Monday, May 31, 2010

Texas Sized Barbecue

Memorial Day is a time honored tradition in these United States. Families get together all across this great country to remember those who have fallen in service. A holiday celebrating the freedoms we all share--thanks to the ultimate sacrifice. And as most Americans know--no Memorial Day remembrance is ever complete without a picnic or barbecue.

That preamble stated because on this Memorial Day--2010, not only did the family known as Our Washington Nationals (along with all of Major League Baseball) wear commemorative patriotic baseball caps during their game--in respect--on this most important of day's--but D.C.'s Team also put a grilling on The Houston Astros not seen in The Nation's Capital in some time. The saying goes: "Everything is bigger and better in Texas." Well, that must account for Our Washington Nationals offense this afternoon at Minute Maid Park because game number 52 turned out to be a Texas Sized Barbecue.

Washington was mighty fired up. Just look at what happened.

Cristian Guzman got the grill fired up with a lead off double in the very top of the 1st inning off Houston's Ace--Roy Oswalt. Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Zimmerman then got "The Guz" home with sacrifices of their own--one via the bunt, the other on a fly ball. Two innings later, Adam Dunn stoked the grill fire with a bases clearing double in the bottom of third. A hot poker stroked off the right centerfield wall that got Oswalt's burning embers stirred so much--a few pitches later--Home Plate Umpire Bill Hohn tossed Roy for arguing balls and strikes with Josh Willingham at the plate.

Oswalt was feeling the Texas Heat and the big meal's main course had not even been put on the burner. You see, those first four runs plated by Our Washington Nationals were just the game's appetizer--although Nyjer Morgan did give a tasting of what was to come in the 5th inning when he slug bunted a single to rightfield, advanced to second on a Zimmerman walk, stole 3rd base and scored when Willingham knocked him home. Washington's offense was REMEMBERING how to score runs. The predecessor to the 7th frame at Houston this Memorial Day Monday when D.C.'s Team finally served up all their fire grilled goodies.

A holiday banquet worth recalling for years to come.

An Ian Desmond clutch two run rbi bloop single to right off Jeff Fulchino scoring The Z-Man and Dunn got the meal started. Three batters later, Carlos Maldonado dished up a three run homer (his first in a Nat Uniform) hit appropriately off the Chick-Fil-La "Fowl" Pole near the Crawford Boxes in Left. And then Our Number 11 finished off this Full Course Meal with a three run blast of his own over the right-centerfield wall in Houston off Chris Sampson. A feast of a different sort over The Houston Astros Pitching that only ended after Washington sent 12 batters to plate--nine of whom scored.

"Don't Mess With Texas" is another local saying. Yet despite what the locals in Houston might want to believe--Our Washington Nationals WERE messing with Texas!! Many of those in the announced crowd of 34,704 understanding this barbecue at Minute Maid Park was now all but offically over. Time to get up, head home themselves and enjoy a Memorial Day grilling of their own--with family and friends--not at the expense of The Houston Astros.

Leading 14-2 at this point, dessert really didn't matter and Our Manager Jim Riggleman summarily removed Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham from this game. An early rest and relaxation deserved for a picnic menu prepared and presented so well--Washington's Chef's Apron was barely smudged.

Final Score from Minute Maid Park where everything simply came together perfectly today for D.C.'s Team: Our Washington Nationals 14 and The Houston Astros 4. Curly "W" Number 26 will be remembered this Memorial Day 2010 for a 7th Inning self-stuffing of an opponent that found D.C.'s Team coming back for not only second, but third helpings. Nine runs scored, a season high. A well deserved over-indulgence for a baseball team that has competed in far too many one and two runs games this year. But this Texas Sized Barbecue should also be recalled for a young man named Luis Atilano that continues to cook up his own surprises in the starting rotation. Not many culinary artists could be called up from the minor leagues, barely known--and only as an emergency replacement (as Atilano was)--and then settle in as one of the Major Leagues biggest and most unexpected new chefs.

Atilano's pitching numbers aren't the best, but he's now won five games, against one loss. The most victories of any starter on Washington's Staff. And despite not being known as a gourmet on the mound, Luis is winning most battles, serving up his own special recipes. Honing his own skills at the top level of baseball so well--that at this rate--Luis Atilano might be in running for Iron Chef Honors. He's been that surprisingly good--keeping his team in most ball games and pitching just well enough to win.

Game Notes & Highlights

A lot of pitchers last many years in the Major Leagues with Luis Atilano type numbers. Never overpowering, getting just enough support from teammates, they make a career out of their God Given abilities. Maybe the biggest surprise of this season, no one expected Luis Atilano to be a major contributor in the starting rotation for Our Washington Nationals. But there he is, with the most victories (as a starter) and you can't deny he's been successful. Good for him and good for Our Washington Nationals. Luis Atilano is making Baseball Operation's look at him seriously. That's all you can ask from someone who has battled his heart out on the mound.

Batting in the second spot today in the lineup because of his season long slump, Nyjer Morgan produced the type of game everyone expected from him since Opening Day. Three hits, four runs scored, one walk, one sacrifice bunt and two stolen bases. Morgan looked relaxed today for first time in weeks and his play showed that. He was a catalyst. The same pest that was on display last season after his trade from Pittsburgh. Nyjer Morgan did everything Washington expects from him this afternoon. Hopefully, he can keep it up and continue moving forward.

How about the top five hitters in Washington's lineup? Guzman, Morgan, Zimmerman, Dunn & Willingham combining for 12 hits, 12 runs and 9 runs batted in. That's a batting order missing, consistently, for weeks. And worth remembering today how potent it can be if everyone is on the same page. That was a breakout worth watching and enjoying.

The Z-Man's three run homer in the top of the 7th was impressive for pure power & strength shown. Chris Sampson's pitch was down and away, yet Ryan Zimmerman reached out and muscled that pitch deep to right center and into the Houston Bullpen. He smashed that ball. A clubbing few other hitters in the game could accomplish. For ability alone, Zimmy's 102nd career home run might be one of his finest ever. In the dugout after, he Power Pumped Livan Hernandez twice--right elbows then left elbows together. The biggest smile on his face all season. Zimmerman well knew that was a home run to remember also--for years to come.

Ian Desmond again had a great at-bat in the top of the 7th when he blooped that single down the right field line scoring Zimmerman and Dunn. But Dave Jageler on the radio had the BEST CALL OF THE YEAR when Hunter Pence picked up Our Number 6's hit baseball, threw behind Desmond attempting to pick him off rounding 1st base, and proceeded to strike Ian with the baseball. As the ball caromed off Washington's Shortstop toward the Houston Dugout, Josh Willingham advanced to 3rd, Desmond to second while you hear Jageler scream on the radio: "And a fan has run on the field during play and is attempting to run up Tal's Hill (the centerfield in-play mound at Minute Maid Park). Jags then proceeds to give a tremendous play-by-play call of the resultant capture by security--without missing a beat of his call of the game.

GREAT STUFF AND WORTHY OF LISTENING TO AGAIN. If you have audio and you did not hear it live--you have to listen. Just great stuff!! Especially with Charlie Slowes heard just laughing in the background. Perfect!! Another reason why Charlie and Dave are the best radio announcers in the game. Always fun to listen to--no matter the score--no matter the moment on the field.

And finally, after today's game, Our Washington Nationals officially announced that Stephen Strasburg will make his Major League Debut on June 8th at Nationals Park versus The Pittsburgh Pirates. The most awaited game of a rather entertaining season of baseball in The Nation's Capital. That now, might only get better.

Today's In-Game Photos, David J. Phillips (AP)

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