Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Moments of The Year at RFK (Part 1)

Having attended virtually each and every Washington Nationals Home Game at RFK Stadium in 2006, I saw alot of baseball, in person. I just keep going back, day after day, game after game, not only because I have passion for baseball, but, I don't want to miss something special. As I have said on many occasions, something happens in just about every single game, something you have never seen before. Then, out of the blue, throughout the course of the 162 game season, there will be a single moment or an event during a particular game, that grabs you, reinforcing, why you, and I, love the game sooooooo much. The Nationals played some pretty bad baseball, at times, throughout the 2006 season, but that didn't leave me from cherishing some fine moments.

This is the first installment---of my favorite game moments of 2006 at RFK Stadium. Except for the first one, the rest are no in any particular order.

Sunday, June 11th--Before a Sellout Crowd of 45,157, Our Washington Nationals were playing the rubber game of a 3 game set with the NEW YORK YANKEES. Mike O'Connor had probably pitched his best game of the year, going 7 strong innings against a vaunted Yankees Lineup, just giving up 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks, leaving in a tie 1-1 game. The struggling Gary Majewski relieved in the top of the 8th, and gave up a lead off walk to Melky Cabrera. Although Big Tex would K Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez would crush a first pitch fastball to left center, Cabrera scoring easily, Yanks up 2-1, setting the New York fans into a "Let's Go Yankees" chant for the rest of this game, until its final pitch.

With Chien-Ming Wang on the mound, pitching strong into the 9th, New York Manager, Joe Torre, left Wang in the game, especially since ACE CLOSER, Mariano Rivera, had pitched each of the past two nights against Washington. Torre will not throw Rivera for 3 consecutive games. Jose Guillen would meekly ground out to second to start the bottom half of the ninth, and for most in the crowd, this game looked over. Frank Robinson sent up Marlon Anderson to pinch hit for Majewski. Showing no patience, Marlon swings at the very first pitch, grounding it between first and second, the ball BARELY gets by Robinson Cano at second. Anderson now on first. Still, Wang looked strong, staying in the game. Yankee fans still chanting. On his 107 pitch of the game, with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, Wang threw in a slider, right over the middle of the plate, Z TURNED ON IT!! Blasting it deep to left field. Cabrera quickly back to the wall, jumping, his glove no where near the ball as it bounces off the ChevyFirst.com sign--GAME WINNING 2 RUN HOMER--BANG!! ZOOM!! GO THE FIREWORKS!! AND RFK STADIUM WENT BERSERK!!! It was unadulterated PURE ECSTASY!! In all my years of being a SPORTS FAN, I have never felt SUCH TOTAL UNEXPECTED JOY!! As, I wrote the night of this incredible win, unless we win the World Series, in dramatic fashion, I could not imagine being much happier. Zimmerman would round the bases as the RFK Stadium crowd let out more noise at the old park, since the Washington Redskins during their heydays. Charlie Slowes totally lost it on the radio. Fans hugging each other. It wasn't just Zimmerman jumping into his teammates at home plate, fans were jumping all over the place. Mrs Robinson, sitting just behind us in Section 320 was in shock. I would run up and give her a HUGE HUG, and to Nichelle too, her daughter. Section 320 starting up a "Yankees Suck!!" Chant as New York fans walked out with their heads between their legs. Really, it doesn't get MUCH BETTER!! The finest moment in the young history of The Washington Nationals. TERRIFIC--BEYOND UNBELIEVABLE!!!

Zimmerman's home run would conclude the FINEST HOME STAND of the 2006 season. All 3 games played before gigantic, enthused crowds. Yankees fighting from behind late to defeat Washington on the Friday Night Game, 7-5 when Gary and Chad Cordero didn't have their stuff. Then, during the Saturday Nationally Televised Day Game, The Yankees would get out to a 9-2 lead on A-Rod and Jorge Posada Homers and a Johnny Damon Grand Slam. Incredibly the Nats would claw their way back into it. Scoring 4 runs in the 6th, Daryle Ward would launch a 2 run pinch hit shot in the 7th to get Washington back to within one, 9-8, then came the marvelous 8th, when Mariano Rivera became the goat, giving up a game winning triple to Jose Guillen, the sight of Ward chugging his way around second, URGED ON BY THE CROWD, then 3rd and motioned home by Tony Beasley, wondering whether he would have a heart attack before he got there, but scoring standing up, giving Washington a 10-9 lead--MARVELOUS. Z singling Guillen home for the final score, a thrilling, 11-9 victory.

