Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Little Bit Of Luck

As well as Our Washington Nationals played this afternoon at Turner Field, they were also fortunate. There were three instances in today's game with The Atlanta Braves where D.C.'s Team had to thank their lucky stars. Three different situations where if the outcomes had changed, the final 6-2 decision may well have been far different.

The 5.1 innings of work by John Lannan on the mound would not have mattered, neither would the 3.2 innings of no-hit relief that followed him from the bullpen. Michael Morse's 9th home run of 2010 off Derek Lowe would have been for naught, as well as Nyjer Morgan's triumphant return from the disabled list. Morgan with two hits, two runs scored and one stolen base batting leading off today for Our Manager Jim Riggleman's lineup. Roger Bernadina's two out rbi double followed by Ryan Zimmerman's rbi single in the top of the 6th would have been wasted as well. Most likely, Willie Harris' eventual game distancing two run homer in the 9th would not have been this game's decisive blow either.

All of that would have been meaningless. if not for a little bit of luck from the stars.

Here's Lucky Star Number 1:

In the bottom of the 6th with The Atlanta Braves finally getting to John Lannan, Our Washington Nationals were in serious trouble. Leading 4-0 at the start of this pivotal frame, The Tomahawk Choppers had already pushed across two runs with runners now on 1st and 2nd and just one out--having also pushed Our Number 31 from this game in the process. Manager Jim calling on Joel Peralta to face the new righthanded hitting Atlanta shortstop--Alex Gonzalez. A seasoned veteran with the capability of leaping The Braves ahead on the scoreboard with one swing of his bat. Atlanta's Manager Bobby Cox knowing Gonzalez is a good contact hitter, one that can put the ball in play.

The result?

On the very first pitch Peralta threw to Alex Gonzalez, The Braves put both Matt Diaz (standing on second base) and Brian McCann (on first) in motion. The hit and run was on. A play to surprise D.C.'s team and their new catcher, Wilson Ramos. Time to test the rookie. Badly, for Atlanta, the move backfired. Gonzalez swung at that very first pitch to protect the runners and popped a routine foul fly just off first base that Michael Morse easily got under and caught for out number two. The sure out that led to the final out, seconds later, when for whatever reason, Diaz DID NOT STOP running toward and around 3rd base on the easily recorded foul out. With Adam Kennedy yelling as loud as any Washington fan has ever seen the "Quiet Kennedy" ever display on the field this season--"Mikey Mo" heard the call, turned and threw the ball to 2nd base. Morse tossing a bullet from foul territory to Ian Desmond--beating Matt Diaz easily back to the bag for the inning ending double play

Being fortunate doesn't really describe that situation, lucky certainly does. What Diaz was thinking on the basepaths we have no idea, but it was the first indication of the blessings to come for D.C.'s team.

A real gift handed over to Washington again when Atlanta threatened two innings later. Tyler Clippard had walked the first two Atlanta Hitters--Omar Infante and Jason Heyward--leading off the bottom of the 8th. With Washington still up two and Martin Prado stepping to the plate, things did not look good for the visitors. Prado kills The Nats, there is not a more feared hitter in their lineup for Washington pitching. And incredibly--Bobby Cox decided to sacrifice bunt his 2010 All-Star. Martin Prado giving himself up simply to move runners up, instead of swatting his bat at a pitch to hit and move those two runners home.

Who watching could possibly believe that luck?

We sure didn't, and listening to "The Boys Of Summer" on the radio, Broadcaster Dave Jageler didn't either--perfectly describing the Atlanta Manager's decision to give up one of the game's best clutch hitters by stating: "This is a blessing in disguise."

And it was, especially after Prado laid down a bunt not even three feet from the plate. A poor sacrifice that allowed Wilson Ramos to show off his cannon of an arm. Wearing his new number 3 in Washington Gray/Red & Blue, Ramos quickly picked up the spinning baseball and FIRED A RIFLE SHOT to Ryan Zimmerman standing on 3rd base. Infante was out easily and The Z-Man nearly turned The Defensive Play Of This Game when he sidearm heaved a toss right back across the infield to Morse standing on first--JUST MISSING throwing out the now disgusted Prado.

Only out number 1 had been recorded, but feeling of dodging a bullet had to be felt throughout Washington's Team. Prado had been wasted for naught. And when Matt Diaz followed with a routine fly out to right field for out number two, Lucky Star Number 2 was officially recorded. Yet incredibly, good fortune had not run out for D.C.'s Team because Lucky Star Number 3 was now mere moments away.

Atlanta's All-Star Catcher, Brian McCann, was now stepping to the plate. Another power hitting lefthander that can also change a game in a moment's notice. Rightfully, Manager Jim didn't want Tyler Clippard to have anything to do with Brian McCann. Mr. "No Nonsense" had pitched well today, but Mr. Riggleman was taking no nonsense from this game. Too much was still at stake, including the distinct possibility of a third straight loss to the National League East Leaders after Washington had pushed ahead of Atlanta each of the past three days.

Luck is chance at it's best, but Our Manager also understand he needed to play the odds as well. Sean Burnett stepped out of Washington's Bullpen and onto the mound. A lefty hurler to face the lefty batter. The expected matchup in any close game--late. During the next four pitches tossed by Our Number 17, Atlanta's Burly Hitter never lifted his bat off his shoulders. McCann was being selective. He was looking for something to drive. Brian was also looking to turn this game around with one swing of his bat.

And incredibly, he nearly did just that--until Lucky Star Number 3 made its presence known.

As Sean Burnett reared back and tossed the 5th pitch of this game's most crucial At-Bat, McCann was looking dead red. He was looking fastball. And that's exactly what Sean Burnett threw him. A pitch over the inside corner of the plate. Far enough over the middle that Brian McCann knew this WAS THE PITCH TO DRIVE--which he did.

The Atlanta Catcher uncorking a vicious cut at Washington's left-handed reliever's toss, smoking the ball down the right field line. Nothing was standing in that ball's way of clearing the bases and tying this game--nothing--except for Michael Morse. Shading the foul line at 1st base to prevent just such an extra base hit--"Mikey Mo" barely moved to his left and snared the baseball before it even left the infield for out number three to end the bottom of the 8th inning. If that baseball was socked six inches farther away, McCann has scored a two-run double and this game is tied at four.

Having experienced luck for the third time, Our Washington Nationals had also experienced its charms. Sometimes a team needs a break. This afternoon in Atlanta, Washington got three good ones. Three Lucky Charms that kept The Atlanta Braves from taking over this game--giving D.C.'s Team a much needed win almost as magical as it was good. Three separate plays, three separate outcomes, any of which could have turned victory into defeat.

Final Score from Turner Field were The Tomahawk Choppers kept knocking at the door and were repeatedly turned away: Our Washington Nationals 6 and The Atlanta Braves 2. How many times have you witnessed a baseball team play nearly flawless ball and still lose the game because of one crucial mistake? Washington played just such an affair this afternoon in Hotlanta. They pitched well, they stroked key drives and they played solid defense, but it still nearly wasn't enough until Lady Luck arrived on the scene--to save the day.

If Diaz does not get himself doubled off in the bottom of the 6th thanks to a base running mistake; if Bobby Cox doesn't tell Martin Prado to lay down a sacrifice bunt; and if Michael Morse is not standing exactly where he needed to be on Brian McCann's drive in the bottom of the 8th--this game probably has a completely different outcome. As well as Our Washington Nationals played this final game of a three game series, Curly "W" Number 52 would not have been put in the record books without a little bit of fortune.

Three Lucky Stars shined brightly down on Our Washington Nationals this sunny afternoon in Atlanta. The results in the paper and the final box score will read Game Number 121 was just another routine affair. One team playing significantly better than the other as another season plays out. But anyone watching today will know that's not the whole truth. D.C.'s Team needs to count their lucky stars because three times fate was on their side. Better baserunning and a smarter in-game bunting managerial decision by Atlanta, combined with one baseball knocked a few inches farther out of a fielder's glove could have just as easily turned Curly "W" Number 52 into Defeat Number 70.

It was that close.

And Washington was really fortunate.

And you also better believe--that's exactly what baseball is all about sometimes.

A little bit of luck.

PS--Wilson Ramos showed off one power arm behind the plate today in his first appearance in a Nationals uniform. Acquired from The Minnesota Twins for Matt Capps, Ramos did not get a base hit in his four trips to the plate to hit, but he looked comfortable and relaxed behind the plate. When John Lannan and Tyler Clippard both got themselves in trouble on the mound, Ramos was right out there in their faces. Wilson was taking command and he wasn't being shy about it. A very good sign.

Today's In-Game Photo, Gregory Smith (AP)

No comments: