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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Nats fall to Phillies 3-2 OR Hill brilliant, Phillies patient:.

A day of mixed emotions in the Nat-O-sphere (or is it"Natmosphere"? I can never get that straight...). The Nats beat the rookie signing deadline by signing the 31st pick in the draft, Josh Smoker, who will report to the Gulf Coast League on Saturday. Then they blew a 2-0 lead in the 8th inning to lose to the Phillies 3-2. So, not a perfect day, but even in the loss, they got an outstanding start from Shawn Hill, who hadn't pitched for the team in 3 months and looked for all the world as though he hadn't missed a beat.

I am particularly thrilled about the Smoker signing. It is a marketing department's dream, a leftie who can throw 94 m.p.h.. I pledge to you, my half-dozen readers or so, that I will make it my mission in life to exhaust every single word-play variation on "Smoker" and pitching that I possibly can once he comes up to the big club (Next year? We shall see.)

Starter Shawn Hill was on an 80 count pitch limit, but it got him through 6 quality innings in which he threw 79 pitches for 52 strikes (68%), allowing 1 hit, no runs, and struck out 7.
If Centerfielder Nook Logan had gotten a better jump on a fly ball in the 5th inning and had called Leftfielder Ryan Church off, he might have made the catch and Hill would have had 6 no-hit innings. This has to be considered one of the best starts a Nationals pitcher has had all year. At the moment, my somewhat-dodgey memory can only think of a couple of Matt Chico starts, such as his July 4th shutout of the Cubs, to compare Hill's to, but there is no question that right now, Shawn Hill is the Nationals best starter. Watch out, Mets, your Sunday prospects just got a whole lot worse.

The bullpen of Luis Ayala, Jon Rauch, Ray King and Saul Rivera were almost perfect. Jon Rauch gave up the go-ahead homerun for the Phillies, but two previous plays put Rauch in a bad position. I like Rauch a whole lot, and I'm glad that he is still a Washington National, but it seems to me that he can run hot and cold - you never know which Jon Rauch is going to show up on the mound on any given evening but, to be fair, he runs "hot"a lot more often than he runs "cold". You can't give the 2007 Phillies an inch, or they will go yard, and that's exactly what happened Tuesday night to put the Nats down. They are a team with October ambitions, and not to be trifled with.

Ryan Report: Church got the Nats first 2 hits of the evening, going 2 for 3, Zimmerman went 0 for 3 with a walk, Langerhans went 0 for 1, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 4. Not a sterling night for the "R-Squad".

The Nats other big hits came from Felipe Lopez (1 for 3 with a walk), Robert Fick (1 for 1, climbing over the Mendoza line now at .206), Nook Logan (1 for 4) and Tony Batista, who went 1 for 1 with a 2 R.B.I. double to break the 0-0 stalemate and put the Nats up 2-0.

Tuesday was a gorgeous night for baseball in August: 82 degrees, clear and low humidity, with a 6 m.p.h. breeze that made the evening delightful. I got to the ballpark on time (thanks, boss!) and checked in with Willie (outside Gate "A"), whom I've gotten to know a bit from after the home games - I'll chat with him while waiting for the parking lot to empty a little bit and help him to direct people to the Metro - then saw Rico and then up to the press cafeteria to see Ellie. Ellie and her husband Roy have recently experienced a terrible family tragedy, which I won't go into here out of respect for their privacy (I'll only say that it was terrible enough to make the papers where it happened) and I had missed her during the last homestand, but I'd learned what happened from Roy (the kind gent who checks folks into the Diamond Club) and I just had to talk to her and give her a big hug. One thing that she told me was how the Nationals, including some players and members of the principal ownership, had shown their support to her family, and I am proud to say that if anyone has any doubts as to what a class organization the Nationals are, then they should be dispelled at once, because this organization bent over backwards to support a family that was experiencing it's darkest hour. "We are a family", they told her, and I never doubted their resolve, but it is incredibly heartwarming to actually hear about it firsthand. The Nationals do the right thing and they do it the right way. We can all be proud of them.

I ate my beef brisket sandwich and had my beer from Howard and enjoyed the normalcy of the evening with a little extra gratitude for all the wonderful folks who bring us the great game of baseball and the opportunity to get to know our neighbors a little bit better and make new friends in the process. Thanks to the Nationals being here, I've gotten to meet so many terrific people who I never would have met otherwise, and that is a blessing that is easily overlooked in our day to day lives.

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