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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Zimmerman, Nats rally in 9th, slam Marlins 7-3 in rain-delayed thriller OR Holy, moly, Jorge Julio to the rescue - AGAIN!

"Mr. Walk-off".

That is my new nickname for Nationals third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He had two of them last season, his rookie year, on Father's Day and Independence Day, and he's had two Grand Slams this season already (both against the Marlins, I think - I'm still pretty groggy from the game ending after 1:42 in the morning) and last night's was what I was hoping for, praying for, and I'm giddy at the thought that I actually called it.

Talk about high-drama on East Capitol Street. Look at the situation: After suffering through
3 hours and 38 minutes of rain-delays, the last of which began just as the Nats were to start the bottom of the 9th, down 3-2, Brian Schneider walked on a full-count, Ronnie Belliard (pinch-hitting for Robert Fick) lined-out. Nook Logan was sent in to pinch-run for Schneider, Dimitri Young pinch-hit for Ryan Langerhans, hit a single to left, and Nook Logan flew to third base. Jesus Flores pinch-hit for pitcher Jon Rauch and was walked on 4 pitches sending Dmitri Young to second. BASES LOADED! Manager Manny Acta, running out of bench players, sent in Jason Bergmann, a starting pitcher, to pinch-run for Young, since Dmitri was nursing a bad foot, but it made sense anyway, since Bergmann is probably faster than Young anyway, as well as being a smaller target to tag out. In comes Felipe Lopez, who celebrated his 27th birthday Saturday night, who singled out to right, scoring Nook Logan. TIE-SCORE! Bergmann went to third, Flores went to second, then Christian Guzman came to bat and struck out for the second out. Then, it happened! The Marlins took out their pitcher, Tankersley, and sent in erstwhile-closer JORGE JULIO, he of the 11.42(?) ERA coming into that game, the man who has single-handedly given the Nationals more wonderful game-winning moments than any other opposing pitcher, and I was completely elated. Would he do it again? Could lighting, which had been seen over R.F.K. during the first rain-delay, figuratively strike tonight? In came Ryan Zimmerman, who was runner-up to the Marlins Handley Ramirez in last year's NL Rookie of the Year honors in the closest voting in over 20 years (and has been showing Ramirez up in this series so far). Two-out thunder time! The stage was set (and the "table", too!) Zimmerman, on a 1-0 count, homered to center field, ending the game 7-3, and the remaining crowd of perhaps 100 fans or so, went completely bananas.

I have so much more to write about this glorious game experience, one of THE MOST FUN baseball experiences I've ever had, rain delays and all, but right now I have no time. Since I didn't get home until almost 2:30 this morning, and today's game is at 1:35, I have to run now. I'm currently filled with such a mixture of exhaustion and lingering excitement from these past two nights, and I can't wait to write about it.

More soon!

*EDIT Okay, so I was still pretty excited from the Friday night Nats blowout of the Marlins and I was hoping that Saturday night they could extend the streak. I'd worked all day and couldn't wait to get to the ballpark. I picked up my buddy Myron again, and we made it to R.F.K. early. Checked in with Abbi at Lot #8 and parked and got ready for a fun night of baseball. Went to the main gate and said "hello" to Rico program-vendor extraordinaire and then Ellie at the Press Cafeteria upstairs and then we foraged for food, this time settling upon the previously-lauded Attman's stand, and I enjoyed a roast-beef sandwich, pickle and coleslaw. We settled in and the game began.

Matt Chico was on the mound for the Nats and he did pretty well for himself, working only 4.1 innings (due to the rain delay) throwing 67 pitches, 43 of them for strikes (64%), walking one batter and striking out 3. The Nats took the early lead in the 3rd inning, but the Marlins tied things up in the 4th, and when the first rain-delay occurred, I felt badly that Chico would probably not get to finish the game. When the rain-delay ended, it was the top of the 5th and Leval Speigner came in and allowed two runs. Things weren't looking so good for the Nats in the rainy dark, but they kept things close.

During a long rain delay, R.F.K. takes on a somewhat surreal, atmosphere. Depending upon what point of the game it occurs, fans do their best to enjoy themselves. They invade the team store and kiosks and buy fun souvenirs, they explore the many food options available and avail themselves of various types of carbonated malt beverage products. Since it was a Saturday night, most folks seemed very relaxed, indeed. There wasn't as great a crowd for the game as there was for the Friday game the night before, because A) the Friday game had a Miller cooler promotion, B) a lot of fans came over straight from work (many courtesy of Metro) and, to be honest, there WAS a threat of rain, but at the beginning of this game, the weather was ideal. Frankly, I thought that the rain had missed us, I figured that it was due earlier, like around 4:00 or 5:00. In any event, Myron and I had some wonderful conversations with the folks around us, and we even stretched out legs a bit and wandered around.

I'd decided to buy one of the customized replica Nats jerseys that are being sold behind section 213/214. I thought about getting one later in the season, maybe in June, but since the team has a deal on buying any MLB merchandise over $150, I went for it. By getting the jersey when I did, I got a free MLB terry-cloth bathrobe with the breast-cancer pink ribbon on it and the MLB logo superimposed over it. I also got two free bobble-heads, Screech and Chad Cordero. I thought that the bathrobe would make a nice Mother's Day gift for my own mother and, indeed, she loves it. It looks very comfortable. I worked with Scott Huber and Bill Marino, who helped me choose what name I wanted on the back of the jersey and what number I wanted. At first, I thought I'd just get my own name on it, but then inspiration struck: NATS POWER! I had to do it! But then, the conundrum - what number? 07 for the year? 01 or 1? No, I had to choose a player number, one with special meaning to me. I didn't want to use a former player's number (José's Vidro or Guillen, for example) so which current player did I most want to honor? I love these guys, they are all important to me. Dang, this was difficult! Here's how my thought process worked it out:

#11, Ryan Zimmerman: I love Zimmerman, don't get me wrong, but I liken him to the way a slightly-older generation of Americans regarded the Beatles: Paul McCartney was the "cute" one, the one that ALL the girls loved, so it wasn't "cool" to admit that you liked Paul, you had to say that you liked John Lennon or George Harrison (or, if you were really secure with it, Ringo). I couldn't do #11. Sorry, Z, but you know you get plenty of love, and will for many years (I hope). You're our "rock star" player.

#24 Nick Johnson. I love Nick Johnson, too. He's a rock, he's sorely missed at first base and he's provided plenty of thrills in his time here (he always seems to either get walked or get some sort of hit, he rarely seems to strike out), and he is an inspiration with his work ethic, but he's not playing right now and we don't know when he's coming back, and I wanted to use a number on the field right now.

#23 Brian Schneider? Another of my very-favorite players, the anchor of the battery, a true leader, and one of the Nationals that I most want to meet in person and shake his hand. I had to consider him, too.

I wanted to honor one of the few remaining "Original Nats", and that ruled out most of the pitchers, and the pitchers get a fair amount of notice, so I just ruled them out. Short-stop Christian Guzman has struggled but seems to be coming around, but he's been gone so long due to injuries that I can't really relate to him, though I'm anxious for him to succeed. Finally, it hit me, though:

#19. Ryan Church.

I've loved Church since 2005, and I BADLY wanted him to win Rookie-of-the-Year honors back then, he was a strong candidate for it, until he ran into that wall in Pittsburgh on a game-winning catch. He was out for several weeks, but not by his own choice, he wanted to play very badly, and yet some folks began
questioning his toughness, like the Washington Post's Tom Boswell who wrote a column about it, so suddenly everyone began believing that he wasn't a tough player. I never gave up on him, though, because he showed flashes of brilliance in 2005, and I believed that he still had it in him. He struggled in 2006, got sent down to AAA, was asked to play winter ball in Mexico so he could learn how to bat better against the breaking ball, but he declined, and I was very worried that he would be traded away. Thankfully, Manny Acta named him the starter in left field in Spring Training and this year, Church has been on fire. His zen-like patience at the plate has caused him to be walked a whole lot of times, his defense in left and in center, where he played while Nook Logan was recuperating, was and is flawlessly-brilliant, and his competitive nature is such that I know he will, literally and figuratively, run through walls to win. He is, in short, the National-who-I-most-want-to-succeed, he still seems to be something of an underdog. When the Nats recently picked up outfielder Ryan Langerhans from the Atlanta Braves (by way of two cups of coffee with the Oakland A's) General Manager Jim Bowden made a remark in the press to the effect that he seemed to fantasize about an outfield with Austin Kearns, Langerhans and Nook Logan. "Hello?", I thought. "What about Ryan Church?!?" That statement alarmed me that Bowden might possibly be considering trading Church while he was so hot. It is thoughts such as these which keep me awake at night. So #19 it is. Scott Huber tried one jersey and then noticed a flaw on the front, so he had to make me another one, but in the meantime, he hung "my" jersey on the display rack next to the player jerseys - VERY cool! Here are some photos, courtesy of Screech's Best Friend:
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(Note: Not Neil Diamond, yet still devastatingly-handsome. Photos taken Sunday, the 13th)

Myron and me during the rain delay. Yeah, we sure look miserable, don't we? Ha!

A fun thing that happened during the second rain-delay was meeting the lovely ladies from Three Girls with Heart. They have tremendous spirit and were a delight to chat with. They took some GREAT photos while they were there, well-worth checking out. Thanks, girls!

I saw Jordan Schneider with little baby Tatum, and I got to say hello. Gosh, that is one cute baby the Schneider's have, as cute a baby girl as you could ever imagine. Mom sure looked proud and happy.

"George" won the President's Race, again. Atta boy, "G"!

History was made at R.F.K. and I was thrilled to be present for it. Austin Kearns had an inside-the-park home run, which brought the Nats score to within 1 of tying the game.
This was the FIRST inside-the-park home run at R.F.K. since Tom McCraw (who some of you may remember as the former hitting coach under previous Nationals manager Frank Robinson) hit one for the Washington Senators on May 17th, 1971, and this was the FIRST such home run in Washington Nationals history. I couldn't believe it when it was happening because it is so rare and I simply didn't expect it. Kearns has decent speed, but he isn't as fast as, say, Felipe Lopez or Nook Logan. Heck, he probably surprised the Marlins as much as he did his own teammates! Congratulations, "Bluegrass"!

Ryan Report: Church went 0 for 3, but he was walked once. Langerhans had the hot bat, going 2 for 3 with a run. Oh, and Zimmerman went 1 for 4 (Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!)

This was a team win, no doubt about it, I'm not truly doing justice to all of the on-field efforts of the Nats.

Note to fans: This is why you NEVER leave a ballgame early. Especially if it's a Saturday night and you don't have to work the next day. If you have squirming, unhappy kids who need to go to bed, I can understand, that is an extenuating circumstance, but you NEVER know just what you might miss. I ran into several folks today who were COMPLETELY UNAWARE of the walk-off slam because the $0.35 editions of the newspapers didn't have it, of course, and they might not have seen the news on T.V. before coming to the game today. I was one of at least 76 fans in the stadium at the end, maybe as many as 100, and I will treasure this memory for the rest of my life.

According to MASN, there have only been TWO GAMES in MLB history with a walk-off Grand Slam AND an inside-the-park home run in the same game before this one. The last time was the 1987 Montreal Expos vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tim Wallach had the IHP, and Vance Law had the Slam. Before that? 1930, Detroit Tigers vs the Chicago White Sox, Hall-of-Famer Charlie Gehringer with BOTH (two different hits). So you see, you can go an entire lifetime as a baseball fan and NEVER see that happen! It's like seeing two comets at the same time.

There's been a lot of news, with poor Chad Cordero's grandmother passing away a notable event. I'm glad that Chad got to be with his family. Hitting Coach Mitchell Page is out on personal leave and it sounds like a scary medical problem, the reports I've read describe numbness in his side, and he claims that he can't hold so much as a cup of coffee. In the interim, the Nats have promoted Lenny Harris, MLB's all-time pinch-hitting leader, to that role.

On Monday, the Nats have a promotion with StitchnPitch and they also honor law enforcement officers during Police Week which begins tomorrow.

I'm certain that I'm forgetting some things here. The Saturday night game was so memorable, and the Friday night game, too. What a fun couple of days!

Oh, and I love looking at these:

Now to blog about the Sunday game.

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