Tuesday, September 29, 2009
He Made The Catch
He Made The Catch!! HE MADE THE CATCH!! The African Queen and I hugging each other over what we had just witnessed. Those words had come bellowing out of my mouth after watching Elijah Dukes leap, grab and slam himself into the Out Of Town Scoreboard at Nationals Park. The game ending out and Defensive Gem now in serious contention for The Defensive Play Of This Year!!
Except for Ryan Zimmerman's walk off homer in the bottom of the 9th against The Florida Marlins back on September 9th, no crowd ALL SEASON on South Capitol Street had been so loud. There might have only been 19,614 officially watching, but when The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! were heard this group sounded like 30,000, maybe a little more.
And why not celebrate?
For far too long Our Washington Nationals have come up short--defeated--many times of their own doings. But tonight, in the penultimate home game of 2009, DC's team fought back from another early deficit, battled back to tie this affair up; and pulled ahead on two of the worst defensive miscues by The New York Mets you might see all year (back to back) while holding on to victory by the SLIMMEST of margins at the very end.
If you love baseball, all its quirks and odd bounces, this was your night.
Game Number 80 on the home season schedule was just a terrific ball game.
It didn't matter that Our Washington Nationals are nearly 50 games below .500 in the standings.
It didn't matter that The New York Mets aren't much better than that.
What mattered was that thousands showed up to watch Major League Baseball--and left understanding DC's Team didn't give up. No, not just yet. The end to the regular season schedule may well be only five days away, but you couldn't tell tonight by the celebrations being held--both on the field and in the stands at the conclusion of this one. People do care and most all those that turned out this evening at Nationals Park were treated for that loyalty. During Fan Appreciation Month on South Capitol Street, what better than a thrilling victory to send the home side fans to their cars and Metro trains happy.
Of course, no one watching in the very first inning thought this fantastic ending would have been possible. Not with Washington's Starter J.D. Martin being unable to find home plate. Not when 34 pitches in that initial frame, Martin had Interim Manager Jim Riggleman so worried, Marco Estrada began warming up with ZERO OUTS recorded in the game and one run in!! Yet, Our Number 60 not only survived that initial peril but his second inning pitched as well--when he allowed two more New Yorkers to score.
Down 3-0, J. D. Martin certainly could not have been long for this game? But on a night of twists and turns that all favored Our Washington Nationals--Our Rookie Starter had The New York Mets right where he wanted them.
How else could you explain The Mets being shut out the rest of the way? In fact, six complete innings from J.D.? I doubt Interim Jim or Pitching Coach Steve McCatty believed what they were seeing with their own eyes. Smoke and Mirrors the rest of the way for Martin. Just two more hits recorded by New York against him, none of which provided a serious threat.
The slowing down of the game--by good pitching--which allowed Our Washington Nationals to power their way right back into this affair. How else can you explain Mike Pelfrey cruising along throwing a one hitter into the bottom of the 5th--only to see a leadoff single by Pete Orr and two run homer by Ian Desmond bring DC's team back to one. How else can you explain three more singles--all with two outs in that same exact frame--from Willie Harris, Elijah Dukes and Ryan Zimmerman that evened the score at three.
The tying of this game which set up a fascinating 8th inning which led to the spectacular 9th.
What else can you say when The New York Mets loaded up the bases with NOBODY OUT in the top of the 8th. And didn't score.
A single by Carlos Beltran. Another single by The Mets Daniel Murphy that had every Nats Fans wondering: "Do you think Adam Dunn could have at least bent over and tried to pick that hard hit ground ball up?" And a walk by Tyler Clippard to Jeff Francouer. Certainly, Our Washington Nationals would pay for their latest mistakes. But incredibly, DC's Team got out of one serious jam, when Brian Schneider popped to Ryan Zimmerman in foul ground at 3rd base and Pinch Hitter, Jeremy Reed, lined a rope right at Alberto Gonzalez at second base--who relayed a quick toss to Dunn at 1st for the inning ending double play. Francouer too far off the bag.
A little bit of luck, combined with a little bit of skill which permeated this 8th frame. How else can you explain how Washington took the lead? Nothing stranger than when Mike Morse drew a one out walk and what came after. Justin Maxwell pinch ran for Morse. "The Guz" then stepped to the plate--pinching hitting for Clippard. Not hitting the ball well of late and sidelined for the rest of the season in the field with a sore right throwing shoulder, Cristian Guzman, has not been swinging a hot bat for some time. And Our Number 15 didn't do so tonight--but the result of his hack turned this game around.
What happened next was truly remarkable. How else can you explain a routine double play ground ball hit to New York's Anderson Hernandez at shortstop (yeah--the same guy that used to play for us earlier this season). A sure inning ending play in which Hernandez underhand tossed the baseball so far away from his 2nd Baseman Luis Castillo--the resultant look on Castillo's face at the error depicted nothing short of incredulous.
Which made what happened moments later actually funny. Castillo was pissed at Hernandez. Yet, when Ian Desmond followed by hitting another possible double play ball to shortstop, Hernandez fielded the baseball by diving to his right and threw to Castillo at second. But with "The Guz" barreling down on Luis and wishing to take him out on the relay--The Mets' 2nd Baseman inexplicably attempted to throw to Murphy at 1st Base. A terrible decision with Guzman taking him out. A mental miscue by Castillo that resulted in the baseball scooting past Murphy at 1st base--sending Justin Maxwell home with the go ahead run. And sending Washington Fans into great cheer watching from the stands. After seeing Castillo look at Hernandez with disdain over his error just a few pitches earlier--the look that Hernandez gave to Castillo on his error--could have killed. Both were mad, at each other, and themselves, for giving Our Washington Nationals the lead.
Yes, The Mets were talking to themselves again.
That narrow advantage that appeared safe with two outs and a full count on The Mets David Wright with Angel Pagan standing on first base for New York in the top of the 9th. Nearly the ENTIRE CROWD now standing. "Let's Go Nats!!" prevailing throughout the park. And as Mike MacDougal set himself, the rhythmic clapping continued. Washington's Fans were expecting victory. What no one believed possible was the absolute suspense to come.
You can watch hundreds of baseball games and not see what transpired over the next 15 seconds. Angel Pagan took off on MacDougal's final toss of this game. David Wright slammed Mike's 96 MPH Fastball to right centerfield. The National League Perennial All-Star nailed that pitch. No question about it--Wright had hammered it. Like a rocket, the ball set sail toward the Out Of Town Scoreboard. Sure to be a game tying hit if not caught. Another Game Changer which Elijah Dukes had other ideas.
Like a cat, Our Number 34's reflexes and jump on this ball was fantastic. Elijah ran hard toward the warning track and the wall--then realized the baseball WAS STILL OVER HIS HEAD. With no margin for error and Pagan already rounding 3rd base and heading for home--Dukes LEAPED at the last possible moment as the baseball soared over his head. Getting his glove up JUST IN TIME--Elijah snared the baseball less than two feet from the wired fence that protects the electronic board. Slamming into the solid object HARD--Dukes then somersaulted backwards on the warning track. And amazingly, held onto the baseball.
Out Number Three Recorded!! The Robust Cheer from those on hand at Nationals Park chilling to experience. Elijah Dukes had performed the near impossible while executing the most thrilling Defensive Play Of This Game and possibly this year. What a catch! What a moment!!
He Made The Catch!! He Made The Catch!!
"I guess Elijah Dukes now fully understands why The Mets are talking to themselves," declared The African Queen while we were jumping up and down--laughing.
Final Score from Nationals Park where there is NO QUESTION about this very fact--no one believed Elijah Dukes would make that fabulous catch: Our Washington Nationals 4 and The New York Mets 3. Curly "W" Number 54 was as satisfying as it gets. A down to the last pitch thriller. A come from behind victory. And solid outing from a rookie starter that many felt was lucky to just get out of his first inning pitched this evening. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling the fun has not yet ended on South Capitol Street. The Season may well be lost--with just one more game to be played at home and four on the road to Atlanta. But that doesn't mean individual accomplishments can't go a long way toward settling some thoughts and ideas for Version 6.0 (2010) of Our Washington Nationals. When everyone gets together in Viera, Florida next February, J.D. Martin, Elijah Dukes and Ian Desmond (all key players this Tuesday) proved tonight they deserve the opportunity to try to make the club. Mike Morse too. How else can you explain a power hitting bench player starting for the fourth consecutive day at four different positions on the field?
Our Washington Nationals didn't roll over to The New York either of the past two nights. And in doing so set up a possible sweep of The Mets in the final home game of 2009. An N.L. East Foe that has dominated DC's team since baseball returned to Washington.
Game Notes & Highlights
Give J.D. Martin credit, he really didn't look good during his first two innings. Three runs on five hits and two walks---then just as poorly as he had thrown--Martin shut down The Mets for four more frames. Leaving after the 6th in a tie ball game, Our Number 60 did OK after all was said and done. But he wasn't great. Average on this day but Washington improved to 9-5 with Martin as their starter. J.D.'s personal record, 5-2 over his last 10 starts.
Tyler Clippard earned his third win of 2009 by surviving that no outs, bases loaded situation in the 8th and being the pitcher of record when Anderson Hernandez and Luis Castillo decided to throw this game away for The Mets in the bottom of the 8th. Mike MacDougal--pitching for the 4th straight day--getting his 18th save of 2009--thanks to Elijah Dukes.
Just enough offense tonight to win for Washington. Desmond with a key two run homer to left off Pelfrey, a double and a stolen base. I don't know if its being more comfortable at the position or just not being moved around as much--but Ian Desmond looks a whole lot better playing shortstop and shortstop alone. He's made some really nice defensive plays over the past two days. And he's shown some terrific range and a GREAT ARM. He and Ryan Zimmerman on the left side of the infield is pretty exciting. They both cover so much ground. Too bad our right side of the infield is lacking in that respect.
The Z-Man with his 103rd RBI of 2009 with his single scoring Willie Harris in the bottom of the 5th.
It's also worth mentioning a defensive play by Mike Morse in the top of the 6th. Playing left field, after starting at 1st base, 3rd base and right field over the previous three days, Our Number 28 got a nice jump on a Jeff Francouer drive over his head in the top of the 6th. Turning just once, Morse showed some decent defensive glove work and some speed when reached OVER HIS HEAD to catch the line drive off Francouer's bat. Not known for his defensive capabilities--Mike Morse made a really find catch and it should be noted. Francouer couldn't believe that ball was caught either.
Finally--rushing from work to the game this evening--I actually forgot to take our digital camera--leaving it behind in my gym bag. Sorry. Sohna couldn't believe it. Neither could I. My Bad. So none of the usual extracurricular photos tonight. But we can tell you--The Final Tee-Shirt Tuesday (A white NatsTown Tee with "DC" logo on the front) was handed out to the first 10,000 fans to enter Nationals Park. And Abe won the Presidents Race for the 40th Time this season.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Manuel Balce Ceneta (AP)