Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Three Strikeouts, one with the bases loaded, and a ground out with runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs had comprised the plate appearances by Jesus Flores throughout the entire evening thus far at New Nationals Park. Unproductive, was the only description for Our Number 3's first ever appearance for Our Washington Nationals in the Clean Up Role. Jesus Flores was batting 4th and he had failed all night--at least until the bottom of the 9th inning.
With the score knotted up at 4 runs apiece, Scott Shields was on the mound for The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The last time Shields took the field against Washington, was the very night many fans and reporters well reminder. Some would say the top highlight in the young history of Our Washington Nationals. On June 14th, 2005, Washington was in the lead--first place in The National League East. D.C. was in a frenzy. Who could believe The Former Montreal Expos were possibly playoff contenders. If you followed baseball in this town, at all during that Inaugural Season--you remember exactly the excitement building in and around The Nation's Capital.
There was no place like RFK Stadium. The Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street was fulfilling long lost baseball memories for generations young and old.
On that infamous night, in Anaheim, Our Then Manager Frank Robinson and The Angels Manager Mike Scioscia got into a knockdown drag out verbal spat on the field near Disneyland. All over Jose Guillen telling Frank that Los Angeles Reliever Brendan Donnelly was using pine tar--a foreign substance to throw tricks with the baseball. Robinson got Donnelly tossed. Scioscia didn't like it--feeling Guillen had taken advantage of his former team--and teammates. In late 2004, Scioscia had kicked Jose off his team, for personal reasons--even with Los Angeles Serious World Series Contenders. The move cost The Angels in the playoffs. They were eliminated.
There was some serious bad blood between these two.
So much so, Jose Guillen called Mike Scioscia--"A Piece Of Garbage."--arguably the greatest quote in Washington Nationals History.
Which brings us back to tonight. You see on that fateful June, 2005 summer evening--Our Former Number 6 stepped to the plate looking for revenge and launched The GAME WINNING HOME RUN against the very same Scott Shields--now standing on the mound at New Nationals Park. A game deciding hit three years ago that found Guillen fist pumping and pointing at The Angels Bench. What I will always remember as The Finest Home Run Swing EVER. PERFECT. (I still love reliving that moment).
Now, Shields was again on the mound--with another game on the line. This time with Jesus Flores at the plate. Elijah Dukes standing on second base with one out--thanks to a leadoff single and advancement on a Lastings Milledge infield grounder to third. Our Number 3 had not looked good to this point. All three of his strikeouts thanks to his inability to hit the curve. His groundout, a result of getting himself in a hole. Not showing patience--Jesus was getting himself out.
Once again, Jesus Flores was being taught a lesson in the school of hard knocks. How to hit, when it counts--in The Big Leagues.
Knowing Flores was struggling--Shields started him off with, you guessed it, a curveball. Just as throughout his previous at-bats, Jesus swung and missed. Not even close. Not many remaining in the crowd truly believed Our Starting Catcher was going to succeed. But then, Scott Shields did the inexplicable--he threw two straight fastballs--both off the plate. A surprise considering the efficient manner in which The Angels had retired Our Number 3 all night long. Why change what's working?
Now behind in the count and not trusting his fastball--Shields figured Flores would be looking for another heater as well. But what Scott Shields, The Angels and most everyone watching among the 29,180 didn't realize is that this Venezuelan Native is fast becoming a legitimate Big League Ballplayer and Threat. He doesn't forget. He's learning. Just two weeks ago, Flores had got himself out on a bad swing in a similar crucial situation. He had been schooled that night as well.
Unbeknownst to everyone on South Capitol Street tonight, Jesus was about to teach a lesson of his own. Scott Shields was about to fail a test, against Washington, again.
Figuring Jesus expected the fastball--Scott Shields tossed in another curve--a sure swing and miss if past was prologue. Only to see Jesus sit back on the pitch--EXPECTING THE PITCH--and HAMMER THIS PITCH into the right centerfield gap.
Jesus Flores was EXPECTING A CURVE!!
An off speed pitch while ahead in the count. The drive easily deep enough to score Dukes from second base with the game winning run. GAME OVER!! JUST LIKE THAT!! The winning knock setting off a wild celebration on the diamond by Our Washington Nationals and Our Fans in the stands. While the Bang!! Zoom!! of The Fireworks!! flashed and echoed across the night sky--A Graduation Ceremony was being held on the field below. Jesus Flores--still young, now more experienced and one-time, not wanted by The New York Mets--was receiving his first diploma.
Not even wanted on The Major League Roster by Our Washington Nationals Management at the start of 2008 (The Team feeling he needed more schooling), Jesus Flores had pushed himself to the front of his class. He learned his lessons, waited for his chances. And when opportunity struck this evening he gave thanks to the patience Our Manager Manny Acta has shown him. The sight of Manny hugging Jesus on the first base line--the sign of a Teacher Proud Of His Pupil. Curly "W" Number 31 was a Term Test. A Final. A chance to show your knowledge. The occasion to move to the next grade level. The coming out of Our New Starting Catcher--for now and the future.
Tonight's 5-4 Victory over The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was one fine moment in the development of A Core Player for Our Washington Nationals. Jesus Flores Graduated with Honors. A position he hopes to Master in.
Game Notes & Highlights
Tim Redding pitched a very nice game tonight. Again, he did not get the victory. Our Washington Nationals now 14-3 in his 17 starts, although Tim only has credits for six of those wins. Going six innings, walking just one--Our Number 17 was removed after just 84 pitches. Considering his comments yesterday at ESPN Zone--you had to wonder whether he was pushing Manny to allow him to go farther into this game. Especially after Luis Ayala blew the lead in the top of the 8th--allowing two runs. The same fate which happened to Jason Bergmann on Monday Night, with Saul Rivera the culprit.
Knowing his bullpen is overworked--Our Number 14 made the right call in the top of the 8th. With Our Number 56 struggling again--two runners on and only one out--Manny Acta went for the near two inning save from Big Jon Rauch. Although "The Wookie" would surrender the game tying inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly--Our Manager had no other choice. Our Bullpen is not doing the job. Rauch was rested and clearly has been Our Best Reliever. He may well have received a blown save, but he didn't let the game get out of reach. It was a gutsy move by Manny Acta and I applaud the effort. As it turned out, Jesus Flores gave Big Jon the victory--his fourth of 2008.
Luis Ayala just looking lost--not confident.
Lastings Milledge pounded out a line shot home run in the top of the first inning off The Angels Ervin Santana. A two run shot with "The Guz' aboard that might well have been the hardest hit baseball Our Number 44 has hit all season long. He hammered it!
Washington would score their 3rd and 4th runs of the evening in the sixth when, with the bases loaded, Ronnie Belliard walked to force in Elijah Dukes and Wily Mo Pena singled to right off Santana. Of course they failed to continue the one out rally after Willie Harris popped out and pinch hitter Kory Casto struck out on three consecutive pitches to end the threat. A failure that would have been remembered had Washington not won, along with a bases loaded and NOBODY OUT situation in bottom of the 7th. A frame Washington didn't score again after Jesus Flores struck out, Dmtri Young popped out and Ronnie Bellliard grounded out.
Until Ayala fell apart in the 8th--The Angels threatened only once, in the third. With the bases loaded and one run already in against Redding, Los Angeles Second Baseman Howie Kendrick flies out to Elijah Dukes in medium deep right field. Our Number 34 doesn't set himself to run in to catch the ball--to give him momentum for a toss to the plate. Angels Third Base Coach Dino Ebel takes notice. With Garret Anderson tagging at third--Ebel sends Anderson home. Elijah Dukes, catching the baseball standing still, simply rears back and heaves a one hopper just up the line--toward third base--right to the glove of Jesus Flores. This was Athletic Talent at its best. Garret Anderson called out easily to end the inning on a fly out, throw 'em out double play. Home Plate Umpire Mark Wegner so mesmerized over this Defensive Play of The Game--he had his right fist already up in the air to signal the out call--even before Flores had tagged The Angels Leftfielder out.
Dukes received his just due from Our Fans--A Standing Ovation. What a throw!!
To their credit, Our Washington Nationals ran both on and off the field tonight between innings. No one walked. Thank you.
Teddy was leading The Presidents Race nearly the entire distance this evening--way out in front. Only to spot a penguin. Yes, a penguin standing near the stands down the right field line. Our Lovable Loser abandoned the race and headed off into the crowd. Abe ran from behind to win. And tonight, for the first time all season--The Running Tally of Wins by Abe, Tom, GW & Teddy (Mr. Zero) were shown on the right centerfield wall scoreboard--immediately after the race ended. A tradition Sohna and I enjoyed viewing at RFK, missing all year at New Nationals Park.
Finally, for the last few innings of this game, The African Queen and I were invited to a Jefferson Level Suite by Our Former Section 320 Faithful Friends--Kathy & Dave. Their company was hosting a group of employees at the ballpark. We ran into each other between innings in The Stars & Stripes Club. Their boss willingly invited us in to enjoy some of their fun and experience tonight's game in a different atmosphere. We had a blast. This particular suite was DIRECTLY BEHIND HOME PLATE. Great view of the game.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Pablo Martinez Monsivais