Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Deja'Vu was about to play out again at New Nationals Park. The same scene witnessed at RFK Stadium by many of Our Fans over the previous three years. Ryan Church was at the plate and this game was on the line--would My Main Man!! be The Game Changer for The New York Mets.
Our Washington Nationals were hanging on precariously to the slimmest of margins. 1-0 on not only the pitching of Odalis Perez, but his hitting as well. Our Number 45 had pitched into the 8th tossing his FINEST GAME OF THE YEAR. Throwing first pitch strikes and in total command, Odalis was pitching with a fire in his belly not seen all year. Was he EVER EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED, reacting to recorded outs--cheering and congratulating his teammates for their efforts behind him. He even doubled in the bottom of the 5th on a liner to left that The Mets Fernando Tatis deflected and eventually separated his right shoulder on--making the diving effort on a ball not caught. A Two Out--Two Bagger that resulted in Washington's only run when Willie Harris followed with a walk off New York's Mike Pelfrey and "The Guz" followed, batting lefthanded, and ripped a drive to the wall in left centerfield that The Mets Centerfielder Carlos Beltran could not reach--scoring Our Number 45 on a Ground Rule Double.
Yes, September 16th was to be Odalis Perez Night.
But all his efforts would have all been for not--if My Main Main!! opens this game up with a big drive. And if Michael Hinckley does not close out a potential game changing rally. The time was now 9:30PM.
Resetting The Scene.
Perez had finally begun to falter--giving up back to back singles to New York Pinch Hitters, Ramon Castro and Robinson Cancel--only the 3rd and 4th and very last hits allowed by Our Number 45 this evening. There was just one out--we were playing the top of the 8th.
And Jose Reyes was stepping to the plate. The "Let's Go Mets!!" Chant from the announced crowd of 24,997 was now fading into the "Jose!! Jose!! Jose!! Jose!! Chant as Our Manager Manny Acta jumped out of the dugout and pointed toward his lefthander warming up in the bullpen. He wanted Michael Hinckley--the Rookie Youngster, The September Call Up, who has been nothing short of stellar since arriving from AAA Columbus.
Our Number 14 wanted his Situational Lefty and he was putting Our New Number 58 in quite the situation. If there is one solid description of Hinckley since his Major League Debut--he's never looked overmatched. He's pitched with confidence. And with the electrifying Reyes staring him down from the right hand side of the batters box--Michael didn't flinch. At least until he got The Mets Shortstop to bounce a high hopper back to the mound. Looking to turn two and end this frame, Hinckley turned and made a soft toss, high and nearly over Cristian Guzman's head at second base. Luckily, Our Number 15 was able to JUST GET HIS GLOVE ON THE BALL and stepped down on second base to retire the slow moving Cancel. Reyes safe at first, as a collective sigh of relief was heard from Washington's Faithful on hand. Many believing, Hinckley nearly had thrown this game away with a run scoring error.
A potential mistake now turned into a crucial second out, despite the fact that Mets Pinch Runner Ramon Martinez moved to third and Reyes was standing on first. Hinckley now just needed one out to get out of this jam, and save Perez's opportunity to garner a win.
Up stepped My Main Man!! looking for his chance to unload. This game was now at its head. But not before Our Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire trotted out to the mound. A Discussion was to be had. The gist of which was, undoubtedly, NOT TO THROW RYAN CHURCH A FASTBALL. Everyone knows he can crush it.
As thoughts of "Church On Tuesday" (that famous rally song from Old Section 320) ran through my head, Our Former Number 19 dug in at the plate and took ball one--a curve ball off the plate. Had Ryan learned his lesson? Did Hinckley understand his? An odd feeling of New Versus Old was playing out before us. One of Our Original Washington Nationals against one of Our Newest Washington Nationals.
Would The Veteran Beat The Rookie?
In came pitch number two from Hinckley--another curveball taken over the plate by Church for Strike One. Our Former Number 19 was clearly going to see a steady diet of off speed pitches. And when Our New Number 58 set back and threw in a third off speed pitch--this one well into the dirt--a pitch that Ryan swung at--you could now see the writing on the wall.
"Just throw him another one in the dirt!!" I yelled out. "He will swing at it!!"
The African Queen started to laugh, because she also knew My Main Man!! was liable to swing at it too. We had both seen this all play out before--at The Old Ballyard On East Capitol Street.
Sure enough, with just about everyone on hand knowing Michael Hinckley would be tossing a 4th straight curve and 2nd straight off speed pitch into the dirt to My Main Man!!--Ryan Church swung at this pitch anyway. And Struck Out to great cheer from The Washington Faithful. Our Number 58 raising his right glove hand in triumph, knowing he had again found the power to trust his stuff while Our Former Number 19 had not yet found the strength to hold back his swing on another looping curve in the dirt from a lefthanded thrower.
The Very Same Off Speed Pitch that has always been his NEMESIS. As Yogi Berra once said--"It was Deja'Vu all over again."
Joel Hanrahan would come on in the 9th to record his 9th save of 2008--retiring the heart of The New York Mets Lineup (David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado) in order--to preserve this one run shutout.
Final Score from Cool & Brisk New Nationals Park, the first September night where a light jacket or sweater was needed to take away the chill, Our Washington Nationals 1 and The Slumping New York Mets Zero. Curly "W" Number 58 found a veteran left handed pitcher finding his Old "A" Game again in Odalis Perez. And The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! sending a new signal that Michael Hinckley may well be for real after all. What a revelation this young man has been. Nine Shutout Innings from Our New Number 58 since he joined Our Roster.
Game Notes & Highlights
I have to give Odalis Perez credit. He was terrific tonight, but more than his work on the mound and with his bat (he also drilled a liner to centerfield that was caught in the gap by Carlos Beltran)--it was very pleasing to see his enthusiasm on the field of play. Maybe our younger players competitive nature has grown on him--in a good way. This evening, everyone witnessed a far different lefthanded Number 45 tossing baseballs on the mound for Our Washington Nationals. Perez was downright dominate at times and completely controlled the heart of The New York Order. Reyes, Church, Wright, Beltran and Carlos Delgado, a combined 1 for 19 at the plate. Odalis Perez fully deserved his 7th Victory of 2008.
In the top of the 6th with two out--All Star David Wright hammers an Odalis Perez pitch that is sailing directly over Willie Harris' head in left field. Never one to give up on anything, Our Number 1 immediately started moving swiftly back to his left, slightly toward the left centerfield wall, running hard just like a football receiver might do running a pattern. Then, when Harris realized this smoked ball was going to be over his left shoulder, not his right, he made a most excellent recovery. Instead of turning back to his right, his body facing toward the infield and back peddling, he simply turned his head back to his left, while still running toward the wall. His body followed and as the baseball was JUST GOING PAST HIM, he leaped and snared the baseball with a beautiful backhanded stab above his head--catching the baseball in his left glove hand--while falling to the ground--never letting go of the ball. The Defensive Play Of This Game that was so good--not only did Our Fans in the Stands erupt in great cheer, but so did Our Washington Nationals Bench, Lastings Milledge in centerfield jumping up and down in joy and Odalis Perez raising both his fists in the air, from the mound, in triumph!! A Great Play that also saw the excited Perez running to greet Harris with a Glove Salute as Our Number 1 trotted off the field--smiling broadly all the way. Really, this was a FINE, FINE PLAY!! I am told on Monday Night, Harris made an equally as great a catch against The Mets.
Like Ryan Zimmerman, I've just come to expect the unexpected greatness from Willie Harris. He is such an exciting player.
Not only did Cristian Guzman knock in the game winning run, but he also produced his 53rd multiple hit ball game of 2008, second best in The National League. Since returning fully from his injured thumb on August 26th--"The Guz" is hitting .472 with six doubles, two triples, four home runs and 18 RBI in 17 Games. Harris and Milledge also had two hit nights at the plate.
I had not noticed this before, maybe he just began the gesture, but when Lastings Milledge ran out onto the field tonight at the start of "Here They ARE!! Your Washington Nationals!!", Our Number 44 raised his right index finger in salute to the crowd and now points at the right to centerfield stands all the way to his position. Interesting and we liked it. We also enjoyed seeing both Milledge and Elijah Dukes wearing knee high red stockings, not their baseball pants covering their legs--all the way down to their shoes. Sharp.
Speaking of Dukes, there was no further standoffs with The Mets Mike Pelfrey--tonight's New York Starter. Last week, as we all know, they nearly came to blows. This evening, it was just baseball.
Of course tonight was the second to last T-Shirt Tuesday. And The African Queen and I made the effort to pick up our Free Gift for Season Ticket Holders. Leftover Promotional Items from 2008 and before are available for free. In the perforated ticket booklet sent with game tickets before the season began, there is a coupon in each book to be turned in during set dates in September. This is the week to trade in your coupon for that goodie at specially set up tables on 1st Street, SE, at the bottom of the stairway leading to The Kids Strike Zone. Available items include various T-Shirts, Curly "W" Caps, Dmitri Young Bobbleheads (Ryan Zimmerman ones were all taken before we got there), Pandas, 2008 Yearbooks, Curly "W" Lanyards, Empty Season Ticket Designed Boxes, and even a white & blue umbrella, which I am pretty sure was given out in 2006, maybe 2005 at RFK Stadium.
Then, we headed over to The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation Booth in The Centerfield Plaza and purchased tickets for this Sunday's Shirts Off Their Backs Promotion. For $5 fans can purchase raffle tickets in hopes of receiving an actual game worn jersey of a player from Our Washington Nationals. Winners will be announced this Sunday, September 21st when Washington plays The San Diego Padres. If your name is drawn, you will be invited down on the field to actually receive the jersey directly from the player. All proceeds go directly to The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.
Teddy ran out hard again to take the early lead in The Presidents Race tonight, but literally ran out of gas. Abe running away for his 46th victory of 2008. Later, Sohna and I headed over to The Kids Strike Zone to talk to Teddy and encourage him to not give up. He appreciated the gesture.
During the top of the 7th inning this very odd advertisement showed up for the entire half inning on the ribbon boards. In White with some Red Background--the words "Thanks For Drinking" were shown in script? Sohna and I just looked at each other bewildered. Then we realized it was a Coca-Cola Commercial for their Coke Rewards Program Online. But the "COKE" part was so small and so far away from "Thanks For Drinking", we could not have been the only ones noticing that advertisement for the first time--that were not shaking their heads in that "Say What!!??" sort of way. Very confusing ad--you have to wonder whether it was really getting its point across properly. It's so odd, it is very funny.
Finally--when Sohna and I saw fellow Nationals Fan Chris with this GIGANTIC GLOVE, we just had to have some fun with it. Chris told us he spent $300 for this over sized wonder and waited six months to receive it. The mitt is so large it nearly covers The African Queens Upper Body and one can easily place a human head inside the pocket. During Batting Practice, Chris' Glove was so popular--The New York Mets asked to use it during their warm up session tonight at New Nationals Park. Luis Ayala especially having a great time shagging flies.
What A GREAT MITT!! We enjoyed the fact that Chris allowed Sohna and I to play with it after the game on the Main Concourse. The amount of folks stopping to watch was quite remarkable--even some of the CSC Security Folks came over to take a gander. Fun Stuff when someone like Chris can find another enjoyable way to spend an evening at New Nationals Park.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Manuel Balce Ceneta
All Other Photos--Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)