Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Perfect Set Up
The setup could not have been more perfect.
With "The Guz" down to his last strike and Our Washington Nationals down to their last out--Cristian Guzman ripped a liner to rightfield off The Colorado Rockies' Closer--Huston Street--scoring Ronnie Belliard with Washington's third run of this game. Unfortunately, The Rox had scored four already, But Our New Look D.C. Team was not giving up--nor were what was left of 18,192 at Nationals Park. Njyer Morgan had scampered to 3rd base on the rbi single and now represented the tying run. Our Number 15--the winning run at 1st.
The Z-Man was stepping to the plate.
The vocal home crowd chanting and building on a grassroots "Let's Go Nats!! Let's Go Nats" & "Zim-Mer-Man!! Zim-Mer-Man!!"
What more fitting ending could anyone have expected? Ryan Zimmerman has delivered in the clutch many times under similar duress during his first three full seasons of Major League Baseball. So much so, a worried Colorado Manager, Jim Tracy, slowly walked to mound and called in his entire infield position players--to listen in on what he had to say.
Sweat was rolling down The Colorado Closer's Face. Street well knew, the heat of this moment had nothing to do with the oppressive humidity of a Washington sweltering summer night hanging around the South Capitol Street Ballpark. The Rockies Fireman had ignited his very own blaze--now Huston needed to put out that spreading wildfire.
Last night, Washington had delivered in the clutch as well, during the very last moments of their negotiations with First Round Pick Stephen Strasburg. Management working a high stakes Conference Call deftly. Then signing the young star to a contract less than two minutes before the deadline and setting Washington's Fan Base into a frenzy. Now D.C.'s team was looking to steal a Curly "W". For the second night in a row--a walk off feel good victory. One not expected to be put in the books easily.
The question Jim Tracy needed to answer: How do The Rockies pitch to Our Number 11 in this situation? Especially, with Adam Dunn waiting patiently in the on-deck circle. This Colorado Only Conference Call taking so long, Home Plate Umpire Doug Eddings had to head to the mound himself--to put an end to it. Calling it quits for another deadline was quickly approaching. Umpire Eddings stating there were no more minutes left to confer.
Time to play your final hand. The time was 9:52PM on August 18th.
Knowing Zimmy can hit one out in the clutch.
Knowing Ryan can smack a baseball with the best in the game.
And knowing The Z-Man usually gets a good swing when it counts the most--the baseball game was now clearly in Huston Street's Court. What would he throw Zimmerman? Understand, The Rox Closer is not going to throw that first pitch in the dirt because Morgan could score the game tying run from third on a wild pitch. Street's probably not going to throw a curve ball either--for if he hangs it--Ryan launches it out of the park. The fastball--Zimmy might just whack that baseball right into the bleachers too.
Street knew that. Zimmerman knew that. Colorado Catcher Chris Iannetta knew that as well. So did Jim Tracy.
Really, these negotiations came down to only the one pitch Huston Street could possibly throw to Ryan Zimmerman to begin this game deciding At-Bat.
The fastball looking pitch that breaks late and falls off the table top--which is exactly what The Colorado Closer threw. An 85 MPH Slider and it HUNG RIGHT OVER THE MIDDLE OF THE PLATE.
The perfect pitch to whack--which Our Number 11 realized, uncoiled on and HAMMERED. A sure game tying double, possible game winning home run. At least until the very moment Ryan Zimmerman's bat met the baseball thrown--HIS BAT BROKE--as he followed through.
Zimmy had thought the scenario through--seen exactly what he wanted to hit at the plate. Then The Z-Man deftly produced a perfect swing and follow through, only to witness the instrumental part of the game fail him. Not his God-Given ability, not his talent, nor his skill had beaten him. With the game on the line--Ryan Zimmerman had played the right cards. Yet, his wooden Baseball Bat, a major tool of his trade had abandoned him--splintering upon impact with Street's thrown baseball. What first appeared to be a game changing hit, had simply become The Game Ending Out.
Just like that--Our Washington Nationals had been defeated. The driven liner off Ryan's bat loosing it's luster as it sailed on a line to left field--directly at Colorado leftfielder Carlos Gonzalez for the 27th and final out The Rockies needed to claim victory. The frustrated Zimmerman looking dejectedly at his broken bat as he jogged down the first base line. Eventually, breaking the bat in two with his strong hands and spiking the barrel end into the turf as he walked off the field to the home clubhouse.
The Setup had been perfect. The End Result was not.
Final Score from Nationals Park where The African Queen absolutely surprised me in a BIG WAY for my 50th Birthday (more details on that coming in The Game Notes & Highlights), The Colorado Rockies 4 and Our Washington Nationals 3. Three different solo home runs struck by three different Rox hitters and allowed by three different D.C. Pitchers had put Washington in a precarious hole. But that late deficit did not put DC's Team out of contention. On consecutive nights a down to last the moment deadline was reached.
Yet, Our Washington Nationals didn't win this time despite making all the right moves in the bottom of the 9th. Ryan Zimmerman could not have gotten off a better swing. Zimmy believed he had driven the game winning play. Instead, all The Z-Man ended up doing with The Perfect Set Up was drive his broken bat into the ground at Nationals Park.
Game Notes & Highlights
Three solo home runs given up by Washington Pitchers: Craig Stammen (to Brad Hawpe), Sean Burnett (to Carlos Gonzalez) and Tyler Clippard (to Clint Barmes). All really hurt Washington this evening. Stammen didn't pitch a bad game making it into the 6th allowing four hits, two walks and two earned runs. Ron Villone allowed Stammen's second earn run to score on a ground out in the 6th. Jason Bergmann pitched some solid baseball going 1.1 innings and turning a nifty 1-6-3 double play to end the 7th frame. Burnett took the loss by allowing Gonzalez's blast in the 8th. And Tyler Clippard looked really strong in the 8th and the beginning of the 9th--striking out three Rockies on pitches they had ZERO chance of hitting. Then, just sort of lost concentration and allowed Barmes to take him deep, then walking Seth Smith with two outs before retiring Carlos Gonzalez on a grounder to Adam Dunn at 1st base.
Since the very first day we watched Ubaldo Jimenez pitch at RFK Stadium for Colorado back in 2007, he has been impressive. Most always around the strike zone, he throws hards, has cut down on walks allowed and this 25-Year Old Dominican Prospect is turning into a pretty good Major League Hurler. He won his 11th game of 2009 against 9 losses. Huston Street picked up his 30th save.
Nyjer Morgan with another fine night from the top of Our Lineup. Three hits, his 39th stolen base (21st as a National) and 37th RBI this season on a single to left scoring Wil Nieves in the bottom of the 2nd shortly after Craig Stammen had driven home Alberto Gonzalez with a ripped double just inside the right field line. Gonzalez hit the baseball hard three of the four times he was at the plate tonight. But only was awarded two hits as his hardest smacked baseball went right back to the pitcher's mound where Jimenez caught it to end the bottom of the 3rd. The final out which found Our Number 12 slamming his batting helmet down in disgust over the lost chance to reach base safely.
10 hits tonight for Washington, but not many rallies. The biggest and longest sustained coming in the decisive bottom of the 9th when Gonzalez, Belliard, Morgan & Guzman provided three singles and a force out to score Ronnie while bringing Ryan Zimmerman to the plate with two outs and the game on the line.
Speaking of The Z-Man, during the top of the 4th, Colorado's Brad Hawpe bounced a slow dribbler down the 3rd base line. Running from the leftside of the batter's box, the lefty slugger ran hard to 1st base and it appeared as if Hawpe might make it safely. At least until Our Number 11 came charging in, barehanded the baseball and reeled off the perfect underhand scoop throw to Adam Dunn at 1st Base to retire The Rockies Outfielder for The Defensive Play Of The Game. No one in the game today, makes that play any better, or as consistently as Ryan Zimmerman.
Nationals Park Usher Paul Epps from Section 119 sang The National Anthem tonight before the start of the game. And others, signed a special tee-shirt for Sgt. Ralph Delgado--one of the many honored returning veterans recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center--that are welcomed to The Presidents Club at Our South Capitol Street Ballpark during every single home game.
Teddy again led early and most all the way to the rightfield corner in tonight's 4th Inning Presidents Race, but Tom came charging from behind late and took the checkered flag to win over George.
And finally--about that Birthday Celebration. Unbeknownst to me, Sohna had arranged for us to watch Our Washington Nationals and The Colorado Rockies take batting practice from the field this evening. When we come across Team President Stan Kasten behind the batting cage, we thanked him for giving me a nice birthday present--the signing of Stephen Strasburg. Witty as always, Mr Kasten said: "Hey, we just spent $15.1 Million to get you a birthday present--you better be happy!!" (laughing)
Then, just before the start of tonight's game, Ryan Zimmerman stopped to offer his best wishes as well. In response to my comment that he is exactly half my age, Our Number 11 deadpan states: "Only half?" Then busts out laughing.
Not one to miss out--My Best Friend!! Screech!! stopped by to present a special musical card signed by himself and The Rushmores. Even Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes stopped by for a bit.
And the festivities concluded over a special cake served in the 6th inning that we shared among the many staff and friends joining us this evening in Presidents Club. Too bad Ryan Zimmerman didn't pound out that game winning hit in the bottom of the 9th--because that would have been the perfect icing on the cake. And he was so close to making it happen.
Many thanks to those that helped Sohna make my Milestone 50th Birthday happen at Nationals Park this evening. We really appreciated the many kind thoughts.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Haraz N. Ghanbari (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved