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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Braves at Nats, the weekend series wrapup

The Washington Nationals began their last homestand at R.F.K. Stadium on Friday, hosting the Atlanta Braves for a 3-game series. They took 1 of 3, so they avoided a sweep, but they should have taken at least 2 of the 3. It was so close, but they just couldn't get the job done.

Friday, September 14th: Braves 8, Nats 5

This game began in the rain, and it ended in the rain. It ended in a 5 hour, 13 minute marathon, the longest Nationals game in terms of pure game time (rain delay times excluded).

This game was also the Nationals 82nd loss of the season, guaranteeing their 2nd consecutive losing season and 3rd season finishing at or below .500.

Starter Matt Chico did okay given the conditions, but he couldn't dominate the Braves hitters. Chad Cordero blew the save in the top of the 9th inning, allowing the Braves to tie. Poor Chad has had more bad luck against the Atlanta Braves than against any other team and, truth be told, with a 2-run lead at the top of the 9th, with the rain the way that it was, and with some of Atlanta's best hitters coming to the plate, I wasn't comfortable, I worried about potential walks and tough Atlanta hitting. Reliever Jesus Colomé didn't have a good game, and his September hasn't been as productive as the earlier part of his season, before he went on the D/L with a non-pitching-related injury.

Ryan Report: Zimmerman hit a 2-run homer.

Soggy box score here.

I had to leave in the top of the 13th inning. I work Saturdays, and I had to be at work at 8:00, so just after midnight, after getting completely soaked, I packed it in. I could have sat under some cover, but with all of the empty seats around me, I thought that I'd have a good chance at any foul balls hit in my section. It didn't happen. As a matter of fact, things got awfully ugly in my section as some Braves fans kept standing up to see over some umbrellas and some Nats fans asked them to sit down. They protested a little bit and one fan made the unfortunate decision to refer to one of the Braves fans, who was, shall we say, "follically-challenged" by a name usually reserved for bald, violent racists. It just escalated from there, with the Braves fan calling the Nats fan a name that rhymes with "ice mole", and then a couple of female Nats fans remonstrating the Braves fans for cursing in front of children. Decorum was eventually restored, but some of these Braves fans started to challenge Phillies and Mets fans for sheer obnoxiousness. I can't wait until the Nats start winning and the stands are filled with Nats fans instead of visiting team fans.

This game was the first game that really felt like the end of the season. Sure, it was a Friday night, but so many of the college students who make up the Nat-Pack or other seasonal workers are gone, and things began to feel a little empty.

Saturday, September 15th: Nats 7, Braves 4

Now this was more like it. Nats starter Jason Bergmann had a quality start, and two of the lest likely Nats homerun hitters connected for crucial longballs.

With the crowd of 26,866 getting in a Latin mood on Hispanic Night at R.F.K. the team was a little more loose (and drier, after the previous night's soggy session). Autumn was in the air as the gametime temperature was 66 degrees, but a beautiful clear evening.

Starter Jason Bergmann won his 5th game, evening his record at 5-5. In his 6 2/3 innings, he threw 93 pitches for 63 strikes (66%), allowing 4 runs on 8 hits, walked 3 and struck out 3. He also allowed 2 homers. The bullpen of Arnie Muñoz, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero allowed no runs and only 1 walk. Chad Cordero picked up his 34th save, but not before giving the Nats faithful chest-pains as he walked a batter and loaded the bases in the 9th inning. Rarely, it seems, does Chad have 1-2-3 9th innings, and "The Chief" was in full cardiac-mode this evening. When he comes through in these situations, the feeling of relief is so wonderful.

Ryan Report: Church did not play, Zimmerman went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk, Langerhans did not play, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3 with an R.B.I. double and a walk.

The big Nats hits came from D'angelo Jimenez and Robert Fick, both of whom had homeruns, Jimenez going 3 for 3 with 2 R.B.I.'s and a double along with that homer, and Fick went 1 for 3 in a pinch-hitting role for Dmitri Young, and knocked in a 3-run homer. Ronnie Belliard went 1 for 4 with an R.B.I. and Brian Schneider went 1 for 3.

Dmitri Young had a scary moment when a ball took a bad hop and hit him in the side of his head at first base, knocking him to the ground. Fortunately, he wasn't injured, but he had a headache and strained his neck, and the Nats have him listed as day-to-day.

Box score here.

I arrived at the ballpark early, taking advantage of the season-ticket-holder deal to be allowed into the stadium an hour before the rest of the crowd. It was such a gorgeous afternoon, and I dutifully stood in line for some autographs until I realized that I already had all of the player's autographs who were signing, so I just chatted with other fans and saw some friends.

One unfortunate thing I heard was, a fan that I know was with his young sons, and they waited to get the autograph of a particular player. They were the LAST ones in line to get it, so there was no pressure upon that player in terms of time. The fan told his boys to get close in by the wall where the player was signing to get a photograph. Suddenly, the player stopped signing the ball in his hand and declared, "No pictures." in a rather gruff tone. The fan complied with the players request, but he wasn't happy about it. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that the player "owes" a fan anything other than their best effort on the field, but for crying out loud, what harm was there in giving these folks a quick photo? These are well-behaved fans, not pushy or demanding, and they weren't holding anyone else up. I simply don't understand that kind of treatment. If any player wants to explain that side of the argument to me, by all means, the comment section is open. I'm not identifying the player in question because I don't feel that it is my place to embarrass them or cause trouble for them, but I will say that this is a player who has an established reputation for not being terribly kind or friendly to fans. For what these guys are paid, you'd think that some of them would display a little more humility and gratitude. If they don't want a photo taken, there are more polite ways to request that.

I saw all of my friends and ate my usual. Got my beer from Howard and all was right with my world for the evening.

I loved this quote from Manager Manny Acta:
"You can't lose on Hispanic Night when your manager is Hispanic."

Sunday, September 16th: Braves 3, Nats 0

Well, it wasn't a perfect weekend. Atlanta starter Tim Hudson pitched a complete game, throwing precisely 100 pitches for 72 strikes (do the math), allowing 7 hits and struck out 6.

That, in a nutshell, was the story of the game. I've said before, there's no shame in losing to a superior opponent, and Tim Hudson could barely have been better. All you can do is applaud him and hope that you don't see him again for a long time.

The crowd of 23,935 was treated to a pitching clinic watching Hudson, and it was a beautiful 66 degree, sunny day to see it. Nats starter Shawn Hill did his best, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, walking 4 and striking out 2. He also allowed 1 homerun. The bullpen of Mike Bacsik, Chris Schroeder and Luis Ayala allowed no runs and only 3 hits.

Ryan Report: Oh, please.

At least the game only took 2 hours 24 minutes, allowing fans to enjoy the gorgeous weather doing other things.

Box score here.

I have to confess, I barely paid any attention to this game because I was with a lady friend, and believe me, she was a lot more interesting to me than whatever was going on with the game. We both enjoyed sitting in the sun and eating peanuts. Fans in the shade were feeling uncomfortably chilly, and days like this are enough to make you want to savor them as long as possible. We walked around, got some food, and chatted with lots of folks. All in all, it was a nice day, just not if your criteria for success depended upon the day's box score.

At least the Nats didn't get swept, but I was left thinking that really, they should have won Friday night and taken the series.

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