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Friday, May 11, 2007

Nats maul Marlins in 6-0 shutout OR Nats blasting bats feast on floundering fish on Friday

Memo to Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden:

Dear Mr. Bowden, Who were those players on the field tonight, and what have you done with my beloved Nationals?

In the immortal words of Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Who ARE those guys?"

Someone from MLB is going to want to take the Nationals Wheaties to a laboratory for testing, because all of a sudden, the most anemic offense in the National League (nay, even the majors) got 15 hits and 6 runs to blow out the Florida Marlins, 6-0. The win snaps the Nationals longest losing streak in their 2+ seasons here.

Let me preface the game analysis by saying that tonight's game may have been one of the most perfect nights for baseball that I've ever experienced. The weather was positively beautiful, low to moderate humidity, and today's temperature hit 82 degrees, I believe. Much more summer-like than mid-spring, but most welcome all the same. I had a particularly rough day at work, and after being allowed out early, I raced downtown to pick up my buddy, Myron, and we managed to get to R.F.K. with plenty of time to spare. Seeing as how this was a promotional night (Miller Beer cooler giveaway for the first 25,000 adults) I knew that, combined with the gorgeous weather, that there should be a good crowd to welcome the Nats back home after a brutal 9 game road trip where they lost their last 8 games straight.

After checking in with Rico the program vendor (who I bought some baseball cards and a souvenir ball from) and Ellie at the press cafeteria (who I hadn't seen in a while as she had a family problem to deal with) Myron and I got some beef brisket and sweet tea and made our way down to our seats. As I sat there in the waning sunlight, enjoying my sandwich and tea, and catching up with Myron, it occurred to me that there was no other place in the entire world that I wanted to be at that moment. I could feel the stress of the work week melting away, and a wonderful sense of satisfaction washed over me. I looked around at the stadium, my beloved, dumpy old R.F.K. and just took it all in. The game hadn't even started yet, just the pregame features, and I was already as happy as a puppy in a bowl of gravy. There was a charge in the stadium atmosphere, a palpable sense of happy anticipation. Despite the 9-25 record, there was a sense that anything might happen tonight, but perhaps the warm Friday weather just had everybody a little giddy. I visited SBF and the African Queen to catch up for a few moments before the game started, and Myron and I got some beers from Howard, our favorite beer vendor. Like the Nationals, I, too, have a strict alcohol policy; I won't have more than one beer on Friday nights because I always have to be at work early on Saturdays. Besides, I had to drive Myron (and, of course, myself) home and I won't put my friends, myself or other drivers in harm's way just because I'm enjoying myself. The funny thing is, Howard just went ahead and poured us both light beers, which I don't really enjoy, but it was just enough alcohol to help me "decom-stress" (a word I made up: "decompressing one's stress"). I've always maintained that people who drink light beer don't really enjoy the taste of beer, they just like to pee a lot, but with Howard, it's about supporting my friend.

Howard did report some good news, that this is the LAST homestand with vendors pouring beer out of aluminum cans into cups, they are going back to the 16 oz. plastic bottles, and I say, AMEN to that! Those cups are a pain in the neck. I'm sure that the beer companies like them because the gas dissipates faster than out of a bottle, so customers tend to drink more beer because they don't feel so full, but at the same time, the vendors themselves hate them because they take too long to dispense for customers, it slows them down. Bravo to whatever powers-that-be who made that decision.

Back to the game. Poor Shawn Hill was pitching the game of his life this evening, throwing 65 pitches in 5 innings (37 strikes) allowing NO hits and striking out 5. I was just beginning to get excited about the fact that Shawn had a no-hitter going when, at the top of the 6th inning, he came out with a sore shoulder. He wound up with the win, of course, but I feel absolutely terrible for him, because he is such a strong-willed competitor, and he seems to take any kind of setback very hard. I'll bet that he feels that he let the team down, but nothing could be further from the truth! Shawn Hill set the stage for the bullpen to finish off the Marlins bats, and let's face it, he silenced an offense that has been very tough on the Nats over the past two seasons. He may not have pitched a complete game, but as far as I'm concerned, he had a no-hitter, period. Shawn even got WALKED by the Marlin's pitcher, Scott Olsen, and I can only imagine the chewing-out that Olsen got for that, it's likely the most inexcusable sin by a pitcher. Shawn Hill will miss two starts to rest his shoulder, and he will be dearly missed.

The best part of the whole game was the bottom of the 6th inning. That's where the whole game just broke open for the Nats. Here is the summary, courtesy of STATS, LLC, but it doesn't BEGIN to capture the emotion and excitement of what ensued:

C.Guzman singled to left. Zimmerman flied out to right fielder R.Abercrombie. Church doubled to right, C.Guzman scored. On error by first baseman Boone, Church to third. Kearns hit a sacrifice fly to right fielder R.Abercrombie, Church scored. Belliard singled to left. Schneider doubled to right, Belliard scored. N.Logan infield single to short, Schneider to third. T.Batista pinch-hitting for W.Abreu. Gardner pitching. T.Batista flied out to left fielder Willingham.

The 6th ended with the Nats now ahead 4-0, and the fans were feeling fine about it.

The no-hitter came to an end in the top of the 7th, by Josh Willingham, who got a hit off of Saul Rivera. Ryan Church ALMOST caught that ball, but it appears that he realized that he wouldn't catch it so he decided to smother it, blocking it from turning into a double for the Marlins. Perhaps it was too much to ask for, given how the breaks have gone for the Nats this season, but it was fun to think that it might happen.

The bullpen, with Winston Abreau, Saul Rivera, Jesus Colomé and Jon Rauch doing closing duties in Chad Cordero's absence, acquited themselves in fine fashion, each getting one strikeout and only allowing 4 total hits.

The Marlins helped the Nats cause by allowing themselves to get 3 errors. The "Bad News Fish" - who knew that THEY would be in town tonight?

Tonight saw the second appearance in 37 days at R.F.K. by Marlins reliever Jorge Julio. Back in the first week of the season, Julio had a mound-meltdown that allowed the Nats to come back from a 5-run deficit and give Nats Manager Manny Acta his first major league managerial win. When I saw Julio appear in the 7th, I began to laugh myself silly, because I could just hear my friend SBF shouting, "C'mon, it's JORGE JULIO!", he of the 14+ ERA. I couldn't wait to see what he would do. As it turns out, he didn't allow much, but it was still a fun moment for me.

Ryan Report: A very good night. Church went 2 for 4, with a run and 2 RBI's, Zimmerman went 1 for 3 with an RBI, and Langerhans made a diving catch in left field (subbing for Ryan Church) that ought to appear on "Sports Center" tonight, as it was very athletic.

Who had the hot bats for the Nats tonight? Christian Guzman and Brian Schneider! Guzman went 3 for 5 with 3 runs, and Schneider went 3 for 4 with an RBI double that was a home run but the Marlins outfielder made an acrobatic leap and snagged it as it went into the Nats bullpen, but he couldn't hold it, dropping it onto the field. Nook Logan and Ronnie Belliard each went 2 for 4 with Belliard getting a run. Logan also beat out a tag at first, showing his excellent speed.

Guzman, by the way, raised his batting average from .143 at the beginning of the game, to .263. This is a MAJOR development in his Nationals career! In September, 2005, his last full baseball season, Guzman barely lifted his average over .200, by having a strong September. I believe that he finished at .216. He has laser eye surgery before this season began, and after having a great spring training and tonight's performance, I'm beginning to think that we are seeing a new Christian Guzman. His defense was excellent tonight, and his bat prowess was delightful to see.

I just love looking at graphs like this:

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A reported crowd of 23,000+ stood on their feet to see Jon Rauch finish off the Marlins. As I watch the game just now (I always record each game, even the ones that I attend) I notice that Myron and I managed to get on camera seconds before the final out because the camera was focusing on a rather attractive woman that we happened to be seated near. That was cool to see. I'm just standing there clapping away, with a big grin on my face. The Nats won a home game in grand style and all was right with the world as far as I was concerned.

The Marlins entered this game tonight 2 games below .500, and they had not been shut out yet this season. There was no reason for anyone to expect such a dominating win by the Nats tonight, or so many mistakes by the Marlins.

The Nats, and their fans, needed this game badly. After such an agonizing losing streak, so many close games, it felt good to actually dominate somebody. It's just completely reinvigorating, and it is my fondest hope that this energy carries the team throughout the rest of this weekend, the rest of this homestand. I'm impressed with the Nats resiliency, they still believe in themselves.

Tonight was Armed Forces Appreciation night, and there was a very nice military presence in the stadium, including a Coast Guard precision rifle drill squad (probably not what it is really called, but that is what it looked like to me) and several newly-minted members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were sworn-in during a dignified pregame ceremony near home plate.

In other Nationals news, Nats hitting coach, Mitchell Page, has taken a personal leave of absence, and in his stead, the Nats have brought up Lenny Harris, the all-time MLB leader in pinch hits, from their minor league organization. Harris allegedly has a so-called "pinch-hit mentality" and it is a different approach to hitting than Page uses. It will be interesting to have him mentoring our hitters.

On Monday, the Nationals will be participating in something called "Stitch-N-Pitch", a baseball-related organization which encourages people to practice the needle-arts in the confines of a baseball stadium. Interesting.

My friend SBF mentioned that he was given a card by a guy selling baseball bathrobes. It MIGHT be this company here, but having not seen the card, I could be wrong. In my reviewing of tonight's game, I actually saw the guy he spoke about, walking around wearing a white robe with red letters spelling out ZIMMERMAN and his number, 11, on the back. It looked very cool, I may have to investigate that.

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