Thursday, July 10, 2008

Snake Bitten

The last time Andrew and I sat together at New Nationals Park, a most extraordinary moment happened. Ronnie Belliard slammed out a two strike, two out, down to their last At-Bat Home Run to defeat The Baltimore Orioles. A miracle comeback that Sunday, which nearly became Old Hat this Thursday Night. For eight innings a tight, well pitched and low scoring game was played out on South Capitol Street, but just when you thought all was said and done and Our Washington Nationals were going to lose--The Bewitching Hour Began. Truly one of the most exciting two innings you might ever witness. The African Queen, Andrew and myself just couldn't believe it. So did just about everyone still remaining from the announced crowd of 27,330. New Nationals Park was on its feet. Extra innings was in the works. And the sounds echoing throughout the park, ON EVERY SINGLE PITCH, were mesmerizing.

Down 2-0 and down their their last At-Bat, what transpired was not only mind boggling but downright bizarre. And it all began with a FLop walk off the tiring Arizona Starter Dan Haren in the bottom of the 9th. An innocent free bases on balls that quickly became worse for The Diamondbacks when Kory Casto followed by ripping a grounder to right field. The 113th and final pitch of the night for The Snakes' Haren--attempting to go the distance. A first and second, no out situation that now had the crowd stirring, and not just to get up and leave, but standing up to cheer on Washington.

RallyTime!! was in effect and Arizona Manager Bob Melvin went to his closer--the very efficient Brandon Lyon to end it. Looking to stem the tide, turn the momentum around and defeat Washington. What Bob Melvin didn't realize was this game was far from over. This evening was going to become odd. One of those baseball affairs that takes on a life of it's own. Twists and turns that many times are unexplainable. Cherished Baseball Moments and the reason why you have to love this game.

"The Guz" was next and immediately greeted Lyon with a rip of his own--a drive the opposite way--to left--just out of the outstretched glove of The Snakes third baseman Mark Reynolds. The Crowd now juiced! The Bases now loaded. Andrew and I staring at each other in disbelief. Could Our Washington Nationals do it again?

Up stepped Austin Kearns. And up on their feet, just about everyone in the ballpark. The roar so loud, you would have believed this was a sell out crowd. "Let's Go Nats!!" chanted throughout New Nationals Park. And unbekownst to many, to complete the odd ending in store, that first magical moment of strangeness to come--was next.

Guzman's single had just cleared Reynolds' glove, now "Bluegrass" stepped in and ripped a grounder down the third base line. A sure double play ball and rally killer. But No!! Arizona's Mark Reynolds would commit his second error of the night--this time, Ryan Zimmerman's former teammate at The University of Virginia botched a backhand stab at the slicing ball. The sight of the baseball skipping past his glove and down the left field line sent New Nationals Park INTO A FRENZY!! Felipe Lopez scored. Willie Harris scored. A crescendo of noise cascading down upon the field. A celebration beginning. New hope rising. Our Washington Nationals had not only tied the score, but where in a position-TO WIN!! Who would have thought this possible--less than 10 short minutes ago.

No one honestly and that's where this game took another twist. With the noise level rising for every single pitch. With victory for Washington just one clean single away. They couldn't push across the winning score. Dmitri Young flew out to centerfield for the first out. Jesus Flores fought off nine pitches before striking out. And even after Wily Mo Pena reached on THE THIRD ERROR of the evening by Reynolds--loading up the bases again--that was not enough. While Brandon Lyon still found himself in a heap of trouble, facing newly recalled Roger Bernadina along with a home crowd joined to the battle--Lyon was able to survive by retiring Our Number 7 on nine pitches. A terrific At-Bat for Our New Number 7 that ended with a groundout to Arizona's Orlando Hudson for the final out of the inning--sending this game into extra innings and sending a chill down the spines of every single Nats Fan.

Believing the game was nearly won--everyone now sat back and waited for more action. Did both The Diamondbacks and Our Washington Nationals Deliver.

Action which came right away when Big Jon Rauch got into some serious trouble--all with two outs and nobody on in the 10th. The Snakes Connor Jackson would hit a dribbler between the mound and third base--unplayable. Chad Tracy followed with a drive to the left centerfield wall to score Jackson on a double. Then, the error prone Reynolds drove an opposite field double to right off the wall scoreboard, scoring Tracy and the light hitting Miguel Montero finished Arizona's rally with a clean single to left scoring Reynolds. A now 5-2 Diamondbacks lead that now found most of the remaining crowd, booing and getting up to leave.

