Sunday, April 25, 2010
Well Pitched Game...Well Defended Too!!
Almost immediately after the conclusion of today's game, The African Queen and I ran into Our General Manager Mike Rizzo.
SBF: Well pitched game!!
Rizzo: Well defended too!! Maybe our best game yet!! (Smiling Broadly)
And IT WAS a marvelous Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.
Raise your hand if you believed Our Washington Nationals could hold any opponent from scoring a single run while protecting a one run lead--plated on a simple ground out in the very first inning?
Any One? And with Scott Olsen toeing the rubber for D.C.'s Team?
A transformation occurred today on South Capitol Street. A metamorphosis from a team that everyone has always wished MAYBE could--to a team that probably CAN.
And without Ryan Zimmerman--still recovering fully from his tweaked hamstring.
And without Washington's offense showing much of anything on this final weekend day of a 10-game homestand, The Los Angeles Dodgers flew to New York Sunday night to take on The Mets--most likely wondering what exactly they've left behind.
What Joe Torre's Dodgers saw was a Washington Nationals Team that never gave up all weekend. Los Angeles witnessed a changeover in attitude on the field of play. The Dodgers experienced a shift in the Nation's Capital--a place now where every single out is challenged. Every single inning is played by Washington with one result in mind--WINNING. And when it comes to D.C. Baseball everyone standing and shouting "Let's Go Capps!!" before the final out was recorded believed--the Curly "W" was going to be put in the books.
Thanks to all crucial moments playing out in style.
After a rocky 1st inning, Scott Olsen completed the strongest seven innings he's ever pitched wearing the Curly "W". But the lefhander wasn't done until he was assisted by Ian Desmond and Cristian Guzman turning one of the sweetest double plays you might ever see in a close ball game. With Our Number 19's one run lead precarious thanks to a Reed Johnson single in the top of the 7th, Joe Torre sent his power hitting rightfielder to the plate as a pinch hitter. Given Sunday off to rest, The Los Angeles Manager knew that Andre Ethier represented his best bet against a tiring Olsen.
Our Manager Jim Riggleman sensed that as well.
And immediately trotted to the mound to discuss the situation with his entire infield. This is where Riggleman is far different from Manny Acta. Since being named manager, Jim sends only himself to the mound with the game on the line. He wants to know first hand--how the pitcher is feeling. And he wants to let his defenders know--with words, not hand motions or through an interpreter--what he expects of them defensively.
And everyone wearing red responded when Olsen forced Ethier to ground a sharply hit ball toward the hole that Ian Desmond had to backhand to his right. Only problem was that Washington's defense was slightly overshifted to the left for Ethier's strong pulling bat. Cristian Guzman had to run quite the extra distance to reach second base in time for Desmond's throw. And realizing "The Guz" needed extra precious seconds, Ian backhand dished the baseball--perfectly timed--which allowed Our Number 15 to basket catch the baseball on the run--step on second base--and while falling away toward leftfield--get off a PERFECT THROW to Adam Dunn at 1st base to retire the side.
A beautifully turned double play that found Scott Olsen fist pumping in delight and personally stopping to slam hands with Desmond and "Guz" as Olsen headed to the showers--done of the day.
Yet, that one defensive gem was just the appetizer.
You see, Tyler Clippard trotted to the mound for the 8th inning and proceeded with his "No Nonsense" stuff. But "The Man With The Greatest Goggles In The Game" didn't get out of his relief effort too--without more defensively wizardry by Washington. Not sure what was in the water today at Nationals Park, but when Rafael Furcol lashed a leadoff liner--quickly dropping to the ground to left--Josh Williingham scooted in, dove forward, face first, and snared Furcol's drive moments before it touched down. Hitting the grass hard, Willingham had given up his body--and his face--for a key out.
Defensive gem number two served up as the main course.
Yet, believe it or not--the best was yet to come.
Matt Capps was called on to close out his 8th consecutive save to start the new season. And he got in trouble right away. The Dodgers' James Loney lashed a double JUST OVER the outstretched glove of the leaping Adam Kennedy manning 3rd Base. Now, tell me if you watched this game--if the first thing you thought was--Zimmerman would have had it? Everyone in Section 218 said the exact same thing--almost in unison.
But The Z-Man was not in this game. And the result was a leadoff double. The "Cardiac" version of Capps now back on display. The question: Could Our Washington Nationals pitch and defend themselves out of another big jam for the third consecutive inning and win this game?
This is new ground for D.C. Baseball over the past two years. The ability to sense the moment at hand and rise to the occasion.
Matt Capps did not give in and quickly retired Casey Blake (the one L.A. Batter who had dominated Washington pitching all weekend) on a routine ground out hit to Cristian Guzman manning second. But he was not saved until The Defensive Play Of This Game was recorded.
"The Ballplayer"--well known as Ronnie Belliard here on Nats320 stepped to the plate with Jamey Carroll (pinch running for Loney) standing in scoring position for The Dodgers. If there is one player on L.A.'s roster that can raise his game when if counts the most--it's Belliard. And even though Ronnie was hitless through this point in three at-bats--he was no less dangerous. Washington knew it, Capps knew it--The African Queen watching in Section 218 definitely knew it as well. Don't count the man out--and sure enough Ronnie Belliard gets JUST ENOUGH of a Capp's 94 mile per hour fastball to loft a lazy fly into short rightfield. The exact place where most outfielders would never reach. The exact blooping single that ties up this ball game.
But Justin Maxwell had other ideas. Playing rightfield today, J-Maxx used all of his God-Given speed to race in for the still in the air baseball. He used his gazelle speed to cut the distance between himself and the fast falling ball. And even then, that wasn't enough. Justin Maxwell realized he had to dive--also face first--just like Willingham did in the 8th. And just like Josh, Our Number 30 needed to catch AND hold on to the baseball. With all of Nationals Park rising in unison in anticipation of THE GAME DECIDING PLAY--Maxwell reached out--almost lunging with his glove hand and CAUGHT THE BALL IN THE HEEL OF HIS GLOVE. Then he wrapped his leather glove so tight around the baseball--Superman himself could not have plied it from the pocket.
The DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THIS GAME WAS THE JUST DESSERT.
Unexpectedly, a Full-Course Meal of Defensive Gems had been served up by Washington. And had the home crowd roaring with delight until "Let's Go Capps" forced Garret Anderson to meekly pop out to Nyjer Morgan manning centerfield for the final out moments later. The conclusion--a celebration not expected just 19 games into the 2010 Championship Season. Remember, a simple ground out by Adam Dunn in the bottom of the 1st scored the only run D.C.'s Team needed to gain victory. But quality pitching backed by a series of defensive plays held up--bringing home one of the most tantalizing victories in Our Washington Nationals short history.
Yeah, it really was--One To Nothing.
Final Score from Nationals Park where a well pitched game was well defended too: Our Washington Nationals 1 (and it's worth repeating ONE!!) and The Los Angeles Dodgers ZERO. Curly "W" Number 10 proved the old adage--You Win With Pitching and Defense. And The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling the dawn of a new day on South Capitol Street. This team is competitive. Above .500 three weeks into a new season, Washington has found they can win even while scoring barely a run. They couldn't do that last year. And this one wasn't just luck.
They played like a team.
As Mike Rizzo mentioned shortly after the conclusion of this game--Our Washington Nationals maybe played their best game yet. So what's Washington's capability with a healthy Ryan Zimmerman in their lineup? And Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Chien Ming Wang waiting in the wings? If April is just the beginning, what's it going to be like when Our Washington Nationals mature as a team two to three months down the line?
There was a whole new feeling leaving Nationals Park late this afternoon.
Happy faces and fresh hope all around. People were excited.
Game Notes & Highlights
Four batters into this game, you had to wonder whether Scott Olsen would last the first inning. The bases were loaded with Dodgers with one out but 23 batters later Olsen walked off the mound in triumph after Desmond & "The Guz" turned their wonderful 7th inning ending double play. He struck out eight and pitched his finest game in a Washington Uniform--receiving his first personal win since last July.
Clippard's performance today was what everyone has come to expect from this intense man--quality. Quickly becoming the set up man for Matt Capps--who added to his Washington Team Record today with his 8th consecutive save to start the season. Clppard's ERA--0.69 Capps 0.79. Quite the late tandem for Jim Riggleman to count on with the game on the line.
Former N.L. All-Star, Chad Billingsley, pitched well too for Los Angeles. Six innings of one run ball. Touched only in the first when Nyjer Morgan singled, advanced to second on an Adam Kennedy walk. Both moved up one base on a Guzman sacrifice bunt. Morgan scoring when Adam Dunn ripped a hard grounder between 1st and 2nd that Ronnie Belliard (overshifting to his left for Dunn) dove to his left, knocked the baseball down and threw Dunn out at first. Morgan scoring what became the game's only run.
Only four total hits for Washington this afternoon. Seven for Los Angeles.
Ryan Zimmerman made a pinch hit appearance in the bottom of the 7th for Scott Olsen, The Z-Man ripped a liner--right at Ronnie Belliard. Zimmerman, apparently nearly healed--expected to be in the starting lineup for the upcoming Cubs series in Chicago.
The Curly "W" recorded today gave Washington a 6-4 record during the just completed 10-game homestand. They have also won seven of the last 11. Currently tied for 2nd place in the National League East--1.5 games behind Philadelphia.
Today, My Best Friend!! Screech!! celebrated his 5th Birthday. 10 different area Professional & College Team Mascots showed up to participate in the festivities. Screech received a birthday cake. And during the 4th inning Presidents Race--all the mascots participated and attempted to stop each of The Rushmores from crossing the finish line. George eventually won, but as Sohna stated after the race: "If there was ever a time to Let Teddy Win--then disqualify him for the other Mascots interfering in the race--this was it. That would have brought the house down."
And finally--The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation held a special raffle today to raise further funding for their Diabetes Care Complex to be built at The Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. $1 tickets were sold. The grand prize to the winner--$500 and four tickets to an upcoming Nationals Game.
Today's In-Game Photos--Nick Wass (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved