Monday, December 28, 2009

Eric Bruntlett

There was this one game played on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium back on July 24th, 2005 that I will never forget--all thanks to Eric Bruntlett. The Inaugural Season for Our Washington Nationals found our new entry into the National League East playing before packed houses day after day, night after night. 39,203 at The Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street for this one. Unfortunately though, when The Houston Astros arrived for their first ever journey to The Nation's Capital that mid-summer day, Washington had begun their tailspin from first place. Leaders of the pack at 50-31 on July 3rd, 2005--exactly three weeks later--this 24th date of July now found D.C.'s team losers of 13 of their last 17 ball games.

Things were not going well for Our Washington Nationals during that last half of 2005 and this one particular afternoon affair epitomized the late season collapse to .500. While Washington couldn't hold on and scrap out needed wins over those final three months--their opponents usually found a way. For nearly 14 innings on this Sunday, Washington's pitching was outstanding--typical for 2005. Starter John Patterson had gone eight strong innings--striking out 10--allowing just one run. Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Mike Stanton and Gary Majewski had hurled four shutout innings--allowing just one hit. Hector Carrasco had added a shutout 13th. On the other side of the diamond, Houston's pitching had been just as outstanding. Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler and Russ Springer had combined for 13 well thrown frames--giving up just four hits themselves and one run--an RBI Single to light hitting catcher Gary Bennett. As was so often the case down the stretch, Washington could barely buy a hit this day and they certainly couldn't manufacture one either. Bunting and strong baserunning not on Washington's "Can Do" list in 2005.

Weaknesses exposed in this game and over the final 63 games played that wonderful first season of baseball back in D.C. And as this game went deeper and deeper into late afternoon, fans were getting frustrated over Washington's inability to score. Past the two hour mark, this game played out--then three hours--finally the 4th hour began--when the most unlikeliest of endings occurred.

From the 7th inning on--fans had witnessed nothing but shutout ball. Now, as the 14th inning began and Our Washington Nationals hitting slump continued--our pitching finally unraveled as well. Sometimes teams just have no luck. To that point in his season--Hector Carrasco had been a phenomenal free agent pick up for Washington. The 35 Year-Old Dominican was enjoying a renaissance year and sporting a nifty 2.17 ERA. Then, just like that--a leadoff single allowed to The Astros' Adam Everett was immediately followed by a wild pitch--advancing The Houston Shortstop to second. Jose Vizcaino was just trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but Hector was finally losing control and there was no one else in Washington's bullpen that Manager Frank Robinson would depend on after Vizcaino walked. Sun-Woo Kim had taken the brunt of a huge beating two nights earlier in a 14-1 pasting by Houston and Roger Clemens. Lefty Joey Eischen was ineffective the night before--returning from a broken arm.

Really, there was no else to choose. Clearly, this game was now Hector Carrasco's to win or lose.

And for the briefest of moments--it appeared as if Carrasco would get to the bottom of the 14th tied. With two runners on and nobody out, he forced Houston's Brad Ausmus to fly out to right. Then, The Astros Manager pinch hit pitcher Brandon Backe for pitcher Russ Springer--who also flew out to deep right field. You see, Phil Garner had no position players left on his bench--no one left as well-- which forced Garner to leave his light-hitting utility man, Eric Bruntlett, in the game to bat with now--two outs. Bruntlett had entered as a late inning substitution in center field for Houston.

No one watching expected what was to come.

As Bruntlett stepped to the plate, the home faithful rose in unison--in anticipation of the third out. (Do you remember how EVERYBODY watching would stand for the final outs at RFK--like all the time? That seems like ages ago) But Bruntlett was playing this At-Bat smart. He wasn't diving at Carrasco's waste pitches. He also didn't seem to be comfortable. And when it appeared Eric had struck out on a checked swing to end the top of the 14th--the crowd roared in delight and Our Washington Nationals headed off the field to bat--at least until 1st Base Umpire Marty Foster ruled BALL THREE. Bruntlett had not struck out. The Houston Utility Man had only loaded up the count.

With the booing now cascading down from the highest reaches of RFK Stadium, Hector Carrasco looked in for the sign from his catcher--now Brian Schneider--and heaved a fastball on the 8th and final pitch of this key At-Bat that Eric Bruntlett immediately deposited over the left field fence at RFK Stadium for a three homer. You could have heard a pin drop at RFK. The light-hitting Bruntlett had decided this game in unexpected fashion. A resultant 4-1 final score that witnessed many leaving The Old Ballyard that day stunned and dismayed. What was becoming an extraordinary affair--was now just another loss. The first of six straight defeats and 9 out of 10 for Washington.

I will never forget that game, and that play, for Our Washington Nationals were never as good as that first half of 2005. And Eric Bruntlett's three-run back breaking home run had, in retrospect, sealed the fate of that Inaugural Season in The Nation's Capital. 2005 was never the same after that July 24th defeat.

Never The Same.

Of course, there is a reason why this story is retold this day. Eric Bruntlett is now a member of Our Washington Nationals. Signed today along with Former Nationals Farm System Product, Josh Whitesell, by Our General Manager Mike Rizzo to minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training in 2010. Roster moves to give Washington depth both on the Major League Bench and Minor League Rosters.

Here is the complete press release from Our Washington Nationals:


The Washington Nationals today agreed to terms with first baseman Josh Whitesell and infielder Eric Bruntlett on 2010 minor-league contracts that include invitations to big league Spring Training. Nationals Senior Vice President & General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

Whitesell returns to his original organization, as he was drafted by the Expos in the sixth round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. The left-handed hitting Whitesell posted a .346 on-base percentage in 46 games last season with Arizona, and is a career .200 hitter (23-for-115) with seven doubles, two home runs and 15 RBI in 53 career big league contests with the Diamondbacks. Whitesell, 27, has hit 113 home runs and posted .394 on-base and .492 slugging percentages in seven minor-league seasons.

Bruntlett joins Washington after playing the last two seasons for the Phillies, with whom he earned a World Series ring in 2008. Bruntlett is a career .231 hitter (182-for-789) with 11 home runs and 72 RBI in 512 games spanning seven seasons with Philadelphia (2008-09) and Houston (2003-07). The 31 year-old Bruntlett sports four years of post-season experience (2004-05 with Houston, 2008-09 with Philadelphia) and defensive versatility (all four infield spots, every outfield position). He batted .171 in 72 games with Philadelphia last season.

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