Friday, September 25, 2009
Baseball is always the most humbling of sports. No matter how good the individual may perform, a total team effort is needed to win. All nine players out on the diamond must be working together. No where did that exact fact stand out more than at Nationals Park tonight. John Lannan pitched seven of his finest innings all year. He was sharp. In fact, very good and throwing strikes, getting outs--at least most of them. Unfortunately Our Washington Nationals Defense playing behind him failed Our Number 31 this evening--when it counted the most.
Honestly, just a remarkable first inning collapse that gave The Atlanta Braves the two needed runs to be the difference on South Capitol Street. When your rightfielder loses a ball in the lights for the second consecutive night. When your second baseman lets what was a hard hit, but playable, grounder go right between his legs. And when your centerfielder and leftfielder can't communicate on a routine fly to left center and let the baseball drop--you are going to lose. And that is exactly what Our Washington Nationals did tonight.
No question about it--Atlanta's Javier Vazquez may well have pitched one of his finest games in a few years. The Former Montreal Expos Star threw a fabulous complete game. But John Lannan was equal to the task and if not for defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown in that very first frame--and then again in the 8th, The Brav-OS and Nats might well still be playing.
This was sad to watch a young man pitch his heart out on the mound for DC's Team and not be reward for it. The Atlanta Braves are a good team, not a great team. But they rarely make the silly mistakes which Our Washington Nationals so routinely do. With two out and nobody on base in the top of the first frame, Josh Willingham lost a Chipper Jones liner to right in the lights. Justin Maxwell had to retrieve it. Flustered, Lannan walked Brian McCann on five pitches. Then, Yunel Escobar slapped a hard hit grounder--right at Pete Orr. 2nd Base Umpire Scott Barry had to dance out of the way. But that distraction should not have been enough to befuddle Orr into letting the baseball go right between the wickets. This was a routine play that allowed Chipper Jones to score on the error.
The first run of the evening--which brought sighs of disbelief from the crowd. A score doubled to two when Garrett Anderson proceeded to loft a routine fly ball to left center. This baseball had so much hang time either Willie Harris or Justin Maxwell could have caught the baseball. Maybe Ryan Zimmerman could have even ran over from 3rd Base to haul it in (just kidding)--because that baseball was up in the air for THAT long. Instead, both Harris and Maxwell thought the other was going to catch it. No one did and Brian McCann scored Atlanta's second run of the evening--just like the first--gifted from Our Washington Nationals.
Disbelief now turning to sorrow. How could Our Washington Nationals do it again?
Really, many in the crowd of 28,276--just settling in--had to be wondering exactly what they were watching out on the field of play?
Sloppy baseball by DC's Team, as it turned out, that proved costly when Vazquez stepped to the mound in the bottom of the 1st and just kept throwing strike after strike after strike--inning after inning after inning. Fastball, change up, slider--Javier had it all his pitches working this evening. Just like Number 33 in his younger years for the then moribund Expos Franchise in Montreal. Washington could never really figure him out. Josh Bard would touch Vazquez for a solo homer to right in the bottom of the 8th, but that was about it.
Nine complete innings, three hits, one walk and one run allowed by The Braves Starter. The difference tonight at Nationals Park. The Atlanta Braves taking advantage of opportunity given by Washington's miscues then never letting down their guard. Still in the hunt for a possible Wild Card Berth--The Braves were relentless and scored a run on every single DC miscue. The sight of Escobar hitting a liner up the middle off Jason Bergmann leading off the top of the 8th--was typical of the less than stellar Washington play this evening. Justin Maxwell attempted to make a beautiful diving catch of the fast sinking baseball in centerfield. But then when he missed, Ian Desmond picked up the baseball--lost the grip--and threw a wild toss into short right field. Really, short right field!! Another error that allowed Escobar to advance to second and eventually score on a Matt Diaz well stroked single to left.
These continuing slipups in the field never really giving John Lannan the chance despite pitching a wonderful baseball game. Our Number 31 paying the price for Our Defensive letdowns and Our Offense never quite figuring out Javier Vazquez. Personal loss number 13 for John against 9 victories had nothing to do with his effort. Lannan's teammates had taken away any real expectations of victory with some poor play. Bad execution which sent Our Washington Nationals down to defeat yet again.
Yes, Baseball is a team game and nowhere was that more apparent than on South Capitol Street tonight. DC's Team was brought down by their own short comings. Too many unforgivable errors that The Atlanta Braves capitalized on to walk away with their fourth straight win and 12th out of their last 14.
Final Score from Nationals Park where one of the hottest teams in baseball understood when to count their blessings after your opponent give you free extra outs in any inning: The Atlanta Braves 4 and Our Washington Nationals 1. Loss Number 101 in 153 Games had to be a demoralizing one for John Lannan. He didn't receive the necessary defense and support usually given for a pitching job well done. Instead, Our Number 31 handed a defeat when his teammates let him down and Javier Vazquez absolutely smoked through Our Starting Lineup at the plate. Number 33 throwing a terrific game, just like Lannan. But Javier got the defensive support lacking for Our Number 31.
Embarrassing might be too strong of a word, but humbling is not. Washington let themselves and John Lannan down tonight with some poor play in the field. And the result was yet another loss in the record books.
Game Notes & Highlights
It's worth repeating again--John Lannan pitched a great game against a good hitting Atlanta Lineup. Seven complete, six hits allowed, three walks and six strikeouts. None of the two runs which crossed the plate when Our Number 31 was on the mound were earned. His 122 pitches thrown might well be a career high in any Major League Game (but I am not sure). Lannan was solid and deserving of better. John's ERA now down below 4 at 3.93.
Saul Rivera gave up a solo homer to Martin Prado in the 9th to score Atlanta's 4th run and final run of the game.
Javier Vazquez threw his second complete game in three starts and third of 2009. For the 22nd time this year, Javier threw over 100 pitches in an outing. Considering he's started 31 games so far--that's pretty impressive and consistent. Just three hits allowed over the nine innings, walking just one, lowering his ERA to 2.93 and winning his 15th Personal Game of 2009 against 9 losses. Lannan was good. Vazquez was a little better.
Ryan Zimmerman with a double, Josh Bard with that 8th inning home run and Willie Harris with a single. That was it, nothing else from Our Washington Nationals offensively. Although this strange moment in the bottom of the 4th when Adam Dunn fouled out to Atlanta's Brian McCann behind the plate. The Braves Catcher now wears glasses full time and when he ripped off his mask to pick up the flight of the high flying ball--he ripped off his glasses as well. While still catching the baseball, Adam Dunn actually leaned down and picked up McCann's frames so Brian wouldn't step on them while retrieving the pop up. Good Sportsmanship and The African Queen and I appreciated Our Number 44's thoughts. Honestly, I don't think I have ever seen that in any baseball game. Never expected too, either.
Teddy didn't run again tonight in the 4th inning Presidents Race, reportedly still recovering from a hamstring injury. So Abe, Tom and George raced again and this time Abe wasn't to be denied by GW or Tom taking him out. Running hard all the way, Abe waltzed over the finish line for the victory.
And finally--today was the birthday of three different players for Our Washington Nationals. Wil Nieves, Victor Garate and Jason Bergmann all were born on this day--September 25th. As it turned out, Jason's picture also appeared on the Season Ticket Holder game ticket for this game--alongside The African Queen. Our Number 57 and Sohna shown posing during The Season Ticket Holder Picnic at Nationals Park in 2008. The number of people on South Capitol Street this evening who actually stopped Sohna and asked her if their ticket picture was her--was quite funny. She got a kick out of it. And so did I.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Luis M. Alvarez (AP)
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