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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Nats rally in heroic 9th inning as Flores hits walk-off double, win 2nd consecutive home series OR Flores ends up smelling like a rose

The Washington Nationals remain undefeated in September, having won 4 straight and taking 2 consecutive home series, against the San Francisco Giants, and last night against the Florida Marlins, winning the first two of a 3-game series.

The Tuesday night game saw the Nats start out 2-0, then the Marlins tied it up 2-2 only to take the lead, 3-2 in the 5th inning, where the score stayed until catcher Jésus Flores hit a walk-off 2 R.B.I. double to give the Nats the win in the bottom of the 9th.

Starter Shawn Hill had a solid outing, if not a dominating one. He allowed 3 runs on 11 hits, but he did strike out 6. He kept the Marlins from running away with the lead and allowed the Nats to stay in the game. In his 6 1/3 innings, he threw 71 strikes on 97 pitches (73%) and was impressive on the mound.

The bullpen was flawless, allowing no runs and no hits. We saw the Nats debut of lefty Arnie Muñoz, who replaced Ray King in the bullpen as lefty-specialist, the return of Winston Abreau, Luis Ayala, and Chris Schroeder, who walked one and struck out one, getting the win in the process.

Ryan Report: Once again, Ryan Church did not play, which continues to alarm me. Zimmerman went 1 for 2 with an R.B.I. double and was walked twice. Ryan Langerhans returned from AAA Columbus with the September 1st roster expansions and he pinch-ran for Dmitri Young and got the tying run at home plate, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 4 with an R.B.I. single.

The Nats did collect 10 hits for the game, none bigger than the Jésus Flores walk-off 2 R.B.I. double into the left-field corner, which sent Ryan Langerhans and Wily Mo Peña home to tie then win the game (thanks to 3B coach Tim Tolman for sending Wily Mo, by the way!). The other hits came from Nook Logan (2 for 4 with a double), Felipé Lopez (2 for 3), Wily Mo Peña with a clutch single in the 9th (1 for 4), Ronnie Belliard (1 for 4), and Jésus Flores who wound up going 2 for 4.

The fact that Jésus Flores became the hero of the game was especially sweet, considering that he was given 2 errors, both on dropping pop-ups behind the plate. You could just tell that this was killing him, and he was trying so hard to do his best. Neither error was costly to the Nats, but it wore on him mentally, so to turn it around and hit the game-winning double was Homeric in its poetry. As I heard Don Sutton say later on the broadcast, a "huge piano" had just been removed from Flores's back on that play.

I decided to take the day off, to give myself a little mini-vacation, so I got to the ballpark when the gates opened. It was a terrific evening for baseball, really lovely weather, 89 degrees and clear at game time, but no wind, so it felt warmer. I went down and got myself some autographs from Ross Detweiler, the Nats #1 draft pick out of Missouri State this summer, and Justin Maxwell, another top draft pick who is the Nats best hitting prospect. Both very nice guys, and the nicest part was seeing the sheer wonderment in their eyes, and their smiles, as though they couldn't believe their luck and that their wishes had come true, which they probably had. It's a different look than the veterans have, and it's a joy to see in person. I got a couple of photos which I'll post later.

Did my usual routine, saying hi to Rico and Ellie and getting my Capital Q Barbecue beef brisket sandwich from Maria. I said hello to several other friends and took my seat. Got a beer from Howard and my evening was perfect. I was hoping to see Shawn Hill dominate the Marlins, and in some ways he did, and we got something of a pitcher's dual with the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis not allowing the Nats more than 2 runs.

The first game post-Labor Day saw a crowd of only 15, 611, which is to be expected I guess, with the Nats not being in a pennant race, the kids back in school and it being a weeknight, and the Marlins aren't usually a big draw here. I remarked to one usher that one of the things I love about the Marlins visits is that there aren't many Marlins fans here, unlike Mets fans, Phillies fans, Cubs fans, who have huge, generationally-loyal fans. It's just nicer when OUR fans outnumber the visiting team's fans. Still, it's so sad to see fewer fans in the stands, it's like back in April again when the weather is cold. September realities, I suppose. I feel badly for the vendors whose livelihoods depend upon fans with cash.

What a fun way to win a game, though. God, there is nothing more exciting (or nerve-wracking) than a come-from-behind win in the 9th inning. Watching Flores get mobbed by his teammates in the infield, and then get not one but TWO shaving cream pies in the face from his teammates, Brian Schneider and Ryan Zimmerman, as he was getting interviewed by MASN's Debbi Taylor was such fun to see. The Nats now have a 4-game winning streak and have 4th place solidly to themselves, with the Marlins now 2 games behind them. I hope that they can win the Wednesday game and gain another game on the Marlins, as well as send themselves off onto their weekend roadtrip on a positive note.

One advantage of attending a post-Labor Day game is, because the crowds are smaller, there are fewer fans requesting autographs at the end of the game out in the parking lot, so I decided to take advantage of that for once (it's usually too crowded for me, too many folks clamoring for the players attention, and many of the players don't stop, which I completely understand, most are just tired and want to go to bed or go out and get dinner). I was lucky, there were only 3 other guys, all of whom had cards to sign, but I had my team ball and tried my luck.

I struck autograph gold. I managed to get Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns, Chris Schroeder, Jésus Colomé, and best of all, Manny Acta! Nick Johnson also stopped for me, but he noticed that I already had his autograph, which I didn't realize, because when I got it at R.F.K. earlier in the season, there was some confusion as to whether or not I was handed back my ball or someone else's. To be fair, some of these signatures are almost impossible to read (like doctor's signatures on prescriptions, really) and thankfully some of the players put their jersey #'s on there to help, but I thanked Nick for stopping all the same, and I apologized for the confusion. He was very nice about it. It was so nice to be able to congratulate Dmitri on his All-Star selection in person, and just to thank these guys. I noticed that Jésus Colomé has a T.V. screen on the steering wheel of his vehicle, and I joked with him that he could use it to watch his highlight videos - he liked that idea! It got a laugh out of him, and that was fun.

Thanks to all the players who signed my ball, I truly appreciate your time to make this fan's whole day.

Now to watch Tim Redding take it to the Marlins and try for the series sweep.

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