No matter who you were cheering for, whether your team won or lost, those 3 games were outstanding to watch. The Stadium was rocking for all three games, giving Nat Fans glimpses of what we could expect, when the Nats are good, and the games really, really count. June 16, 17 & 18--Best Series of the Year!! Maybe the best of any year!!

Then, on July 4th, hopefully a HOME GAME TRADITION IN THE NATION's CAPITAL, Z would strike again, this time against the Florida Marlins. The young Marlins kicked the Nats all around the diamond in 2006, it seemed like every game between the two ended either in a Marlins romp, most of the time, or the Nats would just sneak one out. Down 4-3 heading to the bottom of the 9th, Brian Schneider would fly out to left, then with one out, Robert Fick would pinch hit for The Chief, and softly line a pitch into left off Florida Closer, Joe Borowski. Then, Alfonso Soriano would bloop single to right, Fick stopping at second. Jose Video, though, would fly out to left for the second out. Washington down to their last out.

Z-Man stepped to the plate against Borowski, took ball one, swung through the second pitch for a strike, took ball two and took strike two. Now, down to his last strike, the Nationals down to their last out, Borowski served one in, curving over the outside corner of the plate, Zimmerman leaned into it, launching it toward left field, as Charlie Slowes so finely screamed on the radio "Swung on and hammered, way back!, Amezaga going back, still going back, ITS GONE!!!! GOOD BYE!! ZIMMERMAN HAS DONE IT AGAIN!! BANG ZOOM GO THE FIREWORKS, THE 4TH OF JULY FIREWORKS, 5 HOURS EARLIER THAN ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED!! The Nationals have won it, on a two out, two strike, game winning, 3 run homer by RYAN ZIMMERMAN!! BEDLAM!! IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL!!

Only 23,118 saw this one in person, but the ending was electrifying. For Zimmerman, it was his coming out party, showing that his Game Winner against the Yankees was no fluke, Z flat out has the talent. TERRIFIC MOMENT!!

Of course, Ryan Zimmerman was not only clutch at the plate, but he showed, through the full slate of games, that he is a Gold Glove Caliber fielder. Diving to his right to snare a hot liner, scooping up a ball deep into the hole, twirling, still throwing out the runner at the base. Charging in a bunt or soft roller, scooping the ball up, underhanded, and all in one motion, firing a strike to first. Countless times in 2006, Z delivered in the field. I could write a book on his fielding exploits alone. But one play was THE DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE YEAR!!

April 21, against the Atlanta Braves. It had rained hard all day long, and throughout the weekend. The April 22nd game would actually be rained out. After a 2 1/2 hour rain delay on April 21, the game finally began at 9:35. Less than 5,000 in attendance from the announced crowd of 24,597. Alfonso Soriano would jump start his fine 2006 season, blasting out 3 homers, two off sure Hall of Famer, John Smoltz, but this game was remembered for one play. In the bottom of the 3rd, Atlanta second baseman, Pete Orr, batting lefthanded, was at the plate against John Patterson. On a 1-1 count, Patterson would throw an overpowering fastball on the outside corner. Orr swung, poping the ball, into no man's land, directly down the left field line. Soriano had no play in left. Royce Clayton was too far away for the fast dropping fly. Z, running with his back to the plate, looking up, directly in the sky, searching for the ball, spotted it, running full speed, and leaped, flat out, parallel to the ground, both hands out, in a basket, the ball dropping right into his glove. Ryan landing hard on the wet turf. 3rd base umpire, Brian Runge, looking closely to see if Z held on to the ball, which he did!! Runge, into the greatness of the moment, giving Z one of the best OUT CALLS with flair you have ever seen. Dramatically fist pumping the out call right in front of Ryan's sprawled face and body. The play you just had to see in person to appreciate how far Zimmerman traveled to get it. Frank Robinson actually moving away from his perch on the railing in the dugout, to personally slap Zimmerman's hand as he dropped down into the dugout. As good as it gets!!

May 23, a run of the mill, Tuesday Night affair against the Houston Astros. The Nats win 4-1, Washington rallying late to take this decision. In the 8th, Daryle Ward would step to the plate against Houston's Russ Springer, pinch hitting for Gary Majewski. Ahead 3-1 in the count, Ward would get a pitch to hit, a fastball right over the inside corner of the plate. Ward BLASTS!! the ball, everyone in the stadium could clearly hear the sound of ball hitting bat. "WHACK!!" This ball took off, with the most MAJESTIC ARC, to date, at RFK. The ball towering in flight, looking like it might leave the ballpark and go over the roof. A FULL MOON was in the sky above the right field wall, the ball looking like it might reach it. Ward's fabulously stroked hit, landing in ROW 1, YELLOW SEATS of Section 551, just above the left side of the foul pole. TITANTIC BLAST!! Everyone who saw it, in person, was mumbling about it. This one had the WOW!! Factor. Ward marveling at his homer, standing at home plate, until the ball landed in the Upper Deck. Springer so shaken by it, that Soriano followed, on the very next pitch, blasting a shot off the WASHINGTON NATIONALS CLOCK in right center for the 4th and final run of the evening. I recall talking about Ward's home run for about 2 weeks, straight. Still remember it fondly. Only NASA could launch a rocket so well.

Ward's blast followed the HARDEST HIT BALL I HAVE YET TO SEE AT RFK, the night before, May 22nd, also against the Astros.
With Zach Day on the mound for Washington, Lance Berkman stepped to the plate, in the very first inning. Berkman would swing through a Day fastball, that just barely cleared Zach's head, to centerfield. Marlon Byrd, playing centerfield tonight for the Nats, first moved in on the ball, then starting running back toward the left centerfield wall, the ball just kept on rising, and rising, Byrd just giving up on it--stopping, looking up. The ball smacking hard against the second row seats of Section 456, Upper Deck. No doubt, if RFK was open, in the outfield, that balls lands beyond the ring road surrounding the stadium, possibly landing in the Anacostia River. That ball was SMOKED!! Berkman laughing and pointing with his teammates in the dugout for the remainder of the inning. IT WAS IMPRESSIVE--THAT BALL WAS WALLOPED!!

Alex Escobar, provided the At-Bat of the Year on Saturday, July 22 against the Chicago Cubs. The Walking MASH UNIT, Alex just cannot stay healthy, in fact, missed the last weeks of this season with a separated and torn right shoulder, injured diving back into first base in a game at Atlanta. On Saturday, July 21, Escobar had rallied the Nats, with a key, run scoring, 2 run single, in a 7-6 win over Chicago, but, as is his history, pulled his hamstring running to first that night. Not scheduled to play on July 22, The Nationals needed some punch off the bench, and despite the fact that Alex could not run, he was able to swing the bat. Luis Matos was on base with a lead off double in the 6th. Ryan Church had been recalled that day from New Orleans, but had yet to arrive at the ballpark. Robinson sent the limping Alex to the plate to pinch hit for Livan Hernandez. Facing hard throwing lefthander, Will Ohman, Escobar would fight off, fouling off, pitch after pitch. Until, on the 8th pitch of this fabulous at-bat, Alex drilled a Ohman fastball to deep left centerfield, and over the wall for a 2 run homer--again the decisive runs in a 7-3 win. No ONE!! And I mean NO ONE!! Expected this spectacular at bat and result. Escobar limping badly rounding the bases, reminiscent of Kirk Gibson's game winner in Game 1 of the 1989 World Series for Los Angeles against Dennis Eckersley and the Athletics. The 38,000 at RFK went BONKERS over Escobar's Home Run. Never been prouder of a National than Escobar that day. Too fight through the pain, concentrate and deliver, dramatically--it really was, as I said then, and still believe now--- THE AT BAT OF THE YEAR!!

My other favorite Home Run of the Season was JUSTICE SERVED!!! Nationals Fan Favorite of 2005, Jamey Carroll had been unjustly sold off, to Colorado, by Nats General Manager, Jim Bowden, to bring none other, than the infamously terrible, Damian Jackson to Washington's Lineup. Jackson stunk. Easily the worst player, and worst attitude, on the Nationals in 2006. Thankfully, Jackson was released in Late August--6 months too late to keep Jamey on our team.

The Rockies dominated the Nationals in 2006, winning all 8 games played between the 2 teams. In a June 14 game at RFK, an eventual 14-8 rout by the Rockies, Jamey Carroll led off the 6th inning by lining a shot off a Bill Bray pitch, over the left field wall, off the green wall and into the Colorado Bullpen. At the time, it was the go ahead run in a, then, 9-8 game. But, I along with many, many Nats fans, took great gratification in seeing that HOME RUN. We all LOVED Jamey Carroll, and were happy to see him get revenge. Remember clapping to myself over the enjoyment of the moment. Jimbo looking mighty bad on that one. Revenge is best served cold. Very nice to see.

Too much to take in on one post, more to follow in Part 2.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That Zimmerman (Zimmy!) catch is what decided for me that he was the real deal. TV replays can't do it justice. And those of us in Section 320 had the best seats in the house for fully appreciating the catch. Being along the 3rd base line is certainly a treat with Zimmerman.

Thanks for all the reminders of great memories this past season. It's nice to see even a bad season can have many great memories, and why we remain fans of the Nationals.