Thursday, May 06, 2010

9 Act Stage Play

Tonight's game became mighty interesting in the 6th inning.

Very serious in the 7th.

Nearly downright heartbreaking in the 8th.

Then, a full rollercoaster ride in the 9th.

Only baseball can play out so many times like good theatre, with the plot twists, and the unexpected ending.

Everyone at Nationals Park experienced just that this evening. And like all good plays which finish in grand style--the standing ovations continued well after the curtain went down. The lead actors taking their bows before the jubilant spectators would even go home.

But before those moments began--the curtain on this 9 Act Stage Play (nine innings long) had to be raised.

The Atlanta Braves' Tim Hudson and Our Washington Nationals' Scott Olsen set the early stage with some solid pitching after the 7:05PM curtain. Through Acts 1 through 4 (the first four innings), they battled to an even draw. No scores on the board and the only difference--Hudson had allowed three hits--Olsen just a measly walk. Yet, the thoughts that Our Number 19 had allowed no hits--was barely in the conscious of those in the stands.

Too early in the show, too many acts to play out to seriously consider a no-hitter. No one sure even sure if there would be any intermissions?

Then Act 5 commenced. Olsen continued his mastery of The Brav-OS. And his batterymate, Pudge Rodriguez, added the first real plot twist when he socked a Hudson pitch deep into the visiting bullpen in leftfield for his first home run in a Nationals Uniform. The icebreaker--a 1-0 Washington lead which truly left everyone watching now wondering--could this be the night for something special?

Playwrights sometimes never really know where they are going while writing a plot. What lies ahead might change at a moment's notice--at the shift of a keystroke. Baseball always plays out in a similar manner. What lies ahead might not be the expected, or the hoped, journey. Danger could rise out of nowhere. Any well told story keeps the audience on the edge of his/her seat.

But as Act 6 played out--not many sitting with their fanny's in that purchased seat wanted to witness anything less than history playing out. Olsen had completed another 1-2-3 frame. Only 222 No-Hitters have been thrown in the modern era of Major League Baseball (since 1900). It's a rare feat, and something both The African Queen and I have never seen in person. We've come close twice before with Our Washington Nationals. Once on Labor Day, 2006--when Ramon Ortiz threw his greatest game in a Nationals Uniform. And then on a cool, wet night at the Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street in April, 2007--when Jason Bergmann was light outs deep into a game against these very same Atlanta Braves.

Both Ortiz and Bergmann came up short.

Not one Washington pitcher has come close since.

At least until this very night.

Act 7 was when everyone in the announced crowd of 17,131 finally took notice about what was happening before their very eyes. Scott Olsen completed yet another 1-2-3 top of the 7th--getting Troy Glaus to ground out to Ryan Zimmerman. And as Our Number 19 pumped his glove and walked off the field--Standing Ovation Number 1 commenced. Just nine outs away now. Three innings from adding himself to history. The collective feeling this newly written play was special and spreading--especially after Adam Dunn added his personal keystrokes to the plot with a towering home run just below the ribbon board in right field off Hudson in the bottom of the 7th.

This stage play was playing out in due course.

Heading to Act Number 8--Our Washington Nationals 2 and The Atlanta Braves 0.

And when Olsen struck out Atlanta's Matt Diaz to lead off the top of the 8th, the screaming and rejoicing throughout Nationals Park was palpitating to the heart. The fast beating that arises from being totally engulfed into a well written script--living in the moments as if you are actually participating. Ask The African Queen--except for cheering after each recorded out for 7 plus innings--I was completely silent in my customary seat in Section 218. First, there is the baseball curse of speaking about it. And I didn't want to piss off the Baseball Gods because the thoughts of watching a no-hitter far outdistanced any Playbill from the previous 15 Curtain Rises on South Capitol Street in 2010.

Maybe in fact, most every other game in the short history of Our Washington Nationals.

If this was to be the night--few games watched in person would have exceeded it.

Then five outs away from history, the playwrights twisted the plot into the unexpected direction.

The audience gasped.

History was changed forever.

Atlanta's Catcher, David Ross, stepped to the plate and laced a hard grounder into the hole between 2nd and 3rd. Washington shortstop Ian Desmond dove to his right in the vain attempt to stop the baseball. But Our Rookie Shortstop failed to reach Ross' single. He simply couldn't catch up to it. The very first hit allowed by Scott Olsen all evening. The group groan from the seating bowl could not have been louder. 22 Outs into this game, Our Number 19's valiant attempt at a No-Hitter was now over.

And the first intermission of the night began.

The second standing ovation of the evening for Scott Olsen commenced. Pudge Rodriguez knew this was a poignant moment and immediately called time and ran out to the mound. He not only wanted Olsen to appreciate what he had accomplished, but Ivan also needed to console, lift Scott's spirits and cajole Olsen not to give in. You see, there was still a game to play. One in which Washington only held a two run lead.

Too bad The Baseball Gods decided to wreak havoc anyway.

What was a nail biting thriller, now became a mystery.

Not only had the no-hitter been lost, but a possible Curly "W" being put in the books as well--when Act 8 finally continued and Atlanta's Melky Cabrera followed by stroking a hard grounder directly down the 3rd base line. Ryan Zimmerman made a beautiful backhand stab, but in the rush to twirl the ball to second base in an attempt for an inning ending double play--Zimmy whipped the baseball sidearm/underhand to Alberto Gonzalez at 2nd Base that was WAY too high for Our Number 12 to catch and stay on the bag. Error Number 1 for The Z-Man this evening that placed Braves on 1st and 2nd with just one out. A soon to be bases loaded with one out situation when Nate McLouth followed and singled to right. The 97th and final pitch Scott Olsen would throw this evening.

Five outs from a complete game no-hitter, Our Number 19 now found himself out of this game and in the position to take the loss. The Baseball Gods had given him glory. And now they had taken it away. The appreciative home crowd watching knew what they had to do. Standing Ovation Number Three was not only necessary, but deserved.

The night's second Intermission had begun.

Good thing too, because from here on out--the 8th and 9th Acts played out on pins and needles.

How else can you describe Atlanta's Rookie Sensation being sent to the plate to face Tyler Clippard with the bases loaded? Only to see Jason Heyward (still recovering from a groin pull) sock a two-run pinch hit single to left off Mr. "No Nonsense" to tie this game up at two. Then, just when you believe that Our Number 36 might not have it--and Atlanta is going to score the go ahead runs--Clippard forces Omar Infante to ground into an inning ending double play.

Then, during Act 9, Tyler again finds himself in trouble--bases loaded and one out. And AGAIN--Mr. "No Nonsense" forces David Ross to ground into an inning ending double play. Somehow, someway, Tyler Clippard was finding the will to not lose. Maybe, the most important lesson learned from today's well acted play on South Capitol Street--especially after Washington loaded up the bases themselves in the bottom of the 9th with nobody out and Willie Harris pinch hitting at the plate.

Having nearly watched history in the making with Scott Olsen on the mound, D.C.'s Fans now stood to witness a new chronicle of events. One that officially includes a Washington Nationals Team that has never given up all year long. A roster better balanced. A team capable of fighting back when they are down and mostly considered out. Nearly 2 Hours & 34 Minutes after the curtain had risen--the final act was about to play out.

With Nationals Park standing and cheering--rooting for the home side, Our Number 22 calmly stepped to the plate and RIPPED Peter Moylan's second pitch into right center field. The game winning single that scored Adam Kennedy with Washington's last and final needed run of the evening. And set off another celebration on South Capitol Street--fans getting use to experiencing winning.

Final Score from Nationals Park where a freshly written 9 Act Stage Play held everyone's attention until well after the final pitch was thrown: Our Washington Nationals 3 and The Atlanta Braves 2. Curly "W" Number 15 had it all. A possible no-hitter, rallies by each team, defensive stops when needed the most--all fitting of a well written play. But when all was said and done--D.C.'s Team held on for the victory. They found another way to win. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling that for first time in nearly five seasons, Washington is making a mark for themselves. Names are made, reputations are built, many times, outside of the spot light. This 2010 Version of Our Washington Nationals is growing as a team and in doing so--each and every day--they are moving themselves further Off-Broadway to The Center Stage.

People are not only watching--but beginning to take notice.

Game Notes & Highlights

Scott Olsen's numbers: 7.1 innings pitched, two hits, two runs allowed and he struck out 8. He pitched a great game and was deserving of more. Tyler Clippard allowed the two key Atlanta runners to score in the top of the 8th when Heyward ripped his two run single to left. Our Number 36 was leaving most all of his pitches high and out of the strike zone. But he recovered nicely with a sure defeat facing him down in the top of the 9th with one out--when he forced David Ross to hit into an inning ending double play with the bases loaded. Clippard received his 4th personal win of 2010 against zero defeats. He also received his 2nd blown save.

Remember, Scott Olsen had undergone off-season surgery to repair his throwing arm. In spring training, he had been less than spectacular and had not made the Opening Day Roster. He had gotten the nod back to the Majors only after a failure of another pitcher. And now--five starts into his second season in a Washington Uniform--Scott Olsen left the mound tonight after 7 plus innings appreciated for a job well done. This was The Scott Olsen of three years ago in Florida everyone has wanted to see at Nationals Park these past two seasons.

Except for his two mistake pitches to Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Dunn which resulted in home runs, Tim Hudson pitched a terrific baseball game. Five hits, two runs and zero walks over 7 complete. Eric O'Flaherty took the loss when he walked Adam Kennedy to lead off the bottom of the 9th--moments before Peter Moylan allowed Zimmerman's double, Guzman's walk and Willie Harris' game winning single.

As Pudge Rodriguez crossed home plate after his home run in the bottom of the 5th inning, he pointed both his hands into the sky --then he directed his arms toward the Wounded Warriors sitting behind home plate at Nationals Park and pointed at the soldiers while nodding his head up and down. Classy once again that man.

Ryan Zimmerman had two throwing errors tonight. That first one in the top of the 8th mentioned earlier and his second in the top of the 9th when a hard hit ball by Troy Glaus deflected off his glove and while hurrying a throw to second base in an attempt to get Chipper Jones, threw well off the base. Alberto Gonzalez could have come off 2nd base a little quicker to possibly stop the ball from going into right field--but he didn't and Jones advanced to third on the miscue.

The "YEEEEES!!" that erupted at Nationals Park over Our Number 22's game winning hit was LOUD. There may well have been less than 17,000 in the park at that time--but together--whoever was left was mighty vocal. People were into it.

In the bottom of the 6th when Washington had Nyjer Morgan on 2nd base (reached on an error) and Adam Kennedy on 1st base (hit by pitch), Ryan Zimmerman ripped a two hop grounder into the hole between 1st and 2nd with the runners moving on the pitch. Atlanta's 2nd Baseman Martin Prado swiftly moved to his left, reached out with his glove hand, scooped the baseball, twirled and threw a perfect toss to his shortstop teammate--Omar Infante. Infante then turned the baseball over to Troy Glaus manning 1st base for a beautiful inning ending double play and The Defensive Play Of This Ball Game. Prado, like Placido Palonco of The Phillies, might never be a Hall Of Famer--but Martin Prado is a very good baseball player. And he always seems to kill Washington--whether that be with his bat or in this case--with his glove. That was a wonderful scoop of a baseball with no margin for error to begin a double play.

Tom faked his Rushmore Friends into believing he was hurt during the early stages of tonight's Presidents Race. Then, when GW, Abe & Teddy passed him, Tom turned on the afterburners and won easily for his sixth checkered flag of 2010.

And finally--we've been trying to take a picture of this electronic billboard which is located on the south side of the Douglass Bridge (South Capitol Street) as you drive over from I-295 to South Capitol Street to Nationals Park for some time (It's sort of hard when you are driving with other cars surrounding you). The first part of the message reads "Nats Ball Park". The second part reads: "Parking, Use Lot 8" Cracks us up every single time we see it. Lot 8 is at RFK Stadium--that is no longer a parking facility for Our Washington Nationals. The D.C. Government needs to correct that electronic sign. Maybe it's suppose to read Lot B, C--or something else. But right now it's just plain wrong--and confusing.

Tonight's In-Game Photos--Haraz N. Ghanbari (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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