Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Little Bit Of Skill Combined With a Little Bit Of Luck

As the sounds of "Let's Go Capps!!" serenaded down from the upper reaches of Nationals Park, Matt Capps looked in for the final sign from his catcher--Wil Nieves. Another Curly "W" was about to be put in the books. But how Our Washington Nationals actually reached this point was sort of hard to believe.

Baseball is a game of skills. It's also a game of luck.

Just look at what happened before the 9th inning was even played tonight.

With Washington's skillful All-Star Silver Slugger & Gold Glove Winner, Ryan Zimmerman, again sitting this game out to rehab from a tight hamstring--D.C.'s cleanup hitter decides to get himself ejected by throwing his batting helmet in disgust toward the 3rd Base Umpire--Andy Fletcher--who had called Adam Dunn out on appeal. Sorry Adam, you just can't do that with your team already one man down in the bottom of the 1st inning. That was not lucky, nor skillful, for the home side.

Washington's Starter, John Lannan--skillful tonight--became the victim of a home run to right field in the top of the 2nd by The Milwaukee Brewers' Casey McGehee--that was so wind blown--what was a routine fly ball somehow JUST managed to get over the fence and into Washington's Bullpen. That was lucky for The Brew Crew, again not for Washington, nor John.

With Our Nats rallying thanks to a Wil Nieves single followed by a Nyjer Morgan triple and Willie Harris walk in the bottom of the 3rd inning, Harris, wearing Number 42 on Jackie Robinson Night on South Capitol Street, gets picked off so badly by The Brewers' Yovanni Gallardo--he kills a potential huge rally. Lucky moment number three for the visitors--thanks to a skillful move by Gallardo.

After John Lannan pitches a pretty wonderful seven complete innings while allowing just two fly ball outs and only two runs and is replaced by Brian Bruney--Alberto Gonzalez (replacing the Z-Man at 3rd Base and even Kennedy after Dunn was kicked out) fields a routine sacrifice bunt by Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez in the top of the 8th and proceeds to throw a toss to Cristian Guzman covering 1st Base, that is so close to the runner, "The Guz" backs off so not to get barrel rolled. The result--the eventual lucky go ahead run which gives The Brewers a 3-2 lead in the top of the 8th. Not skillful in any way.

Yes, before the final innings were played--everything was, seemingly, going in Milwaukee's favor.

At least until two batters later in the 8th when The Brewers' Alcides Escobar loops a liner into short left field with Gomez still on second. A fast falling baseball into NOWHERE'S land that Gomez KNOWS is going to drop. The Brewers know they are going to score the key insurance run in a close 3-2 game. Only to see Washington's Josh Willingham NEVER give up on the ball--hustle in--dive face first--and basket catch the baseball. The skillful Defensive Play Of This Game which doubles Gomez off second--ends the inning--and sets up the game changing rally.

Yeah, one of those times when baseball proves you can be more lucky than good when you use your skills.

Especially after Alberto Gonzalez leads off the bottom of the 8th and uses his speed to beat out a dribbler knocked about 10 feet in front of the plate for a base hit. That's fortunate & good. It was also lucky when Josh Willingham follows and is hit by Milwaukee's pitcher Latroy Hawkins. And of course, when Willy Taveras runs for "The Attorney General" and both he and "The Hammer" move up one base thanks to a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt by Ian Desmond--that's skillful.

But when Adam Kennedy steps to the plate and hits a rather routine ground ball down the first base line--maybe five feet fair and The Brewers' 1st Baseman Prince Fielder can't bend over and pick the ball up--THAT'S LUCKY--especially when the tying and go ahead runs score. The turnabout play that sent Nationals Park into a frenzy over the big break that came from a little bit of skill combining with a little bit of luck at the plate. Wil Nieves then adding the icing on the cake with an insurance run single that plated Kennedy giving Washington a 5-3 advantage.

Which bring us all back to where this story began--"Let's Go Capps!!" resonating throughout the ballpark as Matt Capps peers in, accepts the call from his catcher, Wil Nieves, and fires a 91 MPH fastball which skillfully retires Corey Hart for the final out of this somewhat lucky game. Facing adversity throughout this two hour and 58 minute affair, Our Washington Nationals had artfully found some expertise and a little bit of karma to rule the day.

Final score from Nationals Park where a little bit of luck combined with a little bit of skill changed hands at just the right moment to bring victory: Our Washington Nationals 5 and The Milwaukee Brewers 3. Curly "W" Number 5 evened Washington's record at .500. The deepest into any season since the Inaugural Year of 2005 that D.C.'s Team has won as many games as they've lost. Trust us, people were walking out of the ballpark this evening in glee.

Why? Because on the very night The Nation's Capital honored Jackie Robinson's great tributes to the game of baseball--The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaled a new tribute to Our Washington Nationals. Despite not playing overly well and facing a tough early season schedule--Washington has somehow managed to win five of their first 10 games of 2010. No, they are not world beaters by any means, but Our Nats are playing competitive baseball. The odds of which no Las Vegas Gambler would probably have taken--just two short weeks ago.

Come on--that's making strides--whether you want to admit it, or not. Our Washington Nationals are 5-5 and have surprised EVERYONE thus far in 2010.

Game Notes & Highlights

If there is a vintage John Lannan--he pitched tonight. He struck out five. He allowed just two fly ball outs. TWO!! The Brewers managed seven hits and three walks off Our Number 31--but he never faltered. Lannan keep Our Washington Nationals in this game. Deserved of a victory--Lannan got the no decision.

His replacement, Brian Bruney may well have thrown the odded seven minutes in the history of the game. At 9:18PM, he is warming in the bullpen as Washington is rallying with the eventual game winning scores. With Bullpen Coach Jim Lett standing beside him and the remainder of his reliever teammates sitting on a bench against the back wall to get out of the rain--Bruney hurls the most amazing warmup pitch we've ever seen. He loses control of the toss and it sets sail a good 10-15 feet above his bullpen catcher's head--bounces off the green retaining wall of Section 137 and rebounds back near him on the mound. The rubber-looking necks of amazement over what they just saw and eventual laughs from his teammates--hilarious.

Even more remarkable when at 9:25PM-- Bruney enters the game in the top of the 8th and proceeds to throw his very first pitch, so hard, and so "A Little Bit Outside" that it sails through the protective screen behind home plate and into The Presidents Club Seats. That's a pitching performance over a seven minute span never seen before at Nationals Park--maybe, not anywhere. Incredibly, Brian Bruney got the personal win--that's being lucky.

Sean Burnett retired the only hitter he faced in the top of the 9th--Craig Counsell. Matt Capps then did quick work on Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart to end this game. Save Number 5 in as many chances for Our Number 55.

Josh Willingham continued his hot start to the season with a solo home run to left off Yovani Gallardo in the bottom of the sixth. Two hits and two runs scored tonight for Washington's left fielder. Adam Kennedy with the key two-run single in the bottom of the 8th. And Wil Nieves--with his Lucky Batting Music queued up and playing again at Nationals Park--two singles which included knocking in Kennedy during that bottom of the 8th with the key insurance run. Before Kennedy singled in the go ahead runs, Our Manager Jim Riggleman placed Ryan Zimmerman in the on-deck circle to bat for Nieves. Not a bluff this time--like Riggleman did in Philadelphia the other day when Pudge Rodriguez came to bat with the game on the line and Jim sent Adam Kennedy to the on-deck to deak Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel. Our Manager would have sent The Z-Man to the plate to bat for Nieves if Kennedy had failed tonight.

With his single tonight--Cristian Guzman became only the second National to stroke 500 hits. Ryan Zimmerman is the other player. Morgan's triple in the bottom of the 3rd inning was set up thanks to the strong winds prevailing to right. After McGehee's cheap homer in the 2nd, Milwaukee's Corey Hart started favoring the right field line--opening up right center where Nyjer slapped his game tying triple at that point in the game.

Adam Dunn being ejected forced Jim Riggleman to replace him and put Alberto Gonzalez in the clean up spot. That's a position that should never be manned by Our Number 12. Dunn forced Our Manager's hand tonight. Fortunately, Adam's teammates pulled through.

As mentioned earlier, Willingham made the game changing Defensive Play Of The Game in the top of the 8th with The Brewers' threatening. But in the top of the 5th, Milwaukee's Alicides Escobar again swatted a wicked one hopper to Ian Desmond at shortstop. Now, understand, Our Washington Nationals are working with Desmond to scoop hit baseballs with his glove hand--not necessarily forcing him to get in front of every ground ball and use both hands--because Baseball Management believes his skill set is better when he reacts naturally. Ian practices with a baseball in his throwing hand--which forces Our Number 6 to ONLY USE HIS GLOVE DEFENSIVELY. Escobar's drive, this night, short hopped Desmond--and he perfectly played the Ole' scoop and fired to Adam Kennedy at first base for the out. That was as athletic and skillful of a defensive play as you will ever see. Not lucky. Really, really nice. And probably unnoticed by many.

Sparse crowd tonight at Nationals Park--17,234--but they were loud with the game on the line. It also rained on and off all evening. Sometimes like a monsoon, then just as quickly, the downpours stopped. The game itself was never delayed by the moisture--but the weather sure made for some mighty strange playing conditions.

With the fake Milwaukee Sausages on hand during the 4th inning Presidents Race, Teddy took the early lead--was run down by Abe--whereupon Mr. Lincoln crossed the finish line and then finished off The Sausages--knocking them down as they stood and watched the race from behind the finish line.

Former Secretary Of State Colin Powell and Retired Georgetown University Basketball Coach, John Thompson, were just a few of those recording tributes to Jackie Robinson tonight at Nationals Park. The local Jackie Robinson Society from George Washington University was honored in pre-game ceremonies. And historical videos were shown throughout the night about Mr. Robinson's impact on Major League Baseball and throughout The United States of America.

Finally, Mr. Don Conway, a retired teacher and baseball coach from High Point High School in Prince Georges County, Maryland was on hand in the main concourse at Nationals Park--behind home plate--displaying his traveling Jackie Robinson Museum for this special occasion. Sohna and I stopped off to chat with Mr. Conway before tonight's game. Don Conway, now 70 years of age, has dedicated his entire life to tell everyone who will listen--they should always have the courage to say; "I Can."

In Game Photos--Haraz N. Ganbari (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Chris S. said...

Hey SBF,

I'm going to the game next Saturday (1 PM vs LAD), and I'm really excited because it's my first non-Phillies Nats game of the year and as a resident of DC I do enjoy cheering for the home team - most of the time.

I don't know if you and the AQ ever get to the park early or stop for a drink afterwards, but I would love to have the chance to meet you, if meeting your fans is something you do. I understand if you're not comfortable with it or won't be at the game, but I wanted to mention that I'm going and would enjoy meeting you.