Thursday, June 18, 2009

A True Gem

The laughter was infectious. So were the smiles. The feeling of happiness on the faces of every single player and coach for Our Washington Nationals standing on The Yankee Stadium infield this evening was the capper of one extraordinary night in The Bronx. On the heels of an excellent performance yesterday in New York City and having to wait nearly 5 hours and 30 minutes through a prolonged rain delay this afternoon, DC's Team played a gem of a game, shutting out The New York Yankees.

A whitewash, completely in control. A delayed early evening start at 6:30PM which featured timely hitting, excellent starting pitching and relieving, as well as--without a doubt--the finest glove work seen defensively in one game featuring Our Washington Nationals in some time. There were so many great plays to choose from.

Like Anderson Hernandez sliding to his left in the very first inning to stop a Johnny Damon smash into the hole between first & second and throwing The Yankee Outfielder out at first base.

Hernandez again DIVING, this time to his right while going airborne, to snare a rocket shot off the bat of Robinson Cano in the second inning.

Ryan Zimmerman diving to his left in the bottom of the fourth to rob Cano again on another smash by The Yankees' 2nd Sacker and then getting the force out at second base.

Austin Kearns taking his usual terrific tracks to a smash off the base of the rightfield wall at Yankee Stadium by Nick Swisher. Recovering the baseball, turning and throwing a perfect strike to second base to retire Swisher looking for a double.

Willie Harris with The Defensive Play of This Game in the top of the 7th when, while playing leftfield tonight, raced back to his left on a wicked liner off the bat of Alex Rodriguez only to realize the baseball was heading OVER HIS OTHER SHOULDER. Instead of backtracking, Our Number 22 turns from right to left--WITH HIS BACK TO THE BALL--rotates around and sees the screaming baseball STILL MOVING AWAY. But has the gumption to leap to his left--backhanding his glove as far as he could humanly reach--AND CAUGHT THE BASEBALL SECURELY IN HIS GLOVE. A TREMENDOUS CATCH!! while face planting himself into the ground. Shades of Willie Harris, Vintage 2008, at Shea Stadium and Nationals Park against their New York Rivals--The Mets.

That was one terrific play.

But Our Washington Nationals weren't done flashing their leather.

Moments later, after tonight's starter Craig Stammen tired after 6.1 innings leaving runners on 2nd and 3rd. And Ron Villone had struck out Hideki Matsui for out number two but walked Jorge Posada--Julian Tavarez found himself facing a bases loaded situation with Derek Jeter--Mr. Clutch--pinch hitting at the plate. A dangerous situation solved when The Yankee Captain slammed a hard hit grounder to Cristian Guzman's right. Making a totally reactionary defensive move--"The Guz" dove, trapped the baseball, and still had just enough time to recover and get off a perfect throw to Hernandez standing on 2nd base. The final out of a potential turnaround inning safely secured. Posada sitting sullenly on the bag after sliding--the inning ending out. Anderson smiling profusely as Our Washington Nationals trotted off the field to take their cuts at the plate.

Happy because Our Number 6 knew he and his teammate were ON FIRE this evening defensively!!

And waited until the bottom of the 9th to perform OUR FAVORITE PLAY OF THIS GAME. Mike MacDougal was looking to close this one out for Washington for his second save in as many days. But when he allowed an infield single on a hard hit ball by Cano to Cristian Guzman leading off this final frame--worry began to rise.

But on this night not for long--as just moments later--Nick Swisher hit a another grounder to "The Guz" at short. This time, Our Number 15 fielded the baseball cleanly. And knowing Robinson Cano was charging down from 1st base and Swisher running hard to 1st--Guzman led Hernandez perfectly across the second base bag. Anderson--living in the moment--took Cristian's toss as his right foot stepped on the second base bag then proceeded TO LAUNCH HIMSELF off the bag--into the air--and JUMP TOSSED the baseball to Nick Johnson at first base for one of the prettiest double plays you may EVER SEE!!

Like Michael Jordan in his prime--Anderson Hernandez split his legs out in the air while in full flight!! The Judges scoring in our home had to give him a 10.0 score for showmanship. Boys & Girls that was SWEEEEET!! I am sure EVERYBODY in our neighborhood heard me yell out YEEES!! (because I was pretty loud) And that maneuver was well worth getting excited about.

Because one batter latter, MacDougal got Matsui to hit a routine fly to Willie Harris in left to end this marvelous affair. The beginning of the celebratory good feelings shown by Our Team in Victory. The Handsakes. The Joy. The pleasure of realizing Washington had not only competed but played one fabulous ballgame. Final Score from New Yankee Stadium where for the first time ever--The Bronx Bombers were shutout in their new ballpark--Our Washington Nationals 3 and The New York Yankees ZERO. Curly "W" Number 18 real, honest to goodness, quality baseball.

A True Gem.

Performance not seen on any consistent basis through the first three months of this season. Yes, Rookie Craig Stammen pitched a fine game and deservedly received his first Big League Win. Yes, Our Bullpen of Villone, Tavarez, Joe Beimel and MacDougal did their job--shutting down the Yanks. And yes, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn provided the key hits (8 in all) to give Washington the lead all night long. But, all of those efforts would have been for naught if not for the the defensive wizardry Our Washington Nationals displayed during this 64th game played.

No Question. Our Pitching Was Good. But Our Defense Was Outstanding!!

Our Washington Nationals have not played a better game this year. And not once have they looked so ecstatic at the conclusion. Two consecutive wins, on the road, at Yankees Stadium. Completed By Our Team, that by most accounts, had ZERO CHANCE to win even one time this three game series.

Or so the experts said.

Game Notes & Highlights

Like John Lannan last night, Craig Stammen stuck with his sinking fastball, worked ahead in the count and was totally in control until he tired in the 7th. Leaving having allowed ZERO WALKS. Zero Walks folks--how terribly important while scattering six hits. Striking out just two, Stammen let his fielders help out and was duly rewarded that prized First Major League Win. Congratulations. Well Done.

When new Pitching Coach Steve McCatty came on board, he mentioned how he wanted Our Starters to go deeper into games. They are doing just that. Stammen tonight, Lannan last night, Ross Detwiler & Shairon Martis before them--all going at least six innings. Jordan Zimmermann five. Quality Starts that are saving Our Bullpen from overuse. A very good sign. They are learning.

Ryan Zimmerman had his first multi-hit game in some time. Two doubles and a single while scoring two Washington Runs and driving in the only other score this evening. Guzman also with a three hit night. Adam Dunn with our other two DC hits. Dunn doubled Zimmerman home from second with Washington's first run in the 1st. Wil Nieves walked with the bases loaded in the 4th scoring The Z-Man. And Ryan doubled home "The Guz" in the top of the 5th with Washington's final score of this game.

Yankee Phenom Joba Chamberlain pitched fairly ordinary, if not poorly on the mound today in The Bronx. Too many walks (4) and the inability to throw his hard stuff to the lower hitters in Our Batting Order. Trying to strike everyone out, Chamberlain was done after 100 pitches and just six innings. Like his opposing mound mate this evening--John Stammen--Joba needs to let his fielders help him out more.

The rain kept away about 33,000 Fans. Charlie Slowes & Dave Jageler mentioned on WFED that The P.A. at New Yankee Stadium invited all those still on hand at game start to feel free to come down to the lower bowl and enjoy the game. Charlie & Dave estimated 10,000 to 12,000 actually on hand. A "Friends & Family" Affair in The Bronx. You could hear everyone screaming at the players--as only New Yorkers Can. The Famous Bronx Cheer.

Finally, Yankees Centerfielder Brett Gardner took a very nasty fall in the top of the 8th inning when he leaped for a drive off the bat of Austin Kearns in left centerfield and fell hard--butt first--into the wall. The force smacking the back of his head against the hard surface and crumbling him to the ground. Gardner did catch the baseball, but was later driven off the field in a medical cart-sitting up, not lying down.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Frank Franklin II (AP), Al Bello (Getty Images)

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