Thursday, April 08, 2010

Cardiac Capps

Matt Capps found himself in big trouble.

Called on in the top of the 9th inning to save the slimmest of leads, Our Washington Nationals first Curly "W" of 2010 was now in jeopardy--thanks to a Chase Utley double and a forced Ryan Howard intentional walk with nobody out. Nationals Park was churning with fans from both teams looking to drown out the other. No one really knew what was to come, but after The Phillies had taken the first two games of this Opening Week Series, the chances for Washington to stopping a third straight heartbreaking loss--seemed slim.

The score was 6-5 in Washington's favor and these rain clouds threatening for the last half hour of this game were beginning to let out their bursts of thunder. The exact same ominous look Philadelphia wanted to once again administer over D.C.'s team. The setting really was sort of surreal. The Two-Time Defending N.L. Champions using Nationals Park as their home away from home these past four days while Washington's Fans stood, sort of wanting, hoping, maybe even praying to gain back some lost respect. Even when The African Queen turned to some of our friends sitting behind us in Section 218--their reaction of pretending to bite their fingernails over the uncertain outcome--said it all. This cliffhanger really needed to be won by the home side. Unfortunately, there were three more outs to record.

As Matt Capps slowly walked around the mound gathering himself, up stepped the always dangerous Jayson Werth. The Phillies rightfielder with power, speed and punch. Just the type of guy that seems to proliferate Philadelphia's lineups. Does any team have a better lineup in the National League? I don't think so. Philadelphia had no easy outs from leadoff to their 7th spot today. And of course Werth nearly decided this game with one swing of the bat.

With those Philly Fans chanting, Capps decided he better start throwing strikes. And for the remainder of this final frame, Our Number 55 in Home Red would throw nothing but the hard stuff near the plate--daring The Phillies to hit him. Of course, two pitches into this key At-Bat, Jayson Werth took Matt up on that offer and proceeded to drill a wicked liner to right. A sure gapper to score two runs. Fortunately, Nyjer Morgan was patrolling centerfield and perfectly played the drive to his left for out number one. Honestly, you could hear a sigh of relief from the collective known as Washington's supporters this Thursday afternoon and evening on that play--as Our Number 1 grasped that stroked baseball into his glove. Sure, Chase Utley advanced to third base on the catch, but everyone had seen that wanted Curly "W" pass before their eyes. Now, with one out recorded, Washington still had the double play lined up--but Raul Ibanez was stepping to the plate.

In 2009, Raul Ibanez had a career year facing Our Washington Nationals. 29 hits, 5 doubles, 8 home runs, 21 RBI's and 21 runs scored in the 18 games played against these two teams. Singehandedly, D.C.'s team probably made Ibanez an All-Star last season. Now it was "Cardiac Capps" as Sohna has quickly come to call him for nearly giving her a heart attack--looking to end Raul's domination. Aggressive as always, Ibanez would swing and foul off strike one. And with Philly's fan again looking to assert control on South Capitol Street, Washington's Fans finally decided--they would have nothing more of it. Prevalent throughout Nationals Park--Let's Go Nats!!" began to rule the day. A ray of hope peaking through the still billowing early evening clouds.

Realizing 2009 is not 2010, Matt Capps would bear down again--this time getting Raul Ibanez on a weak fly to left field. A shallow hit ball that Willie Harris easily caught rushing in. Out Number Two in the top of the 9th that left what was left of the 20,217 in the announced crowd of Nats Fans--screaming with delight. One Out Now To Go For Curly "W" Number One!!

Only thing was--the pesky Philly Centerfielder, Shane Victorino, needed to make that final out. Victorino is one of those slap hitters that always seems to produce in the clutch--like Alfredo Amezaga when he played for The Florida Marlins. Seemingly, Washington could never get Amezaga out--Victorino the same way.

As the "Let's Go Phillies" chant began to be heard again--"Let's Go Nats!!" again prevailed. There might have only been half the number of total fans in the stands as Opening Day at Nationals Park on Monday--but the noise level throughout the now three year ballpark was phenomenal! And when Shane Victorino took called strike one from Home Plate Hunter Wendlestadt on Capps first offering--the clamor grew exponentially. For truly the first time all day, there was the real sense--Washington might well just win. Sohna and I could even see it in the faces of those Philly fans surrounding us in Section 218. They now knew--their Phillies might well lose.

As Matt Capps looked in for the sign from his catcher, Wil Nieves, most everyone left on South Capitol Street rose in unison. The outcome now upon us. "Cardiac Capps" threw into Shane Victorino's fists a 96 mile per hour heater. A jam job fastball that The Phillies Centerfielder swung at and popped softly to Cristan Guzman at shortstop. The celebrating even began before "The Guz" tightened his glove around the ball for the 27th and final out of this game. Washington's players rushing on the field while Washington's fans were jumping up and down with shouts of glee. Our New Closer had done it!! And celebrated with a forceful underarm righthanded fist pump in jubilation of a job well done. Wil Nieves hugging Capps for his first save in a Washington Uniform.

Final Score from Nationals Park where the threatening clouds above let loose with a cleansing rain mere moments after Shane Victorino recorded the final out--Our Washington Nationals 6 and The Philadelphia Phillies 5. Curly "W" Number 1 of 2010 was a battle forged where seven of the nine batters in Jim Riggleman's lineup got hits, the defense was steady and the back end of Riggleman's bullpen-while not perfect--got the job done. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! hopefully signaling a fresh start for Washington after an inauspicious beginning to the new season. "Cardiac Capps" got the job done sending Our Washington Nationals on the road to the New York City for the first time in 2010--content. And Washington Fans home happy over a beating of The Philadelphia Phillies in our very own ballpark.

They just couldn't start the season 0-3. And they didn't. Now, let's just beat The Mets.

Game Notes & Highlights

His final pitching numbers weren't the best and he was saved by a brutal baserunning error by Ryan Howard, but Craig Stammen didn't walk ANYBODY in five complete innings. The Phillies hit him pretty good (nine hits) and Our Number 35 wasn't overly fooling them with his stuff (striking out just one), but somehow Craig Stammen hung in there and left with the lead and in position to receive the personal victory. At least until Sean Burnett couldn't find the plate in the 6th when he walked two Philly batters and The Phillies made Tyler Clippard pay for it when after he relieved Burnett, hit Ben Francisco and allowed Jimmy Rollins to stroke a sacrifice fly to right field to tie this game up at five.

But after that, Clippard, Brian Bruney and Capps shutout The Phillies the rest of the way. None of them were perfect, and Capps was scary, but all three did limit the damage and finally get their jobs done. Clippard got the win and a blown save.

Ryan Zimmerman actually knocked in the winning run--a slow looping fly ball down the rightfield line in the bottom of the 7th that landed JUST inside the white line and away from Jayson Werth's glove. The resultant double scored Alberto Gonzalez with Washington's sixth and final run of this game. "The Attorney General" had walked pinch hitting for Clippard, advanced to second on a sacrifice by Morgan and a groundout by "The Guz". Nelson Figueroa handed the loss for The Phillies.

The Z-Man actually recorded two doubles today, his first a blast JUST below the fence in left during the top of the 1st inning when Washington scored three times off Philadelphia starter Howie Kendrick. Nyjer had started the rally with a triple stroked to rightcenter. Guzman followed with a single up the middle scoring Our Number 1. Zimmerman then doubled, Dunn grounded out scoring Cristian and Josh Willingham stroked a sacrifice fly scoring Ryan.

Willie Harris slammed out a two run homer in the bottom of the 4th off Kendrick over the "Out Of Town" Scoreboard in right. Adam Dunn singled two batters before Willie's first home run of 2010.

Washington's lead was never safe this day. The Phillies kept on getting back into the game with two runs here and one run there. Philadelphia never led but they were banging on the door well before the 9th and final inning. They scored twice in the top of the 5th on a Ross Gload pinch hit single, Placido Polanco drive to center totally misplayed by Morgan letting the ball scoot past him for a two base scoring error followed by another single from Ryan Howard. But just when it appeared The Phillies were about to take control of this game, a Howard baserunning error would turn this game around.

After Howard singled, Jayson Werth ripped a drive into the left field corner. For whatever reason, Ryan was not paying attention to his 3rd Base Coach--Sam Perlozzo. As Josh Willingham picked up the baseball and threw to his cutoff man--Adam Kennedy--Werth jogged into 2nd Base but Ryan Howard ran right threw Perlozzo's stop sign. Caught now too far off the base, Kennedy quickly tossed to Ryan Zimmerman who blindly slapped down a backhanded tag on 3rd base. Only to realize Howard was a good five feet away. The Z-Man then chasing Howard toward home whereupon Zimmy tossed the baseball to Wil Nieves who tagged Ryan Howard standing up for The Lucky Defensive Play Of This Game. Craig Stammen was being hit hard at this point. Jim Riggleman would have most assuredly replaced him had Howard not made such a base running mistake. The miscue put Stammen in the position for the win--at least until Sean Burnett walked the first Philadelphia Batters he faced in the subsequent 6th frame.

"The Guz" and Zimmerman with two hits apiece. Washington stroked nine total. Morgan, Guzman, Zimmerman and Dunn combining to go 7 for 14 with two doubles, one triple, 3 rbi's and four runs scored. In his career, Willie Harris is 5 for 12 facing Howie Kendrick and today was the second home run he has hit off the tall Philly righthander. When Cristian scored his 1st inning run on an Adam Dunn groundout he performed what we call his patented hand slapdown tag of home plate to JUST get past the tag of The Phillies Catcher Brian Schneider. Guzzie does that hand slap better than just about any player in the game--Beautifully Executed.

Speaking of sliding, Our Washington Nationals may well want Nyjer to slide feet first to prevent any further broken fingers and hands--but Morgan needs to work on OVERSLIDING the base. Every single game this week, Our Number 1 had himself nearly tagged out for sliding past the bag. He did it again on his first inning triple today. The man's full of energy, but Nyjer Morgan needs to learn the pop up slide or he's going to be making untimely outs. Costly ones.

It was nice seeing Original National Brian Schneider play today for Philadelphia.

And by the way--all three games this week were LONG--today's the shortest at 2 hours & 46 minutes. It's been like watching American League Games all week. Can't stand that. Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel is starting to manage like Tony LaRussa. Bring in multiple pitchers for one batter apiece which slows the game down tremendously. It also didn't help that Washington's pitching has not been too good either.

In the Presidents Race today, Tom, Abe & Teddy got diverted when George started playing with a golf club in centerfield. Then when George let his friends play with the club, GW actually ran the race alone to take the checkered flag.

And finally, love the optimism of this guy sitting below us in the box seats--wearing a Red Nationals Tee-Shirt with "World Series 10" on the back. Sohna and I got a real kick out that shirt, so did everybody surrounding him.

Capps Photos--Greg Fiume--Getty Images
In-Game Photos--Susan Walsh--AP
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


paul said...

The way we saw the Howard play on the 3B side was: Perlozzo put up the stop sign late, and Howard had too much inertia in motion. Phillie fans in our section were annoyed with Perlozzo.

This game was really thrilling and fun. Both Bruney and Capps performed high wire acts. Imagine holding a 1-run on the Phils through innings 8 and 9!

I have to bring up a negative, however. I almost fell out of my chair when I read in the Post the other day that the contract with Riggleman is titularly for 2 years at $600K per, but the Nats can buy Jim out for only $100K if they don't rehire him for year 2! I guess they will never learn not to set up their manager for failure in this way. He cannot possibly be an authority figure with such a ridiculous deal. This is very discouraging.

Chris said...

If you were managing the Phillies current lineup, would you let those relievers pitch entire innings? I wouldn't.

I was only able to watch innings 1-top 6 so I missed the go ahead and the 9th inning drama, but the takeaway for me was mistakes - some errors but some just mistakes - by both clubs.

I thought it was encouraging that the Phillies could score runs without the long ball, although frustrating that so many were LOB.

On the Nationals side, Stammen may have been saved by Howard, but remember that to some extent Morgan put him in the situation in the first place. The no walks were very impressive, although the bullpen picked up the "slack" in that particular department.

So yeah, first week of April, bad fundamentals (fielding and baserunning) from both clubs, and bad relief too. The Phils have more dangerous bottom of the order hitters and some relievers coming off the DL, so I guess that's why they're favored to win the division again. And that Halladay guy, of course. But the Braves are mighty scary themselves. Time will tell.

Thanks for the dramatic write-up of the 9th...since I missed it it was really fun to be able to read it in such immediate detail!

Edward J. Cunningham said...

Just one comment---are you SURE that guy in front is a Nats fan? That's one more thing that's annoying whenever the Phils come to town---their uniform color scheme is identical to ours so unless you're paying attention it's easy to mistake Phillie players--and sometimes Phillie fans---for Nats.

Incidentally 2010 marks both the 30th anniversary of the Phillies' first world championship as well as the 100th anniversary of Philadelphia's first World Series win (for the Athletics).

Screech's Best Friend said...

Eddie-yes the shirt had "Nationals" on the front.