Sunday, August 02, 2009

Gut Check

Moments after taking the lead, and three pitches into his 2009 Major League Season--that new guy named Jorge wearing jersey Number 29 for Our Washington Nationals gave up a rocket shot solo home run to Pittsburgh's Delwyn Young in the bottom of the 7th inning. First thought-"Oh No!! Here we go again." Then, turning to The African Queen sitting next to me at PNC Park, the next words out of my mouth: "The only thing missing on the back of Jorge's uniform might be "JULIO". Yes, for a while, Jorge Sosa sure looked like that second coming of Jorge Julio. My nemesis. The man who has always trotted to the mound with the lead--in my presence--and leaves with his team behind.

Well documented here on Nats320. And not expecting to hear that comment, Sohna busted out laughing--because she knows the history. Yes, she knows.

Thankfully, that initial fear was premature. Sosa would find a gut check. But even that could not calm the celebration taking place all day long inside one of Baseball's Finest Ballparks. Coming off that swashbuckling victory of Our Washington Nationals last night, KIDS DAY at PNC Park was filled with the youthful exuberance of children that will ALWAYS cheer loudly for their team--no matter the record--no matter the score. We have never seen ANY MAJOR LEAGUE Team cater to kids quite like The Bucs. It's pretty impressive. Someone has learned how to grow their fans--from infancy.

And for six complete innings on this sometime cloudy/sprinkling rainy and then hot & humid afternoon, The Pittsburgh Pirates held Washington at bay again. A manufactured first frame run by DC's Team gave Collin Balester an early lead. But his two run homer allowed to the light hitting Ronny Cedeno in the bottom of 3rd put Our Nats behind, 2-1. And that's where the scoring remained for sometime. Both Balester and Pirates' Starter--Paul Maholm--putting opposing batters away. No one overpowering the other. Each allowing a hit here and getting a strikeout or key ground ball out there.

That's exactly how swiftly this game moved--1 Hour, 30 Minutes--the elapsed time as the 7th frame began.

A sort of semi-pitcher's duel had broken out. Two hurlers looking to be the difference in a game involving two last place clubs. Both looking to revive hope after each experiencing frustrating seasons. And as quickly and smoothly as this affair pushed forward, it just as quickly came to a screeching halt.

Thanks to Our Washington Nationals--particularly one who personally dug down and changed this game.

The Z-Man has not been driving in a bunch of runs of late--but he is getting his batting stroke back. When he opened the top of the 7th with a clean single to left--it was clear--Our Number 11 is again playing some good ball--working his way back to .300--now hitting .293. Always pushing forward is Ryan, which Josh Willingham has done ever since he was declared a regular starter each and every night.

No question. No one has been so consistent. No player for Washington has been so key. No player has more EARNED the right to start than Our Number 16. With the game on the line. With DC's Team down just one. With The Pittsburgh Pirates & their Faithful feeling ever more confident--Josh put a serious hole in their sails--by following Ryan's single in the 7th with a blistering shot of his own. A line drive, salvo shot, right through the mid-section of "The New Fresh Face Pittsburgh Pirates". A two-run homer that sunk the hearts of The Bucco Fans in the stands and began the slow sinking of that new and more confident swashbucklers sitting in The Pirate Dugout.

One swing. One slash. One power drive had changed the tone of this affair.

An unexpected one run advantage for Washington raised to two (4-2), when Ronnie Belliard DRILLED a ground rule double over the left-centerfield wall. And Alberto Gonzalez (finally showing a resurrection after struggling mightily at the plate)--slashed another ground rule double down the left field line--that landed right on the line--which 3rd Base Umpire Adrian Johnson immediately ruled fair and then awarded Belliard home when a Pirate Fan reached over the railing to catch the bouncing and, in play, fair ball.

The game changing turnaround moments missing from Washington over the previous four games. Since taking the first two games of this eight game roadtrip beginning in Milwaukee--Our Team has been unable to close anyone out. They have found a way to falter. But on this wonderful afternoon at PNC Park--DC's Team DID NOT GIVE IN.

Jorge Sosa's lead off home run in the bottom of the 7th--only quivered the nerves. It did not change the tone.

Because Josh Willingham decided to again take matters into this own hands. After putting Our Washington Nationals into the lead in the top of the 7th, he provided the decisive insurance run when he doubled Ryan Zimmerman home with two out in the top of the 8th. Yeah, Mike MacDougal made it a little interesting in the bottom of the 9th by letting the tying run step to the plate in Brandon Moss. But even that fear was cast aside when MacDougal closed out his 7th save when Moss stroked a vicious liner right at Cristain Guzman at shortstop. "The Guz" triumphantly raising his glove hand over the recording of the final out. The signal of a come from behind victory that displayed all the makings of a good effort--missing over the previous four days.

Final score from (and it's worth repeating again) The Gorgeous PNC Park--Our Washington Nationals 5 and The Pittsburgh Pirates 3. Curly "W" Number 33 was a Gut Check. Having lost their previous four games in a row--Washington needed to straighten themselves out. They needed to show some spirit. And they most assuredly wanted to prove to Pittsburgh's Fans--they are not going to roll over for the rest of this season.

For all the good reasons--this was a fun game. A close affair that didn't get out of hand. And when Our Washington Nationals needed the necessary offense the most--Josh Willingham dug down deep and responded--giving his teammates the necessary lift--propelling them to victory. Running into us later after the game--Josh says hello and we thank him for his efforts. Confident, but never one to brag, Willingham simply says: Thank you very much."

He didn't say it, but this victory was also a Gut Check to find out who really wants it for Our Washington Nationals. Oh yeah--and total time to finish this affair--2 Hours 45 Minutes. 75 Minutes to complete the last three frames.

Game Notes & Highlights

Although allowing that second inning two run homer to Ronny Cedeno, Collin Balester was perfect through four of the 5.1 innings he pitched. He was pretty solid and although did not receive a personal victory, was deserving. Sean Burnett got Our Number 40 out of a first & second with two out jam in the bottom of the 6th, when Burnett forced, one of his best friends from The Pirates--his former team--Ryan Doumit to pop out to Alberto Gonzalez at second base to end the frame.

Burnett would pick up his second victory, and first as a Nationals, when Josh Willingham knocked out his 17th Home Run of the year in the top of the 7th. Willingham finishing the day with two run scoring hits, three rbi and two runs scored. In many respects, a one man wrecking machine today.

Alberto Gonzalez with two rbi as well. One on that slicing double down the left field line in the bottom of the 7th scoring Ronnie Belliard with Washington's 5th score of the game. But his first run batted in occurred on a ground out that was proceeded by some seriously good hardball. With Josh Willingham on second base and Elijah Dukes on 1st--Ronnie Belliard tapped what appeared to be a routine double play. Our Number 34 would have no part of that--other than to break it up. When Pirates' shortstop Ronny Cedeno fielded Belliard's grounder and tossed the baseball to his second baseman--Delwyn Young--Dukes came motoring into second base and as Young attempted to relay his throw to first base--Elijah upended him with a perfect takeout slide. A key development as Gonzalez followed next with a ground out--also to Cedeno. But since Dukes had eliminated the double play--Josh Willingham scored Washington's first run of this game from 3rd base.

Good Baseball. Elijah knew he had played some serious hardball and Our Washington Nationals had benefited with a tally.

Ryan Zimmerman and Ronnie Belliard with two hits apiece today. Nyjer Morgan was hit by pitch in the top of the 6th and was then caught off base in a pickoff move by Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm. As Nyjer scampered to 2nd Base, it sure looked like that he beat the bad relay throw from The Pirates 1st Baseman--Garrett Jones. But 2nd Base Umpire Rob Drake ruled Morgan had slid past the bag and called him out. Whether Delwyn Young had pushed him off the base or not--didn't seem to matter. Jim Riggleman came charging out of the dugout for Washington to argue to no avail. But during this entire series--Morgan--a true fan favorite in Pittsburgh--appears to be trying to do too much as compensation to please his former following. Nyjer just needs to relax and play his game. The quality effort seen since the very day he donned a Nationals jersey in early July.

In the top of the 3rd inning with two outs--"The Guz" slapped a hard hit grounder deep into the hole between 2nd base and Shortstop. Pittsburgh's new shortstop, Ronny Cedeno, ranged far to his right, backhanded the baseball, and threw a remarkable bullet toss to Garrett Jones at 1st Base for The Defensive Play Of This Game. Cristian Guzman hustles out everything on the basepaths. The fact that Cedeno tossed him out had more to do with defensive prowess than Guzman speed. Just a terrific infield play.

We like the fact that The Pittsburgh Pirates invited Our Racing Presidents to PNC Park to participate in their Pierogies Race during the 6th inning each of the past three nights. It's a nice gesture after Our Washington Nationals have hosted The Pittsburgh Racers the past two years--evening allowing The Pirates mid-inning entertainers to win at Nationals Park. While not expecting The Rushmores to win any of the events in Pittsburgh this wrap around weekend, is it really necessary to humiliate GW, Abe, Teddy & Tom at PNC Park? Saturday night, Teddy ran into the bullpen fence while leading. The P.A. Announcer couldn't figure out Abe from Tom. Teddy from George--it was silly. Today, in a team relay race--Abe basically never passed the baton to George, until the Pierogies had basically won the race. Completing only half the race that lasts less than one minute looks foolish. Our Presidents should not be humiliated in such a way. When Pittsburgh Fans sitting around us laugh and proclaim--"Just Like The Nationals--Pathetic!!!" We just can't have that. We really can't. It's embarrassing. And someone needs to understand that. Like right now.

Before the game, Sohna and I attempted to hang out with one of the Pittsburgh Pirates Mascots--Jolly Roger. It was funny. Roger didn't really seem to want to take a picture with us. He kept on knocking off our caps and walking away from us. But then, the head supervisor of ushers in that particular area of PNC Park started yelling at Jolly to be more considerate to ALL FANS--visiting the ballpark. This usher lining everything up for the photo seen above. Sort of strange.

Sunday was the typical Kids Run The Bases day at PNC Park. Just like at Nationals Park, kids ages 12 & under get to run around the bases after the game concludes. The lineup was ENORMOUS--what appeared to be a good 1/4 of the entire attendance of 21,894. This day included a free Ryan Doumit Alternate Replica Jersey to all kids AND a discount of $10 toward every ticket purchased for kids and their family--in advance--using a special card from Giant Eagle (a local grocery store, $5 discounts on gameday). From the few weeks old babies to the near teenagers--the amount of kids at PNC Park this afternoon was mighty impressive. The Pirates may not have had a winning season in 18 years, but they sure have a solid fan base--built from starting everyone young. This was really nice to see in person.

Loved the vintage baseball cards used to introduce Pirate hitters on the large video screen. Morphing from a vintage shot of a well known Topps Trading Card of a former Pittsburgh player--the screen would transform from Bobby Bonilla (in the card shown above) to Andy LaRoche.

Finally--I found myself absolutely mesmerized over the past two nights with the ribbon board down the right and left field lines that not only display pitch counts and pitch speeds, but Release speed, Plate speed, Horizontal Break and Vertical Break. I don't think I have ever seen that information in any ballpark. Really fascinating to watch at times.

Today's InGame Photos--Gene J. Puskar (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


Mike Edgar said...


Your story about Jolly Roger not wanting to be in the photo with you came as somewhat of a surprise. I've been up to Pittsburgh a couple of times in the past few years for the Nats/Bucs series and found the stadium employees to be the most friendly, polite I've ever encountered. I agree with your assessment that it was strange.

Also, perhaps you've already been told this, but you logged a little MASN face time during yesterday afternoon's game. They were searching for Nats fans in the stands and trained the camera on you for a couple of seconds..

Screech's Best Friend said...

Mike Edgar: Thanks for letting us know about MASN. We had no idea and thought we were incognito. And it's true about PNC Park Employees, they are extremely friendly. Even Pirate Fans have welcomed us all weekend. Just a great place to watch a game.