Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Nearly A Repeat Performance

Nearly a repeat performance--again.

For the third consecutive outing, a game involving Our Washington Nationals came down to their last At-Bat. Each time down early, each time involving the heart of our order in the final outcome. And each time resulting in a final swing which determined the result.

What are the odds? What are the chances that DC's Team could defeat the playoff hunting Florida Marlins in such a breath taking way--after eight consecutive losses? Then, challenge the very team The Fish are chasing in the standings with two cliffhangers in the row?

No, for pure entertainment, Labor Day Sunday's walkoff winner against The Florida Marlins would be hard to beat. But these past two nights at Nationals Park certainly has given that high water mark of 2009 a real run for the money. Seemingly on the bad side of a blowout early when Garrett Mock didn't appear he would be able to make it out of the 2nd inning, Washington not only limited the damage, but had fought back and now found itself down just one with Adam Dunn standing at the plate. Ryan Zimmerman standing on deck. Justin Maxwell on second base in scoring position looking for his opportunity to head home.

And what was left of an announced crowd of 16,818 awaiting another thrilling outcome.

A finish no one probably thought possible after The Philadelphia Phillies again UNLOADED on Washington pitching in the 8th with, yet again, back to back jacks off Tyler Clippard by Jason Werth and Pedro Feliz. Heartbreakers for any DC Fan that had held on to hope for a Curly "W" after 2008 American League Cy Young Award Winner, Cliff Lee, had whizzed his way through the home side's batting lineup with relative ease. But not perfect enough to keep Washington from scoring five runs, four earned. The last tally scoring in the bottom of the 8th thanks to a leadoff error committed by former National League MVP--Ryan Howard--when Zimmerman hustled all the way down the first base line on a roller to Jimmy Rollins. A resultant bad toss setting up a pivotal 8th frame that found Washington inching their way back into this game by loading up the bases with nobody out, yet only scoring one run.

Now down 6-5 with one out in the bottom of the 9th, Our Number 44 stood at the plate setting his powerful bat. The hard throwing Ryan Madson again on the mound setting to close this one out. And The Z-Man waiting in the wings for his chance to take a final whack. Surely, whatever the outcome, DC's Team would make The Phillies earn it.

So with the crowd waiting anxiously, Adam Dunn would take ball one, then a called first strike. And when the hard throwing Madson heaved a 97 MPH fastball on the outside corner of the plate--all Washington's big slugger could do was foul the flame thrown pitch off. Power against power that reminded those in the stands and The Phillies Closer For This Day that he might have beaten Adam last night to end the game, but Madson wasn't assured of doing so again tonight.

Strangely, it all of a sudden began to rain. A cool breeze flowing throughout the ballpark. A wind current that could take a hold of any drive and help push any hit baseball out of the park. A changing climate, setting the scene for an unexpected final play no one saw coming.

The tall and lanky Ryan Madson on the mound. The tall and bulky Adam Dunn at the plate. Being watched by the tall and athletic Ryan Zimmerman standing on deck and those many thousands more now watching and hoping for a repeat story to tell--another fabulous finish on South Capitol Street.

The final performance just ahead as Philly's Number 46 reared back and heaved in this crucial toss, Our Number 44 cocked his bat and realized what was heading his way. Another fastball over the inside portion of the plate--in the hitting zone and in a position to whack!! As Dunn uncoiled his bat in the split seconds it took for him to realize what was coming, the resultant sounds of the crack of the bat, baseball hitting wood, could be clearly heard throughout the ballpark. A screaming liner the result. The baseball heading right back up the middle of the diamond, just to right on second base. Surely, a game tying score with J-Max, he of gazelle speed, to quickly antelope home.

But in that split second of base running decisions by Justin, he was caught off guard. The hard hit Dunn baseball was stroked just to the right of Phillies Second Baseman Chase Utley. A very competent fielder who snared the baseball in the air as he lunged slightly to his right. Then quickly, tossed the baseball to his hard charging shortstop--Jimmy Rollins--who retrieved the accurate throw and stepped on second base to retire Justin Maxwell now off the bag.

What at first appeared to be a potential game tying single, instead became the game ending double play. The final result which left The Z-Man holding his bat, still in the On-Deck Circle and many Washington Fans wondering what tall tale could have been woven if only Zimmy had gotten HIS final whack at Ryan Madson.

Final score from Nationals Park where for two nights in a row--nearly identical games in structure and finish played out: The Philadelphia Phillies 6 and Our Washington Nationals 5. Loss Number 92 of 2009 was as chilling as the cool breezes that accompanied this final frame. When you battle your way back on three consecutive days--get the exact right batters to the plate that you always wish for in down to the wire conclusions--and can only win once--you have to wonder sometimes, whether DC's Team is just unlucky--because luck was what The Phillies received in the 9th. Like Our Number 11's Walk Off Winner on Sunday, Adam Dunn could not have hit that baseball tonight any harder. A smash that on most nights helps to put a Curly "W" In The Books.

But on this evening only resulted in another defeat. Just like last night, nearly a repeat performance.

Game Notes & Highlights

When The Phillies loaded up the bases with nobody out in the top of the 2nd inning off Garrett Mock, not many watching felt he would survive that frame. But, to his credit, Our Number 49 battled back, settled down and actually left this game tossing five complete giving up four runs on six hits and three walks. He wasn't good early, even allowing Cliff Lee to stroke an RBI single, but he was strong late and only a RBI Double by New Nats Killer, Raul Ibanez stained his final inning pitched. Not involved in the decision, Garrett threw a tremendous amount of pitches--106.

Compare that to Phillies Starter, Cliff Lee, who tossed 107 pitches and 77 for strikes in seven complete. Having never seen this one time Montreal Expos Prospect pitch, he was pretty entertaining to watch. He didn't walk anyone and he battled his way out of jams. He allowed 10 hits but he never really appeared to lose his effectiveness. Strange actually to watch. Even his Manager Charlie Manuel seemingly willing to leave him in there, finish what you start, which was sort of refreshing to witness. Really liked what we saw from Lee--a tough competitor.

A challenger of hitters which Tyler Clippard needs to find a better way to handle some of his duties. For the second consecutive night, Clippard hit hard and deep. Allowing three home runs over these past two games. And Jayson Werth's blast into the grass hill over the centerfield wall was absolutely crushed in the top of the 8th. One of those mind melters that affected Tyler when Pedro Feliz followed and immediately hammered out his homer to left field.

In the bottom of the 8th, Washington loaded up the bases with nobody out. Chan Ho Park was now on the mound--having replaced Cliff Lee after The Phillie starter had faltered by allowing a Josh Willingham double after Zimmerman reached on an error. Then, Park proceeded to walk Elijah Dukes. For three consecutive batters, Interim Manager Jim Riggleman went with a pinch hitter. Willie Harris, Pete Orr and then Wil Nieves. DC's team was down two at the time. Only Orr was able to plate a single runner. The Z-Man on a sacrifice fly, but it left us wondering why those choices of batters? Harris made sense, he has been successful as a pinch hitter. But Orr batted for Alberto Gonzalez--who had stroked three consecutive doubles to that point in the game. He had a hot bat. And if looking for the big blow, why not Mike Morse rather than Orr or Nieves?

Washington's first run coming on a Cristian Guzman double to the gap in right in the top of the 1st inning when Adam Dunn singled "The Guz" home. Two more DC runs plated in the 5th with a Gonzalez double, Justin Maxwell single, infield out by "The Guz"--scoring Alberto and another rbi single by Dunn. Washington's fourth run coming on Our Number 12's third double of the night, followed by one WICKED sacrifice bunt turned infield base hit by Jorge Padilla. The bunted ball first rolled down the third base line in fair territory, then rolled over into foul territory, and then like moving with a mind of its own--the baseball took a decided turn toward fair territory again and stopped right on the white chalk mark. Perfect placement to set up a 1st & 3rd situation that scored Gonzalez again on another fielder's choice hit into by Guzman--when Utley dropped the relay toss for the double play at second base. Washington's final tally scored by Zimmerman on that sacrifice fly in the 8th.

Raul Ibanez again with two hits, both doubles with one run scored and one rbi. Werth his 33rd Home Run of 2009, Feliz his 10th.

Jesus Flores sighting. First, Our Number 3 warmed up Garrett Mock in the top of the 5th inning while Josh Bard put on his catching gear. Then, Flores pinch hit in the bottom of the 5th for Mock and grounded out to Pedro Feliz at third base. Having not faced a single Major League pitcher since this past May 9th and having not one single rehab assignment in the minors before this plate appearance--every single pitch must have looked like it was coming in at 100 MPH. Good for Flores to get his bat on the ball--under the circumstances. Jesus can't throw hard yet. He needs to build up his arm strength.

Before the game, Our Washington Nationals honored Ward Two D.C. Councilman Jack Evans for his efforts in helping to bring Major League Baseball back to D.C. and his continuing support. Principal Owner Robert Tanenbaum recognized Mr. Evans with a special jersey. Mr. Tanenbaum was accompanied by Bill Hall--Partner in Winston & Strawn LLP--who is also a D.C. Sports Commission Member.

Tom JUST nipped Abe at the tape to win The Presidents Race. Both lunging at the finish line and falling on the grass.

And finally, congratulations to Martha and Rick celebrating their 10th Wedding Anniversary. Ushers first at RFK Stadium since 2005 and now at Nationals Park since 2008, both always have a smile on their faces and enjoyable to chat with any time we are are the ballpark.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Nick Wass (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


Chris S. said...

Luck may have prevented Dunn from elevating that ball, but Utley is a *very* good fielder. I remember a thrilling double play he turned unassisted in last year's World Series, diving for second base as the runner dove back to second from the other side, beating him by about a finger's width.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great picture you two, it is now set as the background wall paper on the computer!

Martha and Rick

Screech's Best Friend said...

Martha and Rick: You are very welcome. Glad you two had a wonderful night in Presidents Club.