Thursday, May 21, 2009
Piecing The Puzzle Together
Swing And A Miss!! And He Struck Him Out!! And The Game Is Over!!
Joel Hanrahan had just shut the door on The Pittsburgh Pirates--ending a seven game winless streak. Throwing mostly fastballs, pitching from ahead--not from behind. Maybe Our Number 38 is finally getting the BIG picture--IF YOU ARE GOING TO GET BEAT--you better get beat with your best stuff.
And those left among the 17,816 faithful at Nationals Park were enjoying the moment. In fact, when Hanrahan struck out Delwyn Young to end this game--Asst. GM Mike Rizzo--standing about 20 feet away from us--softly clinched his fist "Yes!" That's what EVERYBODY has wanted to see from Our Closer all year long. A reliever not afraid to challenge opposing hitters.
What a revelation for Joel--hopefully realizing he can command an inning--if only he trusts his stuff.
Major League ability which Rookie Pitcher Craig Stammen showed this evening in his Big League Debut at Nationals Park. Replacing Daniel Cabrera in Our Starting Rotation and wearing Jersey Number 35, the big righthander mowed through The Pirates over the first few innings of play. Perfect in fact through four complete. And even after being touched for a double off the bat of Adam LaRoche--who eventually scored Pittsburgh's first run in the 5th--Stammen had only faced one hitter above the minimum after six innings and was cruising with a 3-1 lead.
"We taught him a Two-Seam Fastball over the winter," said Mike Rizzo in a brief conversation this evening. "It's been the big difference in his rise to The Big Leagues. Previously, he was more a Fly Out to Ground Out Pitcher. That has all now changed."
You like the ground ball pitchers don't you? (SBF)
"Oh yes!! I started that way with Brandon Webb in Arizona," replied Rizzo. "I believe in it and I am not stopping now."
Nor should he.
What was really thrilling to watch and understand tonight is that Our Washington Nationals currently have an entirely Home Grown Starting Rotation. John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Shairon Martis, Ross Detwiler and now Craig Stammen. All young, none above 25 years old, maybe not a tremendous amount of experience--but talented enough to possibly let Washington ride them out over the course of this long season. Fresh Hurlers, hungry to succeed. Not castoffs from other teams--filling out our rotation.
"That's the way it should be," concluded Rizzo. "I like that."
So do I.
It really didn't matter that Craig Stammen eventually faltered in the 7th when Adam LaRoche flat out HAMMERED one of those majestic home runs to the upper reaches of Section 239--near the Scoreboard Walk in right field. A Home Run that was so long gone that Adam Dunn playing right field never moved his feet--only looked up as the baseball sailed well above his head and over the wall. Nor that Stammen would subsequently leave the game a few batters later having lost the lead--now down 4-3. What was important was that This Rookie made a statement. Craig Stammen worked fast, threw strikes and he let his fielders help him out. Only three strikeouts, but 11 ground ball outs of the 16 he was ultimately responsible for.
When Our New Number 35 walked off the field to the home dugout with one out in the top of the 7th inning--he received a well deserved standing ovation. Appreciation for giving his all, battling for six solid frames--giving a performance worthy of another chance to start. Stammen wasn't involved in the final decision--but he has now entered himself into the equation as a possible building block in the near term future of Our Washington Nationals.
A surprise scenario that not even Washington's Baseball Operations was probably seriously considering heading into Spring Training 2009. Craig Stammen had listened to his coaches, re-adjusted his pitching arsenal and has come out as a possible integral part of the puzzle for Our Starting Rotation.
A Potential Winner, which Our Washington Nationals became late this evening when their ever potent offense re-ignited after two off-games. Down by one entering the bottom of the 8th--the top of DC's Lineup decided enough was enough. "The Guz", Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn stroking back to back to back to back singles off The Pirates' Tom Gorzelanny. Four consecutive base hits with one out that over took Pittsburgh's one run lead and put Washington back in front 5-4 and sent Washington's Faithful watching intently from the stands into a frenzy. Cristian Guzman scoring the tying run on The Z-Man's RBI single and Dunn knocking in the go ahead score in NJ on a clean single to centerfield. The first come from behind in their last At-Bat win in the makings of 2009-- if Joel Hanrahan could simply close this one out.
Which Our Number 38 accomplished in the 9th to the great relief of probably every single person with a Washington rooting interest in sight.
"They needed that," said WTOP's Craig Heist speaking to The African Queen after the game. "I needed it more," replied Sohna. Yeah, and so did Our Fans.
