Tuesday, August 04, 2009
82 pitches into one stellar starting assignment on the mound at Nationals Park, The Florida Marlins Josh Johnson was cruising through a two hit shutout after seven complete innings. Pitching nearly flawless ball, The 2009 All-Star had faced just two batters above the minimum, walked no one and had struck out nine opposing batters stepping to the plate for Our Washington Nationals. A 4-0 Fish lead so completely in control--no one in their right mind watching, among the 19,828 officially announced, could have fathomed what occurred by the time Josh Johnson had thrown just 13 more pitches.
20 minutes of the most outlandish baseball seen at Nationals Park in some time was in the works.
Remarkable actually--how quickly this game turned around. Baseball is always a funny game and this evening The Baseball Gods decided to treat Washington's Fan to one surprising finish. Another come from behind rally--even better than last night's "No Nonsense" at PNC Park. No question, baseball is amusing, but on night's like this one--baseball can be downright absurd. EVERYTHING about this hot and humid evening in The Nation's Capital proved that point on multiple levels. Even the very fact that due to our late departure from Pittsburgh earlier in the day--The African Queen and I ended up driving directly to Nationals Park.
Sohna has NEVER missed at game in Our New Ballpark and she wasn't going to be a no show tonight. Neither was I. But this evening was the very first time in the nearly five year history of Our Washington Nationals in which we DID NOT pick up the stadium giveaway--the Tee-Shirt Tuesday "You Know You Are A Nats Fan" shirt. Not arriving to our seats until the very first pitch was tossed by Washington's J.D. Martin--Sohna and I missed out on the freebie.
But where else but in The District Of Columbia tonight would a Number 55 in Marlins Gray, Black & Teal wearing the name "Johnson" on the back of his jersey mow down DC's Batting Lineup for over two hours, while Number 20 in that same Florida Road Uniform also wearing "Johnson" on his back was manning first base for The Fish on South Capitol Street--just four short days after Our Washington Nationals had traded him at the July 31st Non-Waiver Deadline.
Odd moments were peppered throughout this evening.
Nicky" stepping to the plate for the first time in Washington wearing an opposing jersey. Like thousands on hand--we joined in the standing ovation given Our Now Former Number 24. And sensing the bizarreness of the moment, The Baseball Gods decided to wield their wicked ways again--by letting Nick Johnson single in The Marlins' first run of the evening that was laced right UNDER Adam Dunn's glove at first base. The very man replacing NJ at 1st Base had missed a grounder that Johnson would have routinely picked up.
The quirks of a game in which Josh Johnson dominated for seven innings while slashing out his third home run of 2009. A night in which Josh Johnson's counterpart on the mound for Washington--J.D. Martin--couldn't find the plate consistently--didn't step up when it counted the most and struggled mightily through four plus innings of work. Combined with Jason Bergmann and Ron Villone, all three kept this game close. But with DC's Team down four runs heading to the bottom of the 8th the crevasse created by the Florida's Starters command and personal hitting prowess appeared to be insurmountable.
The odds high against any DC comeback. Then the really peculiar stuff began that only baseball can provide.
Willie Harris led off the most surreal half inning of the year with a softly lofted single to right field off Josh Johnson. A 95 MPH fastball Our Number 22 couldn't really get around on--but somehow got his bat on just well enough to reach base safely. No big deal--most would think. Harris seemed to have gotten a little lucky. But then when Alberto Gonzalez slashed his own base hit right up the middle three pitches later, the thought crossed our minds--maybe Our Washington Nationals could at least get back into this and make things close? Chance turning to phenomenon when the light hitting Wil Nieves roped his own single to right field two pitches later off Josh Johnson.
Our of nowhere, the bases were loaded, nobody was out for Washington and Josh Johnson was in trouble as Ronnie Belliard stepped to the plate pinch hitting for Ron Villone. "Lucky Number 10" as The African Queen has always called him strutted to the plate with that self-assured confidence and swagger he always carries. "The Ballplayer" may be having an overall down season--but no one steps to the plate and whips around the baseball bat quite like Ronnie Belliard. And with many in the crowd now awakened and back into the game, the noise level rose exponentially as Our Number 10 worked the count against the swiftly tiring Florida Starter. An eventual 2-2 count that reached its climax on Josh Johnson's 95th and final toss of this unconventional affair. A 95 MPH fastball that Ronnie Belliard uncoiled on and HAMMERED to left field. A frozen rope laced well over Cody Ross' head in left. A screamer that bounced off the wall in front of the visiting bullpen and caromed back onto the field. The key blow that had every single fan of DC's Team now up on their feet screaming with delight--especially when Harris and Gonzalez scored on the play--Nieves stopping at 3rd and "Lucky Number 10" motoring into second base with a key two run rbi double.
Just like that--Josh Johnson was done--INCREDIBLY!! In fact finished--and heading to the showers with his head down, shoulders slumped and maybe, his team, in the process of losing this game. The time was 9:32PM on a Tuesday Night as The Florida Marlins Manager Fredi Gonzalez called on Renyel Pinto to relieve his starter. Less than 10 minutes had elapsed since this extraordinary frame had begun. And 10 more minutes would go by before this game was all but over--with Washington in the lead.
RALLYTIME!! would not end. Not until Nyjer Morgan greeted Pinto with a run scoring ground out to first base. Nieves plating run number three. Not until Kiko Calero relieved Pinto and "The Guz" greeted him by extending this inning with a ground ball single right through the hole between 1st & 2nd scoring Belliard with the game tying run. The moment that not only saw what seemed to be every single person watching in the ballpark roaring with delight, but Our Number 10 saluting all of his teammates as he reached the home dugout after crossing the plate.
Yet Ronnie's hand signal was also not the end to this rally.
Respect now earned by Our Washington Nationals and taken advantage of even more when--with two outs and left-handed reliever Dan Meyer on the mound for This Fish--Adam Dunn uncorked an opposite field drive with two strikes that sailed and sailed and sailed--all the way beyond Cody Ross in left field, above The Jackie Robinson "42" Tribute on the green wall--and only stopping when it lost velocity and gravity forced the baseball down in Section 105 for THE GAME DECIDING HOME RUN!!
Who would have thought all this possible? The time was now 9:42PM.
20 minutes had passed since beginning the bottom of the 8th. A new outcome awaited at it's conclusion. The Baseball Gods must have been chuckling from high above.
Yes, baseball is a funny game. Where else would a team being dominated all night somehow stage a comeback so late? Where else would a slugger like Our Number 44 look lost in each of his three previous at-bats, striking out miserable against the then dominate Josh Johnson and then succeed in grand fashion? Where else would a team like The Florida Marlins who had beaten Our Washington Nationals 11 straight times heading into tonight--lose a lead so dramatically and in uncharacteristic fashion?
Final Score from Nationals Park where 20 minutes was all it took for this most electifying of comebacks--Our Washington Nationals 6 and The Florida Marlins 4 in nine truly STUNNING INNINGS. Curly "W" Number 34 might have captured the most enjoyable half frame played all season by Washington. That bottom of the 8th was phenomenal to watch unfold. The resultant Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! proving yet again--no lead is really safe in baseball. No matter how far you are behind, The Baseball Gods will give you at least ONE CHANCE to fight back. And when that time comes--you better be ready to cash in on opportunity.
For over two hours this evening at Nationals Park--Josh Johnson and The Florida Marlins had controlled Our Washington Nationals--steaming toward their 12th consecutive victory over us. Yet in that great equalizing way only baseball can provide the forum for--it took just 20 Minutes for everything to unravel for The Fish.
What an rally!! What a game!! One STUPENDOUS COMEBACK!! Winners like this keep The African Queen and I coming back night, after night, after night. Washington now winners of seven of their last 11 games.
Game Notes & Highlights
J.D. Martin didn't look too good tonight. He couldn't finish off hitters, batters he had down two strikes in the count early--not a good sign. Our Number 60 never looked comfortable, almost hesitant and it cost him on the mound when he allowed two home runs. A crushed blow by The Marlins' Cody Ross (who seems to hit one out against us most every series) that reached six rows from Centerfield Plaza in Section 105 in the top of the 4th, followed by Josh Johnson's Homer to the left field bullpen two batters latter. In J.D.'s four starts now for Washington, we haven't found him to be overly impressive.
Mike MacDougal did pick up his 9th save but not without a serious scare. MacDougal allowed a one out double to Jorge Cantu and walk to Dan Uggla before ending this game by forcing Jeremy Hermida to slap a grounder to "The Guz" at shortstop--who stepped on second base and fired to Ronnie Belliard at first base for the game ending double play. Ron Villone garnered his 4th personal win.
Just before Our Washington Nationals performed their miraculous comeback--Nick Johnson lofted a pop up just behind Adam Dunn at first base with two outs in the top of the 8th. Florida's Chris Coghlan ran hard from first base. Somehow Dunn missed the softly hit ball as it bounced out of the pocket of his mitt. And while NJ hustled down to first, Coghlan motored too far around 2nd base and Dunn picked up the dropped ball and fired a strike to Cristian Guzman to nab Coghlan diving back to the base. A bad baserunning mistake by The Marlins' leftfielder. More incredibly, The Official Scorer ruled Nick's pop up a single but the outcome was the same. Two wrongs committed by Dunn and Coghlan had made a right. The result--The Defensive Play Of This Game.
Dunn's 28th Home Run this season also provided for his 79th & 80th runs batted in this season. Ronnie Belliard's key two run double was his 4th pinch hit in his last 8 tries. Our Number 10 leads Washington this year with 8 total pinch hits and 6 rbi. Guzman with his 10 multi-hit games in his past 11 played. Cristian with 41 multi-hit games this season.
Nick Johnson would slap two hits, knock in one run, score another and walk in five plate appearances in his debut at Nationals Park as a Florida Marlin. Mighty strange seeing Nicky wear Number 20 for the opposition.
On rehab assignment at Single A-Potomac, Jordan Zimmermann pitched 3.1 innings of two hit ball--allowing two runs while striking out six and walking no one. No word as of this writing--how his sore right elbow felt after pitching against The Frederick Keys in Maryland tonight.
More nagging injuries which have finally taken the toll on Austin Kearns. Austin placed on The Disabled List tonight with an injured thumb. Jorge Padilla, the top hitter for average in Washington's Farm System--to be called up from AAA Syracuse for Wednesday night's game against Florida.
Speaking of injuries--Ryan Zimmerman sat out tonight's game with a sore shoulder tweaked Monday night in Pittsburgh when he got hit by Charlie Morton on a pitch that nearly struck him in the face. Day-To-Day, the official word. But still mighty strange to see The Z-Man leaning over the home dugout railing most all night long--not playing. We hope his soreness is not long term.
Teddy came out sporting bandages and a sling after being beat up in Pittsburgh by The Pirate Pierogies during the just completed wraparound weekend series at PNC Park. Never a factor tonight--Abe ran away with the mid fourth inning race as Tom took a serious tumble. Teddy hoisted a "I Love Pittsburgh!!" sign to give thanks to all the love he received in Western Pennsylvania.
Finally--"Sweet Caroline" is back at Nationals Park. Played once during the last home stand-it returned again tonight to the amusement of quite a few on South Capitol Street.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Haraz N. Ghabari (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved