Thursday, April 10, 2008
Signs Of Life--In The Stands
The crowd was alive with the sounds of baseball. Yes--"Let's Go Nats" was heard in EARNEST. From the 8th inning on tonight a vocal gathering of 25,459 was into this game--even when Our Team was down. A pleasant sight to witness. Not since the recent days of RFK Stadium's baseball gatherings--have these noises been heard. Fans were on their feet, whooping it up--cheering on Our Washington Nationals. Even in Section 218--Club Level--The Corporate Folks were ACTUALLY GETTING INTO THE GAME. They were following The African Queen's Lead. A sea change of events over the past two games played at New Nationals Park. Real Baseball Fans had finally arrived on South Capitol Street. Nothing could make us prouder.
And when Nick Johnson lofted an opposite field drive to deep left center--carried by the wind--you just had the feeling a miracle was in the mitts. Down 4-2 in the bottom of the 9th with a runner on second base--the entire crowd rose in unison. The noise increasing exponentially. Without a doubt--everyone believing this stroked baseball was going over the wall for a game tying two run homer. Then, at the very last moment--The Florida Marlins' Josh Willingham leaped--put his glove over the fence and deflected the baseball back on the field--followed immediately by a collective sigh. No--No Home Run--but the ball was still in play. And Lastings Milledge standing on second base already--better get on his horse. Waved on by the entire crowd--Our Number 44 wheeled around third--gliding toward home for run number three. Nick Johnson now standing on second. The Crowd roaring its approval. What seemed like a sure loss--just moments before--was now a potential win. And when Austin Kearns was plunked in the chest by a Kevin Gregg fastball putting runners on 1st and 2nd with one out--those rambunctious fans voiced their approval.
At the very least--Our Washington Nationals were going to tie this game. No one amongst The Nats Faithful did not believe The Florida Marlins were ripe for the taking. As the stomping and cheering continued--up stepped Paul LoDuca. A vocal critic himself of the play of DC's Team over the past week of games. Having lost six straight games to this very moment--Our Number 16 had stated it's time for Our Team to take command of their own destiny. No excuses he's proclaimed--step up to the plate and deliver. Let's Play Ball.
Then--with the game on the line--Paulie took ball one--then fell behind--two quick strikes in the count. The Marlins Closer--Kevin Gregg was obviously struggling. Already--Their Pitching Coach Mark Wiley had visited the mound. The veteran LoDuca fully understood the job at hand. At the very least--move the runners up. Ronnie Belliard was waiting in the wings. Now--with everyone in the stands on their feet--cheering on the moment--Gregg let go of pitch number four in this decisive at-bat, a change up that caught Our Number 16 off guard. Not expecting the off speed stuff--LoDuca swung weakly and grounded the ball to Dan Uggla at second base. Uggla pivoting quickly to second base and firing a strike to Hanley Ramirez coming across the bag to retire Kearns. Hanley taking his time to throw a strike to Wes Helms at first base to, not only kill Our Washington Nationals Rally--but end this game--unexpectedly. Belliard slamming his bat down in disgust in the on-deck circle.
Dropped heads, silence and disappointment followed among the faithful. Just when you thought Washington was going to end their losing streak in style--this game finished with a recorded 7th straight loss. A 4-3 heartbreaker that left the vocal crowd stunned. Speechless because this ballgame should never have reached this climax in the first place--thanks to some poor work from Our Bullpen. Yes, The Crowd was wonderful tonight--but the ending was not. More on everything else in the game notes and highlights.
But I am telling you--if Our Washington Nationals had pulled this one out--those on hand would have gone nuts!! Nuts I am telling you. We need more crowds like that at New Nationals Park. A Sleeping Giant Awoke tonight--Our Fans. Can they keep it up? This evening was fun on South Capitol Street for--not only what happened on the field--but in the stands. People cared and voiced their support. Despite tonight's loss--there were signs of life--in the crowd. Hopefully soon--on the field too. But unquestionably--more fun is beginning to unfurl on the sidelines. We love that.
Game Notes & Highlights.
Odalis Perez pitched a fairly nice ballgame tonight. The Marlins began to get to him in the 5th--with a couple nicely stroked hits--but no damage. Then in the 6th--Hanley Ramirez (who must hit the baseball as hard as anyone in the game) hammered a double over Milledge's head in center and scored on a Jeremy Hermida single to center to tie this ballgame up at one apiece. And when Nats Killer Mike Jacobs followed with a single to right--moving Hermida to third base--Our Manager Manny Acta had seen enough. Perez--having struck out six Florida Batters during this affair--was relieved. Only to see Mr. Rubber Arm--Saul Rivera allow Hermida to score the go ahead run when Jorge Cantu drilled Saul's fastball down the left field line into the corner for a clean double.
A tally that set the stage for the final three innings of play. Luis Ayala would enter in the 8th and allow The Marlins a third run. Cantu again with the RBI Single. Then, Big Jon Rauch trotted on and allowed a lead off single to--yes--Hanley Ramirez again. A base hit that soon became the game winning 4th run--when Willingham doubled the speedy Ramirez home.
Our Bullpen tonight a major disappointment. All three of Manny's choices having off nights. Not something anyone would expect from the usually reliable relief corp. Our Washington Nationals need "The Chief" back into the game. Chad Cordero's presence resets Our Relief Corp back to normal. A situation currently out of whack with pitchers competing in different roles.
In the top of the 5th inning--Jorge Cantu was standing on second base with nobody out after a leadoff single. Florida's Cody Ross was next up. Facing Odalis Perez--The Marlins' Centerfielder stroked a sharply hit grounder to Cristian Guzman's right side. Reacting quickly--"The Guz" backhanded the baseball--leaning to his right, turned and fired to Ronnie Belliard at second base--who pivoted nicely to retire Cody Ross at first for a beautifully turned twin killing--and The Defensive Play of This Game.
Speaking of Belliard--"The Ballplayer" is on a roll. A slicing home run tonight off Florida's Mark Hendrickson just inside the left field foul pole for the early 1-0 Washington lead in the third inning. Our Number 10 batting .304 with two doubles, one homer and 5 RBI over his last six games. At Bats--that also find Lastings Milledge hitting safely in 8 straight games--.354 average.
In the bottom of the 8th inning--Our Manager Manny Acta sent Johnny Estrada to the plate to pinch hit for Luis Ayala. LoDuca was standing on second base thanks to a gift double. Florida's centerfielder Ross and rightfielder Hermida had not communicated on a routine fly ball into the gap. The baseball landing between them for the mental error double. A mistake that now found Our New Number 23 looking to take advantage. Which he did--by protecting the plate with a two strike count against Renyel Pinto. Pinto's changeup fooled Johnny--but not enough to keep him from getting his bat on the baseball. A clean single to left--scoring Paulie with run number two of the evening for Washington. And--a very nice piece of hitting by Johnny Estrada.
But Sohna and I could not stop laughing at Estrada's uniform. He's a short, very stocky guy and wears the bulkiness uniform pants since Dmitri Young wore those two times oversized Homestead Grays Replica pants last season. Along with his amazing sock choices tonight--Johnny Estrada had the fashion statement going. Every fielder for Our Washington Nationals wore long knee high red socks--as a team effort to pull together. Not only did Estrada wear knee high red socks--but he pulled them up to show the red stirrups--a la the 1970's style. Then--under the stirrups wore those pre--woven white socks with RED STIRRUPS. So--Johnny Estrada stepped to the plate tonight with Double Stirrups. We could not stop laughing about it. His fashion statement so bad--it was brilliant. He was the talk of Section 218 during his time in the game. This was great stuff--that you just had to appreciate for its humor. Everyone around us was chuckling about it. "GQ" Johnny is his now given name.
LoDuca does not seem to have an arm. Tonight--Ramirez easily stole second base. Our Number 16's throw well off the bag and not on a line. Not good. Jesus Flores may not call the best of games, nor handle the ball well behind the plate--but he's seem such a better offensive threat. Our Number 3's potential so much greater--why not just give him the chance?
The Attendance really was good tonight. The Stands were pretty filled throughout the park. And as stated previously--these were BASEBALL FANS--not just those that came to be seen. That's also a good sign.
And Sohna gives HUGE CREDIT to Five Guys Burgers. She reports they have their act together. Enough employees to move their lines quickly and efficently. Walking from Club Level--Section 218 to Five Guys at Section 240 (Same level)--The African Queen walked there, ordered, paid for, picked up her food and returned--all within a half inning. That's good service my friend. Something we would love to see throughout New Nationals Park.
On the other hand--heading outside The Club Level to pick up a Helmet Sundae behind Section 222--the only plastic team souvenir available was The Boston Red Sox. Now--I know "The Noise Boys" would appreciate receiving that one any day. But, once again--no Curly "W" Helmets. When I inquired about Washington Red Helmets--the lady behind the counter looked at me like I had said something in an unintelligible foreign language. Deciding to purchase the Sundae anyway--when the concession worker gave me the soft ice cream in the helmet--without toppings--I asked: "Can I please get a topping on the Sundae?" The response--"You are really making me work for you?" As I fired back: "Yeah, I am buying the product. I am the PAYING CUSTOMER. I would like to receive all that comes with it--not just want little you want to provide." She gave me the topping--eventually--not happy about what I said. I didn't care. If you are going to pay for ANY ITEM--you better get what's promised--not just what an uncaring employee wants to give you--just to get you out of their sight. No--I am not going to accept that treatment. Anytime--Anywhere.
Finally--As Sohna and I entered New Nationals Park from The Centerfield Gate--we ran into Dewayne Herndon, Co-Founder of Noah's Pretzels. Dewayne was offering samples of his Curly "W" Pretzels in cut up pieces--looking for new customers of his product. Many may not know--but $1 from The Curly "W" Pretzel and other Noah Pretzels goes toward Autism Awareness. Mr. Herndon's son--Noah has autism. His business is in honor of his beloved Noah. It's a nice story.
Tonight's InGame Photo--(AP) Nick Wass
All other photos--Nats320--All rights reserved.