Friday, May 09, 2008
Austin Kearns was digging into the Batters Box. The Crowd now on it's feet. This WAS THE CHANCE. Down 7-1 entering the bottom of the 7th inning, Our Washington Nationals were slowly battling back into this contest. Thanks to the very fact that The Florida Marlins Manager, Fredi Gonzalez, had taken his starter Ricky Nolasco out. A game changing decision that now found Our Number 25 standing at the plate--representing the tying run. How quickly any ballgame can change. Just when you think any team has ZERO Chance of winning--opportunity suddenly arises.
As efficiently as Nolasco was shutting down Washington all night long, his replacement, Doug Waechter, was just as ineffective. Trouble was brewing with two outs and Wil Nieves standing on first base after a leadoff single. An uprising was in the making when "The Guz" continued his hot hitting--by doubling down the right field line. A run scoring rip that got the Home Faithful on their feet in applause. A stirring--both on and off the field of play--which grew ever feverish when Ryan Zimmerman walked and Nick Johnson followed with a looping single to right--scoring Cristian Guzman. Just moments ago--a six run deficit was now down to four. And when Lastings Milledge followed with a walk of his own to load the bases--those remaining from the head count of 23,379 felt the resurgent rush.
"Bluegrass" was now stepping to the plate. Doug Waechter was stepping into the dugout--moving on to the showers. Fredi Gonzalez had just stepped to the mound having seen enough of his Number 35. The Marlins were in trouble. Our Washington Nationals were about to bulldoze their way back into this game. Florida's Manager called on the righthanded Justin Miller to block the onrushing tide.
At 10:08 PM Eastern Time, The Moment Was At Hand.
In most every baseball game, no matter the deficit, every team usually gets one comeback chance. This evening, Austin Kearns represented THE BEST CHANCE. THIS WAS IT.
And EVERYBODY KNEW IT!!
As The Faithful stood--rhythmically clapping in the stands, Our Number 25 took a called strike one. Moans and Groans immediately followed. Worry which turned to hope after Justin Miller threw the second pitch of this crucial at-bat outside, for ball number one. Even in the count now--neither of these combatants had found an advantage. The signal that either one was going to win this battle. A tense moment that had every one's rapt attention.
With the balls and strikes now at one and one--Austin Kearns stood ready at the plate. Justin Miller stood on the mound-awaiting the sign from his catcher--Matt Treanor. The now Roaring Crowd stood on their feet--awaiting the climatic moment. A crossroad had finally arrived and this game would be decided on the very next pitch.
Into the full windup Miller strode and fired in what appeared to be a hanging slider. A GRAPEFRUIT SIZED PITCH awaiting to be WALLOPED out of New Nationals Park. A hitter's pitch that must have made "Bluegrass'" eyes bulge in excitement. The Perfect Pitch to hit--high and in the strike zone. This thrown ball had HANG TIME. Everyone saw it, including Austin. Only Kearns was expecting a fastball. With his hips already moving through the strike zone, well ahead of this pitch--all Our Number 25 could do was slow up his bat in compensation. A re-coil that found Austin Kearns making contact, but not with the impact he so badly wanted. A resultant sky high fly to centerfield that Florida's Cody Ross easily settled under to not only end this most crucial of innings, but also finish off the final rally for Our Washington Nationals Tonight. The raptured crowd of just a few seconds ago--now sullenly falling back into the seats in disappointment.
One toss by Justin Miller had decided the outcome. One Pitch that left Austin Kearns wondering--what could have been--If only he was expecting a slider. A nice juicy hanging slider. If Our Number 25 had smacked that ball out of the park, we might still be playing right now. That was a Home Run Pitch like no other. Unfortunately, that one pitch became just another out.
Final Score from chilly & wet New Nationals Park tonight--The Florida Marlins 7, Our Washington Nationals 3.
Game Notes & Highlights
Tim Redding was all over the place tonight. Four walks, four hits in 103 pitches. He was not sharp. And he wasn't helped either by "The Human Rain Delay". Jesus Colome may have decent stats--but just how many Inherited Runners does Our Number 43 allow--seemingly every single game--upon being called on with runner on base? This evening--Colome broke this game wide open in the top of the sixth--when he allowed the aging Luis Gonzalez to rip a liner down the right field line into the corner--emptying the bases. A Three Run Double with the bases loaded that put Washington behind 6-1 at that point. A close game no longer. Our Bullpen again a culprit tonight. Our Relief Corp not the same so far in 2008. Chad Cordero may be down--but "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" being out has affected the effectiveness of Our Manager's Relievers. At times--they seem not only overworked, but out of sync.
