Thursday, April 30, 2009
9th Inning Implosion
"We're running out of ways to lose games," said this young lady sharing the elevator with us leaving Club Level tonight at Nationals Park. "At least I thought so, until we found a way to advance runners without even throwing a pitch." The African Queen and I just laughed, because the comment was dead on correct. Those "8th Inning Wonders", otherwise known as Our Washington Nationals--Version 5.0--had once again lost a game in the 9th inning. This time an implosion that was started with the dreaded free bases on balls and escalated to a level not seen in 2009. Another late inning collapse much of it thanks to walk, after walk after walk allowed.
And that's a real shame because for the first 8 innings, The St.Louis Cardinals and Our Washington Nationals had put on a fairly good show.
12 Pitches into this game, arguably The Greatest Hitter In The Game, Albert Pujols, gave what most everyone in the still arriving announced crowd of 18,007 probably deep down inside WANTED TO SEE. A missile of a home run off a Daniel Cabrera Fastball into the Visiting Bullpen in left center. A two run-homer swatted so hard that if that flying object did not hit the green painted wall, would have caused some serious pain to anyone it hit. Power and force on display with one wicked swing of the bat from the talented hands of Pujols.
A Short-Lived Advantage for St.Louis as it turned out that lasted, oh--about 11 pitches into the bottom of the 1st--when Ryan Zimmerman returned the favor by hacking a Mitchell Boggs off-speed pitch JUST OVER the right centerfield scoreboard into the front row for a two-run homer of his very own.
An affair that included two come from behind rallies by Washington and the unexpected, maybe--ONCE IN THE LIFETIME SIGHT--of Jesus Flores chugging around the bases, running full steam ahead, moving as fast as his squatty legs will take him--around first base, around second base as the roar of the crowd became louder and louder and finally SLIDING HEAD FIRST into third for a TRIPLE!! Yes, you heard that right--A TRIPLE BY OUR NUMBER 3--after he slugged a two out liner deep and over the head of Cardinals Centerfielder Rick Ankiel in the bottom of the 6th. This was no mistake three bagger due to an outfielder's misplay. Jesus Flores had motored out an honest to God Triple scoring Austin Kearns with the game tying run at that time--and Jesus received the deserved standing ovation. A play that loomed larger when Anderson Hernandez followed with a ripped double down the right field line putting Washington ahead 4-3 heading to the late innings.
Through six innings Our Washington Nationals had battled a hard hitting St. Louis Lineup to even and had finally taken the lead.
Through six innings Our Washington Nationals had battled through the frustrations of Daniel Cabrera on the mound and survived. D-Cab allowing five walks, 4 hits and a truly remarkable 4 wild pitches.
And through six innings Our Washington Nationals had even survived the pickoff of Elijah Dukes at first base by a RIGHTHANDED pitcher for the second time in the last two days. Like in Philadelphia yesterday, Dukes completely lost in the bottom of the 4th--flinching toward second base believing Mitchell Boggs was going to throw home. Instead, Boggs simply stepped off the rubber and threw to Pujols at first base. Eventually, thrown out at second for the 2nd out of the frame. A baserunning blunder by Dukes that killed a potential rally when Austin Kearns immediately followed with a walk before Flores struck out to end the innning.
Through six innings--Our Washington Nationals had stayed in the game--maybe against all odds. But unfortunately, there were three more to play. And that's when the Bewitching Hour Struck.
Walks kill and Mike Hinckley got things rolling for The Cardinals Offense when he relieved Cabrera in the 7th and proceeded to allow a free base on balls to St. Louis Slugger Ryan Ludwick--pinch hitting for Colby Rasmus. The Cardinal Sin that came back to haunt Washington when Our Manager Manny Acta went to his bullpen to call on newly acquired Logan Kensing to face--who else--Albert Pujols. Baptism By Fire was in the works. No easy initial outing for Our New Number 26. Don't worry about just getting your feet wet son--Kensing being thrown into the Birds Nest and his job was to fight his way out.
A test he failed--allowing a broken bat--two strike single to Pujols and follow up four-pitch walk to Chris Duncan loading the bases. A predicament he could no longer control when St. Louis 3rd Sacker, Joe Thurston, absolutely RIPPED a Logan fastball into the gap in right centerfield. A sure bases clearing double that became only the game tying sacrifice fly when Austin Kearns swiftly moved to his right. Running hard all the way to his right, Austin made an excellent catch by reaching across his body with his glove hand, his left hand, for a beautiful snatch of a hard hit baseball. The Defensive Play of This Game and Game Saver for Washington at that time, even though the score was now tied a four.
All even up again and on they played into the 9th--the final frame--that became the final undoing for Our Washington Nationals--despite how well the inning started.
Mr. Enthusiasm himself--Julian Tavarez--was sent to the mound by Manny Acta to face the heart of The St. Louis Cardinals Batting Order. Veteran and Experienced Pitcher to face Veteran and MVP Albert Pujols leading off. Danger averted when Pujols swung at Julian's very first pitch and meekly tapped a grounder to Ryan Zimmerman at third base. That big sigh of relief and little laughter that ensued when Our Number 50 squatted down, and with all the flare that only Tavarez can possibly show on the field of play--pointed directly at Ryan as he scooped up the baseball--then swung his right arm toward first base--directing The Z-Man where to throw the baseball.
Flat out funny to witness--but that moment becoming The Final Moment Of Joy for any Washington Fan this evening. For the hilarity soon to come on the field--was no laughing matter. Tavarez began to fall apart. First, Julian allowed an eight pitch walk to Chris Duncan. Then, the first fielding mistake of the inning occurred. Ankiel followed for The Cardinals and lofted a deep fly down the left field line--in the corner. An average fielder with average speed makes that catch. That baseball had serious hang time. But Adam Dunn was playing left, and shifted slightly over to center for the lefthanded swinging Ankiel. Dunn couldn't reach the baseball and it fell safely to the ground. Duncan scoring easily. Ankiel now on second with an rbi double.
With St. Louis now up 5-4, the groans and moans from Washington's Fans started to rise.
And things got worse.
Julian walks Joe Thurston on seven pitches, hits Cardinals Catcher Jason LaRue to load up the bases. Cardinal Fans cheering their hearts out--now watching Washington's Fans getting up to leave. Realizing what might well be in the works, many did not want to see what was to become The Wackiest Play Of This Game.
One Out, Bases Loaded, and Cardinals Shortstop Tyler Greene slaps a dribbler down the third base line. One of those nearly impossible plays to defend. Remarkable that Ryan Zimmerman even believed he could do so. Rushing hard to barehand the baseball and throw home all in one motion--the baseball skipped off his fingers--past Zimmy--rolling slowing. Ankiel scored The Cardinals 6th run but Joe Thurston had rounded third and was attempting to score as well. Cristian Guzman had overplayed to third base as backup and perfectly fielded the baseball, rushed and threw a perfect strike, around the hard charging Thurston to Jesus Flores at the plate. A sure out at home. Only to see Our Number 3 DROP THE BASEBALL.
No one could believe it--not even The Cardinals Fans.
You talk about a rush out of a stadium--Nationals Park was emptying fast and most everyone left was now a St. Louis Supporter.
And yet, this awful inning got even worse. Joel Hanrahan relieved Tavarez. And before Joel even threw ONE PITCH, First Base Umpire Tim Welke ruled a balk. Jason LaRue, standing on third base awarded home with The Cardinals 8th run which quickly became 9 after Tyler Greene stole 3rd base on Hanrahan and scored the final run of this game when Brian Bardon sacrificed him home on a fly to right field.
What started as a very hopeful inning with Albert Pujols grounding out--ended with The St.Louis Cardinals scoring five runs on two hits, two walks, one hit by pitch, one balk and one sacrifice fly. Our bullpen had faltered again--and Our Defense had let Our Team Down.
Final Score from a nearly deserted Nationals Park when Nick Johnson grounded out to end this game--The St. Louis Cardinals 9 and Our Washington Nationals 4. Yeah, it's hard to find new ways to lose, but Washington found another unique way this evening. This lastest 9th Inning Implosion the deciding factor again tonight.
Game Notes & Highlights
How Daniel Cabrera survived six innings is beyond belief? He was all over the place with his pitches. Cabrera couldn't find the plate. And when he did, he was bouncing the baseball over it, not above it to be ruled a strike. Does anyone with such potential look more timid on the mound than Daniel Cabrera? He is so frustrating to watch that you have to feel sorry for him. What in his makeup hinders his game? Our Number 45's four wild pitches tonight were unbelievable to watch.
As much as the funniest moment of the evening--also courtesy of Cabrera. In the bottom of the 5th inning batting, Daniel was hit by a pitch from Mitchell Boggs. Meeting the Bat Boy halfway between home plate and first base, Cabrera gave his bat to the Bat Boy, proceeded to take off his two batting gloves and gave them to the Bat Boy. Then, in a moment of pure joy for The African Queen and I, he took off his batting helmet and handed it to the Bat Boy, and slowly began to walk the rest of the way to first base with no protection on his head. Then the Bat Boy yelled something at Daniel, handed Cabrera his batting helmet back and he put it on his head. You could see the thoughts racing through Daniel Cabrera's mind for that igni-second: "Oh, Yeah!". Not used to being a baserunner--he had completely forgot about the importance of wearing a helmet. It was funny. And made worse when Cristian Guzman hit a grounder right at Albert Pujols manning first base, just to the left of Cabrera. For a instant, Daniel froze, unsure what to do. When Pujols first thought of tagging Cabrera, Daniel finally realized he needed to run to second base. Only then, was the hustling "Guz" able to make it safely to first on a fielder's choice.
Certainly not jovial was Our Bullpen that replaced Daniel this evening. Cabrera may well have allowed five bases on balls, but four Washington relievers provided six more--giving away extra outs--and ultimately this game. Tavarez simply had nothing in the tank and dejectedly walked off the field to the home dugout upon being replaced by Hanrahan.
Logan Kensing has one different approach to pitching on the mound. Brought in with a runner on first, and allowing subsequently two more in the 7th--Kensing before every pitch would walk to the first base side of the mound, but stand on the grass. He paused there for a moment, before every single pitch. He then proceeded to ALWAYS walk slowly up the mound directly in line with the pitching rubber. Once there. Logan leaned over toward his left knee--bent and placed off-center of home plate. In that position, Logan Kensing took the signal from Jesus Flores. Only then, would Our New Number 26 move to the set position to throw any pitch. He didn't look comfortable, but he did throw hard. He and Jesus Flores were clearly not on the same page. Twice they met to go over signs and signals during Kensing's 2/3rd's inning of work.
Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 19 Games this evening with his two run homer in the first. The Longest such streak since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Nick Johnson two more hits tonight and batting a robust .363 (20 for 55) over his past 14 games. More comfortable in the 8th spot, Anderson Hernandez with his 5th double of the season and 5th RBI when he knocked in Flores in the 6th.
The game was delayed in the bottom of the 7th inning when Home Plate Umpire Jim Reynolds was struck on the head and face mask on a fastball warmup toss thrown by The Cardinals' Blaine Boyer. His catcher Jason LaRue did not catch a sailing pitch as Reynolds was crouched behind him taking in the throws. The fast moving pitch hitting Reynold squarely in the head and mask--knocking him to the ground. Trainers from both teams attended to Reynolds. A short time later, he said he was OK and the game resumed.
Tonight was the second of six scheduled Military Appreciation Nights. Our Washington Nationals wore their alternate Blue "DC" uniforms with "Stars & Waving Bars" logo. Armed Forces personnel were honored throughout the evening--not only during the 3rd Inning Welcome Home Salute to Recovering Men & Women at Walter Reed, but also in Ceremonial First Pitches, The National Anthem and God Bless America.
Before the game, we ran into Yetta Myrick from DC AutismParents.org. April 30th was the final day of Autism Awareness Month at Nationals Park. Along with her colleagues, Yetta was meeting and greeting fans at the new Community Booth located on the Main Concourse near The Left Field Gate and The Escalators leading to The Upper Deck.
Abe came charging back from behind to JUST nip George at the tape for his 5th President's Race Victory of 2009. As Sohna and I were walking out of Nationals Park after the game, we ran into Tom Davis--The Entertainment Coordinator of Our Washington Nationals. Knowing we need some bullpen help, we asked Tom whether Teddy was whipping himself into shape for the 9th inning? Tom laughing that he's trying to stretch Teddy out right now. Not sure if Our Lovable Loser can reach the 60'6" necessary to record any strike though.
The 2nd Issue of the 2009 New Inside Pitch was available for the first time this evening. Randomly inserted in the Elijah Dukes Cover Story Program is The WTOP Baseball Card of Adam Dunn--card number 13. There have been a total of 13 cards produced so far. It appears Dunn has replaced Lastings Milledge in the assortment. Also included in every Inside Pitch now is a brand new "Greetings From NatsTown" PostCard.
Finally, The African Queen and I dined at The Red Porch before tonight's game at Nationals Park. We arrived at 5PM and proceeded to spend most of the next two hours enjoying a nice meal and fun with other fans and staff at The Red Porch. We are going to have much more on this topic tomorrow in a separate post. But in a nutshell, the service is fast and friendly. The food very reasonably priced for any ballpark. And the problems we encountered during our first visit seem to have been rectified. Much, much more coming tomorrow, including a rundown of the menu items and the quality of the food offerings.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)