Final Score from Nationals Park on the most beautiful weather night of the year so far--balmy and 80 degrees at game time. Our Washington Nationals 5 and The Pittsburgh Pirates 4. Curly "W" Number 12 an exercise in straightening out a struggling team. Lining up the more correct pieces to the jigsaw puzzle and maybe finding out those square pieces--never perfect in the first place--don't fit into that round hole after all. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! highlighting an aggressive rookie pitcher named Craig Stammen, who tested fresh water and wasn't afraid to get his feet wet. A far cry from the many frustrating outings performed by Daniel Cabrera over the first seven weeks of 2009.
And on the very night Our Potent Offense fought back again to take the lead--this time Our Closer Of The Moment--Joel Hanrahan--fought off his own puzzling thoughts. Overcame his nemesis--himself--and finished an enlightening and enjoyable come from behind victory over The Buccos.
How refreshing to walk out of Nationals Park with a victory in the books after seven straight losses and having a pitching staff, that at least for one night--looked improved, fresh and worth seeing again.
Game Notes & Highlights
Stammen's numbers--6.1 innings pitched, four hits--including one long home run allowed--one walk and four earned runs. His first pitch a strike. And Craig needs to thank Mr. Enthusiasm who threw a solid 1.2 innings himself. Called on to relieve Stammen in the 7th--Julian Tavarez walked his very first batter faced--Pittsburgh's Jason Jaramillo--but was lights out the rest of the way--retiring the last five Pirate Hitters and walking away with his first victory of 2009 when Washington rallied in the bottom of the 8th to win.
Joel Hanrahan's 19 Pitch 9th Inning included only 2 Sliders--everything else fastballs. He wasn't messing around tonight and Our Number 38 picked up his deserved 4th Save for a job well done. If only Joel could be this consistent more often. Of course when every hitter in the game realizes he's throwing all heat--Hanrahan better improve that slider--and not grip it so hard as to have no feel. The control necessary to be a good closer.
Starting at catcher tonight--Josh Bard was a contributor at the plate. Knocking home Josh Willingham twice with a ground out RBI in the 2nd inning and a single up the middle in the 4th. Two of the first three runs plated by Washington. Anderson Hernandez would get Willie Harris home on a sacrifice fly--also in the second inning--for Washington's second score. Hernandez would leave the game before the start of the 5th inning when he sprained his little finger on his right hand. Listed as Day-To-Day, Ronnie Belliard replaced him.
Nick Johnson two more hits tonight now batting .338. "The Guz" still tearing it up at .373. Zimmy close behind at .353. Ryan extending his consecutive games reaching base via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch streak to 39 with his 8th inning rbi single. We've stated this before, but we love the batting lineup--very competitive--with just about any team in The National League.
This evening's come from behind victory was Washington's first in their last At-Bat since September 7, 2008 at Atlanta.
The Pittsburgh Pirate Racing Pierogies ran a real race against Our Racing Presidents tonight at Nationals Park during the 4th inning intermission. Maybe it's their size in comparison to Our Rushmores, but one of the pierogies actually won!! Really? In Our Very Own Park? I don't think anybody expected that result. In fact when the race ended--there was silence over the outcome. Stunning--might be the correct word. Well, The Orioles Bird better not be winning anything when Baltimore and their fans invade Nationals Park this coming weekend.
Tonight Sohna and I were treated to the company of Troy--original Section 320 Member from RFK Stadium--whom we haven't seen all season. Celebrating the occasion in Presidents Club--we all had a very enjoyable time catching up.
At The Nats Bar in The Stars & Stripes Club--Maker's Mark Whiskey was on hand giving out free samples. But even better was their trademark waxing of miniature Curly "W" Baseball Bats and Authentic Major League Baseball Batting Practice Balls. Right in front of anyone wanting--The Maker's Mark representative dipped bats and balls into the 400 Degree Nearby Hot Bin to seal the red wax on the memorabilia. Great Idea and played well off our visit two years back with Frank Howard at the Pearson Wines Maker's Mark Appearance on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, DC.
By the time you read this on Friday morning, May 22--The Team Photographer of Our Washington Nationals--Mitchell Layton will be in surgery. On Wednesday Night, while shooting pictures from the photographer's well in the Visitor's Dugout near home plate--Mitchell was slammed by a baseball off the bat of Pirates' Pitcher Paul Maholm. The impact breaking his fingers on his right hand. Like a trooper he is, Mitchell was at the park tonight still doing his job. Good Luck Mitchell!!
And finally, we had heard this news the other day, but this evening went over to check out it's authenticity before the game. The Walter Johnson Statue in Centerfield Plaza does have a major crack in its base. Located just under Johnson's left foot on the pedestal and carrying all the way over to the left front edge. It's pretty major and surprising for a piece of artwork just two months old.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Manuel Balce (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved