Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Only The Phan(n)tom Knows
Ryan Zimmerman slapped down the first phantom tag of the night in the bottom of the 2nd inning on Gabby Sanchez. The Defensive Play Of This Game that occurred when The Florida Marlins' Chad Tracy laced a fly ball to deep left field at "Whatever They Call It Now" Ballpark in South Florida. Out Number 1 that quickly became out number two, when Our Washington Nationals Roger Bernadina caught the ball, stopped dead in his tracks, and threw a tremendous toss, right on the money to The Z-Man at 3rd Base. Sanchez, attempting to move up one base on the play, was called out by 3rd Base Umpire Mike Estabrook--even though Sanchez's right hand clearly beat the great throw from Bernadina on the video replay.
Phantom tag number two happened an inning later--in the bottom of the 3rd. Florida's Cameron Maybin hit what appeared to be a routine ground ball to Adam Dunn standing just off 1st base. Dunn couldn't handle the baseball cleanly as it bounced off his chest and down in front of his large body. As Jordan Zimmermann ran toward first to cover the bag and Dunn picked up the baseball, Maybin turned on the afterburners and JUST beat the throw to J-Z at the base. No question, Cameron was safe. Well, safe to everyone except the one man in the ballpark that this moment mattered the most--1st Base Umpire Marvin Hudson.
Two separate plays, two phantom outs, setting the stage for the return of a vision in South Florida only dreamed about by Washington fans for the past 54 weeks. On the very night seeing was not always what was believed, Jordan Zimmermann had The Florida Marlins hallucinating at the plate. His pitches must have appeared like a mirage from a distance. There, but not really. How else can you explain 18 batters faced, and 18 outs, the minimum possible in six complete innings thrown? The first player since baseball returned to D.C. to achieve such a feat.
In his second Major League start since Tommy John Surgery, "The Phan(n)tom" returned tonight on the mound for Our Washington Nationals in the name of Jordan Zimmermann. The Zimm with Two NN's was cagey, subtle, a little bit tricky. But most of all, he was totally in control--pitching with confidence.
Was he ever painting the black.
Like a shadow lurking in the night, Our Number 27 was a nightmare for The Florida Marlins' lineup this evening. They couldn't recognize what was coming at the plate. And by the time they did, most were heading back to their home dugout, bat in hand, shaking their heads in wonder. Astonished, maybe even admiring the ghostly aspect of Zimmermann's performance. J-Z striking out a career high nine batters on the night.
Yeah, Anibel Sanchez was nearly as good pitching for The Fish. No team scored a single run until Florida pushed across the winning tally in the bottom of the 10th inning. It was a well played game by both sides. But the final score: The Florida Marlins 1 and Our Washington Nationals Zero was not the story--the marveling over Jordan Zimmermann was.
Two phantom out calls earlier in this game might have been a figment of someone else's imagination, but the starting performance by J-Zimm was no such illusion. "Only The Phan(n)tom Knows" how really good and crafty he can be. Proven tonight--If Jordan Zimmermann consistently equals anything close to this evening's effort in South Florida throughout his still young career--Our Washington Nationals will have an All-Star for years to come.
And that's a vision, not a fantasy, for Washington fans to dream about tonight.
PS--Nyjer Morgan attempting to barrel over The Florida Marlins Catcher, Brett Hayes, in the top of the 10 inning was the wrong decision. He should have slid to the outside corner of the plate--away from the tag and the ball. Morgan was attempting to score from second base on a slow ground ball hit to Florida's Emilio Bonifacio between 1st and 2nd with one out by Adam Kennedy. Alberto Gonzalez was running from 1st base. As Bonifacio flipped the baseball to Hanley Ramirez coming across the 2nd base bag to record the 2nd out of the frame on "The Attorney General", Ramirez realized Morgan wasn't stopping and heading home. Figuring he had a better shot at home on Morgan than turning two on Kennedy racing to 1st base--Hanley threw a high toss to Hayes standing on top of home plate.
Hayes had to reach out and slightly to his right to retrieve the toss. Nyjer never stopped running, never attempted to slide and should have hooked his foot down and away from Hayes to score. Instead, he ran right over Brett Hayes, hitting Hayes hard and hurting him, and was called out at the plate by Home Plate Umpire Jim Wolf. No phantom tag there, Hayes clearly held onto the ball. Attempting to score on that play was a good decision, but the execution by Morgan was not--especially when Nyjer could have avoided the collision--easily. There was no reason to barrel over Brett Hayes.
Ironically, the winning run scored for The Fish when Chad Tracy stroked a single to left field in the bottom of the 10th off Drew Storen that found Roger Bernadina picking up the baseball and throwing a near perfect strike of his own home to Pudge Rodriguez. As the throw came slightly up the 1st base line and Pudge stood on home plate--Hanley Ramirez made the perfect hook slide down and away to score the game winning run. Pudge's phantom tag was exactly that--an illusion. Home Plate Umpire Jim Wolf made the correct call and Hanley Ramirez made the right decision by not attempting to run over the catcher.
Maybe, Nyjer can learn a thing, or two, from that.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Wilfredo Lee (AP)