Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Felipe Lopez was being pummeled by Our Washington Nationals. Virtually all his teammates were rushing on to the field in great joy. Our Manager Manny Acta was clapping his hands in rhythmic applause with the gathered crowd. Just 30 minutes beforehand--FLop was destined to be one of the goats in this afternoon's affair with The Atlanta Braves. But New Nationals Park was now jumping, celebrating, because Baseball, That Great Equalizer Of Sport--had given Our Number Two a second chance.
That same opportunity handed Shawn Hill this afternoon.
And a resurgence from that awful start--now directly feeding Our Washington Nationals on to victory.
Baseball is skill. Sometimes luck. And Many Times--OPPORTUNITY. 29,473 witnessed this afternoon on South Capitol Street some of the very best that Major League Baseball has to offer--including some inopportune errors, and one thrilling finish.
One enjoyable game that went down to the final At-Bat. A situation that not many still remaining at New Nationals Park thought possible--heading to the bottom of the 12th.
Resetting The Scene.
The Atlanta Braves and Our Washington Nationals had battled to a standstill all this late afternoon--into the early evening. The 4:36PM start a blessing for two sinker ball pitchers throwing in the late afternoon sun. Both Our Shawn Hill and Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens were on top of their games. Both going deep into the affair. Eight strong innings for Our Number 41 and Seven well pitched frames from Jurrjens. A pitchers duel had broken out. Sure, there was a double here, a blooper there and an RBI Groundout--but everyone watching knew who was in charge. Hill & Jurrjens were setting the pace--despite each giving up just one run apiece.
A tempo that continued well after both had been removed from the game. Past the 9th and onto the 10th this game proceeded. Neither Atlanta or Washington gaining an advantage. At least until Our Washington Nationals loaded up the bases with one out in the bottom of the 10th. An edge gained, when The Braves Manny Acosta lost control. A walk to Willie Harris, followed by a seeing eye ground ball single through the hole at shortstop by The Man Continuing His Career Week--Wil Nieves--putting runners on 1st and 2nd. Then, another walk to Pinch Hitter Aaron Boone to load the bases.
Our Washington Nationals NOW Sensed The Victory. Our Fans were on their feet in anticipated celebration. Even Our General Manager Jim Bowden was twirling in delight--in his private box. The Game Winning Moment was at hand with FLop at the plate. Not one single person rooting for Our Team--believed this ballgame was not already over. At least until Our Number Two chopped a Manny Acosta pitch right back to the box. Acosta immediately throwing home, whereupon The Braves Catcher Brian McCann tossed to first base to retire Felipe Lopez. Just like that--an inning ending Rally Killing, Double Play. A Collective Sigh of Disbelief not yet heard throughout The New Ballpark was experienced. JimBo dejectedly sitting down in his seat.
With the winning run just 90 feet away--Our Washington Nationals had failed. Flop had not delivered.
This long affair would continue on. Past Sunset, into Dusk--onto the 11th and then the decisive 12th. A final frame that brought the full gamut of emotions to each and every person closely watching this game. What a rollercoaster ride this became. I am sorry--if you left early--you made a big mistake. Anything can happen in extra innings. Did that ever prove correct this evening.
Everyday Saul Rivera was still on the mound--working his second inning of relief. And Our Number 52 was tiring. Who could blame him. Saul has pitched in 16 of Our Washington Nationals first 28 Games--over 19 innings total. Atlanta saw and took their advantage. The Braves' Mark Teixeira led off the 12th and ripped a liner down the rightfield line. A clean double that eventually found his pinch runner--Martin Prado--advancing to third on a ground out by Brian McCann to Nick Johnson at first base. And becoming the eventual go ahead run--scored by Prado on a clean--first pitch--single to right with two outs by Mark Kotsay. A now 2-1 Atlanta Lead that found many more patrons heading for the exits.
Giving up on Our Washington Nationals--those leaving fans made an error in judgement. As the bottom of the 12th turned into one barnburner of a frame. If baseball is entertainment--why would you miss out on The Finale?
The Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox sent Acosta back out to the mound for his third inning of work. A decision that looked wise early on. Austin Kearns led off and immediately got in trouble. Two straight strikes put him in a HUGE HOLE. Earlier this April--Our Number 25 would have become an easy out. Not Today--for Austin Kearns became a patient man--and got this decisive inning rolling in the 12th by taking ball four on a full count--arguably--he FINEST AT-BAT of this young season.
Then, Willie Harris stepped to the plate and RIPPED an Acosta Fastball right at Teixiera at first base. A Smash that The Atlanta First Baseman could not handle. Quickly, the speedy Harris ranged to first--everyone safe with no outs. Washington Fans now screaming with delight. The Tomahawk Choppers sitting on their hands. A turnaround was in the works and only got better when Nieves mistook a signal from Third Base Coach Tim Tolman and bunted with two strikes. A risky move that turned profitable when Acosta bent over to field the hard stroked bunt and saw the baseball go right under his glove, through his legs and over the mound!! As The Home Faithful Roared Their Approval--Our Washington Nationals were again 90 feet from tying this ballgame--180 feet from winning it--with no outs.
Our General Manager again pacing in his Private Box.
The Game was again on the line and Our Manager Manny Acta went to the final person on his bench this day--Ronnie Belliard. Having not seen much action since FLop took his starting position--Our Number 10 has remained a content--Team Player. A Professional approach, sitting back and waiting for his opportunity to rise again. Ronnie Belliard's time had now come--and he DELIVERED with a five pitch walk that sent New Nationals Park into an up roar. Not only had Our Washington Nationals fought back gallantly to tie the game--now The Winning Run was just 90 feet away.
And guess whose turn it was to bat? Yes--FLop.
Having failed with the game on the line in the 10th--Felipe Lopez had his chance at salvation. Everyone left watching Our Washington Nationals was counting on FLop. While The Braves found themselves counting the mistakes of the just relieved Acosta--five walked batters and one crucial error. Lefthanded reliever Buddy Carlyle now standing on the mound in hopes of retiring three consecutive Washington Batters.
With the ENTIRE REMAINING CROWD now standing and clapping--FLop settled in--batting Lefthanded. And he didn't wait long. Looking to prove himself--Felipe Lopez swung at Carlyle's very first offering--a fastball in over the plate--that Our Number 2 drove into the gap in left centerfield--over the drawn in Atlanta Outfield--For THE GAME WINNING HIT!!
As New Nationals Erupted over this now UNEXPECTED WIN--FLop enjoyed the comfort of being redeemed. Skill, luck and opportunity had all come his way--in one afternoon. How consistently, the Great Game can humble you one minute--then make you estatic the next. Not only were Felipe Lopez's teammates rejoicing in his honor on the field--Our General Manager was celebrating the performance in his Private Box.
Curly "W" Number 11 continued Our Washington Nationals recent roll--winners of 6 of their last 8 games--no longer the doormat of Major League Baseball. And The Bang!! Zoom!! of The Fireworks!! signifying that even when you are down--you are still not out. Because--when you least expect it--your Bad Day may well become your Redemption Day.
Thank You FLop for hanging in there and stroking the game winner.
Thank You Shawn Hill for persisting through constant pain and again showing you belong.
And Thank YOU!! Our Washington Nationals for not giving up--when most other teams would have folded.
Combined with last night's 6-3 Victory Over The Atlanta Braves--Our Washington Nationals are slowly showing what they can do--when playing good baseball. Redeeming themselves--when some had already given up on them.
Game Notes & Highlights
Shawn Hill is a quality Professional Pitcher. Did he EVER turn some heads today. Going 8 terrific innings--giving up just one run. 94 pitches thrown, allowing just four hits and two walks. The sole run allowed on a two out double by Gregor Blanco in the sixth--then blooped singled home by Yunel Escobar. Other than that damage--nothing--Shawn Hill was OUTSTANDING. Showing signs of a quality Number One Starter, Our Number 41 pitched effectively--and well enough to win. Today--Shawn Hill was the pitcher I have enjoyed seeing since early 2006 at RFK Stadium. Hopefully--he can keep it up. We need him--badly.
That Jair Jurrjens--what a talent!! Explosive stuff, good sinker. This man was throwing in the low 90's in the 7th inning. Just two hits allowed all afternoon and ZERO walks. Man--he was impressive. Only Rob Mackowiak got to him for a clean double into the right centerfield gap in the 6th inning. A mistake pitch that proved costly when Mackowiak scored Our Washington Nationals only run--until the decisive 12th--on a groundout by Felipe Lopez. When you throw 84 pitches and 60 of them are strikes--you know what you are doing on the mound. Just 22 years old--this native of The Netherlands has a promising career ahead of him in Major League Baseball. One of these days--Our Washington Nationals are going to have a similar talent on the mound.
Additionally--when Mackowiak scored Washington's First Run on that Lopez groundout--Our Number 12 made a beautiful hand slap slide to the outside portion of home plate to avoid the tag by Atlanta's Brian McCann.
With one out in the top of the 10th inning--Ruban Gotay was on first base after a single. With the hit and run on--Gotay took off while Atlanta's Pinch Hitter Bryan Pena swung at Luis Ayala's offering in protection. The resultant fly ball to Willie Harris in left field caught Gotay by surprise. Realizing too late that he needed to retreat to first base--Our Number 1 tossed the baseball to Felipe Lopez near second base--who immediately wheeled and ABSOLUTELY FIRED A STRIKE to Nick Johnson at first base for, not only, an inning ending double play--but The Defensive Play of This Game. What a throw from FLop!! TERRIFIC!! One thing Felipe Lopez has always maintained is a dynamite arm.
Our Washington Nationals now 5-2 over their current 11 game home stand.
Finally--as The African Queen and I were enjoying today's food concession choice at New Nationals Park in the 5th inning--The Club Level "Nacho Grande" (still the best deal in the park) we hear someone laughing and saying to us: "So--How do you like my scoreboard now!!?" Team President Stan Kasten had come visiting. He wanted to know if we were pleased with the changes made to The HDTV Scoreboard. As he stated--just a few short days ago--The Largest Video Screen in the game was revamped. What a difference. The New Set Up far more informative. Lineups for both teams, statistics for each individual batter at the plate or pitcher on the mound. Previous At-Bat Detail. A nice effect of highlighting the current hitter in blue. Even a real time clock located on the bottom portion of the scoreboard--in the center.
"When Gregor Blanco stepped to the plate in the very first inning," I said to Mr Kasten, "You put a HUGE SMILE on my face when I saw that scoreboard."
Our Team President adding: "We also want to highlight in blue--the pitcher currently in the game--but the technicians need to add that code into the program." That code will be added over the next week.
Also, Sohna asked Mr. Kasten if something could be done to the hands of The Curly "W" Clock located just to the right of the HDTV Scoreboard. The Baseball Bat Hands are hard to see. "Most likely not a 2008 change," he replied. "If at all--that would happen for next season."
Patience is a virtue and changes don't usually happen overnight--but as Our Friend Jim H stated to Sohna and I as we chatted after the game this evening: "That Scoreboard looked terrific. Stan listened and you have to give him credit for taking care of something fans felt dearly about. I LOVE THE CHANGES. It's exactly what I wanted to see."
Sohna and I couldn't agree more.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Pablo Martinez Monsivais