Tuesday, April 29, 2008
More Than One Hero This Evening
Just like that, this game had changed--instantly. Chad Cordero had trotted out to pitch the 9th inning. An opportunity to get some work in, strengthen his arm and protect a four run lead. Just 15 pitches later--Our Number 32 was already in The Clubhouse. His future possibly in jeopardy. And the Game Tying Run was stepping to the plate with Big Jon Rauch now on the mound. This game was suddenly in the balance for Our Washington Nationals.
All because--after The Atlanta Braves Kelly Johnson ripped a liner--just foul--down the right field line with runners on first and second bases and one out, "The Chief" started waving his arms up and down, before clutching his right underarm. First thought--torn rotator cuff. How bad could this injury possibly be? I am sure The African Queen and I were not the only folks deeply worried.
Yet, before those thoughts could be contemplated--there was a ball game at hand. An advantage to protect. A victory to be gained. A save to be made.
And when "The Wookie" couldn't finish off Johnson by allowing a run scoring single--who among the 25,285 didn't believe another Braves Comeback was in the making. Like no other team in baseball--Atlanta has consistently, painfully, beaten Our Washington Nationals. With the score now 6-3, this game was now Jon Rauch's--to save or lose. Our Manager Manny Acta really had no other options.
Braves runners now on first and third and the free swinging Yunel Escobar at the plate. Time to go the work--which Our Number 51 thankfully did. Not hesitating, Big Jon fired away with first--a slider away--called strike one, then another slider away--swinging strike two. Down 0-2 in the count and backing out on his heels, the Young Escobar was also out of his element. Rauch knew it. His Catcher Johnny Estrada knew it. Most everyone in the crowd knew it. Even Atlanta's Manager Bobby Cox had to know what was coming next. "The Wookie" simply overpowering The Braves Shortstop with a 92 MPH Heater. A swinging strike three for out number two that found the home crowd--roaring its approval. Big Jon fist pumping in jubilation.
Happiness that immediately returned to worry when Chipper Jones stepped to the plate with The Braves down to their final out. Already this evening, this sure fire Hall Of Famer had homered at New Nationals Park for the 3rd time this young season. A launched shot off Tim Redding that landed DEEP into The Red Porch Seats in left center. There are a handful of Major League Baseball Players that have OWNED Our Washington Nationals over the first three plus seasons since the return of baseball to The Nation's Capital. Atlanta's Number 10, certainly in the top five. Along with his former teammate Andruw Jones, Chipper and Andruw have combined to slam nearly 30 Home Runs off Washington Pitchers. That's dominance my friend and Big Jon Rauch certainly understood the problem directly at hand.
No doubt--even those still watching and standing knew this precarious position as Chipper Jones took a called ball one. Then, was fooled by a 72 MPH curveball. An off speed pitch that Our Number 51 used to set up his fastball. The third pitch in the crucial at-bat, called ball two. With Their Number 10 now ahead in the count, a hitters count--there was no time better but the present for Rauch to bring his best stuff--if Our Washington Nationals were going to maintain this lead. Big Jon Rauch had challenged the inexperienced Yunel Escobar for strike three. Now, he had little choice, but to challenge this Future Hall of Famer. A resultant 93 MPH rocket fired from The Tallest Man To Play The Game. A rising fastball that Chipper Jones swung at, but could not get completely around on. Roars and Cheers from those watching. Big Jon Rauch slapping his right hand into his glove in jubilation. A towering high fly to centerfield that Lastings Milledge caught for the final out of this unexpected cliffhanger of an ending.
At a time Washington suffered the loss of one of their most prized pitching possessions--Big Jon Rauch had entered this game in an emergency role and became the Final Hero of many tonight. For Our Washington Nationals may well have played their best All-Around Game in April. You see--despite his heroics--"The Wookie" was not the only star.
Ryan Zimmerman lead the offensive thrust. A Towering Home Run. The Key Two Run RBI Double--along with one stellar defensive play in the field.
Nick Johnson with the second of back to back home runs following "Z" in the third inning.
Lastings Milledge with an important two run RBI insurance double in the 7th, and a fine defensive play himself off a Brian McCann drive in the 8th.
Saul Rivera working his way out of a 1st & 3rd and no outs situation in the 7th inning--thanks to a heads up defensive play by Felipe Lopez--throwing Matt Diaz out at the plate.
Also, a perfect and strong 8th inning set up performance by Luis Ayala.
All following an excellent six inning effort by Our Starter this evening--Tim Redding.
Curly "W" Number 10 of 2008 was a Team Effort. A Good Ball Game. The Bang!! Zoom!! of The Fireworks signaling that on any given night--there can be more than one Hero--even when Our Washington Nationals lose one.
Game Notes & Highlights:
Now--about "The Chief". Diagnosed as a lateral muscle strain--it appears Chad Cordero will be shutdown for some time and go on the Disabled List. Fortunately, Our Number 32 DID NOT tear his rotator cuff. The Medical Staff found his shoulder 100% and solid. But, Chad will undergo an MRI tomorrow to see if he has any tear that was not noticed this evening. Good Luck Chief!! Sohna and I are rooting for you.
This injury also changes the bullpen of Our Washington Nationals for the foreseeable future. Chris Shroeder is likely recalled from AAA Columbus. Ayala becomes the FULL TIME Set Up Man. Rauch becomes the Full Time Closer. Saul Rivera will continue to be used EVERY SINGLE DAY. At least until--his arm falls off.
Tim Redding pitched quite well tonight. A very high pitch count cost him early--but he settled down to complete 6 fairly strong innings. Outside of Jones' Homer to The Red Porch, only an RBI ground out by Mark Kotsay in the first plated the only other run off Our Number 17 this evening.
Tommy Glavine returned from The Disabled List for Atlanta and produced another outstanding outing for this soon to be Hall of Famer. Only Zimmerman's and Johnson's Back to Back Blasts in the 3rd inning beat him. With the bases loaded and no one out in the 1st inning against him--Old Number 47 induced an inning ending double play grounder from Lastings Milledge. Having played most of his entire career with The Atlanta Braves--it's fitting to see Glavine complete his Major League Career with the team he will always be remembered for playing. Greg Maddux (currently playing in San Diego), John Smoltz and Glavine--Three Potential Hall of Famers--all playing the majority of their careers together on one pitching staff. As a fan of baseball--I have to appreciate all three. Great Performers All.
Speaking of Glavine--in the top of the 3rd inning--Tommy stroked an opposite field grounder toward Ryan Zimmerman at third base. A short hop ball that Ryan "OLE" grabbed--whipping his fielding glove from down low to up high and firing to first base to retire Glavine. A fine defensive play--but one out done this evening by Lastings Milledge. Our Number 44 has athletic ability--but not the shear instincts of a centerfielder. During the 8th inning, Atlanta's Brian McCann laced a deep liner over Milledge's head. Lastings turned twice, corkscrewing himself, while chasing this baseball over his head. A possible lost baseball caught--overtaken by his athletic ability. He has a long way to go before becoming a gifted fielder--even tonight he and Austin Kearns nearly ran into each other on a fly to right center that Kearns had the better angle on. But, Our Number 44's physical talents made up for his short comings tonight--to make The Defensive Play of This Game.
Ryan Zimmerman broke out of his April Slump against The Braves this evening. A catalyst all night long at the plate. Ryan with a clean single in the first inning. A Rocket Shot Home Run into The Red Porch Seats in the 3rd. And with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th--Our Number 11 delivered The Key Hit of This Game--HAMMERING a Blaine Boyer pitch to the opposite field. A drive over the reach of Atlanta's Jeff Francouer to the right field wall for a game breaking two run double. Zimmerman with three hits, three RBI and two runs scored. His finest game of the young season. Welcome Back Ryan!!--raising his struggling average to .241.
Saul Rivera got himself into some serious trouble in the top of the 7th inning. After allowing a leadoff walk to Matt Diaz and a single to Ruban Gotay, The Atlanta Braves were threatening to move ahead in this, then tied game, at two apiece. Yet, Rivera was able to retire Kelly Johnson on a grounder back to the box. Then--in the key moment of this inning--Our Number 52 forced Escobar to slap a routine ground ball to FLop at second base. Playing slightly in--Felipe Lopez scooped up the baseball and fired to Johnny Estrada at the plate to retire the hard charging Diaz. Out Number Two changed the dynamic of this inning and eventually found Saul Rivera getting out of his self imposed jam by retiring Chipper Jones on a ground ball--also to FLop. A turning point inning that could have been disasterous for Washington. Instead--a frame that found Washington rallying in the bottom of the 7th with Zimmerman and Milledge providing the go-ahead blows.
Milledge's two run RBI Double a second pitch liner down the left field line off Jorge Campillo. A slammed hit that Our Good Friend Tom--visiting us at the time in Section 218--told Sohna was laid in so sweet by The Atlanta Reliever--even SBF could have gotten around on that pitch. We all laughed, but Campillo did just serve up one juicy pitch to hit. And it cost him--badly.
Tom also with the line of the night. While all three of us were chatting about Johnny Estrada and his unusual body type--Tom says: "He looks like Babe Ruth at the age of 36. He also looks like he comes to play in his own Home Made Uniform. The only uniform that fits him." Sohna and I just busted out laughing.
Finally--although we did not notice complete Lineups for both teams at the same time on the HDTV Scoreboard throughout this game--after each player batted for the first time--each subsequent at-bat included information about what the hitter had done previously. Something not seen consistently throughout the first 12 Games played at New Nationals Park. Also--can we please leave up the pitch speed a little bit longer on the board. You really have to be looking at it immediately after any pitch to catch the recorded speed.
And--can we please quit putting up the speed of Warm Up Tosses--especially for pitchers for Our Washington Nationals. It just seems silly to give your opposition any additional advantage--knowing in advance how hard your pitcher is throwing.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass