Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Maybe, Just Maybe

Maybe, it was the heat of the moment.

Maybe, the sweltering 93 degree temperature at Nationals Park finally got to Home Plate Umpire Hunter Wendlestedt.

Or maybe, the blinding light of the setting sun--streaking through the Gallery Level Rooftop and Seats at the time and now shining down brightly between home plate and the pitcher's mound--had affected play too.

No matter what the reason for the outcome of this one play-- the final call was incorrect.

In fact, no maybe's about it.

With The Kansas City Royals leading by the slimmest of margins, 1-0, in the bottom of the 6th, Roger Bernadina came swooping around 3rd Base on Adam Dunn's sharp single to right field. A smacked baseball hit toward Former National Jose Guillen that appeared to set up the game tying score. As virtually the entire crowd of 31,913 rose to their feet in anticipation, Guillen (a good outfielder with a cannon arm) pounced on the ball and fired a rocket liner toward his catcher Jason Kendall. It was going to be close. A near perfect throw on the fly--slightly toward the left batter's box side of the plate--had made it so. As Josh Willingham stood nearby waving for Bernadina to slide to his right away from the possible tag--Umpire Wendlestedt placed himself in front of Josh-his body in the shadows--his head in the sunlight. But BEHIND KENDALL--NOT TO THE SIDE.

Knowing it was going to be a close play, Our Number 2 slid, left foot first toward home plate. Kendall caught Guillen's toss, wheeled around to his left and came down on the plate. Bernadina slid right into him--AFTER TOUCHING HOME PLATE FIRST. No question Roger had beaten the tag. And after Hunter Wendlestedt gave the emphatic OUT CALL!!--there was also no question the Men In Blue had gotten it wrong.

The resultant boos and catcalls cascading down from all over Nationals Park--said it all. Even the television replays showed Bernadina safe.

But this one turnabout play did not cost Our Washington Nationals this ball game.

No, there were a whole lot more maybes to consider by the time the final out was recorded.

Like maybe, if Our Washington Nationals Offense had not gone blistering cold as the scorching heat of a D.C. summer had arrived. Just 11 runs scored by Washington during this just completed six game homestand. And JUST ONE RUN TOTAL in support of Stephen Strasburg in his last two starts.

Maybe, one can ponder a managerial decision earlier in the very same bottom of the 6th. Nyjer Morgan led off with a walk, Bernadina batting next. Why bunt him? And why now? Each can fly and with outs so precious--why give one out up for free--in an attempt to advance an already speedy baserunner? It didn't make much sense at the time, and after Bernadina executed his sacrifice poorly--Morgan was thrown out at first.

Or, maybe it was this odd series of moves in the bottom of the 5th that directly resulted in Washington scoring no runs after having runners on 1st & 3rd with no outs. After Adam Kennedy grounded to first base for out number one--Willingham stood on 3rd Base and Pudge Rodriguez on second. As Ian Desmond came to the plate with Stephen Strasburg the next scheduled hitter--Our Manager Jim Riggleman sent Willie Harris to the on-deck circle to pinch hit.

Fine. We need to score some runs.

But after Desmond struck out against K.C.'s Brian Bannister, Harris was recalled to the dugout and Strasburg sent to the plate to hit as planned--where he grounded out and ended the threat. With Washington's Offense providing such limited support of late, maybe the wiser decision would be to send Willie Harris to the plate? Better yet, maybe even Michael Morse, to possibly break the game open with a deep fly?

Why not? The game was still on the line and very much in the balance. Two runners were in scoring position. You have to make a serious attempt to get those guys home.

Understanding that maybe most every single person who bought a ticket today at Nationals Park came to see Stephen Strasburg pitch--they also probably wished to go home having seen a Curly "W". We sure did, and Manager Jim's decision to let Our Number 37 hit for himself under such a key game situation in the bottom of the 5th--maybe the most confusing situation this day.

As was, maybe, the decision by Stephen Strasburg to throw a bunch of two strike fastballs--instead of using his changeup or wicked curve. Many of his nine hits allowed this afternoon on South Capitol Street came with the facing Royals batter down in the count--not ahead. Which made us think--maybe the steamy heat and humidity had gotten to Our Number 37 too. Maybe, the sweat dripping from his wet hand was affecting his pitch grip. The outcome which can really only make us chuckle (over the fact that he was still effective) because although Strasburg wasn't overpowering this day--he was still more than good enough to win this game. Not deserving of being saddled with the loss.

The first of his career.

Final score from Nationals Park where maybe a series of odd decisions led to the latest defeat: The Kansas City Royals 1 and Our Washington Nationals 0. Loss number 40 of 2010 featured a close play at the plate gone bad, a home side offense that just can't put a series of hits together, some questionable managerial decisions, and the 4th start of Stephen Strasburg's Major League Career that wasn't perfect, but pretty darn good. All adding up to, maybe, the most frustrating defeat of the entire season.

And it's not because Washington lost to The Kansas City Royals. It's because maybe if a few better decisions were made by Hunter Wendlestedt, Washington's offensive lineup, Roger Bernadina, Jim Riggleman--and even Stephen Strasburg--the game's sole run scored by David DeJesus on a, two out, two strike, no balls pitch to Jose Guillen in the top of the 5th would not have been so insurmountable. A simple single the margin for this day.

No, you can't win them all and neither will Our Number 37, but after all was said and done today--maybe, just maybe--Our Washington Nationals could have done a little bit more to win. And help their young starting pitcher by scoring at least a few runs.

Game Notes & Highlights

Scott Podsednik will be the answer to the trivia question: Who did Stephen Strasburg strike out in the bottom of the 6th on June 23, 2010 to set a new Major League record of striking out the most batters ever in their first four Big League starts--41? The previous record held by The Cleveland Indians Herb Score (40 in 1955).

Strasburg's final numbers: six innings pitched, nine hits allowed, nine strikeouts, zero walks, and that one run. His ERA now at 1.78 for the season. Strasburg also notched his first major league hit--a single in the bottom of the 3rd off Brian Bannister.

Sean Burnett pitched a solid two innings in relief of Stephen. Doug Slaten finished out the game for Washington in the 9th.

For some time now, I've wanted to see Joakim Soria pitch for The Kansas City Royals in person. The 2008 All-Star is arguably K.C.'s Most Valuable Player. Even coming off an elbow problem in 2009, he's again been mostly lights out in 2010. Rarely does he walk a batter and his slider is sharp enough to record the high strikeout totals. Joakim didn't disappoint this afternoon at Nationals Park. Called on in the 9th inning to protect the lead, Soria mowed right through Washington's lineup getting Adam Dunn to ground out before striking out both Willingham and Rodriguez to win the game for Kansas City and record his 17th save of the season. Joakim Soria is really good and despite the loss for Washington, I was pleased to see him pitch--in person--for the very first time.

How ironic that Jose Guillen was personally involved in the two key plays of the game. First, his two out single in the 5th scoring DeJesus and later his wonderful throw home on Dunn's single to right in the 6th that led to Roger Bernadina being called out at the plate on The Defensive Play Of This Game. You can say all you want about Jose Guillen and his attitude and temper, but you can never deny the fact that on the field--he gives it all. He lays it all out there. The man plays hard and that's why we appreciated his efforts while a member of Our Washington Nationals. That and his wonderful RFK Stadium Section 320 Chant: Jose!! Jose!! Jose!! Jose!! Jose!!, Jose!! Jose!!. Those of us in Old Section 320 began that chant in 2005, well before The New York Mets copied it for Jose Reyes.

And finally, George took the Presidents Race after Teddy attempted to cheat by cutting across the outfield and Abe fell down nearing the finish line.

Bernadina Sliding Photo--Manuel Balce Ceneta (AP)
Soria Photo--Greg Fiume (Getty Images)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


Edward J. Cunningham said...

A number of Nats fans are wondering why Riggleman insits on using Willy Harris in the line-up while only sparingly using Mike Morse who has a .400 batting average. Is there something we don't know about Morse, or is Morse in Riggleman's doghouse for some reason?

SenatorNat said...

Riggs has cost the Nats about 4-5 games this year and probably won about the same with his management of the team - he is a career slightly under .500 manager and will be one here, too, until he is replaced, either at the end of 2011 or sometime before that. Nats, with Harper signed, can latch onto big name skipper - jury still out on whether Ted-Mark-Eddie will approve paying for top-flight manager before Harper is on the team and it is contending. Harris will be cut from team during or shortly after this year's All-Star break - I predict that Nats will make a deal for a right-fielder with some punch, perhaps even Guillen himself at that point to replace him....

Nats need to take two in Crab-town and I have a feeling that they will, before Strausmas in Hotlanta Monday evening.

Trust in Rizzo - all on track.