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Monday, May 14, 2007

Nats edge Braves 2-1 OR Bergmann takes Smoltz to the cleaners v2.0

My friend Rico, the program vendor (Oh, sorry, I mean "PRO-GRAM!!!" vendor!) mentioned to me tonight that he won't be at his kiosk tomorrow night, as it is his birthday, so he'll be in the team store, or right outside of it. I shook his hand and wished him best early birthday wishes.

Another man whose birthday tomorrow is tonight's starter for the Atlanta Braves, pitcher John Smoltz. I don't think that he will enjoy his Tuesday as much as Rico will, because he exited the game tonight with a dislocated pinky on a freak play in the 7th inning, as he tagged-out Austin Kearns who was caught in a rundown between 3rd and home plate. Smoltz was looking to notch his 199th career win, and he will have to wait at least five days to get it, as the Nats edged the Braves 2-1, on a beautiful, but very brief night at R.F.K., the game ending in 2 hours and 8 minutes.

The Nats starter, Jason Bergmann, flirted with a no-hitter all evening until finally giving up not just a hit, but a solo home run in the 8th inning, but he still had an absolutely wonderful outing, throwing 111 pitches (81 strikes, 73% ratio) and allowed two hits, one run and one walk. He struck out TEN batters! Manny Acta was going to let him complete the game, but after he allowed his second hit in the top of the 9th inning, Manny wisely decided to pull him, so that he could go out on a very positive note, and a raucous, well-deserved standing ovation from the 18,000+ fans in attendance who witnessed him notch his first win of the season. Congratulations, Jason!

Tonight was a HUGE step in the maturation of Jason Bergmann as a major league starting pitcher. If anyone is not convinced that he is an excellent pitcher by now, well, then they are crazy. Detractors will point out that the Braves Chipper Jones didn't play tonight, and that Andruw Jones is in a slump, but this Braves team is still only a game or so out of the NL East lead, and though they lost a game on Sunday, they just got off of a 5 game winning streak. They must be doing something right.

Contemporary wisdom says that "Chicks dig the long ball", which can be extrapolated to mean that all baseball fans love to watch home runs, but TRUE baseball aficionados get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of a classic pitcher's duel, and that's exactly what we had tonight at R.F.K. Atlanta's John Smoltz, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer someday, was not allowing much, (
The Nats only had 4 hits, after all.) but he must just hate Jason Bergmann as this is the second time in several weeks of this young season that Bergmann has out-dueled him. I'll tell you one thing, pitcher's duels are a whole lot shorter than games with tons of hits!

And guess who had the hot bat for Washington again? You guessed it - Shortstop Cristian Guzman! Guzman had 2 of the 4 hits, going 2 for 4, the first one for a TRIPLE, his second in two days! He also had a run. Could this be the return of the man who led the American League in triples for a couple of years when he was with Minnesota? I sure as heck hope so! In just a couple of days, Guzman has raised his batting average from .143 to .323 (!!!!) In short, Guzman is EN FUEGO! Gone is the man who, when he would come to bat in 2005 (up until September that is) you prayed that he wouldn't strike out. He finished that year JUST over the dreaded "Mendoza Line" of .200 (.211 for him, if I recall correctly). Cristian, we never realized how much we'd miss you. Congratulations and WELCOME BACK! To all of those Guzman-detractors who wailed and gnashed their teeth and cursed General Manager Jim Bowden for his supposed hubris, let me say this - Bowden's looking a whole lot smarter now, don'tcha think? Bowden's a gambler, but he's not reckless, he does his homework. If Guzman had gotten laser eye surgery two years ago, he might have been the toast of D.C. in 2005 and really enjoyed his first year here. THIS IS THE PLAYER that Jim Bowden foresaw playing here in D.C. If Guzman keeps this up, there will be no further discussion of how the team is "saddled" with Guzman's large contract for two more years, an albatross around the team's financial neck. If Guzman stays healthy, his jerseys will be flying off of the shelves, kids will know his name and cheer. I long to see that day, and it no longer seems like a fantasy.

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 2 with a run and a walk, Zimmerman went 0 for 3 but he had an RBI, Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3 with an RBI, and Langerhans, who I REALLY wanted to see show up his recently former teammates, went 0 for 3 but he had a very nice catch in the outfield.

Jesus Colome threw 14 pitches (8 strikes) to close out the 9th inning and notch his first save. Congratulations, Jesus!

Manager Manny Acta is positively Bhudda-like in his post-game interviews. If the sound were turned-down, I doubt that you could tell from the expressions on his face whether or not his team just won or lost. He gives the players full credit for the wins, and he comes across to me as a man with rock-solid integrity. Acta seems to me like a man with unimpeachable character, and he truly says all of the proper things publicly. I get the impression that his players admire and respect him tremendously, and REALLY want to play for him. My feeling is that his players don't fear him so much as they fear disappointing him. I hope that they continue to win for him, as frequently as possible.

Oh, and the results of the real drama on the field? "Abe" won the President's Race. 'Teddy" was in the stands watching and participating in the StitchNpitch event this evening.

There was a large police presence in the stands due to so many police being in town for Police Week. If you needed a cop at R.F.K. tonight and couldn't find one, then you simply weren't trying, just like "Teddy" tonight. (Ouch!)

And the streak continues, for at least another day.....

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