Monday, August 03, 2009
On the verge of being blown out of PNC Park on this last night of an eight game road trip--Our Washington Nationals staged a tremendous comeback against The Pittsburgh Pirates thanks to one single pitch and one fine resultant defensive play.
For over five innings Our Starter, Garrett Mock, had struggled mightily. A leadoff home run allowed to that latest of Nats' Nemesis, Andrew McCutchen, set the tone for a three run opening frame by The Buccos. An early advantage never in doubt, especially when Mock would load up the bases with Pirate Runners and nobody out in the top of the fifth. A scene setter that had those Buc Faithful in the announced, but even certainly lower in number, crowd of 11,630 to get on their feet--stomp, make noise--all looking for those "New Fresh Face Pittsburgh Pirates" to close the door.
To go for the kill.
That possibility sure seemed likely at that moment in time.
But as Pittsburgh's Delwyn Young stepped to the plate, in this game changing moment, Tyler Clippard was stepping out of Washington's Bullpen and heading to the mound. Interim Manager Jim Riggleman had seen enough of Mock. Not pitching with confidence and certainly not seeing enough strikes from Our Number 49--Riggleman needed someone on the mound to be bold.
He wanted no nonsense.
Anyone not afraid to fire strikes. A reliever with that cold--killer instinct--to shut down any rally.
Of course--Tyler Clippard's cool sporty glasses win for looks--but those frames of his don't win ball games--good pitches do.
Those challenging throws that Our Number 36 tossed from his very first offering to Delwyn Young. 91 MPH called strike followed by an 80 MPH Change Up and swinging strike by The Pittsburgh 2nd Baseman. And with the opposing batter now down 0-2 in the count, Tyler knew he had come on, fired away, and found confidence. He had a game plan. A scheme to get out of this mess set by Mock. And when Clippard hurled his third and most important pitch of this game--Washington's hopes took a dramatic turn. A 91 MPH fastball which overpowered the swinging Young. A resultant hard chopper back to the mound that Tyler snared, threw immediately home to Josh Bard--his catcher. Who, after fumbling his relay, still had JUST enough time to retire Delwyn Young at 1st base for the crucial 1-2-3 Double Play.
A CRUSHING BLOW to the Bucs that now found their fans slamming themselves back down into their seats in disgust. And mumbling to themselves when Our Number 36 retired Andy LaRoche five pitches later on a pop up to "The Guz" at short. NO runs scored. No lead advanced. No roadkill waiting on the side of the road. Fortune had turned, hopes had rebounded and as Tyler Clippard thrust his clenching fist in response to a job well done walking off the mound--Our Washington Nationals trotted off the field with hope still alive. The promise that all was not lost--thanks to some very bold pitching.
These are the fortuitous moments that young teams need to grasp. Hard lessons learned leading to opportunity not to be wasted. And on this beautiful full moon night on the Allegheny River--DC's Team responded with an impressive rally of their own. An awakening started by Anderson Hernandez singling off The Pirates Starter--Charlie Morton--leading off the top of the 6th. Given new life, thanks to Clippard, Our Washington Nationals responded in kind. Nyjer Morgan advanced Hernandez to second on a ground out to first. Cristian Guzman then knocked Anderson home with Washington's first run of the night on a clean single to right field. And when Ryan Zimmerman followed by taking a serious Hit-By-Pitch off his left shoulder, but only after ducking away from a Morton pitch right at his face--the signs of another struggling pitcher was clear.
Charlie Morton was loosing it, much like Garrett Mock before him one-half inning earlier. Yet, Pittsburgh's Manager did not make the call to the bullpen. John Russell stuck with his starter. A poor decision on his part when Adam Dunn stepped to the plate and hammered out the game changing three run homer down the left field line--just inside the 325 marker at PNC Park.
An unexpected 4-3 Washington Lead--when you consider what had happened over the first five innings.
The Go-Ahead Drive that, quite honestly, set this DIEHARD Pirates Fan sitting behind us in Section 113 into absolute disgust. He had followed his Beloved Pirates for 17 straight losing seasons. This man simply couldn't take it anymore. For the rest of this game, even after Ryan Zimmerman proceeded to pound out his 21st homer--a two run shot off Jeff Karstens--the highlight of another four run frame--the 7th--this Bucs Fan denounced every single person in the front office of The Pittsburgh Pirates. He just wouldn't shut up. And amazingly, most every single other Pirate Fan surrounding him agreed.
Having NO CONFIDENCE in his team--he asked The African Queen: "Do manager's get traded?" Since Pittsburgh has swapped most of their team this past month. Sohna responded: "No, they just get fired."
"Good," he stated. "Just for not taking the pitcher out. Can you make it happen?"
Not a good sign for Pittsburgh, especially when Tyler Clippard proceeded to mow down The Pirates by pitching no hit ball over the course of three STELLAR innings. Man, he was he ever GOOD!!! As Sohna said after the game: "Tyler Clippard was No Nonsense". Truer words not spoken this evening.
Yeah, as always, some of our relievers made it interesting. Sean Burnett saved Jorge Sosa. Mike MacDougal really saved Logan Kensing--and recorded his 8th Save of 2009. But when all was said and done--Tyler Clippard had provided the opening for DC's Comeback. He had pitched a No Nonsense Game and in doing so had led Washington to victory.
Final Score from PNC Park where an emerging reliever took center stage--Our Washington Nationals 8 and The Pittsburgh Pirates 4. Curly "W" Number 34 witnessed the coming out party of a bullpen mate that can not only get the situational out, but can provide multiple innings. The distance maker that bridges the gap between poor start and solid finish. No question about it, Adam Dunn's three run shot (his 27th) and Ryan Zimmerman's two run homer (his 21st) pushed DC's Team into the lead and solidified it. But Our Number 36 had calmed an unsettling situation, made the perfect pitches when needed. And provided the necessary muster to rally our troops and send them on to a very nice win.
Washington ending this eight game road trip with four wins and four losses.
Game Notes & Highlights
Four complete innings pitched, seven hits, four walks, three runs allowed (two earned) and saved by Tyler Clippard--Garrett Mock's final stats could have been worse. Nothing against him, but Garrett is just not getting the job done.
Clippard--what more can you say. We love how he challenges hitters. He doesn't back down. Yeah, he gives up that occasional home run or run scoring hit---but more and more--Tyler is looking like a keeper. A reliever with a career in Washington. He was really impressive tonight. As solid as that four inning stint against The Padres at Nationals Park two Saturday's ago.
Sean Burnett--Keeper. Mike MacDougal--Keeper. Jorge Sosa--mighty questionable. Logan Kensing--throws as hard as anyone in the game--but can't seem to fool many--very puzzling.
Adam Dunn with three hits, three rbi (78th for the year) and one run scored before being replaced in the later innings by Ronnie Belliard at first base. But Our Number 44 did make a fielding error on a ball hit right at him by Charlie Morton in the 2nd. Fielding will always be suspect for Dunn--but his tater tonight more than made up for his defensive miscue.
Guzman with two hits and two rbi. Elijah Dukes with two hits and one rbi on a night Washington stroked 12 base hits. Zimmerman now with 70 rbi for the season. He and Dunn definitely on pace for 100 rbi for the season. Dunn definitely, The Z-Man possibly hitting 30 or more home runs as well. Good offensive seasons for both of them. And when you combine those two with Josh Willingham and maybe a resurgent Elijah Dukes--with Nyjer Morgan leading off--that's not a terrible hitting lineup--in anyone's league.
Once promising prospect, Ronny Cedeno, recently traded again from Seattle to Pittsburgh, has flashed some serious leather during this four game series. Tonight, with Josh Willingham on second base with a one out double and Elijah Dukes following with a walk, Josh Bard hit a fairly hard grounder up the middle--through the box. Not many were expecting Cedeno to retrieve the baseball. A run was sure to score for Washington. Yet Ronny hustled all the way to his left, dove AND extended his left gloved hand and JUST as the ball was about to sneak past him--was able to not only catch the ball, but backhand a toss to Delwyn Young at second base--who immediately threw to Steve Pearce at first base for The Defensive Play Of This Game. Cedeno had saved a run in spectacular fashion. And as he trotted off the field to a standing ovation, The African Queen and I clapped for one terrific play. It really was an amazing effort.
Abe & George raced against two of The Pittsburgh Pierogies tonight in a clean race. That's the way it should be. We can live with Our Presidents losing, just not being made fun of.
Before the game, taking our final look at PNC Park before heading home on Tuesday Morning, Sohna and I came across Ralph Kiner's Hands--on the lower concourse near the left field foul pole. The Hall Of Famer's hands caste in bronze and displayed with a bronzed bat. We couldn't resist standing in pose--as if we were at the plate batting.
We enjoyed watching Elijah Dukes and Lasting Milledge chat and have fun during pre-game warmups. They were having a good time--chatting. And it goes to show how friendships last even after you are traded.
Finally--the view doesn't get much better than this. Near sunset--I headed up to the Upper Concourse at PNC Park to take pictures of the Pittsburgh Skyline playing backdrop to the ballpark. Just terrific.
We are going to miss PNC Park. And we hope MLB schedules Our Washington Nationals again next season for a weekend series as there is no question The African Queen and I will visit again. We've had a great time--just like before--two years ago
Tonight's InGame Photos--Gene J. Puskar (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved