Saturday, September 30, 2006

Mr. & Mrs. Robinson

As critical as I have been of the game decisions by Manager Frank Robinson, today was a sad day for Our Washington Nationals. Frank was dismissed, officially, by Team President, Stan Kasten and Vice-President, General Manager, Jim Bowden. No word given on whether Frank will even be involved with the team, in a meaningful way, in the near future.

Everyone had seen this coming for some time, yet on this day, I feel very sad for the man that, truly is, THE FACE OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS.

Involved in Major League Baseball since 1956, Robinson was first a young star player, with the Cincinnati Reds, where he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1956, then the MVP of the National League in 1961. Unceremoniously traded to the Baltimore Orioles after the 1965 season, he led Baltimore to 2 World Series Championships, becoming the first player in baseball history to win the MVP award in both leagues--1966 and becoming, in that year, one of only 14 players to ever achieve THE TRIPLE CROWN--leading his league in Batting Average, Home Runs and Runs Batted In.
As his playing career wound down, he, eventually, played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and California Angels, and, finished his playing career as the very first, African-American Manager of the Cleveland Indians. A very proud man, Frank would manage 16 years with 4 different franchises. Not only the Indians, but the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and finally, the Montreal Expos--transferring with the team to the Nation's Capital, Washington DC in 2005, when the Nationals were born.

Except for his expected trade from Baltimore to Los Angeles after the 1971 season, Robinson has never been given his just due for the professional and classy efforts he has brought to the ballpark, each and everyday. Even the Orioles, the team he is most associated with, and led to its GREATEST GLORY, shoved this man out the door, sadly, from his front office position, by the, universally, hated Peter Angelos in 1998.

Eventually, Frank would land in the Commissioner's Office of Major League Baseball, in charge of discipline when players, managers and coaches were involved with on and off field altercations. That's where he was in 2002, when Bud Selig and the MLB Owners took over the operations of the moribund and dying, Montreal Expos. Thought to only be a caretaker Manager while baseball shutdown the franchise after that season, Frank would continue in Montreal for 3 more years, as Selig, under heavy pressure and many lawsuits, was unable to contract Montreal and the Minnesota Twins. Robinson relishing the job, enjoying the opportunity, to once again, be actively involved in the game he loves. With no money and limited resources, Frank able to keep the Expos in Wild Card Contention in 2002 and 2003, THE DARLINGS OF BASEBALL at the time. Still, no one in Canada seemed to really care about the Expos.

Finally, after so much upheaval, the Expos moved to Washington in 2005, and still under MLB control, Frank remained as manager. The Nationals soaring to first place, unexpectedly, going 50-31 through the All Star break that first season. Playoff hopes rose to unrealistic proportions by their new found fan base in DC, Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland. The Nats tanking badly in the second half, finishing at an even 81-81, injuries and limited quality players finally extinguishing the flame on a FANTASY SEASON!!

Again, after performing an admirable job, Robinson was left on the ropes, all winter long, while baseball dickered and delayed the sale of the Washington Nationals. Frank, eventually being told, yeah, you can come back for 2006, but only under our terms. The Terms of Jim Bowden. Frank reluctantly agreed. Then, Jimbo left Robinson out to dry. MLB wouldn't allow the team to sign any decent free agents. Baseball wanting to make as much money as possible on the Nats. Bowden would give up all the pitching depth, in an effort to build his own fantasy team. And, more importantly, Jimbo taking away the one player, Frank LOVED THE MOST--and the fans too--JAMEY CARROLL.

The 2006 began, and was over by the end of April. Injuries killing what pitching depth was left, the team getting off to an 8-17 start by the end of that first month, and never recovering. When the MLB finally transferred the team to THE LERNER GROUP in July, Jim Bowden, all of a sudden, changed mantra, talking about building with youth, as per Stan Kasten, not his fantasy players. Once again, Frank was the perceived fall guy, for not being able to win with what he was given. It was unfair, and a blatant blow by Jimbo to move blame away from himself.

Frank left on the ropes, again unceremoniously, until being told, two days ago, of managements decision to move in another direction. And, today, The Nationals making it official in a 4:15PM press conference. A press conference that was more like a funeral.

A funeral that our Nationals played in tonight as if they were the mourned. No life, in a 13-0 shellacing at RFK Stadium in Washington. For many in attendance, it was their chance to show appreciation for what Frank has really meant to the infant years of THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS. You can criticize his managing, as I have done on countless occasions, but you can't take away his devotion and well meaning. Frank LOVED THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS. They were his baby, and he truly wanted to see them make it to the PROMISED LAND.

When tonight's game got out of hand early, the only proper thing to do was for the fans attending to honor Frank, in whatever way they could. Throughout the night, there were various "We Love Frank!!" Cheers, "FRANK, FRANK, FRANK".
In the bottom of the 8th, I walked down to talk to my good friend, Hugh, also known as "CHICKEN MAN", constantly waving his beheaded rubber chicken during Nats rallies. Hugh had come with two terrific banners. "DC LOVES FRANK!" and "FEARLESS LEADER".

As Hugh and I chatted about Frank, I noticed that Frank's wife, Barbara, and his daughter, Nichelle, were sitting just to my right, in the front row, behind the 3rd base dugout. As anyone that might have read my earlier blogs would know, I had met them on more than one occasion. Barbara and Nichelle, huge fans of Section 320. Frank knowing all about us. I reached out, chatting to them. They were pleased to see me. I told Mrs. Robinson what a class act her husband really is and how so many will miss him. But, more importantly, I wish someone, anyone, would allow the man to move on with his dignity. No team in baseball he had ever been involved with, had done so.

Barbara responding, "We'll be alright, back in Los Angeles." But, her eyes glossy, NIchelle on the verge of tears. I felt so bad, and I apologized for making the night that much harder. Mrs. R saying: "No, that's really fine, we know how much, not only you, but so many others love him. That's good enough for us." But you could tell, it wasn't.

Hugh and I started to chant: "WE LOVE FRANK" over and over, standing and waving Chicken Man's well made sign. The Lower Bowl of RFK began to follow, eventually, most of the stadium. Frank turning to us, pointing. Thanking us, waving to the crowd, tears in his eyes. As the game continued, no one paid attention to it. Hugh and I then displaying his "FEARLESS LEADER" sign--as the crowd continued to yell "FRANK, FRANK, FRANK". Number 20 again, turning to us, patting his heart, pointing to both of us, truly thankful for the thought, all through watery eyes. MRS. R, crying her eyes out in her seat, consoled by her daughter. It was a poignant moment. The crowd continuing to roar for THE FACE OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS.

As the game thankfully ended, Frank would step out of the dugout, onto the field, wave, smiling, grateful for his unexpected moment of gratitude. He would thank everyone, waving around the stadium from the top of the dugout, then bowed his head, sadly stepping down into the home team dugout, something he will do, only one more time in team history, tomorrow.

Mrs R and NIchelle thanked Hugh and I for everything we had started. Asking us whether we would be there for the finale. "We wouldn't miss it, for the world!!" including a Redskins' game. The Robinson's then escorted out by security. With that, Hugh and I hugged, and I thanked him for letting me be apart of this impromptu celebration of a great man--Frank Robinson.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Wonderful Morning--Last Night

The rain just kept on coming, starting at 5:30PM as I walked to the Capitol Hill Metro Station, heading to RFK Stadium, to meet up with the African Queen. And, the rain didn't stop until 10:45PM, well past the scheduled start time of 7:05 for last night's Washington Nationals/Philadelphia Phillies baseball game at RFK Stadium. Many ticket holders didn't show up in the first place, and as the torrential rains continued, more and more went home, unwilling to wait it out.

Those that did, were treated to one of the most unique ballpark experiences in the history of Major League Baseball. MLB ordered the game to be played, fearing a potential backlog of makeup games this coming Monday, October 2, and moving back, the start of Baseball's postseason.

The sight of a cleanup crew, first sitting, in line, straight up from bottom to top of the upper deck, in Section 552, seat 1 of every row, then standing up, as one, with their trash bags, walking their entire row, ringing the Entire UPPER DECK, picking up trash, before the game even began, PRICELESS!!

When this game finally began at 11:30PM there was less than 200 fans in the stands, mostly ALL PHILLIE FANS, everyone sitting in the lower bowl of the stadium, most in the first five rows surrounding the field, between the dugouts. Section 320 complete with 7 regulars: The African Queen, MSZimmy, JohnnieDamon, MickNats, NatsDelNegro, SayHeyKlib and myself. Joined in Section 315 by Iris and Biff and finally Colleen and Jeff with "Curly W", their rally monkey from Section 217. The NATIONALS TRUE FANS, sticking it out, through thick and thin, each and every night, as usual. If the Washington Nationals ever inducted FANS into a TEAM HALL OF FAME, all of us better be the FIRST INDUCTEES. We earned it tonight--for YEARS TO COME!!

Phillies fans were their usual crude selfs, making a ton of noise, starting at the BottomsUP brewery behind Section 317 before the game and continuing throughout the late night. These fans would BOO the NATPACK, Jeer-My Best Friend, Screech. Flat out, give it to the Nationals relievers walking slowing to their right field bullpen before the start of the game.

Tonight, also featured a tremendous Presidents Race, with Thomas Jefferson making a fabulous face first dive on the warning track, dazed, helped up, finally finishing the race, dead last, even behind the lovable loser, Teddy Roosevelt. Then, as the "RUSHMORES" slowly walked up the aisle behind the Phillies's first base dugout, were WILDY GIVEN CRAP by the classless Phillie Faithful.

All resulting in the MOST SURREAL NIGHT/MORNING I have ever experienced at a baseball game. NatsDelNegro turning to me in the top of the 9th saying, "I just can't believe it, when I look out at that Washington Nationals Clock in rightfield, and it says its 2AM!! Its just mindnumbing!"


For its EVER CONTINUING SUPPORT, in good and bad times, Section 320 was honored by the Washington Nationals throughout the game tonight, each and every sitting member receiving gifts and prizes from the NATPACK for devotion to OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS.

Sohna kicked it off by participating in the SouthwestFlyaway--unfortunately, her love, Alfonso Soriano, sat this one out. MickNats would win the $50 Red,Hot&Blue Gift certificate for answering the DC IQ question correctly. I would win the $50 gift certificate to Modells for answering all 4 questions correctly in the "AROUND THE HORN" Triva. All seven of us would receive 2 tickets each to the October 14, Washington Capitals/Atlanta Thrashers Hockey Game at Verizon Center and T-Shirts during the 5th Inning T-Shirt Launch. And, we all were, surprisingly, the ESPN ZONE LUCKY ROW!! Colleen would receive an autograph Ryan Church Baseball for Ryan's second inning blast into the Upper Mezzanine, just below Section 462.

But, the finest reward of the night came during the 7th inning stretch, when the NATPACK offered MsZimmy and Myself the opportunity to stand on the NATS 3rd Base Dugout with them to sing "TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME". After singing the song and tossing T-Shirts, only to NATS FANS, I turned around, walked over to Alfonso Soriano, leaning against the top railing, stuck out my right hand, palm down, yelling "ALFONSO!!" Soriano immediately responding, slapping my hand with "SORIANO!!!" Mike O'Connor and Austin Kearns chuckling. Me then saying,pointing: "YOU THE MAN!!" Alfonso points right at me in appreciation, then looks at O'Connor and Kearns, smiling mightily, saying "thats one those guys up there chanting each and every game!!" MsZimmy looking at me like, "WOW!!--THAT"S COOL!!" And, you know what, IT WAS!!!

None of us could ever thank THE NATPACK, enough, for their generosity tonight. We LOVED THE ATTENTION!!

And, as usual, Section 320 gave it their all this morning. All seven of us combining to OUT CHEER the throng of Phillie Fans ringing the field. 7 loudmouths, with empty beer bottles clanking against the concrete and chairs (BUDWEISER BOTTLES, by far, the best noise makers, we know from experience). NATSDELNEGRO providing his usual rythem and percussion. No doubt, we were at the top of our game for this one. Singing LOUDLY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RYAN ZIMMERMAN, so loud that THE WASHINGTON POST even mentioned it in their game recap today, online. The CHEERING NEVER ENDING!! The few remaining Ushers stopping by, telling us, how much they were enjoying our effort. SayHeyKlib, completely out of voice box by the end of the game.

SCREECH appeared right at the start of the game, to a CHORUS of "WE LOVE SCREECH, WE LOVE SCREECH". Screech, lovingly, taking in all the adulation, hugging his BEST FRIEND, blowing kisses to the AFRICAN QUEEN, and hanging out, until, bravely moving into the Phillies Fan Section to put up with their crap!! Screech came out of it, with all feathers still attached, to a great relief of all of us.

And, yeah, they did play the game, and it was a tight, well played affair. Mike O'Connor getting the start for Washington, going 5 strong innings, giving up just three hits, 2 walks, and one unearned run, scored by the Phillies Abraham Nunez on a fielding error by Ryan Zimmerman. O'Connor followed by 4 Nationals Relievers, Billy Traber, Saul Rivera, Ryan Wagner and finally Jon Rauch, to close it out. Giving up just 2 hits, no walks to Philadelphia. Shutting down the mighty, Ryan Howard. Howard striking out twice in three offical at bats, no hits, drawing one walk.

Nook Logan would fly back to the centerfield wall in the second inning, on a drive by Pat Burrell, at the last possible moment, with the ball just over the fence, Nook would stretch his glove over the wall, retrieving a SURE HOME RUN!! It was a nice catch. But, the most exciting play of this game occured during the bottom of the 5th, when Church singles to lead it off. And, with one out, Henry Mateo would ground sharply up the middle, to the left of the second base bag, where shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, dropped the ball. Church and Mateo safe. Bernie Castro was next, and laced a liner to left, Pat Burrell charging in from left for Philadelphia. 3rd Base Coach, Tony Beasley, gave Church the go sign, and the race was on. Burrell heaved a terrific throw, Church sliding, feet first to the right of home, trying to avoid the tag of catcher, Chris Coste. It appeared that Church was safe, but home plate umpire, Paul Navert, called Ryan out. PHILLIE FANS ERUPTING!! as this out at the plate kept the game tied. Frank Robinson, quickly as the man can move, rushed out to argue the call. Navert telling Frank, Church had slid past the plate, not touching it.

But, The Nationals would put this game away for good in the 6th. Nook Logan singled to left, leading off. FLop, with Logan running, liner to left, Logan rounding second hard, easily advancing to 3rd. With the Z-Man at the plate, Lopez would steal his 43 base of the season. Z would hit a dribbler toward Ryan Howard at first. Howard hesitated for some reason, delaying the throw to first. Zimmerman, running hard all the way, just beat the toss to first. BASES LOADED, NO OUTS!! Jose Vidro stepped up, lacing a liner, unfortunately, right at Chase Utley at second.

At that point, Phillies Manager, Charlie Manuel, came out to replace his starter, Jon Leiber, with lefthander Aaron Fultz to face lefthanded, and hot hitting, Brian Schneider. Down 1-2 in the count, SCHEIDERMAN would not fail, ropping a single down the right field line. Jeff Conine running to his left, quickly, to pickup the ball, but not soon enough, as Logan and FLop scored easily, making the score 3-1. Section 320 going NUTS!! Along with about 50 of our closest Nats FANS and FRIENDS!! PHILLIE FANS SITTING ON THEIR HANDS, SHUTTING UP!! Its was juicy!! Although Church nor George Lombard were able to get Zimmerman home, the Nats had a convincing lead tonight. And, when,THE WOOKIE, Big Jon Rauch, came on to face the heart of the Philadelphia lineup, Utley, Howard and Conine in the 9th, this win really was never in doubt. This game ending at 2:06AM!!

The GLORIOUS sight of those 150 or so Phillie Fans walking dejectingly up the aisle, exiting RFK, Nats Fans jiggling their key chains, telling them to head for their cars back to PHILLY, Section 320 waving and singing the "NaNaNa--GoodBye" Song,enjoyable to no end.

THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS WERE DESTINED TO WIN THIS MORNING!! A game that is memorable on so many levels. Even after getting home, I was too jacked to go to sleep right away. Finally falling asleep at 4AM, getting up at 8AM, at work at 10AM, writing this, lovingly recapping the memories of a TERRIFIC BALLPARK EXPERIENCE.

As I said to MickNats on the way home, this will be the first time I have ever attended a Early/Morning-Night DoubleHeader. Mets/Nats, less than 8 hours from now, all in the same day. I can't wait for this baseball day to continue!!


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Almost A Classic

If Brian Schneider's sharply hit ground ball in the bottom of the 14th inning had been hit two feet either way of the Phillies, Chase Utley, last night's game may well have still been going on. And, if our Nationals had rallied for the 3rd time, late, to actually win this one, it would have been the Greatest game in the Young Team's History.

As it turned out, Schneider's one hopper went directly at the Phillies second baseman who quickly turned a 4-6-3 game ending double play, giving Philadelphia a hard fought 8-7 thrilling win at RFK Stadium, sending many Phillie fans, home delirious. Game Number 158 of the 2006 season will go down as the most frustratingly, memorable and exciting loss to date for Washington's Nationals.

The two teams combined to use 47 players, including 17 pitchers in this 4 hour 53 minute affair that ended two minutes before midnight. Each team having multiple chances to win and each team making crucial mistakes with the game on the line, to continue this enduring affair.

As the 14th inning began, there was less than 1,000 folks still in the stands from the original 21,809 that attended. Nearly 3/4th of those, Phillie Fans, making a tremendous amount of noise. Despite being outnumbered, Section 320 was still at FULL FORCE, all 12 regulars in their seats to the bitter end. The wives of Brian Schneider and Jon Rauch--the only other folks still in 320 . Both of them amazed at our diligence. Charles, the Usher Supervisor for our area, telling all of us, "you guys are true fans, you never give up!!" Half of us knowing we had 5AM walkup calls to go to work. It didn't matter, there was no way any of us would miss out on a potential "CLASSIC" ending. No Way. RallyTimeRichard having stated earlier that this game had all the makings of going down to the very last at bat.

I could go into my ever so detailed play by play of this game, but I might as well write a book. 40 pages on this one would be no problem.

Ryan Zimmerman continued his quest to lock up the National League Rookie of the Year Award, blasting a line shot, his 20th home run of the season off Phillie hot shot rookie, Cole Hamels, in the second. Zimmerman would reach base 5 times tonight, walk in the crucial game tying run in the bottom of the 9th to, eventually, send the game into extra innings. Z was hot on the field as well, making three nice running in, barehand pickup throws to first, retiring speedy runners. None as good as the very last out of the 14 inning, when the speedy Shane Victorino would drag bunt down the 3rd baseline, Z charging in and, with the ball bouncing down toward the ground, reached down, in one motion, using the balls gravity to his advantage, slinging a sidearm toss to Robert Fick at first to JUST GET Victorino. It was an OUTSTANDING PLAY!! Worthy of a Gold Glover.

At the same time, Alfonso Soriano would contine his terrible September, Going 0-6, never a factor at the plate, but in the 7th, showing nightmares of early April, butchered badly a line drive off the bat of Abraham Nunez, right at him, for a double and setting up Philadelphia's 2 go ahead runs. The Phillies taking the lead 5-4 after 7.

The Nationals had two fabulous chances to win the game, first in the bottom of the 9th. With Philadelphia Closer, Tom Gordon, on the mound, Schneider would sharply single to right leading off, Bernie Castro walked on a full count. Felipe Lopez would sacrifice them to 2nd and 3rd. Bringing Soriano to the plate. Amazingly, Phillie Manager, Charlie Manuel, decided not to pitch to Alfonso, despite his troubles, intentionally walking him, bringing the clutch Zimmerman to the plate. With one out, Z would walk on a full count to tie the score at 5. And, there was not a Nationals Fan at RFK that didn't think they were going to win it NOW!!

But, Robert Fick, late inning replacement for Jose Vidro at first base, was overmatched and popped to Jimmy Rollins at short. Frank Robinson then sent out Austin Kearns. His first appearance since his horrific accident with Nick Johnson. Everyone now anticipating the STORYBOOK ENDING. On the very first pitch, Gordon would pitch hard inside, all Austin needed to do was take the hit and the Nats win, instead, instinct prevailed, Kearns lunging out of the way. The groans in the crowd, noticible. Kearns would also work a full count, and on the 7th pitch of this at bat, pop softly to Chase Utley at second to kill the rally. 5-5 going to the 10th.

The Chief, Chad Cordero trotted out for the top of the 10th--and he was terrible. He just didn't have it from the start. Walking Chris Coste to lead of the inning. Michael Bourn would sacrifice him to second. Then, on the very first pitch to Nunez, Cordero laid it in right over the middle of the plate, Abraham slashing it to the wall in right centerfield. Ryan Church had trouble picking it up. Coste scored easily. 6-5 Phillies and the Philadelphia fans went NUTS!! After Randy St.Claire visited the mound, Chad was able to get the final two outs.

Geoff Geary was called on by Charlie Manuel to pitch for Philadelphia. It seems this guy always pitches against us. And, we always hit him. That stayed true last night, when Nook Logan (who has flat out proven he just can not hit from the left side of the plate) did the only thing he's capable of doing from the left side, drag bunt between Geary and Ryan Howard for an infield single. Ryan Church, continuing to struggle, bounced a high chopper right at Howard with Logan running. Church out, Nook to second. Schneiderman, really playing well, stroked a Geary fastball into right, Logan scoring easily, even though he held up, in case the ball was caught by Utley. Tying the score at 6 and shutting up the Phillie FANS!!

Still, there was still one out, Brian at first. Castro, showing no patience, swung at everything and struck out, swinging at a pitch above his head. FLop was next, and hit a 3 hopper right at Rollins, moving to his left,near the 2nd base bag, Rollins bobbled the ball, then tried to run to the bag to retire the slow moving Schneider, but realized he would be late, double pumped a throw to first, FLop being too fast, then, at the very last moment, after Utley thought Rollins would throw the ball to first, Rollins underhand tosssed to the unsuspecting Chase, the ball flying right past Utley for a error. Both Runners Safe. It was UNBELIEVABLE to see. The inning should have been over. But, with luck, now once again, on their side, the Nats could not win it again. Soriano, looking awful at the plate, struck out badly to send the game into the 11th.

There would be a single here, a walk there, but as the crowd dwindled down to "FAMILY AND FRIENDS SIZE" neither team could push across the winning run. Until the outragously thrilling 14th. Jason Bergmann on the mound starting his 4th consecutive inning. And he was losing steam noticibly. Frank Robinson deciding that it was Bergmann and no one else. Frank not wanting to use either Jon Rauch, Billy Traber or Brett Campbell.

Phillies Catcher, Chris Coste, continuing his fine game, doubled to the wall in center leading off the 14th. Bourn drag bunted down the 3rd base line, Z unable to come up with this one. Everyone safe. Nunez would high chop a bouncer to FLop, Lopez actually making a fine running in grab and throw to first to just retire Nunez. Philadelphia, still having hitters available on the bench, sent Jose Hernandez out to pinch hit for their pitcher, Clay Condrey. Hernandez would hit a 3 bouncer to FLop, which Lopez bobbled, Coste heading for home. Felipe would recover and throw a toss to Schneider that was the hardest ball I have ever seen Lopez throw. It was a rocket!! Just beating Coste to the plate, Schneider and Coste colliding at the plate, Home Plate Umpire, Rob Drake, taking his time making the call, until he was sure Brian held on the the ball. Which he did for out number 2. It looked like Bergmann might survive. But, Jimmy Rollins laced a liner down the right field line, in the corner, scoring Bourn and Hernandez and this one looked like it was over. 8-6 Phillies. The stadium was rocking, but for Philadelphia. Bergmann would get the final out of the inning on Zimmerman's terrific defensive play described earlier.

Going to the bottom of the 14, the Nationals had Fick, Bergmann and Logan due up. Not exactly the 3 you would want to see. Frank not having any bench players left, since Kearns batted in the 9th. Philadelphia brought on rookie Left Hander, Fabio Castro, to close it out. Castro obviously nervous. Fick drilled a single down the right field line. Frank would then send up Pitcher Beltran Perez for Bergmann. As I have mentioned in a earlier post, Beltran swings the bat harder than any pitcher I have ever seen. Down 0-1 in the count, Perez laced a drive to right, moving Fick to second, and sending the few hundred remaining NATS FANS IN A FRENZY!! It certaintly looked like the BASEBALL GODS were looking down favorably on our lovable Nats.

Since Nook Logan can not hit, he bunted, again, this time sacrificing the runners up to 2nd and 3rd. But, Fabio Castro would choke on the play, throwing it past Howard at first. Everyone safe. Bases loaded, no one out. THE GAME WAS NOW WINABLE!! Ryan Church now stepped to the plate, his opportunity to be the hero. First pitch ball from Castro, then, on the next pitch, he was fooled by an off speed pitch, but was able to loft it, just deep enough to center to score Fick. 8-7 Phillies. Perez and Logan remained on first and second.

Brian Schneider was next. And as the Section 320 chanted out the "Schneiderman" Song, to his wife's great delight, Brian would take ball one. Castro looking close to losing it. Fabio would then throw in a fastball, right over the inside corner of the plate, Schneider would RIP IT!! unfortunately, right at Utley for the game ending double play.

This game had it all. It was never dull, something always happening. To see a Washington Nationals team, well out of contention, fighting it out to the last man, in the final days of the season, was great to watch. Just the type of game you never forget. It would have been mindboggling if the Nats had pulled it out in that bottom of the 14th. If they did, I am sure I would not have slept at all last night.

Many thanks to all our good friends in Section 320, hanging out to the very end, supporting our Washington Nationals. The night was long, but TERRIFIC!!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thrilling Ending, JUST THRILLING!!

Chad Cordero was standing on the mound, snapping his glove shut after receiving the ball toss from Felipe Lopez. He was pissed. Two were out, The Chief just had Chase Utley down to his last strike with the Phillies Chris Coste on second base in the top of the ninth, leading by two. Cordero had served in a slider over the outside corner that Utley had slapped into left field, scoring Coste, bringing the Phillies back into the game, now 4-3 Nats. THE MOST DANGEROUS HITTER IN THE GAME WAS UP NEXT--RYAN HOWARD. The RFK Stadium Crowd was on its feet. Many Phillie Fans yelling "Lets Go PHILLIES!!" but being drowned out by the Nat Faithful.

The game winning run was now at the plate, and Frank Robinson was ever so slowly walking to the mound. With Pitching Coach Randy StClaire out with the flu, Frank was being part pitching coach tonight, but this upcoming conversation had nothing to do with pitching, it had to do with HEART. Frank showing his IN YOUR FACE demeanor, pointing decisively to Cordero on the mound, with the Nats entire infield standing by. Robinson making the point. YOU CAN DO THIS!! We will not pitch around Howard.

After Frank slowly walked back to the dugout, what was left of the 18,960 continued to stand and ROAR!! The anticipation great. I don't care who you were cheering for, if you love the game of baseball, this was a juicy moment.

The Chief rared back and hummed in a 91MPH high slider, Howard swinging viciously, fouling the ball back behind home plate. The Crowd as one saying "WOOOO!!" The Chief then looked in for the next sign from Brian Schneider, nodded his head, kicked and delivered, off speed pitch, fooling Howard ever so slightly, Ryan though, still drives the pitch up and out to left centerfield, looking at first like it might go, but Alfonso Soriano steps under it, grabbing the ball, Cordero, his twirling jump and hand pump to his heart, Schneider all smiles congratulating Chad, sending Nats Fans home happy with a very fine, exciting, 4-3 win. BANG!! ZOOM!! GO THE FIREWORKS!! CURLY W Number 70 in the books. A game that ended with a final matchup made in heaven. Save number 29 for THE CHIEF. All in a win the Nationals appeared to have no shot at earlier in the evening.

The African Queen and I were late arriving at RFK Stadium tonight, business called, and the game began as we were walking down the steps from the 300 Level Concourse to our seats. As luck would have it, we ran into SCREECH, right in front of Section 316, making his way toward Section 320, which we had yet to arrive at. Yelling out "SCREEECH!!" he turned immediately and was shocked to see me standing right behind him, pointing at his ficticuous watch telling me I am late, and where's THE QUEEN!! We High Five and I point out the Queen lost among the throng of other folks trying to get to their seats. SCREECH clears a path, gives Sohna a peck on the cheek, sticks out his furry elbow and escorts The African Queen to her rightful seat. It was great, because the aisle was so crowded with people, Screech was able to part the sea to make it all happen. Allowing us to see the remainder of the first inning, unobstructed. We couldn't thank Screech enough for the hospitality!! Sohna LOVED THE ESCORT!! Got a big kick out it.

├ůs soon as we sat down, it was obvious that, Nationals Starter, Ramon Oritz may not be long for this game. After Jimmy Rollins led off the game for Philadelphia flying to the warning track in right, Shane Victorino drilled a single up the middle and Chase Utley would single to right, moving Victorino to second. Howard was up next, and with the Phillie Faithful chanting "MVP!, MVP!!" Ryan would drive the very first Ramon pitch to center, scoring Victorino easily, moving Utley to second. Former Oriole, Jeff Conine stepped up and laced a full count single to left, scoring Utley, moving Howard to second. Still one out and two runs in. Pat Burrell would also go deep into the count, but strike out swinging on a slider. Burrell must have felt like he was playing at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, as the moment he K's he was booed mightily by Phillies fans. The exact same response Sohna and I witnessed in August at a Nats road game against the Phillies. Mike Lieberthal would, thankfully, end the threat by flying out to Nook Logan. But, Ortiz would throw 29 pitches in the first inning alone. He did not look sharp.

Sharp though was the description of Ryan Zimmerman. Z-Man continues to tear it up as the season sets, and tonight he was on his game. Ryan got the nats right back into the game in the bottom of the first after Bernie Castro led off with a bunt single, barely beating the throw from Utley and Felipe Lopez would single to right, Castro scurrying to third. Soriano would swing at the very first pitch, poping the ball to center, but too shallow to score Bernie. Then Z stepped up, FLop stole second to put both runners in scoring position, and on a 1-1 count, grounded hard to deep short, to the left of Jimmy Rollins. Rollins only play was to toss to first to retire Zimmerman. 2-1 Phils. RBI number 105 for Number 11. Vidro would ground out to end the threat.

Ortiz would continue to be all over the plate, giving up 2 singles in the second to Rollins and Victorino. Utley would lace the second pitch of his at bat, deep down the right field line. A line drive that kept on hooking toward the foul pole,just above the fence. MickNats thought it hit the post. I thought it hit the post. Everyone in Section 320 thought it hit the foul pole, as from our sightline looking right down the rightfield line, we could see the ball carom off the yellow pole. First base umpire Rob Drake defiantly called the ball FOUL--to a great relief for all Nationals Fans. Replays showed the ball hitting the post clearly. But, I will take it. Luck would prevail tonight for Washington. Utley would then pop out with Ramon truly escaping--unharmed. Again in the 3rd, Howard would strike out to led off, but Conine and Burrell would single with one out on grounders in the hole that Lopez just flat out gave up on. Felipe is a very disturbing infielder. Again, though, Ramon somehow got out of it, striking out Lieberthal, Abraham Nunez flying to Nook Logan in centerfield.

Zimmerman would strike again, with the decisive blow of the game in the bottom of the 3rd, when Castro would draw a full count walk from Phildelphia Starter Brett Myers. FLop sacrificing him to second. Soriano would draw a full count walk. Z then HAMMERS a drive, a liner right past Pat Burrell in left, Castro and Soriano score, and just like that, Washington had the lead, 3-2. You just had to shake your head that the Nationals were in the lead. Zimmeran continues to hit in the clutch. 107 RBI now for 2006, 65% of them with runners in scoring position. If this man is not ROOKIE OF THE YEAR!! It a FARCE!!

Ortiz, feeling pumped now with lead, actually settled down to retire the Phils in order in the 4th, but got in trouble, once again, in the 5th when Utley and Howard both single to start the inning. Section 320 noticed that Phillies Fan were actually cheering their players that got on base. In Philadelphia, all their fans do is sit on the hands and boo every single moment. SenatorNat yelling out to them: "So, You need to go on the road to learn how to cheer!!" The African Queen noting that, maybe, these Phillies fans, no longer live in the Philadelphia area, and by living in the DC have learned how to make the proper noise. We all were laughing about it. But, Conine would line out to Z at 3rd, Burrell would strike out (and booed mightily again by Phillie Fans-I guess old habits are hard to break) and Liberthal flied out to right to end the threat.

When Ramon Ortiz finished off the Phillies in order in the 6th, he would leave the game giving up 10 hits, none for extra bases, amazingly just 2 runs and as MICKNATS said: "Can you believe Ortiz leaves with a quality start?!!" No, but he did--incredibly so. Ortiz would actually get the win tonight, his 11th to go with 15 losses.

Billy Traber trotted to the mound in the 7th and got into trouble right away--Hitting Shane Victorino on a pitch in the dirt. Utley would foul pop to Vidro near the Phillies Dugout, and Ryan Howard was next. Again, the entire crowd anticipating something monsterous. Traber, working deliberately, worked a full count, on the pitch, Victorino took off, Howard swinging mightily on an off-speed pitch, and missing. Howard slamming his bat down in disgust--Schneider would heave a throw to second, right on the money, only to see FLop completely miss the ball, and Schneider charged with an error for some reason. This error was all FLop. I really believe that Lopez is afraid of contact with other players on close plays, and it affects his game tremendously. The has occured too many times. Then, Frank Robinson stepped out of the dugout to replace Traber with Saul Rivera. Rivera getting Conine to ground out to Lopez to end the inning. The Nationals trot off the field to a nice standing ovation.

The Wookie, Jon Rauch, was on the mound for Washington to start the 8th. With one out, Randall Simon (yes, the same Randall Simon that with the Pirates, used his bat to knock down the girl running in the Sausage Races in Milwaukee a few years back-an incident causing so much commotion), singles to left. Simon then replaced by pinch runner, Michael Bourn. Rauch would strike out pinch hitter, David Dellucci, on 4 pitches. Then, with pinch hitter Chris Coste at the plate, Bourn would take off for second. Schneider heaved a throw right on the bag, Castro catching, but Bourn's head first dive just beating the throw, but Bourn kept on sliding right over and past the bag, Bernie holding the ball and glove right on the back of Bourn's legs. Second base umpire Paul Navert calling Bourn OUT on the overslide. It was a key moment of the game. Phillie fans disgusted. Nice effort by Castro to stay with the play. Felipe Lopez would have given up on the throw.

Tonight's luck would continue for the Nationals in the bottom of the 8th. With Geoff Geary on the mound, Lopez and Soriano would both strike out. With 2 outs, Zimmmeran would lace a solid single to left for his 3rd hit of the night. George Lombard, pinch hitting for Rauch would draw a full count walk, getting the home crowd stirring again. Brian Schneider was up next, working the count, and with the count full, pops a blooper down the left field line. Phillies 3rd Baseman Jose Hernandez and Shortstop Jimmy Rollins converged on the ball, it looked playable, but fearing a collision, Rollins dropped the ball while jumping over Hernandez, keeping Brian alive. The luck continued, as on the very next pitch, Schneider would weakly ground the ball to Utley at second. Utley charged in, with plenty of time to get the slow moving Schneider. As Utley reached down to barehand the ball, the ball scooted to his right, under his hand and rolling to the back of the infield. Zimmerman scores the 4th run of the night. 4-2 Nats. The Washington Crowd laughing in delight. Phillies Fans standing in TOTAL DISGUST, shaking their heads, seeing their playoff hopes slowly fading away. Nook Logan will finally kill the rally with a terrible 3 pitch strikeout at bat. Logan can not hit from the leftside, no doubt.

Chris Coste would lead off the 9th with a double to the wall off Cordero to set up the dramatic finale. With the Phillies still in the playoff hunt, this game had a great atmosphere, despite the meager turnout. The Nationals won a game they had no right to win--which made it all the more enjoyable.

Also, MickNats and I both purchased this terrific Commemorative Plaque honoring Alfonso Soriano's 40/40 Date of September 16. Limited to just 40 total production run, with Alfonso taking number 1 and 40--The Plaque included a Mounted Picture of Soriano holding the 40th steal base, and a Special Ticket with date and event and a Silver engraved Marker on the bottom. It was really nice, I think the team store sold out of them last night. The African Queen thrilled to get this special item of her Main MAN!!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Perez, Schneider, Z and Managerial Decisions

The New York Mets put out nearly their Best Lineup tonight for the series finale against our Washington Nationals. Only Carlos Delgado not in the starting lineup. That lineup wasn't enough at Flushing Meadows as the Nats pulled out a nice 7-3 victory, winning 3 of 4--two in a row since losing Nick Johnson for the season this past saturday.

Nats youngster, Beltran Perez, got his second start. Perez didn't have his best stuff tonight, but showing saavy of a veteran, hung in for 6 plus innings, giving up just 2 runs on 4 hits and 6 walks. Despite giving up a Home Run launched by Shawn Green in the second, Beltran continues to show promise, getting his second win. Sometimes, rookie pitchers can get lucky in their first starts, no one has seen them, but after the scouts have seen you pitch, those pitchers need to adjust and start working the plate with their best stuff. Perez mixed up his pitches well tonight, despite being all over the plate at times. I see a confident young man growing up on the mound. Success brings confidence and Beltran's trusting his stuff. Its a very good sign.

Brian Schneider continued to ressurrect his 2006 season, collecting 4 hits in 5 at bats, raising his average to .254, .025 higher in the past month. Ryan Zimmerman continues to make his late season push to win the National League Rookie of the Year award, stroking a key bases loaded one out double. With Bernie Castro, Felipe Lopez and Alfonso Soriano, the 3 fastest runners on the team taking off, there was NO PLAY AT THE PLATE. Speed scoring easily, putting the Nats up 3-1.

But, you have to wonder seriously about the Nationals Base Running. All year long, base running has been atrocious at times. Tonight, it appeared that terrible baserunning was going to cost Washington early. Just who exactly is making these decisions? Frank Robinson, 3rd Base Coach Tony Beasley, or is it player error??

In the second inning, Jose Vidro leads off with a double to center off Tommy Glavine. Schneider followed with a grounder to right, Vidro unable to score, moving to 3rd base. Nook Logan then slaps a grounder to Jose Reyes at short, with the infield playing in to cut off the run at the plate. For whatever reason, Vidro takes off for home. Reyes easily tosses to LoDuca who tags out Jose in a mini rundown. THERE IS NO REASON FOR VIDRO TO RUN!! None. There are no outs. Schneider has moved to second on the force out at home. With Ryan Church up with 2 strikes, you just knew that Glavine would throw a slop pitch. Sure enough, here it came, Church swinging at the pitch in the dirt, but inexplicably, Brian takes off for 3rd, attempting to steal, with a lefthanded hitter at the plate. Even Logan behind Schnieder stays put. LoDuca easily throws out Schneider, David Wright making the tag. WHO IS MAKING THESE DECISIONS!! With 2 runners on, no outs, the Nats run into 2 unnecessary outs!! Church and Schneider combining on a Strike'm Out, Throw'm Out Double Play to kill the inning.

Then in the 3rd, Beltran Perez, who swings the bat as hard as anyone I have ever seen, slaps a slow grounder in the hole at short. David Wright makes a routine twirling stop and throw, but Perez, running hard all the way, beats the throw for his first Major League Hit. Bernie Castro followed with a hard slap up the middle, sure to get through, only Glavine deflects the ball, right to Reyes at short, who tosses to Jose Valentin at second to retire Beltran. Castro too fast to throw out at first. After Castro steals his 7th base, moving to second, FLop would walk, followed by Alfonso walking to load the bases. Still one out.

Zimmerman continued to be clutch, slapping an outside Glavine pitch deep into right center, the speed of Bernie, FLop and Soriano trotting around the bases easily. Z stops at second with his 46th double of the season, now at 104 RBI. 3-1 Nats. But, bad baserunning continued immediately. Jose Vidro would walk. First and Second and the hot hitting Schneider up. On a 1-2 count, Ryan amazingly takes off for 3rd base. Again with a Left Handed Hitter at the plate. LoDuca, easily throws out Zimmerman. You could tell from the MASN broadcast that FRANK ROBINSON had NOT called that one. Z just staring at Tony Beasley, dumbfounded, before trotting on to the dugout. Brian Schneider striking out to end the rally. Only 3 runs on the board, and the Nats possibly running out of 3 additional runs. Very BAD BASEBALL!! With 155 games already played in this season, you would think that Washington could learn how to run the bases properly.

Later, in the 6th, the Nationals would luck out on their baserunning, when Vidro once again leads off with a double down the left field line, Schneider lofts a looping single to right that Vidro does not run on, stopping again at third. 1st and 3rd--no outs. On a full count to Nook Logan, Schneider takes off for second, Logan DOES NOT SWING AT A BALL RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE PLATE!! LoDuca, snaps the ball to second, but it short hops Jose Valentin covering, bouncing into centerfield. Vidro trotting home for the Nats 3rd run. I can understand running in this situation, but what in the world is Logan thinking, not swinging, even to protect Schneider. Bad decison by Nook. Church would lace a grounder to first and Beltran Perez strikes out to kill, yet another larger scoring rally.

The 8th would be the deciding inning tonight, despite another strange decision by Washington. Facing Mets Reliever, Pedro Feliciano, Jose Vidro would stroke and beat out, of all things, an infield roller to 3rd. Melvin Dorta sent in to pinch run for Jose. Schneider then laced his 4th hit of the night, grounding sharply to right, Dorta moving to 3rd. 1st and 3rd, no outs. Nook Logan, hung in, down 0-2 in the count, to strike back with a hard enough grounder up the middle to score Dorta, moving Schneider to second. 5-2 Nationals. Time to GO FOR THE KILL!!

Ryan Church at the plate. Fastball hitting power hitter, against Fastball throwing lefthander. What do our Nats do?? With a 2-2 count on Church, they SACRIFICE BUNT!! Church laying down a bunt toward the third baseline. I couldn't believe it!! You have a chance to put the game away, are you are giving up an out, to play small ball. Makes NO SENSE TO ME!!

Robert Fick, pinch hitting for Billy Traber, would walk, loading the bases. Feliciano then replaced by the equally hard throwing Guillermo Mota. With the infield pulled in, Castro would slap a fastball into the hole in right, scoring Schneider and Logan, making the score 7-2. Yes, the Nats where able to score, but more due to poor pitching, walks and a little luck, not due to sharp managing. FLop would pop to left to take away the momentum. Soriano would strikeout to kill the rally on a pitch so far in the dirt, he needed a Golf Driver to reach it.

Ryan Wagner would struggle in the bottom of the 8th. Wright getting a infield single on a soft roller into the hole, in right, that Castro showed tremendous range to reach, yet could not make the throw in time to retire the hustling David. Cliff Floyd followed with a drive to left center, but Soriano hustled all the way, keeping Wright from scoring. 2nd and 3rd, 1 out. Shawn Green grounded to Castro at second, scoring Wright to close out tonight's scoring 7-3 as Wagner was able to get out of the jam without further damage.

The Chief, Chad Cordero, trotted on to retire the Mets in order for CURLY W number 69. If you told me in Mid-August that our Nats would possibly reach 70 wins, I would have laughed at you. But, you have to give Washington Credit, despite adversity, they continue to plug away and not give up. We are learning what some young players can, and can not do. Winning 3 of 4 from a Good Mets Team, resting some of their best players--is still not bad.

Although, I have to wonder about the base running and managerial situational decisions. Those decisions just make NO SENSE sometimes. NONE. I would love to sit down with Frank or Tony Beasley to ask them about tonight's manuvers. ANY TAKERS??

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Guts & Guile For Nick

Today, Our Washington Nationals could have mailed it in, losing handily to the New York Mets, one day after a horrific injury to mainstay first baseman, Nick Johnson. And, no one would have said anything bad otherwise. Instead, the Nats gutted it out, with heavy hearts and pulled out a nice 5-1 Victory at Shea Stadium.

In honor of their fallen friend, the entire team wore knee high navy blue socks. Nick's Uniform, Number 24, hanging in the dugout. Even Pitching Great, Roger Clemens, starting tonight in Houston against the Cardinals, wore his navy blue socks at the knees, in honor of his former New York Yankees Teammate. It was a nice gesture by Roger. Clemens, to me, the finest pitcher of my generation--undeniably. Meanwhile, Washington Right Fielder, Austin Kearns, colliding with Johnson in the incident, given the day off to heal, mentally.

Frank Robinson threw out an unusual lineup to go against the Mets, a New York lineup that was missing David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Paul LoDuca. The Mets having clinched the Division Title and Best Record in the league, resting their players heading to the playoffs. The Nats starting nine included, Bernie Castro, Brandon Harper, Robert Fick (replacing Johnson), Ryan Church and George Lombard, filling in for Kearns.

Tony Armas got the start today for Washington, and was fairly effective for his second consecutive start. Eventually winning his first game since August 18--that last thrilliing win the The African Queen and I witnessed in Philadelphia in the Citizens Bank Park Suite. Armas raising his 2006 record to 9-12 after today's victory.

As per each and every Nats game, Washington had Mets Starter, Steve Trachsel on the brink of a blowout early. Each time allowing Trachsel to get out of it, barely touched. It all starting in the very first inning, when Bernie Castro would lead the game off with a full count walk. Threatening to steal, Trachsel could not find the plate with Felipe Lopez up. FLop eventually drilling a grounder to right, moving Castro to 3rd easily. 1st and 3rd, no outs. Alfonso Soriano, batting 3rd, in an effort to reach 100 RBI for the season, following and, on the very first pitch--no surprise, lofted a deep enough fly to right, scoring Castro easily, giving the Nats a early 1-0 lead. RBI number 95 for Alfonso. With Ryan Zimmerman now at the plate, FLop was yancy, and on a 1-1 count, took off for second. The Mets were expecting it, catcher Kelly Stinnett calling a pitchout, Lopez out by a mile. Not even close. Of course, Z would follow by drilling a double down the left field line. Flop would have most likely scored. Z now on second with 2 outs. Fick, looking to make up for the loss of Nick Johnson, stepped up, and, unfortunately, flied to right, ending the inning. 1-0 Washington.

Armas would give up a leadoff single to the very dangerous speedster, Jose Reyes. Reyes slapping a single to left. But, Tony would bear down and retire Endy Chavez, Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado to end the inning.

The Nats would frustrate everyone and me, especially, again in the second, when Ryan Church would drag bunt the very first pitch from Trachsel down the third base line for a single. Chris Woodward, today's Mets 3rd baseman made a nice running one handed grab and throw, for whatever reason, Carlos Delgado fielded the ball off the bag. Replays showed that if Carlos stretches, Church may well have been out. Lombard followed, and nicely slapped an outside pitch into left, moving Church to second. Brandon Harper worked a full count walk. Still no outs, but Tony Armas, Jr at the plate. Let Armas Bunt, Squeeze, anything but swing away. Tony swings away on the very first pitch, grounding to Reyes at Short, on to Jose Valentin at second, on to first for a double play. Church scored on the play, but Armas had KILLED THE RALLY! When Castro bounced on back to Trachsel, this potential blowout rally was over. 2-0 Nats in the second. It really is amazing how the Nats can rarely produce the BIG INNING with 2 men on and no outs.

Through 4 innings, Armas would allow only two more hit, a single by Trachsel, and a shot into the left centerfield gap by Cliff Floyd that Alfonso Soriano hustling all the way, corralled on one hop, Floyd trying to stretch it into a double, Soriano heaving the ball sidearm right on the bag at second, nailing Cliff easily for Alfonso's 22 assist of the season. Number 12 continues to improve his outfield game.

Washington would threaten once again in the 4th, Leadoff single by Fick, followed by a Church single to center. No outs, but, once again, The Nats would fail to rally, Lomabard striking out badly on 3 pitches--Harper grounding into an inning ending 5-4-3 Around The Horn double play. I just sat in my chair in the family room shaking my head. The African Queen saying "Don't want to hear it!"

Armas would allow New York right back into the game in the 5th, throwing a change up right over the middle of the plate to Valentin, leading off the inning. Valentin launching it over the right field fence, and just like that, despite dominating the game to this point, the score was only 2-1 Nationals. Armas then retiring the last 3 hitters in the Mets lineup to keep the lead after 5 complete.

But our Nats showed their Guile in the sixth, when Soriano rapped a double to left, leading off. Z following with his 45th double of the season, a ground ball down the left field line. Soriano scoring easily. 3-1 Nats. You could see the happiness in the Washington Dugout. A sense of relief that they were playing competitively, despite the sorrowful feelings. Frank giving Soriano a MEANINGFUL HANDSHAKE returning to the dugout after scoring.

Trachsel would be replaced by Pedro Feliciano. Feliciano shutting down the Nats the rest of the inning. And, with Armas making it through 6 complete, up by 2, Frank Robinson, rightly, decided to take Tony out of the game and hand the game over to the bullpen. The 7th inning was the deciding frame of this game. Darren Oliver now on the mound for New York. Brandon Harper would lace a liner just out of reach to the left of the fast moving Endy Chavez in center. Harper stopping at second with a leadoff double. Frank would then send the light hitting Henry Mateo to the plate to pinch hit for Armas, Jr. Mateo working a full count on Feliciano before drilling a shot down the right field line that First Base Umpire, Tim McClelland originally called foul, but then changed his mind instantly, waving fair, the ball bouncing into the stands for a Ground Rule Double, scoring Harper. Mets Manager, Willie Randolph, slightly complained, but the ruling stood. 4-1 Nats. Bernie Castro would bunt Mateo to third with one out. FLop would follow, and send a grounder up the middle, scoring Mateo and closing out today's scoring, 5-1.

Jon Rauch would attempt, once again, to make it interesting in the 8th, walking the leadoff and 3rd batter of the inning. With one out, Chavez would line a shot, that looked to be OVER rightfielder Lombard's head, only to see George not give up on the ball--snaring the ball over his shoulder, running with his back to the ball, at the very last moment. Out Number two saved the inning, not only for Rauch, but Washington. Ironically, the slower moving Austin Kearns, not playing right field today, may well not have made that play. Rauch retiring Shawn Green when Ryan Church made a beautiful sliding shoestring catch to end the threat. Charlie Slowes on WTWP, sighing some serious relief. ME, watching on MASN, letting out a HUGE--"WOW!! We Can Never Make it Easy!!"

Saul Rivera would close it out for Washington in the bottom of the 9th. The Nats congratulatory hand slaps on the infield were very jubulent. Knowing they had fought off all their bad and down feelings, to defeat the Division Champions. No doubt, New York played a lesser lineup, but the Nationals fought hard today, attempting to win for Nick Johnson. I am sure many more players visited Nick Johnson in his New York Hospital Room tonight. Frank Robinson standing proud, slapping and shaking hands with each and every player as the Nats walked off the field, led, as always, by Soriano.

On a very good note, it was reported, both on MASN and Radio by Charlie Slowes, that Nick Johnson's operation went extremely well. Nats Trainer, Tim Abraham, reporting that Nick's Femur bone in his right thigh was a CLEAN BREAK, instead of a fracture. The Doctors in surgery were able to fit the broken bones back together, perfectly, inserting a titanium rod in the bone for stability, along with 3 screws, 2 around the break, another at the hip. Surprisingly, Abraham says that Nick Johnson will begin walking rehabilitation, as soon as tomorrow. No caste was needed. The Nationals reported up to 6 months for recovery, in full. That would make Nick available to train in Spring Training. I would not be as optimistic, feeling he should properly give the healing process up the 8 months. As I have said before, we are not going to win anything soon, lets get Johnson right, don't rush it. The Nationals can fill in until he's 100% ready. In the meantime, this temorarily solves the Vidro, Lopez, Cristian Guzman glut in the middle of the infield. Jose can now move to first base, develop some better skills, and, quite frankly, become a better all around player, more desired by other teams. Time to look at Nick's injury in a positive way.

It would be fabulous if the Nats could win this series tomorrow night. If so, they would come home at 69-87 in the standings. With then six games to play, the Phillies and Mets on the schedule to complete the season, if would be conceivable they could go 4-2, and avoid the 90 loss season. I know that's not much to be proud of, but considering all we as fans and The Nationals have been through this year, I would call that---ending the season on a high note.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nick Johnson

It just killed me to see Nick Johnson lying there, wreathing in pain, Austin Kearns, stunned, devastated--crying; The two had just collided, violently, both chasing a pop up in a game long since decided, but being the professionals they are, never giving up. Big Nick Johnson, receiving the brunt of the physical damage, a potential career threatening Broken Right Femur (Thigh Bone). Kearns maybe, receiving something far worse, psychological distress-- potential Mental Breakdown from being involved in such a ghastly accident.

The Washington Nationals may well have lost much of their near future today.

Unless The African Queen was to unexpectedly pass, I doubt I would feel much worse. Being the Rabid Fan I am, I was still watching today's final 12-6 blowout by the New York Mets over our Nats, always looking for something positive even in losing. When David Wright blooped that Jason Bergmann pitch over Nick's head in the bottom of the 8th, you just knew that Johnson would never give up on it. Kearns also hustling all the way. Johnson tried to make one of his off balance awkward slides to catch the ball, while Austin tried to make a sliding catch--the two slamming hard into each other, Kearns left knee crushing into Nick's upper right thigh, just above the knee. You could tell right away that Johnson was horribly hurt. Jose Vidro, trailing the play, IMMEDIATELY started signaling for medical help, obviously HEARING the sound of broken bone. Johnson turning over on his stomach, throwing his glove, then his cap, screaming in agony--his right leg, totally immobile immediately--Kearns knocked backward, facedown, seemingly knocked out for the count.

Play thankfully stopped and Shea Stadium was SILENT. Medical help ran onto the field, Frank Robinson moving faster than I had ever seen him move over the past two seasons. Mets Manager, Willie Randolph, the class act that he has always been, rushing out to help. Medical staff giving Johnson a towel to stuff into his mouth, trying to help Nick fight off the agonizing pain. Kearns would slowly get up, while sitting on his knees, staring at Nick in disbelief, the TEARS JUST STARTED FLOWING!!
Alfonso Soriano, standing with Ryan Zimmerman, holding his mouth in horror over what he was seeing. Brian Schneider, running as fast as he could to help out his best friend, Nick Johnson. And me, agonizing to no end, watching on TV. The African Queen, working on something in the Kitchen, not fully aware of what had just occurred, not understanding why I am asking her to please be quiet for a few seconds. THIS IS IMPORTANT!! Sohna realizing something very bad had just happened.

When the Medical Staff brought out the stretcher and then splinted Nick's right leg, you knew this was the end for Nick Johnson for 2006 and possibly 2007. Austin Kearns was now on his feet, Totally in Shock. Kearns standing all alone mumbling to himself, tears flowing. Nook Logan would finally come over to console him. It didn't help. As Johnson rolled over and was put on the stretcher and lifted onto the mobile cart, Frank Robinson turned away, dropping his head--me knowing that he just heard Nick Johnson scream in pain. I had seen it before, know the reaction of losing a close friend to a painful broken bone injury. Willie Randolph, standing 5 feet away, letting the medical folks do their job, but wanting to show his support. Nick and Willie having been with the Yankees for a few seasons together in the early 2000's

To New York Fans GREAT CREDIT, As Johnson was driven off the field, the Shea Stadium Crowd stood for a rousing Standing Ovation. Willie Randolph leading the clapping, the cart driving down the right field foul line and over to the centerfield exit for the awaiting ambulance. It was heartwrenching to see TV pictures showing Nick CRYING UNCONTROLLABLY on that cart. I just lost it--seeing such a proud competitive man lose out on a freakish injury. Austin Kearns was still standing in right field, shaking his head, still crying. There was no way Austin could continue in this game. Frank doing the right thing and sending in George Lombard to replace Austin. Austin with tears streaming down his eyes while jogging to the Nats 3rd base dugout, plopping himself down on the bench, holding his now drooping head. Teammates trying to console him, to no avail.

Later, MickNats would call me, hearing that Nick Johnson was injured, wanting to know what happened. I could barely recite the story, the incident bothering me to no end.

Today, our Washington Nationals lost their most important element, HEART. Nick Johnson, in many ways is the Heart and Soul of this team. Today, that heart was lost in devastating fashion. Nick Johnson will be lost and MISSED for some time. A Broken Femur can take 1 year to fully recover. Austin Kearns, finally coming around after being homesick from being traded from Cincinnati, will have a major mental scar. A scar that will be very hard to overcome, until, and if, Nick Johnson fully recovers.

Personally, I have not been able to concentrate of anything the rest of the day. Tonight, Mr and Mrs MickNats, The African Queen and I went to RFK Stadium to watch our very first DC United Soccer Match. I just couldn't concentrate. And, running into so many Ushers and Ticket Takers I see at Washington Nationals games, just made me think more about Nick and Austin. In fact, 3 separate ushers, knowing I was probably up on the incident, wanted me to give them play by play of the collision.

Despite our terrible 2006 season, the Nationals were starting to show some promise for 2007. That promise has now been delayed. September 23, 2006 is a terrible day for the Washington Nationals Franchise and their FANS.

Good Luck, Best Wishes for a speedy recovery for NICK JOHNSON. I will miss you until the day you, once again, don a Nats Uniform in a regular season game. Austin Kearns, it was not your fault, its very devastating to be involved in such an incident. Don't let it kill you, and your career. No One is going to blame you--especially not me. I understand, I;ve been through this before.

Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns and OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS--need our support now more than ever.

Diamond Club

Over the past two homestands, The African Queen and I were given the nice opportunity of attending the Diamond Club Buffet before 2 Nats Home Games at RFK Stadium--courtesy of The Washington Nationals. The offer was a thanks for our willingness to run THE PRESIDENTS RACE--in costume.

We didn't really know what to expect, as we knew very few Diamond Club Box Season Ticket Holders. But, if the Nats are charging $110 per ticket to sit in that section right behind home plate, the buffet had to be decent. Sohna and I were pleasently surprised.

The Diamond Club is located on the 300 level behind the Right Field Wall. If you are sitting in the seating bowl at RFK during a Nats game, you can see the Diamond Club--there is an opening above the Budweiser Sign and the DC United Banners, below the Toyota/Scion Sign. This opening runs the entire length of right field all the way to dead centerfield. That is the Diamond Club.

Upon entering, you are met at the gate by Security, that checks your tickets, or in our case--sends us over to a Greeter who has our names on the Guest List. Once they confirm you are the proper guest, each Diamond Club attendee receives a Color Band allowing you entrance and free reign of the digs.

The Area is really not that big, but what is very nice are the Bar Stool Seats that run the length of the outfield wall overlooking the field. From this perched position, with a table top also running the wall, you can eat, drink, chat while all the time watching BATTING PRACTICE or The Nats Pitcher warming up in the Bullpen. The view is FABULOUS. There are TV Monitors all around, the PA System in piped in. So, you really don't miss anything pregame. And, since the Diamond Club is open through the end of the 3rd inning, you can hang out there, still watch the game while enjoying your meal. We found all of this a very nice relaxing change of pace. Additionally, there are lower rounded dining tables with 4 seats and Higher Bar Stool Style Tables, also with 4 seats.

There are 6 Food Stations Set up around the Diamond Club. 2 softdrink and water stands, plus 2 fully stacked bars. A Dessert Table with Coffee. Everything is included, except for the Cash Alcohol Bars. There's even a table STUFFED with Shell Peanuts, Pretzels and Popcorn that you can fill up into provided bags and take them to your seat in the Stadium.

Each game we attended, there were 3 Hot Entree choices that apparently change each and every game. Fish (Ahi Tuna or Alaskan Halibut) BBQ Chicken, Veal, Beef Wellington, Baked Ham, Roast Beef, Prime Rib Cuts, all were provided in the times we visited. Acommpaying side dishes:baked potato, wild rice, steamed vegetables among others. At each game, Diamond Club Diners can always eat Hot Dogs and Sausages with ALL THE FIXINGS possible. And, there is a Salad Bar set up at each game.

We found everyone involved working in the Diamond Club to be exceptionally nice. In fact, many just going out of their way to take away your used plates and utencils. Must be the fact that the great majority of the Diamond Club Members are the TOP PAYING CUSTOMERS!

Last Tuesday night when the Nats played the Braves, we were joined by good friends, Iris and Biff. The atmosphere is nice and relaxed, giving everyone a place to chat without getting in anyones way standing in the aisles and seats of RFK. Opening at the exact same time as the RFK Stadium Ticket Entrance Gates, we found the entire experience fun. Wouldn't really be interested in doing it for every single game, but 2-3 times a month during the Season would be nice, especially on the weekend games, as we know we have more time then to enjoy it fully. All in All a nice experience. We couldn't thank The Nationals enough for the opportunities.

Friday, September 22, 2006

100th RBI for Z--Good Tight Win

Ryan Zimmerman became the 49th player in the History of Major League Baseball to knock in 100 Runs in his Rookie Season tonight in an excellent 3-2 win over the Division Champion New York Mets in Flushing Meadows, New York. The Nats bullpen continued to show improvement--throwing 2 2/3rds scoreless innings. And, Alfonso Soriano (still swinging at EVERY SINGLE PITCH) added to his terrific season by knocking his 40th double. The only player in MLB History with 40 Homers, 40 Stolen Bases and now 40 Doubles, along with those 21 outfield assists.

Playing a solid New York Lineup, Washington tonight showed, that if the Nats can get good starting pitching, they can be competitive. Pedro Astacio was hanging tough tonight, going 6.2 innings, giving up alot of hits (9) and 2 walks, but was able to get the key outs when it counted the most.

Alfonso would be the game changer early, putting the Nats in the lead when, with one out, El Duque, Orlando Hernandez (Livan's half brother and former Expo- released by Montreal for no reason) would plunk Soriano (his former Yankees teammate) with a curve ball that didn't break, Alfonso laughing all the way to first base. FLop, Felipe Lopez, was next, and Soriano took off for second. Mets Catcher (and preseason National), Mike Defilice threw the ball into center, Alfonso trotting easily to third. Flop would follow with a solid single to right on a full count, scoring Alfonso and giving Lopez his career high 50th RBI. FLop then stole his 40th base of the season. Not sure if many teams have had two 40 steal players on the same team. 1-0 Nats.

With one still out, Ryan Zimmerman stepped to the plate, and with all the solid RBI hits Z has had this year, Ryan would be fooled on a 1-1 off speed pitch from El Duque and hit a seeing eye, opposite field, grounder into the hole between 1st and 2nd scoring FLop, giving the Nats a 2-0 lead and, more importantly, Z's (MSZIMMY's Main Man--AND YES I WAS DOING THE "COME ON ZIMMY!!" cheer in that fabulous voice for her's) 100th Run Batted In for 2006. Zimmerman has knocked in 76 of those 100 runs with runners in scoring position. THAT's CLUTCH HITTING, the best figure in the National League. The African Queen and I found it very appropriate to see the 100th RBI a mistake hit. Frank Robinson pocketing that run scoring ball in his Jacket on the bench--smiling like only a grandfather could.

Pedro Astacio would continue to knock down Mets batters through 4 innings. And, in the 5th, Alfonso Soriano would lead off with a poke down the left field line, jogging cleanly into second for his record setting 40th double of the season. Although Soriano would move to 3rd on a Lopez grounder to second, The Nats, once again, could not put the game away as both Z and Nick Johnson would go down on strikes---some wicked off speed pitches from El Duque.

The Mets finally got into the game in the bottom half when Chris Woodward would double to the wall in left, Astacio then walking the weak hitting catcher, DeFelice. After El Duque advanced the runners up one base on a sacrifice, another former National, Endy Chavez (traded to Philadelphia last season for Marlon Byrd) continued to resurrect his career with a clean single to right, scoring Woodward, moving DiFelice to 3rd. Chavez's 40th RBI in a limited role, going along with his .317 batting average. Tom Pacoriek, on the MASN Broadcast, noted that Chavez has choked up on the bat about 7 inches, giving Endy more bat speed, helping him utilize all fields with his speed. I guess that's something Washington Coaches could never figure out. Or, just another example of how we always put players in the doghouse (Ryan Church a prime example) and never see them develop.

Fortunately, the Nationals would strike back right away, when on a 2-0 count, Austin Kearns would get a fastball right over the middle on the plate from Hernandez, Austin depositing it into the left field seats for a 3-1 Nats lead. Austin has been knocking in runs lately. His 24th Homer of the season now giving him 85 RBI's. Its safe to assume that if Austin was not so home sick and downright mediocre the first few weeks after the BIG TRADE with Cincinnati, he may well have knocked in 100 runs in 2006. Kearns walks alot for a free swinger, needs to keep his right shoulder in more (as I have yelled at him on countless occaisions), but we are starting to see the talent that he possesses. Good outfielder, strong arm, decent RBI bat--capable of .275, 25 HR's and 100 RBI. On a contending team, you can win with a player like Austin Kearns.

Astacio would continue to be effective, reaching the 7th, ahead 2-1. With one out and on Pedro's 104th pitch of the game, pinch hitter Ricky Ledee, would SLAM a No Doubter Home Run into the Upper Tier of the Shea Stadium Cheap Seats in Right field. The ball glancing off the side of the facade, and going out of the ballpark. 3-2 Nats. Then, Astacio losing his composure, giving up a drag bunt single to Chavez on his very next pitch.

Frank Robinson, seeing more than enough on Pedro's 105th pitch of the game, and me SCREAMING FOR FRANK TO TAKE HIM OUT, Number 20 walked to the mound, signaling for Saul Rivera. As has been the case for the Nats relivers in their baptism under fire, the more these young hands have entered into action, the better these arms have developed. Rivera, Wagner, Schroeder, Bowie, Rauch and The Chief, now combining to give Washington HOPE in the final, nail biting, innings of close games.

Rivera trotted on to K Jose Valentin, then intentionally walk the dangerous Carlos Degado to bring up the equally dangerous, David Wright. It was an odd move, that I was seriously debating, in the comfort of my living room. Wright could put this game away for good. Delagdo and Wright can both slam the ball out of the park and hit for average. Saul would bear down and get Wright to ground hard to Z at 3rd. Zimmeman tossing to Jose Vidro at second to retire the side, to great relief for me.

The 8th would be a typical FRUSTRATING NATS INNING. With one out, Austin Kearns would walk against Mets Reliever, Guillermo Mota. Vidro would follow and hammer an outside high pitch to deep left centerfield. Even the swift moving Chavez couldn't reach hit. Kearns would have scored easily, but Shea Stadium Ground Rules came into effect, when Vidro's smack bounced over the outfield wall, hitting an advertisement sign, bouncing back onto the field. Chavez raising his hands for the play stoppage. Kearns had to return to first. Still one out--and as I said to Sohna, we are now in trouble.

Sure enough, Brian Schneider, ahead in the count, 2-1, would swing at an off speed pitch off the plate, grounding to Valentin at second, playing in. If Kearns goes on contact, he most likely scores. Austin makes no attempt. Now, with 2 outs, Nook Logan, batting from his very weak lefthanded bat, tries to drag bunt down the first base line, only he hard bunts the ball RIGHT DOWN THE LINE, Delgado only has to pick up the ball and tag Nook. Come ON NOOK!! USE YOUR BRAIN!!. Drag the ball between 1st and 2nd, that's your ONLY chance in that situation. You can use your speed, but you also have to USE YOUR BRAIN!!!

Mota's a fastball hitter, how much better would Ryan Church do in that situation. A good manager puts his players in a position to succeed. Frank does not. Church was the better choice for the moment. It will always bother me how Nationals Management continues to bury good players, publicly chastising them, then sending those players off, to a better career. Frustrating to watch. Vargas, Carroll, Rasner, now Chavez, it goes on and onl Ryan Church being next!

With the game still 3-2, Jon Rauch would come on to pitch a 1-2-3 8th, setting up The Chief for the 9th. Speed Demon, Jose Reyes, would pinch hit to lead off the bottom of the 9th. Showing no patience, down one run, Jose swings at the second pitch, popping to Logan in Center for out number one. Julio Franco, MY FAVORITE PLAYER TODAY AS HE IS THE ONLY PLAYER LEFT IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES THAT IS OLDER THAN ME!!! Franco 48, Screech'sBestFriend 47. You are not OVER THE HILL, until there is no one left older than you playing--or in this case--ME!! Franco brings a smile to my face every time I see him play.

Franco would smack a hot grounder right back to the mound, Cordero stuck up his glove, protecting his face, and the ball went right into his mitt. Chad recovering to easily throw out Julio. Chavez was next, 3 hits on the night for Endy. The Chief bore down, going 2-2 in the count, then Endy would slap the 5th pitch of this at bat, and final pitch of the game, to FLop at short, Lopez making a STRONG throw to first to end the game.

CURLY W number 67, Save Number 28 for Cordero. All on a night the Nationals were able to win with PITCHING. A solid Start from Pedro Astacio. Terrific bullpen by committee--Rivera handing to Rauch, handing to Cordero. 2006 is a lost season, winning wise, but as this season draws to a close, we may well be seeing the devlopment of the 2007 relief corps for Washington. The New Orleans Zephyrs call ups that were so terrible early on, have now become comfortable, relaxed, pitching their games, using their talents, not as nervous as previously. When we all look back at the second half of 2006, we may all remember the rebirth of relief pitching in Washington.

Just get us some STARTERS!! JIMBO!! PLEASE!!

I am most proud of Ryan Zimmerman, he came to Washington with HIGH, ABOVE THE CEILING, EXPECTATIONS. The Nats lowering those expectations as the 2006 season began. Yet, Z plays like a veteran, certaintly can improve his game in a few areas, but has been very solid. 21 years old, 100 RBI, most likely 20 Home Runs, hitting .285 and playing one of the best 3rd bases in the game today. Dan Uggla's had a terrific year in Florida, but he's 5 years older, and is nowhere near the defensive gem that Zimmerman is. I am not being bias when I say RYAN ZIMMERMAN IS THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR!!! NO DOUBT!!!