Monday, September 01, 2008
Learning How Not To Lose
The No Hitter had finally been lost. So had the shutout. Now, Our Washington Nationals Lead was in jeopardy--in a Big Way. And this had all occurred in less than 10 Minutes in the top of the 6th. Tim Redding had entered this frame having not allowed a single base hit. Washington held a solid 6-0 advantage, yet now were moments away from possibly losing it all.
What a turnaround!! What a half inning this became.
For the first time all day, Philadelphia's Fans were up on the feet, yelling and screaming. The Echo's of "Let's Go Phillies!!" filling the clear crisp First Day of September Sky on South Capitol Street. They were getting loud while Washington's Fans were getting quiet, somewhat perturbed even, because not one pitcher for Washington could, seemingly, find the plate. And more exasperatingly, all this drama had really started with two outs.
Yes, Two Outs. Yet Our Washington Nationals were letting The Philadelphia Phillies back into the game.
Shane Victorino had broken up the NO-NO with a ground ball to deep short that "The Guz" tried in vain to recover and toss out the speedy Philadelphia Outfielder at first base. Really, a no chance effort that at least gave the Home Faithful enough comfort to give Tim Redding a Standing Ovation for his labor with one out in the 6th.
A "Thank You!!" that quickly led to "GET HIM OUT OF THERE!!" when Our Number 17 started laboring himself and allowed the always dangerous Ryan Howard to drill a double down the right field line scoring Victorino. And Jayson Werth followed with a walk. Our Number 17 was done, unquestionably out of gas, and Our Manager Manny Acta went to bullpen to call on Rookie Southpaw Charlie Manning to face Lefty Swinging Greg Dobbs.
Looking to stop the rally, all Manning did was let the games begin.
Philadelphia's Manager Charlie Manuel countermoved by pinch hitting righthanded swinging Pedro Feliz for Dobbs. And what does Manning do--he walked Feliz on four straight pitches--loading the bases with two outs. The Home Faithful getting restless. Things were getting a little out of hand. Rally Time!! which had The Phillie Phanatics loosening up.
Trouble was brewing. The Phillies Manuel sent out Right Handed Hitting Pat Burrell to pinch hit for Lefty Matt Stairs.
And here comes Our Number 14 again to make a countermove of his own. Manny Acta was making another pitching change. The Chess Match was in full swing. Which Manager was going to outplay the other? Crunch Time was at hand.
On trots another Rookie, Righthander Marco Estrada. Entering for the sixth time in his brief career, Our Number 55 was being placed in a stressful setup for the very first time in his Big League Career. Did he ever make this inning adventurous. So much so, the noise being heard in and around New Nationals Park was surreal. You couldn't really tell who was cheering for whom--as cheers, boos, clapping and disgust were all being heard--at the same time. Quite Odd.
Out of nowhere--this game was getting mighty interesting. It's why I Love The Great Game so much. You really never know what's going to happen.
All because Estrada could not first retire the Power Hitting Pat Burrell. Quickly moving ahead 2-1 in the count against The Phillie Pinch Hitter, Marco couldn't strike him out, by dibbling on the corners. Burrell, a solid enough hitter to foul off anything close. He battled through this crucial At-Bat taking a 7th pitch for a full count and eventually an 8th--both called balls by Home Plate Umpire Bruck Dreckman. Decisions which found many Washington Fans throwing their heads back in dismay and Philadelphia's Faithful throwing their fists up in great applause. The Phillies Burrell had drawn a bases loaded walk, forcing in Howard from third with Philadelphia's second run. A score that was very short lived when Estrada plunked Chris Coste during the very next At-Bat with Two Strikes.
I don't think I have ever heard this particular roar of exasperation emanating from all around New Nationals Park. One Pitch Away, AGAIN, from ending this never ending inning--Our Number 55 had prolonged it, again, by allowing Werth to score The Phillies third run of the frame and send THE GO AHEAD RUN to the plate in Right Handed Pinch Hitter Carlos Ruiz. Our Washington Nationals were in trouble. Our Fans knew that well. So, Did The Phillie Fans.
"Let's Go Phillies!!" now the rally cry throughout The New Ballyard. Philly's Faithful were taking over the yard. An experience that was getting seemingly worse when Estrada continued to struggle against Ruiz. Like Ground Hog Day, Marco could not find the plate again, and when Ruiz worked the count to 3-1 in his favor--shouts of "Just throw it over the plate, let him hit it!!" were heard in and around New Nationals Park. Our Fans wanted Our Pitcher to let his defenders help him out of his personal turmoil. A position Our Manager Manny Acta wasn't going to allow Estrada to make much worse. He got Saul Rivera up in the bullpen to warm up. This was ALL HANDS ON DECK Time. Either Estrada retires Ruiz--RIGHT NOW-- or he's gone from the game.
Final Batter for Marco Estrada--no matter the outcome.
Our Number 55 must have, FINALLY, got the message.
As most everyone on sight began to rise from their seats, Marco Estrada reached back and fired a 90 MPH Fastball over the outside corner. A purpose pitch that took Ruiz by surprise and got Home Plate Umpire Dreckman to raise his right arm to signal strike two. A Roar of mock shock and surprise from some on hand.
The Bases were still loaded. The Count was now full--AGAIN. A Philadelphia Hitter was facing two strikes with two out for the 4TH TIME THIS INNING. The 4th Time!! The Runners would also be taking off.
Washington may well have won their past six games, but reaching Lucky Number 7 was laid in the direct path of Pitch Number 6 of this At-Bat. As virtually the entire crowd rose to it's feet, Estrada looked in for sign--while Ruiz stood patiently at the plate--awaiting. The noise within the park so loud--you would have thought a Playoff Game was taking place. 28,393 were whopping it up.
Pitching from the windup, Estrada delivered The MOST IMPORTANT PITCH OF THIS GAME. A Fastball in over the inside corner of the plate. A perfectly placed pitch that found Ruiz swinging and grounding sharply--DIRECTLY AT RYAN ZIMMERMAN charging in from third base. Our Number 11 scooped the ball in the glove, and calmly threw to first base to retire the slow moving Ruiz. A Third Out that found Marco Estrada PUMPING HIS RIGHT FIST IN GREAT DELIGHT.
Some would say Marco Estrada had gotten lucky. I would claim Marco Estrada had learned a lesson.
Our Washington Nationals had survived. They had overcome their very own demons--Talent Without Enough Experience.
A Pressure Cooker Situation that Estrada had fumbled but recovered nicely by not giving up the go ahead runs. Estrada calmly walked off the field still with the lead. Washington up 6-3 over Philadelphia.
A Third Out that had Our Relieved Fans UP AND ROARING WITH DELIGHT.
A Third Out that found The Philly Phantics cursing out and booing their very own team. Some things just never change.
As it turned out This Top of The Sixth Inning WAS THE FINAL DECIDING FACTOR.
The Philadelphia Phillies never really threatened again. And Our Washington Nationals held on. Yes, they had lost the No-Hitter. They had lost The Shutout. But, when This Affair came to the breaking point, and did it ever come close--Our Washington Nationals had NOT LOST THE GAME. That's the sign of a Young Team--Learning And Growing Up.
Truly, They Had Survived against a very good Philadelphia Phillies Hitting Lineup.
Final Score from an Always Fun When Winning New Nationals Park--Our Washington Nationals 7 and The Philadelphia Phillies 4. Curly "W" Number 53 was Washington's 7th Straight, their longest winning streak since what, quite honestly, were the Glory Days of the first half season of 2005--The Inaugural Season of Baseball's Return To Washington. The 10 Game Winning Streak of June, 2005 that catapulted Our Washington Nationals into 1st Place in The National League East and sent The Nation's Capital into a FRENZY over Major League Baseball. Many SERIOUSLY believing in The Playoffs. Yes, even a possible World Series appearance back then. I don't believe I had seen so many people SO HAPPY over a sports team in this town, in a long, long time. Not even for The Washington Redskins. That was special.
The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling that you just don't give up--no matter the circumstances. And when you win--you gain confidence--especially when the task to reach the final outs was so difficult. And let me tell you, Marco Estrada had probably never pitched a more stressful inning in his professional career--until today. He wasn't sharp, but he was good enough to learn HOW NOT TO LOSE.
Game Notes & Highlights
If you had witnessed the first inning pitched by Tim Redding, you would have been also amazed he pitched into the 6th. He couldn't find his fastball at the beginning of the game. Our Number 17 walked Jimmy Rollins to lead off the game, hit Chase Utley with one out. He didn't look sharp. But once he got Ryan Howard to chase an up and away fastball for strike three he settled down and made his way to the 6th with a no-hitter. But he tired fast and was quickly removed from the game by Manny Acta. Through it all, Tim Redding notched his 10th Win of 2008, Team High and most wins by a Washington Starter since Ramon Ortiz in 2006. Yes, Ramon Ortiz.
Saul Rivera, Steven Shell and "The Human Rain Delay" closed out the game for Washington out of the bullpen. Untouched except for Jesus Colome allowing Jimmy Rollins to torch him with a liner to right over the fence for a two out Home Run in the 9th--when this game was pretty much out of hand.
Now for Washington's Scoring.
With "The Guz" on third and Ryan Zimmerman on second with one out in the bottom of the first inning, Lastings Milledge did a nice bit of hitting and stroked an opposite field liner to right off Philadelphia Starter Kyle Kendrick scoring Cristian Guzman and Our Number 11 with Washington's first two scores of the game.
Later in the bottom of the 4th--Tim Redding COULD NOT place down a good bunt with Jesus Flores on second and Emilio Bonifacio on 1st with singles and no one out. Our Number 17's hard hit bunt back to the mound found Kendrick easily throwing out the lead runner Flores at third. Then, Bonifacio got caught off second base and was picked off by Kendrick--giving the appearance of another scoring opportunity wasted by Washington. Something fans have seen alot of when it comes to Our Washington Nationals. Instead, Willie Harris had other ideas when he slammed a Kendrick offering over the head of Matt Stairs in right--off the green pads near the "Nationals Park Logo" and running hard, as always, ended up on third base with an RBI Triple, Redding scoring before him for a 3-1 Washington lead.
"The Guz" followed and flat out DRILLED a liner down the right field line--a no doubt double that easily scored Our Number 1 with Washington's 4th run and was the harbinger of things to come as Ryan Zimmerman stepped to the plate and CLUBBED his longest shot of the season at New Nationals Park. The "Z-Man" hitting a Kyle Kendrick fastball SO HARD, it was not a matter of whether this hit ball was going to be a Home Run, but HOW FAR WOULD IT GO. Man, He DRILLED THAT BASEBALL!! to dead centerfield--well over the wall. All's The Phillies Centerfielder Victorino could do was wave Ryan Zimmerman's 10th Home Run of 2008 Good Bye!! An out of nowhere 4 run frame had lifted Our Washington Nationals to a six run lead and found "Z" smiling proudly once he returned to The Home Dugout.
Ryan Zimmerman should have been proud because that was a home run to be remembered for its velocity leaving the park. It was a screamer. No one could probably record how fast that baseball was traveling, but it would be nice if Our Washington Nationals would announce distances of Home Runs to the crowd. I think many would have loved to know the distance that baseball traveled. What a Shot!! People were excited about it and that was very nice to witness.
Interestingly, before Zimmerman hit his home run, twice Kendrick threw fastball's right at his head during his previous plate appearance. The Second one not only sending Our Number 11 dodging his way forcefully from the plate, but Umpire Dreckman forcefully telling Kyle Kendrick he had been Officially Warned. One more time and he would be tossed from the game. Both sides received the warning. Kendrick had hit Elijah Dukes earlier in the game also. In fact, Our Number 34 was hit twice. There were five Hit By Pitches in the game total. These two teams just don't seem to like each other. Can you imagine how good this rivalry will be when both teams are fighting for first place?
Washington's final tally came in the bottom of the 7th when Elijah Dukes singled, moved to second on a throwing error by Jimmy Rollins and scored on a double by Jesus Flores.
Of course as good as Ryan Zimmerman can be at the plate, he can be truly UNBELIEVABLE on a daily basis in the field. Once again, he did not disappoint when he dove to his left on a rocket shot liner traveling JUST ABOVE THE GRASS AND DIRT stroked by Pedro Feliz. No one moves better, so swiftly from side to side as Our Number 11 at third base. Today, he made the impossible play again by diving FULL OUT to his left and snaring the baseball, milli-seconds before it scooted past him for The Defensive Play Of This Game. Two older gentlemen, Bob & John, sitting next to Sohna and I both looked at me in amazement. Bob stating: "In my four years watching this team, I have never seen one guy make so many Great Plays look So Routine." And Bob was so very, very right. Ryan Zimmerman is such a gem. Most always worth the price of admission alone. As Sohna said: "The Old Zimmy is back!!"
But there were a few other fine defensive plays this day.
With the speedy Shane Victorino on first base in the top of the 3rd inning, The Phillies Outfielder attempted to steal second base with Chase Utley at the plate. Jesus Flores handled a Tim Redding fastball and fired a rocket shot right on the bag where Cristian Guzman slapped down the tag for a beautiful inning ending out. Our Number 3 rightfully and joyfully slapping his right hand on his catcher's helmet over the toss out. Just another lesson in the everyday growth of Our Number 1 Catcher. Has that young man ever grown up this season? Jesus Flores is developing into a quality player.
The same with Elijah Dukes. Our Number 34 has a long way to go, especially when it comes to hitting off speed pitches, but in the top of the 4th he once again showed his defensive capabilities when he charged hard all the way to right field bullpen fence for a drive off the bat of Jayson Werth. Without hesitation, Dukes RAN INTO THE FENCE. The Barrier actually giving way to his strong body. The Give and Take Force allowing Elijah to catch the baseball right before it hit off the fence. It was a very fine play and worthy of The Defensive Play of This Game--until Ryan Zimmerman upstaged his effort. But, it was an impressive catch. The Man's Got No Fear. I like that--alot.
Again, another team effort at the plate by Our Washington Nationals. All 9 starters had hits. Guzman, Flores & Harris with two apiece. Harris, Guzman, Zimmerman and Milledge knocking in six of Washington's 7 Runs. This team is playing well, they are playing healthy and they are playing with enthusiasm. Really, it's been enjoyable watching winning baseball again.
When Our Number 11 socked his Home Run the late afternoon shadows first started to creep across Home Plate in the 4th. After his home run--there really was not much hitting until the shade also covered the pitchers mound. Interestingly, the game changed in the top of the sixth when the the infield was mostly out of the sun--and The Phillies began their rally.
Teddy came out running hard today for the second straight day, making a serious effort to win The 4th Inning Presidents Race. Of course--he tired and faded at the end. Abe winning easily. What a surprise.
We like the fact that Our Entire Bullpen has made it a tradition to sign autographs just before the game for fans sitting down the right field line at the corner. It's a very nice gesture. Something that just started by chance and continues to this day.
We also like seeing The Red Tent on top of Garage B being used for IN-GAME Parties. Today, was the first time that Sohna and I noticed fans leaning over the top deck under the tent, watching a game in progress. The Wrigley Field View as Team President Stan Kasten told us in Our Conversation with him last week.
Finally, did you notice the hands of the Curly "W" Clock have changed from tan to white? Hopefully, so everyone can see those clock hands at night. Most all year, during night games, the tan hands were basically invisible. Sohna and I will take a note and see if the white hands work for tomorrow night's game.
Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Luis M. Alvarez
All Other Photos Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)