, then Felipe Lopez and finally, Ronnie Belliard--chugging around the bases--holding his batting helmet so it would not fall off. The Home Faithful Roaring in Delight. Ryan Zimmerman now standing on second with a bases clearing double. Just like that--Our Washington Nationals were ahead 4-2. A lead that grew by one additional run when My Main Man!! Ryan Church laced a liner to right with two outs off Cincinnati Reliever Todd Coffey. A five run inning that when completed featured Washington batting around in their order and some serious patience at the plate with an opposing pitcher in trouble. For what seems like forever--instead of letting a struggling pitcher get them--Our Washington Nationals hammered a struggling pitcher. What a pleasure to see.

A three run lead that looked in serious trouble just one batter into the top of the 6th. Our Manager Manny Acta sent "EVERYDAY" Saul Rivera out to replace the departed Matt Chico. And, Ryan Freel greeted him with an single to Ronnie Belliard that glanced off Dimitri Young's glove. A play that merely was the WARM UP ACT for The Defensive Play of This Game. Jeff Keppinger was next for The Reds. On the second pitch of his At-Bat--he lined a shot up the middle off Rivera's right foot. "The BallPlayer" moving to cover second base on the stroke--was caught off guard as the baseball caromed back behind him toward the hole between first and second. A total instinct, not thinking play developed. Belliard whirling back to his left, face forward toward home plate--snagged the baseball in his glove--AND CONTINUED TO WHIRL A FULL 360 Degrees--PASSING THE BASEBALL DIRECTLY OUT OF HIS GLOVE TO FLOP AT SECOND BASE--to retire the sliding Freel. Lopez scooping the WILD TOSS for this inning's first out. A retirement of a runner that was immediately received with ooh's and aah's from the RFK Stadium Crowd. Even Ronnie Belliard could not believe what he had just done. Without thinking, Our Number 10 may well have produced The Play Of The Year. Laughing uncontrollably at Second Base to his teammates--Ronnie's terrific effort will be remembered for some time. No way he had ANY IDEA what he was doing. Just Reacting. What A Defensive Play!!! Really, it was terrific to see play out LIVE!!

Of course just about any lead by Our Team is never safe, even after The Defensive Play of This Game, or possibly Any Game. Victory rarely at hand until that final out is recorded. A margin that was cut to two when Rivera gave up a run scoring single to Brandon Phillips just two hitters later. But, on this night--even My Main Man!! understood that "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" was still, THANKFULLY, a Washington National. And, with two outs in the bottom of the 7th with Robert Fick pinch running for Dimitri Young (Young had walked), Church hammered a Jon Coutlangus pitch deep into the left centerfield gap for tonight's key insurance run. A well stroked hit that left Our Number 19 standing on second base with his 32nd 2-Base Hit of the Season and 43rd RBI. The sight of Fick running all the way around the bases to score--something not enjoyed too often in Section 320. Robert Fick, scoring from first base. Who would have thought?

From there--it was like watching old friends. Buddies from the 2005 Season. Luis Ayala trotted on for a perfect 8th. And, Chad Cordero was summoned to toss a perfect 9th for his 22nd Save to close out a solid 6-3 win. The Tag Team Duo of that wonderful Inaugural Season had returned. Curly "W" Number 46 was Memorable. Remembered for One Bad Base Running Decision, Some Clutch Hitting--and One TERRIFIC DEFENSIVE PLAY!!

Bang!! Zoom!! Go The Fireworks. Game Number 106 was a GOODIE.

Game Notes & Highlights:

"Our Starter In Training" just survived. 9 hits and three walks over 5 complete innings will do that to you. Was he ever in trouble all night. But, until he faltered in the 5th--Matt Chico was able to make the big out pitches to keep Cincinnati scoreless. Our Number 47 didn't throw well this evening. Yet, he got lucky--and a win, his 5th--when his teammates fought back in that crucial fifth inning. The frame that saw Jimenez pinch hit for Chico. Baseball is a strange game. Many times you lose or get a no decision on days you deserve better. Tonight, the pendulum evened out. Matt Chico did not deserve a win. Yet, he got one. A lucky one. The Great Game again showing its powers.

FLop was an enigma tonight. In the bottom of the first--he hammered a Livingston Pitch to dead center. The Reds Ryan Freel misjudged the liner in the late afternoon sun. The baseball sailing over his head and to the wall in dead centerfield. Felipe Lopez trotted slowly out of the box--and only turned on his jets when he was halfway to second base. By that time, Freel had recovered and was tossing the errant ball back to the infield. A stroked double, that should have been a triple, in my book. Our Number 2 had the speed to make that play happen. He didn't seem to realize the situation developing in front of him.

A position FLop found himself in again in the bottom of the 8th. Having singled and moved to second on a passed ball with two outs--Ronnie Belliard laced a liner to center that Ryan Freel caught easily to retire the side. But, Felipe Lopez completely FORGOT HOW MANY OUTS WERE ALREADY RECORDED and scampered back to second base to tag. FLop!! There were two outs. You should have been running. Yeah, I understand that you would not have scored anyway, because the third out was recorded. But, where was your head on that play? Inexcusable. Twice in one game.

And, the sight of Tim Tolman talking to Lopez seriously about the baserunning gaffe in the infield as the teams switched sides, almost laughable. Really, after Tolman's earlier mistake--do you think FLop was listening?? Just an odd moment, considering the circumstances that played out tonight.

Honestly, I was happy that Our Washington Nationals stood pat at the trading deadline. And, here's why. Despite what some may think--Chad Cordero and Big Jon Rauch are components needed to win a championship. Why in the world would you give them away for "HOPE" that you are getting something better in return? A payback that is not necessary if NO OTHER TEAM IS OFFERING ANYTHING GOOD. I find it funny that so many so called "sources" claim Our Washington Nationals are asking for a "Kings Ransom" for their better players. Why shouldn't they? Cordero and Rauch are under club control for, at least, two seasons more apiece. And, I laugh at those same "sources" who scoff at Our General Manager Jim Bowden wanting to receive Wily Mo Pena for little in return. Well, why shouldn't he? I really don't want Pena on Our Team. But, the shoes now on the other foot and those same "sources" want it both ways. If Chad Cordero is only going to be a setup man for another contender--Pena is going to be a 4th outfielder for most others, also. You can't have it both ways. To me, it shows the silliness of trade experts. Folks of authority that claim the "INNER CIRCLE", but really know NOTHING.

Besides--Sohna and I talked to a handful of Washington Nationals Players' family members and friends tonight. Each and every one of them were excited to still be in Our Nation's Capital, after riding out the Trade Deadline. Each believing this town, is THE TOWN, to be playing Major League Baseball. We realized tonight--that Washington, DC is becoming a SPECIAL PLACE TO PLAY. And, in a very short time, Our Washington Nationals may well be a team many others, now on the outside--will wish to compete for. That's a good sign folks.

Oh yeah. Although The San Diego Padres picked him up for nothing, I still would have traded for Morgan Ensberg. He could have helped us now, and in the future.

The African Queen and I picked up The 2007 Washington Nationals Yearbook on the concourse near Section 301 tonight. Given Free to Season Ticket Holders (at least Full Season Ticket Holders--not sure about partial plans), the cover depicts a Smiling Manny Acta in Full Uniform and Our General Manager Jim Bowden in Suit & TIe. I haven't had the chance to honestly look through it. But, it appears to be nicely done.

Finally, how about that HORRIBLE TRAFFIC on the SW/SE Freeeway to get to RFK STADIUM due to the closing of The Douglas Bridge off South Capitol Street? Since no one can crossover to Suitland and points Southeast of the District for two months while the necessary bridge work takes place--NOTHING MOVES on the Freeway from Pentagon City, coming in on I-395 all the way to I-295 South--during Rush Hour. This evening, nearly 1 Full Hour to get from Pentagon City to Lot 8 at RFK Stadium. Boy, did that EVER SUCK. Usual time--25 Minutes from Our House IN SPRINGFIELD. Yeah, its only temporary, but it still hurts. Wow. Metro may be the only answer for the next two months--on game days we don't work.

Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A Few Moments With Manny Acta

As mentioned last night, Our Manager Manny Acta and I crossed paths again yesterday evening in Woodbridge, Virginia. Both of us on hand to watch Shawn Hill take the mound for The Potomac Nationals in his first Rehab Start. Manny was accompanied by his confidant--Our Bullpen Coach--Rick Aponte. All three of us chatted briefly on the side--before I asked Our Manager whether he might have a few moments for some questions for The Nats320 Blog.

Accommadating and as friendly as always--Our Number 14 agreed, but he did not wish to talk about individual players, contracts or the upcoming trade deadline. So, my line of approach centered on Manny Acta as Our Manager.

Here we go:

What have you learned as a Manager, so far, this year? (SBF)

“The Game is pretty much the same, but I have spent a lot of time getting everybody in the right frame of mind. Especially with all the injuries we have had this year. And obviously, trying to create the right atmosphere to win. But, for me, the game is really pretty much the same.”

Well, then what have you got across to your players? (SBF)

“Well, the first thing was to convince them—not to worry about the predictions (worst team of all time) and all that. I needed to convince them (the players) to do things right. So far, so good. Monthly, we have seen the progress that our guys have made. That’s really what we wanted to do.”

What’s been your biggest success thus far this year, as a Manager in the Majors? (SBF)

“Definitely, convincing them (the players) that we were far better than anyone thought. That we, as a team, could go out there on the playing field and compete each and every day. Regardless of not having all the Superstars, we have a chance every single game to win.”

If you have won your players over to compete, and convinced them they are good players—what is your next step? (SBF)

“Well, the next step is to develop our younger kids for Our Future. Then, once we move into the New Stadium, with the increase of Our Payroll, I think you will see everything take care of itself.”

Where does your great patience come from? (SBF)

(HUGE LAUGH FROM MANNY—BIG SMILE) “You got to have it in baseball. You got to have it in baseball when you know, which I do, what we are going against.” (Manny smiling throughout this answer--SBF)

Really, your patience is amazing. You have been thrown a lot of different things your way—Injuries, A Young Team, but you never lose it? (SBF)

“Honestly, you can only control so much. Injuries and stuff like that you can’t control. So, I might as well be patient, hope the guys get well. In the long run, injuries give more guys opportunities and, in our situation, hopefully those players will take advantage of their chances.”

What are your team goals for the remainder of this season? (SBF)

“Continue to get better. Really, that’s all I wish. I don’t look at numbers—the “W’s” and “L’s”. Obviously, we want to get more, but I just want our team to get better.”

If you had the choice of finishing OUT OF last place, or improving the team--which would you choose? (SBF)

“Well, I think that goes hand in hand. If we take care of business to improve, there are still plenty of games left to win. So, we might not be able to finish last (The Man is EVER POSITIVE—SBF)”

Finally, as far as Shawn Hill is concerned--the reason why you are here at Potomac tonight---what’s your hopes for his performance? (SBF)

“Just to be healthy, regardless of the result. He’s one of our best pitchers. We would like to see him back in a Nationals Uniform on the mound for us.”

With that, Our Manager Manny Acta had to head off with Rick Aponte to prepare for Shawn Hill’s Rehab start last night. He is a fascinating character. A Good Young Leader in many respects. Sure of himself, yet openly fun to be around. Hopefully, one day soon--Our Washington Nationals will hand him a very talented team--ready to contend. As well has he's performed so far in his Rookie Season as Manager--its hard to imagine Manny failing.

Monday, July 30, 2007

10 Minutes With Shawn Hill

The Stars all aligned for me tonight in a very unexpected way. On a day Our Washington Nationals DID NOT have a scheduled game, it just so happened today was an Off Day for me also. This on a Monday--The Potomac Nationals were playing a Home Game against The Wilmington Blue Rocks in Woodbridge. On Washington Post $1 Ticket Night in which Washington's Shawn Hill was making his first Rehab Start--attempting to get back on the field for Our Big League Club. Living less than 20 Minutes from Pfitzner Stadium--there was no way I going to miss the event. And, if I got lucky--Shawn Hill would chat with me.

Was fortune ever on my side tonight.

Right off the bat, I ran into Brian Oliver from Nationals Farm Authority. Pleased that he remembered me and was kind enough to come over and chat for some time. Then, Our Manager Manny Acta walked into the small ballpark, near Potomac Mills Mall, along with Bullpen Coach, Rick Aponte. We all started laughing upon seeing each other. "I can imagine why you are here, Manny?" I said. Manny replied: "Hey, I got my P-Nats Cap On!! And, I want to watch a ball game, MAN!!" All the while flashing that charismatic smile that I love so much. Handshakes and Smiles all around. And, you can just tell that Rick Aponte is Manny's trusted friend and advisor. Each time I have run into these two--they respond so well between each other. Moments that are very nice to see.

After chatting with Our Manager, if was off to The Potomac Nationals Batting Cages to speak with Our Young 19 Year Old Slugger--Chris Marrero, and Centerfielder Justin Maxwell. Later, as the game began--here comes Matt Chico and Tim Redding. Both Pitchers showing up to support their teammate and friend--Shawn Hill. For a $1 entrance fee, this turned out to be quite the successful night.

For his part this evening--Our Number 41 pitched three full innings, gave up three hits and no runs. Limited to a scheduled 50 pitches, Hill threw fastballs and some off speed--but no change up. Then, after finishing off his short stint of just 39 pitches--moved down to The P-Nats first base bullpen and threw a side session to reach the 50 pitch count. When concluded--Shawn Hill was done for the night. During his stint on the mound, Manny Acta and Rick Aponte watched from the stands. P-Nats Pitcher Shairon Martis charted Shawn's effort. And, once completed--handed the chart over to Manny for review and a signoff.

As The Potomac Nationals/Wilmington Blue Rocks game continued--Shawn Hill emerged from The P-Nats Clubhouse and signed autographs for quite some time with most any fan that wished. Some had up to 20 Shawn Hill Baseball Cards to sign. And, Hill signed them all. Then, upon completion--Shawn Hill was kind enough to turn to me and chat for nearly 10 minutes.

So, here we go:

First things First. How did it go tonight and how do you feel? (SBF)

“I feel fine. Everything went reasonably well, all things considered. I threw a majority of strikes, I guess. I need to work on my off speed stuff, more than anything.” (Any Pain? —SBF) “Nope, none. Nothing yet. I needed to stretch it (his elbow) out a little bit and build up my arm strength.”

What’s the next step to follow? (SBF)

“This Saturday I will have a Rehab start—4 innings, 65 pitches max—that is if all is well tomorrow morning when I get up.”

Will that start be here for Potomac? (SBF)

“It might be here, but if that’s the case, I will travel to Winston-Salem for their game. Possibly, that start could be for Columbus (AAA Affiliate). Or, even Harrisburg. But, I really have no idea yet. Very tentative.”

The last time everyone at RFK Stadium saw you, you were walking off the mound, injured—but pitching a no hitter. Has it frustrated you to leave on such a note and be out for such a long time? (SBF)

“Oh YES! I missed all of ’05 with the injury. Then, last year was a flare up from the surgery, which you kind of expect. But then this year, to have the problem occur, in the way it did, on that base running play in Miami causing the problem. My opposite shoulder (non throwing) was hurt. All that stuff is unfortunate. But, I knew I was playing well—which has made sitting and watching the games a little easier to take.”

When you injured your left shoulder—did you basically get your pitching mechanics out of whack by overcompensating for your pain? (SBF)

“Yeah. What happened was that I was always fine at the beginning of each game. But, as the game wore on it (his shoulder) would hurt a little bit, but then get weak. Sort of like a bruised muscle when you don’t realize it. So, by compensating without really thinking about it, my mechanics got way out of whack. My arm slot was bad, which put stress on the elbow. After four games of that, it was just going to be a matter of time before I just would have to take myself out of a game. So, they (Nats Management) just got to it before I did.”

You were doing so well, it’s really got to bother you to sit and watch? (SBF)

“Honestly, a lot. I still have to pitch well and make a name for myself so hopefully next year I will have my job locked up. But, I got along way to go. So, sitting around and watching all the other guys come in do their thing is bothering. If you sit around on the sidelines too long then you can easily be forgotten about.”

But it also has to hurt that when you went down—you were just starting to make a name for yourself, league wide? (SBF)

“Yes, that’s why I was still going out there to be honest. I didn’t want to give up something I had worked so hard to gain. If I was giving up 5 runs per game and hurting the team, we stop it (shut him down) earlier. But, because I was throwing reasonably well, keeping the team in the game—I was getting 6 innings or so per game—I tried to get through each and every game as far as I could. Hopefully, I was trying to build up the strength in my left shoulder. But, it didn’t work out. That’s why it was so frustrating to come out. I was keeping my team in the game, eating innings. Unfortunately, it was bound to happen, considering the way the injury was.”

How has the support been from The Nationals—Manny, Randy St.Claire? (SBF)

“Its good (Smiling). They give me a hard time every once in a while. They razz me a little bit because I have been on the DL (Disabled List) for so long. But, at the same time, they are concerned—asking me how I am doing. Now that I am throwing---it’s good to see Manny come out to show support. He’s the same way when I throw my bullpens (Manny Acta is there). He is great with advice.”

Yeah, I saw Manny when he walked in—he told me he had to come see HIS MAN!! (SBF)

(Both of us chuckling) “Yeah, that’s the way he is, but I am sure he’s also here to see how Chris (Marrero) is adjusting (to High A Ball). Manny is great. He is hands on with everything. He told me last Friday when I threw my Bullpen—he was going to come tonight. I appreciate the support.”

Let’s talk about the team. As far as the pitching is concerned—the efforts put forth on the mound by everyone this season is far better than anyone expected. Who gets credit for that? (SBF)

“You could hand out credit to a lot of folks. Many pitchers have just stepped it up. There is talent on this ball club. You could credit “Saint” (Randy St.Claire), who is obviously hands on. Manny for always being encouraging and constantly saying: ‘You know what? You are going back out there. Don’t worry about it.’ He’s great at the--pick yourself up--kind of comment. And, you have to give credit to our catchers—(Brian) Schneider and Flo (Jesus Flores). Both of those guys have done a great job as well.”

“If I had to credit the most, it would be “Saint” and Schneider. Because “Saint” is mighty hands on with the pitchers and all the bullpen--He’s everywhere. And Schneider--just for his ability to handle the pitchers. The older guys he doesn’t have to worry about—but we don’t have many of them (smiling). So, with the young guys, he’s (Schneider) firm when he needs to be. But, most of the time he’s very supportive--let's go type of attitude. Brian is really an asset. I don’t think I could underestimate that fact. He could hit .150 and be a great asset to any team. That’s just the way he is at handling everything behind the plate during a game and with any pitcher. Schneider and “Saint” both extremely valuable.”

Matt Chico has told me Brian Schneider means everything to him when he is on the mound. (SBF)

“Yes, I believe that. And, Flo (Flores) is the same way. You feel confident as a pitcher. But, with Schneider he just puts something down to throw and you just trust it. Once in a while (with Brian) you have your own thought. But, most of the time, he puts something down (to throw) and I just go—‘OK’. He's right most every time. He knows what he’s talking about. He knows the hitters. And, Brian makes it easier for me to just do my thing.”

For a guy that gets beat up most every night (Schneider), its really amazing that he keeps going out there. (SBF)

“Yes, its incredible sometimes the pain he suffers (physically).”

Speaking of Flores, how much have you seen him improve since Spring Training? (SBF)

“I went with him a few times in Spring Training. But, its Spring Training, I didn’t really get a good feel then to know the guy. He’s trying to get into shape, like we are as pitchers. So, if he’s a little rusty coming back, you just don’t know. Schneider was the same way. He was coming back from a long off-season and trying to get into shape. But, he (Jesus Flores) has improved dramatically since the start of the season. First, with the bat--he’s a lot more comfortable now. Catching, I think that he is learning that pitchers aren’t just going to shake him off every time. He’s beginning to learn that we (pitchers) have trust in him as a staff. So, he’s a little more comfortable knowing he doesn’t have to second guess himself at times, and eat himself up if he does make a bad call. I think it’s just a comfort level with him. He feels a lot better out there.”

He’s a really good young talent. No one can deny that fact. (SBF)

(Nodding appreciably) “Very, very good. Its really surprising that we (The Nationals) could get someone as solid as he is in The Rule V Draft.” (He hasn’t embarrassed himself at all. SBF) “No, a couple of weeks there his batting average went down a little bit. But, he picked it back up. Defensively, he can throw out guys. What an arm! He really is good, even at his young age. In a few years, he’s going to be an extremely solid Major League Catcher.”

Last question—Are we (The Fans) going to see you back at RFK Stadium this season? We can only hope? (SBF)

“Hopefully in two weeks. Hopefully. But, I never want to place a timetable on it. That will be up to Jim (Bowden—General Manager), “Saint” (Randy St.Claire) and all those guys. It depends on what they want to do. Ideally, after the west coast trip (second week of August), I will return to the club.”

With that, Shawn Hill had to leave. He along with Matt Chico and Tim Redding headed off for the short trip back up Interstate 95 to their homes. Pleased I was that Shawn took the time to speak with me. No hurry, whatever I wished to ask—he was kind enough to answer (although I didn’t want to take too much of his time away). Really, I couldn’t thank him enough.

In fact, what I find very refreshing when it comes to most every single player, coach and manager of Our Washington Nationals—IS THE WILLINGNESS TO STOP AND CHAT. And, not just to me. Everybody that wanted even the briefest of moments. Matt Chico, Tim Redding, Shawn Hill, Rick Aponte and Manny Acta all took time to speak or sign an autograph with just about anyone that showed up tonight at The P-Nats game. There is openness and fan friendliness associated with Our Team, that I just don’t recall seeing at most other venues involving Major League Teams and their players.

A cordial, inviting atmosphere that should be cherished for as long as it lasts.

PS: Finally-I just wanted to thank Brian Oliver from The Nationals Farm Authority for being very helpful to me this evening in Woodbridge. The Minor Leagues are his turf. And, he knows everybody. Brian was kind enough to pass along and share some information. His kindness was very much appreciated by me.

Five Minutes With Joel Hanrahan

At one time, Joel Hanrahan was a highly touted pitching prospect in The Los Angeles Dodgers Organization. The Dodgers Second Round Pick in the 2000 Entry Draft, Joel turned down a scholorship to pitch for The University of Nebraska to play professionally. And, did he ever get out to a hot start--reaching as high as 5th on The Los Angeles Top Prospect Chart. This, following a pair of No Hitters pitching for Vero Beach in 2002.

Baseball America once proclaimed Hanrahan possessed one of The Minor Leagues Best Breaking Pitches. He can reach 90 MPH consistently on his fastball, while controlling his slider and change up with effectiveness. Talent which began to fail him after consistent shoulder and leg injuries hampered his progress beginning in 2004. Although reaching AAA Las Vegas for three consecutive seasons-The Dodgers never called him up to The Major Leagues.

After spending seven seasons playing in the Los Angeles Organization, Joe Hanrahan became a Free Agent and signed with Our Washington Nationals over this past winter. Looking for redemption, a story line that has played out all season long in Washington--Hanrahan's long journey to The Big Leagues finally paid off when he was summoned from AAA Columbus for an emergency start this past Saturday against The New York Mets at Shea Stadium.

Our Number 38's first five pitched innings of Major League Baseball were pretty solid. He struck out 7 Mets and held his own by reaching the sixth with a shutout. A Zero On The Board that quickly turned over to three runs scored against--when over a course of three consecutive New York Batters--Joel saw a three run lead become tied. The final blow on a Two Run Opposite Field Home Run by Carlos Delgado.

Despite his disappointment on losing a lead--Joel Hanrahan did all right for himself in his first Major League Start. In many respects, he showed some of the talent--so many scouts originally believed could be harvested from him since 2000. Joel pitched so well, that Our 2007 Version Washington Nationals--will give him another start later this week.

With all that in mind--a few months ago--I had the opportunity to visit with Joel Hanrahan for five minutes. Never did I get the chance to use the material--he had yet to make an appearance in Washington. So, I was saving our brief chat. As it turns out, our exhange still stands up today.

Here we go:

Being a Free Agent for the first time, what drew you to Washington, DC? (SBF)

“From the moment my choices became available, one was clear. I knew this would be a good opportunity for me. In fact, just about anyone that wants a chance, came here. Why not? Here with The Nationals, you knew you would get a shot. There have been open rotation spots all season, and you have to feel pretty excited about that opportunity.”

Were you frustrated playing in The Dodgers Organization? (SBF)

“No, I wasn’t frustrated. For the first couple of years I was ONE OF THEIR GUYS. They treated me pretty well over there for a couple of years. Towards the end of my stint there, a couple of things happened. But, there is nothing I can do about it now. I am happy to be here—another chance to succeed.”

“What happened with The Dodgers that stagnated your career?

“After 2003, I got hurt a little bit (shoulder problems), never did I really get all my mechanics back together at the right time. So at times things would go good, then something would happen at the wrong time and it snowballed. Wrong timing, whether it was my form, my shoulder, another injury (groin problems). It didn’t stop basically.”

You were frustrated then, and just lost confidence? (SBF)

“No, I would not say I lost confidence, its just that everything would be going good (for a start or two) then something bad would happen at the wrong time. And, at that point there is nothing more you can do about it.”

While struggling to make the majors, who has helped you along? (SBF)

With The Dodgers, I always felt there were a few that believed in me. But, having been there for a couple of years, I had seen complete new groups of Management come through, with their own ideas—so that was frustrating for me. You have to wonder whether they know me. Whether they have any idea who I am. Or, do they want to bring in their own guys, feeling nothing worked before—why keep many. Although, I did have a couple of guys in my camp. Things just never worked out.”

What do you need to do to make The Big League Club? (SBF)

“My big thing is to just throw strikes. A couple of times I have had trouble with my control. Obviously, its something everybody is looking for a pitcher to do—throw strikes and get people out. “

The game is different when you get on that mound—its more than just talent, isn't it? (SBF)

“I was joking with (Billy) Traber the other day about just this. When we were just throwing off the mound (practice), I said--‘We just pitched a Perfect Game.’ We laughed, but its true—it’s a hole new ballgame once you start facing hitters. Each (batter) has their own nuances at the plate. And my job is fool them a lot more times than they get me. It takes more than just raw talent. You need smarts, sometimes guile, maybe even a little luck. All that combining with your fielders to be successful. Something I strive for each and every day. Something I hope to ressusitate here.”

You going to pitch in The Big Leagues this season?

"Count on it. I am counting on it. This is my chance." (Smiling Broadly)

What I found interesting from Joel Hanrahan was no open bitterness about never making it with The Dodgers. Things did not work out there for him, but he wasn't looking back. I guess when you are 25 years old, you still have that youthful exuberance that tells you that success is aways just around the corner. Something many others tend to forget and lose perspective about when bad times, and injuries, hinder their God Given abilities.

Interesting I find it that 2/3rds of the way through the 2007 season, Our Starting Pitching Rotation is still in flux, but Our Washington Nationals have survived. Now, two of the pitchers most expected to make The Big Club out of Spring Training--Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan are finally on the scene--after both failed during February and March Tryouts. Today, pitching the way Management envisioned when first signed over the winter. Fascinating it might be to see how well both playout the remainder of 2007.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rainy Day Random Thoughts

The Rains Came Down And Didn't Let Up. Neither did The New York Mets. Our Washington Nationals lost 5-0 playing five abbreviated innings this Sunday Afternoon at Shea Stadium, in Queens. Billy Traber got hammered, not much else really happened, unless you enjoy seeing Major League Players taking a shower while the diamond becomes an ever dangerous slick playing surface. So, instead of rehashing what little there was to digest--here are My Rainy Day Random Thoughts.

When Former Washington National Ramon Ortiz got off to such a hot start to the 2007 Season playing for The Minnesota Twins, I remember reading him exclaiming: "I feel great, best in years and thanks to Pitching Coach Rick Anderson" for all his work with Ramon. Vividly, I remember this, because Ortiz went on to say that Washington Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire never really helped him out. And, I was stunned to read this remark. Although I can't find the exact quote online, this one was close. I know Ramon said it though.

Never have I felt that Randy St.Claire is anything but a TERRIFIC PITCHING COACH. One who can have his job with Washington FOR LIFE--as far as I am concerned. And, as the 2007 Season has progressed, St. Claire has been Our Savior. Really, what a fabulous job working individually with each and every pitcher that Our General Manager Jim Bowden brought to camp. Who could have predicted that four of Washington's top 5 supposed starters would be lost for most of the season.

Who could have predicted that Randy St.Claire never missed a beat. Whether Our Manager Manny Acta has thrown Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann, Mike Bacsik, Micah Bowie, Tim Redding or Joe Hanrahan out on the mound--each has had their moments. None have really embarrassed themselves. Sometimes all six have been really good. Remarkable that 13 different Pitchers have been handed the baseball to start games so far in 2007. And, Our Washington Nationals haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

Credit that to Our General Manager Jim Bowden and his scouts for finding them. And, a HUGE TOAST to Randy St.Claire for finding a Major League Game in each and everyone of them, again. There was a good reason that Washington re-signed Our Pitching Coach last fall, before hiring Manny Acta. Why let someone leave that's just PERFECT FOR THE JOB!!

Oh Yeah--Where's Ramon Ortiz Now? He's barely hanging on--in a mop up role. No starts for Ortiz since May 26th. I like to know what he thinks of Rich Anderson and Randy St.Claire today? Ortiz was far more reliable, in his own mediocre way, last season pitching for Our Washington Nationals. Even he has to realize that now.

Thoughts of Nick Johnson just pained me this weekend while Our Nats played at Shea Stadium. Our Number 24 was such a fun player to watch those first seasons of Washington Nationals Baseball. Never did he give up. Always giving his all. And going all out is how he was so tragically injured. More and more, it appears Johnson will not recover fully in time to play this year. And, when management starts suggesting further diagnosis of Nick's hip--it only makes me sadder. Like many other Fans of Our Washington Nationals--I miss his efforts out on the field during each and every Nats Game. My grief will not go away, fully, until Nick Johnson returns to play baseball for Our Washington Nationals--100% recovered (that I can only hope). And, Our FANS GIVE HIM A WELL DESERVED STANDING OVATION!! That Day, will be A Special Day!!

The Houston Astros Designated Morgan Ensberg for Assignment, ending his one time promising All Star Career as their third baseman. Last June, Ensberg injured his shoulder and has never been the same. Some would say, he never healed properly. Being the vacuum of all Major League Baseball's lost souls--would not Our Washington Nationals be PERFECTLY suited to pick him up?

Ensberg would provide a fine backup to third base for Ryan Zimmerman. Also allowing "Z" to possibly take a break now and then. And, more importantly--would give Washington a right handed power bat off the bench, and a much better choice for backup first baseman--than Tony Batista. Ensberg's got to be cheap. Besides, he's cranked out TWO MONSTER HOME RUNS at RFK the past few seasons. Why not take a flier on Morgan, if he doesn't cost much? No reason not too.

Team President Stan Kasten is a very dedicated man when it comes to some of his former ballplayers with The Atlanta Braves. When Greg Maddux was looking for his 300th victory--Mr. Kasten promised to personally be in attendance when this Sure To Be Hall Of Famer made each attempt. Personally, he was there when Maddux won his illustrious 300th Game.

Now, Mr. Kasten has made the very same promise to Tommy Glavine. Which leaves Our Team President in a bind. You see, Glavine was missed in the rotation this weekend by Our Washington Nationals in New York. Tommy's next scheduled start is Tuesday Night, July 31st--Trading Deadline Day--against The Brewers in Milwaukee. Will Mr. Kasten Stay--Or Will He GO??

Maybe the signing of Ronnie Belliard and Dimitri Young was part of "The Plan" after all--allowing Mr. Kasten to head to Milwaukee to personally see Tommy Glavine go for Number 300. Gotta Love His Dedication, though. How many of your former bosses have personally come to see you have a GREAT DAY??!! None of mine, that I can remember. But, I would have loved it, if they had made the effort. Loyalty, on the part of Our Team President, that has not gone UNNOTICED by me.

Finally, This Thursday August 2nd,--Our Washington Nationals will honor and celebrate the 100th Anniversary of arguably The Greatest Pitcher in The History of Baseball (not many come close, if at all). Walter Johnson pitched his very first game for The Washington Nationals (Senators) on August 2, 1907. No other "Washington Great" links the fine history of baseball in Our Nation's Capital than "The Big Train". The ceremony will preceed that night's game against The St.Louis Cardinals.

For some time, I have worked on something special for that date. An Anniversary piece that means alot to me. Please look for my very distinctive post, later this week. Any Fan of Washington Baseball and Its History--will enjoy it. That, I am sure.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Where Are We Heading?

Where exactly are we heading?

Our General Manager Jim Bowden is creative, I will give him that. At a time that NO ONE, NOT ONE SINGLE MAJOR LEAGUE TEAM, wanted Dimitri Young--Bowden extended his hand, and it paid off for Our Washington Nationals. Similar success Our GM has had, first with Ronnie Belliard and again--with a make shift Starting Pitching Staff throughout 2007. Lost and looking for employment, not wanted players have found homes in Our Nation's Capital. So many now, the total makes up nearly half of the 25 man roster.

So, what does Jim Bowden do now? With the signing of Ronnie Belliard to a very team friendly two year contract earlier this week, and today's announcement of Dimitri's two year extension at $5 Million per year--where are Our Washington Nationals Heading? As much as I LOVE the Belliard Signing--exactly what does Young's signing say about The Future of Our Team?

Ronnie Belliard can help now, next year and by even being traded at a later date. Something I am not too sure about Dimitri Young. If Our Washington Nationals are a contending team, re-signing Our 2007 All Star is a NO BRAINER. He could help, starting and coming off the bench. Our Number 21 would be a HUGE THREAT OFF THE BENCH. But, Washington is not. Does Jimbo believe Nick Johnson may well not return?--Even in 2008 to form? Does Our General Manager believe Our Nats are closer to contending than many believe (that's a stretch, even for me)?

Has Jim Bowden come to realize the "RENT A PLAYERS" concept for the playoff run, by other contenders, is no longer the followed mantra in baseball. Have Major League Baseball Teams actually concluded that giving up your future--to "POSSIBLY" win now--is NEVER WORTH IT? And, has Bowden made a pre-emptive strike in order to make better business for Washington--farther down the road?

Its an interesting thought. Why else would Our Washington Nationals lock up two of their top tradeable commodities a few short days before the July 31st Trading Deadline--if something else was not up. Has Our GM Guaranteed both Belliard and Young ARE MOVABLE NOW, AS WELL AS THE FUTURE? Bowden possibly believing that was not the case before the past few days--when both were heading towards Free Agency come October 1st. As ahead of the game as Jimbo was in first singing these two to non-guaranteed contracts--Is he well ahead of his brethren again? This time getting a jump on an ever changing players market--dictated by EVER ESCALATING SALARIES?

Where exactly do these flurry of moves--unexpected on so many fronts--leave Our Washington Nationals? Are Our Washington Nationals a better team today? Or, are they better positioned for the future? Possibly Both? At a point in the 2007 Season when many fans lose interest towards a last place team--Our Team is becoming intriguing--with its off the field moves.

One of the most creative men in baseball has my mind wondering. Where are we heading? Jim Bowden has Peaked My Interest, Again. What exactly is he up too? Never, ever can I say, is Our General Manager UNINSPIRED OR BORING.

Of course, his direction had me thinking throughout tonight's game two of Washington's Doubleheader with The New York Mets.

Sohna and I were out running the weekend errands on Saturday Afternoon, so we did not have the opportunity to watch Our Washington Nationals 3-1 Lose to The New York Mets in the first game of today's double header. Although, we listened from time to time on the radio between stops.

But, this evening featured the Major League Debut of another Jim Bowden signee looking for an opportunity. Former 2nd Round Los Angeles Dodgers Draft Pick Joel Hanrahan received his BIG BREAK. Given up on by The Dodgers, Hanrahan has toiled a AAA Columbus all 2007 for Our Nationals waiting for his chance. Like everyone signed by Our General Manager, you can pretty guarantee you will, at least, get your chance.

So, was Joel Hanrahan good, or just lucky in the nightcap--at least until Carlos Delgado took him deep to tie this game up at 3 in the 6th? Cruising along before Delgado's opposite field blast--Hanrahan fell apart in just three hitters. Surprised I was that Our Manager left him in to face the dangerous Carlos with two outs in the 5th. All season long, Our Number 14 has taken young pitchers out of situations where they can lose, protecting a strong outing. Playing a Doubleheader is the only reason I can think of Manny Acta saving anybody in his bullpen. Although, an Off Day is coming Monday. Why not, All Hands On Deck?

Nonetheless, Joel Hanrahan pitched well. And, he even helped his own cause with his first Major League Hit, a triple--and first Major League Run scored. Our New Number 38 was better than expected. How much longer will he last? Really, its stunning to see how Our Starting Pitching is constantly in motion. So much so, that has anyone really thought or cared much about the status of John Patterson? He's not even mentioned anymore. By anyone, especially Our Nationals. Another sign of Our Team heading in a different direction.

A trend repeated of late with a ball game on the line--Big Jon Rauch called on to be Our Most Dependable Stopper in the 7th and 8th innings. Tonight, after D'Angelo Jimenez just flat out misplayed a popup over his shoulder and Ray King gave up a bloop single to right, "The Wookiee" was called on by Our Manager Manny Acta to stop the bleeding right then and there. With The Mets & Our Washington Nationals tied at three in the bottom of 7th--Our Number 51 was trusted to get the final out. A reliance not given to Ray King with the Pesky Jose Reyes at the plate. And, Rauch delivered--getting Jose to pop up down the left field line. A play that Ronnie Belliard made easily.

Our Number 10 also getting the key blow the very following inning. A two run double with two outs and the bases loaded off Aaron Heilman, right after Ryan Langerhans drove in Austin Kearns with a single in the hole to left field to put Washington up 4-3.. A game breaking hit that saw Nationals Third Base Coach Tim Tolman wave D'Angelo Jimenez home. A costly decision that resulted in Jimenez being thrown out twice tonight. The first instance on a play at third base. What in world was Tolman thinking? With three runs now in, during this top of the 8th, a 6-3 lead was not enough. And, Ryan Zimmerman was coming to the plate with runners on 2nd and 3rd. D'Angelo was out BY A MILE!! Just a bad decision by Tolman on this play. Why take the bat out of the hands of one of your BEST HITTERS--for a slim chance to score? If the next batter is most anyone else but Zimmerman--maybe send the runner. But, definitely, not in this case. Like Jason Bergmann in Philadelphia earlier this week, Tim Tolman made a questionable call. Being aggressive when your lineup has trouble scoring runs, I understand, and don't have any problem with. But, POOR DECISIONS, just to look aggressive--not smart.

Of course, Tolman's Baserunning Decision was the harbinger of things to come in the bottom of the 8th. Big Jon Rauch returned for the 8th and struggled mightily--unable to retire The Mets until two runners scored on four hits. And, when Shawn Green attempted to steal second base with two outs to get in scoring position--you had to feel Our Washington Nationals were going to blow the lead. Brian Schneider threw his toss to second base past Belliard at second base. A skipping throw that FLop amazingly let get past him--but did hustle to retrieve--keeping Green from scoring the tying run. A score that may well have happened even on a routine ground out, that followed, to Lopez at short by Ramon Castro. Felipe fielded to his left the baseball, wheeled completely around and hurried his throw to first base. The slow moving Castro was NOWHERE near the base. FLop threw the ball in the dirt. Thankfully, Tony Batista scooped his errant toss to keep the tying run from scoring. Batista smiled mightily on catching the ball. Lopez got lucky on a play he could have taken his time and thrown with more care. Felipe is one baffling player. At a time Our Washington Nationals have me puzzled over where they are heading, long term, FLop makes me wonder whether he even has his head in the game sometimes--especially recording a crucial out.

A Final Out that "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" was able to record in 1-2-3 fashion in the bottom of the 9th. Chad Cordero's 21st Save of The Season was completed without fanfare. Curly "W" Number 45 salvaged a split of Our Washington Nationals only doubleheader this season. With a Victory Sunday, Washington would complete a satisfying 4-3 roadtrip through Philadelphia and New York. Surprisingly, Our Nats also heading up in the standings. Now just three games behind The Florida Marlins, losers of 7 out of 10.

Young Photo--(AP) Manuel Balce Ceneta
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Ed Betz

Friday, July 27, 2007

My Main Man!! Returns

Maybe My Main Man!! should play more games at Shea Stadium. My Favorite Player has been mired in a serious slump of late. So much so, even Our Manager Manny Acta has called him out. Many Fans of Our Washington Nationals have pined for his everyday inclusion in the lineup. Yet, after such a fabulous start this season--Ryan Church has struggled. And, I was lost for words to explain.

Despite his misplay the other night against Philadelphia that was very costly, Our Number 19 has again begun to hit doubles of late. At this point in the 2007 season, he is still in the top five in The National League in two base hits. Yet, quite honestly, he is capable of more. As I have mentioned before, Ryan Church has that wonderful Will Clark Swing. A Hitting Stroke that evokes fear in opposing pitchers. Power which My Main Man!! has not been consistent with.

So, Thank You Shea Stadium. Tonight, My Main Man!! Returned.

On a night Our Washington Nationals changed the multiplication rules: 4 X 2 = 3 runs scored, Ryan Church finally broke out and was the difference against The New York Mets. In the top of the second inning, Our Team stroked four doubles. Dimitri Young, followed by Ryan, then Brian Schneider with one out, and Nook Logan (Yes, Nook Logan) with a Ground Rule Double to left center off Jorge Sosa (For those keeping score, 4 doubles--4 X 2 equaled 3 runs scored). Yes, 3 Runs Scored and then Our Number 19 taking a Jorge Sosa Fastball over the right field fence his next time up--in the top of the 3rd.

The very last time Our Washington Nationals visited Queens to face The New York Mets, Ryan Church had a breakout day. A game I thought would propel him to the Solid Major League Status believed by many. As it turned out, that was not the case. Unfortunately, Ryan's home run tonight was his first since June 12th against The Baltimore Orioles. But, at Shea this season, Ryan is 5 for 11 with two doubles and two homers, 3 RBI and four runs scored. Good Production.

Could it be, that My Main Man!! has finally re-found his stroke? No one is more needed to produce in Our Lineup. Hopeful I am, that Church will begin to look for that first pitch to drive. And, protect himself more with two strikes. He has an impressive stroke. Ryan Church is capable of more. Many Nationals Fans would LOVE to see him become a RUN PRODUCER.

And, nothing could make me happier.

That and Curly "W" Number 44 being a solid WIN over The Eastern Division Leading New York Mets at Shea Stadium. Hard it was for me to believe that ANY Nats wins is produced in pedestrian style. But, Our Washington Nationals won easily tonight. Not much pain. Not much to worry about. Too bad, so many more provide such stress.

All on a Night My Main Man!! broke out of a slump, providing the KEY BLOWS.

Game Notes & Highlights:

Mike Bacsik continues to pitch well, after being pretty much left for the dead. Our Number 37 completing seven strong innings, never really threatened, giving up 2 runs, most importantly ZERO WALKS, and striking out NOT A SINGLE METS HITTER. That's letting your defense help you out. Remarkable that Bacsik earned his 4th win tonight, a few weeks after many thought his time on The Major League Roster was over with.

When Bacsik was done, Luis Ayala came on the close the game out. Two VERY STRONG INNINGS. Our Number 56 pitching in 3 out of the last four Nats Games. Yeah, I know, he gave up a game winning homer to Aaron Rowand a few nights ago--but he continues to rebuild his game. Having finished off tonight's affair with his first save in nearly two years, you can bet he was pleased to be rewarded. Hard it is to recover from surgery to your pitching elbow. Ayala has been BETTER THAN EXPECTED in his 14 games since returning from the Disabled List. Tonight, when he trotted out to the mound for the 8th, it reminded me of 2005, when Luis SET UP Chad Cordero. There was not a better duo in The Game that year. How I would LOVE TO SEE THAT AGAIN. And, no disrespect to Big Jon Rauch. Those three combine to form a very effective LATE INNING BULLPEN. One of The Best In The Game.

How about Austin Kearns. For some time, his game has lacked power. Now, two BIG BLASTS over the past week that hopefully will give him confidence to succeed more in the very near future. Does he ever need to work out his swing.

There were three fine defensive plays tonight, not surprisingly, Ryan Zimmerman was involved in two of them. In the bottom of the second, The Mets Shawn Green laced a liner down the right field line. But, Dimitri Young got his big body in front of the ball--and made a very fine lunging catch to his left.

The second with New York threatening in the fifth and runners on 2nd and 3rd--Damion Easley stroked a liner down the third base line. Ryan Zimmerman dove to his right, catching the baseball, and JUST MISSED Doubling off Shawn Green, also diving back into the bag.

Finally, with Carlos Delgado on first base with one out in the 6th, Paul LoDuca chopped a grounder on the third base side, near the pitcher's mound. Ryan Zimmerman DID NOT GIVE UP ON THE BALL--Surprised EVERYONE by throwing to second base--whereupon "THE BALLPLAYER", Ronnie Belliard made a TERRIFIC PIVOT and One Footed Toss to Dimitri Young at first base to retire The Mets. Just a FABULOUS Team Play, and The Defensive Play of This Game. Ronnie Belliard is just incredible at turning two. There could not be many others in This Great Game--Better. If baseball is theatrics--this double play was a BRAVADO PERFORMANCE!! Very, Very Impressive.

To conclude: when Paul LoDuca stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with one out--The African Queen noticed that every single Mets Fan sitting behind the third base dugout had the MOST MISERABLE LOOKS on their faces. Absolutely SORROWFUL. Thinking the exact same thing, Sohna and I just BUSTED OUT LAUGHING!!! What a treat to see NEW YORK FANS SUFFERING. Really, its a GREAT JOY!! We couldn't stop chuckling about it for some time.

Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Ed Betz

The Relocation Snail Mail Snafu

For the past few days, I read with great interest the problems Current Season Ticket Holders of Our Washington Nationals have encountered if they sent in their Relocation Questionnaire and Deposit via regular (snail) mail. Being very busy in my real job (two out of town trips) I did not have the opportunity to really look into the situation, until this afternoon.

Reaching out, as always to Our Washington Nationals--I went looking for answers. Sure enough, Team Officials got back in touch with me. Their explanation for the delay was that approximately 400 pieces of mail were left waiting at The US Postal Service Delivery Center in Washington, DC. For whatever reason--The Post Office held ALL OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS MAIL, and did not deliver them.

Only after emails were sent by The Team to Season Ticket Holders concerning the non receipt of deposits and subsequent calls by Fans--did The Washington Nationals realize the problem. And, the very next day--all the held mail was picked up and delivered.

Andy Burns in The Nationals Season Ticket Office personally told me that "NO ONE WILL LOSE THEIR PRIORITY" due to this snafu. And, that by next Tuesday Afternoon, they hope to have every single current Season Ticket Holder satisfied--as far as--this problem is concerned.

Andy also mentioned that Sales Staff are PERSONALLY contacting each and every single ticket holder that may have got caught up in this small mess. And anyone--that may still have a concern or has not been called--should contact their ticket representative--as soon as possible.

Finally, if you were originally worried due to receiving the email about non receipt of deposit, and you went ahead with a Online Credit Card Deposit (knowing you already sent a check)--you will receive a refund on one of the now TWO DEPOSITS they may well have on hand.

That is The OFFICIAL WORD from Our Washington Nationals.

Lost In The Shuffle

Possibly lost in the up and down shuffle of the past two ballgames, is a point that regular reader Paul mentioned in the commentary from last night's post. Our Washington Nationals have this innate ability to stay in ballgames. Battles that you would think they have NO CHANCE OF COMPETING IN. At times they get blown out 15-1, or lose three to four in a row--and you fully expect the entire team to fall off the wagon.

Yet, despite countless times expecting the worst--Our Washington Nationals are actually a competitive team. No, not even a winning team, but a fascinating team to watch.

And, Our Manager Manny Acta deserves a ton of credit for how he handles this ball club. I may not always agree with every move he makes. Sometimes, he has me shaking my head in wonder. But, I can't deny that his professionalism, pride and ability to keep every single one of his players actively involved in OUR TEAM, is invaluable.

Manny Acta is a TREMENDOUS RESOURCE. Really, there is NO BETTER MANAGER for Our Team--at This Time. And despite what others may claim--he is not responsible for players not calling for the ball or making mental mistakes. Those errors are answerable by the players themselves. They are suppose to be Major League Ballplayers. Their years of experience should have them act like one. Sometimes Our Manager can only do so much.

As this 2007 season has progressed, Our Number 14 has more and more understood what each and every player for Our Washington Nationals can do. Effectively, he has maneuvered through 12 different starting pitchers and 22 different folks taking the baseball and walking to the mound for him. That is not easy to juggle. Especially, when so many player injuries were forcing his actions(Soon to be 13 & 23 with Jason Bergmann placed on the DL Today and Joel Hanrahan expected to be called up).

Off the bench--Manny's been given little to work with. In April, his substitutes were basically useless. Eventually, he came to trust Ronnie Belliard and now the ever emerging Jesus Flores.

When Our Washington Nationals take the field each and every game--Manny Acta understands what he can do--with those 25 players given. Yeah, he's outmanned and outgunned on most days--but he doesn't give in. From Day One of Spring Training--Our Manager has stated he goes out to win EVERY SINGLE GAME!! That competitiveness has carried over to his players.

Two Nights ago, Washington lost tragically on a comedy of errors with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. Yet, lost in the shuffle was a HUGE COMEBACK by Manny manipulating his bench--using every last player--to make difference. A characteristic now being shown regularly--The ABILITY TO FIGHT BACK AND WIN. Something Washington did again yesterday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. An electrifying come from behind 7-6 victory over The Phillies. Flores again with the Big Blow.

Rarely, do you witness Our Washington Nationals out of a game--for good.

A Last Place Team currently represents Our Nation's Capital. But, Our Team won that magical 43rd game last night. Shades of the 1962 New York Mets (the worst of all time), they are not. Not EVEN CLOSE. Each and every game--you know--most all Our Players are giving their all.

And, Our Manager Manny Acta deserves HUGE CREDIT for bringing a Positive Attitude.

A sensibility that is ever so slowly building, a WINNING ATTITUDE!!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jesus Arrives--While Lannan & Manny Leave

Never has he embarrassed himself--despite the fact that he had, not once, played a baseball game above Single A Ball. Many, so called experts, claimed he would be over matched on The Major League Level. Yet, Jesus Flores has done nothing but show an emerging talent all season long. From the very first days of Spring Training, Our Washington Nationals Rule V Draftee has shown a cannon arm, power at the plate and the ability to call a good game behind it. A Confidence well apparent today, when he was the difference at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Trailing 5-4 in the top of the 8th, Our Number 3 stepped to the plate and hammered The Phillies Mike Zagurski's very first pitch to him over the left field fence while sending Many Washington Nationals Fans on hand into a FRENZY. I am sure many watching at home, or at work-- were jumping for joy. I know I was. The Sight on TV of this one Philadelphia Fan booing a bunch of Nationals Fans enjoyable to see. Jesus Flores Second Home Run of this season was a three run shot, scoring Robert Fick and Austin Kearns with the tying, go ahead and important insurance run in today's 7-6 victory. A Win that could only bring comfort to many followers of Our Team, after last night's debacle.

A relief "The Chief Cardiologist" made very interesting in the bottom of the 9th. Allowing one run to score and putting the tying and winning runs on base. But, unlike last night, Chad Cordero's defense behind him DID NOT LET HIM DOWN!! Our Number 32 recorded his 20th save of 2007. But Curly "W" Number 43 will be remembered for Flores' Clout and one of the Most Stunning Ejections you will ever see in a baseball game.

For some time now, Jesus Flores has impressed. Each and every time Our Manager Manny Acta gives him the opportunity to play--Flores does something that makes you appreciate his young talent. Yeah, he fails from time to time, that's baseball--but never does he appear lost. I just love his rifle arm from behind the plate. Many of Our Pitchers claim he calls a decent game. And, everyone has come to realize--THIS MAN CAN HIT--For Power--with the game on the line. An ability Jesus also showed last night when he pinch hit in the 9th and, at that time, knocked in the apparent winning runs--before Two Ryans got lost in left centerfield.

There is NO DOUBT that JESUS FLORES is a KEEPER--and most likely--starting material behind the plate, far sooner than anyone first believed. If Our Washington Nationals are looking for parts in 2007--Our Number 3 has been added to The Jigsaw Puzzle--Permanently . A Maze that each and every day is slowly being pieced together. Far more deliberately than many may wish. But, as far as I am concerned--Jesus Flores can start more--not just for Sunday Games and Day Games following Late Night Games. He Has Earned Those Additional Chances. And, that in no way should reflect on Brian Schneider's abilities. Our Number 23 has taken a beating behind the plate this season. Nicks and Scrapes most every night. Stunning at times, that Brian Schneider continues to play most every night, under the circumstances. Schneider is a gamer, which I can appreciate.

Now--How About Those Ejections.

Our Washington Nationals, continuing their 2007 effort give tryouts to every single possible candidate, called up fast rising youngster John Lannan to make an emergency start this afternoon. In the wake of Jason Bergmann pulling a hamstring and Jason Simontacchi going on the Disabled List--Our 2005 11th Round Pick became Washington's 22nd Pitcher to appear on the mound this season. Wearing Number 26--the crafty lefthander from Siena College in New York State--was basically what you would expect--NERVOUS. Nothing to be ashamed about. And, when Ryan Howard SWATTED OUT HIS 14th Career Home Run against Our Washington Nationals in the bottom of the 3rd--you couldn't be surprised. Lannan may well become a good Major League Pitcher--he just needs to settle down--get his feet wet.

But, when Chase Utley came up to bat again in the bottom of 5th--a series of events took place that continue to prove--baseball always surprises you--when you least expect it. Trailing 3-2, Lannan appeared capable of making his Major League Debut last, a full five innings. At least until Home Plate Umpire Hunter Wendlestadt inserted himself into this game. With one out, Our Number 26 let go an off speed pitch that hit Utley right on his hands. A pitch that rewarded him first base and then The Disabled List later (as it turned out, Chase unfortunately broke a bone in his right hand).

An adversity that got ever worse--when John Lannan plunked Ryan Howard on his back with his very next pitch. There was NO QUESTION that Lannan had just lost control. There was NO QUESTION Lannan was not throwing at anyone--on purpose. At least to everyone save Hunter Wendlestadt. Today's Home Plate Umpire EJECTED John Lannan from his VERY FIRST GAME. An affair that featured Our Washington Nationals being down by just one run with a Big Inning possibly emerging for Philadelphia. What in the world was Hunter Wendlestadt thinking?

He must have been the only person at Citizens Bank Park this afternoon that felt the ejection was warranted. Even the ever persistent Phillie Faithful seemed stunned. A Shocking Decision that Our Manager Manny Acta came to argue vehemently and rightly so. Obviously, Hunter Wendlestadt was not in an accommodating mood today. Manny Acta was then EJECTED for the very first time as Manager of Our Washington Nationals. Don Sutton on MASN2 went ballistic. "Sometimes you have to use Common Sense and realize the situation," he continued. "There is NO WAY John Lannan is deliberately pitching at Ryan Howard, in his very first game, a game he is trailing. The Job of an Umpire is to let the ballgame play out in front of them. Not inject themselves into the action and change its possible outcome. Hunter Wendlestadt is simply not thinking." Don went on his soapbox for some time after those comments. And, deservedly so.

Home Plate Umpire Hunter Wendlestadt's decision was WAY OUT OF LINE!! And, ejecting Manny, for arguing, is the sign of someone covering their butt. I don't care if Hunter's Father, Harry, was a long time respected arbiter in the game. Harry's Son must not have learned the nuances of not directly becoming involved. Just a ridiculous decision. A move that, if MLB had any guts--would investigate and reprimand. You can't have an Umpire changing the face of the game--without good reason.

Now--How About those Dimitri Young Rumors?

Various reports claim Our Washington Nationals are close to a two year contract extension with Dimitri for anywhere from $2 Million per season to $5 Million per season--plus an option year. If the deal is for $2 Million or so--Fine. But, at $5 Million per--how does this further This Franchise? As much as I like him--Young is having a Career Year. How many more such seasons is he capable? At $2 Million per--he's a very tradable commodity, at any time. Same with Ronnie Belliard. I can understand such a signing--under those circumstances. But, do Our Washington Nationals really want to guarantee $10 Million (IF TRUE) for two more seasons of an All Hit, No Field Player? The Suggestion of placing Dimitri Young in the outfield is laughable. And, is there an underlying concern that Nick Johnson will not return, healthy--even next year?

Every Move Our General Manager Jim Bowden has completed as Our General Manager always seems to be in conjunction with possibilities and opportunity down the line. There has got to be something else going on. Why would you lock up two of your, supposedly, wanted commodities--less than one week before the Trading Deadline?

Not being directly involved, I am not going to speculate on player moves--but something's up. Jimbo's On The Prowl.

That, I AM SURE!!

PS--This has been sort of a Wild Day for me. While watching the game on and off on from Our Satellite Truck, I have been covering Michael Vick's appearance in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia on Dog Fighting Charges. What a scene when Vick walked out of The U.S. Marshall's Van. Was he ever booed!! As Bad as Barry Bonds EVER HEARD IN ANY GAME!!

I am not judging here, just reporting. But, Just An Amazing Scene To Witness.

Today's InGame Photo's--(AP) George Widman
Last Night's Dimitri Young Photo--(AP) Rusty Kennedy

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No Excuse!! NONE!!

When you have rallied back from behind, in the 9th inning to take the lead, have two outs against your opponent and their batter is down to his last strike--there is LITTLE EXCUSE FOR ERROR!! Jimmy Rollins was at the plate for Philadelphia, two outs, two strikes and he lofts a routine, but long fly to left centerfield. Ryan Church had the ball in his glove, but Ryan Langerhans interceded, getting in the way.

HOW MANY TIMES CAN WE WITNESS OUR PLAYERS NOT CALL THE BALL!! This has been a problem all season long!! Really, its not as difficult as it seems. Its certainly not as written off as "difficult" by some announcers. Am I ever tired of that cover story. Sometimes you have to place blame. Quite Frankly, THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR WHAT HAPPENED TONIGHT.

