Saturday, July 12, 2008
A One Inning Game
Showing patience, Willie Harris had started a rally. Our Washington Nationals were trailing 5-2 heading to the bottom of the sixth inning. Our Number 1 had just fouled off three straight third strike pitches. Being hot of late--Harris was not fazed over the continuing battle. And when The Houston Astros Wandy Rodriguez served up an off speed pitch in and over his wheelhouse--Willie CRUSHED the thrown baseball well over the rightfield wall for a Home Run.
A pick me up jolt that now found most of the 30,682 Fans on hard at Hispanic Heritage Night getting back into this game. The chance for Washington to win--especially when Paul LoDuca followed with a single to left--moving to second on a ground out by "The Guz". Then, Austin Kearns walked and Ronnie Belliard singled to left to load the bases. Next up--two Latin Sluggers for Our Washington Nationals. One playing well, the other not. As many on hand began swaying to the Latino Beat heard at New Nationals Park, Houston Manager Cecil Cooper stomped to the mound to remove Rodriguez from the game. No way he leaves a left handed pitcher in this game to face Jesus Flores and Wily Mo Pena.
Our 23 Year Old Catcher has shown great promise this season. The Ability to hit in the clutch. Potential, which Our Number 26 has consistently flailed at. With just one out--could these two power hitters provide the tying and go ahead blows?
On came Houston Reliever Chris Sampson--the upbeat crowd pulsating over the situation at hand. The bases loaded, Flores at the plate. The tying run at first base. And what did Sampson do--he proceeded to hit Jesus on his left shoulder during the very first pitch thrown to him. A stunning Hit by Pitch that forced LoDuca home--put Our Washington Nationals down by two and sending the home faithful into a tizzy. Remember, there is just one out. The chance for Wily Mo to shine. The opportunity given for Pena to be THE DIFFERENCE MAKER. Many fans now on their feet, anticipating what was to come.
All season long--Our Number 26 has been ineffective. Little Power and even less in timely hitting. As patient as Willie Harris can be at the plate--Pena is quite the opposite. Rarely, can he hit a curve ball. Rarely, does he adjust his swing to compensate. Rarely, does he take a pitch. How many times has his long looping swing got himself out--thanks to the very fact--Wily Mo rarely cuts down on his swing. A major problem that seemingly, every single opposing pitcher knows. A batting glitch that found Sampson going right to the heart of this issue--by setting Pena up with a fastball--fouled off on his very first offering. Pena looked uncomfortable at the plate. And when Sampson came back with another fastball that was JUST LOW to his knees--Our Number 26 rolled his eyes, swung his head back and forth--and prayed Home Plate Umpire Kevin Causey called ball one--which he did. A signal that gave the ever rising home crowd something more to cheer for.
Washington's Fans wanting to see some sizzle. The Houston Astros just wanting to get two outs.
For whatever the reasons--Our Number 26 just does not look like the same player that put up some fine numbers late in 2008 for Our Washington Nationals. What exactly is wrong? Hopefully, this was a big chance for Pena to turn things around. With the count now 1-1, the crowd moving forward anxiously in their seats in anticipation--Chris Sampson leaned back and delivered an off speed pitch--a slider that Pena has not been able to hit all year. The Houston Pitcher realizing--Wily Mo's swing might get in the way.
Mere seconds after Pena offered at the pitch, the excited crowd began to moan. Wily Mo Pena had meekly grounded back to Sampson on the third pitch of this At-Bat. An easy double play set up that found The Astros Reliever throwing to his catcher, Brad Ausmus at home to retire Austin Kearns, who then turned over and fired a strike to Lance Berkman at first base for a rally killing 1-2-3 Double Play. You talk about killing momentum.
In every single game, now matter what the score--every team usually has one chance to get back into the game. This was Our Washington Nationals opportunity to win. This was Wily Mo Pena's prospect to beat the odds. This inning was the determining factor in whether Our Fans would continue to dance to the Salsa Beat, all night long.
This had become A One Inning Game. The result of which--extinguished the final flames of fire from Our Washington Nationals. The Houston Astros not succumbing to the pressure of the moments. Presenting a calm and cool which Wily Mo Pena did not bring to the plate during the most crucial At-Bat of this inning and this game. His failure putting a damper over the remainder of the evening at New Nationals Park. Our Washington Nationals never threatened again.
Final Score from New Nationals Park-where the Spice & Sizzle of Hispanic Heritage Night-could not help get the home team over the top--The Houston Astros 6 and Our Washington Nationals 4.
Game Notes & Highlights.
Tonight was a learning experience for young Collin Balester. Early on--Our Number 40 had little command of his curveball and Houston got to him right away for one run in the first after allowing three consecutive singles. And then in the 4th--when Hunter Pence took Balester DEEP over the left field wall for a two run homer. Down 3-2 now, Balester later found himself in even greater trouble thanks to two crucial mistakes by his fielders. Ronnie Belliard committed a throwing error from third base to first on a routine grounder by Darin Erstad. Then, after Kaz Matsui & Lance Berkman doubled back to back--and Carlos Lee singled, The Astros found themselves up 5-2 with no outs. To Collin's credit he fought back and should have been out of the inning.
He struck out Miguel Tejada on a vicious off speed pitch. Then, induced Geoff Blum to ground sharply to Paul LoDuca at first base. A sure Inning Ending Double Play--if only LoDuca touches first base and then turns to his right and tags out The Astros Carlos Lee, standing about five away from him--off the base. Instead, to the absolute total dismay of just about EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE PARK--Our Number 16 proceeded to worry about Lance Berkman prancing off third base--threatening to score. If Paulie was only thinking and understood the situation at hand--all he had to do after stepping on first--was to tag out the very slow Carlos Lee. How INCREDIBLE to see LoDuca FREEZE ON THE PLAY. And the sight of the burly Lee TIP TOEING. That's right--TIP TOEING back to first around the confused Paul--UNBELIEVABLE. I'm sorry, but I don't care how few games Paul LoDuca has played in first base in his Major League Career. He is a Professional Ballplayer that has played this game for years and years and years. His experience alone--should have made his decision automatic.
As it turned out--LoDuca's mental mistake led directly to Collin Balester allowing a 6th and final run of the night to be scored by Houston. Hunter Pence would drive a clean single to left scoring Berkman. A run that finished Our Number 40 for the evening. Balester would leave the game after 4.2 innings, and be charged with four of the six runs scored upon him. No--he wasn't too good, but his fielders had let him down-also.
Paul LoDuca has been pretty much a disaster at just about every position Our Manager Manny Acta has placed him this season. Whether behind the plate at catcher, in left field or at first base--wherever Our Number 16 plays defensively--trouble seems to follow. I still can't get over the fact that Paul LoDuca DID NOT simply turn to his right and tag out Carlos Lee for an inning ending Double Play. How could he have missed that?
Collin Balester notched his very first hit as a Major Leaguer--taking Wandy Rodriguez up the middle for a single in the top of the 3rd inning. As is customary, the baseball was retrieved as a souvenir for Our Number 40.
Washington got on the board early in this affair. Willie Harris scored Washington's first run with leadoff double down the right field line in the first--advancing to third on a LoDuca ground out. And scoring on Cristian Guzman's sacrifice fly to centerfield. A Belliard double to the left centerfield wall, followed by a Flores single--plated Our Number 10 with Washington's second run of the evening in the second inning.
Tonight was Hispanic Heritage Night. Fans entering the ballpark from The Centerfield Plaza were greeted by a Latino Band and Dancers.
Later, 12 members of Our Washington Nationals (Coaches & Players) were introduced on the field, and stood proudly in front of the flags of their home countries. For 2008, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico were among those represented. Throughout the game--the lineups and subsequent batters for Our Washington Nationals were announced in Spanish.
This evening--Sohna and I upgraded to Presidents Club. And were pleased to also see Ms. Chatter on hand with her family enjoying the night behind Home Plate. Late in the game--My Best Friend Screech!! came by to complain that he had swung up to Our Section 218 to visit The African Queen and I this evening--but sadly did not find us there. Upon spotting us sitting five rows from the field--he nearly fell over in wonder. We promised Screech, we would forward along our seating location the next time--we move from our customary seats. Can't have My Best Friend missing out on all fun.
Finally--after the conclusion of this baseball game--Our Washington Nationals hosted Saturday Night At The Movies. What was most amazing to witness, were hundreds, if not one thousand or more fans STAYING to watch the entire movie shown--"The Sandlot". Standing next to Team President Stan Kasten as the movie began, I said to him--"I was expecting only a few hundred. This is a terrific turnout." Mr. Kasten responded: "Yes, it's quite impressive."
Not only did Mr. Kasten stay around to watch the movie--but so did Principal Owner Mark Lerner. Honestly, the movie looked great on the HDTV Screen and the sound was fabulous. Safe to say--Saturday Night Movies at New Nationals Park was a big hit for fans. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and made the setting quite comfortable. Honestly, I still can't believe that many stayed around to watch the movie. It was Impressive.
Tonight's InGame Photo--(AP) Nick Wass
All Other Photos--Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)