Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Big Tease

LATE BREAKING NEWS--Sohna and I were saddened to hear that Dmitri and Delmon Young's Mother--Bonnie--died monday from pancreatic and liver cancer. We offer our condolences to The Young Family for their loss.

Since the very moment Nick Johnson had tripled off the centerfield wall in the bottom of the 9th inning, virtually the entire contingent of those fans remaining at Nationals Park were standing. Watching in disbelief as The Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen was now imploding--in virtually the same manner witnessed by fans of Our Team during the first seven weeks of 2009. Another blown save--another lead lost--but this time by The Bucs. Down early, 5-0, Our Washington Nationals had slowly, methodically plugged away at that deficit. Now, thanks to NJ's three bagger and a subsequent WILD PITCH by Lefthander Sean Burnett--this game was tied.

And the winning run, in the name of Ryan Zimmerman was standing on second base with one out. The powerful Adam Dunn standing at the plate. Already, Our Number 44 had hammered out his 12th Home Run of 2009 earlier and the partisan Nats Crowd was whopping it up--wanting a Curly "W". Wishing to see the ending of a five game losing streak. A turnaround that now found everyone into this game.

Not many on hand in the announced crowd of 18,579 didn't believe victory for Washington was surely at hand.

A top offense was sending their biggest slugger to the plate. But Pittsburgh was not backing down. Burnett would not intentionally walk Dunn. Instead a battle ensued--one in which during each successive pitch--the tension grew.

Called strike one, followed by ball one and then ball two. The hitters pitch now--the 2-1 count--the opportunity for Adam to swing away at something good to hit. And just when you thought Our Washington Nationals could possibly end it all--Burnett fooled Dunn with a fastball for called strike two. The Pirates Reliever had challenged him and Our Number 44 wasn't expecting it. A twist of fate that got even more interesting when Dunn reached a full count taking a slider away for ball three. Neither the pitcher or the hitter were backing down with the game on the line. And when Adam fouled off Sean's 6th pitch of this crucial At-Bat--those watching exhaled in wonder over the excitement building.

This was edge of your seat stuff. Drama built by two teams each looking to hang on. Win now, understanding any failure at this point might cost you the ball game.

As Burnett looked in for the sign for this 7th pitch of this excellent At-Bat, Dunn stood ready, standing tall in the batter's box. Each looking to defeat the other. Finally Burnett set, reared back and threw exactly what Adam WAS NOT LOOKING FOR. Instead of the heater to possibly crush--Sean Burnett struck Dunn out on a slow off-speed pitch. A curveball that Our Number 44's Mighty Bat could not slow down for.

Swinging weakly--the called second out of the bottom of this 9th frame brought sighs of disbelief and concern from Our Fans on hand at Nationals Park. The Park noise muted. Could Washington now fail again in the clutch when only one key hit would bring them victory? One big chance now wasted--but fortunately this game still not over--especially when Josh Willingham walked on five pitches to extend the crucial inning at bit longer.

There was still anticipation and with Elijah Dukes unable to play (and placed on the Disabled List immediately after this game), Our Manager Manny Acta had no choice but to send the left handed hitting Willie Harris to the plate against The Pirates latest reliever--the lefthanded Tom Gorzelanny. No other outfielders remained on the bench for Washington's use and only Josh Bard and Alex Cintron had still yet to play. Remnants of what was left when you play a close game--one man short on the availability list. Going with Our Number 22 to hit was the right decision. But clearly from the Get-Go this latest match up was decidedly in Pittsburgh's Favor. Gorzelanny came out firing strikes--got Willie down early 0-2 in the count--and just played with him from there. You could feel the excitement rushing out of Nationals Park with the prevailing winds. Wasting two pitches first--Tom Gorzelanny finally got Willie Harris to look at called strike three to end this game changing frame.

For the very first time since Nick Johnson had tripled to begin RallyTime!! in the 9th--everyone watching now sat down--stunned over Our Washington Nationals failure to win with the game on the line. Teased that victory was certainly at hand. Beleaguered again over not being able to plate the game winning run.

The wind had now been taken out of Washington's Sails with no one wanting to depend on our bedeviled bullpen to hold this game in check. Continuing Torment which happened again immediately in the 10th when Joe Beimel--pitching in his second inning of work--gave up three Pittsburgh runs--all with two outs to put Our Washington Nationals down for the count. How fitting that Alex Cintron--pinch hitting for Beimel--popped into the final out of this game in the bottom of the 10th and was Designated for Assignment immediately afterward. Gone from our team.

Final Score from Nationals Park where victory was certainly at hand, only to see a power failure at the most inopportune time shut down any chance of a Curly "W"--The Pittsburgh Pirates 8 and Our Washington Nationals 5 in 10 vexing innings. They nearly turned the tables on Pittsburgh. Washington almost harried The Pirates enough to win in the exact same manner in which DC's team has lost so many games in 2009. This Big Tease had EVERYONE UP AND YELLING at Nationals Park. A good sign that many still care even when Our Team has now lost six straight games.

For Nine Full Innings Our Washington Nationals tantalized their fan base. Gave hope when none seemed possible early tonight. And just when you thought all was better--they reverted to form--didn't get the winning run home with the game on the line and then surrendered the victory when their bullpen let this affair get out of hand--again.

Washington left standing with an 11 and 27 record after 38 Games--on pace to lose nearly 110 games right now. That's virtually hard to believe with how good our offense is. But not so if you consider our bullpen and defensive failures.

Game Notes & Highlights

Shairon Martis looked downright uncomfortable in his first inning tonight on the mound. He couldn't find the plate and when he did he had no zip on the ball. Looking frustrated and lost for a bit--Our Number 39 gave up three first frame runs. And later was torched for a two run homer to left off the bat of Andy LaRoche in the top of the 3rd--giving Pittsburgh the early 5-0 advantage. Somehow, Shairon made it through six complete and was not involved in the decision but it was his worst outing since that bad one at Citizens Bank Park on April 27th.

Ron Villone pitched two more solid innings of scoreless relief. In eight innings of work since joining Washington in Los Angeles a few weeks back--Ron has allowed just three hits and two walks--nothing else--nothing. Unlike Joe Beimel, who since coming back from The Disabled List has been anything but effectively good. Maybe that hip flexor injury isn't 100% yet, but whatever is the issue--Our Number 97 is not getting the job done. His 10th inning tonight was typical for our bullpen--allowing the leadoff hitter to get on, setting the table for the opposition and putting a full inning of run around the bases on display when The Pirates scored the game winning three runs off of Joe.

Adam Dunn got Washington on the scoreboard when he took a Jeff Karstens pitch the opposite way over the left field fence. A liner in the bottom of the 4th that slammed against the back bullpen wall where The Pirates Relievers were sitting. Scattering their players and coming back for more in the 6th when back to back to back hits by Willie Harris, Anderson Hernandez and Wil Nieves plated three crucial runs--all with two outs. The key blow a run scoring two out triple slapped down the right field line by Hernandez. A rally that actually got started when Ryan Zimmerman--leading off the frame--bunted for a base hit. Down four at the time, The Z-Man understood that baserunners were more important. Alone, he only represented one possible run--but if he could lead by example and get on base--more good could come--which is exactly what happened when Harris, Hernandez and Nieves all delivered.

Washington also had key opportunities to win in the 7th and 8th. Three walks given up by Pittsburgh Reliever Evan Meek were sandwich around a double play grounder stroked by Nick Johnson in the 7th. And in the 8th--Austin Kearns, pinch hitting for Ron Villone--skied a two out fly ball with Willie Harris on third base--to the leftfield wall for the final out of the inning. If the wind was blowing a little more out--that stroked ball might have gone over the fence for a two run homer.

Both Anderson Hernandez and Wil Nieves are swinging their bats well. Both with two more hits tonight and getting key hits with runners in scoring position. Since Jesus Flores went on the DL, Nieves had batted .363 (12-33) with one double and four rbi. Zimmerman has now reached base via hit, walk or hit by pitch in 37 straight games. Dunn's 12th homer ties him with Albert Pujols for The National League Lead.

Throughout the night, most every time Wil Nieves came to the plate to hit--his Salsa Batting Music was played--which immediately got Radio Broadcasters Charlie Slowes & Dave Jageler up and dancing in their booth high above Nationals Park. Even the sight of "The Jack Of All Things" swaying his hands back and forth in his engineer's perch slightly above Charlie & Dave funny to watch. The African Queen and I just started laughing--eventually getting a few folks sitting around us interested in watching "Dancing With The Stars" playing out every few innings from our vantage point in Section 218. Good stuff.

Immediately after the conclusion of tonight's game--Our Washington Nationals announced that Alex Cintron had been Designated for Assignment, Elijah Dukes was placed on the 15-Day Disabled List and Justin Maxwell and Jason Bergmann have been recalled from AAA Syracuse. Maxwell will immediately be placed in the starting lineup in centerfield. Bergmann will be one of 8 relievers now in our bullpen. Willie Harris will now also be an infield reserve player--if needed there.

This evening was Tee-Shirt Tuesday. Tonight's White Tee emblazoned with a "Weathered Look" Script Washington Logo.

The Pittsburgh Pierogies were back for a second time in two days at Nationals Park during the 4th Inning Presidents Race. Tonight a relay race was attempted. Rushmores Versus Pierogies. George teaming with Tom--took the honors--just beating one of the Pittsburgh Teams.

Of course after the race, I headed over to The Rushmore Picture Station hoping to find the Pierogies there for pictures. But Abe, George, Teddy and Tom said they wouldn't allow The Pittsburgh Racers inside their personal domicile. Too bad--that would have been cool with all eight racers together.

There was this Diehard Pirates Fan sitting to the right of us in Section 217. The Entire Game she mostly stood and NEVER stopped screaming "Let's Go Bucs!!" She was annoying and funny at the same time. At one point, since she wouldn't stop, The Ushers moved her to the last row of Section 217 so not to block others view--which she happily did. But when she continued saying: "Let's Go Bucs!!" nearly every single other person on that side of the first base club level started shouting "Nats" every time this lady said "Let's Go..." Hilarious how everybody tried to drown her out--to no avail. Then when Washington rallied in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game, she disappeared quickly--never to be heard from again. We are not going miss that lady for some time.

Sohna and I got a kick out of the latest Know Your Nats Down On The Farm Segment. Not only was the Q & A with Justin Maxwell and Chris Marrero interesting--but we were immediately pleased to not only be able to HEAR the commentary clearly, but also see subtitles on the HDTV Scoreboard to follow along. This particular change for the better is something that was needed for some time. We are very glad Our Washington Nationals listened and made a great adjustment.

Finally--we were thrilled to see a good friend--Jeannette--win Designated Driver of the Game. Some of you might remember Jennette and her husband Barry. Big Nats Fans and Potomac Nationals Fans. During Spring Training they appeared in a post from Space Coast Stadium were they spent the entire six weeks in Viera--watching practice and games--while working part-time for Our Washington Nationals.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Evan Vucci (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)


Assistant Deputy Adviser to the Undersecretary of NatsTown!!!! said...

"Not many on hand in the announced crowd of 18,579 didn't believe victory for Washington was surely at hand."

Anybody who has spent any time in NatsTown knows that Our Team has a unique way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Any other major league ball club and that would be a true statement, but for a Nats fan, when there is a runner on second in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, the odds of winning are slim to none.

SenatorNat said...

There are some emerging very positive notes to sound following last evening's loss for our Nats, whose slogan may soon be: "They are a small fan-based team, but there are those who love them..." (apologies to Daniel Webster and Dartmouth College.)

First, two very evenly matched small city-styled teams squared off and played error-free ball with hustle and a keen desire to win. Both had young small-salaried starters going 6 innings, giving up virtually the same number of hits, each walking and striking out two. The line: 8-8-0 v. 5-8-0, with game tied after regulation 5-5, about as even as it can be in baseball. So - in this game, where Nats bullpen in regulation was lights out for 3 innings, normalacy reigned.

It would be the little things that would prevent the Nats from finally winning a game, like Cintron and Kearns once more failing as pinch-hitters. Managing matters, but Kearns almost delivered despite his proven inability to hit in the clutch, or to hit.

Fortunately, Cintron finally demoted (ridiculous post-game commentary by Manny that it had nothing to do with his 1-20 PH'ing - that we just needed to add an 8th person to the bullpen); and Justin Maxwell coming up to split time with excellent utility man Willie Harris. along with Jason Bergmann, finally, can only help.

The team's offensive numbers are realtive to 2008 mind-blowing: leading the NL in hits, on-base %, 43 HR's, .280 team average, 6.1 runs per game!! If we were told that this would be the situation back in March, but that the team would be 11-27 at this point, we would not have believed it possible. Two more WP's last night put our totals at some 15 to go with 41 errors and about 30 UER's - that and the almost 6.0 ERA for the pitchers as a group, and astronomical nearly 7.0 for relievers, puts team on track to win fewer games than last year!

Yet, looking at the emergence of Anderson Hernandez, who is close to raising his average to .290 and who looks like a potential leader in the field and enthusiastic fan favorite; the performance of both our number 1 and number 2 catchers, to go with The Natural Nick Johnson's surrealistic return to eclipse his career best thus far; Guz hitting out of his mind; Z-Man realizing all his potential, seemingly, as the ink dries on his five year contract; and Dunn better than expected, coupled with now 4 young starters who could quickly win the hearts and minds of true Nats fans, it seems like we are so close as to taste it.

Are we really only a truly positive savvy manager away from respectability and a platform for longterm success? I foresee Justin Maxwell performing very well up here, adding to Dukes as part of the nucleus of the longterm powerful Nationals in NL East. He seems a winner.

Can Manny get this team turned on to its promise - can he reflect the very best and brightest aspects of this squad? Can he go with the 4 youngsters through 7 innings every time out, despite the game situation, to steady the course, and develop the team's rhythm. Can he stop feeling sorry for himself seemingly? And can he take Bergmann out of the dog house, and put him in for now as the 5th starter, bagging Cabrera. If the bullpen is the singular coefficient drag, then reduce its function - at least players would know the deal going into the game. You could actually reduce the number of relievers, adding a starter, in contrarian fashion, with a change in philosophy.

Cintron is gone: Cabrera is a foregone conclusion, which delay only torments loyal fans further. When Florio back, another flop, Bard goes, too, thank goodness. Lets Go Nats.

Tim Foli, come on up, and grow up with the Nationals future, at their helm.

Trust in small-marketness. All fresh.

SenatorNat said...

Postcript:Reading may be fundamental, Manny, but managing isn't always by the book, and this team's peculiar dichotomy is demanding some innovation - if not, Clifford may be Going to Washington, just as Manny is Departing. He is certainly a very decent guy, but he needs to rise to an interesting challenge presented here, rather than merely waiting it out. Should team lose 30 before winning 15, clock should start ticking...Go For It, Manny.

Trust in Eddie Jordan's ability to adjust to the abject weakness of his teams. And young managers.

Anonymous said...

3 losses to the Pirates! The gawd-awful, haven't had a winning season in 16 years Buccos!?!

0-7 on the homestand, with 0-11 a near certainty?

Can we just wake up and start over?

This is a nightmare. I keep thinking it's rock-bottom, then the Nats sink ever lower.

I fear we may be seeing the worst team in major league baseball history. It makes one wonder if baseball in DC is, somehow, forever doomed to dismal, total failure.

Still, I'm insane and inane, I'll never stop rooting for them as long as they are in DC, but I'm really frightened it may not be much longer.