Saturday, July 18, 2009
16 pitches into the bottom of the 1st Inning, The Chicago Cubs Pitcher Carlos Zambrano was getting steamed. Nyjer Morgan had hustled out a leadoff infield single and Nick Johnson had followed with a walk. Then, 39 tosses into his opening frame the ever combustible Venezuelan was mighty hot at the Home Plate Umpire--Gary Darling. Willie Harris had just walked with the bases loaded forcing in NJ with Washington's first run of the evening. Zambrano didn't like call--and forcibly snapped at the baseball tossed back to him by his catcher--Koyie Hill-while spewing a few phrases at the face of Umpire Darling.
During a time Carlos Zambrano was struggling. The very opportunity to take advantage and pull ahead, Our Washington Nationals would let him off the hook. How? Because Nyjer Morgan was inexplicably cut down when he decided to run to 3rd base on a full count with nobody out to Ryan Zimmerman a few batters earlier. Like Why? Just because you fear Our Number 11 will hit into a double play? Morgan can score on just about anybody--why take the chance at that point? It's early in the game and Zimmy has struggled of late at the plate, not consistently making contact. The result--a strike'em out/throw'em out double play. Fearing a DP, Washington ran into one.
Carlos was already losing his cool. That hot latin temper which has cost him many times before in Major League Baseball was rising--just like his pitches this frame. Not throwing well, unable to consistently find the plate--Chicago's Big Starter wearing uniform Number 38 was ripe for the taking. Yet, DC's Team let this inning slip away--and ultimately this game.
Already in trouble, why let Zambrano recover so easily? Yet, even after The Cubs then intentionally walked Adam Dunn to face Josh Willingham. Even after Willingham's At-Bat proved lucky for Washington when Chicago Shortstop Ryan Theriot booted the inning ending play. Even after Harris followed with his RBI Walk--Carlos was still in deep trouble. He was mad. The exact time to seek the big advantage.
Yet all was lost when when Josh Bard ripped a hard grounder up the middle. The eventual final out of the frame when Chicago 2nd Baseman, Mike Fontenot, performed the first of three superior defensive plays witnessed this evening on South Capitol Street. Rushing to his right quickly to retrieve the bouncing baseball--Fontenot backhanded the ball just on the shortstop side of 2nd Base--and without taking the baseball out of his glove--flipped the ball from his mitt to Theriot covering 2nd to retire Harris for the inning ending out.
Just like that, 43 pitches into this pivotal first inning, Zambrano was out of trouble. Losing his control, maybe his mind again, but not as it turned out this game. Our Washington Nationals could not push across any more runs against one of baseball's most volatile players. Given a reprieve, allowed to settle down, the talented Zambrano then turned the game completely around moments later when--with two outs in the top of the 2nd inning--Carlos slammed a high breaking pitch from Washington's Craig Stammen down the right field line scoring two Cubbies with what turned out to be the eventual game winning runs.
Carlos Zambrano had bent, but did not break. Chutzpah which Our Washington Nationals need to learn.
Over the final eight innings of this ball game, 27,581 at Nationals Park would see 11 more DC Batters strike out. Most everyone swinging from their heels--few looking just to make contact. Our offense never got on track--despite three hits from Morgan. And Craig Stammen just sort of survived on the mound. One of those outings where your pitcher gives up just enough runs to lose. When Our Number 35 needed his out pitch--Stammen didn't find his nerve.
While Washington couldn't take advantage of Carlos Zambrano's high pitch count, The Chicago Cubs benefited from Craig Stammen's inexperience. Together, they combined to play out one of the more pedestrian affairs this year at Nationals Park. After Aramis Ramirez homered in the top of the 3rd for The Cubbies, not much more happened--all night. There were two more defensive gems, but nothing that changed around this affair.
Nothing at all.
Final Score from Nationals Park where maybe a little bit of early rain helped cool down the hot tempered Carlos Zambrano--The Chicago Cubs 3 and Our Washington Nationals 1. Needing to show a little backbone with the game on the line early, DC's Team couldn't muster up enough resolve in the very first inning to pull away. The boldness to not back down. The Chutzpah which Zambrano and The Chicago Cubs showed when it counted the most. The audacity which Our Washington Nationals have yet to find.
Game Notes & Highlights
Carlos Zambrano has always been a pretty good hitting pitcher. Why Craig Stammen served him a high breaking pitch with two outs in the top of the 3rd--I do not know. It was poor choice and it cost Our Number 35 mightily. Just like his 89 MPH fastball right over the middle of the plate to the always dangerous Aramis Ramirez who launched it deep and into the leftfield bleachers at Nationals Park. Stammen would last six complete innings allowing six hits, one walk and three earned runs. He will be given a "quality start" in the official record books, but there was nothing overly special about it.
Washington's Bullpen kept this game close to the very end. Tyler Clippard, Mike MacDougal and Joe Beimel combining for three shutout innings of relief work.
Zambrano threw an outrageous 113 pitches in just five innings and got the win. He walked four, gave up four hits--but wasn't threatened again after his more than shaky first frame. Four Chicago relievers followed to shut down Washington the rest of the way.
Nyjer Morgan had three of Washington's six total hits--one of which included an impressive At-Bat. Knowing he probably couldn't get around on Zambrano's tailing away fastball, Nyjer with two strikes against him in the count--realized Carlos' next pitch on the outside corner was too close to take. But instead of just swinging away and hoping just to make good contact--Morgan half swung his bat, flicking the ball into foul territory into the 3rd Base Dugout. Staying alive for another pitch, which he slapped into leftfield for a base hit. A professional plate appearance by someone who understands his role. Nyjer Morgan wasn't trying to do too much. He just wanted to get on base.
Nick Johnson's 7th inning double off Chicago's Sean Marshall with two outs was Washington's only extra base hit this evening.
Defensive gems stood out tonight at Nationals Park. Fontenot got the fine web work going strong with his wonderful backhand stab and toss to Theriot to end the 1st. But The Cubs Leftfielder Micah Hoffpauir showed NO FEAR when Willie Harris popped a foul fly down the leftfield line in the bottom of the 3rd. With the baseball about to drop two to three rows into the stands--at the corner where the seats jut out toward the field--the lefthanded Micah DIDN'T STOP and dove head first into the awaiting crowd and snared the baseball with one fantastic catch. The Defensive Play Of This Game--and it was a goodie--nearly equaled by Harris five innings later when he fielded a hard smash grounder at second base just as The Cubs Derrek Lee was running toward him to second. At the very moment Our Number 22 scooped up the baseball--Willie had to tag Lee, jump into the air while throwing off balance to Nick Johnson at first base to retire the speedy Milton Bradley. Airborne but not out of control--Willie Harris had made one very pretty play. This 8th inning ending out received a much deserved standing ovation from the home crowd.
Celebrating Christmas In July, Teddy came out running as Santa Claus in tonight's 4th inning Presidents Race. Ahead early, Our Lovable Loser began to toss gifts into the crowd watching down the right field line. And was again passed by his compatriots. Abe winning going away.
Loved the The Cubs Fan sitting below us with a shaved and painted Cubs Logo on his head.
And finally, we met the newest fan of Our Washington Nationals this evening in Section 218. 12 Week Old Logan was sitting with her parents just to the left of The African Queen and I. Tonight was her 4th Game at Nationals Park. Yes, that's right--FOURTH. Wearing her blue Curly "W" Tee Shirt--and noticed by everybody--Logan and her parents received a nice gift when Usher Team Captain Supervisor Bill noticed the threesome and stopped by to give Logan a special Curly "W" bear. We don't know who was happier--the parents or the baby--but it was a very nice gesture on Bill's behalf.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved