Sunday, September 07, 2008

Going The Distance

The Pre-Game Show on 3WT began this afternoon 30 minutes after Sohna and I headed out this Sunday. Through the running of errands, visiting some friends, back to another store, unexpectedly coming across other friends and finally to Home Depot for a last second pickup--it was 5PM--and Our Washington Nationals were still playing. Charlie and Dave were still broadcasting on the radio. More than 4 hours 30 minutes after we left our house, more than 3 hours and 30 minutes after this affair actually began, we still had time to make it home to watch the final three innings. One of those never ending affairs where both Managers use most every available player. One of those games of attrition. The time to just hang on, buckle up, step up to the plate and take your hacks. Or, throw your pitches from the mound.

But, don't ever give up.

For 4 Hours and 34 Minutes Our Washington Nationals and The Atlanta Braves played on, and on, and on. So far and deep into the late September Sky, Washington equaled it's longest game--by innings played--since Baseball Returned to DC--14 long innings.

And to both teams' great credit this afternoon--neither The Atlanta Braves or Our Washington Nationals mailed in their efforts. Each attempted to win and it did not matter that this--Game 144 of the 2008 Season--was basically one of those meaningless games comprised of two non-contenders playing out the string. Pride was involved. Professionalism came first. There may not have been many left at Turner Field when this affair finally ended--because this one became a "Friends & Family Affair". But at least the fans still in attendance went home knowing they got their money's worth.

How wonderful to know Our Washington Nationals never gave up all day. They fought back twice and even at the times you believed all was lost--they still didn't quit. Washington continually came up with a key hit, a big defensive play or a decisive out to keep this game going.

Our Manager Manny Acta used all but one position player--Wil Nieves. He used 8 Pitchers and even pinch hit Odalis Perez in the top of the 14th. The Braves Manager Bobby Cox used every single one of his position players, pinch hit a pitcher and changed hurlers 10 times. 51 Total Players appeared in this game.

Yes, 51 Players!! An amount of talent competing on one field that can only occur in Spring Training, and September--when rosters are expanded.

Thankfully, there were some fine efforts today by some members of Our Washington Nationals.

Alberto Gonzalez produced his career effort day in The Major Leagues--starting at shortstop. Everyone knows Our Number 12 is a fine fielder. He showed that again this afternoon with a diving stop to prevent a run from scoring; an excellent over the shoulder--running away from the infield--basket catch looking directly into the sun; and a very nice pivot on a one-handed grab of a Anderson Hernandez backhand toss to second base that resulted in one of the prettiest double plays Our Washington Nationals may turn all year. Hernandez had made a good effort--Gonzalez's toss was OTHER WORLDLY. Alberto Gonzalez has a TREMENDOUS ARM.

But no one has ever trusted Alberto's hitting skills. Today, Gonzalez with two crucial hits. A Solo Home Run in the 7th and a two run double in the bottom of the 8th that tied this affair at four apiece and sent it into extra frames. For the day, Alberto with three hits, three RBI and one run scored. In his short stint for Our Washington Nationals--Our Number 12 has been pretty impressive. Along with Anderson Hernandez and Emilio Bonifacio, these three have solidified Our Defense up the middle and into the holes--and ever so slowing are beginning to provide offensive assistance that makes Gonzalez's, Hernandez's and Bonifacio's talents key to the near and long term future of Our Team.

Prospects which Elijah Dukes can no longer be considered one of. Our Number 34 may well have spent three different stints on the Disabled List in 2008--but can you imagine what Dukes could have accomplished in a full season in the Major Leagues? A slow start did not get him down. Injuries did not get him down. Striking out (which he does a little too much right now) does not get him down. This man plays with the confidence of a Difference Maker. The person you want at the plate with the game on the line. A Hero In Development which Our Current Starting Right Fielder proved again late this day he's capable of being. No--Elijah Dukes is not Superman, may well never be--but he's slowly developing into THE SLUGGER Our Washington Nationals need each and every game. Talent missing for the first nearly four years of Baseball in The Nation's Capital.

The person who can change a game with one swing of the bat.

Having ZERO HITS in the first six At-Bats this day, Dukes was again not deterred. Standing confidently at the plate with the bases loaded--full because Manager Cox intentionally walked Lastings Milledge in front of him to set up a force play--Our Number 34 DRILLED a double down the left field line--past a diving Brent Lillibridge in the top of the 14th frame. A liner that found Lillibridge slamming his fist in the dirt discouraged and Dukes pounding his fists together now standing on second base--happy he had ONCE AGAIN BEEN THE DIFFERENCE.

He had produced.

Just like last night, when Our Number 34 went 4 for 5, slammed two home runs and knocked in a key run in the 10th. Dukes had done it again and in doing so continued to resurrect his once dormant baseball career. Life which had sidetracked him, now seemingly leading his way. What a difference six months make.

Can he keep it up? Both on and off the field. Questionable upon being picked up by Washington, there can be little doubt now that Elijah Dukes is one serious talent. Does he have the inner self to not self-destruct?

For Elijah Dukes is a part of a new group comprising Our Washington Nationals. Players that more and more each day are becoming a better team--together. Our Manager Manny Acta threw 28 different players out onto Turner Field this Sunday to win just one game. One Game. But in doing so maybe earned a whole lot more. The Feeling that Washington is coming together as a team. And through all the pain, disappointment and futility of 2008--and there has been plenty of that--all is not lost. No, not now. No--not by a long shot.

What would This New Version of Our Washington Nationals look like--if they had played a full season together and had bonded as team--in June, not September? And to think, we still don't have a first baseman, a number one or two starter and our starting catcher is currently injured and down--just like so many others lost earlier. Opportunity now taken by worthy others, looking to make a name of their own.

Final Score from Hot, Humid and Wonderfully Satisfying Turner Field--Our Washington Nationals 7 and The Atlanta Braves 4. Curly "W" Number 56 gave a glimpse of what Washington's Team can play like, going the distance--depending on more than just one or two players to win. And sensing the fear that one player--in this case Elijah Dukes--can put into an opponent--with ANY PARTICULAR GAME ON THE LINE.

Gonzalez, Hernandez, Dukes, Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Langerhans, Bonifacio, Flores, Milledge and Willie Harris. I will take each and everyone of those guys in My Future of Our Washington Nationals on the field of play--every single day. Every single one of them hustles and never gives up--just like "The Ballplayer", Ronnie Belliard--Wil Nieves too.

Wouldn't you like to be on that flight to New York City tonight, featuring an off day tomorrow in Manhatten? Our Washington Nationals deserve a restful day in The Big Apple. A mini-break to revive themselves and go after The Mets and The Florida Marlins before they return to New Nationals Park for the final homestand of the season.

The African Queen and I still can't believe we made it home to actually watch the final three innings this afternoon. We had gone the distance ourselves--driving all over and around Northern Virginia.

Game Notes & Highlights

Collin Balester somehow survived 11 hits and two walks and only gave up four runs. If Lastings Milledge doesn't lose a routine popup in the sun with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second--Our Number 40 would have given up just two earned runs. Balester is hard to figure out. Never dominate, but always on the cusp of being good, Collin's inexperience seems to be holding him back. You can just see him out on the mound thinking through every situation. Problems he's never faced before against Major League Hitters. Crossroads he's looking to work his way through over the last few weeks of his Rookie Season.

Manny's bullpen today quite stellar--although Joel Hanrahan struggled finishing today--for the second game in row. Michael Hinckley was called on by Our Number 14 in the bottom of the 9th, in a tie game and he pitched his way out of a mini-jam by retiring the always dangerous Chipper Jones on a groundout to send this affair into extra innings.

Our Number 38 retired the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the 14th. Then, due to an injury to The Braves' Kelly Johnson, Bobby Cox had no other choice but to send Pitcher James Parr to the plate. He had no other every day players. Needing just one out to end this game, Hanrahan walked Parr then immediately gave up a double to Yunell Escobar--allowing the tying run to walk to the plate in Jeff Francouer. Thankfully, the free swinging Atlanta Rightfielder offered at Joel's first pitch and grounded to Alberto Gonzalez at shortstop who fired to Langerhans at first to FINALLY END THE GAME. But, Joel needs to understand--James Parr should have never reached base--in the first place.

