Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Cat & Mouse Game
As Nyjer Morgan began to dust the dirt off his uniform for the third time in less than 90 seconds, he picked up a hand full of infield clay and tossed it back toward San Diego Padres Reliever Greg Burke. The announcement stating The Cat & Mouse Game had officially begun in the bottom of the 10th inning at Nationals Park. Morgan knew he was getting into Burke's head--forcing San Diego to consider his presence at first base a threat.
A fear few opponents were confronted with while playing Our Washington Nationals in the past.
Electrifying at times since his arrival from The Pittsburgh Pirates last month, Morgan as been a menace with his glove in the field; his bat at the plate and, especially, each and every time Our New Number 1 reaches base safely. Nyjer is the game changer that has transformed Washington's Lineup. A pest on the base paths that needs to be watched--closely. His God Given personal speed forcing each and every opposing pitcher to respect him and his new team as well.
Nyjer Morgan has provided Our Washington Nationals new life with a skills set missing badly from our everyday lineup. This Sunday afternoon, Morgan displayed all his newly acquired importance--by simply bothering the heck out of Greg Burke of The San Diego Padres.
Resetting the scene.
Already this sunny afternoon, John Lannan had pitched eight wonderful innings of baseball for DC's Team, allowing just one run and leaving with a slim 2-1 lead after The Friar's 2nd Baseman Luis Rodriguez muffed a routine relay throw from his shortstop Everth Cabrera in the bottom of the 8th. A dropped toss on a sure inning ending double play ball hit by Nick Johnson--that gave Washington new life--and the unexpected advantage when Adam Dunn followed moments later with a single up the middle scoring Willie Harris with the go ahead run off Luke Gregerson.
Fortuitous joy turned to sorrow moments later when--with that Curly "W" so close at hand--Washington stunningly lost that lead when San Diego's Kyle Blank slammed out one of the deepest home runs yet hit down the left field line with two outs in the top of the 9th on South Capitol Street--on a first pitch fastball served up by Our Closer--Mike MacDougal. The game tying score eventually sending this affair into extra frames depressing those in the announced crowd of 20,747 standing, clapping and cheering for victory--lost--if only momentarily.
Which brings us back to the bottom of the 10th frame.
Scratched from today's starting lineup after tweaking a hamstring last night/early this morning during the 3 hour 11 minute rain delay and eventual 13-1 win over The Padres, Nyjer Morgan was a late inning pinch hitter for Lannan and subsequent defensive replacement in centerfield. Extra duty now called on in extra frames. And not looking injured at all--Our Number 1 laid down a beautiful leadoff bunt down the 3rd base line that San Diego's 3rd Baseman--Kevin Kouzmanoff--had no play on. Running hard all the way, Morgan instilled some fear into The Padres reliever now on the mound. Greg Burke didn't know what to do about Nyjer's presence. For another pest--Willie Harris--was standing at the plate to follow. Morgan can fly, Harris is a good contact hitter. Everyone realizing--if Morgan steals second--this game may well have been all but over.
Knowing this, Burke threw over to first to send Nyjer back--trying to keep him close. And on each of the subsequently four pick off tosses Greg threw to Adrian Gonzalez--Morgan inched a little farther, and farther, off the base while deking he was going to run. Like Wile. E. Coyote against The Road Runner--Burke had no chance. Just like Tom against Jerry.
After The Cat & Mouse Games at 1st base--Willie Harris laid down another beautiful bunt--this one of the sacrifice kind that sent Morgan on his merry way to 2nd base and getting the home crowd up on their feet with thunderous applause. Washington had moved a runner into scoring position by playing small ball--could they now manufacture the game winning run?
Nick Johnson was not given that opportunity to be a hero. The Padres intentionally walked him to set up the double play and face Ryan Zimmerman. But this was not to be Our Number 11's day either. The Z-Man flied out to centerfield--bringing up one of the unlikeliest leading men of them all.
Austin Kearns has struggled mightily since late April--having driven in just one run since May 15th. Buried on the bench as Josh Willingham has emerged the starer, Our Number 25 was only in this game as a defensive replacement in the 9th when Washington blew the lead with two outs on Kyle Blanks home run. Now--Austin found himself at the plate--with the game on the line and the very speedy Nyjer Morgan standing on second.
Still concerned that Our Number 1 was going to beat him, Greg Burke continued to look back over his shoulder--glancing to see if Nyjer would take off for 3rd. Even his shortstop, Everth Cabrera, and 2nd baseman, Luis Rodriguez, kept faking movements toward the bag to hold Morgan close. Setting the trap that Nyjer did not fall for. Presence again that played well into Washington's hand when finally Burke decided to pitch to Kearns. And Austin slammed the second offering thrown his way to right centerfield for a clean single--sending the scurrying Nyjer Morgan home with the game winning run. Lifting all those Washington Fans still on site up and out of their seats in great joy. And setting off a celebration of Nationals Players running on the field, featuring Willingham attempting to tackle Kearns. A pile of players so happy for their teammate who had delivered in the clutch--sending Our Washington Nationals home in victory. A win set up by Nyjer Morgan's leadership.
Final Score from Nationals Park where daring speed sent fear into The Friars--Our Washington Nationals 3 and The San Diego Padres 2 in 10 very lively innings. Curly "W" Number 30 was Washington's 4th in their past five games, their second victory in a row, second consecutive series win as well. While good starting pitching ruled most of this sunny Sunday afternoon, The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaled a new game was now on display in The Nation's Capital. No longer are Our Washington Nationals one dimensional on the base paths. Nyjer Morgan provides a daring mix of bat control, speed and skill well needed in our every day lineup. No longer can an opposing pitcher expect to pounce down on and restrict all of our runners. The Cat no longer controls The Mouse. The San Diego Padres, like The New York Mets before them this weekend, have come to realize Nyjer Morgan has transformed Our Washington Nationals.
And he didn't even start this game. Our Number 1 was the most compelling player on the field. Lannan was great, Kearns came up clutch, but Nyjer Morgan was the catalyst that propelled Our Washington Nationals to victory. The throwing of a handful of dirt back toward Greg Burke after that third pick off toss set the tone. The Cat & Mouse Game terrific to watch.
Some Good Baseball Today. An Even Better Curly "W".
Game Notes & Highlights
The only down part of today's affair for John Lannan was that he didn't get the deserved victory. Washed out by MacDougal's home run allowed to Blanks, Our Number 31 was outstanding for eight full innings. He only struck out two Padre hitters, but he again kept his pitches down, stayed ahead in the count, walked just one. His only mistake among five hits allowed was a two out, two strike double to Kevin Kouzmanoff in the top of the 6th which plated San Diego's Will Venable with their first run of the day. Otherwise, John Lannan pitched some very good baseball.
MacDougal's game tying homer allowed was his first blown save for Washington. Joe Beimel received his first personal victory of 2009, against five previous losses, when Austin Kearns slammed his game winning single--scoring Morgan--in the bottom of the 10th inning.
San Diego's Chad Gaudin pitched equally as impressive baseball from the get-go this afternoon. Josh Willingham touched him for Washington's game tying score on a home run just over the left field wall in the bottom of the 7th frame. Other than that--Gaudin kept Washington's hitters under wraps. Surprisingly, only John Lannan the other DC Batter to solve him--stroking two of the five hits Chad allowed in seven complete innings.
After walking Everth Cabrera with one out in the top of the 8th inning, John Lannan picked off The Padres shortstop at first base--fooling the leaning Cabrera with a beautiful move and toss to Nick Johnson--who quickly slapped the tag as Everth tried to wiggle his diving hand back into the base around NJ's glove. First Base Umpire John Hirschbeck with the out call for The Defensive Play Of This Game. Padres Manager Bud Black and First Base Coach Rich Renteria argued the call to no avail.
Before Austin Kearns hit his game winner, maybe the loudest cheers heard all afternoon at Nationals Park was when TEDDY WON! Yes, Our Lovable Loser won today's 4th Inning Presidents Race, but was disqualified by Screech for illegally using a motor scooter to pass the finish line first. Abe, Tom & George protesting immediately. Abe declared the winner. But even when everyone watching KNEW TEDDY WAS CHEATING--the roar and anticipation that went up all over the ballpark was undeniably exciting. Was it ever loud!! People were standing and into the unexpected moment. Making you wonder what the decibel level from the crowd will be when Teddy actually does win--fair and square? Hopefully, before a fuller house.
Up on terrace level during a portion of the game taking beauty shots on a nice afternoon, I came across some new picnic tables placed at the top of the ramp down the left field line--near the foul pole--Section 301. The new picnic tables situated to allow folks to sit, eat, chat and still watch the game. A nice addition providing another venue to take in the action.
Finally--love this photo--Our Young Guns. Garrett Mock, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Collin Balester & J.D. Martin all sitting together on Washington's Bench in the top of the 9th inning. The future still all in front of us--while we watch them from behind.
Today's InGame Photos--Evan Vucci (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved