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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Frank Howard Day" at Pearson's Liquor, this Saturday

Loathe as I am to promote one of my competitors, this is actually a pretty cool event.

Washington Senators legend Frank Howard will be at Pearson's Liquor this Saturday, August 4th, from 12:00-3:00 to sign specially-dipped bottles of Maker's Mark Bourbon which will sport the Washington Nationals colors. Visit their website and R.S.V.P., as space is limited.

If I weren't working at that time, I'd go in a heartbeat. Maybe I'll ask for the time off. I've met Frank once before, a few years ago, in a liquor store in Maryland. He was working for the Jim Beam people then. He told those of us who were in the store that he went where Dallas Green went so, for example, if Dallas Green was managing the Mets, then Frank went to the Mets to be a hitting instructor.

Take some time to visit with a baseball legend and Senator's icon! "Hondo" will be glad to see you.

Of trade deadlines and other thoughts

July 31st, and all of baseball is a-buzz and a-twitter with last-minute trade possibilities. Thankfully for the Nationals, there isn't nearly as much drama as there was last season, with the entire Nat-O-sphere (Nat-mosphere?) on the edge of their seats waiting to see if All-Star left fielder Alphonso Soriano would remain a National through the end of the season or be traded in some sort of blockbuster deal. I fully remember sitting in front of my work computer flipping back and forth between Firefox tabs on my browser, between the Nationals website, the Washington Post, and a couple of other baseball news sites, anxiously awaiting any word. I was so grateful that Soriano was not traded, and we were treated to another 8 weeks of his wonderful play, and when he joined the 40-40 club, he joined it as a National.

With potential trade players Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young safely locked up with new contract extensions, the only players of true concern for Nationals fans are setup man Jon Rauch and closer Chad Cordero, who have both been the subject of trade rumors for several weeks.

On the signing side, there have been rumors galore that the Nats want to sign Adam Dunn from Cincinnati.

Personally, I don't want to see either Jon Rauch or Chad Cordero traded. They are both very good at what they do, integral parts of one of the very best bullpens in baseball this season. Having said that, if either of them IS traded, I sure hope that we get a lot in return because they are both worth it.

Onto other random subjects.........

The girls at We've Got Heart have a nice entry about the Nationals special on WETA (channel 26) tonight at 9:00 about the Nationals. I'll have to record it as I'll be at the game.

If there is any doubt that Philadelphia has some of the most psychotic fans in sports, then these comments on a Phillies blog ought to put those notions to rest. Right, Philly fans - John Lannan, making his debut in the major leagues, INTENTIONALLY broke Chase Utley's hand. He's just that deadly accurate with his pitches, that's why the Nats called him up, to ruin the rest of your season by taking Utley out. The Nats are dead-locked in a pennant race with you guys after all (Oh, that's right - we're NOT!). Forget that the home plate umpire told the Nats before that happened that Lannan was, "all over the place", you just have to have someone to blame for a freak occurrence, so go after a kid you never heard of 24 hours before that happened. You Phillie fans constructing Facebook groups and websites making empty threats against a rookie pitcher are a disgrace to your team and your city. The "City of brotherly love"? Yeah, right.

Philadelphia certainly doesn't have the exclusive franchise on psychotic fans, though. Obviously, some Mets fans can be driven to a murderous rage by their team's uneven play.

Maybe more later, if I have the time, or the Nats are involved in a last-minute trade. Stay tuned!

*UPDATE - in an interesting move, the Phillies acquired Julio Mateo from the Mariners to beef up their bullpen. This could be good news for the next time the Nationals face the Phillies because, as has been demonstrated both against the Marlins and the Mets (and the Rockies, for that matter), the Nats always do well against pitchers named "Julio", especially this season.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Nats lose to Mets 5-0 in rain-shortened series final OR Nats series win hopes Flushing down drain.

For those of you readers who aren't particularly religious, I offer up today's Nats/Mets game at Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens as proof that there IS a God, and that he is merciful. The Almighty Himself was obviously watching the game and decided that He'd had enough.

The Nats were down 5-0 and had given up 10 runs in just 5 innings when the rain, which had started a few innings earlier, got bad enough to halt play. After an hour and a half delay, the game, which had qualified to be a complete game, was called. Someone obviously wanted to put the Nationals, and their fans, out of their misery.

(Of course, I'D like to think that the Nats were JUST warming up and were about to really take it to the Mets again, so the umpire's decision to call the game seems rather rash to me.)

For those of you who are curious as to how these things work, here are the official MLB rules which proscribe how a called game is handled:

(a) A regulation game consists of nine innings, unless extended because of a tie score, or shortened (1) because the home team needs none of its half of the ninth inning or only a fraction of it, or (2) because the umpire calls the game. EXCEPTION: National Association leagues may adopt a rule providing that one or both games of a doubleheader shall be seven innings in length. In such games, any of these rules applying to the ninth inning shall apply to the seventh inning.
(b) If the score is tied after nine completed innings play shall continue until (1) the visiting team has scored more total runs than the home team at the end of a completed inning, or (2) the home team scores the winning run in an uncompleted inning.
(c) If a game is called, it is a regulation game:
(1) If five innings have been completed;
(2) If the home team has scored more runs in four or four and a fraction half-innings than the visiting team has scored in five completed half-innings;
(3) If the home team scores one or more runs in its half of the fifth inning to tie the score.
(d) If a regulation game is called with the score tied, it shall become a suspended game. See Rule 4.12.
(e) If a game is called before it has become a regulation game, the umpire shall declare it “No Game.”
(f) Rain checks will not be honored for any regulation or suspended game which has progressed to or beyond a point of play described in 4.10(c)

(I don't see the words "mercy rule" in there anywhere, but perhaps it doesn't need to be.)

Truth be told, I was plenty concerned about this game. Nationals starter Billy Traber hasn't exactly been dominating anyone this season, and Dmitri Young, the Nats All-Star and biggest offensive weapon, was sitting this game out. I kind of felt as though the Nats were bringing a knife to a gunfight. Mets starter John Maine, who was 11-5 going into this game, is a genuine threat on the mound, and he took his best stuff to the Nats early. The Nats only managed to get one measly hit against Maine, by Ronnie Belliard. Maine, for his part, struck out 5 Nats batters and lowered his E.R.A. to 2.92.

In ugly contrast, Traber lasted only 3.2 innings and gave up 5 runs on 8 hits, including a 3-run homer, striking out 3 but walking 2. Reliever Chris Schroeder only faced 4 batters and allowed 2 hits.

Ryan Report: Oh, please.

So, 2 games to 2: Like kissing your sister, or worse? I take a moral victory out of this weekend, the Nats could have done a whole lot worse, and I'm certain that Mets fans everywhere believe that the Mets SHOULD have won 3 of 4, if not 4 of 4, but the Mets have not been without their own troubles, including losing 2B Jose Valentin for the season to injury. The Nats also were spared having to face Tom Glavin, whose will be looking for his 300th win on his next start.

So the Nats get an early departure from New York and Monday off. They now come home to begin a 6-game series against the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals, two teams that the Nats had some success against earlier in the season. More reason to give a fan hope.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Nats edge Mets 6-5 OR Nats the Kings of Queens for the night

Tonight the Washington Nationals jumped ahead of the New York Mets 3-0 and survived the Mets charge to tie the game, jumped ahead again 6-3 and held off the Mets second rally to win 6-5, evening their day's play at 1 game each, but gaining the edge in the weekend series 2-1, with game #4 Sunday afternoon.

The Nats starter, who I am christening Joel "The Hammer" Hanrahan (original, isn't it?) made his major league debut, the second Nationals pitcher to do that this week, and their 13th starting pitcher this season, a major league high. Like his fellow teammate from Columbus, John Lannan, Hanrahan didn't get the win, but he DID pitch incredibly well, allowing 3 runs on 4 hits, walking 1 but striking out 7. SEVEN! Nice work for a rookie! He threw 86 pitches with 56 strikes (65%) and threw 5 shutout innings, making only one costly mistake in the 6th inning when he didn't locate a pitch where he wanted it to Carlos Delgado, who launched a 3-run homer to tie the game. He even had a good turn at the plate, hitting a triple at his very first major league at-bat, becoming only the 4th pitcher since 1974 to do that. He wound up going 1 for 3. Welcome to the majors, "Hammer"! I can't wait to see him pitch again.

The bullpen of Ray King, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero did well, with only Rauch being a little bit shaky as he allowed 2 runs on 4 hits, but he held on to the Nats lead to give Chad Cordero the chance to get his 21st save (which he did) and get himself his 7th win.

Ryan Report: Has the phrase "like night versus day" ever been more appropriate? The "R-Squad", which was basically neutralized this afternoon, came back to life this evening, though Church got the night off. Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with a walk and an R.B.I., Langerhans went 1 for 3 with the CRUCIAL game-winning R.B.I., and Austin Ryan Kearns went 2 for 5.

The Nats racked-up another 6 hits from D'Angelo Jimenez (2 for 4, with a double, an R.B.I. and a walk), Ronnie Belliard (2 for 5 with a double and 2 R.B.I's), Dmitri Young (1 for 4 with an R.B.I.) and John Hanrahan (1 for 3).

This game is easily a candidate for one of the Nats most exciting games of the year, made so because they were playing the N.L. East-leading New York Mets, playing IN New York's Shea Stadium (always a hostile environment for visiting teams), the drama of playing the 2nd game of the day, the added drama of a visiting pitcher making his major league debut, jumping ahead 3-0 in the 2nd, the Mets tying the game 3-0 in the 6th, the Nats surging ahead in the 8th to make it 6-3, then holding on for dear life as the Mets rallied to make the score 6-5. The old Coney Island rollercoaster in nearby Brooklyn never provided as many up-and-down thrills as this game.

3 down, 1 to go. Could the underdog Nats actually win this series, embarrassing the Mets in their own ballpark? At least they can't lose the series. Billy Traber takes the mound, but their best hitter, All-Star Dmitri Young will sit out the game to get two days off in a row (Monday being an off-day).

I can't wait to see what happens. Gametime 1:10.

Nats lose day game of Mets double-header 3-1 OR Duelling with El Duque

Nationals starter Tim Redding had a brilliant outing today against the New York Mets, going 6 innings, spelling the bullpen a little, and allowing only 1 run on 5 hits, walked 4 but tied his personal strikeout high with 8.

Unfortunately, New York's Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, had an even better day.

Hernandez worked 7 innings and only gave up a solo homerun to Felipe Lopez, walking 2 but also striking out 8, as the Mets won 3-1 in game 1 of the day/night double-header.

There really isn't much to say about this game from a Nats standpoint. Redding was freakin' brilliant, going toe-to-toe with the Mets, in what was an exciting pitcher's duel, if you are as into that sort of thing as I am. Redding threw 64 strikes on 106 pitches (60%) and kept the Nats in the game, giving them chances to score meaningful runs. I can't wait to see his next start.

The game fell apart for the Nats when reliever Saul Rivera, normally a much more dependable reliever, allowed 2 runs on 3 hits in the 7th, and the Nats fell behind 3-1. All the Mets had to do was hold on for closer Billy Wagner in the 9th, and they did, and Wagner shut down any Nationals hopes for a 9th inning rally.

Ryan Report: Fugghedaboudit.

As I type this, the Nats are ahead 3-0 in the night game. Fingers crossed, hoping for the best.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Nats take Mets 6-2, win 1st of 4 OR Church, Bacsik are double-trouble in New York

I'm starting to think that the secret to the Nats winning more games the rest of this season is for them to play against more pitchers named Jorge.

They've had such success this season against Jorge Julio, of the Marlins/Rockies, and last night in Queens, they jumped all over starter Jorge Sosa early and often.

The Nats jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the 2nd inning on Ryan Church's R.B.I. double which scored Dmitri Young, who had reached 2nd on his own double, then Brian Schneider drove in Church on HIS own double, then Nook Logan hit a ground-rule double to score Schneider, the 4th double of the inning and the game-winning R.B.I. - Congratulations, Nook!

Nats starter Mike Bacsik got his 4th win of the season and had his most impressive outing to date. The bullpen was gassed, having played 3 straight games in Philadelphia, including the 14-inning marathon on Wednesday night, and Manager Manny Acta was determined that Bacsik pitch as many innings as possible to spell the bullpen, given that they were facing 3 more games this weekend, including today's day/night double-header. The Nats simply couldn't afford for Bacsik to make an early exit, and Acta apparently ordered that Bacsik stay in even if he began to get rocked by the Mets, to "take one for the team". But Bacsik rose to the challenge in heroic fashion, working 7 innings, throwing 55 strikes on 83 pitches (66%) allowing 8 hits but only 2 runs, walking 1, but striking out none. Fortunately, Bacsik also had some great defense behind him, too. He even helped his own cause - with 2 plate appearances, Bacsik was walked once and got himself a hit.

Thanks to that great defense, and lots of excellent offense, the only reliever the Nats needed was Luis Ayala, who pitched the 8th and 9th innings, allowing no runs and no hits, and striking out 2. This is the Ayala that we remember from 2005, when he was widely regarded as one of the best setup men in baseball.

Ryan Report: Church went 2 for 4 with 2 R.B.I.'s, including that 2nd inning R.B.I. double, followed by his 8th inning 2-out homer, Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with a walk, Langerhans did not bat, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3 with a walk and a 7th inning homerun. This was an especially sweet victory for Church, who has become the subject of trade rumors with the revelation that soon-to-be re-signed Dmitri Young will likely play left field next season, jeopardizing Church's position. Apparently, the Chicago Cubs have shown interest in Church since last winter, but Nats GM Jim Bowden wants a high price for Church. Church had been in something of a slump, having had a hot spring, but not having hit a homerun in many weeks. Kearns, too, had been in a slump, and it was nice to see him swing the bat so well, seemingly back on the proper hitting track.

Brian Schneider and Dmitri Young both had hot bats for the Nats, each going 2 for 4 with Schneider having 2 R.B.I.'s. Schneider, too, has been in something of an offensive slump of late, but seems to be emerging from it. He's certainly not an easy out, but he's finding the gaps now. So great to see him happy and hitting.

Now the bullpen is fully rested and ready for today's day/night doubleheader, the 12:10 makeup game from a spring rainout, with Tim Redding starting, and the evening's game at 7:10 with fresh-from-Columbus callup Joel Hanrahan making his major league debut.

Nats take lead, lose lead, rally to beat Phillies 7-6 OR Flores has fun in Philly

The Nationals had a roller-coaster afternoon in Philadelphia, starting the game 2-0, then falling behind 3-2, then 5-2, then rallying to close it 5-4 before gaining the lead for good on a Jesus Flores 3-run homer to put them up 7-5 and held on to eventually win 7-6.

Starter John Lannan, making his very first start in the major leagues, had an unfortunately inauspicious debut. He lasted only 4.1 innings, throwing 87 pitches for 50 strikes (57%), but allowed 5 runs (4 earned) on 6 hits, walking 2 and striking out 1, establishing his E.R.A. at 8.31. He also allowed a Ryan Howard homerun. The worst part for Lannan, though, was his control, as he hit the Phillies Chase Utley on the hand, breaking a bone which will likely end his season, and Ryan Howard. The home plate umpire,
Hunter Wendelstedt, threw Lannan out of the game after he hit Howard, apparently because he had to believe that Lannan was retaliating for Howard hitting a homerun off of him in the 3rd inning. Wendelstedt argued that, rookie or veteran, he can't read a pitcher's mind and has to treat them all the same. Personally, I believe that NO ONE, including Wendelstedt, believes that Lannan was purposely throwing at Howard, but the rules are in place to protect the batters. From where I sat, it didn't look like Howard made any effort to get out of the way, merely turning a bit, but that's neither here nor there. Wendelstedt was 12 inches away from him, I was not. Still, if Lannan had hit any other batter besides Howard, he probably would have only received a warning from the umpire at most, since it was apparent to Wendelstedt, who acknowledged that he saw Lannan was having control problems.

It occurs to me, though, that one unintended benefit of Lannan's ejection was, we avoided a possible beanball war. Who knows? The next Phillies pitcher might have been strongarmed by his teammates to drill Dmitri Young or Ryan Zimmerman. It could have gotten seriously ugly. Wendelstedt's decision, as wrong-headed as I think it was (and, boy, did Don Sutton ever agree on MASN!) had that one little upside to it.

Later on, as I watched the replay of the broadcast, I was very pleased to hear Don Sutton's analysis of that entire situation. Besically, Sutton said, "When this situation happens, you stick the rule book in your ear and employ BASIC COMMON SENSE." After all, WHY would Lannan intentionally put a 2nd man on base with only 1 out when the Nats were behind by 1 run? It's ludicrous! Manny sure wouldn't stand for that sort of nonsense - if he thought that it was intentional, he'd have driven Lannan to 30th street station personally and put him on the next train back to Columbus.

Lannan's ejection resulted in some Nationals history as well, as Manager Manny Acta came out to discuss the call with the umpire, and wound up getting his very first ejection as a major league manager. To his credit. Acta didn't use any profanity (I could have guessed that, it doesn't seem to be his style) and to the umpire's credit, he said that Acta hadn't. Acta merely kept arguing with the umpire as he was changing pitchers, and got the toss.

Fortunately for the Nationals, their bench coach, Pat Corrales, had years of experience as bench coach to Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, who is nearing the record for career ejections by a manager, so Corrales was in a very familiar situation.

Chris Schroeder, Ray King, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero did fine work in relief with only Cordero allowing a run in the bottom of the 9th. Rauch got the win and Cordero got the save.

Ryan Report: Church and Zimmerman both went 0 for 4, Langerhans did not bat, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3 with an R.B.I.

The hits came from Felipe Lopez (2 for 5 with 2 R.B.I.'s), Ronnie Belliard (1 for 5), Dmitri Young (2 for 4 with an R.B.I.), Nook Logan (2 for 4 with a double), and Jesus Flores who had the game winning homerun, going 2 for 4 with 3 R.B.I.'s.

Happily, I was able to attend this game. My brother Steven got some good tickets from a client and invited me up for this "businessman's special". I elected to take Amtrak, even though Citizen's Bank Park is right off of I-95 and only 152 miles from D.C. I just figured that the game would end shortly after 4:00 and I'd be hitting rush hour traffic in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, which didn't appeal to me. Besides, I was worried that I might hit traffic on my way up and didn't want to risk running late. As it turns out, this was a great decision. I hit heavy traffic driving to Union Station, but once I was there I was able to grab the 9:25 train to Philadelphia, and less than 2 hours later, I was in 30th Street station with my brother able to pick me up in short order. I have to say that taking the train was great. I was, indeed, very tired from not getting enough sleep the previous night, and I wasn't 100% sharp to make a 2.5 hour drive. Being able to sit back and relax and read the Washington Post was a treat for me, and I arrived in Philadelphia better rested and certainly a lot less stressed from highway travel. Besides, it was a good "green" decision - I'm sure I would have burned around $35 worth of gasoline on that round trip. The fare seemed reasonable, too, only $58 round-trip (plus $15 to park at Union Station all day). I even ran into another Nats fan along the way.

Words cannot completely express how impressed I was with Citizen's Bank Park. It is simply gorgeous. I had a complete ball walking around, enjoying the scenery. I was so impressed by Citizen's Bank Park that it really got me excited about our own new ballpark. If Nationals Park is anywhere near as nice as Citizen's Bank Park, then I believe every Nationals fan will be more than satisfied with it. Citizen's Bank Park is only the second of the so-called "modern" ballparks that I've ever visited (Oriole Park at Camden Yards being the other), so I can't compare it with Pittsburgh, which even some Philly fans have told me is even nicer than CBP, or San Francisco, but I couldn't have been more impressed. Some of the features that I most enjoyed were:

The centerfield's "Ashburn Alley". It was completely delightful, and I had a great deal of fun walking around and high-fiving everyone I saw wearing a Nationals cap.

The mural depicting Philly baseball history was another very cool feature, as was the display by the visitor's bullpen with brass reliefs demonstrating various pitches and how to hold the ball.

The statues of various great players in Phillies history.

Caricature artists drawing for fans. I'll bet kids just love those.

The "photo-op" with the cardboard cutout of players. If you've never seen this, it is simply a cardboard relief photo of several players celebrating at home plate, and a fan can stand behind it and get their photo, as if they are a player. Another kid favorite, I'm sure.

I was able to buy a Coca-Cola! I had NO idea that any MLB stadium sold any Coke products because I thought that Pepsi was the Official Soft Drink of MLB. Glad to see that I was mistaken. They even let you buy 20 oz. sodas and water with the caps on - unheard of at R.F.K.! One disappointment was, their "souvenir" fountain sodas were in very ordinary cups, nothing worth saving, unlike our own souvenir cups at R.F.K. which are decorative and even have the season schedule printed on them. Chalk up one for the Nationals!

I ate some barbecued beef from Bull's Barbecue, which I just HAD to try to compare it with our own Capital Q. It was NICE, but...hey, it's no Capital Q. :-) So I didn't have a hot dog, but I DID notice the hot dog condiment stations, which had sliced onion dispensers. A very nice touch. I wanted to try a genuine Philly cheese steak, but the line for those was so long, I'd have missed the first inning for sure.

I liked how the program vendors worked the stands, too. This one guy, who called himself "Tommy Programs" was hilarious - he worked the seating aisles shouting, "The most important document since the Constitution! The fastest-selling book since Harry Potter! Lots of pictures and no big words!" Fans were laughing left and right AND buying the programs!

One impressive thing that Tommy did before he left Ashburn Alley was, when the stadium sound system announced the National Anthem, they called for men to remove their hats. Since the sound system isn't that great out on Ashburn Alley, Tommy took it upon himself to shout, "ALL GENTLEMEN ON ASHBURN ALLEY! PLEASE REMOVE YOUR HATS FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM!" I thought that this was one of the classiest moves I've ever witnessed, and I applauded Tommy for it. I asked him if that was his own idea, or if the team asked him to do that. He replied that it was his own idea, because he had a friend who died in Iraq, and he didn't think that it was too much to ask for the men to take 20 seconds to honor the flag. I wholeheartedly agreed with him. Frankly, I'd like to see our own ushers do that.

I had a good time chatting with some Phillies fans, who all seemed to know that we, too, were building our own new stadium, but they were quite proud of Citizen's Bank Park, and justifiably so. No wonder they had ticket sales in excess of 43,000 for the day. With great weather and a ballpark like that, what baseball fan could pass up an opportunity to take in a day game? I understand from the Philly fans that they get a lot of New York Mets fans who come down by train when the Mets are in town. Again, it's a short train ride from Penn Station (2 hours, maybe?) and of course, there are a lot of Mets fans in nearby New Jersey.

My brother got me back to 30th Street Station in time for me to catch the 5:45 back to D.C. I even ran into the same Nats fan that I saw on the way up. We high-fived and chatted about the game, and met another fan who wasn't at the game, but wanted to hear us discuss it. 2 hours later, I was getting into my car at Union Station and motoring home.

All in all, especially with the Nats victory, a wonderful day. I took some photos which I hope to post later.

I would like to wholeheartedly recommend to every Nationals fan to buy tickets and ride the train up to Philadelphia at the end of September to see the Nationals play in Citizen's Bank Park. They finish their season there, and it would be a wonderful tribute for so many fans to make the trip and send them off into the off-season. Besides, if you've never seen that ballpark, you will get some idea of the glories that await us on April 1st here in D.C. and some good things to think about for the next 6 months.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nats blow lead, lose 14-inning marathon 7-5 OR strangeness in the night

I started watching this game, but due to the hard day at work that I had, I was utterly exhausted and fell asleep somewhere around the 5th or 6th inning. When I woke up, the game was over, so I went to bed. Little did I know that the Nats made things so exciting at the end of regulation and almost managed a win against these Pfightin' Phillies, falling instead 7-5.

Starter Matt Chico lasted only 4.2 innings, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits, walking 3 and striking out 2. He threw 60 strikes on 95 pitches (63%). The bullpen of Chris Schroeder, Ray King, Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero were almost perfect in the regulation innings, with only Ayala and Cordero surrendering a hit and Cordero allowing a run, but it tied the game up and he had a blown save, but it really wasn't his fault, inasmuch as a bizarre set of circumstances where both Ryan Church and Ryan Langerhans went after the ball in left center and couldn't hear each other call for it, with 44,000 screaming Phillies fans making that almost impossible, and Church had it in his glove but lost it as he and Langerhans almost collided, then Church had ti dig for the ball and threw it to shortstop Felipe Lopez, bouncing it to him badly, which caused the Phillies Jimmy Rollins to pause momentarily at 3rd, only to then dash home, as Felipe Lopez fired the ball to catcher Brian Schneider, who wasn't able to snag the ball cleanly, and Rollins was safe at home. As Manager Manny Acta said later (I'm paraphrasing, but I'm close here) "Five things went wrong on that play. We get one of them right, we win the game."

In extra innings, Jon Rauch allowed 2 walks but no hits, Saul Rivera allowed 2 hits and 3 walks but no runs, but Chris Booker took the loss in the 14th, allowing 2 runs on 1 hit.

Ryan Report: Church 1 for 4 with 2 walks and a double, Zimmerman 2 for 7, Langerhans 0 for 2, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 2 for 6.

The Nats big hits came from Felipe Lopez (2 for 7 with an R.B.I.), Ronnie Belliard (2 for 7 with an R.B.I.), Nook Logan (2 for 3), Tony Batista (1 for 2 with an R.B.I. double), and Jesus Flores (1 for 2 with 2 R.B.I.'s)

A tough loss to a division rival, you really hate to lose such a close one after almost 5 hours, but given how offensively tough the Phillies are, it's encouraging to take them for so many innings. Still to be so close to victory only to give it away is one of the bitterest of sports experiences.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nats drop game 1 to Phillies 4-3 OR Sorrows in Southside

What a tough way to begin a road series.

The Nats ran into early trouble last night in Philadelphia as starter Jason Bergmann exited in the 3rd inning with a baserunning injury, and the bullpen couldn't contain the Phillies hitters, as the Nats lost 4-3.

Bergmann left due to an Achilles injury, after allowing 2 runs on 4 hits. He threw 52 pitches for 31 strikes (60%), an awful lot of pitches for 2.1 innings. He gave up a homerun, a walk and struck out 1. The bullpen of Billy Traber, Chris Booker (who got credited with the blown save, despite not giving up any hits or runs), Saul Rivera, Ray King and Luis Ayala did their best, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits. Unfortunately, Ayala gave up the tie-breaking homerun.

Ryan Report: Not a lot here. Church went 0 for 3 and was walked, Zimmerman went 1 for 4 with a double, Langerhans 0 for 4 and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 2 with a walk.

The other Nats hits came from Felipe Lopez, Ronnie Belliard, and an impressive bases-clearing double from Brian Schneider, which put the Nats ahead briefly 3-2.

Tough night, but not a discouraging one. The Nats can take a lot into Wednesday's game.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Nats again take Rockies 3-0, win series OR It's "deja-Julio" all over again!

In many competitive contests, sometimes the loser is the player or team which "blinks" first, which makes the first mistake, which can't sustain the struggle. Today, the Colorado Rockies lost to the Washington Nationals for the 2nd straight day with the score 3-0, and it was all because the Rockies made the first mistake: they sent in reliever Jorge Julio.

As Arthur Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman, "Attention must be paid." and in that spirit, I must respectfully ask all reader's to pay attention to the fine Nats320 blog, which has extensively detailed the phenomenon that is the Jorge Julio victory-scuttle. It's author, SBF, informed me today that, when Julio was a Baltimore Oriole, he blew every save situation that SBF ever saw him in, and I personally witnessed Julio's delightful blown save against the Nats when he was a Marlin this last May. I cannot do justice to such an interesting player so I gladly defer to the blogger who can. I look forward to seeing Jorge Julio appear against the Nats when they visit Colorado in a few weeks with great eagerness.

Nats starter Tim Redding went head-to-head against Rockies starter Josh Fogg in a long day's pitching duel. Redding threw 60 strikes on 97 pitches (62%) in his 6.2 innings, allowing 5 hits but no runs, striking out 1 and walking 2. He kept the Nats in the game, and that's all anyone could ask of him. I can't think of any mistakes that Redding made, and we're lucky that he's integrated himself into the starting lineup so seamlessly.

What can I say about the bullpen that hasn't already been said? Unless I'm very wrong, we now have the bullpen with the lowest E.R.A. in the majors, and their talents were on display again as they allowed no runs and only 2 hits and 2 walks. Chris Booker, just called up from AAA Columbus, only faced 1 batter but he struck him out in style, first befuddling him with a wicked forkball, then what looked to me like a fastball up, swung upon and missed.. Jon Rauch picked up the win and Chad Cordero got his 19th save. It's a fine-tuned machine, that bullpen.

Ryan Report: Looks like Church had the day off, Zimmerman went 1 for 2 with a double and was walked twice, Langerhans was 0 for 2 but was walked once, and Austin Ryan Kearns was the hero of the day, going 1 for 4 but taking Jorge Julio's breaking ball in the 8th inning and sending it streaking right into the left field mezzanine, a frozen-rope that stayed just fair to break the scoreless tie and give the Nats a 3-0 win. Kearns had gone 52 games, over 2 months and 2 days, without a homerun, the longest such streak of his career.

The Nats also had hits from Felipe Lopez, D'Angelo Jimenez, Ronnie Belliard and Jesus Flores.

After the game was over, it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time the Nationals had back-to-back shutouts. I asked a couple of people, and they couldn't remember either. As it turns out, the Washington Nationals have NEVER had back-to-back shutouts, but in their previous incarnation as the Montreal Expos, they last did it in 2004. So those of us who were there today got to see a little bit of Nationals history being made.

The Nationals ended this homestand 5-2, winning both series. Now they get a day off before taking on the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park for 3 games, and the New York Mets for 4 games, which includes a make-up game Saturday afternoon to create a day-night double-header.

I arrived at the ballpark nice and early and got myself ready, lathering up with 45-spf sunblock. It was another nice day, ideal baseball weather, around 83 degrees at game time but with a few big clouds passing by, enough to keep fans from roasting right away. The humidity wasn't oppressive. It was the sort of day where a baseball fan feels that the ball is going to carry a little bit better. As I walked towards the stadium, I ran into Rico outside again, but this time he took up a strategic spot right under Independence Avenue, in the shade, and right where thousands of fans would walk past him. Rico's no fool.

Only a little over 21,000 fans reported today, which I thought was unfortunate, considering how well the Nats have been playing lately, and how nice the weather was. I was thinking that there would be more like 27,000 or so. The ones who didn't attend will certainly wish that they had.

I entered the stadium and went up to the Terrace Cafe and said hello to Jonathan at the Press Cafeteria door (Ellie was with family today). Then I walked over to Capital Q Barbecue to get my usual, and it wasn't open. I was met by John, one of the Capital Q managers, who informed me that one of the cold boxes that held all of their meat had failed overnight, so they had nothing to sell that afternoon - a culinary tragedy if ever there was one! Worse, I didn't get to see any of my Capital Q friends, since they weren't needed that day. But that still left me with a gastronomical dilemma - where to eat instead? I wandered down to the Attman's stand and grabbed a corned beef on rye with cole slaw and a pickle instead. I went in to say hello to the ushers that I know and see who else was around. I settled in and chatted with Tim, who was happy to have some company for the afternoon. We were joined later by a friend of his, Jan, who came to the ballpark straight from the beach. She was fun to chat with.

Howard was in fine spirits, very energetically selling lots of beer today. I bought my usual 1 from him, and he was having a good time chatting with some fans and teasing some of his fellow vendors a bit.

One of the highlights of my day was when the Nat Pack did their Safeway t-shirt promotion, where they always come out and use a special air-powered bazooka to shoot t-shirts into the stands. Today they happened to be right in front of where I was sitting and after they shot a bunch of shirts into the stands, they proceeded to throw a few shirts to those of us in the lower seating area, and darned if one of those suckers didn't come arcing right at me, and I stuck my left hand up and snagged it in the air! FINALLY! After 53 games this season, and all of last season and the various games I attended in 2005, I finally got a red shirt with a white curly W on front and "Pledge your Allegiance" on the back (and, of course, a Safeway logo). Very cool.

This was the sort of day that summer dreams are made of, watching your ball club win a thriller under sunny skies. A nice way to end the weekend and send the Nats onto the road with some good wins to bolster their spirits.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nats, Bacsik, shutout Rockies 3-0 OR "Our Lopez is better than YOUR Lopez!"

Two nights ago, when the Nats beat the Rockies in 10 innings, I crowed that OUR Jimenez (D'Angelo) was better than their Jimenez (their starting pitcher that night), as D'Angelo Jimenez singled to score Austin Kearns, the winning run. Today, OUR Lopez (Felipe) was better than their Lopez (Rodrigo, again, their starting pitcher), as Felipe Lopez homered to score what amounted to be the winning run, as the Washington Nationals shut out the Colorado Rockies 3-0, in front of a crowd of 31,674, one of the best crowds of the season.

Starter Mike Bacsik earned a terrific win for himself. He threw 53 strikes on 98 pitches (54%), striking out only 1 batter, and walking 3, but he only allowed 3 hits and, of course, no runs in his 6.2 innings of work. So he wasn't exactly mowing them down, but he got great defense behind him. The bullpen, which I believe has the 2nd-best E.R.A. in the majors (behind Kansas City, I think) came through in fine style, with Luis Ayala, Saul Rivera and Chad Cordero each striking out 1 batter, and allowing no hits.

Ryan Report: Church and Zimmerman each went 1 for 4, with Church having a ground-rule double and Zimmerman a double, Langerhans did not hit but he did pinch run and played some centerfield, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 2 but was walked once. Congratulations to Rodrigo Lopez and company.

The Nationals other hits came off of catcher Brian Schneider, who had 2 including a double, Felipe Lopez, whose 6th inning homer was the game-winning hit, and Tony Batista, who drove in 2 runs with a thrilling 2-out pinch-hit in the 7th.

There was a moment of frustration for the Nationals when Ryan Zimmerman was on 2nd after his double, and was then picked-off of 2nd to end the inning. From my (admittedly-poor) angle, it sure looked like they got him, but manager Manny Acta came out of the dugout to argue with the umpire at 2nd. Perhaps he was simply trying to keep Zimmerman from being thrown out of the game, but this is the 2nd time recently that Acta has come out of the dugout to question umpire calls. It's been suggested that, as a first-year manager, Manny Acta didn't want to do this during the first half of the season, lest he get a reputation among umpires for being confrontational and perhaps therefore taken less-seriously. That might be true, but personally I just think that Manny likes to pick his battles, he's not hot-tempered and he isn't going to just run out onto the field for the exercise. He's honorable and dignified, though, he's going to stick up for his players and won't take poor umpiring lying down. To his great credit, he has yet to get ejected from a game, and it will be interesting to note the time and circumstances when (if?) that happens. If he manages for the next 40 years, I don't think that he'll challenge Atlanta's Bobby Cox for career ejections, though. That's just not his style.

I try to take any kind of good news that I can out of a win, and given the Nats history with the Rockies, I'm just gratified that they cannot LOSE this series. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that they can win the series tomorrow afternoon.

The large crowd was treated to gorgeous late-July weather, wonderfully atypical, and I remarked to a friend that the Rockies had brought some temperate Denver weather with them to D.C. 78 degrees at first pitch (a most atypical 3:55 p.m., due to the scheduling hassle with Fox - more on that in a bit), low humidity, and a slight breeze. Bright and sunny. Gorgeous.
I was a little bit late getting to the stadium as I was coming directly from work less than an hour from gametime, and I hit two traffic jams, one on Rock Creek Parkway 9ongoing construction) and then again on the freeway a couple of miles from the stadium. So I was parking my car when the game began, and I missed the Army parachute team and other Armed Forces Appreciation Day pre-game festivities.

As I walked from Lot #8 towards the stadium, I hear what sounded like Rico's voice, but it was outside, not inside. As I got closer to Gate A, I saw him manning a program and souvenir table outside. I walked towards him and smiled - "What happened?", I asked, afraid that he'd been demoted or something. "Oh, I just wanted to work outside today!", he replied. I can't say that I blame him.

I dropped off my toys with the Marines conducting their annual "Christmas in July" campaign for their Toys for Tots charity. Luckily, I work in the same building as one of D.C.'s best toy stores (Treetop Kids) and I asked the experts there to please put together a nice assortment for me to drop off. I stopped by 3 tables, leaving some toys at each one, hoping to see or meet some players wives. Last year, I got to meet and say hello to Jordan Schneider and tell her how highly I thought of her husband, catcher Brian Schneider. This time, I got to chat briefly with Micah Bowie's wife, Keeley, and saw their son, Brayden. I asked her how Micah was, (him being on the D/L since July 2nd) and she said that he was doing much better and was expected to be back soon. I told her that we fans missed him, and how wonderfully he's been pitching, and hoped that he'd get better and return quickly.

Saw Ellie and Jonathan upstairs, got my Capital Q beef brisket and said hello to Dave and John up there, and headed down to my seats. Got my beer from Howard and chatted with Tim the usher and my friends Kate and Zeke and some other nice folks. I saw some Nationals staff folks sitting below where I was in the middle innings, and after the Nats went up 3-0 and the stands were jumping, I went over to chat with them and I said, "If it isn't too late, could you please ask (team president) Stan Kasten to see to it that the seats in the new stadium bounce? It's important. Get a shock-absorber company to sponsor it!" They laughed. That's one of the little things that I definitely WILL miss about R.F.K. stadium. The new ballpark can't do that in the lower seating area. The only reason the seats in R.F.K.'s lower bowl do that is because they had to be moveable to re-arrange seating for football and baseball, and then soccer, concerts, whatever uses were required.

I have to say, I was lucky to be able to get off of work early to attend this game (thanks, boss!) and it was an unusual 3:55 game because this game was originally supposed to be part of a Fox baseball package that afternoon. Well, for some reason that deal changed and Fox has the exclusive rights to televise during that time slot, so MASN couldn't show it. Not wanting to risk confusing or upsetting fans attending the game, the Nats elected not to change the time to 7:05. As one of those fans, I can attest to the fact that this was actually a wonderful time of day to attend the ballgame. It ended earlier than expected, a little bit after 6:20 rather than 7:00, and in the month of July that meant that there was still a good couple of hours of sunlight left - plenty to spend the rest of the evening doing other outdoor activities, and just in time to enjoy dinner, perhaps an evenings picnic or on a restaurant patio. By starting at almost 4:00, many fans who might normally be in the sun for 3 hours for a 1:00 game were either in the shade instead or soon to be. On a day like this one it didn't mean as much, but on a typical July day here, it would have been a Godsend. Many is the 1:00 game that I've spent roasting with no shade. It's really too bad that Fox has the exclusive rights to broadcast during that timeslot, I'm sure that many other fans would appreciate being able to go to a 4:00 ballgame, rather than 7:00. Truthfully, though, the 7:00 Saturday games are better for me due to my work schedule, so I'm not really complaining.

Now to root in a series win to cap off a great homestand.

Nats lose to Rockies 3-1 OR Nats bats lack life

This was precisely the sort of game that worried me. The Nats pulled off a come-from-behind win the night before, winning in the 10th inning, and I feared that they might be emotionally spent, energetically depleted.

Alas, I was right.

The Colorado Rockies defeated the Nationals 3-1 to even the series 1-1. The Nats didn't really get any offense started until later in the game when they were already behind 3-0.

Starter Billy Traber, filling in out of the bullpen for Jason Simontacchi who is on the D/L with tendinitis in his pitching elbow, only lasted 4 innings, throwing 56 pitches for 36 strikes (65%), allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and walking 1. The bullpen of Chris Schroeder, Ray King, Saul Rivera and Jon Rauch did okay, with Schroeder having a few problems - he allowed 1 run on 2 hits, walked 2 and struck out 2 in his 2 innings of work.

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 3 with a double, Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with the Nats only R.B.I., Langerhans went 0 for 4, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 4. Congratulations to Aaron Cook.

Zimmerman made a most unfortunate mental error in the 8th inning, as the Nats were starting to rally against one of their favorite pitching victims, former Florida Marlin, former Arizona Diamondback, Jorge Julio. (Indeed, Julio's last appearance for the Marlins came at R.F.K. stadium earlier this season, and he was rocked so badly that Florida traded him to the Rockies the very next day. For more extensive coverage of the Jorge Julio phenomenon, please visit the Nats320 blog, it is must-reading.) Zimmerman simply forgot how many outs there were and got doubled off of 2nd base for the 3rd out to kill the rally.

The weather was pretty good on Friday, 81 degrees and low humidity. The crows was terrific, too, 27, 581, and there was a big group in what looked like section 533 or 534 (left field, behind the foul pole) that was incredibly loud during the 6th inning, cheering and getting into "the wave" and seemingly having a complete ball. Really, I mean people were turning around in their seats to see just what was going on up there. I joked to someone sitting next to me that I thought it was a contingent from the Embassy of Japan cheering for the Rockies' Kaz Matsui.

My boss released me from work early, so I got to the ballpark with time to spare. Ate my Capital Q barbecue beef brisket, said hello to Rico and Ellie and Boris and sat with my friends Kate and Zeke and Tim. Got my beer from Howard and enjoyed the wonderful outdoor experience that is Nationals baseball in July. Too bad they lost, but I had fun all the same, and that's the whole point, isn't it?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Nats rally in 8th, rock Colorado 5-4 in 10th OR "Our Jimenez is better than your Jimenez!"

Thursday night was "Ladies' Night" at R.F.K., with the Nationals offering a special baseball package for female fans to take advantage of, but nothing the Washington Nationals could have offered could have been as special as the way the game ended.

In the 10th inning, with the Nats having rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the 8th to tie the game at 4-4, Nats Manager Manny Acta sent in his last remaining bench player, D'Angelo Jimenez, to pinch-hit for pitcher Jon Rauch. Jimenez, who was 1 for 25 and had spent some time down at AAA Columbus already this season, came into the game with 1 out and Austin Kearns on 2nd thanks to a Brian Schneider sacrifice bunt. After Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins threw a wild pitch, advancing Kearns to 3rd, he then threw a ball to give Jimenez a 2-0 count. Then Hawkins made his fatal mistake, throwing a pitch which Jimenez hit right up the middle to score Kearns and give the Nationals their 40th win of the season and first against the Rockies since 2005. Jimenez was mobbed by his teammates as though he'd just won them the pennant while fireworks went off overhead. A Hollywood ending on East Capitol Street.

The ending made the game special, as fans endured some rain which began to fall almost 2 hours into the game. While it never appeared to threaten to delay the game, it certainly moistened most of the 20,573 reported to be in attendance. The ending also took the sting out of Nats 1B Dmitri Young's 3rd inning ejection, after he argued what, on replay, looked to be an off-the-plate ball rather than the called strike. Young, who is leading the National League in batting average, was a tough player for the Nationals to have to lose so early in the game, and it definitely made their rally even more impressive, as they were certainly handicapped without his hot bat in the lineup.

Starter Matt Chico had a fair outing, with two of his 6 innings being poor and four of them being very good. He threw a personal-high of 107 pitches, with 69 of them for strikes (64%) allowing 4 runs on 7 hits with all 4 runs coming off of two 2-run homers, striking out 3 and walking 3. The bullpen of Luis Ayala, Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch (who got the win) was flawless, allowing no hits or walks.

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 5, Zimmerman went 1 for 5 with a double and a R.B.I., Langerhans went 1 for 3 with a R.B.I., and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3 with a walk and he was the game winning run.

The rest of the Nats hits came from Felipe Lopez, Robert Fick, Jesus Flores and, of course, D'Angelo Jimenez, who all had 1 hit. The Nats were walked 7 times, with Ronnie Belliard getting the pass 3 times, Dmitri Young 1, Robert Fick 1, Brian Schneider 1 and Austin Kearns 1.

Coming from work, as usual, I was late arriving, but said hello, as always, to Rico and Ellie. I got my Capital Q barbecue beef brisket and went to find my friend Myron, who I'd emailed my other ticket to that day. Myron filled me in on what I'd missed, and we chatted about the games possibilities for the night. Howard was back at work, so I bought us each a beer, and Howard, ever the extrovert, made loud notice of the four lovely ladies who happened to be sitting to my right, and he informed them of my retail occupation and said that they all wanted my business card (!!!) Whether or not that was true, I took it to be true, and I proferred my cards to the ladies, who were either genuinely interested in that or else they were being exceedingly polite to me. Either way, it was a pleasant introduction and made for another nice ballpark moment. Thanks, Howard - hope that cold water I gave you went down easy.

Unfortunately for both of us, Myron had informed me earlier in the day that he had a self-imposed curfew of leaving the ballpark by 10:00, as he had a very early day on Friday and had to get home at a reasonable time, so we had to leave early. At 9:41, with the Nats down 4-2 in the middle of the 8th inning, I decided that it was best for him if we left. Now, Lord knows, I never, EVER leave the ballpark early because you never know what could happen, and I've never understood it when large numbers of fans leave the ballpark early, especially when the Nats are only down by 2 runs, but I had to do the right thing and get Myron out of there. We left our seats and walked out, surprising a few people who knew us along the way. When we got to my car, I turned on the radio to hear Charlie Slowes inform that the Nats had just tied the game at 4-4. By this time, it was almost 10:00, and as we started to leave the parking lot, four members of the parking crew asked us what the score was. When I told them that it was 4-4, they erupted in frustration! Having been rained upon, and given the time, they were anxious to go home, and a tie game likely meant extra innings and their late departure. Poor guys. Fortunately for them, they only had another 30 minutes or so to wait.

Myron and I drove out and listened to the radio intently as the 9th inning came and went, and I got him to his Red Line Metro stop just as the 9th inning ended with the game still tied. The game ended while he was still on the Metro, I'm sure, while I got to listen to the game on my drive home, Austin Kearns crossing home plate for the win just as I reached my driveway. Ah, well. At least I recorded the game and was able to see the final drama that I'd missed. Such is life, but it certainly reinforced my maxim that one should simply never leave a game before the final out. You never know what you might miss. I hope that I'm around for many more late-inning heroics.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nats avoid Astros surge, win 7-6 and series OR Rain or shine, afternoon games always thrill

What a fun afternoon for a ballgame. It started out a little bit overcast, and some rain came in the 1st inning, but left almost as quickly. 90 steamy degrees at gametime, with a little 8 mph breeze. A terrific crowd of over 27,000, and the Nats fans couldn't be disappointed as they racked up 7 runs and held on to take the Houston Astros 7-6 and won the 3rd of their last 4 home series.

Starter Jason Bergmann got a much-deserved win, as he had another quality outing. In his 6 innings pitched, he allowed 4 runs on 6 hits (2 for homeruns), striking out 3 and walking only 1. He threw a very economical 83 pitches for 58 strikes (70%) and only left because Manager Manny Acta wanted Ray King to face one pitcher in the 7th, and the bullpen was fairly rested so he wanted to use it. Bergmann even went 1 for 2 at the plate, too.

Ray King allowed a hit and a run off of the one batter he faced, and Saul Rivera allowed a run as well, but overall the bullpen did the job. Jon Rauch was perfect and while Chad Cordero allowed 2 hits, he got his 17th save.

Ryan Report: Church went 2 for 4 with a R.B.I. double, Zimmerman went 0 for 3 but was walked once, Langerhans went 1 for 4, but it was a great one, a 3-run homer in the 5th that proved to be the game-winning runs, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3 with a walk and a 2-run double. Zimmerman also had some terrific defensive plays with his glove, getting lauded later by Jason Bergmann for saving some runs.

Ronnie Belliard extended his hitting streak to 11 games, going 1 for 5 with a R.B.I. double, and Dmitri Young went 1 for 2 and was also walked twice. Felipe Lopez went 1 for 5 and Jesus Flores went 1 for 4.

Being that this was my day off, I was happy to be able to enjoy it at the ballpark. It was nice to be able to get there early and say "hello" to everyone, from Rico who was happily selling programs, to Ellie upstairs at the press cafeteria. I even had time to meet Ellie's husband, Roy, who I hadn't realized worked at the Diamond Club. For those of you who are fortunate enough to visit the Diamond Club, Roy is the nice fellow in the light blue polo shirt who checks your wristband as you walk inside. I went to Capital Q and got my barbecue beef brisket and went down to the seats. Saw Susan ushering down by the Home Plate Suite and "Coach" Ron, too, and then I saw Boris. Boris wasn't ushering in his usual spot, on the concourse by the tunnel next to section 320. Instead, he was down behind the Nats dugout because another usher wasn't in that day, and he informed me that "someone" from the Nats had told him to allow a few people to sit in the first 3 rows behind the dugout, and then Boris asked me if I wanted to sit there. He didn't need to ask me twice! I took a seat two rows behind the dugout, and then I saw my friend Harolyn, Executive Assistant to General Manager Jim Bowden, and said hello to her. She said that yes, indeed, I could sit there today, and she moved me to seat #8, two rows right behind the "t" in "Nationals" on top of the dugout. What a great vantage point! It was fun to be able to cheer the players as they came off of the field, too. Even when the rain came, I wouldn't move for anything, I just let my smile be my umbrella. No Howard again today, so I got a beer from Neal.

Heard Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton on MASN later on during the replay talk about a GREAT comment made by Dodgers blogger and celebrity Alyssa Milano who, during the All-Star game, got to meet Dmitri Young, and her comment was this: "
I got to meet Dmitri Young. He isn’t built for power. He isn’t built for speed. He is built for comfort and has the loveliest way about him. You can tell he has overcome a lot and was truly ecstatic to be there."

Wacky weather, but a wild day at the ballpark. So nice to see the Nats get a fun win like that during a day game - baseball the way God and Abner Doubleday intended it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Astros top Nats 4-2 OR Sampson railroads Redding

Tuesday night was a perfect night to be at the ballpark. A little warm (90 degrees at first pitch) but there was a nice 11 mph breeze to offset the heat a bit. A predicted threat of rain never occurred.

Sadly, the Nats were not hot, unable to capitalize on baserunning and only able to generate 6 hits, as they lost to the Houston Astros 4-2. The ignominy of this loss comes from the fact that the Astros have the worst road record in the National League, if not all of MLB.

The two Nats runs both came on homers, first from Ronnie Belliard, then from Ryan Zimmerman. The Astros countered with a couple of homers of their own, though.

Nats starter Tim Redding, a former Astro himself, went 7 innings, throwing 55 strikes on 99 pitches, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits, including 2 homeruns, striking out 2 and walking 3. He gave the bullpen a bit of a breather and allowed the Nats to stay in the game. The bullpen, however, couldn't contain the Astros completely, with Luis Ayala having an uncharacteristically-off evening, as he allowed 2 walks and 1 run, throwing only 6 strikes in 18 pitches and working only 1/3 of an inning. Billy Traber and Chris Schroeder allowed to hits or runs, but Traber did walk one.

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 4 with a double, Zimmerman went 1 for 4 with a homerun, Langerhans did not play, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 3 but walked once. Church and Zimmerman both have the exact same batting average right now, .259. A better stat-man than I am can probably draw an interesting stat-by-stat comparison between the two.

Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young, no surprise, had the Nats other 4 hits of the evening, both getting two, with Belliard going 2 for 3 with a homerun and a walk, and Young going 2 for 4 with a double.

Catcher Brian Schneider suffered a triceps contusion when he was hit by a pitch just above his elbow, and was replaced by Jesus Flores in the 9th inning. He'll get Wednesday off.

The Astros made an interesting pitching move after starter Chris Sampson came out of the game, sending in starter Roy Oswalt to face one batter. I understood later that Oswalt was just getting in a little work in between starts, but it seems to me that it is awfully rare these days to see a starter on the mound at any time between their 5 days between starts. Oswalt faced Robert Fick and got him to fly out to end an inning. The Astros also re-inserted reliever Brad Lidge into the closing role, and he was all too effective.

I got to the ballpark early and came with my friend Vanessa who, while no stranger to major league games, hadn't yet been to a Nationals game. Our first stop was the Main Gate, where we entered and she got a program from the "Ambassador of Baseball Cheer", Rico, who missed me the night before because I was late. Rico was in fine voice as usual. The next stop was the Team Store, so she could get a proper ball cap (she liked the away-blue with curly W, and it looked quite fetching on her). We walked up to the Terrace Cafe so that she could enjoy the view and meet Ellie. Then it was time to eat. Thanks to her generosity we were able to visit the Diamond Club, where we enjoyed hot dogs (mine with chili and cheese - yum!) and good draught beers. I did my best to play tour guide, telling her about some of the history and fun aspects of R.F.K. stadium. Howard had the night off, so we each got a beer from Neal. Despite the loss, we had a wonderful time. It was just so pleasant to spend a nice evening outside enjoying the good weather and getting to chat. I hope we get to do that again soon. A ballgame is always better with such lovely company to enjoy it with.

So this series is tied 1-1 and the rubber game is Wednesday afternoon. I'll be there to see it and root, root, root, for the Nationals.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nats rally to win 4-3 on Young 3-run homer OR Astros a no-go

This game was a lovely homecoming for the Nats, who played their first home game since the All-Star break and coming off of a disappointing 3-game series in Florida. The Nats scored first, on a sacrifice in the 4th by Ryan Church to send Ryan Zimmerman home, but they fell behind 2-1 before rallying in the 6th on Dmitri Young's 3-run homer to take the Houston Astros 4-3.

Starter Mike Bacsik didn't get the win, but he pitched well enough to keep the Nats in the game. He threw 56 strikes on 85 pitches (66%) in his 5.2 innings of work, allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 7 hits, striking out 2 and walking 1. The bullpen of Saul Rivera (who DID get the win), Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero was effective, with Rivera allowing 1 hit and no runs, and Rauch allowing 2 hits and 1 run (a homerun), and Cordero no hits. Chad Cordero, it should be noted, was ESPECIALLY effective in picking up his 16th save of the year, retiring 3 consecutive batters on 11 pitches (10 strikes!), his most impressive inning of the entire season. THAT'S the Chad Cordero who thrilled us in his All-Star year of 2005 when he had 47 saves, the one that fans hope to see every time in the 9th inning, especially in save situations. Since coming off of the berevement list, he's been getting better and better, having blown 1 save, but working to improve and I hope that he is finally where he needs to be in his mind to be exceptional at his job.

Ryan Report: Church 0 for 3 with an R.B.I., Zimmerman 2 for 4, Langerhans did not hit, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3. Zimmerman also got off probably the best bunt of the season so far, catching Astro's 3B Morgan Ensberg off-guard as it rolled towards him, and easily beat out the throw to first. That bunt got him on base and became part of the Dmitri Young 3-run homer.

Ronnie Belliard went 1 for 4, and Dmitri Young had the impressive 3-run homer, on a hanging breaking ball, to put the Nats ahead for the win, going 2 for 3, too. Tony Batista had a hit in a pinch-hitting role.

Manny Acta showed some emotion this evening, challenging an umpire on an eyelash-thin tag at 1B when Craig Biggio actually did NOT make it safely to first, ahead of Saul Rivera, as the replays showed, but the umpire missed it. Never seen Manny run out onto the field to challenge a call, it was interesting because it was different. "Eagle-eye Acta", I think is the new moniker that Bob Carpenter wanted to hang on him, and rightfully so.

I was late to the game because I couldn't get off of work early, so I didn't even get to my seat until the middle of the 6th inning. I had to see Ellie upstairs, of course, but I missed Rico - by the time I got into the stadium he was gone for the evening. I did buy a beer from Howard and gave him a cold water in the process, as it was at least 87 degrees and I could see that he needed it.

More beef brisket from Capitol Q. Surprised?

I noticed later on MASN that Debbie Taylor has returned from her maternity leave. Great to see her back.

Hope this is the start of a new winning streak!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Nats/Marlins weekend wrapup

The weekend certainly started off well, didn't it? Too bad it had to end the way that it did.
I decided to encapsulate this weekend's games rather than post separately about each one.

Nats pound Marlins 14-10 OR a Freaky Friday the 13th

In their first game since the All-Star break, the Nats went on an offensive blitz, thrashing the Marlins 14-10, thanks in great part to the Marlin's starter, Dontrelle Willis, who had a terrible outing, giving up 8 runs on 8 hits to the Nats in his 3.2 innings. This was the Nationals greatest offensive performance in their 3 seasons here, and the one thing that really impressed me about it was, they did it completely with small-ball, there hit no homeruns. Except for a Dmitri Young bases-clearing double, they had no "big" plays, just 2 triples and several doubles. The Nats seemed to hit everything to the gaps and the corners, it was really fun to watch.

Nats starter Jason Bergmann, unfortunately, did not have a good game. He gave up 8 runs as well, 3 of them homeruns, on 7 hits in his 4.1 innings. He also walked 4. Manager Manny Acta came out to the mound in the 5th and spoke to him, giving him every opportunity to right his outing and get some outs, but he simply couldn't. The bullpen of Saul Rivera, Ray King, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero all allowed hits (Rivera 3) but only 2 runs. Rivera got the win.

Ryan Report: Church went 2 for 5 with a double, Zimmerman went 1 for 3 with an R.B.I. but was walked 3 times, Langerhans went 1 for 1 with a triple, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 2 for 5 with 3 R.B.I.s.

Almost every other Nats batter got a hit as well, even one of the pitchers . Nook Logan (2 for 4, walked once, and a triple), Ronnie Belliard (3 for 6, with 2 R.B.I.'s and a double), Dmitri Young (1 for 4, with 4 R.B.I.'s and walked once, and that bases-clearing double), Robert Fick (1 for 1), Felipe Lopez (2 for 5, with 2 R.B.I.'s), Brian Schneider (1 for 3 with an R.B.I. and a walk), and Jesus Flores (1 for 2).

The Nats batted around twice this game, marking the 3rd straight game in which they'd batted around at least once.

This was a VERY fun game to watch if you were a Nats fan. Friday the 13th be damned, it was lucky for the Nationals and kicked-off the so-called "second half" of the baseball season, and the weekend in exciting fashion.

However, that would be the high point of the Nats weekend.

Nats fall to Marlins 2-5, OR Euphoria ends on sorry Saturday.

Starter Matt Chico had a rough outing, and the Nats fell behind early and only threatened in the late innings, trying to rally from a 5-0 deficit only to fall 5-2. He allowed 5 runs on 7 hits, including 3 homeruns, striking out 5, but walking 3 in his 6 innings of work. Chris Schroeder and Billy Traber were fine in relief, allowing no hits.

Marlins starter Sergio Mitre, unlike his teammate Dontrelle Willis, was in control of his pitches and gave the Nats fits, allowing no runs through 6 innings, by which time the Marlins had the game in the bag, and only allowed 2 runs total.

Ryan Report: Church 0 for 4, Zimmerman 2 for 4, Langerhans 0 for 4, and Austin Ryan Kearns 1 for 3 with an R.B.I. Congratulations, Sergio Mitre.

The Nats only other offensive production came from Ronnie Belliard (1 for 4 with an R.B.I.), Robert Fick (1 for 1), and Dmitri Young (1 for 4).

Tough night, and I hoped that the Nats would take the rubber game, but...

Nats dropped by Marlins 5-3, OR Simontacchi's sad Sunday sinks D.C. sluggers

Sunday was almost a repeat performance of Saturday night, as the Marlins again went long 3 times and rocked the Nats starter early and often.

Jason Simontacchi had a less-than-fortunate outing, giving up 3 homeruns and 5 runs total on 9 hits in his 4.2 innings. He also walked 4 and struck out 4. He DID get his 5th out of the year at 2nd, doing his patented spin-throw to nail the base runner. That's always an exciting play. Ray King, Chris Schroeder, Luis Ayala and Saul Rivera allowed no runs in relief, and only Chris Schroeder gave up a single hit.

Ryan Report: Church went 2 for 3 with a walk, Zimmerman went 1 for 5, Langerhans never batted, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 3 with a walk.

Ronnie Belliard had a pretty good day, going 2 for 3 with 2 walks and a double, Dmitri Young went 1 for 4 with 2 R.B.I.'s, Nook Logan went 1 for 3 with a walk, Felipe Lopez 1 for 3 with a walk and an R.B.I., and even Jason Simontacchi went 1 for 2.

Not a memorable game, not a memorable series. The Nats offense looked a little moribund the last 2 games, and the starting pitching wasn't sharp. Perhaps the All-Star break threw some of the players off of any kind of rhythm or "sync" that the were in? Tough to say, but all I can do is hope that they get it together now that they are back home at R.F.K. for a 3-game series with the Houston Astros and a 4-game series with the Colorado Rockies.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Nats melt Brewers 7-2, take series 2-1 OR Redding, offense hot in Sunday scorcher

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "Nationals games are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get." This was certainly true as the Nationals stunned the Central Division-leading Milwaukee Brewers 7-2, the same Brewers team that swept the Nationals in May when the Nats still had Cristian Guzman in the lineup and were playing better ball. This day, however, the Nats scored early and then scored often.

To say that starter Tim Redding, making only his second start in the majors this season, had a quality start would be an understatement. He pitched a serious gem of a game: 88 pitches for 57 strikes (65%) in 6 innings of work, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, walking 1 and striking out 1. He got the win, evening his record to 1 and 1. He even had a hit with his first at-bat, helping his own cause. If he keeps this up, he will make an impressive case for himself to stay in the rotation for the rest of this season. I look forward to his next start with great eagerness.

The bullpen of Ray King, Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero allowed no runs, with only 1 hit allowed by Luis Ayala. Once again, and impressive afternoon's work by the relief corps.

Ryan Report: Church went 0 for 2, but he had an R.B.I. with a sac-fly. Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with 2 R.B.I's with his 6th inning homerun, Langerhans went 0 for 1, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3 and was walked once.

The other hits and runs came via Felipe Lopez, who scored the first run for the Nats in the 2nd with his just-over-the-fence homerun which fell just inside the right-field foul pole. It seemed to catch everyone by surprise, especially the person responsible for setting off the fireworks after a Nats homerun. He was 2 for 2 and also had a walk. Ronnie Belliard, pinch-hitting in the 6th, was 1 for 1, but what a one! He hit a bases-clearing double which electrified the crowd. It's always nice to see Belliard hitting so well. Jesus Flores, Tony Batista, Nook Logan and Tim Redding each had hits, too.

It was a very hot, but typical, July day. 93 degrees at 1:35 gametime, and probably hit 96 by the time it was over. Almost 21,000 hearty souls braved the debilitating heat and humidity to watch these Nats. For the first time since I've known him, Howard, my favorite beer vendor, sold cold water all afternoon, not beer. That fact alone is a perfect indictment of the heat. I sunblocked-up and stayed in the sun the entire time, except when I ventured out for a Capital Q beef brisket sandwich and a Corona after the 4th inning. I also brought plenty of water with me - I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid.

I had a nice surprise when one of my oldest friends and his wife ran into me on the Terrace Café. I hadn't seen "P" and "E" for a long time, and it was such a treat to find them at R.F.K. They had some pretty darned good seats, too, over in 213 behind home plate.

I saw all of my favorite people (Rico, Ellie, Howard, Tim...), and made some new friends as well. I had a great talk with Kynneth Sutton, the manager of Guest Services. I took the time to tell him what a fantastic group of people he has ushering in the stadium, and he seemed genuinely pleased to hear my comments. While I was speaking to him, we were approached by Mr. Edward Cohen and Mrs. Deborah Lerner Cohen, two of the Nationals Principal Owners. We had a very brief chat, but they, too, seemed quite pleased to have a happy fan (and 81-game season ticket holder) complimenting them on the team and giving them positive feedback. For my part, I was glad to have the opportunity to meet two of the owners and thank them for the way things are progressing.

It was a great game to sit through and to see the Nats generate such offensive heat on the field against an offensive powerhouse like the Brewers to win back-to-back games going into the All-Star break was just tremendous. I live for days like this. How quickly the sting of recent losses become forgotten when you are winning big.

It's sad in a way to have the All-Star break disrupt a winning streak (however brief) but hopefully the entire staff gets some rest and recuperation to come back strong on Friday.

Nats rally in 5th, edge Brewers 5-4 OR Hot fun in the 5th

Wow, what a game that turned out to be!

After falling behind 2-0 before even getting to bat, I thought the Nats were in a time-warp back to the previous night, but they opened things up in the 5th inning, scoring 4 runs and eventually winning 5-4 on a steamy, 88 degree Saturday night before almost 25,000 fans.

Starter Jason Simontacchi pitched his best game of the season, a quality start, throwing 98 pitches for 67 strikes (68%) with 3 runs allowed on 8 hits, walking 1 but striking out 5. 3 of those hits were homeruns. He picked up the win, too, evening his record to 6-6.

The bullpen of Saul Rivera, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero pitched very well, with Rivera giving up no hits, Rauch 1, and Cordero, "The Chief of Cardiology", 1 hit (a homerun!), 1 run and 1 walk, picking up a save in the process. Chad Cordero has been exciting to watch this season, he never makes it easy and some of his save opportunities are like a "cliff-hanger" from a movie serial. If he's in a save situation, I can't relax until the "Curly W" is in the books, as Charlie Slowes would say.

Ryan Report: Church went 3 for 3 with an R.B.I., Zimmerman went 1 for 5, Langerhans went 0 for 5, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 2 with 2 walks and 2 R.B.I.'s. Nice to see Kearns coming out of his slump. Langerhans also had the "Sports Center" catch of the night, as he saved what would have very easily been two Brewers runs in the 6th, by making a flat-out diving, fully-extended catch. VERY impressive. A great example of the Nats stifling defense all evening.

Felipe Lopez, Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard had the Nats other 3 hits, with Felipe's coming in the 7th, scoring Nook Logan, which put the Nats up 5-3. Brian Schneider was walked 3 times as the Brewers kept trying to get to the pitcher.

The 5th inning was where all the fun began. Ryan Langerhans grounded out, then Ronnie Belliard singled to center, then Ryan Zimmerman singled to center and then Belliard went to 3rd on a Brewer error. Dmitri Young then singled to right-field to score Belliard. Then Ryan Church singled to center, scoring Zimmerman - The rally was on! Austin Kearns then doubled to center, scoring Dmitri Young and Ryan Church - They had the lead! The inning finished with Felipe Lopez grounding out, Brian Schneider being intentionally walked, and pitcher Jason Simontacchi striking out. Suddenly, the Nats were up 4-2 and the crowd was pretty animated.

Funny thing - take away their homeruns and the Brewers had nothing tonight. I remarked to MASN's Ray Knight after the game, "Man, the Brewers make this park play small."

I take full credit for Ryan Church's 3 for 3 night, as I was wearing my #19 Nats jersey. I'm sure that I instilled some good mojo his way, because Clint, from the Nat Pack, selected me to model my jersey for their nightly jersey promotion at the end of the 2nd inning. I went down right by the Nats dugout, and stood there with a big smile on my face and did what they told me to do, which basically meant standing there and turning around when prompted. I did that perfectly. It was a whole lot of fun. Nobody "boo'd" me. I didn't hear any children crying, so I guess I didn't frighten them (I shaved extra-close, so I'd look my best up on the scoreboard) but those darned ushers failed to send what I'm certain must have been a bevy of admiring women over to my seating section. Darned the bad luck.

I didn't eat anything prior to the jersey promotion, as I feared getting my jersey dirty, but it was back to Capital Q for beef brisket, and then a beer from Howard. I checked in with everyone, except Ellie was taking the night off to actually attend the game with her husband, Roy, and friends. She told me that had a great time. I talked with some ushers and then settled in. In that fabulous 5th inning, I actually called Kearn's shot in a way, as I told the guy next to me that the Brewers were playing WAY deep and the gaps in center and left looked to me like par 4's, they were so large. I may not know much about this game, but I'm learning all the time, and I'm observing things that I might not even have noticed back in April.

The funniest President's Race of the season (possibly of the last TWO seasons) occurred when they came racing in during the 4th inning, led by some guy in a hot dog costume (parodying the famous Brewers racing sausages) and all of a sudden, "Tom" fell over and took the hot dog with him! "George" stepped over him and kept running, while "Abe" started to pound him! Then "Teddy" picked up the hot dog, and started to run with him and FELL OVER right on top of him! I don't think that I've ever laughed so hard at a Nationals game. I have to believe that this wasn't choreographed, that it all just unfolded that way.

It's always nice when the Nats win, but it even sweeter to beat such a good team, in this case the Central Division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. The Nats played probably their best game in 3 weeks, with a nice burst of offense and some great defense. All in all, a most satisfying Saturday night at good old R.F.K.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Nats knocked by Brewers 6-2 OR Brewers sing Nats Blues

Another hot summer evening (though a touch humid, 87 degrees), another Nats loss. Tonight it was the Milwaukee Brewers, who haven't forgotten how to hit against these Nationals, and they made starter Mike Bacsik their sacrificial lamb as they put up 4 runs before the Nats even took to the plate, eventually losing 6-2 before 18,900.

This series has had me worried ever since the Brewers swept the Nats in 3 games back in May. Despite a mini-slump and some losses to the Pirates, the Brewers are still a team to contend with. My hopes were not high.

Bacsik was rocked early, allowing 6 runs on 8 hits, 3 of those homeruns. He threw 90 pitches in 5 innings for 60 strikes (67%) but the bullpen of Chris Schroeder, Billy Traber and Saul Rivera did just fine, with only Schroeder allowing any hits (3) and no runs.

Ronnie Belliard saved the Nats from an embarrassing shutout, he had a terrific evening, going 4 for 5, with a homerun. He was a triple away from the cycle, too, and when he came up for his 5th at bat, he was 4 for 4 and everyone was hoping that he'd nail that triple.

The only other Nats run was on a sac-fly from Austin Kearns in the 8th which, due to a fielding error on the Brewers right-fielder, allowed Ryan Church to score from 2nd.

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 3, Zimmerman went 1 for 5, Langerhans went 0 for 4, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 4. Rough night for the Ryans.

It isn't as though the Nats didn't get any hits, both they and the Brewers each had 11. The other Nats hits came from Dmitri Young (2 for 5), Felipe Lopez (1 for 4), and Nook Logan (1 for 1 in a pinch-hitting role).

I arrived after the game had already started, and by the time I hit the parking lot, it was 4-0 Brewers and I joked to people that I almost turned right around and left. Saw Rico, saw Ellie. More Capital Q beef brisket for me, and a Budweiser from Howard. I sat with my friends Kate and Zeke and chatted with my usher friend Tim.

I got a big laugh when, during the President's Race, 'Teddy" unveiled a message on a sign, which read, "Where are the Sausages?" (a reference to the Milwaukee Brewers Racing Sausages) and he ran right up to the Brewers dugout flashing that thing. There's been a theory that I've heard recently (from Nats320) that the Sausages might make a surprise visit to R.F.K. I thought that this whole concept was absolutely hilarious.

It was a good evening, and I managed to have a good time despite the loss. That's a must.

Better luck on Saturday.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Nats rally, tie, but Cubs prevail 4-2, win series OR Cubs toddle all over Nats

So at least it wasn't a sweep.

The Nats looked to even their home series with the Chicago Cubs last night, fell behind 2-0, then tied the game 2-2 only to lose 4-2.

Starter Jason Bergmann had a pretty good outing. He never walked a batter during his 5.1 innings of work, allowing 2 runs on 6 hits and striking out 2. He threw 88 pitches for 60 strikes (68%). I was very pleased with Bergmann, he's a good control pitcher and he seems to have really come back well from the D/L. He kept the Nats in the game the entire time he was out there. I look forward to his next outing.

Unfortunately for Bergmann, he got very little run support.

I may have missed Dmitri Young's Grand Slam yesterday, but last night I saw him do something almost as rare - he hit a triple! Later while watching the MASN replay, Young looked completely gassed after he slid into the bag, tongue hanging out and all. Bob Carpenter mentioned that this was the first triple he'd seen Young hit since 1996, and I don't doubt it. Young is a big guy, with the sort of build that often necessitates being pulled for a pinch-runner in late, close innings (this, too, happened last night). We may never see Young hit a triple ever again, so that was kind of fun. Between these last two games, Young has hit for the cycle (I know it doesn't count, but still.)

In the 6th inning, Bergmann exited and Billy Traber came in to close out the half-inning. In the bottom of the 6th, the Nats tied things up, 2-2. In the 7th, reliever Luis Ayala had an uncharacteristically rough outing, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, raising his E.R.A. from (I believe) 1.48 to 4.26. He also took the loss. I like Luis Ayala a lot, and if the same situation comes up tonight, I'd hope to see him on the mound again.
I think that he simply had a bad night.
Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero each allowed only 1 hit in the 8th and 9th respectively.

Ryan Report: Church didn't start again, but was available for pinch-hitting late, going 0 for 1, Zimmerman continues to un-slump himself (de-slump?), going 2 for 3, Langerhans went 0 for 1 in a pinch-hitting role, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 3 with a sacrifice R.B.I. Zimmerman also made a great tumble-over-the-tarp catch to end the 7th inning, real "Sports Center"-type stuff. Easily one of the most memorable catches of his young career.

Felipe Lopez went 2 for 2 and was walked twice, and he had a double. Nice to see him hitting again. He also stole 3rd after that double. Ronnie Belliard had a hit as well. For the record, Dmitri Young went 2 for 4, which included that triple, and an R.B.I.

It was rather ironic that former-National Daryl Ward robbed Brian Schneider of what could have been the game tying runs in the bottom of the 8th, the Nats last offensive challenge.

I was joined last night by my friends Molly and Dan. Molly was raised a Cubs fan in Illinois, so she comes by it honestly, and Dan's loyalties were split but he wore a Nats cap. They were lots of fun to watch the game with. I was back to my usual Capital Q Barbecue beef brisket and an MGD from Howard. An okay crowd for a Thursday, around 22,000, and though humid, the weather was fair. It rained a bit around 30 minutes after the game.

I was pleased to pick up the new All-Star program from Rico, which has Dmitri Young on the cover. Pretty cool. I had a nice chance to chat with Glen, who runs the retail concessions for the entire stadium. I'd met him last year, a very nice guy, and I showed him my Nats cell-phone holder and he bounced a retail idea off of me which I approved of. I won't say what it was because I don't feel that it is appropriate, I don't want to give anything away, but it will be cool to see when they do it.

I ran into Clint and the Nat Pack, and Clint wants me to help out with the jersey promotion this Saturday, after a couple of aborted attempts to get me involved. I hope that we can do it, it looks like fun. I saw a certain mascot's best friend do this on July 4th. I hope it works out.

I chatted with Ellie and Jonathan upstairs at the Press Cafeteria, so my "rounds" were complete.

I heard on the radio and saw on the replay later that President Bush had attended the game, with team President Stan Kasten on one side of him and team Vice-President and General Manager Jim Bowden on the other. Any politics aside, one has to admit that it's really very cool to have the President of the United States attend your team's ballgame. At least they were quiet about it and there wasn't any visible extra security or other precautions that delayed fan entry or enjoyment of the game.

A disappointing loss, and now we have the Milwaukee Brewers to contend with.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Nats, Young, slam Cubs 6-0 OR All-Star's Fireworks on 4th

What a wonderful way to enjoy Independence Day.

The Washington Nationals, who have been dominated by the Chicago Cubs the past two nights, reversed their fortunes and upset the surging central division visitors, 6-0 in front of 39,207 fans.

Starter Matt Chico pitched the game of his life today, throwing 67 strikes on 99 pitches in his 7 innings of work. He was so good, I almost wish that manager Manny Acta had allowed him to complete the game, but I don't think that he believes in doing that, he'd rather have Chico exit on a high note and save his arm. Chico allowed only 4 hits and no walks and 4 strikeouts, a fantastic effort for the young starter, who has admitted that if he were on any other club, he would likely be working in AA ball. Heck, he even got a hit today. If this season is remembered for any players performances, at the top of the list will be the pleasure of watching 22 year-old Matt Chico develop into such an impressive young pitcher. From his tentative beginnings, he has taken command on the mound and has control and presence, and has become an absolute joy to watch. Congratulations, Matt!

The bullpen of Saul Rivera and Ray King allowed only 1 hit and 1 walk, sealing the win nicely.

The Nats got some runs on the board, courtesy of Ryan Zimmerman, Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young. Zimmerman solo-homered in the 1st, and in the 5th, Ronnie Belliard had an R.B.I. double and the Nats newest All-Star, 1B Dmitri Young, parked a Grand Slam into the visitor's bullpen to put them on top 6-0, a towering shot which electrified the largest crowd at R.F.K. since Opening Day.

Ryan Report: Church had the day off, Zimmerman was 2 for 3 with a walk and the game winning homerun, Langerhans was 0 for 1, and Austin Ryan Kearns was 0 for 4. What is it with Ryan Zimmerman and playing on holidays? One year after his glorious walk-off homerun against the Yankees, Zimmerman essentially got the game winner, albeit not a walk off. I swear, I'm going to start making up holidays for the Nationals to convey to Zimmerman in the hopes that his performances will improve even more.

Besides his Grand Slam, Dmitri Young was really having a pretty good day, going 3 for 4. Catcher Jesus Flores, who got the whole 5th inning going with his single, went 2 for 4.
Felipe Lopez, Nook Logan, and Ronnie Belliard each had hits, and Matt Chico got a hit.

I got to the ballpark early, pulling into the parking lot just after 10:00, by which time a lot of tailgating was already underway. I brought lots of water with me, and wore my Stars and Stripes polo shirt with Nationals logo (just like this one, only with the logo over the left breast). I met my friend Myron, who was sporting Cubs-wear, as he grew up a Cubs fan, and we entered the stadium right when the gates opened. It was George Washington bobblehead day for the first 20,000 fans, and we got our coupons to redeem for our bobbleheads. This is a bizarre system that the Nats use, because instead of giving these things out at each gate, they force people to get into an impossibly long line which snakes around the 300-level concourse, up and down ramps, and herded between metal gates. It

Myron and I took one look at that line, and decided to eat first. Thanks to the generosity of a friend of his, we enjoyed being Diamond Club members for the day. We went there and enjoyed a nice lunch. I had an Italian sausage with chili and cheese and we both had Red Hook "Longhammer" I.P.A.'s. and some ice cream. With regards to the Diamond Club, ass Ferris Bueller would say, "It is so choice". I can only imagine that the amenities at the new ballpark will be even better. After eating, we decided to go for the bobbleheads, but that cost us seeing the first inning because it took so long to get them. So we missed Ryan Zimmerman's home run (drat!).

The Tale of the Two Cubs Fans

I had the misfortune of sitting next to an incredibly obnoxious Cubs fan on my right, who was completely rude and disrespectful, and Myron on my left, who loves the Nats as well as the Cubs, and is torn on a day like today. Quite a contrast. The Obnoxious Cubs Fan (hereafter referred to as OCF) exchanged dialogue like this with me:

OCF: "So, how's this guy, Chico?"

Me: "Matt Chico? He's our 'Iron Man', he hasn't missed a start, and just last week, he threw 6 shutout innings against the Pirates."

OCF: (voice dripping with disdain) "Yeah, but that's against the PIRATES."

Then there was this jewel:

OCF:" So, who's the Nationals All-Star Game representative?"

Me: "Dmitri Young."

OCF: (voice filled with contempt) "Really?"

Me: "Yeah, he's the hottest hitter in the National League since May 17th. His is a great come-back story, it's really nice for a guy who was playing on Field 5 with young guys in Spring Training and overcome all the problems he's had."

OCF: (Contemptuous snort)

Now, I'm not a rub-your-nose-in-it kind of guy, because the Nationals haven't dominated anyone and I believe that what goes around, comes around, but I was SORELY tempted to give this guy the business, especially after Dmitri Young's Grand Slam. I regret to report that I didn't see that happen live (more on that in a moment) but when I got back to my seat, the guy and his companions weren't there, and when they did return, the OCF sat 3 seats away from me and had his female companions between me and him as a "buffer".

What a COWARD! Maybe I should call him the "Cowardly Cubs Fan" instead? Never have I wanted to rub someone's nose it it so badly. Disrespect Matt Chico? He shut your club down! Disrespect Dmitri Young? He hits a Grand Slam to shut the door and remove all hope from the Cubs dugout. They even left early, I couldn't even give him a satisfying grin. It's okay, though. He has to live with himself.

Myron, on the other hand, couldn't have been happier for the Nats, even at the expense of his beloved Cubs (hey, he's seen them win the last two nights, I'm not sorry for him!). Myron's a good fan, respectful of the opposing team, gracious in victory and defeat, just as all Nationals fans have learned to be.

I saw my friends Rico and Ellie, and because I hadn't seen him around, I had to go looking for Howard for a July 4th beer. I thought I spotted him in the upper deck, so I borrowed Myron's binoculars and, sure enough, there he was, in section 451. At the end of the 4th inning, I decided to go and find him. I walked up there (a MUCH longer walk than I remembered!) and got up there to find him. When I did, Howard was so blown away that I'd come up there to find him that he just gave me a beer. He was making a lot of money up there with such a big crowd, but the steps up to the yellow seats were killing him, the poor guy. Just looking at those steps made my own knees hurt.

I walked back down to get a Capital Q Barbecue beef brisket sandwich and I happened to run into Dr. Benjamin Shaffer, the Nationals team physician and orthopedist. I stopped to talk to him because he also operated on my boss's shoulder earlier this year, and I thought it would be fun to just say "hello". He very kindly stopped to speak to me, and when I told him who my boss was, he gave me one of those "what a small world!" laughs. Well, right when we were speaking, we heard the crowd ROAR, and we both walked over to the nearest TV monitor and I saw the score as Dmitri Young ran the bases - 6-0. "A Grand Slam?", I said? Wow! Nice to get one of those!

So the upshot is, I missed all of the scoring runs (another reason to record the game on TV, as I always do), but I still had a great time. There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, that beats going to watch our national pasttime played in the nation's capital on Independence Day, if you are a baseball fan. The weather was warm, around 77 degrees at game time, and the sky was overcast but bright. Sitting in the sun, I didn't feel as though I was getting roasted as I would on a clear day. It looks as though lots of other folks shared my enthusiasm for a game as the Nats had a HUGE walk-up crowd at the box office, around 7,000. They got to see a special, special ballgame, and a uniquely American experience.

Song of the moment - Celebrating the longest homestand of the season

Survey of the Moment