Ricky Nolasco threw a fine game for The Marlins. His only rough spot the bottom of the 4th, when Nick Johnson started a two out rally with a single, followed by a Milledge single and Austin Kearns walk to load the bases. Whereupon Wily Mo Pena licked his bat (as he always does before each at-bat) and walked to the plate--looking to provide some substantial offensive support for the first time all season long. An At-Bat that found Our Number 26 producing his best plate appearance of the year. No--he didn't jack one out--nor even get a hit. But, Wily Mo Pena drew a terrific seven pitch full count walk to plate Johnson with Our Washington Nationals first run. A turnaround that ended with the very next hitter. Wil Nieves meekly grounding into a fielders choice to Hanley Ramirez at shortstop.
Speaking of Wily Mo--Our Washington Nationals continue to get LITTLE production out of their leftfielder. And virtually no power from their centerfielder--Lastings Milledge. How much better would this team be--if only their outfielders contributed a few more times in clutch situations. Even Kearns has struggled--but at least he is driving in some runs--that count. Something Pena and Milledge have provided little of in April & May. The good start from My Main Man!! Ryan Church, in New York, is making Washington's efforts look that much worse.
What is it with The Florida Marlins? They just seem to have Our Washington Nationals number. Already in 2008--The Fish have won 6 of 7 against Our Nats. Miguel Cabrera is long gone from South Florida--yet Jorge Cantu now owns Washington pitching while playing a better third base than Cabrera could ever provide. In fact, you would have to say--The Marlins are a pretty good team. Their 21-14 mark, the best start in team history. And Hanley Ramirez continues to show he is one of the finest young players in the game--proving his 2006 Rookie of The Year Award--may not have been a fluke after all--despite all the pleas from Washington Fans (including myself) that Ryan Zimmerman was robbed of the award. That man can play.
Matt Chico made his very first relief effort in his Major League Career tonight--throwing two innings of shutout ball. Once again known as "Our Starter In Training" (to me)--Our Number 47 looked mighty odd pitching in a mop up role. Would it not serve Matt better--to let him work out his kinks at AAA Columbus? Being the long man out of the bullpen or the situational lefty--just doesn't fit his bill.
Speaking of kinks--Elijah Dukes looked lost at the plate tonight. Returning from The Disabled List after missing all but Opening Night with a hamstring injury--Our Number 34 swung meekly during his first At-Bat and struck out badly. Then, was K'd again when he could not get around on a 90 MPH Fastball--which he seemed to know was coming from the hand of Reynel Pinto. Sohna and I were happy to see him back. It just appeared he wasn't 100% ready--not yet.
Off the field--how about that Inside Pitch--the free scorecard handed out as you enter the gates at New Nationals Park? Slick with a couple of stories, trivia, scorecard and lineups--it's quickly become one of my favorite items available. Updated for every homestand--Inside Pitch is a nice giveaway for those who like to keep score, find out some information about the teams, while not having to buy the larger $5 program each and every game. A GREAT IDEA!!.
Tonight was the first night fans could begin voting for the 2008 All Star Game to be played at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. Ballot displays are now located throughout the South Capitol Street Ballpark. Ushers will collect your voting cards during each home game.
As this game got out of hand--more and more patrons began to leave. As the crowd size slowly dwindled toward Friends & Family Size--The Red Loft Bar continued to pack them in. Sohna and I found ourselves laughing: "There could be 100 people still watching the game and 95 of them would be jostling each other in The Red Loft." That Bar is like a magnet. People tend to stick there and can only be peeled away--when told to leave--when the game is over. Remarkable.
Finally--there was a family sitting to our right tonight in Section 218. The Parents had bought their youngster a complete Washington Nationals Setup of Clothing. Jersey, Team Jacket and Matching Pants. He looked GREAT! This young boy was quite the sight dressed up in his Nats Gear. Excited and full of energy early on--by the 6th inning--he had passed out--asleep in his parents arms for the remainder of the game. But before he took the rest of the night off--he posed for this GREAT PHOTO!! His Parents--very proud.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Pablo Martinez Monsivais
All Other Photos--Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)