Monday, April 19, 2010
Willie Harris settles in under the final out in the top of the 8th inning. A routine fly ball to leftfield off the bat of The Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez. As Willie makes the catch, he and his other teammates from Our Washington Nationals begin to trot off the field toward the home side dugout. All except for Craig Stammen.
Washington's pitcher of record doesn't realize the frame is over. Instead, Our Number 35 heads to the rear of the mound looking to get the baseball back to face another hitter--until Ryan Zimmerman comes by and clearly states: "Inning Over." They both begin to laugh. You see, Craig Stammen had found "The Zone". That psychological edge that happens in sports where you can do little wrong--for one game--or one event--or for an extended period of time.
Basketball players enter The Zone on those nights when every basketball shot from their hands sees nothing but the bottom of the net. When golfers enter the zone, they will make every drive off the tee perfectly. And sink every putt no matter how difficult. A football quarterback will hit every single receiver thrown a pass in The Zone--even while scrambling from the pocket. And distance runners in The Zone feel like they can run forever.
In The Zone, there is a feeling a new boundary as been reached. Something out of this world has touched you. Mindless becomes the thought pattern. Every single decision you make is right. Invincible might be too strong of a word, but untouchable might describe the experience perfectly. And you don't want it to end.
NBA Great & Hall Of Famer, Michael Jordan, probably entered The Zone during his illustrious career more consistently than any sports figure EVER. Arguably, no other player in sport has elevated their game more than MJ. But The Zone is not reserved for just the great players. Every athlete, sometime during their career, will enter The Zone at least once. And Craig Stammen found himself in that expanse tonight at Nationals Park.
He was in total control the deeper into this game he pitched.
Relaxed, not over throwing, showing no beads of sweat--the Former Dayton Flyer was just playing ball. Whether Stammen was pitching in a sandlot pickup game back home, or pitching in a playoff game, or in this case--the 13th of 162 scheduled Major League Baseball Games for Our Washington Nationals in 2010--no one was really going to touch him.
Stammen's Washington teammates put five runs on the board in support. And for his final five innings on the mound--Craig was protecting just a three run lead. But on this chilly evening at Nationals Park, that lead might have well been 30 runs. Unconsciously, Stammen was throwing to a quality hitting lineup named The Colorado Rockies--that really had no chance against him. D.C.'s starter tonight allowed two runs on five hits while walking just one. He was in The Zone so deep, Craig even singled his first time up to the plate. And drilled a liner to right in the bottom of the 6th that would have been a sure single too--his second base hit of the evening--if not for a fine sliding catch by Colorado's Brad Hawpe.
Having pitched one of the worst games of his career the last time out, Craig Stammen rebounded and found the nerve, the drive and the stamina to turn his game around. No athlete ever knows when they will enter The Zone. That tall righthander wearing uniform number 35 did tonight and in doing so encountered one of those nearly indescribable feelings.
Final Score from Nationals Park where Craig Stammen found out his athletic ability had no limitations this evening: Our Washington Nationals 5 and The Colorado Rockies 2. Curly "W" Number Seven of 2010 proved that when a player is in The Zone, he is virtually untouchable. The pressure doesn't matter. The competition doesn't matter. All that really matters is the feeling you can't be beat. And The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling that Washington's Team might be entering The Zone as well. They've battled back after bad outings. They've never given up even when down big. And after playing poorly at times through these first few weeks of the new season--D.C.'s Team still has a winning record of seven wins and six losses.
The Zone is that psychological edge, a mindset, that Our Washington Nationals are finding can make themselves capable of defeating just about anyone.
Game Notes & Highlights
You could see it in his face all evening, Craig Stammen was enjoying himself on the mound. He wasn't nervous. He was just performing up to his capabilities--and then some. It's hard to believe that during his last start, Our Number 35 only lasted 1.1 innings--giving up seven runs. Craig Stammen was the pitcher everyone saw at Spring Training in Florida tonight--dominant at times and worthy of his starting rotation position once again.
Matt Capps was sent to the mound by Our Manager Jim Riggleman for the top of the 9th inning. Capps finished off his sixth save in as many chances.
Washington jumped all over Colorado Starter Aaron Cook early. Willie Harris with the key blow--a three run homer into the bullpen in right field--in the bottom of the 2nd. Harris knocking in his fourth run of the evening on a sacrifice fly to center with the bases loaded in the 3rd--scoring Dunn. And Nyjer Morgan finishing off Washington's 5th tally with an rbi single moments later. Considering that 17 D.C. hitters faced Cook in the 2nd and 3rd innings alone--it was surprising Our Washington Nationals didn't score more.
There was a really nice moment when Harris knocked home Adam Dunn with that 4th run on the sacrifice fly in the 3rd. Pudge Rodriguez was standing on 1st base--having singled right before Willie. After Our Number 22 turned, after the catch was made, and proceeded to walk back to Washington's Dugout, our fans stood clapping from the stands. What was even better, was the sight of Pudge still standing on 1st base--but yelling and pointing toward Willie Harris vociferously. Rodriguez proceeding to clap and cheer for Willie as well--for giving himself up for the team. That's leadership from Pudge Rodriguez. That's letting your teammates know--the little things count. You don't have to step to the plate and hit the ball out of the park every time. You just have to be professional and attempt to give your team another opportunity to win. In the five plus years of Nationals Baseball, we don't ever recall any player wildly cheering on their teammate--FOR MAKING AN OUT. A Future Hall Of Famer was letting Willie Harris know he appreciated the effort. That briefest moment tonight--a big step in the development of Our Washington Nationals.
Interesting post-game stat: Willie Harris is 4th on the career leader board for home runs at Nationals Park with 12. Ryan Zimmerman has 24, Adam Dunn 20 and Elijah Dukes 13.
There were a few nice defensive gems tonight. Two from Miguel Olivo--The Rox Catcher. In the bottom of the 6th inning, he threw out the speedy Nyjer Morgan attempting to steal second base. Then, in the 7th, Olivo did himself one better and threw out the very speedy Willy Taveras attempting to steal second base. Both, beautiful and strong throws. But the best defensive play of the night came from the athletic speed and skill of Ian Desmond.
In the top of the 8th, Colorado's Manager Jim Tracy sent Dexter Fowler to pinch hit for their pitcher Matt Daley against Craig Stammen. The lefty swinging Fowler slams the first pitch thrown toward the middle of the diamond--shortstop side of second base. With virtually a split second to decide what to do, Ian Desmond lunges and dives to his left while the baseball has actually short-hopped, almost past, his now prone body. But somehow, Our Number 6 has positioned his fielding glove lower than his body to the ground--giving himself just enough leverage to OLE' scoop the baseball, fall down, quickly get up--and throw Dexter Fowler out at 1st Base--just in time. The Defensive Play Of This Game that was spectacular to watch in person.
11,623 the announced crowd tonight at Nationals Park. And it seemed like less. When the game's first pitch was thrown at 7:04PM, there were few folks sitting around us in the Stars & Stripes Club.
Teddy again came out of the gate with the lead in the 4th inning Presidents Race. But after a tussle in the corner turn, Tom pulled away to take the checkered flag.
And finally, while walking around the ballpark during the game, every other television set in the seating bowl area was tuned to The Capitals/Canadiens NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Hockey Game.
Tonight's In-Game Photos--Haraz N. Ganbari (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved