Thursday, September 10, 2009

9th Inning Nightmare

Washington's Fans were screaming, jumping up and down, bedlam seemed about to break out. Those Philly Fans--who were in the majority, were now wearing the look of anguish. That forlorn nature which comes from seeing Defeat grasped from the jaws of Victory. Feelings which both sides shared tonight at Nationals Park in the very same inning. The Top Of The 9th when the wildest half inning ever played at Our Second Year Ballpark left everyone exasperated--wanting of more oxygen and maybe some aspirin to settle some thundering headaches. Many believing they were having a bad dream. A nightmare that would not go away.

On the verge of blowing a six run lead with one out in the top of the 9th. On the heels of Livo's finest performance since returning to The Nation's Capital last month. On the breakout night a young Ian Desmond started at shortstop for Our Washington Nationals. Anything less than a Curly "W" being put into the books may well have put a dagger directly to our hearts.

The final blow to this season. One that would have been seriously hard to overcome or ever forget.

All season long The Philadelphia Phillies have dominated Our Washington Nationals. Winners of 12 of the 14 games played so far heading into this evening's play, including that stunning come from behind victory on April 27th in South Philadelphia when The Phillies rallied for six scores in the bottom of the 8th. Immediately, after Washington had taken what seemed like an insurmountable lead of four in the top half.

With all that in mind, Washington could not lose this one. Not to The Philadelphia Phillies again. Not with all those Philly fans rooting and hollering over what became another remarkable comeback. Not in this affair which was seemingly played in Citizens Bank Park South. Anything less would have put a serious damper on any progress DC's Team could make over the final three weeks of the 2009 Campaign.

And only The Defensive Play Of This Game Saved The Day.

Everyone knows Version 5.0 of Our Washington Nationals has played this season with a bullpen to remember. One to be hopefully forgotten in the future for its stunning ability to lose leads late this season. This Thursday night was no difference and nearly an ugly reminder what had precipitated much of our early season woes.

Shane Victorino was now standing on third base representing the tying run. Chase Utley on first base representing the go ahead run. And the ever powerful Ryan Howard standing at the plate representing the game changing hit. It didn't look good for Washington. Not with just one out. Not with the total bullpen implosion which occurred in this wildest and wackiest of 9th innings you might ever see.

How else could you explain--Zack Segovia--making his Season's Debut on the mound for Washington--falling completely apart after his former Syracuse Chiefs' Teammate, Desmond, tonight's starting shortstop and star of the game for D.C.--airmailed a rather routine grounder off the bat of Jayson Werth which should have been a recorded out number two in this decisive frame. But instead, became recognized as the key to opening an otherwise locked door for Philadelphia.

The wedge needed to open the portal so wide--thanks to Segovia. A late game transformation bizarre to watch. Pedro Feliz next reached on a infield single and Carlos Ruiz then walked to load the bases behind Werth. No one had hit the ball hard off Zack, but that didn't mean he should still be in the game? Which he still was, and to Washington's regret, when no one else was ready in Our Bullpen and Matt Stairs stepped to the plate and downright power drove a Segovia fastball DEEP and over the Out The Town Score Board in right field. Setting off Philadelphia's faithful to great cheer. And sitting down Washington's faithful in great fear that DC's Team was going to blow yet another winnable game.

How could that be possible?

But a sincere possibility when Interim Manager Jim Riggleman double switched and finally summoned Mike MacDougal to the mound and Alberto Gonzalez to second base replacing both Segovia and Pete Orr. A decision that at first didn't do a whole lot of good when Jimmy Rollins greeted Our Number 54 with a single to center, Another base hit followed by MacDougal throwing a wild pitch and Shane Victorino doubling on a ground ball just past the diving Ryan Zimmerman at third base. Again, not hit too hard, but just well enough to cause damage--inflict more pain on a DC Fan Base becoming ever more shocked. Stunned by the series of events unfolding. This latest blow bringing The Phillies remarkably within one one run, 8-7 with still just one out.

Outside of Stair's grand slam, Philly really hadn't hit the baseball too hard. Just well enough to reach base. And when Interim Jim again stepped to the mound to replace MacDougal with lefty throwing Ron Villone--you had to figure this was not Washington's night to be. How else can you explain the lefty swinging Chase Utley greeting Villone with another infield hit? A weak grounder JUST past the pitchers mound and between 3rd Base that Zimmy had no play on defensively.

Just phenomenal what was being witnessed by those left standing among the 18,706. No one really could believe what their eyes were telling them. Whether you were rooting for Washington or Philadelphia, what was playing out on the baseball diamond was extraordinary. That rare mixture of no matter what DC's Team did to stop this on rushing collapse--nothing was going to end this rally until The Phillies had taken the lead.

Except for maybe a lucky bounce when Villone uncorked a wild pitch to Ryan Howard that Victorino would have scored easily on--if not for the ball bouncing off the jagged wall behind home plate and coming right back to Wil Nieves at the plate.

"Come On!! Stop Them!!" shouted out The African Queen, multiple times. Faint hope that was vanishing with each successive pitch. That still faithful glimmer beheld within her ever harder throbbing heart. Apparently, not likely with all those screaming and hollering Philly fans hammering their noise into our brains as Ryan Howard stood tall at the plate and hit what appeared to be ANOTHER infield hit. The very one which would tie this game at eight apiece.

Realizing he represented the tying run, Shane Victorino rushed toward home plate as Alberto Gonzalez (that last second replacement in the double switch earlier this frame) fielded Ryan Howard's ground ball less than 10 feet from second base. Knowing he had little time to spare, Our Number 12 quickly moved in toward the not too fast moving baseball as Chase Utley ran past him looking to reach 2nd. Any one out not recorded here would tie this game. Fielding the ball, Alberto proceeded to backhand flip the baseball toward Ian Desmond moving to cover the 2nd base bag. And with Utley sliding hard into Our New Number 6, Ian caught Gonzalez's toss, touched the bag and this used it to launch himself up into the air and proceed to fire a perfect toss to Mike Morse at 1st Base to end this game!!

Stunningly, just like that, it was all over!! The hysteria and good feelings felt by Philadelphia's Fans now quickly transferred over to Washington's. Sohna and I jumping up and down as if we had won The World Series. Outmanned by The Phillie Fans in our very own ballpark and nearly embarrassed on the field by their team, never has the pendulum swing of highs and lows been so riveting over the course of just three outs--in one half frame--in the five years of baseball involving Our Washington Nationals. Just an incredible series of events. The contrast so stark it was difficult to believe that after eight wonderful innings played by DC's Team--that one half frame could possibly spoil all the good which came before. But like a bad dream, that is exactly what almost happened.

Until Our Washington Nationals awoke from their nightmare.

Dazzed, amazed, stupefied and startled, victory was ultimately had thanks to The Defensive Play Of This Game.

Final Score from Nationals Park where anyone rooting for Washington was holding on for dear life at the end: Our Washington Nationals 8 and The Philadelphia Phillies 7. Curly "W" Number 48 was the least expected barnburner in some time. Another down to the last swing performance for the fourth consecutive game that found DC's team nearly blowing a six run lead and almost spoiling what was a wonderful debut by Ian Desmond and a vintage Livan Hernandez performance on the mound (more on those efforts coming in The Game Notes & Highlights). The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling--no it's never truly over until that last of 27 outs is recorded. And that in Baseball you can never sleepwalk to a win.

Yeah, it would have been just awful to lose this game, tormenting to be defeated in such away again by The Phillies, But thankfully, one finely turned double play ended this ordeal bringing this long and captivating 9th Inning Nightmare to a happy ending. And keeping Our Washington Nationals from heading down a long lost road to end this season no one wanted to be a part of.

Whew!! That Was Close!!

Game Notes & Highlights

After being touched for two early runs, Livan Hernandez was fabulous tonight. Making it into the 8th, Livo scattered six hits, allowed two scores in the first thanks to an Utley triple while walking just one and throwing 106 of his best woop-di-doo pitches interspersed with his 86-88 MPH Fastball. Watching him freeze Ryan Howard for his 2nd and final strikeout of the evening in the top of the 6th--enjoyable to watch--especially when Howard didn't like the call. Just going to mound and throwing his stuff, which Our Number 61 did tonight effectively and thoroughly earned his 8th personal win of 2009 and first since returning to D.C. What a shame it would have been if Livo did not earn this victory. He was terrific and the thanked the crowd by doffing his cap--as only a real veteran does--to the appreciative home crowd as he trotted to the Washington Dugout upon being replaced in the 8th by Sean Burnett.

Washington walked all over Philadelphia's starter Joe Blanton this evening. No one better than Ian Desmond. Playing in his first Major League Game, the lanky and speedy shortstop doubled home his first career rbi on his first career hit in the bottom of the 4th--scoring Elijah Dukes with what was then the go ahead run at 3-2. And then electrified the crowd moments later by attempting to score from second base on a sacrifice bunt by Livan Hernandez. Hustle which to the naked eye appeared Desmond MIGHT have gotten his fingers under the tag of Philadelphia's catcher Carlos Ruiz. But Home Plate Umpire Dale Scott would have none of that--signaling out at the plate!!

Enthusiasm and effort which Ian put on display all night and capped off with his first career Home Run--a three shot again off Blanton in the 5th--which sparked the Washington Faithful and started a celebration in the Washington Dugout and in the stands similar to Sunday's Walk-Off by Ryan Zimmerman. Unexpected, but thrilling to watch. Ian Desmond had a fine debut, no question about it--four rbi's. But he also showed his youth and inexperience when he airmailed that throw in the top of the 9th which help set up that nightmare frame to forget.

Adam Dunn finally unloading for his 36th Home Run of 2009 and 314th of his career--just a few batters before Desmond slammed out his first. Stuck on 35 since August 29th, two weeks, Our Number 44's chances for a sixth consecutive 40 Home Run Season has been fading. But this jolt may well spark him as Adam tends to slug the ball out of the park in bunches. Power which Our Washington Nationals need in their lineup every step of the way as this season nears its end. Just 22 games remain.

Pete Orr with a two run scoring triple in the bottom of the 3rd. And Willie Harris with a triple of his own among two hits and two runs scored. Ryan Zimmerman struggling of late. Including his dramatic home run on Sunday against The Marlins--just 2 for 23 at the plate over his past five games--sending his once above .300 batting average down to .294. Hopefully, The Z-Man can get hot again.

And oh--believe it or not--Philadelphia's Raul Ibanez was hitless tonight--O for 4 at the plate.

In The Presidents Race, Tom & Abe have been going at each other this series and this evening again raced hard to the finish. Abe this night taking the honors with a rather convincing win. Then proceeding to dance the jig on the field as Tom bowed to him. As for Teddy, he didn't even finish the race. What a surprise.

In remembrance of The September 11th Attacks, (Washington plays in Miami on the 11th this season) Our Washington Nationals wore their patriotic blue "DC" uniforms and Red with Stars & Bars Curly "W" caps for this ballgame. Firefighters, EMS, and Police squads from The District of Columbia, Fairfax County, Arlington County and the City Of Alexandria, Virginia--just to name a few--all participated in some way during pregame ceremonies. Honoring those that serve during The National Anthem, Color Guard presentation, "Starting Nine" and God Bless America among moments provided to remember those attacks eight years ago.

Before the game, Sohna and I came across some of D.C.'s Firefighters on the main concourse, near Section 107, with their Boots being used to collect donations for their many causes and needs.

And finally--did you know the real Teddy was in the house? A Wax recreation from Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum in Washington, DC. The third such attraction from the famed museum to appear at Nationals Park this year. Recreations of Martin Luther King and Jackie Kennedy Onasis were put on display earlier this season in The Stars & Stripes Club.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Manuel Balce Ceneta (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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