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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nats snatch defeat from jaws of victory OR terrible trouble in twelfth

This was the bitterest of defeats. As "Teddy" says on the Nationals T.V. commercials, "Man, this stinks!"

After outperforming most expectations for 8 2/3 innings, the Nats appeared to be on the verge of winning a home series against the powerhouse New York Mets. Starting pitcher Jerome 'Sherwin" Williams (why "Sherwin"? Because he was painting the corners of the plate all night!) had his BEST start of the season, emerging phoenix-like from his April troubles, to hold the Mets to ONE HIT in 6 innings, throwing 85 pitches with an improbable 40 for strikes. A poor ball/strike ratio, to be sure, and yet somehow Williams made it work. Credit some excellent Nationals defense for that, too, allowing only two Mets hits going into the 9th. They also turned several double-plays, looking really sharp for the most part.

Ronnie Belliard put the Nats on the board with an RBI double in the 6th, and gave them a 2-1 lead with another RBI double in the 8th. Belliard, Michael Restovich, and Jerome Williams all had some long balls that left me repeating the same mantra that I have for the last couple of years, "In any other ballpark, that woulda been a home run...".

For one inning (the 7th) the "Bad News Nats" reared their ugly heads, but quickly transformed back into the Big Play Nats and things looked good.

There were a couple of strange plays which I can only conclude were mental errors. One involved Felipe Lopez in the 3rd, just putting on the brakes while trying to steal second because he misjudged the count, which was 3 and 1. The other involved Jerome Williams falling in love with his own hit in the 6th inning, which ALMOST went for a home run, and it so mesmerized Williams that he only got a single out of it when by all rights, he should have made it to second base easily. I'd hate to hear the earful he's going to get about that move.

Chad Cordero blew the save. Simple as that. After turning a nice double-play in the top of the 9th, the Nats were ONE OUT AWAY from a gratifying win, but then former National Endy Chavez got on base, then Damion Easley hit a little ground ball which Felipe Lopez fired to first JUST missing the out because he took one extra second getting the ball out of his glove - so close! And then that darned Julio Franco, the Mets ageless wonder, who has made another name for himself as a Nats-killer over the past three seasons, did it once again, delivering a clutch RBI single when the Mets needed it the most. The man was hitting right at the Mendoza line, but he managed to hit to right field, and Austin Kearns fired it in like a bullet to Jesus Flores at the plate who came SO CLOSE to tagging Chavez out at the plate, but it was not to be. The game would continue, as the score was now tied. Robert Fick speared a good, run-saving ball at first to end the inning.

The wheels came off of the bus in the 12th. Saul Rivera allowed 3 earned runs on two hits, and Ryan Wagner 1 earned run on 2 hits. I wasn't surprised - the Mets are leading the league in so many offensive categories that I figured if they had enough time, and outlasted enough pitchers, they could grab their win. All boxing matches, if allowed to go for unlimited rounds, eventually change from fights to just endurance contests. The Nats have done well in extra innings this season but tonight they just ran out of gas.

Ryan Report: Church and Zimmerman had interesting games, and to be truly inclusive I must mention another Ryan, Ryan Wagner, as well. Church went 0 for 1, but was walked 4 times. Zimmerman had two AMAZING throws to first for outs in the 4th, real "Sports Center" -worthy throws, both thrown from distances of around 150 feet. Zimmerman is STRONG. He went 1 for 4 and was walked once. Unfortunately, Zimmerman also had a very costly error in the 7th, which allowed the Mets to score on the following at-bat. Wagner pitched one inning in extra innings, giving up two hits and one earned run on 10 pitches in the 12th. He might be the odd man out when Ray King comes back to the roster, and might be on his way to AAA Columbus.

It was a pretty lovely night to be at the ballpark. It looked as though it might rain, but it didn't until a faint misty-rain began falling in the 9th. The temperature was very comfortable, and boy, were there a LOT of Mets fans in attendance. As Bob Carpenter likes to say, we'll happily take their money. Almost 30,000 tickets sold for this one, not bad for late April.

I finally decided to try the hot dogs at the new kiosk on the Terrace Food Court that replaced the Hard Times Café. I went for two chili-cheese dogs and a sweet tea. The chili dogs were okay, but MAN, were they ever the skinniest hot dogs I've ever seen. Looking at what they sold to me, the only thing that I could think of was, there wasn't a lot of "there" there for $7.00. I can get a better deal with the Super-Dogs, or with a nice grilled hot dog or sausage at some of the other stands. I may just wind up sticking with the brisket of beef sandwiches from now on, they seem to be the most satisfying menu item to me in the entire stadium.

I checked in with most of my favorite people at the stadium. Poor Ellie wasn't up at the Press Cafeteria there for the second game in a row due to a family situation, but Rico was back at his program stand, in fine voice as usual.

I sat with my friends, SBF and The African Queen from Nats320 and we were all having a pretty good time, even though we seemed inundated with loud Mets fans. SBF's friend Mick had the line of the night, when the Nats Jesus Colome was pitching, Jesus Flores was catching and the Mets Moises Alou was at the plate: "Jesus is pitching, Jesus is catching and Moses is hitting!" That really made me laugh.

Considering that the Mets Tom Glavine, he of the 293 career wins, was starting tonight and the Nats Jerome Williams had struggled so terribly this month, my hopes were not high going into this game, but by and large I was pleasantly surprised. The Nationals haven't dominated anyone so far this season and the Mets were in second place in the division going into this game. Sure, the Mets lost the previous night's game, but it seemed like a long-shot to make it two in a row. I'm very proud of the Nats, they put up one hell of a fight in this game, and had their chances to win. They made a few mistakes, but unlike some of their error-ridden games earlier this month, they didn't really beat themselves, they just sort-of "handicapped" themselves in this one. I'm very encouraged. Yeah, an "L" is an "L", but if the Nats can go toe-to-toe with a team like the Mets as they have been so far (the season record now stands at 2 and 2, but it could easily have been 4-0 Nationals) then they should feel good about themselves and figure that they can take anyone in their league. Of course, they haven't had to face the Mets Pedro Martinez yet.

I hope that Sunday's matchup with Jason Bergmann against John Maine will prove to be an equally compelling game. As always, I hope for the best.

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