Monday, July 31, 2006

Alfonso!! SORIANO!!! ALFONSO!!! SORIANO!!!!!!

Section 320 is a happy camper tonight, after hearing the good news that JIM BOWDEN turned down EVERYONE offered for Alfonso Soriano. Really, how can you be upset about this Dynamic Player not spending the rest of 2006 with the Nationals!! Unless Jimbo and Stan Kasten are total jackasses (JIMBO Maybe, Kasten--no way!!), there has got to be some behind the scenes action going on among these parties to work something out for 2007 and beyond.

Alfonso has come along way in DC in the short time he's been here. Soriano came over from Texas in a very unpopular trade for Brad Wilkerson and 2 others late last year, refused to switch to left field from his normal 2nd base. REFUSED to play in left field during his very first pre-season game with the Nationals. He was named a PARIAH by many, including me. A franchise KILLER!! Many of us just wanted to throw him under the next Metro train, along with JIMBO, and we would have all been happy!! And, he struggled mightily in the field through the first half of 2006. Yet, whenever he's at the plate or making a play in the field--YOU CAN"T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF HIM!! Soriano comes to the plate to SMACK THE BALL, when he gets on--he's a THREAT TO STEAL EVERY BASE!! In the field, he makes YOUR HEART BEAT 5 TIMES AS FAST, because you never really know whether he will catch the ball---And he PLAYS WITH A SMILE ON HIS FACE!!. HE BECAME THE FAN FAVORITE!! Talked to the fans down the leftfield line. IS THE TEAMS LEADER!! Even in bad times, TEAMS need a STAR!!

Soriano told FoxSports Ken Rosenthal: as told by Stan Kasten) "He was ecstatic. His teammates are ecstatic. I'm quite sure our fans will be ecstatic," Kasten relayed. "He wants to be in D.C. — maybe the best player in baseball wants to be in D.C.," Kasten said. "We think that's kind of a good thing."

Bowden on
"We felt the best deal that we could make was no deal for this franchise," Bowden said. "We consider Alfonso one of the best players in baseball. It's a player that wants to stay in D.C., did not want to be traded. He wants to stay here long-term. .."

And then Stan Kasten in the Post:
"There's certainly nothing certain about what will happen after this year," Kasten said. "But we do love Alfonso and what he's done for our team, what he means to our team and what he means to our fans. And if there's a way for us to keep him consistent with building a world championship . . . but we're always going to look at the best of our alternatives. For today, there wasn't anything that was good enough for us to trade him."

Give them credit for not trading for junk!! Not giving him away for a complete uncertain future. They stood by their guns and told EVERYONE what was needed to make a deal. And, they stood by it.

Its a BOLD MOVE!! I am glad they kept him. Soriano will become the FACE OF THE FRANCHISE. The POSTER BOY MARQUEE Player. Alfonso easily could still be around when the Nationals truly come competitive. In the meantime, WE, AS FANS, have someone to look forward to seeing every single time we go to RFK and the new stadium.

Section 320 can continue to lead off the game with the Alfonso!! SORIANO!!! Cheer. And, my wife, Sohna, will continue to attend as many games as possible to see NUMBER 12 play for the NATS. I can't tell you how happy THAT MAKES ME IN MY HOUSE!!

On another note, I found it interesting that neither Marlon Anderson or Daryle Ward were moved before 4pm today. They seem to be perfect role players for a contender. Would love to know what actually was offered for them. Livan just had to stay, HE WANTS TO BE HERE! He's coming around. And, our pitching sucks soooooo much, he might be the only dependable arm we have by the end of 2006. Armas and Ortiz are just not good enough to get anything in return for them.

Of course, there is still the waiver wire deals for August, and these 5 players may still be moved then. You can bet that Bowden will place every single player not named Zimmerman on waivers real soon. Alfonso though, is staying!!
Happy Day in SECTION 320!!

Alfonso!! Soriano!!!!! Alfonso!!!! SORIANO!!! ALFONSO!!!! SORIANOOOOOO!!!!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Fundamentally UNSOUND!!

Today, the Nationals had fairly good pitching, although Ramon Ortiz continues to give up the GOPHER BALL too often, but today's loss and 3 game sweep by the Dodgers comes down to fundamentally unsound players. In 6 of the first 8 innings the National had serious chances to put the game out of reach, yet would falter badly due to bad base running, swinging at pitches out of strike zone, grounding into a double play, never getting the bunt down. 4 times in the 6 Innings that Dodger Starter Mark Hendrickson pitched, he was in trouble, tettering on getting blown out, yet Washington Hitters kept him in the game with poor choices at the plate and in the field. Considering how tough Frank Robinson can be, its amazing that he hasn't flat out clobbered some of his players for their play.

During the 7th inning of today's game, I was watching on MASN, Tommy Lasorda was in the broadcast booth the entire inning and the discussion was how the Nationals can never move a runner up, and score, even with no outs and the runner on 2nd or 3rd base. Lasorda told Rob Carpenter and Tom Paciorek that its because "players don't care" about moving runners up. "Its all about their stats" No one wants to move up a runner, because that "doesn't look good in your batting average. It will not get you big money." Tommy went on to say how Washington had 3 previous opportunities and failed, and had done so continually throughout this past weekend in Los Angeles.

And, Lasorda is exactly correct. Having attended most every single Nationals Home game over the past 2 seasons, its excruciating to see how bad Washington is at scoring with runners on 2nd or 3rd, or both, and less than 2 outs. Nats players simply CAN NOT BUNT! Always swing for the BIG HIT!! Get caught off base and picked off. Get ahead in the count and swing at the very next pitch, whether its over the plate of not. And, my true favorite--have a pitcher in serious trouble, walking hitters, loading the bases and the very next Nats hitter SWINGS AT THE VERY FIRST PITCH, helping the opposing pitcher and killing the rally. Many Nationals players do not have a game plan at the plate. They show no patience. And, its obvious very few treasure the necessary art of advancing baserunners and team play. Clueless they are.

There is something wrong with baseball players today. They can not execute basic baseball fundamentals that, when I was growing up the the late 1960's were taught on every single ballfield/practice I ever attended.

Today's players are given all the resources and opportunities to make the most of their god given talents, yet very few seem to care, as long as they can hit the long ball. I find it very frustrating to watch.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching, Pitching

Unfortunately, The Nationals DO NOT HAVE ANY PITCHING!! The strong point of the inauguaral 2005 Season in Washington was the Nationals ability to hang tuff in close games with respectible starting pitching and a terrific bullpen. In 2006, Washington can actually score runs on most days, but the pitchers sent to the mound have been mostly awful.

Starting pitching on the first two games on the current Nats West Coast swing against the Dodgers has been TERRIBLE. On Friday night, Tony Armas, Jr, with a good start would have solidified his potential trade to a contender by this monday. Unfortunately, he STUNK!! Got hammered in the 13-1 loss to the Dodgers. Armas labored throughout his 3 innnings, throwing 72 pitches, giving up 2 Home Runs and had no location of any of his pitches.

It was obvious that Frank Robinson was fed up with him after the game, commenting: "You don't look for excuses in this one," manager Frank Robinson said. ""He has great stuff, but you wonder what it is that he can't consistently go out there and put good stuff to use. When he needs to make a pitch, he seems to throw rather than make a pitch. That's the only way I could describe it."

Armas has a ton of talent, but he will never become a decent Major League Pitcher. He fiddles around on the mound, never trusts his stuff, and seems to get nervous on the mound when things get tight. I just can't image anyone trading for him now, and there is no way the Nats bring him back next season.

In today's 7-5 loss to Los Angeles, Mike O'Connor showed what I have said for quite a while. He is simply not a MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER. He is a nice local story. But, O'Connor has NO OUT PITCH. Can not mix up his pitches enough to get good hitters out. Everything looks similar. O'Connor has not won a game since June 8th and he's been walloped for 5 or more runs in 4 straight starts. The league has caught up with him and, Mike cannot adjust. I really believe he has no future with the Nationals, despite alot of folks, and bloggers, cheering for his best.

Livan Hernandez has been decent of late, but he gives us way too many runs. Has a difficult time holding leads. The same is true for Ramon Ortiz. The Nats are giving up over 5 runs per game on average. That's alot to make up on any given night.

The one guy EVERYONE thought would have a breakout season, John Patterson, will, most likely, not pitch again this year, had elbow surgery, and is, once again, a big question mark.

And, the bullpen has many holes now. Luis Ayala has been out for the year, Bray, Majewski and Stanton are gone-traded. Rauch and the late edition, Micah Bowie have been effective. Cordero is as shaky a closer as any in baseball. The Chief just gives me a heart attack with every appearance. And, the rest of the bullpen is just not good. Too many minor league retreads, guys that simply are not good enough to consistently get out hitters in the BIGS!!.

But, I had to feel sorry for Roy Corcoran last night when Frank hung him out to dry. Typical Frank, Corcoran struggled in his first game for Washington back in Pittsburgh on July 15 and took the loss that night in his first MLB appearance in over 2 years. Robinson immediately losses confidence in him. Corcoran was effective in this next game against Florida on July 18th, then Frank DID NOT PITCH HIM FOR 10 Days until last night. Not Once. Corcoran gave up 6 runs, 5 earned and a MONSTER GRAND SLAM to J.D. Drew. There is no way someone will be sharp when he doesn't get the chance to throw. Even in a mop up role.
And, you can bet Roy's confidence is completely shot and Frank will never use him again, unless a game is completely out of hand. And, that sucks. Its just not a way to treat a young player.

No team will ever be decent without good pitching. You just can not compete. And, with no consistent starting pitching, this franchise has little hope in the near future.

Better hope for alot of 8-6, 10-9 wins with good hitting.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Final Tribute, 6-0, 12-0, 25-15

Nearly 30,000 showed up this afternoon at RFK Stadium in Washington DC to witness, not only the Nats second straight home sweep , this time at the hands of the San Francisco Giants (Winning 6-5 Today), but the possible Swan Songs for Fan Favorites, Alfonso Soriano and Livan Hernandez. As anyone with even the slightest interest in the Nats knows, Alfonso and Livo are top candidates to be traded by Washington before July 31st to bring the Nats much needed young prospects to build a future.

Livan was sharp from the beginning in the 95 Degree Heat with Humidity levels taking the temperature near the 100 Level, setting down the Giants in order through 2 innings. Alfonso, always one to swing for the fences--IN EVERY AT BAT, led off the bottom of the first with a towering HOME RUN, his 32nd, off Giants starter Matt Cain that hit the "Chevy First" sign and nearly bounced right back onto the field--TO THE ABSOLUTE DELIGHT OF THE RFK FAITHFUL!! As Alfonso jogged back into the dugout you could plainly see his SMILING PEARLY WHITES, he was so pleased-and was greeted with resounding HIGH FIVES by his devoted Nats Teammates. Soriano Lovers in the stands couldn't get enough of it!! Including, my wife, Sohna, The African Queen, to whom this game meant soooo much!!

Sohna has never been much of a sports fan, she has attended many baseball games with me over the past 20 years, but for her, attending was more about the atmosphere and those things happening outside the baselines. In Philadelphia, for example, she would always be enthralled by the Phillie Phanatic. At Camden Yards, the BIRD and the Food! When the Nats came to Washington and I received my Season Tickets in Section 320, she agreed to attend more than the usual amount of games. IN 2005, she actually made it to 45 games. And most of her excitement came from those that sit in our wonderful section. Sohna considers herself the den mother. She enjoys the company, the cheers, the friendships and all the fun we have there. But, in 2006, she became INTOXICATED with Alfonso Soriano!! From the beginning she loved his style, his proud posturing, and especially how he wiggled his butt at the plate. He quickly became known as "WIGGLY BUTT". She always stood up for him when he had his troubles in left field. And, with each subsequent Home Run by Alfonso, she cheered that he "HIT ONE FOR ME!!" At the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, she only wanted to see one thing, Alfonso introduced and hitting leadoff for the National League. When he was removed from the game, she lost interest. And, as the trade deadline has moved closer, Sohna is struggling with the real potential loss of her Main Man!! Sohna even has her own Soriano Jersey and has attended 43 of the 50 home games so far in 2006. Knowing that today might well be the last day she will ever see Alfonso in the Nats Home Red Or White was crushing. SHE HAD TO BE THERE!! Sohna went WILD!! when Alfonso hit his 32nd homer in the first today.

Livan would quickly give up the lead when the other Alfonzo, Eliezer, playing for the Giants, homered for the second time this weekend, in the top of the 3rd. But, Ryan Zimmerman would get that and more back in the bottom half, when Felipe Lopez was hit by pitch, stole second, but just jogged home on Z's 2 run home run on a looping curve ball over the outside corner that Ryan YANKED over the left field wall for a 3-1 lead. A Mark Sweeney single, Ray Durham Double, Eliezer Alfonzo Sacrifice Fly and two out Jose Vizcaino slicing single to center tied the score in the 4th, but Livo settled down nicely to retire the next 10 San Francisco batters in order and complete 7 innings with only 92 pitches thrown. Livo left the mound for the Dugout to a RESOUNDING STANDING OVATION, and tipped his hat appreciatively as he dropped down into the Nats 3rd base Dugout.

Matt Cain contined to HUM THE BALL for the Giants, reaching 95 MPH on his fastball, even on his last of 106 pitches in the stifling heat. But, it was in the bottom half of the 7th at Cain threw pitch number 106, and he was in trouble when he was removed by Giants Manager Felipe Alou. Robert Fick led off and walked. Livo sacrificed him to second. Soriano walked on a full count, advancing Fick to second. One OUT. Felipe Lopez would send a liner down the first base line, but Shea Hillenbrand was able to JUST GET HIS GLOVE ON IT, to retire Lopez at first for the second out, but Fick and Soriano moved up to 2nd and 3rd. Zimmerman again came to the plate and the anticipation from the crowd was GREAT!!.. Z has delivered many times in just such a situation. Cain, feeling the heat, (not just the humidity) pitched around Ryan, walking him on 5 pitches. Alou took Cain out on that 106th pitch to bring on Lefthander Jonathan Sanchez to face hot hitting NICK JOHNSON. The PATIENT ONE took two quick balls, now ahead in the count, Nick looked for something to hit and Sanchez threw one in over the inside corner of the plate and Johnson DRILLED it into right field, scoring Fick and Soriano, moving Zimmerman to 3rd for a 5-3 lead and the NOISE ERUPTED AT RFK!! Alou would replace Sanchez with righthander Vince Chulk. Austin Kearns would greet him with a seeing eye grounder up the middle to score Zimmerman and it was quickly 6-3 NATS.

It looked like it was over. Micah Bowie came on for Washington in the 8th and quickly put down the Giants in order. And, when the Nationals came to bat in the bottom of the 8th, there was great anticipation. Alfonso Soriano was scheduled to bat 4th in the inning, and there was NO ONE in the crowd that did not realize that this could be ONE LAST CHANCE to Show PUBLIC SUPPORT for All Soriano has done for Washington in 2006. Ryan Church led off and struck out swinging. Robert Fick reached a 3-1 count, the crowd began to stir, but Fick would ground out to first. Daryle Ward would come up to pinch hit for Bowie and take 3 straight balls, 3-0 Count. Alfonso was swinging his bat on deck, and the crowd was anticpating their grand reception. Alfonso nodding to fans yelling and waving to him on deck. Ward would take strike one, foul off strike two, and, to the disdain of those in attendance, would meekly ground out to first to end the inning. Leaving Alfonso in the ON DECK Circle. There was a collective GROAN at RFK.

As the Nats headed out to the field for the 9th, Soriano, sensing the possible finality of this inning, delayed his running out to left field. When the team was in place, Alfonso stepped out of the dugout, and began jogging to leftfield. The fans along the 3rd baseline stood in unison clapping and cheering. Then, the fans down the leftfield line rose. Finally the entire UPPER DECK in Left Field joined the celebration. Soriano took 2 warmup tosses from Ryan Church and turned toward the leftfield line crowd. He raised his right arm, waved and tilted his head back in THANKS!!. Alfonso then turned to the UPPER DECK in Left and repeated the gesture. THE CROWD ENJOYED THE MOMENT. Everyone relished the brief moment, and then, the game continued.

The Chief, Chad Cordero, would come on for the save situation in the 9th--AND ONCE AGAIN MADE IT VERY VERY INTERESTING!! Mark Sweeney would lead off for San Francisco and send a routine ground ball to Marlon Anderson at 2nd. For whatever reason, Marlon could not get a steady throw off, on the slow runner, and threw it badly in the dirt, but Nick Johnson was able to scoop the errant throw and touch his left foot on the bag to retire Sweeney, just in time, for out number 1. Durham would single on a looping liner to center, but Pedro Feliz would check swing a roller up the first base line that Nick Johnson picked up before going foul and tagged out Feliz for out number 2. The RFK Stadium Crowd rose to it feet, clapping rythmically for the final out. Eliezer Alfonzo--NATS KILLER ALL WEEKEND, stepped to the plate. Swung at Strike One. The Chief, feeling confident, tried to sneak a fastball in over the outside corner of the plate. Unfortunately, it came in, once again, into Alfonzo's wheelhouse and Eliiezer CRUSHED IT HIGH OVER THE LEFT CENTERFIELD WALL for a 2 run homer--HIS 3RD HOME RUN OF THE WEEKEND and second on the day. 6-5 Nats and the crowd became restless. DeJaVu all over again!! Journeyman Catcher/First Basemen Todd Greene would step to the plate. Chief would throw 2 quick strikes, the crowd continued to clap, then threw a ball, and on the 4th pitch of the at bat, Greene swung at a pitch in the dirt, that Fick blocked, picked up, threw to first for the final out. Save Number 17 for Cordero. Nats win their 6th in a row. Longest Win Streak of the Season.

As the Nationals came off the field, the entire 3rd base side began yelling Soriano's name. Number 12 was leading the team off the field after the congratulatory handshakes. As he was about to drop down into the 3rd base dugout, he sheepishly picked up his right hand and waved, with a HUGH SMILE, and then he stepped down, and just like that, it was over.

Soriano was quoted by the AP after the game leaving RFK "I'll see you fellas. I had a good time with you guys."

Livan Hernandez was quoted, almost pleading to stay with Washington: I [am not] going to feel good [if I'm traded]," Hernandez said. "I've got to say the truth. I do a lot of good things for this organization. I want to be here. I want to be in the new stadium. I think it's very important for me. They treat people first class here -- the organization treats me perfect. It's hard for me, hard to leave. I'm not going to feel good [if I'm traded]. I think I'm going to feel so bad. I don't want to think about that."

Despite the sweep, win and 6 game winning streak, there was a hollow taste to the ending today. I found it very sad. And, as I have said before. When you follow a team closely, you become close to the players, players you might never even meet once in your lifetime, but you feel, are your closest friends. Alfonso was OUTSTANDING for the Washington Nationals. He is a GREAT PLAYER and better than ANYBODY IN DC EVER EXPECTED. Livan provided some of the most entertaining moments of the first 272 Games the Nats have played as a Washington Team. He tossed the very first pitch in Nationals History, was remarkable in the first half of 2005, making the All Star team. And, showed a tremendous casualness to the game like no player I have ever witnessed. Even if he was coming to bat, with the game on the line, he would be talking to the fans in the stands from the on deck circle. He would joke with opposing players, during the game. And, who didn't love Livan's terrific hitting and then watching him run it out. Great Stuff.

IT IS EXTREMELY HARD TO SEE THEM GO!! And, if Soriano is traded, as expected, the games at RFK will never be the same for Sohna.

This win also meant the following:

Nationals are 6-0 under the Lerner Group Ownership

Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez are 12-0 in all their games at RFK Stadium
(including 6-0 as members of the Cincinnati Reds)

The Nationals are 25-15 at RFK Stadium since starting the season winning one of their first 10 home games. (In fact, from September 4th of 2005 through May 4, 2006, covering a span of 30 home games at RFK, the Nats had a woeful 3-27 RECORD!! 3-27 Record.

It was only after Soriano consistently started to pound the ball all over and out of RFK that Nationals Players shut up their whining about the Home Run Distances. The Players realized it was a mental problem and began to hit more gappers, played team ball and turned their efforts around at home.

Sohna and I were glad we attended today's game. We brought home many moments today, both happy and sad. Speaking from the heart, I would love to see Livo and Alfonso stay, but I am sure that will not be the case.

Thank YOU!! Armando Benitez!

Its now becoming old hat for the 2006 Washington Nationals. Winning in their last at bat. This time a 4-3 thriller over the Giants before a raucous crowd of over 30,000 on a very steamy night.

Pedro Astacio and Noah Lowry were locked up in a low scoring affair. The Nats would score first when, with one out in the bottom of the second, Alfonso Soriano would slice a liner into left center, Steve Finley had trouble picking up the ball and Alfonso motored all the way to second, just beating the throw for a double. Soriano would then be picked off second by Lowry, but in the ensuing rundown, Ray Durham would throw the ball in to Alfonso's back, and Soriano was safe at 3rd. Lopez would strike out swinging on a full count on a terrible pitch in the dirt for out number 2, But Ryan Zimmerman would come to the plate and drive a Lowry fastball right over Barry Bonds left shoulder for a clean double to score Alfonso. 1-0 Nats. After a Nick Johnson walk, Austin Kearns, tonight's BIG HERO, would then bloop a liner in to right field, the Giants, Randy Winn, realizing he had no chance to get Z at the plate threw behind Nick Johnson rounding second and he was dead out, but Nick realized that Z had not crossed home, so as Omar Vizquel was about to tag Johnson out sliding back into second base, Nick stopped dead in his track, giving Zimmerman just the few seconds he needed to score run number 2 before Vizquel tagged him out to end the inning. Smart baseball by Johnson.

The Giants would get one run back in the 4th on a Shea Hillenbrand single, Bonds walk and Durham double down the right field line. Kearns played the ball well in the corner, and with Bonds running on bad knees, Barry stopped at 3rd. Astacio was able to retire Pedro Feliz on a grounder to Zimmerman to end the threat. Bonds was NEVER A FACTOR IN TONIGHT"S GAME. In fact, he looked down right terrible playing leftfield. His gimpy knees give him no mobiity. He made 2 running catches, but only because the balls hung up in the air. Anything hard hit, Bonds has no chance, unless its right at him.

Neither team would threaten again until the 7th, when Astacio began to tire. having thrown near 100 pitches, Frank Robinson still had Pedro in the game. With one out, Giants Catcher, Todd Greene, would scorch a liner right at Marlon Anderson at second. Marlon could not handle it. Greene safe on the error. Todd Linden would pinch hit for Lowry and drill the very first pitch from Astacio right down the right field line, moving Greene to 3rd. Frank would take out Astacio and bring in Mike Stanton. Stanton gets behind in the count to Randy Winn, 2-0 and Winn bloops the 3rd pitch just over Marlon Anderson and in front of Austin Kearns down the right field line for a 3-2 Giants Lead.

The Nats would load up the bases in the bottom of the 7th on a Daryle Ward PH single, Soriano single and a 2 out intentional walk to Nick Johnson. But, Austin Kearns would pop weakly to Durham at 2nd to end the threat, and most in attendence, thought that would be it.

But, then the bottom of the 9th came around and the GIANTS brought in Amando Benitez, their closer.

In 1997, The Baltimore Orioles were DESTINY's Team. They were the best team in Major League Baseball that year. Were in first place from start to finish and appeared to be a lock to play in the World Series. That is, until the League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians. Then 24 year old Flame Throwing Right Hander, Armando Benitez, would blow Game 2 by giving up 2 colossal home runs to Manny Ramirez and Marquis Grissom and then, in the decisive Game 6, Benitez would come into a 0-0 game in the 11th inning and promptly give up a game winning homer to light hitting Tony Fernandez. It cost the Orioles their chance to get to the World Series. And, I have disliked Benitez ever since. Benitez would go on to play for 5 additional teams over the next 10 years, saving alot of games, but always blowing the ones that really counted.

And, when Giants Manager Felipe Alou brought in Armando in the 9th tonight, I knew the Nats had a chance. Robert Fick would lead off and walk on 4 straight pitches. Bringing Soriano to the plate. The anticipation at RFK was palpable. Everyone was standing, waiting for the walk off home run. Soriano would quickly get to 3-0 in the count. But Benitez fought back, getting 2 strikes. Soriano would swing at ball four, but foul it off. On the 7th pitch of the at bat, WITH THE CROWD SCREAMING!!, Soriano would wave at strike 3, and look up straight to the sky while clutching his bat. Pissed off that he had failed.

One out with Felipe Lopez at the plate. Lopez quickly gets 2 strikes, but takes the third pitch for a ball. Benitez would throw a change up and Lopez would hit it sharply, but right at Ray Durham at second. Game ending DOUBLE PLAY BALL. Durham would see the ball roll up his glove, his left arm and go behind him!! Everyone is safe. Amazingly the offical scorer gave Lopez a single. Its was an error all the way. The RFK Stadium Faithful let out a collective sigh of relief!!

Zimmerman would come to the plate. He had failed, with runners of 2nd and 3rd with 1 out in the 7th. And, as Z has shown all year, you can beat him once, but he will bounce back and beat you the next time. He did so again, by slapping a Benitez off speed pitch directly in the hole between 3rd and short, Fick rounded 3rd hard and scored easily to tie the game at 3-3. Lopez to second. And, the STADIUM was ROCKING!! No one at this point had sat down since Fick had his leadoff walk. Benitez kept on walking off the mound, taking off his cap and rubbing off the persperation. He was sweating it out, and it wasn't just the DC humidity!!

Armando would then walk the ever patient Nick Johnson on a full count to load the bases with one out. Up steps BLUEGRASS, Austin Kearns, with a chance to win the game for his new team for the first time. All the Giants were playing in, looking for a double play. And the crowd was SCREAMING!! Kearns would take ball one, swing badly at an off speed pitch for strike one. Benitez would come back with the very same pitch again, but Kearns would swing and MOONSHOT the ball high to medium deep leftfield. With the Giant's Mark Sweeney playing in, there was no way that Sweeney could make a throw on Felipe Lopez, who scored easily to give the Nats a dramatic 4-3 victory. Bang Zoom went the Fireworks!! And, just like that, the Nationals had won their 5th consecutive game!!! All thanks to ARMANDO BENITEZ and an assist from Ray Durham. Nats win their second consecutive series, and now need to win just one more game in July to have their first winning month since the GLORIOUS, JUNE 2005. And, that would be a big achieivement for the Nationals!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

2 Games, 5 RBI, I Guess Church is REALLY TERRIBLE!!

Ryan Church was the difference in tonight's 8-6 Win at RFK against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. Just recalled from New Orleans to add depth to a depleted outfield with Alex Escobar injured, Church has started the last 2 games. On Sunday, Ryan Clubbed a MONSTER BLAST in section 468 for a 2 run homer in the Nats 7-1 win over the Cubs. Tonight, Church hustled all the way on a hard hit slapper to Shea Hillenbrand at first for San Francisco, and beat the relay for an infield single. He then lined a rope to right center to score Marlon Anderson and Austin Kearns in the Nats 5 run 3rd inning off Matt Morris, sending Morris to the shower early. Later, with the game on the line and the Nats only up 7-6, Ryan, down 0-2 in the count to lefthander Jonathan Sanchez, fought off 2 foul pitches and took one ball before lining a medium deep fly to right, scoring Nick Johnson for a crucial insurance run. Church played a solid centerfield, tracking down 6 hard hit flys and tracked down a hard hit liner into the left centerfield alley from Hillenbrand to end the game and give Chad Cordero his 16th save (of course the Chief made it interesting as always, 2 runners reached base in the 9th with nobody out, before Chad closed it out).

Also, there were 2 OUTSTANDING DEFENSIVE GEMS by the Nats--AND BOTH OCCURRED WITH BARRY BONDS AT THE PLATE!! In the 3rd, Bonds ledoff the inning and on the very first pitch from Ramon Ortiz, DRILLED a sharply hit grounder right over the first base bag. Nick Johnson dove to his right, reached over the baseline with his glove, snared the ball, rolled over again and stood up and ran to first to retire Bonds. Beautiful backhanded STAB!! Later, Bonds would lead off the 8th and get to a 3-1 count from lefthander Micah Bowie (Bowie, by the way, despite giving up Ray Durham's second homer of the evening--has really been steady). Bowie tried to squeeze a fastball in over the outside corner of the plate, A MISTAKE PITCH TO BONDS IN HIS PRIME WITHOUT KNEE PROBLEMS. Bonds drove the pitch into the left centerfield gap--AND OUT OF NOWHERE, RUNNING LIKE A DEER, ALFONSO SORANO MADE A BEAUTIFUL OVER HIS LEFT SHOULDER, LEAPING, BALL ALEADY BEHIND HIM, SNARE OF THE DRIVE!! Its a play that Soriano would have botched 3 months ago. Alfonso made as nice of a run and catch as he's ever made in left. And Barry Bonds would go 0-4 for night, to the delight of the mostly booing RFK Faithful. But, to be fair, there were many Bonds fans cheering him.

For a year and one half, Washington Nationals Ryan Church has been on the cusp of becoming a very solid major league baseball player. He has the size and sweet left handed swing to drive the ball to all fields. Church is also an excellent centerfielder. Countless times he has delivered when given the opportunity to play. But, each time he has succeeded, an injury or illness has hampered his production. And, someone in the Nationals front office begins to backstab him.

Church was on pace to hit .300 with 20 Home Runs and 80 RBI last season before he ran himself into a wall in Pittsburgh to make a game saving catch. That put him on the DL. He was never the same the rest of the season, which included a broken toe taken off a pitch. Nationals officials started whispering that Church was "soft" But, the fact of matter was that he was HURT!! He came on strong again at the end of 2005. You would think he would be given every chance to make the team for 2006. But, no--Jim Bowden decided that Brandon Watson was going to be the leadoff hitter and, no matter what Ryan did, he would not make the team.

Well, Watson was terrible, lasted 9 games in 2006, sent to the minors, now plays in the Cincinnati Reds Organization. Church was recalled, hit a Grand Slam in his second game back with the Nats, went on a tear, knocking 4 home runs, then caught the flu on a road trip to St. Louis in April. So, what do the Nats do, he struggled a little after being sick, Bowden sends him to New Orleans.

Bowden and Frank Robinson feel that if you are a struggling veteran you can play until you kill the team on the field. But, in Church's case, everything was done to screw with his head. In late June, I attended a New Orleans Zephyr's game in New Orleans. As a Nats Season Ticket Holder, I was able to arrange for my small group to meet, MY MAIN MAN!, Ryan Church. We talked about how the organization was messing with him. Ryan always has felt that Frank wants to give him a chance, yet there are those in the Front Office that simply do not like him.

Well, MY MAN has talent and Washington has been wasting him. Church's power and production numbers, per at bat, are outstanding. Easily in the top 4 on this team. CHURCH DESERVES THE CHANCE TO PLAY REGUARLY. HE AND ESCOBAR can help this team. But, I have this bad feeling that Bowden will never allow Ryan to develop and JIMBO will just throw Church away in a giveaway deal later this week, just to give Bowden the GLORY & FEELING of making the BIG TRADE!!
It just makes me sick to think that Church days in Washington may be numbered. I GUESS HE'S REALLY TERRIBLE!!

Monday, July 24, 2006

JOSE! JOSE!! JOSE!!! JOSE!!!!--He's Gone--AWAY!!

Although expected for a few months, I don't thing anyone figured that Jose Guillen's career with the Washington Nationals would end with season ending and possible career threatening Tommy John elbow replacement surgery. Recovery time from 8 to 18 months. Since Jose's contract expires at the end of 2006, you can bet he regrets, BIG TIME, he didn't sign the Nats 3 year offer earlier in the year.

And that's really too bad, as Jose, in 2005, was truly the Nationals TEAM LEADER. The new face for a franchise looking for a new identity in their new home, Washington, DC.

Guillen was kicked out of Anaheim by the Angels in 2004 after the last of a series of tirades against Angels management, Coaches, Players and finally a drop down, drag out screaming brawl, in public view, with Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. Anaheim was so fed up with him they suspended Jose for the remainder of 2004, despite the fact Guillen had hit 27 homers, driven in 104 runs and was batting .294. And, the Angels were playoff bound and serious World Series Contenders at the time.

Nats Interim General Manager, Jim Bowden, having had a good relationship with Jose when both were in Cincinnati, traded for Guillen in late 2004 for Expos reserve outfielder, Juan Rivera and young shortstop, Macier Izturis. Looked like a steal at the time, as Jose came to the Inaugural Nats PreSeason ready to play and struck up a close relationship with Manager Frank Robinson. Unlike, most any coach that Jose had played for over the previous 9 years and 6 different franchises, Frank was able to reach the inside of Jose--and to this day there is such a respect between the two that Guillen would definitely take a bullet for Frank.

The Inaugural 2005 early season Nats success had alot to do with Jose Guillen. At times he carried the weak hitting team on his back, and the Nats responded with just enough pitching to soar to a 51-30 first place record at the halfway point of the season. And, there is No ONE in this town that did not believe a SAVIOR had come to town. In his return to Anaheim on June 14, he was the instigator telling Frank that Angels pitcher Brendan Donnelly was using tar in his glove illegally. This lead to the famous Frank, Scioscia face to face shout out. Guillen coming to Frank's rescue, like a WILDMAN!! and being pulled/yanked and downright hogtied by Nats players/coaches from the field so he would not be ejected. This would lead to Jose's BEAUTIFUL SWING HOME RUN off Scott Shields in the 8th to give the Nats the lead in an eventual 6-3 win. Guillen yelled and screamed the entire time running around the bases, pointing decisively at the Angels bench. Rex Hudler on the Angels Fox Sport West Broadcast would say it was the FINEST HOME RUN SWING HE HAD EVER SEEN!! Guillen would later call Scioscia a "piece of garbage" This was probably the HIGH POINT OF THE SEASON. Memorable on so many levels.

Jose became the ORIGINAL POINT MAN for the cheering that began among the Section 320 faithful. By early May--2005 there was not a single time Jose Guillen came to the plate at RFK Stadium that we did not sing the JOSE, JOSE, JOSE, JOSE, JOSE, JOSE!! Song--NOT ONCE. Not even through 2006. The Jose Song would be sung by those fellow 320's that attended all 3 Nat/O's Games at Camden Yard this season. And, could be clearly heard on both the radio and tv broadcasts. And, the Jose Song would be sung by me, solo, last September 13 at Shea Stadium, NY, when the Nats beat the Mets, 4-2 when I had a seat right behind the Nats 3rd base dugout. Livan Hernandez and Carlos Baerga, looking over the dugout, got such a kick out of it that Livan said to me (in his fabulous broken english) "You one brave dude!!" At which Baerga responded "Or just plain stupid" We all laughed mightily. As RallyTimeRIchard said on more than one occasion--"JOSE IS THE TEAM LEADER!! He is the focal point for everything else" And, it was very true. Jose would tell SayHeyKlib's Hotel Driver from the Mandarin Oriental that he loved the JOSE SONG!! Made him feel welcomed, from the start. And, to keep it up!!

With Guillen's success eventually came more inside pitches at his wrists. And, since Jose crowded the plate, he would be hit often, especially by the Mets Pedro Martinez. How many times did you see Jose sprawling, lying down on the ground, hurting, then get up and continue playing in 2005. He seemed like it occurred every single game.

But Jose, would explode on his own teammates on July 5, 2005 in an RFK Stadium game against the Mets and Pedro. Pedro would
hit Jose in the very first inning again. And Jose got pissed, not only at Martinez, but Esteban Loiaza and Brian Schneider when the 2 did not throw at Pedro, when he came to bat in the 3rd inning that night. An, in your face spat began between the 3 teammates began, sour feelings soared, but Loiaza refused. Jose took it personally. Loiaza would actually go on to pitch his FINEST GAME FOR THE NATS that night, going 8 strong innings, matching Pedro pitch for pitch, allowing 1 run in a 3-2 victory over Martinez. Loiaza was quoted after the game saying "I was amazing tonight, best I ever felt, no way I am hitting Pedro."

Little did anyone ever realize that this was the beginning of the end of the Nats GLORIOUS first half run. The Nats would tank the rest of the way, and Jose went into a full fledged funk. Always injured the rest of the season, Guillen would never regain his early 2005 form. On July 24, in a excruciating 14 inning loss to the Astros at RFK, Jose would take a serious pitch right off his right wrist by Dan Wheeler and go down like he was shot. Guillen would continue to come back too soon and just not help the team. Despite all that, he lead the team with 24 Home Runs and 76 RBI.

He would have 2 off season surgeries and started the 2006 season on the DL. Again, Jose came back too soon, and continued to get hurt and play hurt. Had another near brawl with Pedro the first week of the season. But, Jose was not playing well. As the trading deadline neared, many expected Guillen to be traded to a contender, another chance to be a hero, although Jose has said that he wants to stay in Washington. Guillen was not helping the team, and when he threw out his right elbow on a throw from right field against Florida last week, his playing time came to an end in WASHINGTON.

Jose Guillen is a facinating, hot tempered, proud personality, passionate player, great skills, 4 tool player, but has never been able to put it all together consistently. Liked him alot, despite the many times he would hit into a double play to kill a rally. Every time I went to a team function, Jose had the Biggest SMILES and Strongest Handshakes. Number 6 WANTED TO BE THERE. He didn't go just because he was told. Wish him well. Jose will always be remembered in SECTION 320 and especially by me. LOVED SINGING THE JOSE SONG!! JUST LOVED IT!! And, so did everyone else that heard it at RFK.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

More Pix's-- Grand Re-Opening Weekend

Just wanted to share more of my digital photos from RFK this weekend against the Cubs. Iris and Biff got to be NatPack folks on Sunday. They had a GREAT TIME!! Enjoy

Get An Owner, Sweep Cubs, Draw Crowds, Look Like A Team--WOW!!

In the time it takes to enjoy a long 3 day weekend, the Washington Nationals have gone from DEAD to actually looking like a franchise with a future. Late, Friday night, just after 10PM, when Alex Escobar was about to play hero number one for the first of 3 versus the Cubs, Stan Kasten signed off on the last papers to actually turn control of the Nats over from dreaded MLB to the Lerner Group. The Nats then went on to beat the Cubs 7-6. Nats put away the Cubs again on Saturday, 7-3, with the BIONIC, Alfonso Soriano, going 4-5, scoring twice (and just for fun--getting thrown out at the plate 2 other times) while Alex Escobar did the Injured Kirk Gibson routine to hit a pinch hit 2 run homer to put it away. Finally, our Nats decided to sweep the Cubs today 7-1, in a game, never in doubt, when MY MAIN MAN, Ryan Church, slugged a TITANIC UPPER DECK 2 run homer off Carlos Marmol into section 468 in right center field, with Soriano adding a solo blast, his 31st homer of the season, a few batters latter. Of course, Church then decided to swing for the fences every time up and K'd badly twice. On his last strikeout, Ryan received a nice earful from Frank Robinson. Despite all that, Tony Armas pitched a solid 7 innings, putting himself, possibly, right back on the trading market, to contenders by the July 31 deadline.
All these wins came during The Grand Re-Opening of RFK Stadium. A three day affair that drew over 104,000 to the old ballpark, with fans being met by players at the gates each day, receiving Hats, Shirt and Rally Towels as gifts and improved services all around the stadium. Even after seeing the President's Race three times now, we love it every time! There was actually excitement back at RFK!!
And what was most compelling was the sight that the Nationals actually played and looked like a team. Granted, the pitching is horrible right now, but the everyday batting/fielding lineup is starting to take shape. Schneider, Johnson, Lopez, Zimmerman, Kearns, Escobar, Soriano is a decent starting 8. Don't know who will be on second. Vidro is making himself untradable right now--too bad!

And the players are all coming forward, pushing for management to KEEP SORIANO. Livan Hernandez is even publicly stating HE WANTS TO STAY. "I'm a Washington player. I represent these colors, this city, and I want to be here for the new stadium." according to the Washington Post. Then the Post quoted Ryan Zimmerman with this doozie on Soriano: "We all want him here. Who wouldn't want to have that guy on your team? You definitely don't want to play against him. I think everyone here -- the fans, everyone in this clubhouse -- wants him on this team. It'll be interesting to see what they do, because he really wants to stay, and everyone here gets along with him. He's great for the team, and he's great for the city. He could be a part of this team for a long time."

Zimmerman understands how Soriano, in his prime, is a GAME CHANGING-DYNAMIC part of Washington's success. Soriano is a HALL OF FAME player, who, despite his original unwillingness to change positions, has become a far more valuable player now, then the beginning of the 2006 season.

That's a TEAM coming together, teammates that understand the Nationals are on to something special. DC is the PLACE TO BE!! The Nationals are actually building team chemistry again. Things have been bad most of the year, but when everyone hangs together and works through it, the sun will rise again. We, as fans, are seeing the first glimpse of something special!!

Personally, I have tettered back and forth on Alfonso. Unless Jim Bowden can get 3 absolutely terrific young players, I say its time to keep Soriano and sign number 12 long term. Alfonso obviously enjoys it here, and we as fans enjoy him. Lets get behind him and get Soriano to stay!!

The Nationals finally have DIRECTION!! And the past 3 days at RFK was a small sliver of fun to come!! RFK was a great place to be this weekend. And there are many more fun days to come, this season, 2007, and in the new stadium (GOD HELP THE DC GOVERNMENT!) in 2008 and beyond.