Sunday, June 29, 2008
Veteran Leadership When It Counts
Andrew was hugging me so tightly--I thought my head was going to fall off. The African Queen was nearly on my back--her right fist pumped high into the air. Together, we were all jumping up and down like little children. Giddy over what we had all just witnessed. So much so--the concrete below us in Lincoln Suite #10 was swaying. Just like New Nationals Park at this very wonderful Sunday Afternoon moment. Was South Capitol Street EVER ROCKING!! What a feeling of GREAT JOY!! All thanks to Ronnie Belliard.
In the most unexpected way. An amazing event had just transpired--something to always be remembered by anyone in attendance.
Facing The Baltimore Orioles--Our Washington Nationals had battled to a deadlock, a 1-1 tie, until the decisive 12th Inning. During that frame--Baltimore had taken the lead in the top half--thanks to a two out, two strike clutch single by Adam Jones off Joel Hanrahan. An inning that Luis Ayala started, couldn't finish and Our Number 38 didn't stop. Thanks to Jones extending his left hand, his bat control hand--over the outside corner of the plate to sharply single to right--scoring Nick Markakis. A good At-Bat from a young hitter facing a young pitcher--still learning. The go ahead run that now found many--possibly half the remaining crowd--cheering and starting up the "Let's Go O's" Chant.
They were loud. And this Baltimore Celebration continued--through Pete Orr striking out to lead off the bottom of the 12th. Paul LoDuca meekly grounding out to Aubrey Huff at third base for out number two. As every single Baltimore Fan stood--cheering their Closer George Sherrill--the very last bench player available to Our Manager Manny Acta stood swinging his bat in the On-Deck Circle. Dmitri Young was Our Last Hope. If Our Number 21 does not either hit a home run or reach base--THIS GAME IS OVER. And The Orioles win, not only this series but The Battle of The Beltways Series for 2008.
At this point--Veteran Leadership took over.
As stated yesterday--Our Washington Nationals have been decimated by injury. Quality players missed--forcing Our Number 14 to trust some of those that may not be ready--just yet. Yes, Elijah Dukes, Jesus Flores, Lastings Milledge and Kory Casto have all had their moments. But none of these youngsters have been consistent enough yet--to be always trusted late in any game.
Dmitri Young has been there before. Manny Acta knows it.
Big Number 21 stepped to the plate. And George Sherrill was afraid of him. Not wanting to give up the game tying blast--The Baltimore Closer was too cautious. Dmitri Young didn't give in to the pressure. Not getting himself out--Young walked on five pitches to set up an electrifying moment.
Think about it. Up steps Ronnie Belliard--in his attempt to save the day. If Our Number 10 even gets a hit--the lumbering Meat Hook would be running before him. Seriously, you had to wonder whether this was a moment for Manny Acta to get creative. Pinch Run with a pitcher. If you get lucky enough to tie the game--send Tim Redding out there to play the outfield. No one else was left and Our Washington Nationals were trying to win. All hands on deck. Andrew and I actually had this serious discussion.
Our Number 10 dug in. He of the whirlwind and hard swing. The "Let's Go O's" now reaching it's zenith around him. Never louder than after Belliard got quickly down 0-2 in the count. The seconds to come were crucial. The clapping for The Orioles was loud as Ronnie took a third pitch from Sherrill that nearly every single person in the ballpark thought was strike three. GAME OVER!! Everyone, except Home Plate Umpire Ron Kulpa.
As Baltimore's many fans moaned and groaned in disgust--feeling the game was over, Andrew turned to me and stated: "How in the world can he take that pitch!!??" Having no idea, I just shrugged my shoulders in amazement. Fortunately, more surprise was heading our way--like in about 10 seconds.
Down to his last strike. Our Washington Nationals down to their last out. Baltimore Fans down to their last opportunity to put it in Our Fans Faces--The Orioles Closer decided to get fancy. An off speed pitch--that hung out over the middle of the plate. Being a veteran, being a leader and being downright aggressive at the plate--Ronnie Belliard witnessed a beach ball coming his way. Exactly what he wanted to see. That man has confidence. The experience to make things happen. Did "The Ballplayer" ever deliver.
Manny Ramirez, Jr. (as I have always lovingly called him) swung away fiercely at Sherrill's hanging breaking pitch AND DROVE IT--DEEP DOWN THE LEFTFIELD LINE. As every single head in the park turned in unison--everyone realized it was not a matter of whether this TORCHED BASEBALL had the distance. What everyone really wanted to know was whether this hooking baseball would stay fair. Third Base Umpire Dale Scott had the final say.
But before Scott made the call. Before he had the chance to signal fair--many fans on hand already knew the outcome. Especially those perfectly positioned in Section 106--just inside the Foul Pole.
