Friday, June 27, 2008
Saving The Day
Trouble was brewing. The Baltimore Orioles had runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out. Our Washington Nationals were up 4-2 in the 9th. And Our Closer allowing those baserunners was not "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game." The heat was on, both in the air and on the field and Big Jon Rauch was feeling the pressure as thick as the oxygen he was breathing. You really had to wonder whether "The Wookie" was going to produce his very first save since May 3rd at New Nationals Park.
Was he ever in a hole. Everyone knew it.
Not one single game played since that early May date on South Capitol Street has resulted in a save for any one of Our Relievers. Not even a back to back set of wins by Washington. The past three victories at New Nationals Park have all been in Our Team's last At-Bats. Those statistics alone depict the rough stretch Our Washington Nationals have played over nearly the past two months.
With The Orioles now threatening, the many Baltimore Fans in this HUGE CROWD of 35,830 were letting Rauch know--they were appreciating his cardiac moment. And as hard as it may seem to believe, Chad Cordero was nowhere in sight. This game was Big Jon Rauch's to win or lose.
This large throng was rising to the occasion. Those on hand were getting loud.
The always pesky Brian Roberts was standing on second after a leadoff double (you got to like that guy--Roberts is simply a good ballplayer). The equally talented and young Nick Markakis on first after a full count walk. The sounds of "Let's Go O's" was being heard around New Nationals Park. The counter calls of "Let's Go Nats" were drowing it out. This game was getting personal--for the fans. And Our Washington Nationals needed to save the day.
At the same time, Randy St.Claire needed to run out to the mound to save Our Number 51 from embarrassment. This game was on the line. Our Nats couldn't blow it against them O's!!
Knowing the go ahead run was stepping to the plate in Melvin Mora. Knowing one more Oriole Baserunner could drastically change this game--Mr. St.Claire was not trading punches with "The Wookie". Brief, but to the point, Our Number 46 discussed the situation at hand. Catcher Jesus Flores, by his side--listening. When the one sided conversation ended--Randy St.Claire trotted back to the dugout. Discussion over--time to record some outs.
Up stepped Mora, a quality player that gives his all each and every game. A competitor that also only wants to win. Looking in for the sign from Flores, Rauch slowly nodded his head in agreement on what to throw. Melvin Mora can be aggressive. He can swing at pitches in haste. In this case, Mora didn't realize, Big Jon WAS NOT going to throw him a fastball. Looking for a pitch to drive, Melvin swung at Rauch's first offering. A toss Their Number 6 thought was the heater. A toss Our Number 51 knew was a slider. With his momentum too far in front of the pitch--Mora swung on and sharply grounded to "The Guz" in the hole. Moving deftly, Cristian Guzman cleanly fielded the sharply hit ball, sidearms the baseball to FLop at second. Whereupon Felipe Lopez catches the pass while moving across second to retire Markakis and then FIRES the ball to Aaron Boone for THE TWIN KILLING!! Double Play!! Melvin Mora throwing his Batting Helmet down in disgust.
Our Fans now on their feet--throwing up their hands up in GREAT JOY!!
"The Wookie" pumping his fist in appreciation of his teammate's efforts. Washington Fans now standing--knowing this swift turnaround was a game changer. The Baltimore Fans exasperated over how quickly momentum had been lost. Just when you thought Our Washington Nationals were on the brink of blowing a lead--late--they had came up BIG!! The sounds of joy echoing throughout New Nationals Park were actually relief. Solace that Washington may well still win this ball game.
But, it was not over yet.
Because Kevin Millar was up next for Baltimore. A veteran hitter, maybe on the downside of his career--but still no easy out. As Millar stepped up to the plate, Big Jon Rauch stepped to the mound and stared him down. Focused and ready for action--Our Number 51 had the look of determination on his face. Rauch was now looking to close this one out.
The noise continued to climb within New Nationals Park. Washington Fans now overriding the previous enthusiasm of Baltimore's contingent. Battling, Millar was not getting good swings off Rauch's slider and fastball. As this crucial At-Bat reached a 2-2 count--Big Jon went for the close out pitch. The Baltimore First Baseman, attempting to stay alive with two strikes, was swinging at anything close.
As the entire crowd stood in anticipation--Our Number 51 tossed in over the plate an off speed pitch. A slider that Kevin Millar swung and POPPED UP--to centerfield. Big Jon Rauch NEVER LOOKED UP at the flight of the baseball. He knew this game was won. Slowly, confidently, Rauch walked off the mound to shake hands with Jesus Flores before Lastings Milledge even caught the baseball for the final out of this game.
Facing the real possibility of blowing the lead and this game, The Bang!! Zoom!! of The Fireworks!! signaled "The Wookie" had saved the day while surviving the heat, both on the field and in the air. His 16th Save of 2008 was a "cardiac moment" now forgotten. Curly "W" Number 32 giving Washington their first back to back wins since May 3rd and 4th and sending the home faithful away happy--knowing The Baltimore Orioles at not prevailed at Packed New Nationals Park.