No Excuse that, with the GAME's FINAL OUT Right in front of them--My Main Man!! Ryan Church and Ryan Langerhans could not figure out who catches that fly ball. No Excuse that Church short hopped a throw to Felipe Lopez after dropping the ball. No excuse, that Rollins--seeing FLop lazily move toward Church's throw, and the comedy of errors playing out in front of him--ran hard around third--knowing this was his chance to score the tying run. Only to see FLop finally pick up the baseball and SHORTHOP a throw to Brian Schneider at the plate. No EXCUSE for that TERRIBLE THROW that should have thrown out Rollins at the plate--by a MILE!!! A toss that Schneider could not handle. A scored triple and error that tied this game, and eventually handed Our Washington Nationals an AWFUL 7-5 Loss in 14 innings. Yes, Ryan Howard beat us again with a two run shot off Chris Booker, his 13th career Home Run against Washington.

As happy as I was, expectantly, with a marvelous comeback by Washington in the top of the 9th--devastated I became when Our Washington Nationals just flat out blew it in the bottom of the 9th!! This loss had nothing to do with being out manned. It had nothing to do with being outgunned. This loss had EVERYTHING TO DO WITH NOT BEING COMPETENT--WITH THE GAME ON THE LINE!!

Just an unacceptable loss. How many times have we witnessed in Section 320, time and time again--our players not CALLING FOR THE BALL!! Its a basic concept and skill of the game. Every Single Person who has ever played this great game should understand that. I don't care if you are an outfielder or pitcher--you should be able to properly call the ball and catch it.

There is NO EXCUSE FOR WHAT HAPPENED TONIGHT at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.


JUST AN AWFUL LOSS!! I don't care if we are a last place team or not. This one HURTS--BADLY!!!

And, to think--just moments earlier, I was about to post this:

This was remarkable! Down 4-2 entering the top of the 9th inning against The Philadelphia Phillies, even I did not expect a comeback. Yet, as Our Washington Nationals have proven, time and time again, this 2007 season--they may be outgunned, but definitely not outmanned. Really, who had Our Team to come from behind in the final inning to win? And, in such an unusual way?

Clutch hitting from Tony Batista. Now, how many of you, including me, were screaming at your television--"NOT TONY??!!" when Our Manager sent Batista to the plate to pinch hit? Didn't Number 77 Prove us wrong. And finally, Jesus Flores--Our Terrific Rule V Draftee--provided his finest hit in the clutch with the game on the line to put Our Washington Nationals in the lead.

All we needed now was "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" to finish it off. Chad Cordero, in the spirit of the rally, shutdown the home team tonight. Shutting up Citizens Bank Park and sending many of those Phillie Faithful home in an extremely disgruntled mood. Of course, this was really a 5-4 UNEXPECTED VICTORY--possibly one of the finest of this season. Now many times have Our Washington Nationals played just well enough to lose. This evening in South Philadelphia--Our Team showed some serious moxie.

That sounded pretty good, didn't it? As it turned out, that was all fantasy. Our Washington Nationals were dreaming. Unthinking in their effort during the fatal ninth, and distracted with the game on the line. I know, this is pretty harsh from me, But Our Washington Nationals Deserve it tonight. Possibly, the worst loss of 2007. There is NO EXCUSE FOR CHURCH AND LANGERHANS in the 9th. NONE!!


A defeat that included Our Manager Manny Acta running out of position players. An unexpected thrashing that just has to hurt Manny where it counts this most--his gut. Do I ever feel sorry for Manny tonight.

Baseball is the most Exceptional Game. Tonight, The Great Game showed how wrenching an adventure any of its battles can be. For some time, I will not be able to forget this one. Honestly, I doubt if I will be able to sleep tonight.

Do you think Manny will?

Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Rusty Kennedy

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Celebrating Cal, Jr.

As well detailed in The Nats320 Blog, Former Slugger Frank Howard is My Favorite Player of All Time. In fact, "HONDO" was and will always be My IDOL. But, Cal Ripken, Jr. is The Most Beloved Player of My Adult Life. As fine of a player as he was on the field--he was even GREATER off of it. That's What Makes Cal, Jr. So Special. There has been no better ROLE MODEL for fans to follow and adore then Cal Ripken, Jr.--NONE. No One Is Close.

Not one single player over the past Quarter Century is more appreciated than Baltimore's Number 8. Many have said, Ripken saved Baseball in the Mid-90's, when he passed one of baseball's most cherished records--Lou Gehrig's Consecutive Games Streak of 2130. One Year after an Owner Lockout that could have KILLED THE GREAT GAME. And, at a time many baseball players ignored their fans--Cal Ripken, Jr stood on the side of the field and signed autographs for ANYONE THAT WANTED A BRIEF MOMENT WITH HIM.

That's Class--that's understanding your roots. And proves, that Baltimore's FINEST PLAYER OF ALL TIME is well grounded in, not only the skills of baseball, but more importantly, but the aptitude of life. I hold Cal Ripken, Jr in HIGH ESTEEM. Not many have struck me in such a way.

For some time now--I wanted to attend Cal Ripken's Official Sendoff to his Hall of Fame Induction in Cooperstown this weekend. The African Queen and I were well aware that Tuesday Night, July 24th, The Baltimore Orioles were going to have a special celebration. Badly, I wanted to go. But, when you work on a Network Television Newscast that ends at 6PM EDT--you can bet there was LITTLE CHANCE of making the event.

Then again--sometimes you get lucky.

Out of nowhere, My Washington Bureau Chief decided to cover Cal's Sendoff at Camden Yards Tonight. Quickly, arrangements were made. Thankfully, The Baltimore Orioles Media Relations Staff were very accommodating. And, was it EVER WORTHWHILE.

Cal Ripken, Jr and his lovely Wife, Kelly were just terrific--Self Deprecating in their Media Interviews--pleasant and fun. When it comes to Life--both get it. Always introspective of the fortunate turns in their lives. And, well versed in the parenting of two, now well rounded teenagers--Rachel & Ryan. Both kids now "realizing for the very first time"--the importance of their beloved Father. Cal talked about this at length tonight in The Press Conference.

Honestly, I was proud to be able to attend. And, when Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, Robin Roberts and Eddie Murray (Four of Baltimore's GREATEST--All Hall of Famers) were kind enough to speak with us for our story--My Correspondent and I really understood HOW MUCH CAL RIPKEN, JR. IS LOVED--AS A PERSON.

Tuesday Night, July 24th was a SPECIAL NIGHT. Appreciative I was to attend. Briefly, I got the distinctive opportunity to speak with Cal and his Wife, Kelly--and meet 4 additional Hall of Famers.

Yeah, I know--Our Washington Nationals played tonight in Philadelphia and lost, 4-3. But, for one night, THIS NIGHT--It was FAR MORE IMPORTANT to Celebrate A MOST BELOVED PLAYER--Cal Ripken, Jr. I could never say enough good things about him--too many adjectives describe him.

Simply--Cal Ripken, Jr Understands Life. Number 8 is a Winner Forever!!

Congratulations Cal!! for your Induction into The Baseball Hall of Fame. No One is More Deserving.

PS--While leaning against the railing at the top of The Orioles Dugout--waiting for our interview opportunities--tonight's opponent--Tampa Bay was emerging from The Baltimore (Yes, that's right Orioles) Dugout. There was no ON FIELD Batting Practice due to the Celebration--so The Devil Rays were hitting under the first base stands in The Orioles Batting Cages. As I turned to watch them walk up and onto the field--I found myself face to face with Former Nationals Josh Wilson and Brendan Harris. Wilson looked straight at me, and stopped. "I know you?" he questioned. I responded "Yes, I talked with you and Michael Restovich last February during the first week of Nats Spring Training and wrote about it." Josh knowingly smiled: "Yes, you were the blogger that did all the coverage that week." Boy, was I ever STUNNED he remembered. Josh Wilson went on to introduce me to Brendan Harris--and I had to explain to them--Television News is my occupation. The Nats320 Blog is my hobby.

They both laughed--"Now I understand a little better," Wilson exclaimed. That was the gist of the encounter--but as they were about to continue on their way back to the third base dugout, I asked: "How do you two compare Tampa Bay to Washington?" Both responded, almost in unison: "Its an opportunity. We are getting a chance to play. That's all we ever wanted." With that, Josh Wilson and Brendon Harris went on their way. Leaving me chuckling over it all. One of those little unexpected moments, I will always remember.

And NO!! I did not wear a Nationals Cap to Camden Yards. There was too much respect to be shown there this evening.

Tomorrow--I promise to return to writing about Our Washington Nationals. There was just no way I was passing on Cal Ripken, Jr. tonight. NO WAY!!

Finally, The 2131 Cal Ripken Bobblehead given to 25,000 Fans & The Media is pretty good too!!