Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The At-Bat Of The Year
All inning long the crowd at Nationals Park was ROARING. Most all of 23,944 had stayed till the very end. And each and every one on them was announcing their presence. South Capitol Street was ROCKING. The True 10th Man was being a difference. Major League Baseball's schedule was ending in The Nation's Capital for 2009 and no one rooting for Our Washington Nationals wanted anything less than a Curly "W" being put in the books.
If you don't believe the HEART shown in the bottom of the 9th inning today, both on the field and in the stands, was nothing short of endearing--then you will never be a fan of Our Washington Nationals. Never has Our New Ballpark buzzed so much--so consistently for one entire frame. Never has everyone been on the same page since this new ballyard opened on South Capitol Street. Never had anyone following DC's Team lived this type of moment which occurred at 7:42PM Eastern Time on September 30th, 2009 from someone not name Zimmerman--exactly 38 Years since The Washington Senators played their final game in 1971 at the old ballyard on East Capitol Street.
And thanks to Justin Maxwell there is now officially recorded another great finish since Baseball Returned To Washington in 2005.
The bases were loaded with Nationals and two were out. Justin Maxwell was stepping to the plate--a late inning replacement for Josh Willingham. Adam Dunn had just drawn a crucial full count walk off K-Rod, Francisco Rodriguez, The New York Mets Closer to inch Washington JUST a bit closer--but still down by one at 4-3. Those exhilarated supporters buoyed by yet another chance to win.
Certainly, no one really knew what to expect next. K-Rod can be dominating at times--overpowering and impressive. But in this incredible bottom of the 9th--he was anything but. You could feel it in the crowd. Tension turned from home side to visiting side. Not many sitting down for most of this frame while the noise level was simply off the charts. Impressive was the encouragement. The best all season in fact--with the very best on the field to come--momentarily.
Maxwell stepped in and took ball one, then proceeded to take called strike one and called strike two from Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley. Down to his last strike now, hope was still not lost. Those still cheering among the faithful would not let go to the belief that J-Max could do it. Just a single was all anyone wanted. What everyone got was unbelievable--no less than stirring.
Playing like a veteran, Justin dug in realizing that Rodriguez would attempt to get him to swing away at something in the dirt. Off the plate crap that less experienced hitters dive for and get themselves out with. Game ending pitches you see all the time, most every day of any baseball season. Fortunately, Maxwell had learned that lesson on this early evening and was not falling for it. And when Our Number 30 took ball two and then fouled off ball three--a battle ensued.
The focus now directed toward the pitcher on the mound and a young man batting at the plate.
No one watching was going home just yet. This was just too exciting. Not until J-Max took his full set of cuts.
Nerves were now on display. The pressure that comes with any game on the line--before a supportive home crowd encouraging their very best. No professional player will ever tell you anything different--THEY LIVE FOR THIS MOMENT. The chance to shine. The opportunity to be a difference maker.
The hero where the spotlight first glared down on Francisco Rodriguez. But, panned over to Justin when he took ball three on the 6th pitch of this At-Bat. One of those tosses that had everyone sighing in relief that Umpire Kerwin Danley did not call STRIKE THREE! Maybe to close to take, but far enough away that Danley gave Maxwell extended life.
Staying alive for another pitch which J-Max successfully fouled off behind home plate into The Stars & Stripes Club. Followed by another foul ball--this time down the right field line--that JUST made it off the field and into the stands. One of those "GET OUT!! GET OUT!! GET OUT OF PLAY!! screams by everyone rooting for Washington. Blowing with all their collective breaths to push the ball into the crowd. A successful wish when the baseball landed safely in the hands of a fan.
THE MOST EXCITING AT-BAT OF THE SEASON was now at its climax. The 9th & final pitch of 2009 was about to take place.
Everybody now transfixed, standing and watching the proceedings. The hollering in support of Our Washington Nationals as loud as ITS EVER BEEN!!. "Let Go Nats!! Lets Go Nats!! Lets Go Nats!! This for a home team having lost 103 games this season. While others may have lost faith, The African Queen and I had not, and neither had the thousands standing alongside us giving their all.
WANTING FOR A WIN!!
As K-Rod looked in for the sign and Maxwell set himself--this moment in time--was about to begin. The scoreboard clock struck 7:42PM and Justin Maxwell struck his finest blow as a Major League Baseball Player. Swinging hard on The Mets Closer's 92 MPH Fastball, Our Number 30 connected solidly and slammed the baseball DEEP into left field. The Entire Crowd yelling in excitement. The stroked baseball heading toward the wall--and in what seemed like an ETERNITY--never seemed to come down as New York's Leftfielder, Angel Pagan rushed back to the wall.
Would it go over the wall? Would it bounce off of it? Or, would Pagan catch it?
No one quite knew until Angel Pagan leaped--AND DIDN'T COME DOWN WITH THE BASEBALL IN HIS GLOVE.
Bedlam at Nationals Park!! A Grand Slam For Justin Maxwell!! You would have thought Our Washington Nationals had just won The National League East Title? A two out, two strike, nine pitch At- Bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, in the final home game of 2009, had set off a celebration unlike any in the two short years of Our Ballpark. Literally, fans were jumping all over themselves in joy. And Our Washington Nationals were jumping all over Justin Maxwell at home plate. The party was on and J-Max had provided all the favors.
Final Score from Nationals Park where The At-Bat Of The Year sent everyone rooting for DC's Team home as happy as anyone had been all year: Our Washington Nationals 7 and The New York Mets 4. Curly "W" Number 55 was for all Our Fans on Fan Appreciation Day. As General Manager Mike Rizzo stated to The African Queen and I shortly after this game ended: "I have never seen anything like it. Fans were standing and cheering and encouraging our players to the very end." And The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling once and for all: When Our Washington Nationals become a contender--Nationals Park will have a home field advantage like few others. The 10th Man exhibited their fighting spirit tonight and Justin Maxwell quenched everyone's thirst for victory with a dramatic game ending home run that will not be forgotten for years to come.
A positive direction for Our Fans to kick off the upcoming Hot Stove Season. And a high note to hopefully kick off the career of the young and talented Justin Maxwell. No one deserved the opportunity to shine better than J-Max this day. He needed that blast. Just an amazing ending and three game sweep at the hands of The New York Mets--completed on the very last swing, on the very last pitch, of the very last game of 2009 at Nationals Park.
Worth repeating yet again: "Don't Ever Leave Early!!"
Game Notes & Highlights
Unfortunately, John Lannan did not get his 10th win of 2009. A no-decision again not of his wrong doing. Our Number 31 pitched another solid 7 innings, allowed three runs (two earned thanks to a Ryan Zimmerman error) and finished his season with an ERA of 3.88. Ron Villone became the pitcher of record when Washington rallied for 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th off K-Rod. Villone's 5th win against 6 losses.
Lannan's good friend, Tim Redding, went another six strong innings against his former team, allowing just one run and four hits. He was not involved in the decision. K-Rod simply blew up for The Mets and lost his sixth game of the year and was charged with his 7th blown save.
Ryan Zimmerman crushed a fastball from Bobby Parnell in the bottom of the 8th to the deepest part of Nationals Park--centerfield. His 33rd Home Run of the season was also 104th RBI. Now tied with Adam Dunn for the team lead in runs batted in.
The game deciding bottom of the 9th frame played out in this fashion against Francisco Rodriguez. Leadoff infield single from Alberto Gonzalez hit to shortstop. Single up the middle by Mike Morse (Jorge Padilla then pinch running). Willie Harris sacrifice bunt. Elijah Dukes walk. Ryan Zimmerman strikeout. Adam Dunn full count walk to score Gonzalez. Justin Maxwell Grand Slam.
While Abe, Tom and Teddy ran the normal Presidents Race this evening, George took off toward left field and around the third base foul line. As it turned out, GW made the right move as The Finish Line for the final race of 2009 ended near the leftfield foul line. Abe & Tom upset over the course change. Teddy didn't seem to mind.
The final giveaway of 2009 was a Red Curly "W" Fleece Blanket given to the first 20,000 fans in attendance.
Being the last home game of the season, Sohna and I took the opportunity to say goodbye for a few months to some of our friends in and around Nationals Park. Folks that make the experience of attending each and every home game an enjoyable experience for us.
And finally, My Best Friend!! Screech!! stopped by to see us in Section 218 for one final time. We took the opportunity to watch the game together and take this classic picture. Many surrounding us got a real kick out of it.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Manuel Balce Ceneta (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved