Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Zero's started to mount from the very first pitch of this game. For seven consecutive innings a pitching match up not seen at Nationals Park was in the works. Two young and talented starters throwing shutout ball. One, the lefty from Long Island, New York, more the command and control pitcher. His opponent, from Willemstad, Netherlands Antilles, the righthanded possessor of challenging speed and hard breaking stuff. Preferred Weapons of a 24-Year Old American and a 23-Year Old Dutchman. This evening on South Capitol Street, both doing it their way and each receiving the same result--until their replacements decided this game.
Inning after inning passed this Earth Day and John Lannan and Jair Jurrjens planted zero after zero up on the scoreboard. Locked up in a pitchers duel, these saavy young hurlers displayed a renewable resource of their very own--their talented throwing arms. Quickly, this shaped up to be one of those well thrown affairs that baseball purists can appreciate--old fashion hardball. Step to the plate, take your cuts, and mostly, then sit down. Throughout this cold and chilly night, the batters for both Our Washington Nationals and The Atlanta Braves had their shots to score. But every time a runner made their way into scoring position, either Lannan or Jurrjens found the right seed and harvested another out in the record books.
Recharging their energy each frame, John and Jair threw like 10-Year Veterans. Neither looked green tonight. Yet each is coming off their 2008 Rookie Campaigns. This was good stuff and enjoyable to watch. At a time that so many hurlers in the game feel throwing five innings and giving up three runs--acceptable, Lannan and Jurrjens certainly did not tonight. Proudly, each fought their way through this scoreless affair. And only the very fact that Our Manager Manny Acta sent Austin Kearns to the plate to bat for Lannan in the bottom of the 7th with Josh Willingham standing on third base--the only reason Our Number 31 was taken out of this game so soon. 95 Pitches into his night, John was still in control and The Brav-Os weren't hitting a lick off Lannan. But Washington needed a run--desperately. John was pinch hit for and, of course, Washington failed for score.
Because unfortunately for DC's Team, Jurrjens was even more so impressive and nearly made it through the 8th inning--leaving with his shutout in hand after Power Lefty Mike Gonzalez replaced him, Fresh replenishment giving Gonzalez the duty to retire The Powerful Bat of Adam Dunn back to the bench. With Ryan Zimmerman standing on first base, Gonzalez fanned Dunn looking to end Washington's last, and ultimately, final threat in this affair.
On and on they played, fine defense, great pitching and no scoring. At least until Garrett Mock began to lose control in his second inning of his relief stint. A predicament set up when Mock snared a hard grounder right back to the box in the top of the 9th off the bat of Casey Kotchman. A sure inning ending double play with Matt Diaz running to second base. Garrett turned and threw to Our Shortstop for this evening, Alex Cintron. With Diaz barreling down on him at the bag, Cintron took the toss from Mock while cutting across the base--recording the out--then proceeded to throw his relay well off the bag. Kotchman would have been out by 10 feet. But Cintron winged the ball, fearing Diaz was going to hit him and the Atlanta First Baseman was safe at the bag on a fielder's choice.
The turning point of this game had finally arrived.
After 8 innings of solid baseball, a simple errant throw would change everything. Pounding the strike zone for 1.2 innings, Garrett Mock all of sudden got soft with a runner on first with two outs and didn't challenge The Braves' Centerfielder Jordan Schafer. A resultant frustrating full count walk putting Kotchman in scoring position. A problem made worse when Our Manager Manny Acta made the right decision to send Mike Hinckley to the mound to force Atlanta's Manager Bobby Cox to waste lefthanded pinch hitter Greg Norton for the righthanded swinging Martin Prado. A move that backfired--badly.
As crisp and well played the pitching had been from both starters this evening, Mike Hinckley would perform just the opposite. Even while warming up on the mound once summoned, Hinckley tossed three wild pitches past his batterymate Jesus Flores while Home Plate Umpire Brian O'Nora stared in almost disbelief. The harbinger of things to come when Our Number 58 looked downright uncomfortable and afraid to throw his best stuff when the game restarted. Unable to find the plate, Hinckley got no help from the home plate umpire. And when he repeatedly threw pitch after pitch off the plate or in the dirt, The Atlanta Braves were GIFTED the eventual winning run--Free Of Charge. Martin Prado walking on seven pitches to load the bases. Kelly Johnson on five to win this game.
On Earth Day, The Atlanta Braves Omar Infante (running for Kotchman) expended no energy to score the only run of this game.
After watching a sparkling performance of command and control by Our Starter John Lannan, those remaining among the announced crowd of 15,567 witnessed a total lack of composure by Mike Hinckley. Called on to record ONE FINAL OUT. He could not do so. He could not throw strikes. He could not plant that last seed across the plate. His renewable resource, his talented arm had failed him. On "Get Your Green On" Night, Mike Hinckley looked pretty green himself.
And Our Washington Nationals would not win this game.
The always tough Rafael Soriano using the natural heat from his high powered right throwing arm to close this one out for The Atlanta Braves.
Final score from Nationals Park were you can't win if you don't score any runs--The Atlanta Braves 1 and Our Washington Nationals Zero. Loss Number 11 of 2009 given away when Our Bullpen couldn't throw a baseball over the plate, when the game counted the most. Sadly, a defeat that took away from an excellent performance from the southpaw throwing arm of John Lannan. Pitching with poise and confidence, Our Number 31 battled his way through a terrific match up. Only to see his counterpart throw equally as well. Jair Jurrjens--He's pretty good too.
If Earth Day is suppose to make one reflect on what's important about the natural environment we all live in daily, then John Lannan proved tonight he's one renewable energy source Our Washington Nationals should cherish for years to come.
Game Notes & Highlights
Seven innings of shutout ball thrown by Lannan. While giving up five hits and two walks, he lowered his ERA down to 4.43. Jurrjens allowing 6 hits and 2 walks during his 7.2 innings of work. Neither strikeout pitchers, a combined six between them. Lannan and Jurrjens fully dependent on their fielders behind them.
Defensive work which there was plenty to recall tonight. In the top of the 8th, Atlanta's Yunel Escobar sharply grounded a one hopper directly to the left of Ryan Zimmerman. Reacting only to the play developing in front of him, Our Number 11 quickly moved in, slightly to his left, only to see the baseball rapidly rise just to the side of his left ear. With his usual catlike reflexes, Ryan moved his fielding glove to the side of his face, while still charging in and easily threw out Escobar at first base. A defensive gem that received a nice ovation from the crowd, but was bettered thanks to Elijah Dukes.
With Two Outs in the top of the 7th, Atlanta Leadoff Hitter Kelly Johnson lofted a soft dropping looper into short centerfield. Running hard from the crack of the bat, Dukes charged in quickly. And realizing the baseball still was farther from his reach, slid at the last second, feet first, but still had the wherewithal to reach with his left hand, his glove hand, across his body, turn his glove's pocket sky upward and JUST SNARE the baseball a good few inches before it hit the ground. This was a tremendous defensive effort. Athletic ability, baseball skill and excellent timing allowed Elijah Dukes to make The Defensive Play Of This Game. A sweet one that resulted in a standing ovation from the home faithful. Really nice play.
Zimmerman and Josh Willingham both doubled tonight. Nick Johnson had two singles among Washington's six hits. Continuing a trend, Washington had Zimmerman on second base with a double and no outs in the 4th--didn't score. Runners on first and second, one out--didn't score--when Alex Cintron hit into a double play in the 5th. Willingham on second with his double in the 7th, no outs. No score. Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens made the right pitch every single time he was in trouble.
This was the very first game all season that Adam Dunn had not reached base. Heading into the game with a .502 On Base Percentage, Our Number 44 neither stroked a hit or walked against Atlanta's pitching.
When Kearns pinch hit for Lannan with Willingham on third base in the bottom of the 7th, Austin showed no patience and swung at Jurrjens very first offering. A changeup he believed was a fastball. A resultant popup to end the short lived rally.
Cintron, filling in for the slumping Alberto Gonzalez, who was filling in for the injured Cristian Guzman--did not help tonight. A weak hitter, it was surprising to see Alex batting leadoff. But then again, Manny really didn't have anyone else available for the role. Willie Harris also still on the DL. Everybody else in our lineup slowfooted, except for maybe Dukes and Zimmerman. Cintron's days numbered once everyone comes back healthy. Harris played in a rehab game yesterday for Syracuse. Anderson Hernandez was given the night off.
Ronnie Belliard and John Lannan both executed nice bunts. Mentioned only because that is a skill Our Washington Nationals have routinely been poor at since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Adding the fact that Jordan Zimmermann executed a nice bunt himself during his first game on Monday night and things are looking up in the sacrifice department for Washington.
Funny moment in tonight's game. Julian Tavarez fired a pitch to Yunel Escobar in the top of the 9th. The hard swinging Atlanta Shortstop fouled the ball off directly in front of Jesus Flores and Home Plate Umpire O'Nora. On the backswing, Escobar perfectly lined the bouncing ball into Washington's home dugout on the fly. For a good 30 seconds, Umpire O'Nora kept looking around trying to find the ball. I don't think Flores even realized what had happened. Like two men lost, they finally were told what happened by someone in Washington's Dugout. Funny.
Teddy came barreling out of the centerfield gate during tonight's 4th inning Presidents Race. Leading all the way to the turn at the rightfield corner, Teddy then stopped to throw what appeared to be Green Curly "W" Baseball Caps to the crowd. Distracted once again, Abe took advantage, passed Teddy and George to take the checkered flag.
The Green Curly "W" Caps were apart of tonight's Earth Day 2009 Promotion at Nationals Park. These Green Caps the same ones given out last September during the "Halfway to St. Patricks Day" Promotion. Services members honored after the third inning of each home game were donning the caps during their salute. Throughout the evening, Get Your Green On messages were displayed on the HDTV Scoreboard concerning recycling and renewable resources.
As it turned out, honoring Earth Day, The African Queen and I wore the same Green Curly "W" Caps to the ballpark for tonight's game.
PS--In one of those freak incidents that occur in baseball. Josh Willingham was nailed while standing in the on deck circle waiting to hit--by a baseball fouled off the bat of Elijah Dukes in the 9th inning. A hard hit liner that struck him in the left leg. That had to hurt. Williingam's going to have a nice bruise. He did eventually bat and flied out to left, but you had to wonder whether he was more seriously hurt.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Alex Brandon (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)