Lastings Milledge slammed out his Team High 14th Home Run in the top of the second. A liner down the left field line that cleared the wall off Jo Jo Reyes. Aaron Boone had three hits today and Ryan Zimmerman went hitless in seven At-Bats. Although on one drive to deep right center--Our Number 11 drove a Reyes pitch in the top of the 4th to the 395 Ft Mark at Turner Field. A Home Run just about anywhere else, but Atlanta (sort of sounds like what everyone use to say about RFK Stadium).

There was a hilarious comment picked up by a field mic on 3WT during the bottom of the 14th. An Atlanta Fan was upset at Braves Manager Bobby Cox upon seeing Pitcher James Parr pinch hit. The patron not realizing Kelly Johnson was hurt and Atlanta had no further bench players. The man yelled out: "Can I Get A Refund--Bobby!!" The shout so loud and clear--even Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler had to comment on it's clarity. Of course that fan must have felt like a fool when Parr actually walked to extended the frame. And Atlanta nearly fought back to tie the game with a double by Escobar, before Francouer hit into the final out.

Finally, I don't know what it really is. Maybe the cherry red, maybe the color taking away from one of the best Classic Home Uniforms in sports. But, I just don't like that Red Braves Home Jersey. The Tomahawk and Braves Script is SO PERFECT, why mess with something so good? Yeah, I understand a third or 4th jersey sells to fans, but sometimes you have to consider what you are wearing too.

Interestingly, I don't feel the same way about Washington's "DC" Red Jersey. I like that color Red worn and I like that Washington Design with the white pants. Maybe it's because Our Washington Nationals are beginning a fresh history and nothing has been set in stone yet--outside of The Curly "W".

Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Gregory Smith


Anonymous said...

SBF, You don't like the red Atlanta jersey for a simple reason ... it is horrifically ugly.

Nice post on the effort by our team. I think the last two curly Ws have been especially satisfying.

Anonymous said...

The Nats really showed that they want to win for pride. Another great comeback on a tiring roadtrip.

I sure would have liked to have swept this series to make a run out of the NL East cellar but to come back and take the last 2 games showed what this team is capable of.

Of note, the Braves are a much different team without Mark Teixeira at 1st base and certainly aren't the power threat they were before much like the Nats have been without a true 1B threat.

If we can find that impact power hitting 1B for 2009 through a Free Agent acquisition coupled with our current starting 7 others playing now + Jesus Flores, we can make some noise in the NL East in 2009.

SBF said...What would This New Version of Our Washington Nationals look like--if they had played a full season together and had bonded as team--in June, not September? And to think, we still don't have a first baseman, a number one or two starter and our starting catcher is currently injured and down--just like so many others lost earlier. Opportunity now taken by worthy others, looking to make a name of their own.

Remember the movie, Back to the Future. If only we could go back and make an adjustment or 2 and see it re-play back to a better conclusion.

Anonymous said...

well clearly we know who our closer is and it is not the chief.

An Briosca Mor said...

Anonymous, the profundity of your observation is only exceeded by the transparency of your handle.

Anonymous said...

....if they had played a full season together and had bonded as team--in June, not September?

Doesn't it start with attitude and ability? If I can digress for a moment.

Interesting that 2 of our dearly departed in FLop and PLoD faced off against each other in a weekend series (Marlins/Cardinals).

As noted before, FLop has the ability to be a good player, but it is only limited by his own attitude. Goes back to when athletes say, "I play when I wanna play".

Changes had to made at July 31st and management and ownership stepped up.

The Nats have transformed from a low energy team to a high energy team and with that comes speed, and better defense, and a better mindset/attitude which translates to WINS.

The important lesson for a young team is not keeping guys that don't fit into the puzzle. I have to think Wily Mo, Dmitri, and Kearns don't fit in here anymore as difficult as that is. There should be some trade value there.

When the last week of March 2009 rolls around, and the roster needs to be trimmed, I would want to see guys with the right attitude on that roster from top to bottom. Guys that want to compete. Guys that want to hustle. Guys that want to be fan friendly. Guys that want to WIN.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Mr. Optimistic: Attitude means everything and Washington has players that want to be here. Guys that are hungry and that has made a world of difference. This team is growing together no tearing itself apart. Big Difference