Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Cat & Mouse Game

Standing barely 15 feet from his good friend, The New York Mets David Wright smiled wryly at Our Washington Nationals Ryan Zimmerman. The Mets' 3rd Baseman almost on top of home plate. Zimmy with his bat in his hands looking to hit with the game on the line--again. Both had been in these type situations before. Both had succeeded and failed. And both knew this is why they play this game.

The bases were loaded in the bottom of the 9th, tie ball game, one out and what was left of the announced crowd of 20,167 on their feet excited, and impatiently waiting, for what was to come next.

Unfortunately, those fans would all have to wait a little bit longer.

The Cat & Mouse Game was about to begin.

New York was stalling.

A late Washington rally had caught The Mets and their bullpen off-guard. The New Yorker's usually reliable reliever, Pedro Feliciano, found himself in trouble thanks to "The Mets Must Hate" Willie Harris now standing on 3rd Base, Nyjer Morgan on second and "The Guz" on 1st. A one out walk handed to the pinch hitting Harris swiftly led to trouble after Nyjer's best bunt of the season--a running push bunt that squirted past Feliciano on the mound and Ike Davis rushing in from 1st for a single. Then, immediately followed by a lashed base hit to left off the bat of Cristian Guzman.

With New York's Ryota Igarashi still completing his warmups and not ready, The Mets needed to kill time.

And they needed to plot some strategy.

If New York was going to face Ryan Zimmerman in this situation, they were going to do so under their own terms, not Washington's.

David Wright started the mind games by attempting to say something to the Z-Man standing inside the batter's circle. A remark which Ryan nodded off non-chalantly.

Then Mets Manager Jerry Manuel made Zimmy wait a little longer. Wanting the righty/righty match up, Manuel pretended he was going to keep Pedro Feliciano in the game--although Jerry actually was standing on the visiting dugout steps awaiting the call from his bullpen. A waving towel from over the left field wall stating Igarashi was finally ready.

Looking to hedge their bet, The New York Mets were halting play for their own advantage. A tactic which Home Plate Umpire Jim Reynolds didn't appreciate. As Zimmerman slowly took some practice swings at home plate, Reynolds slowly walked toward the visiting dugout. The impetus to get Jerry Manuel to finally make his move. The official call to the bullpen for his Japanese import. The hook for Feliciano that led to The Mets now actually talking to themselves.

Yes they were. The Mets Were Talking To Themselves.

As Ryota Igarashi took his sweet time to jog and walk from the visiting bullpen, Jerry Manuel conversed with his Mets Players. The New York Manager devising a new defensive strategy. A fresh approach to defend against Ryan. A diversion to make The Z-Man out think himself. As Igarashi continued his warm ups, David Wright called in the New York outfield too. The Mets leftfielder, Jesus Feliciano, (and yes New York has two guys named Feliciano) was placed at second base--around the bag--as a middle infielder. Sort of a softball player in hopes of turning two--understanding most any fly ball hit by Zimmerman would result in a run. Left field virtually unguarded by The New York Mets.

The odd strategy to force Ryan to hit the baseball on the ground. Knowing left field was open, knowing just a hit over 3rd base or shortstop would win this game, New York was hoping Zimmerman would over swing and hit into an inning ending double play. The real reason for this Cat & Mouse Game in the bottom of the 9th.

This scene so reminiscent of Tom & Jerry, the famous cartoon characters of many years past. Tom (The Cat), would always devise unusual ways to catch Jerry (The Mouse). But Jerry most always outsmarted Tom. The mouse using wisdom to avoid the pratfalls.

Ryan Zimmerman is no different. He's a witty as any baseball player comes.

So with the trap now set, the final question was upon everyone--would the mouse find the bait too irresistible to avoid?

Would Tom finally defeat Jerry?

The Z-Man didn't disappoint.

Taking the first two pitches from Igarashi for balls, Our Number 11 now looked for something to drive. And when Ryota attempted to overpower Zimmerman with a fastball, Ryan swung and lofted this third pitch into right field. Not too deep, but not too short--but far enough to allow Willie Harris to attempt to score the game winning run on a sacrifice fly over the cannon arm of Mets Rightfielder, Jeff Francouer.

As Francouer settled under the ball, Harris tagged up and scooted for home. Jeff unfurled what, at first, looked like a terrific throw--the roar from the crowd anticipating a close play at the plate. This toss had the distance, but as it turned out, not the accuracy, and Harris scored easily for the game winning run. Yes, Zimmerman had done it again!! Facing a challenge, a six player infield, an open left field and the urges to pull the ball--Ryan Zimmerman simply played his own game. He didn't out think the situation. He didn't overswing. He simply swung his bat well enough to get the run home.

Final Score from Nationals park where The Cat did not trap The Mouse: Our Washington Nationals 2 and The New York Mets 1. Curly "W" Number 35 was a good, well played game. New York might have brought their Little Sisters Of The Poor Lineup (No Jose Reyes, No Jason Bay, No Carlos Beltran), but Johan Santana provided plenty of firepower on the mound to keep his team in this game. Unfortunately for The Mets, all that talking to themselves in the bottom of the 9th did little to stave off their latest defeat. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! proving how hard it is to defeat an All-Star. Ryan Zimmerman is one competitive player. He can focus. He can relax. He can play this game at the highest level and rarely feel the pressure.

That's why The Z-Man scoffed at David Wright's comments just before his game winning at-bat. That's why he went into the dugout to briefly chat with hitting coach Rick Eckstein about Ryota Igarashi. That's why when play finally resumed, all the Cat & Mouse Games performed by The New York Mets went for naught. For Ryan Zimmerman didn't let any of that stuff bother him. He simply stood at the plate and performed his job--driving in the game winning run on a sacrifice fly.

Zimmy's smile afterwards said it all. Ryan jumping up and down, pirouetting, giving high fives to his teammates. Our Washington Nationals had won the game and Zimmerman knew he had not been caught in the mouse trap.

This is why both he and his friend, David Wright, play this game. They both play to win.

Game Notes & Highlights

Livan Hernandez pitched an excellent game tonight at Nationals Park. He allowed Jesus Feliciano, the leadoff hitter in this game, to score on a bloop single flared to right with two outs in the top of the 1st inning. After that, nothing for seven strong innings. Livo walked no one and wasn't involved in the final decision, but he lowered his ERA in games played on South Capitol Street in 2010 to 1.62 in his eight starts so far. He was deserving of better, but he was matched frame by frame by New York's Johan Santana. The Mets Ace wasn't overpowering, but was equally as effective. Both Santana and Hernandez struck out seven batters apiece. Each allowed one run. And each was no longer in this game when the final run was scored.

A good matchup of crafty veteran starters that any baseball fan should have enjoyed.

Drew Storen pitched the 8th for Washington and Matt Capps received his first personal victory of 2010 by throwing the top of the 9th and becoming the pitcher of record when Ryan Zimmerman drove home the game winning run.

Nyjer Morgan went 2 for 5 at the plate. He knocked in the game tying run off Santana in the bottom of the 7th when he fought an off-speed pitch with two strikes and two outs and then proceeded to reach down and away for a Johan fastball and poked the baseball into left field. Ian Desmond scoring from third base on the play. A fine piece of hitting that saw Morgan clapping himself as he ran to first base.

Leading off the bottom of the 5th, Desmond JUST MISSED a home run that landed on the green wall between the visitors bullpen and the Red Loft Seats. A ruled double after a video review by the umpires. Eventually, Ian was left stranded by his teammates, but his subsequent single in the bottom of the 7th found him touching all the bases after Wil Nieves sacrificed him to second, Santana threw a wild pitch and Nyjer Morgan slapped him home.

In 2009, The Mets David Wright did not have a good season and he got off to a slow start in 2010, but he must have been on fire the past two months. Wright's hitting stats as he stepped to the plate in the top of the 1st inning were mighty impressive. The man has 63 RBI's and we are not even at the halfway point of the season.

The Children's National Medical Center and Heroes Against Cancer were the guests of honor tonight at Nationals Park. Children facing this dreaded disease were part of The Starting Nine. And volunteers handed out "GO NATS!" sign at The Community Desk near Left Field Gate before the game.

Tom won the 4th inning Presidents Race, just beating George and Abe to the wire.

And finally, a beautiful evening for baseball at Nationals Park. Cool summer temperatures, virtually no humidity and a nice breeze. Maybe the nicest July night on South Capitol Street in the ballpark's short existence.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Greg Fiume (Getty Images)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Wombat-socho said...

This is a nice complement to Mark Zuckerman's analysis of the ninth inning. Good stuff.

Post linked at Beltway Baseball.