Sunday, May 23, 2010

One Very Good Professional Hitter

Ryan Zimmerman is the best all-around player in uniform for Our Washington Nationals.

Adam Dunn has the most power.

But Josh Willingham is D.C.'s most professional hitter.

He proved that fact again today with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10 inning at Nationals Park.

Good hitters know what's coming next. The great hitters know what to do when that pitch comes.

When Cla Meredith was called into this game unexpectedly in the bottom of the 10th inning as an emergency replacement for The Baltimore Orioles Closer--Alfredo Simon--"The Hammer", Washington's next hitter, stood on-deck watching intently as The O's underarm reliever warmed up. Meredith throws in a completely different style than Simon. Alfredo throws heat while Cla depends on pinpoint control.

Meredith's deliveries must always be precise. Command is always necessary for any sidearm/underarm pitcher to be effective. Any wavering from that standard tends to find any thrown baseball curling up and into the strike zone. A resultant hitter's pitch that can be whacked out of any park.

And as The Orioles Number 26 continued his warm ups on the mound--it was clear every single toss to his catcher, Matt Wieters, was doing just that. Meredith was displaying little control and Our Number 16 immediately took notice. He even seemed to mention this to Justin Maxwell--the next scheduled hitter for Washington.

The fact that Our Washington Nationals were in this position in the first place was due to Matt Capps blowing his first save ever in a Nationals Uniform in the top of the 9th that tied this affair up at three. AND because Alfredo Simon had hurt himself moments earlier when he rushed to cover 1st Base on a ground ball hit by Willie Harris to Baltimore's Luke Scott. Out Number 1 in the bottom of the 10th found Simon hunched over, hurt after landing on the bag the wrong way, and unable to continue in this game.

A fortunate turn of events for Washington as Cla Meredith should not have even been in this game--at this time. But there he stood on the mound as Josh Willingham dug into the right handed batters box at Nationals Park. Washington's left fielder could not have asked for a better matchup. A professional hitter knows what to do in just such a situation. You wait for a pitch to drive. Having watched Meredith's warmups, Josh Willingham understood this new Baltimore reliever was not even reaching 87 MPH on any of his pitches--about nine miles per hour slower than Simon.

The opportunity to win a game with one swing of the bat does not come along often. And when it does, success will only come if the batter is calm and composed at the plate. Josh Willingham's resurgent early 2010 campaign boils down to his good eye at the plate. He's walking more than ever in his career. He's seeing the ball better. He's relaxed and the results have been the best on base percentage of his five years of Major League Baseball. And some of his besting slugging numbers ever.

Our Number 16 has been tuned in most all year and as he watched Cla Meredith throw his first pitch of the crucial At-Bat right over the plate-- a called strike one--Willingham waited patiently--looking for his pitch. When you are locked in, you can take a strike, because you believe something better will come along. And when Baltimore's reliever threw his next two pitches low in the strike zone--Willingham knew-- Cla Meredith either had to walk him or challenge him.

And when Meredith chose the later--he paid for it dearly.

As Baltimore's underarm reliever peered in for the sign, Our Number 16 set himself at the plate, knees bent, body slightly hunched over--ready. Then as Cla Meredith let loose his and this game's final pitch--Josh Willingham cocked his bat, lifted his left leg and swung at the very precise pitch he wanted to hit all along. A 86 MPH fastball that floated up and over the plate. The exact spot in which Willingham can use his strong and fast reflexes to hammer any pitch deep and long into the afternoon light.

The exact same pitch he had witnessed Meredith throw in warmups.

The sounds erupting throughout South Capitol Street told the rest of the story. This game was now over thanks to Josh Willingham's clutch blow. A solo home run that sent Josh's teammates rushing out onto the field, The Baltimore Orioles rushing off and Our Number 16 rushing around the bases to be greeted and thanked for a job well done. Willingham had paid attention and was rewarded for his study habits.

Final Score from Nationals Park where Josh Willingham got the pitch he wanted and knew what to do with it: Our Washington Nationals 4 and The Baltimore Orioles 3. Curly "W" Number 23 was one of those up and down thrillers. Disappointing one moment when Washington lost a late lead with two outs in the 9th, but uplifting and enjoyable to experience when victory was finally at hand. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! not only just beginning the celebration of the field, but the signaling of the growth of a professional hitter that finally seems to have found his game in Major League Baseball. Josh Willingham has been Washington's most consistent performer all season long. He's become a leader in the clubhouse. A driving force at the plate. And today again showed why he's been one of Our Washington Nationals Most Valuable Players all season long.

When his teammates needed him the most this afternoon at Nationals Park, Josh Willingham delivered with as skillful of an at-bat as you will ever see. He watched Cla Meredith warm he. He studied the Baltimore Reliever's pitches. And he swatted out exactly what he was looking for at the plate from Meredith to win this game. Josh Willingham is one very good professional hitter. And he proved that fact once again today with a Walk-Off Home Run in the bottom of the 10th inning on South Capitol Street.

Game Notes & Highlights

John Lannan pitched well today. He may have thrown his best game of 2010. Returning from a mild elbow problem in his throwing arm, Our Number 31 had good control. John was able to spot his pitches and for 5.1 innings threw as effectively as he has all season. Allowing just two hits and one run--Lannan left with the lead--replaced by Drew Storen and was in the position for the personal win until Capps gave up the game tying runs in the top of the 9th. Baltimore's only run until the 9th scored by Corey Patterson on a double play ground out hit by Miguel Tejada in the top of the 1st frame.

Storen pitched a solid 1.2 innings of relief. He didn't allow a single hit or run. And he struck out Luke Scott in the bottom of the 6th with Baltimore runners on 1st & 3rd on one fabulous 84 MPH curve ball. A breaker that found Scott lunging and swinging at air. That was a great out pitch. And Storen celebrated moments later with his first Major League hit off Kevin Millwood. A two-strike well placed swing on a curveball that Drew deposited in left field for a single. Apparently, Storen is a switch hitter and chose to bat left-handed for his first Big League At-Bat against The Orioles' right-handed starter.

Storen recorded five outs, Sean Burnett two more in the 8th before giving way to Tyler Clippard for the final out. Matt Capps then getting himself in real trouble in the 9th protecting a two run lead after Luke Scott singled, Adam Jones double to right, Matt Wieters grounding to Cristian Guzman scoring Scott. And Julio Lugo, down to his last strike and Baltimore's last out, just getting his bat on a Capps fastball down and away that was lofted into nowhere's land for a single in front of rightfielder Justin Maxwell. The game tying run score for The Orioles that gave Matt Capps his first blown save after 16 consecutive ones to begin 2010. As deflating at that hit was, it does happens. Capps threw a good pitch and Lugo just so happened to get his bat on the ball. That's baseball.

Doug Slaten received his second personal win of the season--being the pitcher of record after throwing a scoreless top of the 10th.

Until Josh Willingham sent everyone rooting for Washington home happy with his Walk-Off Home Run in the 10th, D.C.'s Team's only other scoring play occurred on one swing of the bat in the bottom of the 1st with two outs. With the bases loaded against Kevin Millwood, Roger Bernadina drove a pitch to deep right centerfield--near the padded wall and GEICO sign. Although a tough defensive play, it appeared Baltimore's talented centerfielder--Adam Jones--would come down with the ball for the final out. Only to see Jones leap against the wall as the baseball hit in his glove. The jarring action from the collision knocking the baseball out of his glove and onto the warning track. Bernadina and Our Washington Nationals benefiting when Roger ended up on 3rd base with a ruled 3 RBI triple. Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Zimmerman and Willingham scoring on the play. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Washington showed a lot hustle in today's game. Both Cristian Guzman and The Z-Man beat out infield grounders in the very first inning--key to their first inning scores. Except for Wil Nieves' throwing error in the top of the 9th when Julio Lugo stole second base--defense was sharp all afternoon for the home side. And the pitching good too. Sure, Matt Capps blew the save but you can clearly see Washington's bullpen coming together. Storen to Burnett to Clippard to Capps is the best bullpen combination since the Inaugural Season of 2005 when Gary Majewski to Jon Rauch to Luis Ayala to Chad Cordero ruled the day for Washington. Our Washington Nationals won with their bullpen in 2005. And 2010 is shaping up to be just as effective. The thoughts of how better this team could be when Stephen Strasburg is called up and Chien Ming Wang and/or Jordan Zimmermann return later this season is worth considering.

And it's worth repeating, good teams win with pitching and defense. Talent which Our Washington Nationals are building upon each and every passing day. They are far from perfect, but D.C.'s team is very competitive and beginning to make a name for themselves in this game.

Speaking of defense--Ian Desmond showed some serious range when he bolted all the way from shortstop across toward the 2nd base bag to scoop up a Julio Lugo hard hit grounder in the top of the 5th. The Defensive Play Of This Game which materialized thanks to Our Number 6 picking up the baseball while continuing to run over second base--almost to where "The Guz" was positioned on the right side of the infield and fired a rocket to Adam Dunn at 1st for the out. That young man has outstanding reflexes. His instincts in the field impressive every game Our Manager Jim Riggleman sends Desmond out to play shortstop. Yeah, he makes some errors, but Ian can reach balls most shortstops would never consider trying for.

No better way to lead into an off-day and a long flight to the west coast than winning in your last at-bat. Our Washington Nationals play game Number 46 on Tuesday night in San Francisco at AT&T Park. Today's series win against Baltimore was Washington's fifth at home of 2010 (with two ties). Their only loss coming during their opening series at home against The Philadelphia Phillies in April. Also with today's victory, Our Washington Nationals moved back above .500 at 23-22. A positive position Washington has been in most all season long.

Abe won the 4th inning Presidents Race when he came from behind to beat his fellow Rushmores easily. They need to find a way to spice up the race--it's becoming too pedestrian.

Original RFK Section 320 Member SenatorNat told The African Queen and I an interesting story after today's win. He says three times he has sat in his friend's front row seats in Presidents Club at Nationals Park. And each time, Our Washington Nationals have won on a walk-off home run. Twice in 2009--first on Ryan Zimmerman's homer against The Florida Marlins. Then again during the last season's home finale when Justin Maxwell hit that Grand Slam against The New York Mets. And then today--thanks to Josh Willingham. That's a pretty good mark.

And finally--for the past two seasons at Nationals Park Sohna and I have spent many hours at games chatting baseball with our friend Pat. He's one of the most knowledgeable baseball minds we know. But we've not been able to connect in 2010 until today. Fortunately, our reunion was just like old times, Sohna, Pat, Christie and I talked baseball all afternoon. Nothing like catching up with friends chatting about Our Washington Nationals.

Today's In-Game Photos--Nick Wass (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Presidents Race Fan said...

I disagree that the presidents race has become too pedestrian. The problem is that 90% of the races are silly theme-of-the-day stunts, leading everybody to be surprised when they actually run a real race like they did today.

Lay off the stunts and the race is a lot more interesting.

...and maybe Teddy will have a chance then, too.