Friday, June 04, 2010

The 10th Man

Livan Hernandez argued with the umpires--especially home plate umpire Dan Bellino. Pat Listach argued with the umpires. Ian Desmond REALLY argued with the umpires, threw his helmet and was tossed. Jim Riggleman argued with the umpires--like more than once. Even The Cincinnati Reds Manager Dusty Baker got into the act. Yeah, it was that type of night at Nationals Park. A lot of hot tempers flaring. More so after Reds outfielders Drew Stubbs and Jonny Gomes ran into each other in left centerfield on a routine fly ball off the bat of Our Washington Nationals Roger Bernadina in the bottom of the 7th inning. They were pissed at each other because the resultant crucial error of this game, totally avoidable by simply calling for the ball, directly led to Washington's go ahead runs and a 4-2 lead.

But all of that--as interesting and fascinating as it was--didn't really matter because the 9th inning was yet to be played. And if you've followed D.C.'s Team over their just completed 10-game road trip, you know that finishing ANY GAME of late has not been easy. Like not at all. Checked Swings, Non Called 3rd Strikes, Errors, Bad Pitches--just about anything you could think of to lose a baseball game--Our Washington Nationals accomplished since leaving Nationals Park on Josh Willingham's walk-off home run against The Baltimore Orioles on May 23rd.

Having just experienced all that had occurred in San Francisco, San Diego and Houston--hot heads and the fear of losing were not needed again with another close game on the line. Cool heads, tempered minds, were necessary--if D.C.'s Team was going to pull off their latest victory.

So here we were again. Washington up by just two. "Cardiac" Matt Capps back on the mound. A vocal, supportive and rather large home crowd of 33,774 holding their collective breaths. And wouldn't you know it, two pitches into Washington's Closer's attempt to bring home the Curly "W", Reds Pinch Hitter Laynce Nix pokes a clean leadoff single to left in the bottom of the 9th. You could vocally hear throughout South Capitol Street a collective "Oh No!" Like in--yeah, here we go again.

The worry was setting in. Would Our Washington Nationals blow a late lead for the 3rd time in four days? No one watching could have thought of anything less. But to the second largest crowd of 2010's greatest credit--Our Fans didn't give up. In fact, they became more supportive. Just go to any Major League Ballpark in this country where the home fans are loud and boisterous--and you will understand what The 10th Man advantage really is. It can be intimidating for any visiting team. This evening during the final frame at Nationals Park, Washington's 10th Man became a force. One of the most impressive performances by a home crowd in the young ballpark's short history.

Anyone who saw a Nationals home game from 2005 through 2007 well knows--The Old Ballyard On East Capitol Street breathed a life of it's own during dramatic moments those first three seasons Washington called the concrete structure their home. RFK Stadium could reverberate like few stadiums ever built. The circular model with saucer style rooftop trapped in the sound so well it could make 18,000 sound like 50,000. The bouncing stands along the 3rd base side didn't hurt either. Now Nationals Park might never reach that sort of crescendo, but this evening when Our Washington Nationals really needed their fans support--the crowd could not have been better. They could not have been more supportive. They certainly could not have been louder.

When Matt Capps forced Cincinnati's next batter in the 9th, Orlando Cabrera, to fly out to Josh Willingham for out number one, those watching stood and cheered vociferously. When Brandon Phillips followed and laced a one out single to right--putting Nix on second and the tying run on first--the crowd only got louder. When Our Number 55 struck out The Reds powering hitting 1st baseman--Joey Votto-- on three straight fastballs--the last pitch taken for a called strike three--you would have thought the roof would come off Nationals Park--if it had one. Everyone was standing. And we mean EVERYONE!!

If only Nationals Park had bouncing seats? You would have thought everyone was back at RFK Stadium.

Washington Fans on South Capitol Street willing their team towards victory. The constant noise as loud as it's ever been in the New Ballpark. Understand, runners were on 1st and 2nd, two out, top of the 9th. The go ahead run represented at the plate in Cincinnati's Scott Rolen. A slugger that can change any game around with a flick of his wrists. And a closer standing on the mound--personally involved in two of the toughest defeats of any season over the past four days.

Yet, Capps didn't give in to the fear because Our Fans didn't give in to the anxiety.

With the 10th Man hollering and screaming their lungs off, Washington's closer tossed in called strike one to Rolen on a 95 MPH Fastball that brought a huge roar from the crowd. Even a slider just off the plate for ball one still elicited cheers. No one rooting for Washington wanted to head home this evening having witnessed another frustrating Nationals loss. Certainly, Matt Capps didn't either--as on his 3rd and final pitch of this game deciding at-bat, his 95 MPH Fastball could not be handled by Cincinnati's 3rd Baseman. But Rolen swung anyway and popped the baseball up behind home plate, slightly toward the 1st base line. The howl from the crowd quickly followed because everyone understood Our Washington Nationals were seconds away from closing this game out.

If only the baseball was caught.

As Catcher Wil Nieves settled in under the fast dropping baseball, Our Number 55 watched intently, right fist clinched, awaiting the final call. Fixated as well, Washington's Fans didn't stop their noise. And when Nieves corralled Scott Rolen's foul ball for the final out of this thrilling final frame--a sense of relief fell over the ballpark. A feeling of satisfaction over ending a losing streak, beating a good team, and doing so by pushing all those 9th inning skeletons witnessed in San Francisco, San Diego and Houston over the past 10 days--right out Center Field Gate. Gone, good riddence--please don't come back anytime soon. Matt Capps pumping his right fist high in the sky celebrating a success while Washington's Fans, to virtually a person, pumping both their fists in the air--rejoicing over a hard fought victory.

Final score from Nationals Park where the 10th Man provided the backbone for Washington's latest win: Our Washington Nationals 4 and The Cincinnati Reds 2. Curly "W" Number 27 will be remembered for arguing with Umpires, a huge Cincinnati miscue in the outfield, and a fan base that did not let D.C.'s Team down. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! will also be recalled for Our Manager Jim Riggleman's comments after the game. He specifically stated the 33,774 on hand sounded a whole lot like 50,000. "They were loud and it was noticed in the dugout. And appreciated."

More game details coming in the Game Notes & Highlights, but there was no question while our players made the plays necessary to win, Our Fans provided the undying support necessary to get them over the hump. The 10th Man didn't have a chance to swing a bat, throw a pitch or field a ball this evening--but during the crucial top of the 9th frame--with the fear of another demoralizing loss in the air, Washington's ticket holders provided the reinforcement, the brace, the foundation, if you will, to allow Our Washington Nationals to get over the top, right themselves and get the job done.

Was it ever loud during that final frame at Nationals Park tonight. It really was.

Game Notes & Highlights

Livan Hernandez got called for a balk by Home Plate Umpire Dan Bellino on a pick off throw to first base in the top of the 5th. The call eventually cost him a run scored against. He argued with Bellino. He complained to Crew Chief Joe West. He threw up his hands at 2nd Base Umpire Angel Hernandez. Livo didn't win any of the arguments--nor did he get anything out of his constant bickering with Bellino over the strike zone. Yet, Ole Number 61 still threw six complete innings, tossed 111 pitches, didn't get tossed himself, allowed eight hits, three walks and two runs and left without a decision. For some reason, Livan seemed to be on edge tonight. He didn't even throw his usual loop-de-loop slop ball. Hernandez just didn't pitch like his old self--but he wasn't bad either. And was not involved in the final decision.

Tyler Clippard is one of the most intense competitors ever seen in a Nationals Uniform. Tonight, Mr. "No Nonsense" pitched a scoreless 7th inning while allowing one hit. But when he struck out Rolen on a 93 MPH heater to end the frame, Clippard pumped his right arm, and proceeded to yell at himself, fist clinched, in celebration. His catcher, Wil Nieves, just looked at him as they walked off the field, in amazement. Quite the sight. Of course, Washington scored the eventual game winning runs moments later as Tyler received his 8th personal victory of 2010.

Drew Storen was equally as effective in the 8th inning. Of course Matt Capps recorded his 18th save completing the 9th.

Just like in Houston yesterday, when Washington scored their final two runs on bloop hits, today they tallied their first two runs on bloopers as well. Cristian Guzman lofting a pop up to short left center scoring Ian Desmond in the bottom of the 2nd. And Roger Bernadina flaring a single to center in the bottom of the 3rd scoring Ryan Zimmerman from second base after an Adam Dunn single.

Washington's game winning runs coming on the heels of an egregious error on the part of Cincinnati. As D.C. Fans know so well, sometimes bad things just somehow happen. In the bottom of the 7th in a tied 2-2 ball game, Josh Willingham greeted Reds Reliever Enerio Del Rosario with a solid single to left field. Roger Bernadina was next and lofted a Del Rosario pitch to medium left centerfield. An easy out. Or, at least you would think. With Willingham all but heading back to 1st base, expecting out number one, Cincinnati's leftfielder, Jonny Gomes, called for the ball drifting to his left. Reds centerfielder, Drew Stubbs, drifting to his right called for the ball too. As Gomes settled under the fly, Stubbs stuck his glove in the way, almost a darting move of desperation--and proceeded to knock the baseball away from Gomes and onto the outfield grass. Everyone safe and the turnabout play of this game.

Continuing his clutch hitting with runners in scoring position, Ian Desmond followed with a drilled shot to left field off Del Rosario. And Washington's 3rd Base Coach, Pat Listach, waved Willingham home with the go ahead run. Bernadina now on 2nd and Desmond on 1st. The biggest controversy of the game soon to come. Wil Nieves sacrificed Bernadina and Desmond up one base apiece before Willie Harris stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter for Clippard with one out. Harris swung at the very first offering from Del Rosario and lofted another fly ball to medium/almost short center field. Drew Stubbs came in on the ball and caught it easily for out number two. Roger Bernadina tagged up at 3rd base and, at first appeared to fake racing home. Then he took off and Stubbs hurried his throw to the plate. The speedy Roger scored easily as Ian Desmond took the opportunity on the play at home plate to advance to 3rd base. Del Rosario retrieved Stubbs throw that caromed off the pitching mound and fired a rocket to Rolen standing at 3rd as Desmond slid in hard, over, and slightly past the bag. 3rd Base Umpire Paul Scrieber ruled safe. Reds Manager Dusty Baker came out to argue whereupon after conferring with his fellow umpires, Crew Chief Joe West called Ian out to end the inning. As Pat Listach argued, Desmond threw down his helmet and was ejected from the game. Jim Riggleman came out of the dugout and protested to virtually every single umpire on the field--to no avail. Bernadina's run counted as Washington's 4th run, but the inning was abruptly over and fans in the stands showered down some hefty boos on the umpiring crew.

With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the 6th, Livan Hernandez was in trouble with Cincinnati runners on 1st and 2nd base with two outs. Livo was losing his command, nearing the end of his effectiveness for the evening. But with Ole Number 61 scheduled to lead off the bottom half of the 6th, Our Manager was attempting to get him through six complete without using a reliever for one out and pinch hitting for that pitcher moments later. Leaving Livan in the game nearly became a mistake as Reds Pitcher Micah Owings (a very good hitting pitcher) laced a liner down the right field line--sure to score two runs if the ball ends up rattling into the corner. Playing rightfield, Roger Bernadina ran as fast as his body would take him, closing the gap on the fast sinking baseball--dove toward the right field line in a desperation attempt to catch the ball--and JUST as the ball was about to touch the grass, Our Number 2 reached out as far as he could extend his right hand--his glove hand--and snared the baseball in his mitt. The Defensive Play Of This Game that saved Livo from certain disaster and gave Our Washington Nationals another chance to win this ball game. That was another great catch by Bernadina.

Adam Dunn went 2 for 5 with a double, but once again he stepped to the plate in bottom of the 6th with the bases loaded against Daniel Rey Herrera (who was only in the game to face Dunn) and proceeded to weakly swing at the first offering and grounded softly to first base to kill the rally. Not sure what Adam saw in that pitch, but he sure could have shown a little more patience in such a crucial situation.

When Arthur Rhodes was called on to pitch tonight by The Cincinnati Reds, the first thought that came to mind: that man has pitched so long in the Majors--I would swear he was 50 years old. But in fact, he's only 41. Just goes to show you how any lefty pitcher can last forever in this game. The guy played with Cal Ripken, Jr. for nine years in Baltimore. And Cal's been retired for nine years. That's a long time in the Big Leagues.

Before the beginning of tonight's game, Our Washington Nationals honored Ryan Zimmerman for reaching the 100 Career Home Run Total Mark. And as Washington took the field with this evening's Starting Nine of Kids at each field position, the site of Livan Hernandez bending over to speak with this tiny child--great to watch. At first, the kid just stood there on the mound staring up at this giant of a man. Funny stuff and touching too.

Abe won the 4th inning Presidents Race, beating Tom by a few steps.

As mentioned earlier, quite the crowd on South Capitol Street this evening on a hot, humid and sultry night--33,774. Many tickets purchased by those speculating Stephen Strasburg might make his first start in the Major Leagues this evening. The game time temperature was 85 degrees--the warmest of the year.

And finally--although Ryan Zimmerman tees and jerseys are still an overwhelming majority in merchandize worn by fans, Stephen Strasburg items are becoming ever more prevalent in the stands.

In Game Photos--Greg Fiume (Getty Images)
Bernadina Catch Photo--Drew Angerer (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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