Monday, May 31, 2010

Texas Sized Barbecue

Memorial Day is a time honored tradition in these United States. Families get together all across this great country to remember those who have fallen in service. A holiday celebrating the freedoms we all share--thanks to the ultimate sacrifice. And as most Americans know--no Memorial Day remembrance is ever complete without a picnic or barbecue.

That preamble stated because on this Memorial Day--2010, not only did the family known as Our Washington Nationals (along with all of Major League Baseball) wear commemorative patriotic baseball caps during their game--in respect--on this most important of day's--but D.C.'s Team also put a grilling on The Houston Astros not seen in The Nation's Capital in some time. The saying goes: "Everything is bigger and better in Texas." Well, that must account for Our Washington Nationals offense this afternoon at Minute Maid Park because game number 52 turned out to be a Texas Sized Barbecue.

Washington was mighty fired up. Just look at what happened.

Cristian Guzman got the grill fired up with a lead off double in the very top of the 1st inning off Houston's Ace--Roy Oswalt. Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Zimmerman then got "The Guz" home with sacrifices of their own--one via the bunt, the other on a fly ball. Two innings later, Adam Dunn stoked the grill fire with a bases clearing double in the bottom of third. A hot poker stroked off the right centerfield wall that got Oswalt's burning embers stirred so much--a few pitches later--Home Plate Umpire Bill Hohn tossed Roy for arguing balls and strikes with Josh Willingham at the plate.

Oswalt was feeling the Texas Heat and the big meal's main course had not even been put on the burner. You see, those first four runs plated by Our Washington Nationals were just the game's appetizer--although Nyjer Morgan did give a tasting of what was to come in the 5th inning when he slug bunted a single to rightfield, advanced to second on a Zimmerman walk, stole 3rd base and scored when Willingham knocked him home. Washington's offense was REMEMBERING how to score runs. The predecessor to the 7th frame at Houston this Memorial Day Monday when D.C.'s Team finally served up all their fire grilled goodies.

A holiday banquet worth recalling for years to come.

An Ian Desmond clutch two run rbi bloop single to right off Jeff Fulchino scoring The Z-Man and Dunn got the meal started. Three batters later, Carlos Maldonado dished up a three run homer (his first in a Nat Uniform) hit appropriately off the Chick-Fil-La "Fowl" Pole near the Crawford Boxes in Left. And then Our Number 11 finished off this Full Course Meal with a three run blast of his own over the right-centerfield wall in Houston off Chris Sampson. A feast of a different sort over The Houston Astros Pitching that only ended after Washington sent 12 batters to plate--nine of whom scored.

"Don't Mess With Texas" is another local saying. Yet despite what the locals in Houston might want to believe--Our Washington Nationals WERE messing with Texas!! Many of those in the announced crowd of 34,704 understanding this barbecue at Minute Maid Park was now all but offically over. Time to get up, head home themselves and enjoy a Memorial Day grilling of their own--with family and friends--not at the expense of The Houston Astros.

Leading 14-2 at this point, dessert really didn't matter and Our Manager Jim Riggleman summarily removed Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham from this game. An early rest and relaxation deserved for a picnic menu prepared and presented so well--Washington's Chef's Apron was barely smudged.

Final Score from Minute Maid Park where everything simply came together perfectly today for D.C.'s Team: Our Washington Nationals 14 and The Houston Astros 4. Curly "W" Number 26 will be remembered this Memorial Day 2010 for a 7th Inning self-stuffing of an opponent that found D.C.'s Team coming back for not only second, but third helpings. Nine runs scored, a season high. A well deserved over-indulgence for a baseball team that has competed in far too many one and two runs games this year. But this Texas Sized Barbecue should also be recalled for a young man named Luis Atilano that continues to cook up his own surprises in the starting rotation. Not many culinary artists could be called up from the minor leagues, barely known--and only as an emergency replacement (as Atilano was)--and then settle in as one of the Major Leagues biggest and most unexpected new chefs.

Atilano's pitching numbers aren't the best, but he's now won five games, against one loss. The most victories of any starter on Washington's Staff. And despite not being known as a gourmet on the mound, Luis is winning most battles, serving up his own special recipes. Honing his own skills at the top level of baseball so well--that at this rate--Luis Atilano might be in running for Iron Chef Honors. He's been that surprisingly good--keeping his team in most ball games and pitching just well enough to win.

Game Notes & Highlights

A lot of pitchers last many years in the Major Leagues with Luis Atilano type numbers. Never overpowering, getting just enough support from teammates, they make a career out of their God Given abilities. Maybe the biggest surprise of this season, no one expected Luis Atilano to be a major contributor in the starting rotation for Our Washington Nationals. But there he is, with the most victories (as a starter) and you can't deny he's been successful. Good for him and good for Our Washington Nationals. Luis Atilano is making Baseball Operation's look at him seriously. That's all you can ask from someone who has battled his heart out on the mound.

Batting in the second spot today in the lineup because of his season long slump, Nyjer Morgan produced the type of game everyone expected from him since Opening Day. Three hits, four runs scored, one walk, one sacrifice bunt and two stolen bases. Morgan looked relaxed today for first time in weeks and his play showed that. He was a catalyst. The same pest that was on display last season after his trade from Pittsburgh. Nyjer Morgan did everything Washington expects from him this afternoon. Hopefully, he can keep it up and continue moving forward.

How about the top five hitters in Washington's lineup? Guzman, Morgan, Zimmerman, Dunn & Willingham combining for 12 hits, 12 runs and 9 runs batted in. That's a batting order missing, consistently, for weeks. And worth remembering today how potent it can be if everyone is on the same page. That was a breakout worth watching and enjoying.

The Z-Man's three run homer in the top of the 7th was impressive for pure power & strength shown. Chris Sampson's pitch was down and away, yet Ryan Zimmerman reached out and muscled that pitch deep to right center and into the Houston Bullpen. He smashed that ball. A clubbing few other hitters in the game could accomplish. For ability alone, Zimmy's 102nd career home run might be one of his finest ever. In the dugout after, he Power Pumped Livan Hernandez twice--right elbows then left elbows together. The biggest smile on his face all season. Zimmerman well knew that was a home run to remember also--for years to come.

Ian Desmond again had a great at-bat in the top of the 7th when he blooped that single down the right field line scoring Zimmerman and Dunn. But Dave Jageler on the radio had the BEST CALL OF THE YEAR when Hunter Pence picked up Our Number 6's hit baseball, threw behind Desmond attempting to pick him off rounding 1st base, and proceeded to strike Ian with the baseball. As the ball caromed off Washington's Shortstop toward the Houston Dugout, Josh Willingham advanced to 3rd, Desmond to second while you hear Jageler scream on the radio: "And a fan has run on the field during play and is attempting to run up Tal's Hill (the centerfield in-play mound at Minute Maid Park). Jags then proceeds to give a tremendous play-by-play call of the resultant capture by security--without missing a beat of his call of the game.

GREAT STUFF AND WORTHY OF LISTENING TO AGAIN. If you have audio and you did not hear it live--you have to listen. Just great stuff!! Especially with Charlie Slowes heard just laughing in the background. Perfect!! Another reason why Charlie and Dave are the best radio announcers in the game. Always fun to listen to--no matter the score--no matter the moment on the field.

And finally, after today's game, Our Washington Nationals officially announced that Stephen Strasburg will make his Major League Debut on June 8th at Nationals Park versus The Pittsburgh Pirates. The most awaited game of a rather entertaining season of baseball in The Nation's Capital. That now, might only get better.

Today's In-Game Photos, David J. Phillips (AP)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Defensive Lapses

A well pitched baseball game by both sides.

Our Washington Nationals & The San Diego Padres each got out of jams with runners in scoring position late.

Losing that ball game because D.C.'s team simply got beat would have been acceptable. It really was a very good game at Petco Park in Southern California this Memorial Day Sunday afternoon.

At least until another key error--this time on a throw by Adam Kennedy on a deflected baseball off Sean Burnett's glove in the bottom of the 11th inning--resulted in the game winning run moments later.

Physical defensive miscues are creeping up and into Washington's play. Defensive lapses that are beginning to have an effect on the season.

An error on Saturday night directly led to the game changing play and eventual loss to The San Diego Padres 4-2. An error this past Thursday afternoon in the 7th frame against The San Francisco Giants set up the another 5-4 defeat. And three errors nine days ago at Nationals Park against The New York Mets affected that outcome and put Washington in the loss column too, 10-7.

Despite not having a true ace, Our Washington Nationals starting pitching has actually been pretty solid. But no one is going to win many close games if shaky defense, in key moments, lets them down. Washington's faltering "D" needs to be tightened up. Not having a powerful offense. Not having dominating pitching. D.C.'s Team needs to play near perfect games some days to win. Imperfection at the wrong time was again costly this afternoon in San Diego and that flaw directly led to Washington's latest loss.

Final Score from Petco Park where Ryan Zimmerman was the only offense today--slugging out his 100th and 101st career home runs: The San Diego Padres 3 and Our Washington Nationals 2. There is no shame in losing close, well played games. But it's deflating to be defeated thanks to your very own mistake. Washington is getting good pitching. And despite not hitting overly well of late, their offense is still capable of putting just enough runs on the board to win. Fielding the baseball cleanly though is hurting Washington's chances to pull off some winnable Curly "W's". It's crippled their chances in close games and the discouraging result this afternoon in San Diego put Our Washington Nationals under .500 at 25-26, tied for last place in the very competitive National League East (four games back).

Considered to be a strong point when the 2010 season began, Washington's defensive lapses are becoming an unnerving factor.

Today's In-Game Photos, Lenny Ignelzi (AP)

Saturday, May 29, 2010


The definition of quandary: "a state of perplexity or uncertainty, especially as to what to do; dilemma."

Perfectly defines Nyjer Morgan and outfield walls of late? Doesn't it?

Again tonight, Our Washington Nationals centerfielder rushed to the left-centerfield wall at Petco Park attempting to track down a blast off the bat of The San Diego Padres Nick Hundley in the bottom of the 4th. Nyjer appeared to get there in time, then jumped up, and watched the ball completely miss his glove and land to his side and carom back toward the infield. Hundley ended up with a triple and scored The Friars' fourth run moments later.

Morgan's misplay wasn't the deciding moment in tonight's latest loss--that came in the very first frame when Washington's newly recalled pitcher, J.D. Martin, allowed a two out, three run homer to Hundley. But Morgan's continuing uncertain defensive play was the most worrisome on an evening of disappointments for D.C.'s Team because this exact same fielding miscue now has happened to Nyjer for the fourth time in less than two weeks. Two of which ended up being inside-the-park home runs. In fact, if Josh Willingham hadn't tracked down the Hundley smacked ball tonight--this one might have been the third.

Perplexing, because in 2009, virtually nothing got past Our Number 1 defensively after he came over from Pittsburgh in that mid-season trade. Now in 2010, Nyjer has consistently missed most everything hit close to the outfield walls. A most puzzling development because, in baseball, defense up the middle is key to winning consistently. And Nyjer Morgan has been the surprising weak link this season.

Has he somehow become afraid of hitting the wall? Has he lost his confidence?

Nyjer Morgan's continuing struggles the most bewildering aspect of Washington's otherwise uplifting season.

Final Score from Petco Park where superb pitching by The Friars, combined with D.C.'s Team's less than stellar play doomed defeat: The San Diego Padres 4 and Our Washington Nationals 2. Mat Latos, Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams & Heath Bell combined on the mound for San Diego to shutdown Washington's offense most all evening. A key Adam Kennedy two out error in the bottom of the 1st directly led to Hundley's three run home run off Martin. But Nyjer Morgan's troubling play has formed doubt.

He's been tentative, indecisive, almost hesitant to make plays.

Nyjer Morgan truly has become a quandary: "a state of perplexity or uncertainty, especially as to what to do."

A dilemma that needs to be solved--and quickly.

Tonight's In-Game Photo, Denis Poroy (AP)

Finesse Player

Despite his mental gaffe last night in the bottom of the 9th inning at Petco Park and even with the realistic possibility Ian Desmond might commit over 30 errors at shortstop this season for Our Washington Nationals, he's still as exciting to watch as anyone that dons a Nats Uniform.

And worth keeping in the lineup on a daily basis.

First of all--his range fielding baseballs is as good as any middle infielder in the game. His athleticism allows Our Number 6 to reach and recover many hit balls that others would never have the chance to retrieve. That's something pitchers always appreciate.

But what has become special about this 24-Year Old Man is his ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Over the past week of play there has been at least four times that Ian Desmond stepped to the plate in a crucial situation and delivered with an rbi hit. His concentration during those moments never seems to waiver. Currently, Desmond is tied for 2nd in team RBI's for Washington, alongside Ryan Zimmerman (with 25) and only behind Josh Willingham's 34. Even more impressive, when you realize that Washington's starting shortstop is just a rookie.

Most everyone knew about Ian's adept fielding skills before he became a Major Leaguer. Few probably fathomed the Sarasota, Florida native would be so strong with his bat; clutch in fact. With more experience playing Big League Baseball, Ian Desmond will only improve. His errors will likely come down. And those RBI totals up.

Still unrefined at this point in his development, there is a finesse player hiding inside that 6'2" athletic frame of Ian Desmond. Prowess--just beginning to be tapped.

The Gutsiest Performance Of The Year.

It doesn't get more gutsy than that.

Anyone that has followed Our Washington Nationals since the Inaugural Season of 2005 knows The San Diego Padres have owned us. Comeback after comeback seemingly every single game played between these two teams--most always late--to defeat Washington in demoralizing fashion. And it sure looked like that same finish was in store again this evening with Matt Capps on the mound. The African Queen's palpitating heart was beating a mile a minute in front of the television because we know, no matter how late it might be on the east coast, don't ever go to sleep until The Padres have completed their At-Bats in San Diego. For some reason The Baseball Gods never want these games to end easily.

And they made sure this one went down to the final out too.

Resetting the scene: D.C.'s Team led handily, 5-2, heading to the bottom of the 9th. John Lannan had pitched a solid seven innings of baseball, walking no one, was in line for his second personal win. Josh Willingham had pumped out a three run shot off San Diego starter Clayton Richard in the top of the 4th. And Washington's ever improving clutch RBI Man, Ian Desmond, added his fourth homer of the season in the 7th and then laid down one of the prettiest two out bunts in the top of the 9th you might ever see--to score pinch runner Adam Kennedy from third to give Washington what looked to be that commanding lead.

Everything looking good for Our Washington Nationals. But four batters into the bottom half of the 9th--San Diego had pushed across one run and now had the bases loaded with nobody out. This affair was quickly falling apart--although "Cardiac" Capps was not entirely at fault. You see, Yorvit Torrealba had led off the frame with a sharp single to center. But then Ian Desmond made one of those plays of youthful exuberance that can drive any manager crazy. Oscar Salazar followed and slapped a not so hard hit baseball right up the middle--behind the second base bag. Forgetting the situation at hand, Desmond tried to make the spectacular play, attempting to flip the baseball out of his glove to Cristian Guzman standing on second. Wanting to get the double play, Our Number 6 ended up getting NO ONE out--when his toss went nowhere but slightly up in the air and back down into the infield dirt.

That just can't happen in the bottom of 9th in a close ball game. Outs are precious and Ian Desmond forgot--Big Time!!

To make matters worse, former Baltimore Oriole, Jerry Hairston, Jr. stepped up to the plate next and proceeded to hit a 50 foot dribbler toward Ryan Zimmerman at 3rd base that The Z-Man had no play on. And when San Diego's Chris Denorfia singled to left center scoring Torrealba--things couldn't be much worse.

There Matt Capps stood on the mound, sweating it out, probably just like everyone still up past midnight watching at home on television in the Washington, D.C. Area. I know The African Queen and I were. Really, it was unbelievable to think that The San Diego Padres might rip the heart out of Our Washington Nationals and Our Fans again. How many heartbreaking losses can one team lay down on another?

Our Manager Jim Riggleman must have felt the same way too as he immediately sent Pitching Coach Steve McCatty out to the mound to settle Capps down. Matt Stairs was pinch hitting next for The Friars. Always dangerous, even at age 42, and 40 pounds lighter in weight--Stairs is not the guy "Cardiac" Capps wanted to face at this moment. Power against Power, the results of which might not be pleasant.

Yet what Our Number 55 does well, and he proved it over the next three batters faced, is that Capps ALWAYS challenges every single batter he faces. He doesn't back down to anyone. That's the mark of a good reliever. And that's the hallmark of a good closer. With Matt Stairs believing "dead red" (fastball) right down the middle of the plate with two strikes and the bases loaded, Capps threw him a curve ball that so surprised Stairs, he simply took the pitch for called strike three, dropped his head, and slowly walked away from the plate--dejected--just like those remaining Padre Fans in the very loud crowd of 23,468 still watching this thriller of a ending.

Matt Capps NEEDED that out, but he wasn't close to being out of trouble yet because Will Venable was next, the lefty swinging San Diego outfielder. A single would still probably plate the game tying runs. Thankfully, Washington's Closer seemed to regain some lost confidence after sitting down Stairs. And all he threw Venable was heat, heat and more heat. Three pitches that Venable couldn't handle--taking a seat himself on the bench--striking out for out number two.


Having been on the brink of disaster moments earlier, could "Cardiac" Capps actually make it all the way back and finish this game off? Could he record his 17th Save against all odds? Who wasn't holding their breath? We were because anything still could happen--especially with the biggest pest in The Padres lineup now standing at the plate. David Eckstein (Washington's Batting Coach Rick's Brother) is one of the hardest guys to strike out in the baseball. He never stops moving at the plate. He's a two-time World Series Champion and 2006 World Series MVP. And as Dave Jageler pointed out on WFED during this point in his broadcast, David Eckstein is the exact type of slap hitter that can hurt you in these types of situations--more so than the slugging San Diego 1st Baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, who was now standing on deck.

Eckstein can get his bat on most any thrown ball--that's why he's dangerous. Capps knew that. His brother, Rick Eckstein, knew that (in fact, Rick's nervous look on his face in the dugout was priceless by the way), Our Washington Nationals knew that. Heck, every single person still watching knew that--no matter what team they were rooting for.

And this is where Matt Capps EARNED HIS MONEY.

Many closers would buckle under such pressure, Our Number 55 did not. Again throwing nothing but fastballs, Capps tossed in a 95 MPH gasser that Eckstein took for called strike one. Then he followed that by upping the speed to 96 and throwing his next pitch right in on David Eckstein's fists. A pitch The Padres 2nd Baseman couldn't handle while swinging. The result: a soft grounder to Ryan Zimmerman at 3rd base--who promptly threw a perfect strike to Adam Kennedy at 1st base to end this game.

I don't think The African Queen and I have yelled so loudly in our house all year long over any Nationals Game. And by the looks of Matt Capps yelling and screaming on the mound, celebrating his insane accomplishment too this evening--Our Number 55 hadn't done so either.

Did that WIN EVER FEEL GOOD--because The Padres had finally not won out!!

What an ending though.

Final Score from Petco Park where Matt Capps performed his best 2010 imitation of "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game": Our Washington Nationals 5 and The San Diego Padres 3. Chad Cordero had many similar moments facing The Friars in a Nationals Uniform from 2005 through 2008. And this one had the exact same feel of "The Chief Cardiologist". But just like when Our Former Number 32 was on the mound, Curly "W" Number 25 proved that a good closer can still shut the door, keep the opposition from scoring the game tying and winning runs, if he keeps his wits and doesn't give in to the pressure at hand.

Matt Capps' work over the final three hitters of this game was just phenomenal.

Few pitchers could have accomplished what this burly righthander did tonight in Southern California. Bases loaded, nobody out, one run in, up by just two--yet Our Number 55 finished off The San Diego Padres in style. That was great pitching with no margin for error. Matt Capps was courageous, gallant, maybe even a little spunky, but he was also clearly determined not to lose this ball game.

His fearlessness this evening-easily--The Gutsiest Performance of The Year.

Great Game. Even Better Win.

Tonight's In-Game Photo Gregory Bull (AP)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman Teams Up With The Wounded Warrior Project

In an effort to assist severely injured members of our armed forces, Our Washington Nationals Ryan Zimmerman has teamed up with The Wounded Warrior Project to raise funds for their programs and services. Available exclusively at select Wal-Marts in the Greater Washington D.C. area, military themed Ryan Zimmerman Tee-Shirts & Caps depicting The Wounded Warrior Project logo are now available.

The Z-Man one of 26 Major League Baseball Players joining the effort to help injured servicemen and women with their rehabilitation, mental health and well being. There are two different versions of each tee-shirt and cap--woodland camo and army green. Ryan's name, uniform number and facsimile autograph appear on each item. The tee-shirts sell for $14 and the caps for $10. All proceeds from the sales go directly to The Wounded Warrior Project.

Here is the complete list of Major League Players participating in this worthy program.

And here is the complete list of Wal-Marts carrying the apparel line for each player.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Only Then

Last night, we watched a little bit of Stephen Strasburg's latest start on MASN for The Syracuse Chiefs. Clearly noticeable was that many hitters for The Toledo Mud Hens were afraid of batting against the 1st Overall Pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. The Detroit Tigers AAA Hitters were swinging at the first pitch, almost psyched out over just the thought of facing Strasburg. Most all, except for Carlos Guillen.

The veteran Tigers infielder is on a rehab assignment, recovering from an injury. When Guillen stepped to the plate to face Stephen for the first time last night--he had a game plan. He wasn't nervous and eventually hit a solid single to right field. Carlos Guillen is a Major League League Hitter, not a Minor League Hitter hoping to make the Big Leagues.

Big difference.

Stephen Strasburg really hasn't been challenged yet in professional baseball. He's getting his feet wet advancing through Washington's Minor League System. But when "The Pied Piper Of Our Washington Nationals" does finally arrive at Nationals Park to pitch in his first Big League games--he's going to need to make some adjustments.

Big League hitters like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, David Wright and Albert Pujols--just to name a few--are not going be afraid to bat against him either. They are going to challenge Stephen Strasburg. And only then will Strasburg truly become a Major League Pitcher. You can have all the talent in the world, but unless you know how to use it against the best in the game--success will not be guaranteed. Stephen Strasburg seems to be a pretty smart and heady guy. And he will make those modifications--most likely becoming a very successful Major League Pitcher.

A top of the rotation starter that Our Washington Nationals will covet for years to come.

But all the hype that's accompanied his meteoric rise needs to be dialed back a little bit.

Sohna and I are as excited as anyone anticipating Strasburg's debut in a Nationals Uniform, but we realize the young man is not going to pitch a no-hitter every single time out. He's not going to strike out 20 batters in every game. And he's not going to win every single start he ever pitches. That's not possible. Remember, arguably the greatest righthanded Major League pitcher of all-time, Walter Johnson, lost 279 games. And the most dominating lefthanded pitcher of the last 50 years, Sandy Koufax, lost 87 in his abbreviated career.

No doubt, Strasburg is a unique talent.

But when Our General Manager Mike Rizzo makes the call and Stephen Strasburg advances to the Big Leagues, he will need to refine his mindset upon facing Major League Hitters. Only then will The San Diego State University product's talent mature. Only then can "The Pied Piper Of Our Washington Nationals" become the leader so many are expecting. And only then will he become so accomplished.

Baseball is a game of growth and Stephen Strasburg will need to take those final nurturing steps.

Strasburg Photo Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 24, 2010

Inside Pitch Live With Jim Riggleman

This past Saturday, May 22nd, the third installment of Inside Pitch Live at The PNC Diamond Club took place before Our Washington Nationals played The Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park in Inter-League play. Our Manager Jim Riggleman was the guest of honor. Throughout the 2010 season, each Saturday home game will feature a Nationals player or official holding a Q & A Session in The PNC Diamond Club held approximately one hour before game time and lasting 20 to 25 minutes. MASN's Rob Dibble hosted this installment and here is the complete transcript.

Rob Dibble: Welcome to the question and answer session here at The Diamond Club with Manager Jim Riggleman of the 2010 Nationals.


Dibble: And when I get through with some of the questions I am going to ask, we are going to pass around the microphone so you guys can get in some quick questions before we are done. Don’t be shy, this is all about you. That’s why we are here, to help you guys out--hopefully enlighten you.

Dibble: Skip, what has been the biggest surprise for with this team this year?

Jim Riggleman: Two things. And I can’t say I am totally surprised. I guess I am pleased with the play of our middle infielders--Guzman, Kennedy & Desmond. Those three guys, the unselfishness of Kennedy and Guzman to accept their roles on the ball club. They are playing a lot but they are not playing every day because Desi is at shortstop. Their attitude has been key for our ball club. The other thing is that, and I kind of knock on wood as I say it--our pitching coming out of spring training I was very concerned. With Olsen (coming back from surgery), we signed Livan Hernandez very late in the spring, had a couple of young starters that we we not sure about--but we’ve pitched pretty good. We’ve pitched good enough to win more ball games than we’ve won. So that is something I have been very happy about. And we hope it will continue, and we know that it can. But it was a little bit of a concern coming out of spring training.

Dibble: You talked about the pitching--are you surprised to see Matt Capps 15 for 15 (as of Saturday, May 22nd) in saves--solidifying the end of the ball game?

Riggleman: Yes, Matt in spring training--you were there. He was really throwing OK. He was just OK. He threw the ball 90 MPH. He threw strikes. He got hit around a little bit. But it’s not that often you see a guy really turn it on when the lights come on. I know yourself and Randy Myers (when with The Reds), were much better pitchers once the bell rang. But I didn’t have any history with Matt Capps, so I didn’t know. So when the bell rang he turned it up a few miles per hour, throwing strikes, great presence. And 15 for 15, that’s doesn’t happen too often.

Dibble: You grew up around here, did your minor league, went full circle, managed a few other ball clubs. Now you are here and managing the hometown team. Is that pretty much full circle for you?

Riggleman: Yeah, it is. I grew up here watching Frank Howard and Frank Robinson. I went away to play ball for years and was disappointed baseball had got away from Washington. And when it came back, by then I had been pretty deep into the ball game in several different locations and thought in the back of my mind that would be a nice place to work. And hopefully my last job in baseball.

Dibble: You were drafted by The Dodgers in the 70’s. How did you make the decision to transition from a player having aspirations of being a major leaguer for 10 or 20 years, then going into coaching?

Riggleman: When you play in the minor leagues a long time you get to the point where they make a decision for you. They say: look, you want to keep playing, keep playing, but we don’t see a future for you in the big leagues as a player. Would you like to stay in the organization as a coach--potential manager in the minor leagues? So for me it was just the opportunity to have a career in baseball rather than getting a job doing something else. I love the game. I thought I could continue playing but I had played seven years and it got a little stagnant. It didn’t look like I was going to move up any higher--so I took the opportunity to stay within the organization. I had no aspirations at that point to manage. I just wanted a career in the game. And once you get in it, you don’t put limitations on yourself. And as you said, I ended up coming full circle.

Dibble: As far as mentors, I know you worked for Tony LaRussa--you were a coach with him. Besides Tony LaRussa, any other mentors in the game?

Riggleman: Two guys. The late George Kissell. I always speak about George. Most people are probably not familiar with who he is. But in a nutshell, I would say he’s a man that never played in the big leagues, but out of Tony LaRussa’s mouth, Tony said he the greatest Cardinal ever--which can kind of go in one ear and out the other. But when you figure there has been Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and all those guys--George Kissell had an impact on every guy that came through there. He taught everybody. He taught players. He taught coaches and managers. He taught you how to manage players. He was just a tremendous influence over there.

The other person is Whitey Herzog. Whitey was managing The Cardinals when you were with The Reds. Whitey probably the best pure baseball man I have ever been around. To just sit around and watch him work was a great treat for me.

Dibble: Whitey Herzog, by the way, going to the Hall Of Fame this summer. How has the running game helped The Nationals this year?

Riggleman: The running game has really slowed down lately. But early in the year as we went around the league, around our division the first time--I think we created some opportunities for ourselves with Kennedy and Willingham and a couple of others guys who the other clubs maybe were not in tune to them running as much. So we created some action that way. But with scouting now, everybody knows what you are going to do. Willingham and Kennedy, Desmond--people who had no history of running--that’s now gone. Everybody has that information now to stop you from running. Nyjer (Morgan) is a guy that is trying to run all the time, but the other clubs are so in tuned to him their pitchers are just not letting him go anywhere.

But the running game helped us early and we’ve got to get back to that. We may have run into some outs when we do it, but we have to keep pushing out to get that going again.

Dibble: Scott Olsen, before last night (May 21st), five great starts. Then he comes up with a sore shoulder. What’s his status?

Riggleman: He’s really tender right now. This has actually been going on for about three starts. Steve McCatty (Pitching Coach) came into the dugout after he threw his warmups to start the game a few starts ago and said we've got to watch him. He just didn’t look real strong in the bullpen. So every inning you check on him and he says he’s fine. ‘I don’t feel any different than I have felt.’ But after the starts over, the next day, he’s very tender. But when it’s his next time to start, he says he’s fine. He kept doing that. Yesterday, before the game, Steve was even more concerned. So after the 3rd inning, we just said that was it. That was enough. The velocity wasn’t down that much, but the location wasn’t there. So I think that was an indication he was struggling.

The other times when we have given him the opportunity to come out of games, he really fought us on it. This time, he was kind of like, yeah, I should come out. We are just going to monitor it. If he has to miss a start or two--we will do that. (Scott Olsen was placed on the 15-day disabled list later Saturday afternoon)

Dibble: Pudge Rodriguez, maybe the best off-season signing of The Nationals in the past few years. How has he helped this ball club?

Riggleman: He’s just such a good player. When the pitchers are throwing to catchers. They catch it and throw it back. You just take that for granted. But last year, due to injuries to our catchers, we were chasing that ball back to the screen a lot. A lot of balls were getting by. That just hasn’t happened this year. If a guy goes to second on Pudge it’s because he earned it. He stole the base, or whatever. Last year, our pitchers were too concerned about pitches they could throw because they might get by the catcher. I think last year, Josh Bard gave us everything he has, but he played hurt for us. Nieves’ leg was hurt. So just having a healthy Pudge back there blocking the ball the way he has, has been huge. He’s worked great with our pitching staff. And he’s a good hitter.
(Later that afternoon, Pudge Rodriguez would strain his lower back and today was placed on the 15-Day Disabled List).

Dibble: Last night you used Livan Hernandez early in the ball game as a pinch hitter. Normally, you don’t use pitchers like that. How do you come to decisions like that in a course of a game? Who to use and when to use in pinch hitting?

Riggleman: In today’s world we carry so many pitchers. We carry 12 pitchers--that’s a lot. It used to be 10. It went to 11 and now it’s up to 12. So you have less bench players. So early in the game, unless you have men on base--you hate to waste one of your pinch hitters in a situation with a couple out--with basically nobody on base--period. You hate to use a guy and not have him available late. So it was very early in the game when I decided to do that. Actually, we did it later with Miguel Batista. We let him hit for himself and continue pitching--with no intention he would get a hit. He was hitting for himself so he could continue pitching.

Dibble: As far as inter-league play, are you a big fan of it? Does it disrupt the flow of the season when you are trying to catch The Phillies, The Marlins and move up in the National League East?

Riggleman: I am not a real big fan of it. I am OK with it. I like the Baltimore series (with Washington). I like if you are The Mets, The Yankees come in. The White Sox play The Cubs. I think those are important. I am not crazy about Oakland playing Washington. Or Oakland playing The Mets. If it draws interest and fans want to see it, great. If there are indications, and I think there are, that fans want to see those others players--so be it. That’s always good for the fans.

Dibble: Picking your lineup every day, what goes into that process?

Riggleman: A lot goes into it. There are a lot of times when you are thinking two to three days ahead of time as to who you are to be facing--which pitchers you are going to be facing. Maybe, some guys have a history with this particular pitcher. Maybe your pitcher that day is a ground ball pitcher--so you want to make sure you’ve got a particular infielder in the game to cover ground for you because you think he is going to get a lot of action. I knew that I was going to give Desmond a day off in the next day or two. But with Scott Olsen pitching yesterday, I wanted Desmond at short. Right handed hitters would be hitting ground balls. And as it turned out he was tender (Olsen), the ball was up and it was a no factor. But those things go into it. You want to play guys while they are hot. With a day game after a night game, that comes into it; left-handed, right-handed pitcher. We are like everybody else. You want to get to the point where you are The Phillies. You just play them all every day. You play Utley every day. You play Ibanez every day. You play Howard every day. It doesn’t matter who the other pitcher is. You just play them all every day (a set lineup). Those players have earned that. Those players are in there every day because they hit everybody. That’s where we want to get too. But we are not quite there yet.

Dibble: We are pressed for time and you have to go manage a game. Let’s open it up to questions.

Question: Hi Jim. I wonder if you could address Adam Dunn’s importance to the lineup? I fell like the days he was sick, we really had a hole there.

Riggleman: Adam’s contributions are not just what he does but he’s hitting behind Ryan Zimmerman. That’s always a plus for Ryan. He’s just in and of himself. If you are the other manager, whether Adam is hot or cold--you hold your breath a little when he comes to the plate. He can ruin your day by hitting one out at any moment. There is a presence there. It gives your lineup presence. As you are putting it together in the off-season, working in spring training, you just know this guy is going to be a problem for the other clubs.

Question: There is this guy up in Syracuse that, I guess, is throwing the ball real well. But with the team doing so well, at one point three games above .500--in second place in the NL East. Do you think it gets a little bit to the guys here in the clubhouse that you go to and it’s talking about the guy in Syracuse (Stephen Strasburg) and not about the ball club in Washington? Do you think that gets to them at this point at all?

Riggleman: I think that is an interesting point. That’s today’s world. It’s too bad it’s like that. Stephen, I am sure, is going to be a great pitcher here. And we can’t wait for him to get here and all that. But he hasn’t thrown a pitch here yet. We got guys out here really working hard to help us make progress. And with that being the case, that’s where the attention should be. But ESPN and a lot of the other networks are putting a lot of him. He’s handled it great, very humble young man, and he’s been outstanding. The attention on him is really out of whack. But in this world today, I don’t know if there is any solution to that.

Dibble: Let me ask you this from a former player’s standpoint. When I was playing, there was always somebody behind you. You can’t worry about that. You can only worry about taking control of what you are doing. For the other four guys that will still be in the rotation, or the bullpen, or the rest of the team--he’s only going to help this team win every fifth day. He can’t pitch every day. He can’t play every day. The rest of the team has got to pull their own weight. They shouldn’t worry about Strasburg. They should probably worry about their own jobs.

Question: You’ve got another good rookie pitcher in Drew Storen. I think he’s solidified the back end of your bullpen. Maybe help to take a little stress off Tyler Clippard. Can you talk about the back end of your bullpen? And Storen’s effect on that?

Riggleman: You’ve pretty much answered the question. Tyler is doing a great job and still is doing a great job. He was really throwing a lot. There were several games there where I was trying to get someone else to take on the load a little bit--but it wasn’t working. We still had a chance to win the game so you go to Tyler. And we just needed someone else that we could go to that could pitch with the lead late in the game. And not have it always be Tyler. Today is a day where we have both of them available. If I use both of them today, I probably wouldn’t use Storen tomorrow. Eventually, we will get to the point where Storen can throw as often as Tyler. But right now, we are holding back a little bit. He can though, as you said, soften the load a little bit.

Question: Last year, when Nyjer Morgan came over from Pittsburgh, he was a huge catalyst at the top of the lineup. Nyjer Morgan has been off to a very slow start. Is he trying to do too much?

Riggleman: I am not sure what his struggle are and why? But I will say that in his running game, the pitchers have really stifled him. They’ve really made it impossible (for him to run). You would think the luck of the draw would mean the catcher would not make a perfect throw, But (Yadier) Molina (St.Louis) and (Miguel) Olivo (Colorado) have been right on the base when he is running. The hitting part, he’s particularly had trouble with some left-handed pitching. But a little bit like Ryan Zimmerman, they are hitting a lot of balls at people that they are making plays on. I know of three plays, that were not only made, but were at crucial times. We had men on base and Nyjer hit a ball into left center twice that (Carlos) Gonzalez caught (Rockies). Once, the centerfielder in Florida caught. It went a long way to left center, great at-bats, that would have produced runs--would look good for Nyjer’s batting average. Three or four plays like that can really change your batting average at this point in the year. And the 3rd Basemen are making good plays on his bunts. Again, you would hope every now and then, that a guy would bobble one in his hand a little, or throw it a little off line to 1st base. It’s just kind of the way it’s been going for Nyjer. Everybody is making plays on him.

Dibble: You touched on this about Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman has been on fire. Now he’s starting to hit from the left side of the plate. Some may not know, but most switch hitters start out as natural right handed hitters. Why were you so patient with him hitting from the left side. You kept putting him out there and now he is on fire.

Riggleman: Part of it is just the character of these individuals. We are all human beings. You have a little soft spot in your heart for these guys how they handle situations correctly. When we went to Cristian Guzman and I called Adam Kennedy in to tell him every now and then he was going to lose some at-bats to Cristian. They were like, hey--whatever you need to do. Well, that’s easy to say that to my face. But how they act out there is the telling measure. And they have been just outstanding. It was not just a matter of me being patient with Cristian. It was a matter of me repaying him for his work and patience. So when he’s been out there, he has been better than ever. And he’s been just outstanding from the right side. One of the top hitters in the league from the right side. But left-handed--as you said--he’s taking it to the next level also.

Question from a child: Is Stephen Strasburg going to be a starting pitcher or a reliever like Drew Storen?

Riggleman: What do you want him to do? What do you think?

Child: I think he should start.

Riggleman: I was going to relieve him, but we are going to start him now. (laugher) That helps. We’ll start him.

Final Question: Jim, the other day Ian Desmond was at the ESPN Zone, he complimented you greatly by saying you are the most steadying force on the team in the clubhouse because you never get too high and you never get too low. I am curious to know where you get that patience with the team struggling right now.

Dibble: Good question.

Riggleman: Well, I appreciate that--if that is the case. It comes from a lot of failure on my own part. I played a long time. I played eight years in the minor leagues and I struggled. I had good enough times that they kept bringing me back. But not good enough times to really take off. And when you struggle that much, once you are the manager, you see other people struggle and you know what is going on in their head. And you know the doubts that get in their head. So you try not to show too much negative emotion--throwing your arms up when plays aren’t made--because I know if I didn’t make a play, I wouldn’t want my manager showing me up and throwing his hands up. Now, in the privacy of my office, I can say what are you doing? But I think it just comes from the game being very tough to play. It really is. Baseball is a tough game to play and be successful at. I have a lot of patience for the results of it. I don’t have a lot of patience for the lack of attention to detail and effort. So as long as they give me that, I never have a problem.

With that final answer Inside Pitch Live at The PNC Diamond Club with Jim Riggleman concluded. On June 5th, when The Cincinnati Reds visit Nationals Park, the next Inside Pitch Live will take place at approximately 6PM in The PNC Diamond Club. Team President Stan Kasten is the scheduled guest that evening.

PS--With a limited amount of time during these events, it would nice to see more questions taken from fans than asked by the moderators. The moderators in these Inside Pitch Live get togethers have the daily opportunity to talk with each quest. The fans do not. Give the fans more of a chance to ponder their thoughts and if a lull comes--the moderator can keeps things going by asking something of his own. The Q & A was good, but fans mentioned after the conclusion they needed more time to ask their own questions.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 23, 2010

One Very Good Professional Hitter

Ryan Zimmerman is the best all-around player in uniform for Our Washington Nationals.

Adam Dunn has the most power.

But Josh Willingham is D.C.'s most professional hitter.

He proved that fact again today with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10 inning at Nationals Park.

Good hitters know what's coming next. The great hitters know what to do when that pitch comes.

When Cla Meredith was called into this game unexpectedly in the bottom of the 10th inning as an emergency replacement for The Baltimore Orioles Closer--Alfredo Simon--"The Hammer", Washington's next hitter, stood on-deck watching intently as The O's underarm reliever warmed up. Meredith throws in a completely different style than Simon. Alfredo throws heat while Cla depends on pinpoint control.

Meredith's deliveries must always be precise. Command is always necessary for any sidearm/underarm pitcher to be effective. Any wavering from that standard tends to find any thrown baseball curling up and into the strike zone. A resultant hitter's pitch that can be whacked out of any park.

And as The Orioles Number 26 continued his warm ups on the mound--it was clear every single toss to his catcher, Matt Wieters, was doing just that. Meredith was displaying little control and Our Number 16 immediately took notice. He even seemed to mention this to Justin Maxwell--the next scheduled hitter for Washington.

The fact that Our Washington Nationals were in this position in the first place was due to Matt Capps blowing his first save ever in a Nationals Uniform in the top of the 9th that tied this affair up at three. AND because Alfredo Simon had hurt himself moments earlier when he rushed to cover 1st Base on a ground ball hit by Willie Harris to Baltimore's Luke Scott. Out Number 1 in the bottom of the 10th found Simon hunched over, hurt after landing on the bag the wrong way, and unable to continue in this game.

A fortunate turn of events for Washington as Cla Meredith should not have even been in this game--at this time. But there he stood on the mound as Josh Willingham dug into the right handed batters box at Nationals Park. Washington's left fielder could not have asked for a better matchup. A professional hitter knows what to do in just such a situation. You wait for a pitch to drive. Having watched Meredith's warmups, Josh Willingham understood this new Baltimore reliever was not even reaching 87 MPH on any of his pitches--about nine miles per hour slower than Simon.

The opportunity to win a game with one swing of the bat does not come along often. And when it does, success will only come if the batter is calm and composed at the plate. Josh Willingham's resurgent early 2010 campaign boils down to his good eye at the plate. He's walking more than ever in his career. He's seeing the ball better. He's relaxed and the results have been the best on base percentage of his five years of Major League Baseball. And some of his besting slugging numbers ever.

Our Number 16 has been tuned in most all year and as he watched Cla Meredith throw his first pitch of the crucial At-Bat right over the plate-- a called strike one--Willingham waited patiently--looking for his pitch. When you are locked in, you can take a strike, because you believe something better will come along. And when Baltimore's reliever threw his next two pitches low in the strike zone--Willingham knew-- Cla Meredith either had to walk him or challenge him.

And when Meredith chose the later--he paid for it dearly.

As Baltimore's underarm reliever peered in for the sign, Our Number 16 set himself at the plate, knees bent, body slightly hunched over--ready. Then as Cla Meredith let loose his and this game's final pitch--Josh Willingham cocked his bat, lifted his left leg and swung at the very precise pitch he wanted to hit all along. A 86 MPH fastball that floated up and over the plate. The exact spot in which Willingham can use his strong and fast reflexes to hammer any pitch deep and long into the afternoon light.

The exact same pitch he had witnessed Meredith throw in warmups.

The sounds erupting throughout South Capitol Street told the rest of the story. This game was now over thanks to Josh Willingham's clutch blow. A solo home run that sent Josh's teammates rushing out onto the field, The Baltimore Orioles rushing off and Our Number 16 rushing around the bases to be greeted and thanked for a job well done. Willingham had paid attention and was rewarded for his study habits.

Final Score from Nationals Park where Josh Willingham got the pitch he wanted and knew what to do with it: Our Washington Nationals 4 and The Baltimore Orioles 3. Curly "W" Number 23 was one of those up and down thrillers. Disappointing one moment when Washington lost a late lead with two outs in the 9th, but uplifting and enjoyable to experience when victory was finally at hand. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! not only just beginning the celebration of the field, but the signaling of the growth of a professional hitter that finally seems to have found his game in Major League Baseball. Josh Willingham has been Washington's most consistent performer all season long. He's become a leader in the clubhouse. A driving force at the plate. And today again showed why he's been one of Our Washington Nationals Most Valuable Players all season long.

When his teammates needed him the most this afternoon at Nationals Park, Josh Willingham delivered with as skillful of an at-bat as you will ever see. He watched Cla Meredith warm he. He studied the Baltimore Reliever's pitches. And he swatted out exactly what he was looking for at the plate from Meredith to win this game. Josh Willingham is one very good professional hitter. And he proved that fact once again today with a Walk-Off Home Run in the bottom of the 10th inning on South Capitol Street.

Game Notes & Highlights

John Lannan pitched well today. He may have thrown his best game of 2010. Returning from a mild elbow problem in his throwing arm, Our Number 31 had good control. John was able to spot his pitches and for 5.1 innings threw as effectively as he has all season. Allowing just two hits and one run--Lannan left with the lead--replaced by Drew Storen and was in the position for the personal win until Capps gave up the game tying runs in the top of the 9th. Baltimore's only run until the 9th scored by Corey Patterson on a double play ground out hit by Miguel Tejada in the top of the 1st frame.

Storen pitched a solid 1.2 innings of relief. He didn't allow a single hit or run. And he struck out Luke Scott in the bottom of the 6th with Baltimore runners on 1st & 3rd on one fabulous 84 MPH curve ball. A breaker that found Scott lunging and swinging at air. That was a great out pitch. And Storen celebrated moments later with his first Major League hit off Kevin Millwood. A two-strike well placed swing on a curveball that Drew deposited in left field for a single. Apparently, Storen is a switch hitter and chose to bat left-handed for his first Big League At-Bat against The Orioles' right-handed starter.

Storen recorded five outs, Sean Burnett two more in the 8th before giving way to Tyler Clippard for the final out. Matt Capps then getting himself in real trouble in the 9th protecting a two run lead after Luke Scott singled, Adam Jones double to right, Matt Wieters grounding to Cristian Guzman scoring Scott. And Julio Lugo, down to his last strike and Baltimore's last out, just getting his bat on a Capps fastball down and away that was lofted into nowhere's land for a single in front of rightfielder Justin Maxwell. The game tying run score for The Orioles that gave Matt Capps his first blown save after 16 consecutive ones to begin 2010. As deflating at that hit was, it does happens. Capps threw a good pitch and Lugo just so happened to get his bat on the ball. That's baseball.

Doug Slaten received his second personal win of the season--being the pitcher of record after throwing a scoreless top of the 10th.

Until Josh Willingham sent everyone rooting for Washington home happy with his Walk-Off Home Run in the 10th, D.C.'s Team's only other scoring play occurred on one swing of the bat in the bottom of the 1st with two outs. With the bases loaded against Kevin Millwood, Roger Bernadina drove a pitch to deep right centerfield--near the padded wall and GEICO sign. Although a tough defensive play, it appeared Baltimore's talented centerfielder--Adam Jones--would come down with the ball for the final out. Only to see Jones leap against the wall as the baseball hit in his glove. The jarring action from the collision knocking the baseball out of his glove and onto the warning track. Bernadina and Our Washington Nationals benefiting when Roger ended up on 3rd base with a ruled 3 RBI triple. Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Zimmerman and Willingham scoring on the play. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Washington showed a lot hustle in today's game. Both Cristian Guzman and The Z-Man beat out infield grounders in the very first inning--key to their first inning scores. Except for Wil Nieves' throwing error in the top of the 9th when Julio Lugo stole second base--defense was sharp all afternoon for the home side. And the pitching good too. Sure, Matt Capps blew the save but you can clearly see Washington's bullpen coming together. Storen to Burnett to Clippard to Capps is the best bullpen combination since the Inaugural Season of 2005 when Gary Majewski to Jon Rauch to Luis Ayala to Chad Cordero ruled the day for Washington. Our Washington Nationals won with their bullpen in 2005. And 2010 is shaping up to be just as effective. The thoughts of how better this team could be when Stephen Strasburg is called up and Chien Ming Wang and/or Jordan Zimmermann return later this season is worth considering.

And it's worth repeating, good teams win with pitching and defense. Talent which Our Washington Nationals are building upon each and every passing day. They are far from perfect, but D.C.'s team is very competitive and beginning to make a name for themselves in this game.

Speaking of defense--Ian Desmond showed some serious range when he bolted all the way from shortstop across toward the 2nd base bag to scoop up a Julio Lugo hard hit grounder in the top of the 5th. The Defensive Play Of This Game which materialized thanks to Our Number 6 picking up the baseball while continuing to run over second base--almost to where "The Guz" was positioned on the right side of the infield and fired a rocket to Adam Dunn at 1st for the out. That young man has outstanding reflexes. His instincts in the field impressive every game Our Manager Jim Riggleman sends Desmond out to play shortstop. Yeah, he makes some errors, but Ian can reach balls most shortstops would never consider trying for.

No better way to lead into an off-day and a long flight to the west coast than winning in your last at-bat. Our Washington Nationals play game Number 46 on Tuesday night in San Francisco at AT&T Park. Today's series win against Baltimore was Washington's fifth at home of 2010 (with two ties). Their only loss coming during their opening series at home against The Philadelphia Phillies in April. Also with today's victory, Our Washington Nationals moved back above .500 at 23-22. A positive position Washington has been in most all season long.

Abe won the 4th inning Presidents Race when he came from behind to beat his fellow Rushmores easily. They need to find a way to spice up the race--it's becoming too pedestrian.

Original RFK Section 320 Member SenatorNat told The African Queen and I an interesting story after today's win. He says three times he has sat in his friend's front row seats in Presidents Club at Nationals Park. And each time, Our Washington Nationals have won on a walk-off home run. Twice in 2009--first on Ryan Zimmerman's homer against The Florida Marlins. Then again during the last season's home finale when Justin Maxwell hit that Grand Slam against The New York Mets. And then today--thanks to Josh Willingham. That's a pretty good mark.

And finally--for the past two seasons at Nationals Park Sohna and I have spent many hours at games chatting baseball with our friend Pat. He's one of the most knowledgeable baseball minds we know. But we've not been able to connect in 2010 until today. Fortunately, our reunion was just like old times, Sohna, Pat, Christie and I talked baseball all afternoon. Nothing like catching up with friends chatting about Our Washington Nationals.

Today's In-Game Photos--Nick Wass (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Willing Themselves To Victory

When Nyjer Morgan threw his glove down in disgust over believing the high flying baseball he just missed had caromed off his glove and over the wall for a home run in the top of the 4th inning today--the resultant boos that cascaded down from the highest points of Nationals Park had never been so loud for a member of Our Washington Nationals--like EVER--after the stroked hit by The Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones simply landed on the grass in center field--in play--just waiting for someone to pick it up.

Nyjer Morgan lost some serious focus this Saturday afternoon. A season's worth of frustration he let loose--allowing The O's Jones to swiftly run around the bases with his teammate, Luke Scott, in front of him. Both eventually scoring the go ahead runs on this Inside-The-Park Home Run (the second such inside the parker allowed by Washington this week). And you might have thought a riot was going to develop on South Capitol Street after this most incredulous of plays. Fans were pissed that D.C.'s team was unexpectedly down 4-2 thanks to such a mental mistake. In fact, they were so riled up that when Our Number 1 walked to the plate moments later to hit in the bottom of the 4th frame--those jeers became ever louder.

The African Queen and I have never heard such venom for any player wearing The Curly "W" in the short history of Our Washington Nationals. Nyjer Morgan was getting the business from Our Fans.

And I don't think we will ever forget the moment--much less the eventual outcome of this game--because just when you believed this defining moment could only make things worse for Washington--it somehow catapulted Our Washington Nationals back into this game, rejuvenated their tired spirit, and reversed those loud jeers to cheers as everyone rooting for D.C.'s team in the announced crowd of 30,290 witnessed a remarkable comeback.

Unusual because for the second straight day it appeared The Orioles were going to walk all over the home side. The worst team record wise, in The American League, was dominating in this annual Battle of The Beltway Series. Craig Stammen again did not pitch well from the start for Washington. Baltimore built what appeared to be a commanding 6-3 lead after Ty Wigginton slammed out his 13th home run (a two-run shot) off Our Number 35 in the top of the 6th. And Jim Riggleman's offense appeared to be taking the day off again. Our Manager's lineup also weakened when Pudge Rodriguez was pulled early after experiencing lower back pain--taking a swing at the plate.

Bad Karma filled the air at Nationals Park. A series of negative effects were keeping Our Washington Nationals down. But then, when all looked lost, a rain storm began on South Capitol Street--continued throughout the remainder of this game--and seemingly--washed all those bad vibrations away.

Apparently sparked, not spooked, by Morgan's mistake, Washington's lineup began to breathe life again. The downpours changing the mood of this game. And with it--any chance of Baltimore winning for a second straight day. The Orioles' Starter, Brad Bergeson had kept his team in this game for nearly six innings. But as the clouds opened up over Nationals Park, Our Washington Nationals opened up their offense and knocked Bergeson right out of this game. Adam Kennedy singling to lead off the game winning rally in the bottom of the 6th. Roger Bernadina following with a run scoring triple down the right field line. An energy builder that found Our Number 2 waving his right arm frantically as he motored around second base encouraging the slower moving Kennedy to race for home. Excitement building which now found the home crowd on their feet waving as well--encouraged over Washington's change in play. No longer booing as was the case just two short innings previously.

Rally Time!! knocked Brad Bergeson from the game when Alberto Gonzalez pinch hit and singled up the middle--scoring Roger Bernadina with Washington's fifth run of the afternoon. Nyjer Morgan greeted Bergeson's replacement, Mark Hendrickson, by sacrificing "The Attorney General" to second base. And after Baltimore's tall and lanky reliever hit Cristian Guzman with a pitch, Ryan Zimmerman singled to center loading up the bases and Adam Dunn followed with the key blow of this game--a slicing single to center that scored Gonzalez with the game tying run and "The Guz" with the go ahead run. A now 7-6 advantage that reversed all those negative vibes felt during the first four innings of this game. The venom heard earlier--long gone--replaced by loud claps and cheers. How quickly the feeling had changed over Nationals Park.

Washington's bullpen then went to work in the rain and washed away any further chance of a Baltimore comeback. Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps pitching three scoreless innings of relief to put this game away for good.

The result--maybe one of the better feel good victories of the season.

Final Score from Nationals Park where turmoil was turned to triumph: Our Washington Nationals 7 and The Baltimore Orioles 6. Close to losing their eighth game out of their last nine played--D.C.'s Team pulled themselves together late this afternoon and accomplished what the good teams do--they simply found a way to win. It wasn't pretty and Curly "W" Number 22 in 44 games will be remembered for Nyjer Morgan's reaction to a defensive misplay in the field. But it should also be recalled for the home side--under the pressure of losing against their closest natural rival--using adversity to find strength and the will power to move forward when many others would buckle. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! should be celebrated this evening for a Washington team that could have easily given up, embarrassed, over Adam Jones' Inside-The-Park Home Run. But instead used that perturbing moment to find new purpose, new resolve, and a thrilling new way to add another Curly "W" into the books.

This was as satisfying of a win as you may see all year because Our Washington Nationals didn't back down to dismay. They didn't allow a huge mental hiccup on the part of a teammate to take them down for the count. They instead reinforced their resolve and found a way to win. Washington grew up as a team today--by willing themselves to victory--against most odds.

Game Notes & Highlights

Craig Stammen is not taking advantage of opportunity given. Having won a starting rotation spot out of spring training, Our Number 35 has done little of late to solidify his position. Possessing maybe the best pitching arsenal on the staff, his strikeouts are down, he's getting hit hard and he doesn't seem to be adjusting to Major League hitters whom have seen him before. Stammen's made little progress of late and he needs to find a way to keep his team in the game more. Craig didn't walk anybody today, but he allowed nine hits, six runs (four earned) and was lucky his teammates picked him up after he was removed from the game--avoiding a personal loss.

Tyler Walker got his first win as a National by being in the right place at the right time. Mopping up where Stammen left off, Tyler became the pitcher of record when Washington rallied for the game winning runs in the bottom of the 6th. Sean Burnett was again terrific in a 1-2-3 7th. "No Nonsense" Tyler Clippard returned to pitch a perfect 8th. And Matt Capps recorded his 16th save in as many opportunities--when he finished off The Orioles in the top of the 9th.

Josh Willingham got Washington on the board in the bottom of the 3rd, and briefly tied up this game, when he flat out hammered a Brad Bergeson pitch over the left field wall for a two run homer. Ryan Zimmerman scored in front of him. Craig Stammen started a two-out rally in the bottom of the 4th when he doubled off Bergeson to the wall in left. Nyjer Morgan followed with a single. And Cristian Guzman slapped Stammen home with D.C.'s 3rd run of the afternoon when Morgan took off for second base--and when Baltimore's shortstop Cesar Izturas moved to cover the bag--"The Guz" singled right through the spot Itzturas had just left. A well developed play all around.

After Morgan made is miscue in centerfield on Adam Jones' Inside-The-Park-Home Run, he got visibly angry with himself for the remainder of this game. When he singled moving Stammen up in the bottom of the 4th--he yelled as he ran down the baseline. When he later bunted Alberto Gonzalez to second in the key bottom of the 6th--he didn't respond in any way. And finally, when Our Number 1 hit into an inning ending double play in the bottom of the 7th on a chopper back to the mound--Morgan heaved his helmet as he crossed first base all the way to the rain tarp positioned slightly down the right field line. Emotions are good sometimes in the game and his teammates picked him up today, but Nyjer Morgan's bad vibes shown need to be checked at the door. In the long run--those type of actions are not going to help anyone--including Our Washington Nationals. And they really didn't help Nyjer Morgan today.

Ryan Zimmerman continues to make the hard play look easy. In the top of the 5th, Baltimore's Nick Markakis slapped a hard hit ball just to the right of The Z-Man. But the ball took a wicked hop off the dirt and bounced right up into Ryan's chest. Getting his body in the front of the baseball, Our Number 11 knocked the baseball down, picked it up with his back to the 1st base, twirled and threw a rocket to Adam Dunn that JUST beat Markakis for the inning ending out. The Defensive Play Of This Game that again proves Ryan Zimmerman has cat-like reflexes.

First Base Coach Dan Radison was tossed from the game in the bottom of the 4th for arguing vehemently with 1st Base Umpire Mike Winters. Upset over what he thought was a balk move by Baltimore's Bergeson--Radison was hot and didn't back down even after Jim Riggleman came out to calm things down. Interestingly, Quality Control Coach, Tim Foli, replaced Radison in the coaching box wearing uniform Number 10. We had no idea Foli was even with the team and in uniform.

The rains started in the 5th inning and continued throughout the remainder of this game. It rained so hard that the number of grounds crew people tending to the field--attempting to dry the muddy dirt--was remarkable to watch. At one point there were more grounds people than players standing on the field. I guess that's a good thing. But we don't recall ever seeing so many guys with rakes and drying compound working at the same time. Impressive especially since the game was never stopped by The Umpires.

Exxon Mobil sponsored Red/White Curly "W" summer wear caps today handed out to the first 20,000 fans in attendance. Like every single cap given out so far this season--this one was a quality effort too--nicely styled with good material.

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation held their usual Saturday Auction at their kiosk in Center Field Plaza. Items up for bidding included Drew Storen & Ian Desmond autographed jerseys; plus Josh Willingham and Cristian Guzman autographed bats. There had to be a mistake though in the scoreboard announcing the bid winners later in the game as the P.A. stated the auction raised $500 for The Dream Foundation's Charities. Standing and personally looking at the bid sheets before the game began--the totals for just those four items mentioned above were at approximately $1300. The final numbers had to be greater than that total.

Teddy fell down near Our Washington Nationals bullpen in the 4th inning Presidents Race. Tom did too after a push/shove from Abe. Honest Abe then beating George to the finish line to take his eight checkered flag of 2010.

Three guys showed up today at Nationals Park with their versions of Silver Elvis Wigs. These were the inflatable kind and drew a lot of attention around the ballpark.

Sunday's final game of the Battle of The Beltways Series in D.C. will also be a Kids Giveaway Day. Children 12 years of age and under will be handed a White with Red trim Washington Nationals Tee Shirt.

Sunday is also Richard Miller's Birthday. One of the finest ushers at Nationals Park. Knowing Richard's taking the day off to celebrate, Sohna and I stopped by to wish him a Happy Birthday before the game. It just so happened MASN's Debbi Taylor had the same idea. Everyone knows, Richard Miller is one nice man.

Finally--Laurie & Ed are big fans of Our Washington Nationals. They sit directly behind us in Section 218 at Nationals Park. Their son, Scott, is a big supporter too--unless apparently The Orioles come to town. Attending this afternoon's game with his parents and girlfriend--Ashley--Scott wore his Cal Ripken, Jr. Jersey of his youth. And since it was a Cal jersey--we let him slide for the day--this once. (Just kidding) Scott promised to be in his Nationals Jersey next time he's at Nationals Park.

Today's In-Game Photos--Nick Wass (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved