Sunday, May 25, 2008
He is Young, Big & Strong. And Elijah Dukes is learning to hit on The Major League Level--having struggled all season long since returning from an Opening Night Hamstring Injury. At times, Our Number 34 has shown some flashes of brilliance--the quality talent that many scouts drool over. This afternoon--he displayed why--with two good examples from this ball game against The Milwaukee Brewers . One--which led Our Washington Nationals to victory.
In the top of the 4th inning--Prince Fielder was on first with two outs for The Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee's Catcher Mike Rivera blooped a single down the right field line off Tim Redding. A faster runner than the hefty Fielder might have considered scoring--but Elijah charged the baseball and picked it up--just over the right field line. While STILL falling backwards and nearly off his wrong foot--Dukes sent a liner of a toss to Ryan Zimmerman at third. A terrific throw that nearly retired Fielder and had everyone sitting in Section 218 at New Nationals Park murmuring over the quality of his arm. Elijah Dukes threw a laser that had to impress--not only the Fans in the Stands, but Our Washington Nationals Staff and Milwaukee's as well. You just know--The Brewers are going to think twice about sending a runner on Our Number 34 from now on.
Then, with this ball game all tied up in the bottom of the 9th at six apiece--Elijah Dukes was sent to the plate with one out. Carrying a .105 average to the plate--Elijah was just looking to reach base--in any way possible. Most batters under similar pressure would be swinging at everything. Thankfully, Dukes was not. In fact, he was learning--on the job. With the hard throwing Guillermo Mota on the mound for The Brewers--Elijah battled and finished off his BEST AT-BAT OF THE SEASON. A very impressive plate appearance it became.
Down to his final strike after four pitches from Mota--Dukes showed patience. He did not OFFER at The Milwaukee pitcher's tosses off the plate. Two straight fastballs away--two straight takes by Our Number 34. A Professional At-Bat, this was, from a young hitter developing his skills. A resultant six pitch granted walk that now found Elijah Dukes on first base--representing the winning run. Undoubtedly wanting to get a hit to raise his personal average--this young man knew he just needed to become a base runner. Dukes realizing--he DID NOT have to offer at Mota's tosses. When Guillermo Mota DID NOT pitch to Elijah--Our Number 34 DID NOT GET HIMSELF OUT.
A HUGE STEP FOR THIS YOUNG PLAYER.
Eventually, Dukes would advance to third with nobody out on a pinch hit single grounded to right field by Dmitri Young. A setup that now reached it's zenith when FLop stepped to the plate--looking to be the game decider. As it turned out, Guillermo Mota never gave Felipe Lopez the chance. For whatever reason--Mota was worried about Willie Harris--now standing on first base--running for Young. Knowing the speedy Harris was going to flee to second--Guillermo lost his cool AND THIS GAME when he unleashed a WILD PITCH past his catcher Mike Rivera--as Our Number 1 took off for second base. A HUGE MISTAKE that immediately found the hard charging Elijah Dukes sprinting for home. An uncontested rush to to the plate to score The Winning Run and sending this rather LARGE CROWD of 35,567 into a frenzy!!
Our Number 34 was MOBBED near home plate. Bumping Chests with Lastings Milledge and Wily Mo Pena--Elijah Dukes had shown that--even when slumping at the plate--you can contribute in a winning fashion. Curly "W" Number 22 was an unexpected Barnburner--a near romp lost late--but recovered nicely--thanks to one fine plate appearance from a struggling hitter--setting the stage.
The Bang!! ZOOM!! of The Fireworks representing the maturity that Elijah Dukes is ever so slowly possessing. Hopefully, Our Number 34's Growing Pains can be harnessed to become a quality Major League Player. Today, taking baby steps--even the smallest of ones--represented forward directional movement for Elijah Dukes. A good At-Bat here, can lead to many more Good At-Bats there and eventually--One Fine Major Leaguer. The African Queen and I are rooting for him.
Now--can we possibly move Elijah Dukes to Centerfield--a position he has the arm and the ability to defend?
Game Notes & Highlights
This game should have never reached nail biter status. Tim Redding was tiring in the sixth inning--but led 6-0. Then everything fell apart for Washington. A single by Fielder followed by a 10 pitch At-Bat by Corey Hart should have sent up the warning sign. Hart fouled off three two strike counts and took two balls before HAMMERING Our Number 17's last pitch to him the opposite way--to the right centerfield wall--above The Geico Sign for a Two Run Home Run. A blast that should have led to Redding's removal--especially after Russell Branyan followed with a double to right. But on Tim Redding stayed--past a mound visit by Pitching Coach Randy St. Claire--and the recording of the next two outs in the inning. Just when thought Redding would survive--he was gone--for good. Thanks to a two out--two strike--run scoring--bloop double to left by Pinch Hitter Joe Dillon and a subsequent two strike HIT BY PITCH on Rickie Weeks.
Just like that--Our Number 17 was gone and Saul Rivera came on to pitch--even worse. Overworked and used in most every situational need--Our Number 52 had nothing on his pitches this afternoon. By the time he recorded the final out of this awful top of the sixth--he had allowed a DEEP double to left center to Mike Cameron scoring Dillon and Weeks--and a single to right by Gabe Kapler to score Cameron. Surprisingly--Tim Redding had lost a win, Our Washington Nationals had lost a lead and were now tied. The Boo Birds immediately taking flight over New Nationals Park.
Saul Rivera needs a break. If Brian Sanches and Charlie Manning have been brought on board to relieve an overwork bullpen--then put them in the game. Our Number 52 does not have the stamina to pitch each and every day. No one does--no matter how much they individually believe.
Thankfully, Luis Ayala and Big Jon Rauch combined to pitch three scoreless innings and get this ball game back under control for Washington. "The Wookie" getting the win by working the 9th inning.
Aaron Boone continues to swing a hot bat. Today--his fourth homer of the year--a liner just over the wall in the 5th for a two run shot. And a single and run scored. Our Number Eight a solid contributor in 2008. Maybe the best off season free agent signing by Our Washington Nationals. Healthy and playing regularly for the first time after a few injury plagued years--Aaron Boone is looking more like the All-Star player he was with The Cincinnati Reds. Honestly, he is having a fine season--a key player in a an ever revolving lineup.
Lastings Millege and Wily Mo Pena also provided doubles to knock in three Washington runs this afternoon. Ironically, Cristian Guzman would score Our Washington Nationals first run of the afternoon--in the exact same manner as their last. A wild pitch by The Brewers Manny Parra that found "The Guz" scurrying home for today's first tally.
In the bottom of the 7th--there was one terrific defensive play. With Cristian Guzman batting righthanded against The Milwaukee Brewers Tim Dillard--Our Number 15 HAMMERED a liner down the left field line. A sure double by "The Guz" only to see the Gabe Kapler--Milwaukee's Leftfielder run hard all the way toward the ball--never giving up on it--and finally DIVING FLAT OUT TO THE GROUND AND CATCHING Guzman's Drive. A fabulous catch and easily The Defensive Play of This Game. A one time top prospect and now journeyman--no one can ever take away the fact that Gabe Kapler is a great athlete. He showed those skills on this catch. If you didn't cheer for him on that gloved ball--you could not be a baseball fan. Great Stuff!!
Now compare that effort with one of Lastings Milledge in the bottom of the second inning. Our Number 44 had walked and stolen second base with one out. Wily Mo Pena hit a routine ground ball to Milwaukee's shortstop Craig Counsell. A play developing right in front of Milledge. For WHATEVER reason--Lastings decided to advance to third. Counsell EASILY threw him out. Base Running 101--Lastings--please don't run on a ground ball with the play in front of you--when you are not forced. Amazingly--a fan sitting near us thought this effort showed agressiveness on the part of Milledge. Even The African Queen had to laugh at that statement. A silly out that ended any threat for a score from Our Washington Nationals--that inning.
Later--in the top of the third--Milledge, FLop and "The Guz" all converged on a pop up past second base and into short centerfield by The Brewers Pitcher Manny Parra. No one took control. The ball glanced off Felipe Lopez's glove for a cheap single. Someone needed to call for that ball. And someone NEEDED TO CATCH IT!! Come on Guys!!
So--what's with the HDTV Scoreboard no longer showing previous At-Bats by hitters during the game? This information is no longer provided. Why? To follow the flow of the game--it's important to be reminded what occurred--previously.
Despite the announced crowd on 35,567--there appeared to be few empty seats anywhere in the park--expect for behind home plate. This was a LARGE CROWD--for The Brewers no less. Memorial Day may have something to do with it--but you can't take away the fact that fans came out to support Our Washington Nationals this afternoon. The largest crowd since Opening Night. A good sign with school letting out in a few weeks time.
Finally--today was such a GORGEOUS DAY at the ballpark. During the middle innings--I ventured up to The Gallery Level to take some pictures. The Capitol, the unobstructed views of the game. The atmosphere up there is quite nice. Many of the real baseball fans sit there. It was nice to visit for awhile. I really liked it.
Truth be told, I went upstairs last night too--to compare the difference between night and day. Even visited New Section 320 at New Nationals Park--just to say I went there--for old times sakes from RFK STADIUM.
Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass
All Other Photos--Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)