Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Most Improbable Win Of The Year

Running like a WILDMAN, Pudge Rodriguez was attempting to avoid the collision that he knew awaited him. Rounding first base at Nationals Park with his right hand and right index finger pointed high into the gathering dusk of evening, Our Washington Nationals sure to be Hall Of Famer was anticipating the jumping, the joy, the congratulations from his teammates for knocking in the game winning run against The New York Mets.

One of the most improbable wins in the five plus years since baseball returned to The Nation's Capital.

Words are hard to find to explain what really happened in the bottom of the 9th inning on South Capitol Street this pre-4th Of July late afternoon turned to early evening. Sometimes the feelings of the moment can get lost in translation. One thing for sure though, the BIG FINISH was significantly more satisfying than last night's Dagger To The Heart. And it's also safe to say, today's ending truly showed how great the game of baseball can be.

The competition where the time clock does not matter. The game in which you must record every single out before declaring victory. Baseball, where a team can receive a shaky start from its Ace Phenom and still garner a Curly "W"?

What other competition is out there where it didn't matter that Our Washington Nationals were outplayed, out scored upon and pretty much out of this game as the 8th inning turned to the 9th? They really had little chance. Even the sellout crowd of 39,214 at Nationals Park figured as much--nearly half were leaving by the time the game deciding moment came. Yet, none of that actually mattered because The New York Mets did not record the final three most important outs. Sort of significant when you are attempting to win any game.

On a hot and humid Saturday afternoon, Our Washington Nationals were down 5-3 to The New York Mets entering the bottom of the 9th. Francisco Rodriguez, The Mets Ace Closer, was warming up on the mound. Considering Stephen Strasburg only managed to complete five innings and was yanked trailing 2-0, it appeared Washington had only an infinitesimal chance to erase this deficit--much less win. Why should anybody think differently? Clutch hitting has not been a trademark of Our Washington Nationals over the past six weeks. Little offensive firepower has contributed to Washington's fall in the standings.

But The Baseball Gods were looking in on Our Washington Nationals this day. So was a nationally televised audience on The Fox Network. Everyone wanting to experience Strasburg's sixth Major League Start. But what everyone shared was one tremendous comeback. One in which you declare: I can't believe what I just saw!!

Simply enough, Washington's rebound began when Francisco Rodriguez allowed a leadoff walk to Cristian Guzman. Yes it's true, "The Guz" walked on four straight pitches. If there ever was a good luck charm--that had to be it. You know, The African Queen knows, I know--Our Number 15 hardly ever walks, he swings at everything. Yet, incredibly that refreshing moment was the first of more enlightenment to come.

Like when "The Mets Must Hate" Willie Harris ripped a one out single to right two batters later--moving Guzman to third base. Poetic Justice after Our Number 22's bat was taken out of his hands the previous evening when Roger Bernadina got picked off 2nd base to the end game. Harris getting the opportunity to continue his lost at-bat against The Mets Closer. And this time winning the engagement. A serious assault growing against New York that became hopeful when Ryan Zimmerman followed with a bases loading walk.

One out, sacks filled, no one warming up in the New York Bullpen--Adam Dunn stepping to the plate.

How wonderful to see thousands of fans, having already left their seats and heading for the exits of Center Field Gate, stop in their tracks behind the left field seats after hearing the cheers from the crowd. They now wanting to witness this fight to the finish too. Good thing they did, as what happened next was downright electrifying.

With just about everyone in the seating bowl now standing, Our Number 44 caught ahold of a Franky Rodriguez fastball and launched it, nearly putting it in orbit. So high into the sky this baseball was socked--it appeared as if might never come down. Toward the centerfield wall the ball flew, back to the warning track The Mets Angel Pagan ran in an attempt to catch it. The roar from the crowd said it all--that baseball had game winning Grand Slam written all over it.

As an impromptu celebration began, The Baseball Gods added their wicked twist.

Dunn's drive came down RIGHT ON TOP of the green padded wall in centerfield and caromed back onto the field. 2nd Base Umpire Jim Reynolds immediately signaling the "safe" call--arms spread wide indicating the baseball was still in play. Willie Harris took off from 2nd base and rounded third base as Pagan chased down the ball--only to run right into Cristian Guzman. For some reason "Guzzie" was heading back toward the bag. A Huge Mental Mistake that nearly turned disasterous. If 3rd Base Umpire Tim Welke ruled Our Number 22 had passed "Guzzie" on the base path an out would have been called.

Total confusion ensued as now both Guzman and Harris gathered themselves and together ran for home. Playing relay man, the Mets shortstop, Ruben Tejada, caught his centerfielder's throw from the outfield and unleashed a line drive toss toward home plate to his catcher Henry Blanco. A relay that arrived a few seconds late, a few moments short of catching Cristian and Willie scoring the game tying runs. The sight of Harris sliding home safely away from Blanco's tag setting off a crazed state at Nationals Park.

Washington's fans happy for the 5-5 tie--but many not understanding what they had just witnessed.

Our Washington Nationals and Adam Dunn wanting a game winning home run to be called.

The New York Mets wanting either Guzman or Harris to be called out for passing each other on the base path.

Both New York's and D.C.'s Managers emerging from their respective dugouts wanting to get their two cents in on the matter. Jerry Manuel and Jim Riggleman both pleading their cases. Dunn standing on second base twirling his right hand in the "Home Run" signal. The Mets David Wright gestering that Cristian or Willie should be called.

Total mayhem, pretty fun too--the buzz surrounding Nationals Park over the just completed play resulting in non stop chatter. Everyone discussing the action. Everyone into the moment. But the only decisions that really mattered were being handled by the men in blue. Umpires Scott Barry, Jim Reynolds and Bill & Tim Welke ruled Washington's two base runners had not passed each other--the runs officially scored. But they were unsure about Dunn's drive and proceeded with the video review.

Two minutes later, the signal was given--Adam Dunn's baseball had not gone over the wall, only landed on top of it. Officially ruled a double--this game now tied at five runs apiece and would continue. But not for long. With Ryan Zimmerman now on 3rd and Dunn on second with still one out--New York rightfully intentionally walked Josh Willingham to load up the bases to set up a possible double play grounder.

Only thing was, The Mets K-Rod now had to face Washington's I-Rod. The veteran backstop who has been in these types of situations countless times during his illustrious career. Pudge Rodriguez didn't disappoint and he didn't waste much time. After taking ball one from Francisco Rodriguez, Ivan lofted Franky's second pitch down the right field line where Jeff Francouer had no chance of catching. The game winning single that scored Zimmerman with the game winning run, sending Nationals Park into a rage of hysteria. And sending Our Washington Nationals out of the home dugout and onto the field for the jumping, the joy, the congratulations Ivan Rodriguez deserved for knocking in the game winning run against The New York Mets.

Pudge knew he was going to get pounded by his teammates. The same type of pounding Washington had just put on Francisco Rodriguez and The New York Mets in the bottom of the 9th inning. The very first time all season D.C.'s Team had won any ball game after trailing heading to the final frame.

Final Score from Nationals Park where a packed house of 39,214 mostly came to see Stephen Strasburg, but got a whole lot more for their money--an amazing comeback: Our Washington Nationals 6 and The New York Mets 5. Curly "W" Number 36 was the most improbable win of the season. For eight innings D.C.'s Team really was never in this game. Strasburg had a rough start, Washington's offense was providing little support. The heat and humidity of a hot summer's day draining the enthusiasm of the sellout crowd. But The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! proving you just never know in the game of baseball what you are going to see. You can't predict any outcome. And no one could possibly have envisioned what they saw late this afternoon into the early evening on South Capitol Street.

Washington's improbable victory took away the bitter taste left in the mouth from Friday night's disheartening loss. To win any game, every team must record those final three outs. The New York Mets were able to do so last night, but were unable to accomplish the same feat for the second night in a row. That's why baseball is such a great game. No time clock decides the outcome--only the action and reaction of the players on field of play will.

I don't think The African Queen and I have walked out of Nationals Park so happy all season. There was a rush to that win not felt in a long time. And judging by most everyone sitting around us in Section 218 and walking toward the exits afterwards--the feeling was pretty mutual.

Fans of Our Washington Nationals were downright thrilled having watched a wonderful finish to bottom of the 9th.

P.S.--Can you believe that Matt Capps actually got that high into the air when Ryan Zimmerman scored the game winning run in the photo above? Mighty impressive for such a big man.

Game Notes & Highlights

It took Stephen Strasburg 37 pitches to complete his first inning on the mound. He walked three New York Mets batters, but the telling sign that this was not to be his day, was when he unloaded a 98 MPH fastball right at The Mets Jeff Francouer's head. A scare the daylights out of you moment that found Francouer ducking JUST IN TIME, only to amazingly see the hard thrown baseball hit his bat for strike two. Francouer was lucky not to get injured and Stephen Strasburg was eventually lucky to get out of his very first inning pitched this afternoon. Miguel Batista was warming up in Washington's bullpen not 25 pitches into this game.

Yeah, Stephen Strasburg wasn't that good today. He couldn't command his fastball. He had trouble with that wicked curve. And hopefully his struggles will finally put to rest the ridiculous notion that Our Number 37 should be named to The National League All-Star Team. Let the young man grow up first. Let him become the top pitcher so many anticipate. Don't anoint him without any real credentials. Strasburg left trailing today and was in the position for his third straight loss until his teammates fought back for him.

Drew Storen pitched his finest two innings of Big League ball today. He faced only six batters, struck out three and didn't allow a baserunner. Far different the results from Tyler Clippard. He's being used too much. He needs a break, a breather to correct himself. This afternoon, Our Number 36 was absolutely hammered by The New York Mets. Alex Cora greeted him with a leadoff triple in the top of the 8th and it was all downhill from there for Tyler. He looked mighty pissed after allowing three runs on four hits and being replaced by Doug Slaten with only two outs in the same frame he had started to work.

Clippard was lined up for the personal loss until Washington produced their terrific comeback. A rally in which Matt Capps received the vulture win--thanks to being on the mound in a mop up role in the top of the 9th. Capps' second victory of 2010 against three losses and 22 saves.

Back on May 25th, I was watching The Mets play The Philadelphia Phillies on DirecTV. New York's Starter A.J. Dickey got hit on his throwing elbow during a drive back to the box off the bat of Chase Utley. Dickey stayed in the game and he's recovered to pitch the best baseball of his career. A journeyman knuckleballer, Dickey nearly pitched a no-hitter at AAA Buffalo earlier this year, and today was virtually unhittable by Washington. He allowed two runs, but both were unearned thanks to his shortstop Ruben Tejada's--last night's pickoff hero--making a key error on a sure double play ground ball off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman in the bottom of the 6th. The big boot which directly led to the tying runs after Josh Willingham and Pudge both singled to plate Willie Harris and The Z-Man for Washington's first two scores.

New York's setup man--Bobby Parnell continued to throw his high heat during a shutout bottom of the 8th. But K-Rod was anything but sharp when he allowed three runs on three walks and three hits in 1/3rd of an inning pitched to be handed the personal loss and his fourth blown save of 2010.

Both Adam Dunn and Pudge Rodriguez had three hits apiece today. Both were instigators in driving in runs--Our Number 44 with two rbi and Ole Number 7 with two as well. Dunn just missing on that grand slam off Franky Rodriguez in the bottom of the 9th. A video review play by the umpires that saw his drive hit right off the top of the padded wall in centerfield and carom back onto the field of play.

And finally, Abe won the 4th inning Presidents Race rushing past George and Tom to win for the 16th time in 2010.

Today's inGame Photos--Greg Fiume (Getty Images) & Alex Brandon (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


paul said...

Amazing how well the team played yesterday. So many things to like: Strasberg battling, Harris getting a walk and a single, good clutch hitting the whole game, and Capps's mowing down the 3-4-5 batters with runners on in the 9th. Considering K-Rod's struggles the night before, I actually had a Ben Crenshaw-like "feeling" about the bottom of the 9th.

Let's hope this can spur them on.

Tom said...

WE were so happy that we stayed to the end. 20,000 fans must have been home by the bottom of the ninth. Looked for you, but couldn't find you. I'll look for you Thursday.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Tom: We will be in our regular seats in 218 that night. Look forward to seeing you.