Friday, July 02, 2010
Dagger To The Heart
Stunned stood the crowd at Nationals Park.
On the verge of their finest comeback of the season--a possible four run reversal in the bottom of the 9th inning against The New York Mets, Our Washington Nationals instead--took the dagger right in the heart. There was no way D.C.'s Team could have ignited their fan base into such a frenzy before the death blow came. South Capitol Street was hopping. Down 5-1 entering their last at-bats, Washington put on a furious comeback. A recovery moments away from truly being considered EPIC. Then, as quickly as a pitcher can twirl and toss to second base--this game was officially over.
"I think I am going to be sick to my stomach," this lady sitting in front of us said.
Ailing might well be the feeling among the fan base in attendance this evening, but weak, maybe even feeble, would better explain the 27th and final out of this game for Our Washington Nationals. Another Washington runner had been picked off a base in 2010.
Where to begin? Only the infamous Nook Logan final out at 3rd Base at RFK Stadium in 2007 comes close to this one.
Yeah, it really was that depressing.
No one knew what Logan was doing three years ago? And everyone left the ballpark tonight wondering what was Roger Bernadina thinking with Willie Harris battling at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 9th?
Resetting the scene.
For eight innings, The New York Mets had dominated Washington. Luis Atilano was roughed up early and often. Not making it through the 4th frame, Atilano allowed five runs--three of which came on the key blow of this game. A bases clearing triple from the bat of Alex Cora. A long drive that bounced off the "Out Of Town Scoreboard" in right field. A defensive play that Mike Morse at first seemed to have targeted to catch, but eventually fell short of accomplishing--when the baseball caromed off his glove, then the scoreboard's protective screen.
Josh Willingham pounded out his 15th home run later, a solo shot, in the bottom of the 7th. But New York's Starter, Jon Niese, was totally in control. He finished that 7th frame with eight strike outs before heading to the clubhouse. And for all intents and purposes, this game seemed over. Then, one of the most fascinating bottom of the 9th innings ever played at Nationals Park commenced.
Just another good reason why you should never leave any baseball game early because you never know what you might miss.
On this evening, Pedro Feliciano was back out on the mound to finish this game off for The Mets--just like the night before. Leading by four runs, mop up duty was in the works. At least until New York's Manager, Jerry Manuel, decided to work this final inning as if he was attempting to win the 7th game of The World Series. Really, where do some of these managers come up with such tactics? Do they not trust anyone? Or, do they simply not understand what some of their players can do?
After Feliciano struck out Adam Dunn leading off the 9th, Manuel incredibly made the call to his bullpen. Why? The Mets are only two outs away from victory. Sure, Ryan Zimmerman is stepping to the plate, but the four run margin is comfortable? Does this manager really have to switch out his relievers? Of course, an over managing mistake when Elmer Dessens enters and immediately walks The Z-Man on seven pitches. A decision made worse when Pudge Rodriguez laced a liner down the right field line for a double after "The Hammer" had recorded the 26th out of this game.
The 26th out recorded that nearly became the last out put in the record books this evening.
You see, The Mets were officially now in trouble, in a save situation and facing runners on 2nd and 3rd with Roger Bernadina coming to the plate to bat for Michael Morse. Another game changing at-bat for Washington when New York called for their closer--Francisco Rodriguez. And Our Number 2 greeted him with a sharp single to right scoring Zimmerman. Now down three runs with Pudge Rodriguez standing on third, Bernadina on first--the game tying run was stepping to the plate in Ian Desmond.
The shouts of Let's Go Nats!! now being heard throughout Nationals Park. Down to their last out, but not giving up, Washington seemed to be thriving off the rabid crowd support. Most everyone standing and cheering in what was left of the announced crowd of 24,410. The momentum swing that sent the home rooters into ecstasy when Desmond drilled a sharply hit ground ball right back up the middle scoring Pudge, putting Bernadina on second and Ian on first. And now incredibly--the winning run being sent to the plate in none other than "The Mets Must Hate" Willie Harris.
Yes, it was Willie Harris Time again and most everyone watching seemed to understand his clutch heroics against New York's National League Team over the past two seasons. Harris hasn't been productive of late, but when it comes to The Mets, he's their personal nemesis. The Good Luck Charm for D.C. The go-to man in the clutch. Harris knew it. New York knew it. And Our Fans knew there could be no better person to bat in this thriller.
If only he was allowed to complete his at-bat.
Harris battled his way through five pitches. He challenged K-Rod, each subsequent toss bringing an ever growing roar from the now impatient crowd. Whether a ball or strike was called by Home Plate Umpire Tim Welke, the crescendo grew louder, larger and finally reached it's climax at 10:03PM on Friday Night, July 2nd, 2010 on South Capitol Street--2 hours and 56 minutes after the first pitch was thrown. Working his way to a full count, with two outs, two runners on base--the rapt attention focused on Francisco Rodriguez and Willie Harris so great--few were watching Roger Bernadina taking an ever larger lead off second base.
Except for K-Rod, his catcher Rod Barajas, and their shortstop Ruben Tejada.
As Rodriguez looked in for the sign from Barajas, he suddenly twirled on mound. New York's Ruben Tejada was sneaking in from behind Bernadina. A pick off maneuver to nail Roger now positioned too far off the bag. As shouts of "OH NO!" were heard all around, K-Rod threw a perfect strike down on the second base bag while Bernadina, reacting late, dove back into second base. A second too late in time to beat the catch and tag being put down on his hand by Tejada. Second Base Umpire Bill Welke with the emphatic OUT CALL!!
The Defensive Play of This Game. The unexpected dagger to the heart that ended this rally, concluded this game and finished off any hopes of Washington stealing a victory. This 27th out, a nightmare as no one could possibly have imagined what they just witnessed a few seconds earlier. Nationals Park mostly silent now as The New York Mets celebrated on the field.
No one believing the bat had been taken out of the hands of "The Mets Must Hate" Willie Harris. Truly stunned was the crowd. No one got to see what Our Number 22 would have accomplished in his latest effort to spoil a New York Mets victory.
Final Score from Nationals Park where the question was again asked--just like with Nook Logan three years ago--Where was Bernadina going? What was he doing?: The New York Mets 5 and Our Washington Nationals 3. Loss Number 46 was heart wrenching because Roger ended Willie Harris' quest to be the savior again. It gave New York the opportunity to finish off this game without throwing another pitch. And it saved face for Mets Manager Jerry Manuel--who had over played his hand in the bottom of the 9th. D.C.'s Team had The New York Mets in serious trouble. They were on the verge of a tremendous comeback--truly epic--at least until Bernadina's base running gaffe ruined all of that.
The saga of Willie Harris and The New York Mets to be continued.....
What was Roger Bernadina thinking? Where was Roger Bernadina going? What was he doing?
(Hat Tip to Charlie Slowes whose radio call on June 23rd, 2007 at RFK Stadium when Nook Logan was picked off 3rd base against The Cleveland Indians--still and always will be--classic)
Game Notes & Highlights
Although Jim Riggleman mentioned in the post game press conference he thought Luis Atilano pitched better than his numbers, the record will show, Atilano didn't throw well at all. He didn't last four innings, allowed six base runners, five of whom scored. And Atilano was helped out by Joel Peralta, summoned to the mound by Our Manager with Jon Niese standing on second base with two outs in the fourth inning. Peralta proceeded to pitch three solid innings of shutout ball--his best outing in a Nats Uniform. When Joel was replaced by Sean Burnett with two out in the bottom of the 6th--he looked to the sky and recited a little prayer to himself for a job well done--as he walked off the field and into the dugout.
Washington's unsung bullpen members keeping this game close tonight. Peralta, Burnett, Miguel Batista and Doug Slaten hurling 5.1 innings of one hit, shut out ball.
Having never seen New York's Jon Niese pitch before, the lefty was pretty effective on the mound as The Mets' starter this evening. He showed a very nice side arm slow curve used as his out pitch--when set up by his fastball. He struck out eight Nationals and left with the lead well in hand--before New York's bullpen nearly gave up the game in the 9th.
Nyjer Morgan, Willingham and Desmond with two hits apiece tonight. But until the 9th, most all of Washington's nine hits were scattered. No serious threats offensively. Although Nyjer also got picked off attempting to steal in the bottom of the 1st inning. With Adam Dunn at the plate and the over shift on by New York, The Mets 3rd Baseman David Wright tagged out Morgan at second base. But you could argue--as Jim Riggleman did--that Wright pushed Our Number 1's leg off the bag as he slid head first across it.
Too many Washington base runners in 2010 being thrown or picked off bases. Tonight that problem escalating and directly leading to another loss.
Sitting with our friends Pat & Christy tonight, Pat mentioned that Alex Cora is the consummate professional player. Like Placido Polanco of The Philadelphia Phillies, Cora's overall statistics are not Hall Of Fame worthy, but the intangibles he provides to a winning team needs to be recognized. Alex Cora is a player that simply gets the job done. He proved that again tonight with his three run triple in the top of the 4th and his continuing solid play defensively in the field.
For the 4th of July weekend, both teams wore Major League Baseball's Patriotic 2010 caps tonight--white with blue bills containing Stars & Bars within the respective team logos.
Friday night was Black Heritage Night at Nationals Park. In celebration of the evening, The African Queen and I broke out our Homestead Grays retro uniforms. They were pretty popular judging by the attention the jerseys got wherever we went tonight on South Capitol Street. And it was a good thing the temperature was cool outside. They are made of 100% wool flannel.
Don Conaway was back on the main concourse of the ballpark behind home plate displaying some of his Negro Leagues memorabilia. Throughout the night, videos were shown on the HDTV Scoreboard about great African-American Players of years past. And before the game, The Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) Department of Parks & Recreation Prince George’s County received the first Joe Black Award by Our Washington Nationals for efforts to keep baseball alive in African-American Communities.
Joe Black was the first African-American to play for The Washington Senators in 1957. But Joe Black was not the first black player to ever play for The Senators--that was Carlos Paula (a Cuban) in 1954. Joe Black, the 1952 Rookie Of The Year in the National League with The Brooklyn Dodgers, is more closely associated with the city of Baltimore. He attended Morgan State University and he helped to lead The Baltimore Elite Giants to two Negro League Championships--alongside Roy Campanella. Joe Black only played 7 total games ever for The Washington Senators--at the tail end of his career. Joe Black played a significant role in professional baseball in the late 1940's and early 1950's and later on in attempts to get pensions for former Negro League players, but he had virtually no impact on baseball in Washington, D.C. We believe a better and more worthy African-American player could have been chosen to name this now annual award after in The Nation's Capital.
Did you know Martin Luther King was on hand for Black Heritage Night too? Madame Tussaud's Wax recreation of MLK was on display in The Stars & Stripes Club before the game and through out the first four innings this evening.
"Chicken Man" also wore his retro Washington Grays Jersey tonight for the occasion. Hugh with the pinstriped version of The Gray's D.C. uniform. And "Disco" Johnny Holliday got a kick out of my jersey, as well as Marge--another huge Nats Fan--in town for the weekend's festivities.
Tom won The Presidents Race, running through the finish line backwards as Abe finished second.
And finally, John Belushi was in attendance tonight at Nationals Park. Our friend Pat doing his best imitation of the late actor and comedian. He, Christy, Sohna and I getting a kick out of this young lady sitting in front of us in Presidents Club that got up to dance for each and every song played over the sound system tonight. She had a different dance for each tune. And had the attention--in a good way--of everyone sitting around her. Her entertainment almost as enjoyable as the game.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Carolyn Kaster (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved