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!!

1 comment:

SenatorNat said...

Zimmerman is finishing so strong: he makes the ESPN highligts virtually every night for BOTH hitting and fielding - he is so saavy, and such a Cal Ripken, Jr. "good for the game" type that the intangibles favor him enormously for a very coveted award. Like Eagle Scout, it is an award which carries through for life, and I really hope he gets it. Second place: the Florida Marlins (yes, a team award!).

Nationals should have 10 solid to outstanding candidates for long and short relief, and spot starting in Spring Training, 2007 presuming Bowie and Ayala return. This complement does not include Joey Eischen, who needs to go into announcing, since he cannot pitch...

Can this great clutch hitter with the fabulous name and look, Beltran Perez, be the diamond in the rough the Nats need to be a fourth starter next year - I hope so, since he is so easy to like!

Kearns had his chance to be Kirk Gibson last night - I wish that first pitch had grazed his shirt - but, alas, it was not to be. He sure has become a fit with the lunch-pail set (Johnson; Schneider; Zimmerman). And Lopez could be a terrific guy at second, since his lack of range and the fewer chances could only help his obvious fielding deficiencies. Come on Guzman - come on down!!

Speed Kills! The other teams - as Castro, Logan on the bench and spot playing and baserunners would really help rally time: I prefer a healthy tandem of Church-Escobar in center. Would love to see if Jose Guillen can make full return, too, to help all around. Overall team speed with this roster would be very good, presuming Alf is signed.

As to Alf, finishing slow may help Nats financially, a bit, as .279 hitter is not a .300 hitter, no matter how a GM slices it. Yanks don't need him, really. Mets could use him, though, and Angels could only help themselves with him. Let's get the Angels to bite on offer of Vidro-Church for good starters instead...

If new manager is Yanks coach Tony Pena, or third-base coach Gonzolez from Atlanta, then Nats are getting a guy who speaks Spanish, which can only be a plus in today's baseball.

Bow-Bow inclined to keep Randy St. Clair, which makes sense since he seems to do very well with mix of new and younger guys, and has the word "Saint" in his name, which is politically correct these days, too...

I personally like Sweet Lou and Davy for past successes, but it makes sense to go younger and Hispanic considering the make-up of the team, and the desire to entire Alf to be here.

As the year wraps up, let's hope that Kasten does something classy for Frank - he deserves it. Life membership at Robert Trent Jones could be something he would actually like, as it is not a car, and it pins him to this area...

And, while we are on the subject, I am quickly diving into the tank for Stan the Man, as he is incredibly responsive to the average fan, as well as the incredible fan, i.e., the fan that proudly calls him or herself a "Section 320"!

I personally don't think