Thursday, August 27, 2009
Lucky, Good or Just Bad Luck?
Were they lucky or were they just good? Or, as it turned out, was it just bad luck?
Offensive production early by Our Washington Nationals. Two manufactured runs (one in which Nyjer Morgan was injured). A laser beam two run homer from Ryan Zimmerman.
An eventual five run lead into the third frame.
Slowly evaporated by The Chicago Cubs.
You see, Our Batting Lineup just went cold after Adam Dunn's 34th Home Run of 2009--not a single base hit by Washington from this point on after learning Nyjer Morgan had broken his left hand while stealing third base--while The Cubbies bats finally heated up.
Sensing opportunity, Chicago kept on fighting their way back--bit by bit.
Strong early, Washington's Starter, J.D. Martin, began to take his lumps the second time through the home side's batting lineup. A refresher course The Cubs' Starter Randy Wells was educated on early by D.C.'s Team, fully absorbed, acknowledged and then used by Wells to actually make his way into the 7th inning. A distance not seemed possible in the 3rd.
A two run homer by Aramis Ramirez finally got Chicago on the board in the bottom of the 3rd. Derrek Lee adding one more score in the bottom of the 5th with a absolute blast of a home run off Martin to left field. And The Cubs adding their fourth run in the bottom of the 7th (off Tyler Clippard) when Northern Virginia's Jeff Baker (Gar-Field High School, next to Potomac Mills Mall) received the dreaded leadoff walk from Tyler Clippard and moved around the bases quickly--thanks to two more hits by--yes--Lee and Ramirez.
A solid early advantage now all but given up by Washington, then nearly thrown away--yet saved--thanks to The Defensive Play Of This Game.
Washington's J.D. Martin couldn't finish what in started this afternoon. And on this overcast and cool day at the corners of Sheffield & Waveland on the North Side of Chicago, Tyler Clippard could not shut down The Cubbies as well. Now, it was Sean Burnett's opportunity to save Our Washington Nationals from yet another bullpen collapse. One of those potential mind numbing losses that hit you right in the gut. Lose a top player, then lose a winnable game. A defeat that makes you think about being beaten-hours after the actual game has concluded. Yeah, no doubt, we were heading in this exact direction.
Derrek Lee now standing on 3rd Base representing the game tying run. Aramis Ramirez on 1st representing the go ahead. Kosuke Fukudome standing at the plate waiting patiently with this game on the line.
The Game Break Moment.
The lefty swinging Japanese Import was facing the lefty Burnett--each not giving into the other. Nothing but sliders from Sean. Two times over the plate with resultant swinging strikes from Fukudome. Two times well off the plate for balls. A 2-2 standstill reaching its climatic point--only to see a potential detour develop--the distraction of a Wild Pitch.
Looking for the strikeout blow to end The Cubs' latest rally, Sean Burnett threw a fifth consecutive slider that was so low, in the dirt, and not anywhere near where his catcher Josh Bard thought the pitch was going--that it hit off Bard's right shin guard and bounced away toward the first base dugout. Not a long way, but that JUST ENOUGH distance that makes virtually any runner on third, fast or not--in a one run ball game--feel that they can make it.
Derrek Lee felt he could accomplish just that and HE TOOK OFF FOR HOME--looking to score the game tying run.
As nearly the entire crowd of 35,134 rose to their feet in great anticipation, Josh Bard scrambled and lumbered as swiftly as his injured groin would take him, picked up the baseball as Lee began a head first slide into home plate. And shuttled the baseball from his stomach as Burnett retrieved his toss in his bare hand--his left hand, and slapped down the tag on Derrek Lee with his GLOVE HAND--the one without the ball. Home Plate Umpire Bill Welke looking right down on the collision from behind home plate signaled OUT!! Out At The Plate!! Sure enough, replays showed Sean Burnett had gotten down the real tag on Lee, but only after Derrek's forward hand had slapped down on home plate.
Hustle and the desire to win had overcame possible misfortune for Washington. Wrigleyville howled in disbelief!!
A lucky call that ended this inning and, surprisingly, didn't receive any complaints from the always pugnacious Chicago Manager Lou Piniella. And sent Washington to their respective dugout happy they had survived. Beneficial, of a Bang!! Bang!! play always difficult to call with the naked eye.
Fortune that again played out just two innings later in the bottom of the 9th. Still protecting that one lead, Mike MacDougal had been called on by Interim Manager Jim Riggleman to close out a difficult five out save beginning in the 8th. One in which all Washington's hopes rode on the very fact no one on DC's Team wanted to see either Lee or Ramirez (a combined 5 for 6 today at the plate with two home runs, four rbi and three runs scored) ever step to the plate again until 2010 against Our Washington Nationals.
No, no one wanted to see that. But when MacDougal walked Chicago's Sam Fuld to leadoff the bottom of the 9th--anything was now possible--even a potential demoralizing last moment loss. Yet even when that local product, Baker, couldn't put down a key sacrifice bunt and struck out for the first out of the final frame--luck did not seem again on Our Washington Nationals side.
Having lost Nyjer Morgan, having received a beneficial call at home plate--fate was again at hand when MacDougal heaved off another wild pitch--in the least opportune time. A dirt toss that bounced off the brick backstop and ricocheted slightly down the 3rd base line. A free pass which allowed Fuld of The Cubs into scoring position--the tying run--with just one out. One of those very moments where you don't want to see a contact hitter like Chicago Shortstop Ryan Theriot step to the plate. Guys that hit to all fields that beat you in these situations because they most always slap the ball hard.
Which is exactly what The Cubbie Shortstop did.
Theriot absolutely HAMMERED a 96MPH Fastball into a hard grounder--right at Ryan Zimmerman. A baseball hit so hard only God-Given reflexes can make a defensive play happen. Surely enough, Zimmy--always working with skill and rarely with luck, slightly moved in and fielded the short hop, then set sail a perfect toss to Ronnie Belliard at 1st base for out number two. The Key Out in a potential rally changing inning. Important, because this Defensive Gem meant neither Derrek Lee or Aramis Ramirez would step to the plate again this day--if only Mike MacDougal could record the final out--now represented by Milton Bradley.
Sometimes you have to be good, other times a little lucky--and this afternoon at Wrigley Field--Washington played both sides of the coin after they lost their most exciting player.
Known for his erratic behavior and booed all afternoon by Chicago's Faithful, This Original Montreal Expo Prospect now stepping to the plate for The Cubs was actually feeling the warmth of a standing and cheering home crowd. One wishing, hoping, and wanting to see a game tying or winning stroke from their beloved Cubbies. Opportunity lost when Our Number 54 continued to just throw overpowering fastball after overpowering fastball--skill that can't be taught. MacDougal throws so hard--in the high 90's--he just can't control his pitches well. And as it turned out, neither could Bradley control his bat against those flame thrown pitches.
Milton Bradley grounding out to Alberto Gonzalez to end this game. Those Cubbie hardcore fans returning to their anger, venting it all back on their very own rightfielder-- raining down a parade of boos upon Milton Bradley. Of no matter to Washington--because this thriller was officially over.
Final Score from Wrigley Field where Washington took the early lead and held on for dear life at the end--Our Washington Nationals 5 and The Chicago Cubs 4. Whether or not DC's Team was lucky, good or a little of both today--did not matter at the end of the afternoon. Curly "W" Number 46 showed desire by DC's Team. The longing to win, in the face of adversity--the losing of a teammate. And bad break or not, Washington never gave up until that last out was FINALLY--recorded. Not many teams can make most any victory a nail biter quite like Washington's. But in one of those exhilarating, down to the last out confrontations, today's adventure and misfortune at Wrigley Field/Chicago was a really good ball game. An affair that always brings baseball fans back--craving for more.
Yeah, this was a good one from The Friendly Confines, despite losing Nyjer Morgan to a season ending freak injury (more on that coming in the Game Notes & Highlights)
Game Notes & Highlights
J.D. Martin received his third career win today in six decisions. Our Number 60 was sharp early, not so much late. Given a big lead, he really didn't hold it well and tired noticeably after five complete. Interim Manager Riggleman taking J.D. out to put him in a position for a Curly "W", something that did eventually happen--but not without a tremendous amount of nervousness.
I don't think we have ever seen Mike MacDougal throw anything but a heater. Again this afternoon, nothing but fastballs among his 27 tossed pitches. Never one to throw any pitch dead straight, Our Number 54 recorded his 14th save of 2009--this one over 1.2 innings. And in doing so, solidified himself as closer--whether or not Mike actually knows where all of his pitches are heading once thrown. He's downright scary (in that good way) and that might not be too bad after all. No hitter is probably going to dig in at the plate on Mike MacDougal.
Although Nyjer Morgan manufactured Washington's first run this afternoon by garnering a leadoff walk, stealing second and third base and scoring on Cristian Guzman's double--Our Number 1 jammed his left hand sliding head first into 3rd and was taken out of the game as a precaution. And then the very bad and sad news came--Nyjer Morgan out for the season with a broken second metacarpal of the left hand. An injury that takes six weeks to heal. Time that will cover the remaining scheduled games.
"One step forward, two steps backward," replied The African Queen when I notified her of Nyjer's prognosis. She was crushed. Fortunately, it's not a very serious injury. One that can be recovered from without threatening a career. Personally, I broke my 5th metacarpal on my left hand twice playing baseball--each time on fastballs taken inside. Did that ever hurt!!
The Z-Man hit his 27th home run of 2009 moments after "The Guz" hit his 1st inning run scoring double by torching a Randy Wells fastball--below his knees--but perfectly placed for any hitter with power and extension. If the wind had been blowing out today at Wrigley, that ball might have cleared over the bleachers and onto Sheffield Avenue. Zimmerman crushed that baseball. Much like what Adam Dunn did to Wells in the bottom of the 3rd when he jacked a slightly over the outside portion of the plate pitch by Wells that carried deep into the centerfield bleachers at Wrigley. Dunn's 24th career home run at The Friendly Confines.
Ironically, Dunn's 90th RBI was also Washington's very last hit this day. Just two walks allowed by Cub Pitching the rest of the way. The shutdown mode following the loss of Nyjer that allowed Chicago to creep back into this affair.
And finally--looking on the bright side. If there is good thing to take from Nyjer Morgan's unfortunate injury today--there is no better time but the present to actually find out if Justin Maxwell is a keeper for Our Washington Nationals. We know what Nyjer can do. We know that Maxwell plays as good of a defensive centerfield as most anyone out there. What no one knows for sure is what J-Max can offer offensively on a consistent basis. Power & Speed he does possess. What everyone really wants to see is the complete package. In that respect, and not shorting Nyjer Morgan in any way, we are OK with seeing Justin Maxwell patrol centerfield at Nationals Park over the last five weeks of 2009.
Today's InGame Photos--Nam Y. Huh (AP)