Thursday, September 24, 2009

Should Willie Stay? Or, Should Willie Go?

Should Pat Listach have sent Willie Harris home? Or, should he have held him at third base? Inquiring minds wanted to know after The Defensive Play of This Game was executed by The Los Angeles Dodgers Andre Ethier in the bottom of the 8th inning tonight at Nationals Park in a one run game.

Re-setting the scene.

Our Washington Nationals had scratched and clawed their way back into a real battle in which they were down 4-0 after the first four batters for the NL West Leaders had taken their cuts in the top of the very first inning. Matt Kemp slamming out a three run homer before most everyone had even taken their seats. Never taking the lead, Washington kept the game close, until eventually tying this affair up at six apiece in the bottom of the 6th. A moment many never thought possible among the 22,432 in attendance. Yet, DC's team had fought back to even, only to see Rafael Furcal--The Dodgers Shortstop--blast out an opposite field shot to right center in the top of the 8th inning to give back the lead to LA, 7-6. The tally on the scoreboard as 3rd Base Coach Listach was circling his left arm frantically to get Our Number 22 to motor his way toward home plate one half inning later.

Adam Dunn was standing on deck in the bottom of the 8th. Ryan Zimmerman to follow. Harris had reached second by drawing a two out walk off former Baltimore Orioles Closer George Sherrill and promptly stole second base with Ian Desmond at the plate--putting himself in scoring position with just four outs more to play before this game could potentially end with loss number 100 staring DC's Team right in their face. As Our Number 6 stood at the plate, Ian knew he had already struck out four times this evening. The Golden Sombrero awarded for swinging and missing.

A new opportunity arising to now swing and hit a baseball for the first time tonight for our rookie infielder. The exact result everyone rooting for Washington wanted and witnessed when Desmond laced a hard shot into right field toward LA's Andre Ethier. A good outfielder with a decent but not fabulous arm. As the baseball scooted along into the medium/short portion of the outfield--Harris began to fly. Listach knew Our Number 22 can run. Our Fans knew that too. So, did The Dodgers.

Looking to force the play at hand and not willing to wait for Adam Dunn's lumber to step to the plate--Our 3rd Base Coach sent Willie on his way. Just about everyone watching rose to their feet. The throw would have to be perfect. Off-line at all and this game is tied. As Andre Ethier rushed in from his set position, he scooped up this baseball in his glove. And as Willie Harris picked up steam rushing toward home--The Dodger Rightfielder unfurled a tremendous left-handed throw toward his catcher at home plate. A one hopper right on line--slightly up toward 3rd base. A perfect position for Russell Martin to grab Ethier's toss on one hop and tag the hard charging Willie Harris at the plate. Our Number 22 attempting to run over the burly Dodger Backstop. Home Plate Umpire Jerry Crawford with the OUT CALL!!

Just like that, this inning and this potential game tying rally was over.

But should it have been with Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman left standing with their bats on their shoulders?

Should Listach have sent Harris? Or held him up? It was the topic of discussion around our seats in Section 218.

Harris was thrown out by less than 10 feet. If Andre's toss is anywhere but in the perfect spot it ended up--Harris is probably safe. Yet, do you trust your two biggest sluggers waiting for their cuts to give your team the chance to win with one swing of the bat? Dunn might have faced Sherill, if Harris was held at third. But then again--Dodger Manager Joe Torre may have just as well gone to his fireballing closer--Jonathan Broxton--for a potential four out save.

Of course, we will never know. But what we do know is that Broxton trotted out to finish off Dunn, Zimmerman and Pete Orr 1-2-3 to record his 36th Save of 2009 in the bottom of the 9th. And for that reason alone--The African Queen and I believe Pat Listach made the right decision. Andre Ethier just made one terrific Major League Defensive Play to end the threat.

Final Score from Nationals Park where the largest crowd in this three game set witnessed some dubious history: The Los Angeles Dodgers 7 and Our Washington Nationals 6. Loss number 100 recorded for the second straight season for DC's Team. This time after only 152 games. The 4th such franchise to repeat century losses in consecutive seasons in the past 25 years. The then 1969 Expansion Montreal Expos (now Nationals) lost 110 in their Inaugural Season and previous versions of The Washington Senators lost 100 or more games 10 times. The Expansion Washington Senators (now Texas Rangers) from 1961 to 1964 lost 100 games the first four seasons they were in The American League.

This late in the season, Our Washington Nationals losing their 100th game of 2009 was inevitable, but you can't pin this latest defeat on whether Pat Listach should have let Willie Stay? Or Let Willie Go? Poor starting pitching got Washington down early and a great defensive play by Andre Ethier ended DC's final comeback attempt late.

Game Notes & Highlights

J.D. Martin really wasn't good this evening. He was lucky to even last through the third inning. The Dodgers were hitting him hard and his control was off--which for him--made things far worse. When you don't throw the baseball hard and you can't control your pitches--every mistake pitch is going to be hit. And The Dodgers' bats didn't miss many baseballs with J.D. Martin on the mound tonight. Six hits, two walks and five earned runs--a bad outing.

The complete opposite performance which came from Marco Estrada. Relieving Martin to start the top of the 4th, Estrada threw his best outing since his recall from AAA Syracuse. Jason Bergmann replaced him in the top of the sixth to face Manny Ramirez (who eventually flied out) but Marco kept Washington in the game this evening, being a distance maker out of the bullpen--keeping DC's team close enough to mount a comeback. He did allow one unearned run on a fielders choice made by Blake DeWitt (an excellent defensive play by Zimmy which will be described in a bit), but other than that run being scored by The Dodgers, Estrada was pretty excellent. When he struck out Manny Ramirez in the top of the 4th on a 93MPH fastball--Ramirez was so pissed at missing the pitch he tossed his bat and helmet in disgust--absolutely stunned he whiffed on Our Number 55's heater (funny actually to watch).

In fact, Washington's bullpen was pretty outstanding tonight, except for Ron Villone serving up his opposite field shot to right center by Furcal for what became the game winning home run. Even Logan Kensing pitched a solid 1.1 innings of shutout ball--lowering his ERA below 10.00 for, basically, the first time this season (9.66).

The Dodger Closer--Jonathan Broxton--throws hard. And he is HUGE!! Listed at 295lbs, this young man was reaching 99 MPH on his fastball in the bottom of the 9th inning. His changeup was 91 MPH!! Remarkable the stuff that guy was tossing from the mound. Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Pete Orr didn't really seem to have a chance against Broxton as Jonathan garnered his 36th save of 2009.

Rafael Furcal just a Nats Killer during this three game series. 10 hits in 14 official plate appearances since Tuesday night. 4 for 5 tonight with the game winning homer, two runs scored and one batted in. Matt Kemp with his three run homer in the top of the first to record 100 RBI for the season. The sign of a good team. Every time LA was challenged or made a mistake, they found a way to make another play to turn the momentum back their way.

Alberto Gonzalez with three hits, two runs scored this evening. Willie Harris with a two hits, two rbi and the game tying single in the bottom of the sixth. Elijah Dukes with a ripped double to right center in the bottom of the 2nd that began Washington's first comeback. A soaring baseball that cleared Kemp's glove in center, but slowed down Ryan Zimmerman then on second base--not sure if the baseball would be caught or not. Which led to a bizarre scene as Josh Willingham--having a better angle of the hit ball and running from first base--kept on running. And nearly passed The Z-Man standing still while rounding second base. A bizarre moment that got even stranger when Willingham stopped--and actually thought about heading back toward first. But saw Dukes motoring toward second. Eventually, Ryan realized the baseball was over Kemp's head and 3rd Base Coach Pat Listach waved him home and Josh moved on to third base. Dukes stopping at second. Gonzalez then plated Willingham with a single and Jamie Burke hit a sacrifice fly to get Elijah home in a three run bottom of the 2nd.

Moments before Harris knocked in Our Number 12 with the game tying run--Cristian Guzman pinch hit for Jason Bergmann and slapped a hard hit ground ball between first and second base with two outs. "The Guz" ran hard to first base as Ronnie Belliard--playing short rightfield--moved over to pick up the baseball. But hurrying his throw and with James Loney getting to the 1st base bag late--the toss arrived at just about the same time as Our Number 15. Guzman beat the throw but ended up running into Loney at first base. A tumble that was first ruled a throwing error on Belliard, but later reversed to a base hit by The Official Scorer.

In the top of the 5th inning Ryan Zimmerman again showed what a great fielder he's become. With Matt Kemp on 3rd base and James Loney on 1st--Blake Dewitt hit a high hoping ground ball directly over the 3rd base bag and angling down the line in foul territory. A fair ball that Our Number 11 backhanded and then LEAPED INTO THE AIR--AND THEN DECIDED WHERE TO THROW THE BASEBALL. Really, when Zimmy got in the air, only then did he twist his hips to make a throw to second base. He was thinking about making a toss across the diamond to 1st. But instead, made a fabulous play and threw out Loney at 2nd base as Kemp scored. A Defensive Play Of The Game on most nights, beat out this evening by Andre Ethier's perfect throw to the plate in the bottom of the 8th to nail Willie Harris.

Josh Willingham had a rough night in left field. In the top of the 5th he missed a slicing liner right at him off the bat of Matt Kemp. It appeared Josh might have lost the baseball in the lights and it clanged off the heel of his glove for an error. Of course, Kemp would score an unearned run moments later. Then in the 7th, Kemp would again loft a deep fly right to wall in left field. High enough for Our Number 16 not to catch, but not far enough to go over for a home run. The problem was that Josh thought the baseball had gone over the wall for a home run. And while it bounced off the green wall and down to his feet, he didn't realize it. With Tyler Clippard pointing, Willie Harris running over from centerfield and just about every single Nationals Fans screaming for him to pick up the baseball--Willingham finally realized what was going on and threw the baseball back into the infield. Kemp ended up at third with a triple, but did not score.

Tonight's game played out in a snails pace. 3 Hours & 41 Minutes. Two hours to play the first 4 and one/half innings. Truly, it was amazing how slowly this game was moving along. A 12 midnight finish seemed like a real possibility heading into the 8th inning.

And by the way, where did all these Dodger Fans come from? There were quite a few wearing Dodger Blue these past three nights. And at times chanting "Lets Go Dodgers!!" in a resounding way. Not expecting a West Coast Team to travel well with fans.

Teddy again was not a participant in the 4th Inning Presidents Race. Official Word is that Our Lovable Loser is recovering from injury. So tonight, Abe, George and Tom raced from the field's center field gate. It was a close race, at least until GW decided to take Abe out--knocking him down in the home stretch and allowing Tom to win and take the checkered flag.

And finally, The Final Tee-Shirt Tuesday giveaway on September 29th will be a white "NatsTown" Tee. Similar in style to that red one given away earlier this season. The first 10,000 fans entering Nationals Park will get one.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Manuel Balce Ceneta (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


yazzy1956 said...

I don't know the genius who runs the National's ticket department, but I just got an e-mail urging me to go on-line right now and renew my 2010 season's tickets. Isn't it an incredibly bad sense of timing to ask for your money the morning after they lost their 100th game? They couldn't have waited another week until the season was over?

Another Josh said...

I'm happy to see aggressive baserunning with players like Harris. In situations like that, all Harris has to do is touch home plate, while the defense has to field the ball cleanly, make a throw, make a catch, and apply a tag. It's a lot that has to happen to get the out, and it actually gives the air of trying to tie/win the game rather than wait and hope for the best later.