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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nats blow early lead, fall to Pirates 7-2 OR Pirates plunder sub-par pitching (again)

What a revolting development THAT was.

What IS it about the Pittsburgh Pirates that makes them morph into the Detroit Tigers whenever they meet the Washington Nationals? Their record isn't much better, only a couple of games better, yet they almost-completely own the Nats, having won 4 of 5 games played so far this month, the Nats having secured their 1 victory by 1 run.

Nats starter Jason Bergmann began the game well-enough, but got completely hammered in the 2nd inning to the tune of 6 runs off of 8 hits. He threw 45 strikes on 73 pitches (62%), but walked 2 and only struck out 1. Chris Schroeder pitched 2 innings, giving up 1 run. Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero pitched the 8th and 9th respectively and without giving up any hits or runs.

Ryan Report: Church went 0 for 3 with a walk, Zimmerman showed some renewed life, going 2 for 4 with a double, Langerhans did not play, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 3 with a walk.

The Nats finish the month of June with a 10-16 record, 32-48 overall.

Sunday, the Nats can avoid their second consecutive sweep with a victory, and they entrust that task to starter Mike Bacsik.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Nats blow 2-run lead, lose to Pirates 3-2 OR "Pirates?!? Aargh!"

The Nationals rode 6 shutout innings from starter Matt Chico, and a 2-0 lead before giving up 2 runs in the 7th, and the winning run in the 9th. This was the Nats 4th straight loss.

Poor Matt Chico. What does this kid have to do to get a win? He's been pitching beyond all expectations for his age and experience, yet he rarely seems to get the run support to get the "W". He's had so many no-decisions, it's really unfortunate. When he left the game after the 6th inning, he was up to 94 pitches, and one wonders what might have happened had Chico been allowed to pitch one more inning.

Relief pitcher Saul Rivera began the 7th inning badly, by walking the leadoff batter. If I've heard Don Sutton and Bob Carpenter on MASN say it once, I've heard them say it a dozen times: NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS WHEN THE PITCHER WALKS THE LEADOFF BATTER FROM THE 7TH INNING ONWARD. As soon as Rivera did that, I could hear them say it again before they actually did. Sure enough, it spelled trouble, as the Pirates tied things up in the 7th inning. Even manager Manny Acta called it, "the curse of the leadoff walk". In the 9th inning, with the score tied and the bases loaded, reliever Jon Rauch struggled and couldn't get 3 outs.

Ryan Report: Almost terrible. Church and Zimmerman each 0 for 4, Langerhans went 1 for 3 with a homerun, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 3.

The Nats 5 hits came off of Langerhans, Kearns, Ronnie Belliard (1 for 4) and Dmitri Young (2 for 4).

Now the Nats must try again, and they might do so with fewer Pirates fans in attendance in Pittsburgh, as they are threatening to stage a walk-out. Could be interesting to watch. I'm hoping to see Jason Bergmann return to his pre-D/L form.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Braves rout Nats 13-0, complete sweep OR Run over in Georgia

Did anyone get the plate number on that truck? All I remember is, it had Georgia tags and it was carrying brooms.

What the heck WAS that? Since when did the Atlanta Braves become the Detroit Tigers?
At least the Nats got a run against the Tigers, last night they got nothing.

Until last night, I thought a NAT router was what I had on my computer network, not an Atlanta Brave.

I'd been looking forward to that matchup for days: Micah Bowie vs. John Smoltz. Bowie, who was 5-0 as a starter against John Smoltz, who the Nats had already beaten twice this season. I wasn't expecting a win by any means, but I was at least expecting a better game - I sure as heck wasn't expecting THAT.

Starter Micah Bowie got rocked for 6 runs on 9 hits in his 3.1 innings of work. He threw 56% strikes (44 out of 79 pitches) but had no answers for the Braves batters. The bullpen didn't fare any better, as Luis Ayala, Billy Traber, Saul Rivera and Jon Rauch gave up a combined 13 hits for 7 runs, with Traber taking the worst of it in his 2 innings.

Ryan Report: Not pretty. Church went 2 for 4 with a double, Zimmerman went 0 for 3, Langerhans went 0 for 4, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 2.

Robert Fick, Felipe Lopez and Nook Logan each got a hit, and Ronnie Belliard got 2 hits.

Okay, THIS is the worst shellacking I can ever recall the Nats taking. If I'm wrong, please tell me. The Nats looked absolutely flat and lifeless to me, but the Braves picked these three games to come alive again after their recent non-hitting slump. If any team needs a day-off to recover, then they certainly do.

I hear music coming from Jim Bowden's office, and it sounds like "A change is gonna come".

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In the "better late then never" department...

"Yo, pizza here!"

As has been reported elsewhere, the "Ryan Zimmerman pizza" from PapaJohn's is now a reality. One pizza with up to 5 toppings for $14.11, with $1.11 from each sale going towards Ryan's ziMSfoundation to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis (why the extra $0.11? Because Ryan's jersey number is 11, that's why. Too bad he's not #99, but at least he doesn't have Brandon Watson's "00" on his back) I can tell you right now that there are a couple of pizza outlets who are going to lose a lot of business from me henceforth. Have charity in your heart while putting pizza in your stomach, please. If you are ordering for a party or other large gathering, please consider going online and ordering the Ryan Zimmerman pizza special.

In praise of "Guzzie"

My heart really does go out to injured shortstop Cristian Guzman. I was really enjoying the excellent baseball that he was giving us this season. Sure, he wasn't prefect, he made a couple of mental errors, but that was far outweighed by his great hitting and baserunning, and he and Ronnie Belliard combined just the other day to make one of the coolest outs at 2nd that I've ever seen, with Guzzie sliding and catching the ball and in one motion, flipping the ball right out of his glove BEHIND HIS BACK to Belliard, who LEAPED up to snag the ball and falling while stretching his leg out to tag 2nd, and he got the out. Serious SportsCenter/ highlight film stuff. I also loved the timing play that he and starter Jason Simontacchi had down to tag out runners at 2nd, the so-called "daylight" play, where they combined to get out 4 runners this season, including Milwaukee's Johnny Estrada, Baltimore's Miguel Tejada and Florida's Dan Uggla. I actually told a guy sitting next to me about that the other day when the Indians had a man on 2nd. I said, "Watch Guzman, watch if he moves towards 2nd, Simontacchi will spin and throw to him" Sure enough, it happened, but the runner beat out the tag to stay safe.

I became a Guzman fan back in September of 2005 when he went on an offensive tear and began to show just why Jim Bowden had signed him to begin with. I, too, had been one of those fans who cringed each time Guzman came up to the plate, fearing yet another strikeout. Yet, I'd heard that when he was with the Minnesota Twins, that Guzman had lead the American League in triples two different years. There just HAD to be more to this guy than we were seeing. After Guzman ended 2005 on a high note, I looked forward to seeing him in 2006, but after he injured himself in spring training, that called for another season's wait. I was curious to see what kind of player he'd be in 2007, and the spring training reports were very good. I learned that he'd had laser eye surgery and was seeing the ball better, which was encouraging. Then he went down injured on Opening Day and I just thought that he had physical issues, and I began to believe that we'd never see the "real" Cristian Guzman.

How happily wrong I was.

When Guzman returned off of the D/L in May, he quickly established himself as one of the Nats most fearsome hitters, getting his batting average into the .300's and quickly becoming a singles-machine, but he hit his share of doubles and he led the team in triples. THIS was the Cristian Guzman that we'd waited for, and this isn't the first time I've sung his praises this season. Guzman was challenging hard-hitting Dmitri Young for the opportunity to represent the Nats in this year's All-Star game. Better stats people than myself have shown how the Nats performance improved once Guzman returned to the team.

The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell has written a wonderful piece about him today, and it is a great read. I learned a couple of things, and it certainly gives Guzman his due.

"I can't hear you, them darned bells are ringin'!"

Has anyone else noticed that, when Ryan Church comes up to plate at home games now, that the sound people play ringing church bells? "BONG.....BONG....." sounds, like the Big Ben clock in London's Parliament. Some time ago, I asked the team to do something like that whenever Church hit a homerun, and so I'm perfectly willing to take credit for this. Man, I'm awesome.


Beginning this last homestand, I've noticed that whenever a baserunner is on 1st, and the pitcher tries to pick him off, and it fails, the stadium sound people play Dean Martin singing the opening lyric of the song "Volare", which is meant to provoke the crowd to exclaim, Whoa, ho!" The idea in and of itself is funny, but I can tell you that ALMOST NO ONE understands why the sound people play that and what it is meant to encourage. I actually took the time to explain it to a couple of guys sitting behind me. I hope that my explanation of it here encourages fans to respond appropriately whenever they hear Dean-O sing, "Volare!". For those of you unfamiliar with this song, please have a listen right here.

Welcome back, Robert Fick

Robert Fick returned to the Nats after his bereavement leave, and he will be needed. Hopefully, having had some days off and being free of the emotional burden of his dying mother, Fick can just concentrate on himself now. He claims that the clubhouse is his sanctuary, and I'm sure that he feels much better to be back with his teammates. My condolences, Robert, and welcome back.

Nats fall to Braves 6-2 OR Bacsik blasted for 5

I didn't watch the Nats/Braves game live last night, I worked late, then went to a going-away party for a friend, so I watched it later on my DVR. I followed the game on the radio and the MLB gameday feed on my computer at work, and when I left, the score was 1-1, but when I arrived at the party, the score was 5-1 Atlanta. Mercifully, there was beer at the party.

I still think that the Nats are re-adjusting to not having Cristian Guzman in the lineup. They had some good stretches in May with no Guzman at shortstop, but it's no secret that they were a better team with him. Last night, the Nats managed to get 8 hits, but it isn't the same when you go from a leadoff hitter with a .300+ batting average to one with a sub .200 average. Not to knock Langerhans, I'm hoping that he will be more comfortable there and get his average up, but "Guzzie" was a singles-machine.

Starter Mike Bacsik worked 6 innings, throwing 96 pitches for 62 strikes (65%), but he allowed 5 runs on 8 hits, walking 1. Worst of all, he allowed 3 homeruns. Take away the homeruns and it's a respectable outing, but...

Chris Schroeder allowed 1 run, but by then the damage was done. Ray King allowed 1 hit.

Ryan Report: Church, Zimmerman and Langerhans all 1 for 4, with doubles and R.B.I.'s from Church and Langerhans. Austin Ryan Kearns 0 for 4. *Sigh*

The other hits came from Felipe Lopez, Dmitri Young (2 for 3!), Ronnie Belliard and Brian Schneider, who has his average over .250 now.

There have been some nice discussions by the MASN guys, especially Ray Knight, about how valuable Brian Schneider is as a defensive catcher, with Knight mentioning an anecdote from Don Sutton about how when former catcher Bob Boone was playing, that he only drove in 50 runs per year, but was like an 85 R.B.I. man, because he saved so many runs from the pitching staff, either calling plays, blocking pitches, calling pitches, or getting people out. It's nice to be reminded tht Brian Schneider is one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and now his hitting is improving, too. Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton had mentioned with irony earlier in the season about how Schneider was getting more R.B.I.s without getting hits, either being walked, or from flyouts which allowed baserunners to score, and I'd laugh every time I saw Schneider do just that, but he's one of my favorite players and I'm happy to see him hitting more the way he knows he can.

I've been waiting for tonight's matchup eagerly. Micah Bowie vs. John Smoltz, who the Nats have already beaten twice this season. If Bowie pitches the way that he has been, and gets in 6 innings, then we get treated to Luis Ayala in the 7th, Jon Rauch in the 8th and Chad Cordero in the 9th, as nature and Jim Bowden intended it. Should be fun.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Nats lose Atlanta opener 4-1 OR Tripped-up marching through Georgia

Monday was quite a different day from Sunday for the Nationals. In one short period, they lost Shortstop Cristian Guzman for the year with finger surgery and relief pitcher Jesus Colome for the foreseeable future with an infection. With a slightly reshuffled lineup, they went to Atlanta to resume their National League campaign against their division rival Braves. They didn't get off to a good start, losing 4-1.

Jason Bergmann returned to the mound from the disabled list and some successful rehab starts and pitched well on a limited count, exiting after 76 pitches (52 strikes, 68%) and 4 innings, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and striking out 4. Unfortunately, reliever Billy Traber couldn't continue that work, allowing 3 runs on 2 hits and walking 1 in his two innings of work. Luis Ayala allowed no hits in his inning and Chris Schroeder allowed 1 hit.

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 4, Zimmerman went 1 for 4 with a double, Langerhans, returning to his old stomping grounds, went 0 for 1 in a pinch-hitting role, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 4. Congratulations, Tim Hudson.

Brian Schneider had the hot bat for the Nats, going 3 for 4 with a double and an R.B.I., but he was pretty much the only one who challenged Atlanta's Tim Hudson. Ronnie Belliard, Dmitri Young and Felipe Lopez also had hits, with Belliard registering a double.

I don't know anything from anything when it comes to roster moves and shifts, but I predict that we will see more of Luis Ayala while Colome is on the D/L, probably taking the 7th inning, and that is a blessing. Ayala is relatively fresh and seems to be returning to his excellent form, so no worries there. Ronnie Belliard now is much more valuable to the Nats and much less likely to be traded to a contender later this summer, as the Nats return to their post-Opening Day lineup when Guzman went on the D/L the last time, and he impressed with his glove as well as his bat. I'm curious to see what other moves are in store for the team. Robert Fick is due back from bereavement leave soon, and one has to wonder just what will happen with Brandon Watson and Nook Logan, as I don't believe that Langerhans will be the odd man out in centerfield. D'Angelo Jimenez might be a stop-gap for the infield.

Now to see if Mike Bacsik can outpitch Buddy Carlyle tonight.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Nats take rubber game, beat Indians 3-1 OR Tribe trumped

Well, THIS was much more like it.

Just as last night, the score in the top of the 9th inning was Nats 3, Indians 1, and closer Chad Cordero was on the mound. Only this afternoon, the outcome was what every Nats fan hoped for and expected, as Cordero closed out the inning and preserved the Nats win.

I'm proud of Chad, I really am. It takes strong character and mental toughness to take the kind of beating that he did last night and then, only 18 hours later, be in the exact same situation and bounce right back and persevere. I'm not surprised that Chad did this, not at all, just pleased that he put Saturday night behind him and got the job done today.

Starter Jason Simontacchi pitched a really good game today, and he, too, showed the same kind of mental toughness and resiliency as Chad Cordero, as he overcame the brutal beating he took from the Detroit Tigers last week. Simontacchi pitched 6 innings, throwing 64 strikes on 95 pitches (67%) allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 6. Ray King and Saul Rivera took care of the 7th and Jon Rauch the 8th, all with no hits or runs.

Ryan Report: Church had the day off, sort-of, but he went 0 for 1 in a pinch-hitting appearance. I've noticed recently that the stadium folks have played a tape of ringing church bells when he comes to the plate. I heartily approve and endorse this idea and, in fact, I suggested it to the team months ago, perhaps when he belts a homerun. Maybe they listened to me, maybe not, but I'm taking full credit for this obviously brilliant idea. Zimmerman went 1 for 4, Langerhans 0 for 1 with an R.B.I. and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 3. I'll bet the "R Squad" is glad to be rid of the Tribe.

Jesus Flores went 1 for 3 with 2 R.B.I.'s and Dmitri Young went 2 for 3 with a double, Ronnie Belliard had the hot bat, going 3 for 3 with a double, and Brandon Watson went 1 for 4.

Funny President's Race today as "Teddy" helped "Tom" limp along. "Tom" took 2 head dives yesterday, so today he had a bandage on his nose and an arm in a sling. Hilarious.

I'm still on the beef brisket kick these days. A few bread and butter pickles, some sauce and that's good eatin', I tells ya.

Hot, sunny day at R.F.K. but not brutally hot. Glad I had my sunblock, though. It was tolerable in the sun with some nice, cold water to keep me going.

I met a nice married couple, Nora and David, in my section. They are from Venezuela and enjoy baseball quite a bit, and brought a friend of theirs from Spain along to see their first major league game. I quickly went through my official media guide to show them who all of our players from Venezuela are, and I indicated that Jesus Flores was from there. They cheered loudly and were a lot of fun to talk to.

So the Nats took their first home series since they beat Atlanta on May 17th. That's a long time , but it sure felt worth it. They finish the month of June at home with a 4-8 record, but more importantly, they finish their Interleague season with a 9-9 record. Nice to see them playing .500 ball at one level, now to focus on the National League.

*Late Note: Shortstop Cristian Guzman and reliever Jesus Colome are both going on the disabled list, Guzman for the 2nd time this year. (story here) Hopefully, he won't be out as long as expected. Colome's injury requires surgery, but it has nothing to do with his arm, so who knows, he might be back within a month, but I'm just speculating here. In the meantime, the Nats are calling up D'Angelo Jimenez and Chris Schroeder from AAA Columbus.

Nats blow 2-run lead, lose to Indians 4-3 OR Tribe massacres the Chief

I am disgusted.

The Nats were 3 outs away from taking the series against the Cleveland Indians, 2 games to 0, and former All-Star closer Chad "The Chief" Cordero was taking the mound to put the game away and protect their precarious 3-1 lead, when the wheels fell off of the proverbial bus.

Chad allowed two batters to get on base with hits and then Indian's 1B Victor Martinez launched a 3-run homer to give the Indians the lead for good, 4-3. And he didn't just launch it, the ball went into the service tunnel behind dead-center 410 feet. Centerfielder Nook Logan climbed the wall to try and get that one and he still didn't have a chance at it, it was so well-hit.

Now, I love Chad, and I care about him not only as a player but as a person, but this was his 6th blown save of the season, and by far, the most egregious (at least that's how it seems right at this moment) and it is making me sick. His job is to come in the 9th inning and get three guys out as quickly as possible. Protect the win. He failed. This has got to stop.

Yet, the Nats had chances at the bottom of the 9th inning to score the winning runs. With Brian Schneider on 1st, Brandon Watson came to the plate and botched a bunt which the Indian's catcher quickly caught for the 1st out. That play made NO sense to me - Watson has been hitting really well, and I'd have liked to have seen him hit, I think he could have easily gotten on base and even driven Schneider to 3rd. The only thing I can think of is that Manny wanted to remove a possible double play from the equation, and that certainly did the trick. Centerfielder Nook Logan blooped a double into left center which got Schneider to 3rd and a win seemed very much within the Nats control. The Indians walked Cristian Guzman, loading the bases, and then the unthinkable happened. Felipe Lopez came to the plate and hit a come-backer right to the pitcher, who fired the ball to the catcher to get Schneider at the plate for the 2nd out, and then Nook Logan inexplicably rounded 3rd and the catcher fired the ball to the 3rd baseman for the final out. A 1-2-5 walk-off double play. Absolutely unbelievable. Later on in my car, I heard the audio replay of Charlie Slowes shouting, "WHAT was Nook Logan thinking?" which is exactly how I felt, only at the time, I exclaimed, "Are you KIDDING ME?!?"

The Nats had this one in the bag. And they gave it away. The word I'd prefer to use isn't "gave", but something more vulgar which I'm reluctant to use.

Starter Matt Chico pitched a GEM of a game, throwing 86 pitches for 56 strikes (65%), allowing 4 hits and 1 earned run, walking 3 and striking out 3 in his 6 innings of work. The only real blemish he has was a solo home run. He deserved to get a win tonight, he did his job beautifully. This is a guy who would probably be playing in AA in any other organization, but he has become the "iron man" of the Nats pitching staff, and you just have to feel badly for him on a night like this.

The bullpen of Jesus Colome and Jon Rauch was perfect. No hits, no runs. Great work!

Brandon Watson had himself another very good night. His manufactured run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 7th to put the Nats up 3-1 had MASN's Bob Carpenter joking that Watson reminded him of Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock. He went 2 for 3, with 2 runs and a stolen base, and he took charge in the outfield while playing Center. He's making a case for himself to stay around this club for the rest of the season, and his .400 hitting (in only a few games, of course) is a compelling argument towards helping him do just that.

Ryan Report: Eeesh... Not a stellar offensive day for the R squad. Church went 0 for 4, Zimmerman went 0 for 4, Langerhans went 0 for 1, but Austin Ryan Kearns went 2 for 4. Congrats to the Tribe pitching staff.

The good Nats bats tonight belonged to Brandon Watson (2 hits), Brian Schneider (2 hits) and Austin Kearns (2 hits). Dmitri Young, Cristian Guzman, Nook Logan and Felipe Lopez each had a hit. Felipe Lopez and Brandon Watson each had a stolen base, also.

The weather couldn't have been better, and with free mesh ball caps being given out courtesy of Bud Light, the fan count was 32, 539, with a walk-up gate of 6,800, which I understand is the largest walk-up crowd in the Nats 3 year history. I'll bet the previous night's win didn't hurt ticket sales, either.

More beef brisket for me and a nice rest after a long Saturday at work. I was having a pretty good time laughing and chatting with a few fans in my section.

During the President's Race, "Teddy" suddenly stopped and had to pull a baseball out of his jersey, a la 3B Ryan Zimmerman during last night's game. That really made me laugh out loud. I don't know how the marketing folks keep thinking of new gimmicks for the President's to play out.

Despite the brutal loss, there are few better ways to spend such a gorgeous summer night than with your favorite baseball team. Time to leave this loss behind and try to win the rubber game on Sunday.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nats rally early, surprise Indians 4-1 OR Cleveland rocked as Nats roll.

Well, wasn't THIS a pleasant way to kick off the first ballgame of summer?

The Cleveland Indians came into D.C. today for the first time since 1971, owning the 4th best record in baseball, and succumbing to the Washington Nationals devastating battery.

Nats starter Micah Bowie, who has been the staff good-luck charm, once again pitched a dandy. The Nats have won every game which Bowie has started, their record now 7-0 when he's the man on the mound. Tonight, he threw 104 pitches for 58 strikes (56%) in 4.1 innings, allowing 1 run on 5 hits, walking 5 but striking out 7. I hope that it is no insult to Micah to say that he reminds me of Hector Carassco two years ago. Carassco's entire career was revived when pitching coach Randy St. Claire worked with him on a killer change-up, and Carassco became a valuable commodity, so valuable in fact that the Nats lost him to free agency. Now, Bowie's career didn't need "reviving", he was doing just fine out of the bullpen, and I think that Carassco's career was a little farther along than Bowie's, and Carassco bounced-around a bit more, but he found success here and moved on to greener pa$ture$ and Bowie just seems to be completely thriving in his new situation the same way that Carasco did.

The "Magnificent Seven"
The Nats used seven, count 'em, SEVEN pitchers tonight (1 short of this season's record, 7) and the one I most anticipated seeing in action was the first one out of the bullpen tonight, Luis Ayala. Ayala made his first major-league appearance since September 2005, as he injured his arm while pitching for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in March, 2006. Ayala was considered one of the best setup men in baseball before that injury, and tonight he only faced 2 batters, throwing 9 pitches for 4 strikes, allowing 1 hit. Welcome back to the majors, Luis, we've missed you, and I hope that you are around here for a long time.
Saul Rivera, Ray King, Jesus Colome, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero were almost flawless, with Rauch allowing the only 2 hits, and no runs. GREAT work, guys!

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 4, Zimmerman went 1 for 4, Langerhans went 0 for 1, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 2 but was walked twice.

The real sluggers tonight were Cristian Guzman and Felipe Lopez, who each went 3 for 4, with Guzman slugging his first career homerun at R.F.K. Brandon Watson was right behind them, going 2 for 4 with 2 crucial R.B.I.'s Did I remember to welcome Brandon back to D.C. yet? Well, welcome back to Washington, D.C. Brandon Watson, keep on sluggin' 'em and stick around for more grande lattes, why don't you?

In the 4th inning, with 2 outs, a long fly ball was hit to left field, and Ryan Church went way over into the corner by the visitors bullpen and went up to get the ball, but a fan interfered by snagging the ball with his own glove, much to the delight of the fans in that section. Due to fan interference, an out was ruled, ending the inning (I think Church would've had it anyway, though). The young fan in question was given a stern lecture by an usher and was allowed to return to his seat, but he could have easily had him escorted out of the stadium. Balls which enter the stands are fair game for fans, but that ball was in the field of play, and fan interference is strictly prohibited.

The old "hidden ball" trick
Ryan Zimmerman was involved in one of the most bizarre plays of the season in the top of the 2nd inning, although it ultimately didn't mean much. As Bill Ladson reported it for,

Indians right fielder Franklin Gutierrez hit a sharp ground ball to Zimmerman, who tried to field the ball to his left, but it went inside his uniform top instead, and he couldn't make a play. Official scorer David Vincent gave Gutierrez a base hit."

I didn't get to see the play live, as I was still on my way into the stadium, but I watched the replay and it is truly priceless. Ryan looked for the ball and couldn't find it, and it hung in the bottom of his jersey like a small tumor in his belly. The expression on his face was priceless. He was trying SO HARD not to laugh, but he did smile about it. As Ladson mentioned in the report, that play alone will probably ensure Zimmerman a spot in baseball blooper reels for eternity. Bob Carpenter on MASN opined that such a circumstance probably wouldn't have happened in the 1970's with the old-style pull-over jerseys. Too funny.

I got to the stadium late, as usual from work, and I went right up to see Rico and Ellie and get some Capital Q Barbecue and a sweet tea for dinner. The weather was completely ideal for baseball, 73 degrees, sunny and with a nice, slight breeze. The sky was blue and clear, and there was little if any humidity. Gorgeous.

I met my friend Myron, who got there ahead of me, and we had a great evening chatting about various things. Saw lots of friends, too.

What a wonderful way to enjoy one of the longest days of the year, with fireworks going off overhead and another "Curly W" in the books, as Charlie Slowes might say. The Nats might lose the next two for all I know, at least they can't be swept, but for one night, they were as enjoyable as the summer evening. One of life's more simple, but oh, so satisfying pleasures.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nats lose final to Tigers, 8-4, OR Tigers in the tank and driver's seat

This is about 24 hours overdue, but I was too depressed last night to write about the Nats loss to the Tigers, and with no game tonight (how odd it seems, for the first day of summer,the longest day of the year), I just wanted some time to digest things a bit.

Perhaps "depressed" isn't the right word. With the Tigers being the best offensive team in baseball, my hopes for any success by the Nats wasn't high. Best case scenario? I thought that they might take 1 of 3, and the Nats would have to capitalize on any mistakes the Tigers made.

Well, they didn't make many.

The Monday night game gave me false hope, as the Nats rallied from a 9-1 deficit to almost tie or win the game in late innings, and the "Tuesday night massacre" (15-1 loss) dashed those hopes right down. I held out hope that the Wednesday fame might make the difference.

Nats starter Mike Bacsik pitched 6 innings, throwing 67 pitches for 44 strikes (66%) and giving up only 3 runs on 6 hits. He wasn't great, but he kept things from getting out of hand. Reliever Saul Rivera, pitched to only 3 batters in the 6th, but got charged with 3 runs and he took the loss. He just wasn't himself. "Saul couldn't throw strikes.", Manager Manny Acta said. Things got no better with Jesus Colome, who took over with bases loaded and allowed 2 earned runs on 3 hits. Chris Schroeder, just called up from AAA Columbus, pitched the 7th and allowed no hits or runs, Jon Rauch pitched the 8th and Chad Cordero pitched the 9th without giving up any runs.

The Nats fell behind 1-0, then 3-0, but the Nats tied things up in the 4th and it looked like a good battle was going to ensue, but the 5th inning proved fatal, as the Tigers amassed 5 runs, which proved insurmountable for the Nats, they scored only 1 more run.

Ryan Report: Another relatively quiet evening. Church went 2 for 3 with an R.B.I. and a double, Zimmerman went 1 for 4, Langerhans made 1 plate appearance and was walked, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 2 for 4 with a double. Some nights, that's enough, but not Wednesday night.

The President's Race was actually very funny on Wednesday night. George, Tom and Abe all came running out, but no sign of Teddy. Well, Teddy suddenly appeared, with toilet paper flapping away from the sole of his shoe! Very, very funny, I actually laughed out loud. I'd like to see the line in Las Vegas as to when Teddy will actually win a race. It's either going to be the final game of 2007 or the first game in the new stadium, I'm convinced of that.

I'm glad to see the Tigers gone, but the Cleveland Indians just might prove to be an even tougher opponent for the Nationals. I fear a long weekend, but I'll be there to cheer nevertheless.

My day actually started off pretty well. I went to the ESPN Zone downtown to see Ryan Langerhans and Stan Kasten answer some questions and give out autographs and hats. Charlie Slowes was the M.C. and gave away some tickets to the upcoming Cubs series. I didn't really have any questions for either of them, but I thought it would be fun to see, and I did want Ryan Langerhans's autograph, which I got. He seemed awfully nice, and he kindly indulged each and every fan who approached him. I also had a very nice chat with Charlie Slowes. I was happy to have the opportunity to thank him for keeping me so well-informed of the game action while I'm in my car on the way to the stadium.

I got to the stadium early, and managed to get an autograph from pitcher Matt Chico. Nice guy, he was polite and shook my hand. I told him how much fun it was to watch him develop as a big-leaguer.

I saw plenty of friends and favorite people around, and I spent some time talking to them before the game: Abbie, Susan, Boris, Rico, Ellie, Jonathan, Clint, Tom... It's nice to see them, it makes each visit more special. I grabbed another Capital Q Barbecue beef brisket, with pickles and sauce, and lots of sweet tea (hot day!) and I got ready to enjoy the game.

Just before the end of the 6th, I walked up to the Terrace Food Court to meet some friends for a beer. The western sky was beautiful, with the sunlight fading over the Capital dome, and Venus, the evening star, way up over the dome, and a half-moon over the Armory. Simply beautiful. A light breeze and it was a perfect summer evening.

All in all, a pretty good day, despite the loss. You have to take enjoyment from what you can. This philosophy will get tested over the weekend. As always, I hope for the best, but I'm braced for the kick in the teeth.

My 15 minutes of fame, courtesy of USA Today

I just found out today that USA Today Sports (the weekly sports magazine from USA Today, $1.75 on newsstands) finally ran the questions and answers that they asked me about a month or so ago. It is on page 15 of the June 20-26 issue, but here is a link to read it online.

They edited me for space, so here are the original questions they sent to me and my unedited answers:

1. What made you start blogging about the Nats and how long ago did you start?

I started in March of this year, before the start of the Nationals third season. Not being raised on baseball, I'd never felt that I had anything to say, but after two seasons, including the last as an 81-game ticket holder, I had opinions and experiences that I wanted to share, even if it's just for a few people. I've always enjoyed writing, and this is a subject that I'm deeply passionate about.

2. You've been given control of the team. Who do you fire first? You can release any player on the 25-man roster. Who walks out the door?

Oh, jeez, just torture me now. I'd have to say Tony Batista, because he's had the shortest tenure here, and hasn't contributed as much as the others - sorry, Tony, nothing personal! We can't afford to lose any more pitchers, that's for sure!

3. What's the best move made by management in the recent past?

Hiring Manny Acta as their manager. The man has the patience of Job, is very smart and ideally suited to manage a growing team of young guys. He's so even-tempered that if you watch his post-game news conferences with the sound off, you can't tell if he just won or lost. The fans and, more importantly, the players all seem to respect him and everyone wants him to win so badly because he projects such integrity, dignity and class.

4. What's been the worst move made by management in the recent past?

This will sound incredibly disingenuous, but I honestly can't think of one. Every move they make, I try to see their reasons for it and I have to believe that it's all for the betterment of the club. There have been players that I've hated to see go, but that's typical growing pains.

5. When will the Nationals win 90 games?

2008 or 2009. I believe in "The Plan" as promulgated by team president Stan Kasten. How can I not? For some, it may be difficult to see that far down the road, but it's a proven blueprint for success over the long term.

6. What was the best moment in the Nationals' short history?

VERY tough question. Perhaps Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run against the Yankees on Father's Day last season to win that series? Or his next one, July 4th 2006 against Florida? Alphonso Soriano stealing his 40th base last year to join the 40-40 club? I witnessed all of those moments, and they were incredibly special.

7. Finish the sentence: Jim Bowden is a…

..shrewd gambler, and very smart. I happen to like and admire Jim Bowden, he lives, breathes, eats and sleeps baseball. We're lucky to have him as our GM. I can't wait to see what he can accomplish with the Lerner family's supportive ownership behind him.

8. Did you know that Tony Batista still played baseball?

Yes, and in some sections of R.F.K. when Batista gets to the plate, fans (myself included) have been known to shout, "TAKE A PITCH! TAKE A PITCH!" Lately, he has been doing just that.

9. Finish the sentence: Ryan Zimmerman is the next…A) Scott Rolen, B) Eric Chavez, C) Joe Randa

Oh, obviously the next Scott Rolen, but around the D.C. area fans like to believe that Zimmerman is the next Brooks Robinson. His defense is a joy to observe. I can't wait to see how he bats in the new park next year, which should be more neutral, less pitcher-friendly.

10. Outside of the Orioles, who are the Nationals' biggest rivals?

The Nationals true rivals are anyone in the N.L. East. Given a choice, I'd rather they beat the Mets, Braves, Phillies or Marlins than the Orioles any day of the week. The Mets are the "big market" team, with a large payroll, so it's most satisfying to beat them, and probably hurts the most when they beat the Nationals.

1. What made you start blogging about the Nats and how long ago did you start?

I started in March of this year, before the start of the Nationals third season. Not being raised on baseball, I'd never felt that I had anything to say, but after two seasons, including the last as an 81-game ticket holder, I had opinions and experiences that I wanted to share, even if it's just for a few people. I've always enjoyed writing, and this is a subject that I'm deeply passionate about.

2. You've been given control of the team. Who do you fire first? You can release any player on the 25-man roster. Who walks out the door?

Oh, jeez, just torture me now. I'd have to say Tony Batista, because he's had the shortest tenure here, and hasn't contributed as much as the others - sorry, Tony, nothing personal! We can't afford to lose any more pitchers, that's for sure!

3. What's the best move made by management in the recent past?

Hiring Manny Acta as their manager. The man has the patience of Job, is very smart and ideally suited to manage a growing team of young guys. He's so even-tempered that if you watch his post-game news conferences with the sound off, you can't tell if he just won or lost. The fans and, more importantly, the players all seem to respect him and everyone wants him to win so badly because he projects such integrity, dignity and class.

4. What's been the worst move made by management in the recent past?

This will sound incredibly disingenuous, but I honestly can't think of one. Every move they make, I try to see their reasons for it and I have to believe that it's all for the betterment of the club. There have been players that I've hated to see go, but that's typical growing pains.

5. When will the Nationals win 90 games?

2008 or 2009. I believe in "The Plan" as promulgated by team president Stan Kasten. How can I not? For some, it may be difficult to see that far down the road, but it's a proven blueprint for success over the long term.

6. What was the best moment in the Nationals' short history?

VERY tough question. Perhaps Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run against the Yankees on Father's Day last season to win that series? Or his next one, July 4th 2006 against Florida? Alphonso Soriano stealing his 40th base last year to join the 40-40 club? I witnessed all of those moments, and they were incredibly special.

7. Finish the sentence: Jim Bowden is a…

..shrewd gambler, and very smart. I happen to like and admire Jim Bowden, he lives, breathes, eats and sleeps baseball. We're lucky to have him as our GM. I can't wait to see what he can accomplish with the Lerner family's supportive ownership behind him.

8. Did you know that Tony Batista still played baseball?

Yes, and in some sections of R.F.K. when Batista gets to the plate, fans (myself included) have been known to shout, "TAKE A PITCH! TAKE A PITCH!" Lately, he has been doing just that.

9. Finish the sentence: Ryan Zimmerman is the next…A) Scott Rolen, B) Eric Chavez, C) Joe Randa

Oh, obviously the next Scott Rolen, but around the D.C. area fans like to believe that Zimmerman is the next Brooks Robinson. His defense is a joy to observe. I can't wait to see how he bats in the new park next year, which should be more neutral, less pitcher-friendly.

10. Outside of the Orioles, who are the Nationals' biggest rivals?

The Nationals true rivals are anyone in the N.L. East. Given a choice, I'd rather they beat the Mets, Braves, Phillies or Marlins than the Orioles any day of the week. The Mets are the "big market" team, with a large payroll, so it's most satisfying to beat them, and probably hurts the most when they beat the Nationals.

So there you have it. I'll be signing autographs all weekend during the Cleveland series, and I'd better not see my autograph turn up on eBay, that just wouldn't be right.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Intersting personnel developments afoot

Lots of movement in the Nationals player personnel this week:

OF Brandon Watson, fresh off of a 43-game hitting streak in the International League, has been called up to the Nats from AAA Columbus to fill in for utility man Robert Fick, who is on bereavement leave for the next week. General Manager Jim Bowden had the quote of the day when he put his own post-modern variation on the time-honored phrase "cup of coffee" when he said that Watson would have, "..a tall, double shot, skinny, soy foam vanilla latte." with the big club. I know that some extremely-knowledgeable Nats fans aren't impressed with Watson, and with good reason, but I'm hoping that the guy has turned a corner in his career and is living up to the potential that the Nats saw in him when he was their starting centerfielder on Opening Day 2006.

OF Alex Escobar sprained his right ankle with Class A Potomac during the rehabilitation assignment for his injured shoulder and will be out two weeks. I was seriously hoping that Escobar would return to the Nats soon, he's an exciting player to watch, but the poor guy has been plagued with injuries his entire career.

Injured starter Jason Bergmann might be activated to pitch this coming Tuesday in Atlanta. That is the best news for the Nats and (hopefully) the worst news for the Atlanta Braves.

Relief-man Luis Ayala will be activated this Friday, his first appearance in the majors since 2005. This is VERY exciting news, as Ayala was widely regarded as one of the best setup men in baseball before his reconstructive elbow surgery. I have fond memories of his appearances in the Nats inaugural season, coming in to protect a lead and then handing it off to closer Chad Cordero for the win.

Maybe some of these moves will shake things up a little and provide a fun little spark going into the end of June. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tigers maul Nats 15-1 OR Nats non-shutout streak reaches 18 games!

Well, at least it wasn't a shutout.

The late Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay was once asked what he thought of his team's execution, and McKay memorably replied, "I'm all for it!"

As the Washington Nationals lost to the Detroit Tigers tonight 15-1, I began wondering if Nats manager Manny Acta might give a similar reply to the same question. The Tigers seemed to do no wrong and the Nats seemed to do nothing right.

Nats starter Jason Simontacchi ran into trouble early, giving up 3 runs in the 1st and 10 total on 10 hits, and walking 2, in 3 innings. He threw 78 pitches for 54 strikes (69%), an ungodly-high number for just over 3 innings work. Manager Manny Acta had to give Simontacchi the hook in the 4th and go into his bullpen. Levale Speigner, who had been an emergency starter for around a month was back in the bullpen and he couldn't manage to do any damage against the Tigers either, giving up 2 runs on 2 hits in his 2 innings. Billy Traber briefly halted the defensive hemorrhaging, with 2 shutout innings, but Ray King allowed a run in his inning and Winston Abreu allowed 2 runs in his inning.

The Nats managed only 6 hits all evening, mostly from the usual suspects: Cristian Guzman had 2, Dmitri Young had 2, Brian Schneider had 1 and Ryan Langerhans had 1.

Ryan Report: *NOTE - Not for those with sensitive constitutions!*
Church went 0 for 4, Zimmerman went 0 for 3, Langerhans went 1 for 4, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 3. Congratulations to Tigers starter Chad Durbin, reliever Wilfredo Ledezma
, and Eulogio De La Cruz. You guys were brutal.

I don't even want to mention Detroit's Sean Casey and Brandon Inge, who accounted for 7 of the Tiger's 15 runs, so I won't.

The Detroit Tigers are, statistically, the best offensive team in the major leagues right now, and they put on a clinic tonight which should eliminate any doubts as to why this is true. I said it last night and I'll say it again tonight, there's no shame in losing to such a powerhouse team, but I was hoping that the Nats could at least put up a better fight, as they did in the previous night's exciting rally. Manny Acta claims that the Nats have to play perfect ball against such teams as these to win, but I'm not even certain that "perfection" would have been enough tonight.

I arrived late, as usual, coming straight from work and being trapped in a construction-made traffic jam on Rock Creek Parkway. When I pulled into the parking lot, the Nats were behind 3-0. When I got to the Main Gate, they were behind 7-0 (!!!!) No wonder Rico looked a little forlorn when I saw him. I said hello to Ellie upstairs and got myself some barbecue beef brisket from Capital Q Barbecue. Besides wanting some variety in my stadium diet, the ladies who were working the stand were cute and funny. I asked them how business was tonight and they said that they needed me to come back 10 more times! I laughed and vowed to do my best.

A terrible rain had been forecast all day, but it never materialized around D.C. It was 91 degrees, overcast, and humid as all get-out. I figured the baseballs would fly tonight, but they only flew for the Tigers. I got to chat with Kristen and Steph from 3 Girls with Heart, who are VERY glad that the Nats are starting to make "Heart" from Damn Yankees a staple of the 7th inning stretch. They are terrific fans, and fun to watch a Nats game with.

Despite the onfield massacre, I actually had a bit of luck tonight. I found a $10 bill on the ground (give me the serial numbers in correct sequence and it's yours) and I actually got to meet MASN color commentator (and Hall-of-Famer) Don Sutton. I introduced myself to him, and he was very nice to me. We chatted less about baseball and more about subjects such as our favorite steakhouse in the Coachella Valley. I didn't want to keep him too long, but I hope to chat with him again soon. A classy gentleman all the way. I'm very proud to have met his acquaintance.

It is inevitable that, at some point, every team takes a brutal beating and I think that the Nats were just due for theirs. It's just baseball karma, I think. I honestly don't remember another game in which they were just savaged by the opposition in this manner, and I hope that it doesn't happen again for a long, long time, but it's over now, and tomorrow is another day, and the Nats will try again. I'll be there hoping to see it happen.

Nats comeback falls short, lose to Tigers 9-8 OR The greatest rally that almost was.

Tonight's game was one of the most fun loses I've ever attended.

The visiting Detroit Tigers, the reigning American League pennant winners, came to town (for the first time since 1971? I THINK so...) and I fully expected a hard-fought game. Nats manager Manny Acta likes to say about a team like the Tigers, "We have to play perfect ball to beat a team like that." He's said that again and again all season, and truer words were never spoken. The Nats didn't beat themselves tonight necessarily, they DID put themselves in positions to win, but they also made some ill-timed mistakes (are there ever such things as "timely" mistakes? Note to self: investigate this phenomenon on the next off-day).

The game began well enough, with Nats starter Matt Chico getting through the first inning alright, giving up 2 runs in the 2nd, and no runs in the 3rd, and 1 run in the 4th, and the Nats had 1 run to their credit, so it was a close game. But then came the "frightful fifth".

In the 5th inning, the wheels fell off the proverbial bus. Chico pitched to only 5 batters, but he gave up 5 runs, and reliever Winston Abreau gave up 1 run. Suddenly, the score was 9-1, and it looked as though the rout was on. As a fan, I sat there thinking to myself, "Well, that's why the Tigers are the defending AL champions. They are a very good team with superb pitching and great hitters, and they play terrific defense. I hope it doesn't get any worse, because then it becomes embarrassing." My "inner dialogue" reminded me of Col. Henry Blake in the movie M*A*S*H, during the football game scenes where the visiting team keeps scoring and each time he exclaims, "Well, it's only 7 points..." It was tough to take. But then came the "sensational sixth".

In the 6th inning, the Nats began to rally. They scored 4 runs and suddenly the score was 9-5 and things seemed desperate, but not hopeless. The rally began in earnest when Cristian Guzman got on base and then Felipe Lopez hit a triple, scoring Guzman, then Ryan Zimmerman singled to score Lopez, with help from an error on the Tiger's shortstop. Then Dmitri Young singled, and Austin Kearns walked, loading the bases. That was enough for Tiger's manager Jim Leyland, as he took out their starter, Mike Maroth. The new Tiger's reliever, Bobby Seay, then allowed Ryan Church to single, scoring Ryan Zimmerman. Brian Schneider then came up and hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Dmitri Young. Score? 9-5 and suddenly the thought of a comeback victory didn't seem preposterous.

Now R.F.K. was abuzz with excitement. We had a BALLGAME on our hands, not a scheduled execution. The numerous Tiger's fans in attendance quickly lost their brash cockiness and began to wonder what the heck was going on. The Nats weren't tethered goats for the Tigers to devour, these guys were fighting their guts out and refusing to roll over and die.

The 7th and 8th innings were scoreless, and Jon Rauch held the Tigers to no runs in the top of the 9th, so then came the bottom of the 9th. The Nats managed to score 3 runs: Ryan Langerhans doubled, Robert Fick singled, Cristian Guzman tripled, scoring Langerhans and Fick, then Felipe Lopez singled, scoring Guzman. Score: 9-8. After Zimmerman singled sending Lopez to second, Kearns grounded into a fielder's choice which allowed Lopez to advance to 3rd, but Ronnie Belliard, pinch-hitting for Rauch, grounded out to end the inning.
There was a collective groan from the Nats faithful, but it was a groan of resignation. We didn't "expect" a win, but the Nats almost gave one to us.

Starter Matt Chico gave up 8 runs on 9 hits, including a homerun and walked 2. He threw 71 pitches in his 4+ innings of work, for 43 strikes (60%). It was his worst start of the season, but given who his opponents were, I think that I can forgive him a little. Relievers Winston Abreau and Saul Rivera each worked 2 innings, with Abreau giving up 1 run on 2 hits. Jon Rauch got closing duties this evening and was almost light's-out strong, allowing no hits.

Ryan Report: Church went 2 for 3 with a walk and an R.B.I., Zimmerman went 1 for 5 with an R.B.I., Langerhans went 1 for 1 with a double, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 4 with a walk.

Cristian Guzman was a home run short of hitting for the cycle. He has a single, a double and a triple, and 2 R.B.I.'s Felipe Lopez had a triple and 2 R.B.I.'s, and Dmitri Young went 2 for 5. Brian Schneider went 0 for 2 with 2 R.B.I.'s on sacrifices.

Coming straight from work, I didn't make the game until sometime in the 2nd inning. I had to check in with Rico and Ellie and get myself some dinner (more Attman's corned beef).
Howard wasn't at the game (he won't make this series) so I didn't order a beer. It was a hot, 91 degree and steamy night. I'm certain that is why the ball was flying tonight (the Tigers had 2 upper-deck homeruns). For a Monday night game, there were a LOT of fans, over 22,000 reported, but it seemed like more at times. Maybe because most schools are out now.

In the 7th inning, Cristian Guzman fouled-off a ball that SCREAMED past my head. I stood up and ALMOST got it, but it evaded me, just to my left. It was probably slicing, but at first, it looked as though it was heading RIGHT for me. It flew past my head and landed two rows behind me. Now I know why people bring baseball gloves to these games - if I'd have a glove, I might have caught it. No one was hurt, thank goodness. That is the CLOSEST that I've ever come to catching a foul ball. Oh, well. Better luck next time.

After the game ended, I was wandering across the lower bowl of the stadium to see some friends and I happened to spot principle team owner Mark Lerner. And Mark Lerner was SMILING! When do you EVER see a team owner SMILING after a loss, especially such a heartbreaking loss as this one? If there is another owner in the major leagues who gets such sheer joy out of the experience of ownership, then I'd like to know who it is, because I don't think that they have anything on Mark Lerner. Since he and I had chatted on the phone briefly only 3 days ago (for business purposes, NOT anything to do with my blog, though we did discuss baseball and I thoroughly enjoyed our brief chat. He didn't know that I had a blog, and I mentioned it quickly, but I didn't want to belabor our conversation, he's a busier man than I am!) I took the opportunity to just introduce myself to him in as brief a fashion as I could. He seemed pleased to meet me and he knew who I was. I didn't delay him, I could see that he had somewhere to go, but it was nice just to say "hello" to the man. He seems to me to be a genuinely nice guy and the sort of owner that we as fans can be proud to have.* I know that this sounds completely self-serving and possibly disingenuous, but the fact is, we could have wound up with ownership with no vision, owners with a complete unwillingness to do things the right way, looking for the quick fix, the all-out spending on free agents at the expense of the farm system, etc, etc.. The fan nightmare scenarios for ownership are legion, and I honestly feel lucky that we have the ownership group that is in place. It takes an act of faith on the part of a working fan to root for a millionaire team owner, and Mark Lerner is the sort of guy that I can feel happy for when the team wins, because he is a fan himself, and is trying very hard to deliver the best baseball experience possible to other Washington Nationals fans. He has earned our collective good will and doesn't appear for one second to take it for granted, and I don't worry that he ever will.

For the Nats to go toe-to-toe with the defending American League champions and ALMOST pull out a win is pretty terrific for a team that was predicted to be "historically bad" only a little over 2 months ago. This game looked like a laugher, a shake-your-head merciless drubbing bordering upon a savage beating. Once again, the resiliency of this team impresses me.

Now onto Tuesday and let's see if Jason Simontacchi can take game 2 of this series.

*(Yes, I'm aware that Mark Lerner's father, Theodore, is the main principle owner of the team, but Mark Lerner is the public "face" of the ownership group, along with team president and minority owner Stan Kasten, so for all intents and purposes, I feel no qualms about referring to Mark Lerner as the "owner" of the Washington Nationals. I don't mean to slight any of the other members of the ownership group, it's just easy short-hand.)

Post Script: In a column in the Washington Post appearing Tuesday, writer Tom Boswell demonstrated the big difference between a team like the Nationals, who are up and coming and have great chemistry, and the Baltimore Orioles, who are in something of a tailspin this season and just fired their manager, Sam Perlozzo. I think that Boswell's example is brilliant and well-worth taking note of:

Last month, Sam Perlozzo watched as his Orioles batted in the ninth inning against the Nats at RFK Stadium, trailing 4-3. On the top step of the opposite dugout, the entire Washington team was leaning over the railing, rooting for its reliever to get three outs to avoid a sweep by Baltimore. Every Nationals player and coach, as well as several Nats who were in uniform despite being on the disabled list, were all shoulder-to-shoulder, yelling, laughing and analyzing.

Across the field, in dismal contrast, only one Orioles player, Nick Markakis, stood on the top step of the Baltimore dugout -- the only Bird on the rail, the lone player who cared enough to leave his seat to yell for a rally. The Orioles lost."

The bold emphasis is mine. This one bit speaks volumes about the chemistry and character of the 2007 Washington Nationals and also underscored manager Manny Acta's outstanding style of management. I loved reading that, and I hope that you did, too.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Some miscellany for your Monday

Big props to Kristen23 from 3 Girls with Heart for bringing up these interesting sports blogger developments. I'd love to see the Nationals offer some sort of specially-designated seating area for officially registered bloggers, but given that the media folks will be waaaay up in the nosebleed section of the stadium, I'd hate to think where bloggers would be located. The very idea that an MLB team would officially recognize and sanction bloggers would be radical indeed, and props to the New York Islanders NHL team for being the first major sports organization to "break the blogger barrier", as it were. With the obvious exceptions of credentialed media members who blog, the very IDEA of blogging is it's "outside" nature, it's empowerment of the fan, the "little guy" to have their voice heard, without the constraints of mainstream journalism nor, alas, it's ethics or guidelines. Blogs themselves are inherently a little bit gonzo and the idea of trading some of one's blogger freedom for some possibly-serious access sounds contradictory. I'd have to think that bloggers wouldn't get the same access as the working press (If I were a career journalist, I'm sure I'd be more than a little ticked-off as having to share any time at all with a bunch of amateurs). It is in a team's best interest to credential the media and give them access. It isn't necessarily in their best interest to start doing anything like that with bloggers, but it COULD be. I'd be first in line to volunteer for such an exercise if the Nationals were willing. That could be a whole lot of fun.

More here:
Deadspin, Neil Best, Sports Business Journal and others weigh in on first-of-its kind blogger initiative

and here: Blogger Box, Excellent

Beer developments: I have it on excellent authority (Note: NOT from anyone employed with the Washington Nationals, let's be clear about this) that one of the big beer distributors here in D.C. wants to work with the Nationals to try and build a beer garden area in the new stadium, possibly in the outfield area. That would be SERIOUSLY cool! I am doing my utmost to urge the club to add more local beer representation, such as Wild Goose and Flying Dog (both made in Frederick, Maryland - see my sidebar on the right) and even Dominion (made in Virginia, but I think partly-owned by Anheuser-Busch). Part of the ballpark dining experience ought to be savoring LOCAL food and drink, so-called "signature" meal experiences. One need look no further than Baltimore's Camden yards, with crabcake sandwiches, Boog's Barbecue, Attman's, Wild Goose, National Bohemian and other Maryland delicacies. I hope that such accommodations can be worked out.

New title for Robert Fick: Robert Fick has had a pretty good couple of weeks. His sound play at first base have given a name to his style of defense - "Fick's Picks", by MASN's Bob Carpenter. Today, however, according to MASN's Don Sutton, Fick wants to be known as "Robert Fick: accomplished fly hawk", to which Sutton embellished the word "speedy" before accomplished.

Nats, vs. Blue Jays - weekend series encapsulated

For the Toronto Blue Jays Interleague series, I decided to simply encapsulate the weekend series, as my fears about this series were confirmed. The Blue Jays are a strong team with a history of playing very well against the Expos/Nationals franchise, with the Nationals losing their last 6 games to the Blue Jays, and I knew that they weren't exactly going to roll over for the Nats, and they most certainly didn't.

Game #1, Friday, June 15th: Toronto 7, Washington 2.

Starter Mike Bacsik gave up 9 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks and struck out 4 in 4.1 innings, throwing 94 pitches for 48 strikes (51%). Winston Abreau pitched 2.2 innings, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits, and Billy Traber gave up 1 run on 1 hit.

Ryan Report: Church 0 for 4 (DH'ing), Zimmerman 1 for 4, Langerhans had a home run and went 1 for 2 with 2 RBI's and walked once, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 2 for 3 with a walk and a double. Congratulations to Blue Jay's starter, Roy Halladay, one of the toughest pitchers the Nats have faced all season.

(Complete box score here, if you dare.)

Other than a brief, but bizarre, on-field incident with home plate umpire C.B. Buckner, the game wasn't really notable.

Game #2, Saturday, June 16th Toronto 7, Washington 3

Nats starter Levale Speigner was once again fed to the wolves, unable to replicate the almost-magical outing that he had his previous start against the Minnesota Twins. The Toronto Blue Jays teed-off on Speigner and feasted on his sliders. He allowed 10 hits and 7 runs and walked 2 in 3.1 innings of work. He threw 72 pitches for 43 strikes (60%) but he was averaging 23 pitches per inning. The bullpen of Saul Rivera, Jesus Colome and Ray King allowed no hits and no runs the remainder of the game.

Ryan Report: Church went 0 for 4, Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI's and a homerun, Langerhans went 1 for 3 with a walk, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 2 walking twice.

Dmitri Young got another homerun, too, as the DH.

Robert Fick went 2 for 4 with a double, raising his batting average to .203, just over the dreaded Mendoza Line.

Congratulations to Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum, who had the Nats pretty much befuddled at the plate through 7 innings, allowing only 3 hits.

Game #3, Sunday, June 17th (Father's Day) Washington 4, Toronto 2

The Nats avoided the sweep, taking the 3rd game of this series, which I had positive feelings about going into it because the pitchers were much more evenly matched.

Nats starter Micah Bowie's official record this season is 4-2, but the Nats are now 6-0 in games which Bowie is the starter. Bowie had an almost brilliant outing on the mound today, throwing 96 pitches for 55 strikes (57%). He allowed 2 runs on 4 hits, walked 3 and struck out 6. The only real blemish was the solo homerun that he gave up to Blue Jays Designated Hitter Frank Thomas. I wonder what's going to happen to Bowie when the starters begin go return? How can the team send him back to the bullpen? Sure, he can transition to the role of stand-out long-reliever, but he's been so great as a starter. Since Levale Speigner is already scheduled to miss what would have been his next start (Thursday, June 21st) and it is highly likely that at least 1 injured starter will be back with the club (Williams? Bergmann? Patterson?) by the time his spot in the rotation would be up again, I predict that Bowie stays in the rotation and Speigner goes back to the bullpen. Time will tell.

On MASN, Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton showed what might be a new tradition building with the pitchers: The bullpen came out and wished Micah Bowie and the other starters well, as though to say, "We hope you don't need us, but we're here for you if you do." A gorgeous display of camaraderie and sportsmanship, and I hope that this is a new pre-game ritual that will take hold and become a National's "signature" moment.

The bullpen of Jesus Colome, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero each threw for 1 inning and allowed no hits and no runs. All you can ask for!

There was a BIZARRE amount of pollen flying around the Rogers Center. It was distracting players, fans, everyone. People were swatting it away. It really did look like goose down from a busted-pillow fight at times. Probably a subversive plot by the allergy medicine manufacturers - watch your stock in Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKlein, et. al. over the next few days, they should go through the roof.

Toronto's Frank Thomas set a career record for homeruns by a Designated Hitter. It was also Thomas' 496th of his career. Congratulations Frank, but why did you have to do it off of the Nats? I hate it when they are the footnote in another team's highlights.

Ryan Report: Church had the day off, Zimmerman went 1 for 4 with a homerun, Langerhans went 0 for 2 with a walk, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 2 for 4 with an RBI.

Ronnie Belliard and Tony Batista got the other two Nats RBI's.

So now the Nats are 30-39, playing .434 ball, as they finished up a 6-3 roadtrip, the "Tony Batista Tour", Manny Acta called it, Batista having played in all 3 cities of the trip. This was one of the BEST roadtrips that the Nats have had in the 3 years that they've been here (at least that I can recall) and it has to get some people noticing them.

Now to come home and face the reigning AL Champion Detroit Tigers for 3 games. At least the Nats won't have to face Jason "No, no" Verlander, but it still won't be easy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Nats close door on O's, 3-1, sweep series 3-0, win "Battle of Beltway" 4 games to 2 OR Series sweep baffles Baltimore

Last night, the Washington Nationals won their 3rd straight game over the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, winning 3-1 and taking the Interleague series 3-0 and the season series 4-2.

Nats starter Jason Simontacchi was effective, if not overpowering, benefiting from strong defense and less-than-stellar play from the Orioles. Simontacchi pitched 7 innings, throwing 94 pitches for 62 strikes (66%), allowing 9 hits, but only the 1 run, walking 4 and striking out 2. Much more impressively, Simontacchi picked-off Melvin Morra at second base, his 4th such pickoff this season. Simontacchi and shortstop Cristian Guzman have perfected this timing play, which Simontacchi executes with grace and precision. I believe that I heard announcer Charlie Slowes mention on the radio that some pitchers never manage to do that even once per season, and here Simontacchi has already done it 4 times. It's fun to watch. He got his 4th win, evening his record. Perhaps most importantly, Simontacchi allowed the bullpen to get some rest before heading into Toronto for the weekend. Lefty Billy Traber pitched to 1 batter in the 8th, and Jon Rauch pitched the rest of that inning, and Chad "The Chief" Cordero notched his 101st save as he closed out the 9th

Felipe Lopez seems to be benefiting from hitting in the #2 slot. He got a ground-rule double in the 5th inning with 2 outs to drive in the Nats first run of the evening, breaking the stalemate at 1-0.

Ryan Report: Church has the night off, nursing a minor injury, Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with an RBI, Langerhans went 1 for 3 with a double and an RBI and a walk, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 0 for 4.

So now the Nats are 29-37, and there are 6 teams in baseball with worse records as of today than they have, 3 in the National League, 3 in the American League, and there are two other teams with 29 wins. The Nats have been surging lately. Since May 11th, they are 20-12, a .625 winning rate, one of the best records in the National League over that period. They are now only 8 games out of first place, 8 games below .500 and only 2.5 games behind the Florida Marlins. I'm not getting carried away, they aren't going to make a pennant run, for crying out loud, but they have pulled themselves out of the cellar and have a chance to earn more respect and have a dignified season. All this before they get their 4 injured starters back, as well as key set-up man Luis Ayala. I hope that we've heard the last of the talk that ran rampant two months ago with pundits projecting that the Nats could challenge the 1962 New York Mets for the worst record in MLB history. They are now on pace to win 71 games and lose 91 games. Not great, but a far cry from "historically bad". The 2007 Nationals are scrappy and resilient. They have heart and guts. They are a lot of fun to watch, and I can't wait to see how they do once they clear the disabled list a bit.

On to Toronto.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nats survive O's rally, win 9-6 in 11th, win Battle of the Beltway II OR Lopez lifts Nats off O's rally-coaster

What a wet and wild Wednesday for Washington.

The Nationals beat the Baltimore Orioles for the second consecutive night, winning 9-6 in 11 innings and taking round 2 the "Battle of the Beltway" series, as well as taking the season lead in their series against the O's 3-2 with the final game to be played tonight.

By all indications, it looked as though this game was certain to be rain-delayed, as heavy rains came in to Baltimore around 5:15. Rain had also battered the D.C./Northern Virginia/Maryland area around Washington, and many Nats fans who intended to make the trip to Camden Yards were justifiably concerned, especially with tornado watches announced by the weather services. By game time, however, the rains were gone, the wind was slightly up and it was a somewhat cool evening. I had a windbreaker and jeans and was glad that I'd dressed appropriately.

Nats starter Matt Chico had a pretty good outing, going 6.2 innings, throwing 112 pitches for 75 strikes (67%), allowing 2 earned runs on 8 hits, striking out 3 and walking 1. Unfortunately, the bullpen was erratic. The Nats used 6 relievers, Jesus Colome, Ray King, Jon Rauch, Chad Cordero, Billy Traber and Saul Rivera. Colome and King each allowed a run, Rauch allowed a hit, and Chad "The Chief of Cardiology" blew the save in the 9th as the O's tied the game. I've heard Don Sutton and Bob Carpenter and Ray Knight on MASN say time and again how nothing good ever happens when a reliever walks a leadoff batter and Chad, unfortunately, did it again tonight. It's a regrettable trait that he's picked up this season and to say that it makes things interesting is an understatement. Fortunately, he only allowed the 1 run, tying the game, and sent the Nats into extra innings.

Ryan Report: Church went 1 for 4 with 2 RBI's, Zimmerman went 1 for 5 with a walk, but that 1 was a triple, Langerhans hit a homerun, his 2nd for the season, going 1 for 3 with an RBI and walked twice, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 3 for 4 with 2 RBI's and a walk. Not a bad evening, Ryan-wise!

The highlight for Nats fans, of course, came when Felipe Lopez, who has struggled a bit of late, hit a bases-clearing triple in the 11th inning to put the Nats up 9-6. I'd say that most of the O's fans remaining in the stadium headed for the exits after that happened.

What a rollercoaster of a game. The lead going back and forth. Tough on a fan's nerves!

Due to time-constraints, I have to cut this short, but I'll pick it back up as soon as I can. More soon!

*EDIT Okay, so where was I? Oh, right. Baltimore!

Being as Wednesday was my day off, I was really looking forward to my first Nats "away" game, and I invited three friends to join me: My friend Randi and my friend Myron and his wife. Well, due to the torrential rains, Myron and his wife begged off halfway up I-95 (to be fair, they both had to get up at 5:00 the next morning) so Randi and I just met at the Marriott near the park and I had some dinner (the "Chesapeake Burger", a grilled burger with a crabcake on top, along with coleslaw and onion rings, washed down with a Sam Adams "Summer" on draught - Yum! I could eat one of those at least once per week) I was glad to have the chance to dry off, as I'd gotten drenched walking from the parking garage to the ballpark, thinking that we'd meet there before changing our plans. After eating, we walked over to the ballpark and bought our tickets and went inside. Once inside (we made it just as the National Anthem was being sung) we went over to the first-base side where our seats were (sec #26, row SS, right behind the left-side of the Orioles dugout) and, lo and behold, there was HOWARD, my favorite beer vendor from R.F.K.! Howard was vending Coors Light with his usual gusto, and when I caught his attention, he bear-hugged me, he was so happy to see me. I laughed and told him that this was the only reason why we came up. Howard told me that, 16 rows in front of me, B.J. Surhoff and Tommy Lasorda were sitting with one of the Orioles minority-share owners, which was cool to see. Howard has been a vendor for 26 years, and I knew that he vended at Oriole Park when the Nats were on the road, as well as Ravens Stadium during football season, and I was thrilled that we were able to run into him. Howard might retire at the end of this season, so this was an extra-special aspect of our visit. Howard is great, I love seeing him work with people. By sheer coincidence, I also happened to notice another R.F.K. vendor who I've talked to from time to time, Neal. Neal is the favorite vendor of MickNats from the Nats320 blog, and Neal said that Mick was at the Tuesday night game. Gotta love the comraderie amongst the fans and vendors. You see these guys often enough and they become like members of your extended family.

Since I hadn't been to Oriole Park in so many years, and back then I just wasn't a baseball fan, as I was embittered about MLB's attitude towards Washington, D.C. at the time, I never fully appreciated just what a gorgeous ballpark Oriole Park at Camden Yards truly is. It is so well-designed and thoughtfully laid-out, the amenities are so nice, that the whole experience got me excited about our own new ballpark, opening April 2008. We Nats fans keep hearing about it, and it all sounds nice, but when you get to experience a gorgeous modern ballpark like Camden Yards, it just whets your appetite. And Oriole Park is FIFTEEN YEARS OLD! It's not state-of-the-art, but I don't hear any complaints. Man, does dowdy old R.F.K. seem even worse to me now. I like it, it has it's own character,

Some things that I think the Orioles do well that I'd like to see the Nats do:

1) Establish a queue for buying tickets. The Orioles have a line, just like at a bank or airline ticket area, and an employee stands there and directs you to an open and available window. A nice touch, much more orderly than what they have at R.F.K. now.

2) A description of the pitches thrown along with the speed from the radar gun on the display. This was REALLY cool to me. Not only do you get the speed of the last pitch, they tell you exactly what kind of pitch it was, i.e. curveball, slider, split-finger fastball, etc.. I LOVE that! However, the Orioles don't show you the pitch count for the pitcher or his ball and strike numbers. I thought that was strange.

3) Cupholders! I know, I know, this is already on the Nats list of features for the new park, but I can't TELL you how nice it was to have those! No more worrying about anyone kicking over your drink (even myself, I've inadvertently kicked over my own beverage before - d'oh!)

4) Beer cups! Interestingly enough, when I bought a Coors Light from Howard, I got the 16 oz. bottle, but Howard also gave me a cup. VERY nice! Any professional beer vendor will tell you that they WANT you to enjoy your beer out of a cup because the gas in the beer is disippating faster, so less of it goes into your stomach, therefore you don't feel so full and you are more likely to spend more money to eat and drink more. The beer vendors don't want to have to pour the beers for you, because it slows them down tremendously, they'd much rather just hand you a cold one and be done with it. This is the best of both worlds, and I hope that the Nats (or more accurately, the food service that runs the beer vending) adopts this system next year.

One funny moment I had was when The Bird saw a guy a few rows in front of me wearing a New York Yankees jersey with "Jeter" on the back (for Derek Jeter). Now, the New York Yankees are the Orioles most HATED rival, as they are the Orioles #1 nemesis in their own division. The Bird, indicated the Jeter name on the back of the jersey then proceeded to turn around and fan his tailfeathers over the guy, as though to simulate avian defecation. Hilarious! That got a big laugh from the O's fans who watched this happen.

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way was when the video scoreboard displayed a segment where The Bird went to Washington, D.C. and magically planted an Orioles flag on the Capitol dome, changed the Washington Monument's color to orange, and changed a fan wearing a Nationals shirt and cap into wearing an Orioles shirt and cap (!!!!!) Maybe they do this with all of the visiting teams, but I doubt it. I suspect that this is a Peter Angelos-inspired bit of nastiness, implying that all Nationals fans are REALLY Orioles fans underneath, and further implying that Washington, D.C. is an Orioles town, an Orioles market. Well, not any longer, Peter! As of tonight (June 14th, 2007) the Nats have the SAME RECORD as the Orioles, and have a season and historic advantage over the Orioles in Interleague play. Shove THAT into your brief case!

Please keep in mind, I have NO beef with the Baltimore Orioles, only their owner. Orioles fans who are actually from Baltimore have usually never liked people from Washington, D.C. anyway, but I've never had hard feelings about Baltimore folks or Orioles fans. They have a fine franchise which has been hijacked by an egotistical tyrant, a great ballpark and some great surroundings.

I look forward to visiting again next season.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Nats top O's early, win 7-4 OR Longballs, ahoy!

For one night, at least, the Washington Nationals did their imitation of an American League team.

With homeruns from Ryan Church, Ryan Zimmerman and Brian Schneider, the Nats made quick work of the Baltimore Orioles, backed up by another impressive effort from starter Micah Bowie.

Glad to see that the day-off on Monday didn't slow the team down any!

Micah Bowie just continues to impress. He's got his arm strength up, and he can really make useful adjustments when called for. Randy "The Saint" St. Claire, the Nationals pitching coach, worked with Bowie inning by inning to help him tweak his delivery and it paid instant dividends. This speaks volumes about Bowie, for many pitchers can be told what to do, but often can't adjust so quickly, sometimes taking several days to develop those changes. All Bowie seems to require is a little direction and he can get going. He worked 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 3 hits, walking 2 and striking out 2, throwing 92 pitches for 54 strikes (57%). I wonder if he will continue to start when the injured starters return to the rotation, or if he will return to the bullpen? The Nats are 5-0 when he starts a game, and Bowie is 3-0 as a starter. Why mess with a good thing?

The bullpen of Saul Rivera, Jon Rauch, Jesus Colome and Chad Cordero did well, except for Colome's shaky 9th inning, where he allowed a run. Chad "The Chief" Cordero came in to get the save, the 100th of his career, which makes Chad the second-youngest pitcher to record 100 saves in his career. Congratulations, Chad!

Oddly enough, the Nats two strongest hitters of late, Cristian Guzman and Dmitri Young, both had poor nights, with Guzman going 0 for 4, and Young going 1 for 5 as the Designated Hitter. I thought for sure that these two would tee-off in the comfy-confines of Oriole Park. Perhaps they are just waiting to meet Mr. Trachsel tonight.

2B Felipe Lopez, now batting second, seemed to snap out of his slump, going 1 for 2 with 2 RBI's and being walked three times. Batting second would seem to agree with him. Excellent patience, Felipe!

Catcher Brian Schneider went 2 for 4, including that gorgeous home run with 2 RBI's and a walk. Way to go, Brian!

Ryan Report: Lots to love. Church put them up early with his solo homer, going 1 for 3 with a walk. Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI's and a walk. Langerhans went 1 for 4 and also had his first stolen base of the season, and Austin Ryan Kearns went 1 for 5.

Nice to see the Nats tear things up a little bit. Intellectually, I enjoy and appreciate small-ball, but every now and then I just want to see a few leave the outfield, I just rest a little more easily when that happens.

I'll actually be at tonight's game, my first visit to Oriole Park in many, many years and obviously my first as a Nationals fan. The last time I was at Oriole Park, Cal Ripken was still the Orioles shortstop, I don't think that he'd yet been moved to third. Back then, I barely knew anything about baseball, and didn't have a rooting interest in any team. I'd taken friends there, and my nephew, but I wasn't falling over myself to visit the place. When Interleague ball began, the first time the Atlanta Braves came to Baltimore, I got tickets for mself and a friend who was a Braves fan to go. He was happy, the Braves won that day. For some reason, it seems as though most of the games I ever saw there (fewer than 10, mind you) seemed to be the Orioles hosting the Seattle Mariners. I certainly never saw the Yankees or the Red Sox. I might have seen the Devil Rays, but I really can't remember. I'm looking forward to either a crabcake sandwich or Boog's Barbecue, maybe some pit beef and fries. I'll look for my friend Howard, who vends there when the Nats are on the road. I'll be with my friends Randi and Myron and his wife. I hope it doesn't rain. I want to see Matt Chico get a win, and it seems to me that he's gotten a couple of no-decisions due to rain delays already this season.

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

Survey of the Moment