Big Mistake. This game again was far from over.

On they played--into the bottom of the 10th. And when Pete Orr lead off with a double to right off Tony Pena, followed by a single up the middle by Willie Harris scoring Our Number 4, Andrew looked over at me for the second consecutive inning stating: "Do these guys think they are the 2001 New York Yankees?" We started laughing, remembering those classic World Series Games that went deep into night with heroics playing out against The Same Arizona Diamondbacks. The few thousands still in the stands now back into the game. Everyone again expecting a miracle, especially when Guzman ripped another liner JUST OVER the outstretched glove of Stephen Drew at shortstop. And Austin Kearns followed with a DRILLED SHOT down the left field line. A clean double that had New Nationals Park ROARING!! Harris and "The Guz" scoring the game tying runs. "Bluegrass" standing on third representing the game winning run!!

Any way you looked at it--this was good stuff!!

This was edge of your seat stuff. In fact, who could possibly sit down. A type of game had broken out which you could never write a script for. A roller coaster ride that makes Baseball The Great Game. Not many times, do you witness a game quite like this one. Andrew and I enjoying the moments.

And on this chiller went.

The Snakes Manager had now seen enough of his reliever Tony Pena and called on Chad Qualls to again stop the Washington rush. With the rhythmic clapping not stopping, the cheering from the stands not ending--Arizona, set up a double play, by first walking Dmitri Young (who was replaced by Wil Nieves as a pinch runner). Then, Jesus Flores followed and hit a weak grounder to The Diamondbacks NEW THIRD BASEMAN--Augie Ojeda. Reynolds not trusted any longer with his glove. Austin ran from third on contact and was thrown out at the plate for out number two--bringing a huge sigh from the audience.

Again, Washington was down to their last out. Wily Mo Pena was at the plate. If Our Number 26 raps out the game winning hit, much of his early season struggles might be lifted from his ever strong shoulders--at least for a few hours. But, this moment was not to be. After fighting back in the bottom of the 9th to tie and not push across the winning run, Our Washington Nationals would battle back with three more runs in the bottom of the 10th--only to witness Pena ground out to second base.

Qualls had Quelled The Rally.

You could hear a pin drop at New Nationals Park. No one believing Our Washington Nationals had NOT WON AGAIN.

Victory nearly gained, lost for sure when Luis Ayala was sent out for the 11th inning and proceeded to give up two more runs on three hits and a walk. A 7-5 insurmountable lead for Arizona--as it turned out. A margin too large for Our Washington Nationals to overcome for the third consecutive inning. Their fight now gone. The Opportunity for A MOST MEMORABLE of COMEBACKS OVER. The realizing faithful in the stands bowing their heads in defeat--as glorious as it was to be.

Chad Qualls closing this wild one out with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 11th.

Our Washington Nationals had been snake bitten. The miracle venom potion desired had not been found--incredibly.

Final Score after one of the greatest games Our Washington Nationals will ever lose--The Snakes 7 and Our Nats 5 in 11 wonderful innings.

Yeah, they lost, but Baseball does not get much better than this one--for pure entertainment.

Game Notes & Highlights

Jason Bergmann pitched another outstanding ballgame, got no offensive help from his teammates and was destined for another loss until the first comeback began in the bottom of the 9th. With his ERA now lowered to 4.03, Our Number 57 seems to be one of those odd men out during a baseball season. You can pitch as well as you want, but if your team can't score any runs for you--it will not matter whether you possess a great arm in the game or not. Jason Bergmann had no chance of winning this evening. But that doesn't mean he was not any good.

How about that Dan Haren! He not only batted for himself in the top of the 9th, he walked out to the mound in an attempt for a complete game. Something not seen yet at New Nationals Park. Two batters into the that final frame for him--Haren was gone. Effective all night, but tiring badly, Haren left the game after striking out 9 Washington Hitters, allowing a stingy three hits and just one walk. His pitching delivery a little strange. At nearly the apex of his left front leg swinging forward in his delivery, he stalls, then completes the motion. Odd, but interesting to watch. Must work for him--because Dan Haren is a pretty good starter.

Was that actually "The Guz" diving to his right to snare a liner off the bat of Haren in the sixth. The sight of Our Number 15 immediately had me wondering how rare that is to see. Honestly, I don't recall Cristian Guzman diving to his right for ANYTHING in the time he has played in Washington. For that fact alone--"The Guz" with The Defensive Play of This Game. In fact, Our 2008 All Star rapped out three more hits tonight, giving him 123 for the season--most in The National League.

Willie Harris also made a terrific toss to the plate from short left field in the top of the 11th to throw out Stephen Drew attempting to score on a single. Jesus Flores also blocked the plate beautifully.

And speaking of fielding. How about Wily Mo Pena. The man can't hit, but at least tonight he provided some help in the field. 11 putouts playing leftfield--the most by any fielder since baseball returned to Washington.

Finally, this evening Sohna and I were guests of Our Friend Andrew in Presidents Club. And after the game, The African Queen and I enjoyed some moments with Bill Hall, Stephanie, Tracy, Frank and SenatorNat at The Oval Bar inside The Lexus Presidents Club. In fact, we closed the place down.

InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass
All other Photos--Nats320


Andrew said...

That would have been the 4th most exciting win in Nationals history.

I congratulate the position players for hanging in there and playing to the last strike.

Roger Bernandina showed some real patience at the plate with the bases loaded and working that 3-2 count in the 10th although we didn't come up on the right side of that at-bat there was a real maturity there.

I have to hang out at every game with the SBF and TAQ as we seem to have a great time and get to discuss the strategies (or lack of).

Let's hope the weekend goes the Curly W's way!

E said...

Great recap SBF, and it was worth staying until the very last pitch...only disagreement was Bernidina's at bat being good. He's got a 2-0 count with bases loaded and the game tied in the bottom of the 9th and he swings? Terrible. A walk wins the game...he's gotta take at least one there. Instead he fouled off 2 pitches in a row and unsuccessfully tried to play catch up from then on. Anyway, the game shouldn't have even gotten to that point. Tied in the bottom of the 9th, no outs and men on 1st and 2nd...there are about 5 players in all of baseball who get to swing instead of bunt and Dimitri Young is not one of them! No one on the Nats is. Manny needs to make that happen so this one needs to rest on his shoulders. At least everyone at the park got their money's worth!

Screech's Best Friend said...

e--interesting that you mention Bernadina taking a pitch. On the 7th pitch of this crucial at-bat, with the runner moving from first, he DID swing at a ball a little up and in. Most likely ball four and the game winning RBI. After fouling the pitch off, Bernandina did turn to Home Plate Umpire Eric Cooper, who DID TELL HIM he had swung at a ball.

Sitting just about 20 feet away, you could tell Bernadina was dismayed over that fact. His head slumped. Unfortunately, this is the hand dealt when youngsters needing experience are rushed into play. Hopefully, Roger will learn from the mistake. Jesus Flores has been far better in similar situations since having the same issues earlier. Thanks for your comments.

As Andrew told me this morning--this game was close to being one of The Greatest in Nats History. Still memorable though, and you are right--worth every single penny spent on a ticket.

Andrew said...

e - I called SBF this morning to tell him how much I enjoyed his recap.

I had time between innings last night to talk with Stan the Man who had a smile after the 10th inning (which obviously wasn't there after the 11th). All I can say is he didn't say much as he let me speak my mind about Free Agency. By the way, I didn't apply for JimBo's job....

Also, as promised I gave a crisp Yearbook to SBF!!!

I was going to say something about Jon Rauch's pitching but I won't after seeing his wife and beautiful baby girl last night after the game. The wives who understand the game usually have the facial expression that tells you the outcome of the game or how their husband's performed.

My criticism is again towards Manny and the bullpen and pinch-runners. The snakes are loaded with lefties and we already used Manning. Odalis Perez was fresh as he didn't pitch much the other day (BALK-BALK), why not go unconventional and have him pitch to a couple of the lefties as "side work".

I have seen Joe Torre do that before and was impressed with that. Their lefties in extras did real well against our relievers.

Also, why use Nieves to pinch run when you may need him if the game goes 12 to 13 innings as a pinch hitter and USE A STARTING PITCHER to run!!!

Anonymous said...

On a lighter note, Stan and Teddy (the mascot) chat with ESPN.

You seen it? Fun.

Theda said...


Good seeing you the other night. Check out pictures of Screech with my son and his service dog with Screech.

paul said...

I think you all gave Angel Hernandez a free pass. In possibly the worst umpiring in Nats' history (cf Tuesday night's unique interpretation of the balk rule), he missed the Guz's colliding into the O-Dog while trying to get to third in the 9th with 0 outs. Manny put forth a disappointingly tepid argument.