New Nationals Park ERUPTED in a CELEBRATION NEVER REALLY SEEN THERE BEFORE.
Ronnie Belliard had HAMMERED OUT AN UNBELIEVABLE GAME WINNING HOME RUN!! As Scott twirled his right hand for HOME RUN!!--The Baltimore Orioles Fans threw back their heads in disgust. George Sherrill threw down his glove in anger--while Our Washington Nationals Fans threw up their Arms IN GREAT JOY!! Our Washington Nationals throwing themselves out of The Home Dugout and on to the field to greet Our Number 10 at Home Plate.
Really this was an INDESCRIBABLE FEELING. Not since Ryan Zimmerman's walkoff homerun against Chien Ming Wang on Father's Day 2006 against The New York Yankees--have I ever felt this way. There was no way Our Washington Nationals were going to win that Sunday June Day in 2006. And there was no way Our Washington Nationals were going to win this Sunday June Day in 2008. Yet, they had--in miraculous style.
Ronnie Belliard being greeted at Home Plate was the final culmination of a party he began not 30 seconds earlier. Never in the short history of New Nationals Park have I seen so many smiling faces of Washington Fans. And to win it--when left for dead--over The Baltimore Orioles made this game winning Home Run so much sweeter!! Andrew, Sohna and myself were just going CRAZY!! Crazy I tell you!! There is nothing like winning in grand style. Nothing like coming from behind in your last At-Bat. And nothing like winning when you are down to your last strike.
No--nothing like THE GREAT JOY I FEEL THIS DAY. It's these unexpected times that bring The African Queen and I out to each and every home game of Our Washington Nationals. Never do we want to miss out. Never could we live with ourselves for not being able to rejoice--in person--over A GREAT VICTORY!! And sharing it with Our Friends.
The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The FIREWORKS!! from this Sunday Afternoon will be remembered for some time. Curly "W" Number 33 proved that VETERAN LEADERSHIP IS IMPORTANT. Youthful exuberance can many times get you out--while an experienced man can take you to victory--GLORIOUSLY!!
Final Score after one of Grandest Moments you can ever witness in person--Our Washington Nationals 3 and The Baltimore Orioles 2. Ladies and Gentlemen--This Is Why Baseball Is The Greatest Game--proved again this Sunday afternoon.
Not long after Ronnie Belliard clubbed out his Game Winner--The African Queen and I ran into Our General Manager Jim Bowden and Our Assistant GM & VP of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo in The Club Level Elevator Lobby. As JimBo fist bumps with Sohna--he states: "How did you like that win!!? Where pretty good at getting clutch results of late." Whereupon, Jim Bowden named off a series of players for Our Washington Nationals who have come up big--to win ball games in walk off fashion. Concluding with: "Ronnie's walkoff might have been the best style and strut I have seen in a long time."
I have to agree--especially when Ronnie Belliard spit out a couple of sunflower seeds from his mouth--a split second after he slugged his game winning homer. A few seconds before Our Number 10 did the victory dance around the bases. If you are a fan of Our Washington Nationals and Baseball--there's not a whole lot to not like about that.
Not in long time--have I left New Nationals Park so enthralled over the experience. Sohna agrees and stated so to JimBo: "I love that Ronnie Belliard!!"--she exclaimed.
Game Notes & Highlights
Jason Bergmann pitched a fabulous seven innings. His sole mistake to the slugging Luke Scott. The Baltimore Leftfielder took Our Number 57 deep and over the right centerfield wall in the top of the 7th--with two outs and two strikes. Scott's 4th Home Run off Washington pitching in six games played. As has been the case of late--when one of Our Starters pitches well--Our Offense shuts down. Bergmann left today's game in a 1-1 tie, his ERA moving ever so closer to 4.00. Pretty Good for a guy approaching 12.00 after his recall from AAA Columbus. Jason Bergmann showing the confidence and ability many think he's capable of producing. A fine effort--unjustly rewarded with a no decision.
Speaking of an offense not producing consistently--Our Washington Nationals hit into four rally killing double plays this afternoon. And Our Manager ran through most of his bench players early in the late stages of this game. Which makes you wonder whether Manny Acta should sometimes use one of his pitchers as a Pinch Runner. Why waste a hitter, even if it's FLop--when that bench player might come in handy later. Felipe Lopez pinch ran and was eliminated on a double play. Our Number 2 was then quickly removed from the game by the next half inning. Waste of a role player--when any starting pitcher could have been just as effective.
