Saturday, May 09, 2009
Arizona's Chad Tracy was down to his last strike. His Diamondbacks were down to their last out. "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game--The Next Generation" was on the mound. Another emergency was at hand. Washington was up one, 2-1. But Arizona had runners on 2nd and 3rd. No one watching would have expected anything less. For nearly nine full innings, this perilous journey had played out between Our Washington Nationals and The Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. One of those thrill a minute games that tends to take on a life of its own. Just when you think it COULD NOT GET BETTER. Somehow, someway--it does!!
And nothing like the final three inings played this evening--tremendous stuff.
Hazards and roadblocks during every frame. Great Defensive Plays, Key Pitches, Two Mammoth Home Runs by Washington. And not one inning passing without a Diamondback reaching base. A treacherous path chosen by Washington's Pitchers tonight. No Diamondback hitter miraculously scored until Kip Wells allowed a two out RBI double to Miguel Montero in the 9th. Wells' final pitch before Our Number 38 was called on by Our Manager Manny Acta to hopefully record the much needed save.
But Hanrahan was looking shaky-again. Having already bounced three sliders in the dirt, well before home plate to Tracy--not many in the announced crowd of 27.233 did not believe Arizona was finally going to strike. Bite hard into an already snake bitten reliever fighting his own personal poisons. The confidence factor lacking so far in Hanrahan's worrisome 2009 start.
Washington's Emergency 9th Inning Catcher, Wil Nieves (who replaced a beaten and bruised Jesus Flores), stood halfway between home plate and the mound--yelling words of encouragement to Hanrahan 30 feet away. With the count now full, first base open, and the slap hitting Augie Ojeda coming to the plate if Tracy reached base--Nieves wanted Joel to bear down and get The D-Backs Slugger right now.
No time to waste any more pitches. Time to find the winning elixir. The remedy for all that has pained Hanrahan during these first six weeks of 2009.
Yet there could not have been ANYONE watching who believed Joel Hanrahan would throw anything but heat--his 95 MPH Fastball. Joel had no command of his slider so far. Certainly, no one in the crowd ROARING in the desert thought otherwise, and neither did Tracy standing ready in the lefthanded batters box, waiting to whack this one pitch.
All evening long, surprise after surprise, unexpected moments after another. And the next 10 seconds to come fittingly ended this game in the exact same astonishing fashion. If you can't control your slider and everyone on hand is expecting you to throw your fastball--the only pitch they know you can throw over the plate. What do you do?
Well, to my absolute amazement--and probably just about everyone else watching--when Joel Hanrahan went right back to his 55 Foot slider that bounced in front of the plate--such a gutsy toss with the game tying run on third--you had to marvel at the pitch. The accompanying screams of joy (which The African Queen can attest to) let out by me over watching Tracy lunge at that pitch and strikeout to end this incredible game--so loud--Sohna was sure everybody living within our entire block in Alexandria, Virginia--must have heard me.
Maybe even Charlie & Dave 3000 Miles away in Phoenix, because Charlie Slowes was bellowing himself on WFED in wonder over that final pitch: "AND HE'S STRUCK HIM OUT!! AND THE GAME IS OVER!! Dave Jageler commenting: "I can't believe he threw that pitch."
No one did.
For the final out of this game, Joel Hanrahan had found the winning antidote. Don't change a thing, spoon feed the batter with exactly what he wasn't expecting. The same slop he was throwing before. A Perfect Setup and the resultant celebration to come on the field by Our Washington Nationals, to be cherished, not just for that 27th Out, but for just about every single recorded out that came before it.
This affair was special. Distinctive because Washington fought demons in every inning. Nine walks allowed to Arizona Batters, Two Errors by Dr. Stone Glove at First Base. Adam Dunn was charged with only two miscues giving Nick Johnson a rest tonight. A less lenient official scorer would have given Adam three--possibly four. Costly mistakes where Washington was able to fight back and get out of each subsequent inning.
None better than the bottom of the 7th inning. Washington only held a slim 1-0 lead (on a Launched Home Run Off The Powerful Bat of Dunn--It is why Adam is in the lineup everyday) and The D-Backs had the bases loaded now with one out. Former Washington Nationals Farmhard, Josh Whitesell, was at the plate--batting lefthanded. Lefty reliever Ron Villone had just replaced the struggling Garrett Mock. Whitesell would RIP a liner to right JUST in front of the hard charging Austin Kearns. Felipe Lopez, on third base for The Snakes, held up momentarily to see if "Bluegrass" would catch the baseball. When Kearns scooped the baseball off the grass, FLop took off for home--looking to score and dove head first into home plate. Only to witness Home Plate Umpire Paul Emmel give one of best and most Emphatic Out Calls In Some Time. Austin had UNFURLED a one hopper--maybe three feet up the first base line of home. Jesus Flores, still with his catcher's mask on, played like a first baseman. Knowing the force play was in effect, Jesus stretched as far as his bulky body would take him, extending his glove hand, his left hand, to catch Our Number 25's hard throw--WHILE STILL KEEPING HIS HIND FOOD ON THE PLATE--for the recorded out.
The very sight of Ron Villone jumping up and down near home plate celebrating what he had just witnessed--Precious. Jesus Flores fist pumping his right arm in the air over the out--Delightful. And finally watching Austin Kearns, who had just help make The Defensive Play Of The Year--actually laughing along with Elijah Dukes standing in right field over what he had just accomplished--PRICELESS.
A GEM that will be remembered for some time.
Yet in the very next inning--Ryan Zimmerman saved the day again. This time Joe Beimel was in trouble. Arizona's Chris Snyder on third, Ryan Roberts on second with a double. Beimel had retired former Nat Josh Wilson for the second out of the frame. Washington was now up 2-0 thanks to Zimmerman's 27 Game Hit Streak Extending Homer to dead center at Chase Field in the top of the 8th. But now, in the bottom half, Our Number 97 was in a serious bind. The game changing moment that certainly seemed at hand when The Snakes Chris Young hammered a hard hit grounder in the hole between shortstop and third base, a sure game tying rbi single. The actual final incredibly recorded out of the frame, when The Z-Man dove to his left, parallel to the ground--getting some air time flight--and snaring the baseball in the webbing of his glove. A Gold Glove Play by the Best Third Baseman in the game going side to side defensively. Once again, Our Number 11's catlike reflexes--talent which can't be taught--was on display again. Ryan Zimmerman--quickly getting to his feet and throwing out Young at first base to end another Arizona threat.
Yeah, it was that type of night.
Like twice this evening--Washington turned two double plays to end D-Back Threats in the 3rd and 4th innings. For six innings, Washington Starter John Lannan had to come up with key pitches to get himself out of trouble every frame--never allowing a single run. All night long this difficult march to victory played out. Never was the odyssey easy. Always, Our Washington Nationals took the more difficult road. Predicaments that made this Perilous Journey not just The Best Game Of 2009 so far, but just as exciting as most every other game played in the past five years since baseball returned to Washington.
If this one was a playoff game--this May 9th, 2009 affair would be remembered FOREVER.
It was really that thrilling--edge of your seat stuff.
Final Score from Chase Field where there was NEVER a dull moment tonight. Our Washington Nationals Two and The Arizona Diamondbacks One in just a GREAT BALL GAME. For all its flaws, miscues, huge home runs, key pitches and two of the finest defensive plays you may ever witness--this one really had it all. Curly "W" number 10 was Washington's third victory in a row, winners of five out of their last six.
The adventure continuing forward. Tonight's plot twisted voyage another sign of a maturing team that understands better it's capabilities. The willingness to improve and ultimately consistently beat their foes. What a different ballclub materializing now from the first two weeks of the 2009 season. Too bad, we can't start the season over now.
Game Notes & Highlights
Quite the performance by John Lannan tonight. When you walk six and allow three hits in six innings, you don't usually get a win or walk off the mound with a shutout in hand. Tonight Our Number 31 was able to make his best pitches when he was most in trouble. A strikeout here or an inning ending double play grounder there. John Lannan deserved his second win of 2009, because when the game was on the line, and he was pitching--Lannan was at his best. When Ronnie Belliard, Cristian Guzman and Adam Dunn combined for their second double play of the night to end the bottom of the 4th, the sight of John walking to the dugout, exhaling a big breath in thanks--was really telling. The harbinger of the difficult journey to victory this night would be. A wandering course that played out all night long.
Dunn's homer in the top of the second off Doug Davis actually hit the lower part of the scoreboard in Centerfield at Chase Field. The blast originally only recorded as going 400 or so feet, until Dave Jageler went to the official record keeper in Phoenix to tell him how far that home run went. Television replays missed the ball hitting the scoreboard but The Boys Of Summer knew exactly what happened.
Which of course doesn't explain Adam Dunn's difficult night in the field playing first base. If you watched this game tonight, there is no way ANYONE would want to see Nick Johnson traded and gone from Our Lineup anytime soon. There is no comparison to these two's abilities defensively. Adam Dunn really could have been awarded three errors tonight. And would have been given four if FLop had simply ran out a routine grounder to shortstop. A lazy effort jog to first that found Dunn dropping the ball delivered right to his glove by Guzman. Only to see Adam have just enough time to pick up the ball--before Felipe Lopez reached the bag. Charlie Slowes gave it to FLop something awful for not running out the play. The lack of concentration FLop again showed later defensively, when he failed to cover second base with the slow moving Dunn running his way--believing Mark Reynolds fielding error at third would make for no play at second. Lopez was wrong once again for giving up too soon.
Something Ryan Zimmerman never does. With his hitting streak on the line and down to his final At-Bat, Zimmy unloaded on the very first pitch he saw in the top of the 8th thrown by Juan Gutierrez and deposited the baseball over the centerfield wall into the bleachers at Chase Field. The eventual game winning score, Ryan's 6th Homer of 2009 that extended his Nationals Record Streak to 27 Consecutive Games.
Not many hits tonight by Washington--just five--but enough to win. Journeyman and soft tossing lefty Doug Davis had our batters off balance all night--most everyone lunging at his off-speed stuff in the dirt.
Elijah Dukes got picked off first base again tonight. The third time in the past two weeks. This time by Arizona lefthander Davis. Dukes needs to pay more attention on the basepaths.
"The Guz" nearly cost Washington the 9th inning as well, when he couldn't get the possible game ending double play grounder out of his glove to flip to Ronnie Belliard. Eric Byrnes sent the tailor made dp ball right at Cristian Guzman, but while attempting to scoop the baseball out of his fielder's mitt, the ball wouldn't budge. The subsequent late toss to Belliard, extended the inning and eventually led to Joel Hanrahan's theatrics.
And finally--Jesus Flores took a beating tonight. Foul balls off his shoulders, bouncing balls in the dirt blocked. Obviously hurting, Manny finally took Jesus out with one out and two Arizona runners on base in the 9th--figuring Flores would not be able to throw anyone out with his bruised right shoulder. Hopefully, Our Number 3 will be fine, although expect Wil Nieves to start Sunday--day game after night game.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Matt York (AP)