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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.

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