With Baltimore Starting Pitcher Jeremy Guthrie on second base after a one out double in the top of the fifth, Guthrie wandered a little too far off base after a pitch to his teammate Brian Roberts at the plate. Wil Nieves rocket fired a toss to "The Guz" which caught Jeremy by surprise for a gorgeous pickoff throw. Guthrie retired. But that was nothing compared to Kory Casto's effort in the bottom of the 4th. With Luke Scott on second with two out--Adam Jones RIPPED a grounder down the third base line. Casto reached and stretched all the way to his right to backhand the hard hit baseball. Then righted himself to make a one hop throw to Aaron Boone at first base for the Bang!! Bang!! Defensive Play Of The Game. Our Number 5 with a Vintage Ryan Zimmerman Moment. It was a very nice effort. Very, very nice.
Roger Bernadina made his Major League Debut today for Our Washington Nationals. Called up from AA Harrisburg--Our New Number 7 was immediately given a start in centerfield and proceeded to single to right in his very first At-Bat. Baltimore Second Baseman Brian Roberts collecting the baseball and throwing it into Washington's Dugout as a Keepsake. Bernadina even scored Our Washington Nationals first and only run--until Belliard's Homer--on an Aaron Boone double play ground out in the first. Also, Bernadina showed some depth in center--tracking down a couple of deep fly balls--including one by Kevin Millar in the 9th, but also bunted poorly in the 8th--forcing FLop out at second.
Looking to stretch out his bullpen, Manny Acta attempted to put Luis Ayala out on the mound for three consecutive innings. But, Baltimore got to him in the 12th on Markakis and Huff singles--setting up the go ahead score when Hanrahan came in and could not close out the inning. The decision was wise--the execution on the field--failed.
39,824 was the announced crowd at New Nationals Park this afternoon. Again, for the second consecutive day, the new largest crowd in the young ballparks history. Whether you want to believe it or not--Baltimore and Washington as rivals is good for baseball and the geographic area. One of these days--these two teams are going to be competing for more than just pride. On that day--the yearly get togethers will ramp up this sibling rivalry to a new level. Something Ronnie Belliard attempted to remind many of today. Just think--how greater this win would be--if First Place or The World Series was on the line? Pretty Special.
Teddy--rejoicing in his Grudge Match Victory over The Oriole Bird--sat out The GEICO Presidents Race today. Driving around on a lawn tractor--Our Lovable Loser did not participate in the middle of the fourth inning scheduled event. Abe again came from behind to win easily. Interestingly, Our Washington Nationals are going out of their way to remind everyone that TEDDY won an UNSANCTIONED RACE last night and therefore has still never won a Live Race at RFK Stadium or New Nationals Park.
As Sohna and I walked into the Centerfield Gate at New Nationals Park, we ran into our friend Eddie Cunningham taking pictures with Teddy. Having not seen him all season long--The African Queen went up to say hello. Eddie immediately stopped what he was doing and gave Sohna a hug. All three of us chatted for some time. Happy we were--to see him. Then, Teddy stopped by to celebrate as we serenaded him with: "Let Teddy Win!!, Let Teddy Win!!" Teddy feeling the love.
Finally--as mentioned at the top of this post--Sohna and I enjoyed the afternoon with Our Friends Lisa and Andrew, their family and friends in The Lincoln Suites of The Stars & Stripes Club. How fitting, thanks to Our Number 10's Walkoff, we were situated in Suite #10 at New Nationals Park.
And how much better that Andrew had commissioned and has hanging in his suite--a special painting depicting Ryan Zimmerman's Walkoff Homer on Father's Day--2006. A beautiful edition of 110 showing the celebration at home plate at RFK Stadium against The Yankees. Not moments after Belliard's Home Run--Andrew was considering a Ronnie piece. He tells Sohna and I a Zimmerman Opening Night at Nationals Park piece is already in the works.
Chrissy cracked us up when see purchased one of those "HULK" style big hands to drink beer from. "I got to have that," she stated after seeing some kids drinking soda from one. Also, how about Evan. He may well be an Orioles Fan, but you had to love his cap--in Baltimore Colors with "YH" on the front in script. "Yankee Hater" apparently the meaning. There is a website called yankeehater.com that sells these caps in all other Major League Team Colors. Great Idea. Good use of the feeling many baseball fans have toward New York.
We love these pictures. And enjoyed the time watching Our Washington Nationals in a different venue. Remember for us, it's all about the fun, the friends and the experiences.
PS--Why in the world at New Nationals Park AFTER THE GAME--all the MASN Television Monitors throughout the stadium are showing The ORIOLES POST GAME SHOW!!! Decrying the last second loss by Baltimore. Sorry but that is ABSURD!! Nats Extra should be shown each and every game--no matter what. Showing Baltimore's broadcast is a total slap in the face. I can't tell you how much that pissed me off!! But still not enough to take away the joys of victory. Who is making this STUPID DECISION? And that is what it is--A STUPID DECISION made by people that have no understanding how much it undermines Our Washington Nationals and OUR FANS!! Just ABSURD!! It really is!!
Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass
All other photos--Nats320