Final Score from a steamy and humid Nation's Capital--Our Washington Nationals 4 and The Baltimore Orioles 2.
Game Notes & Highlights
Returning from the disabled list--Odalis Perez was on a pitch count of 80--that only got him through four innings. Despite walking three and giving up three hits, he really didn't look good, but he also didn't give up a single run. And you had to enjoy his double down the right field line off Daniel Cabrera in the third. A chopper just past the diving Millar at first base. What made Odalis' hit so good was his perfect slide into second base. A pop up slide not seen by ANY of Our Pitchers in recent memory. You had to get a kick out of that.
Washington got the scoring started early, like three batters into the home half of this game. "The Guz" laced a double to right center to lead off the bottom of the first. Lastings Milledge then stroked a clean single up the middle, that would easily score Cristian Guzman. Then, The Orioles Centerfielder Adam Jones made the situation worse, when he charged in to scoop up Milledge's hit--only to see the ball roll under his glove and well past him. As the baseball began to roll to the centerfield wall--Our Number 44 was on his horse--eventually standing on third--thanks to a two base error by Jones. A mistake that proved costly for Baltimore--when Jesus Flores followed with a clean single to right for a early 2-0 Washington Lead.
That advantage held up until the 5th & 6th innings when Outfield Inexperience cost Washington Badly. Roberts would lead off the top of the 5th and stroked a looper down the right field line off Steven Shell. Elijah Dukes ran hard for the ball--as he always does--but really could not reach it. But instead of letting the ball land and playing it in front of him--Our Number 34 attempted the sliding catch. BIG MISTAKE. Missing badly, the baseball scooted all the way into the rightfield corner. The swift Brian Roberts standing on third with a triple. A base he scored The Orioles first run from when Markakis grounded out to Willie Harris at second base.
Baltimore's second run came in the 6th--under similar circumstances. Wily Mo Pena misplayed a single to left by Adam Jones. Jones advanced to second on the error and scored when The Orioles Brandon Fahey singled down the left field line in the very next At-Bat to tie this game at two. Two separate innings. Two separate mistakes had cost Washington badly.
Thankfully, Our Washington Nationals fought back against The Orioles Daniel Cabrera in the bottom of the 7th. A leadoff walk by Willie Harris was followed by a pinch hitting assignment for Kory Casto. Batting for Joel Hanrahan--Casto stroked an opposite field looper down the left field line. The speedy Harris running hard--saw the play developing in front of him while rounding second. He wasn't going to stop--especially after Baltimore's leftfielder Jay Payton let the baseball get past him. Our Number 1 scoring easily with the go ahead run while Casto stood on second with an RBI Double. After a Cabrera Wild Pitch that sent Kory to third, Elijah Dukes followed with a clean single to center to score Washington 4th and final run of the evening.
Youth was the difference in this game. Milledge, Dukes, Casto & Flores all played key roles.
Lastings Milledge has 10 RBI in his last 18 games. This after knocking in only 21 in his first 58 games. Milledge would stroke two hits tonight. So did Dmitri Young.
In the top of the 8th with Adam Jones on first base for Baltimore and two outs--Aubrey Huff was pinch hitting against Luis Ayala. Our Number 56 induces a routine ground ball to "The Guz" at shortstop. An easy flip to FLop at second was all that was necessary to retire The Orioles side. But, Felipe Lopez didn't run to second base to cover. A shocked Guzman looked over at Our Number 2--standing still--then tossed across the diamond to get the slow moving Huff. Totally uncalled for--thanks to Lopez not having his head in the game. Do The Orioles really want him--as rumored?
Tonight's crowed of 35,830 was the largest since Opening Night on March 30th--despite a 13 minute rain delay at the start of tonight's scheduled 7:35PM Start. Take a look at this picture of the masses leaving the park tonight. A Good gathering. Who says people don't care about coming a baseball game--even when Our Team is not playing well? And even if Baltimore was the opponent. Rumor has it--Sunday's Final Game of The Battle of The Beltways in Nearly SOLD OUT.
Finally, The President's Race had a twist. Teddy was winning all the way--only to be tripped up by The Baltimore Oriole Bird Mascot. A race changing moment that found Teddy getting up and fighting The Oriole Bird on the field. A melee that carried over into the tunnel down the right field. Fans were booing. Eventually, the two were separated, cooler heads prevailing. But during the next half inning--on the HDTV Scoreboard--was shown an impromptu Press Conference from New Nationals Park. Teddy and The Bird announcing a MATCH RACE--Saturday Night--during the 4th inning. A winner take all event that will be run instead of The GEICO PRESIDENTS RACE.
The crowd actually cheered. Could Teddy possibly win for the very first time!!??
Middle of 4th--Saturday Night--at New Nationals Park. A Must See Event.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Haraz N. Ghanbari
All other photos--Nats320