Thursday, August 18, 2005

Foot of pride

My friends, this is a win. It's not one of those thrill-rich yet substance-poor "BANG! ZOOM!" June triumphs, and it's not one of those rare and unfulfilling "curly-W" July exhalations. This is a real win, an August win, a two-game-swing, four-runs-down, back-to-the-wall, no-bullets-left-in-the-chamber, gotta-have-it win. It's the kind of win that, should the unlikely cosmic forces necessary for a Nats' postseason appearance align, we will look back upon with absolute appreciation.

I fear I sound melodramatic, but at the same time, I don't care.

This is the kind of victory that sends fans to bed in Kenny "Sky" Walker mode. The Nats overcame so much to grab a game that meant so much:

---> The Phillies took the first game of the day/night doubleheader, 2-1, yet another inexorable one-run defeat of the type that has typified the second half of the season. The loss put the Nats 1.5 games behind the Phils in the wild card race.

---> In the nightcap, Ryan Drese gave the Nats nothing except a large hole from which to extricate themselves. Demonstrating marginal improvement over his aborted start on Tuesday ("It never happened . . . "), Drese bothered to retire the first batter before finding himself in trouble. The Nats trailed by a run after one inning, three after three, and four after four. Only intermittent second inning effectiveness (and additional third inning ineffecivenes) ruined the abject symmetry of Drese's evening.

---> The Nats did their tell-tale level best to waste opportunities, most notably in the top of the second. Jamey Carroll drew a one-out walk. After Drese sacrificed Carroll to second, Brad Wilkerson also walked. Jose Vidro then hit a smash back through the box that Chase Utley smothered. Utley could not recover in time to retire Vidro, but he saved a run, as Carroll had to hustle back to third. Nick Johnson, handed a bases-loaded situation, took two pitches from Cory Lidle that were not particularly close to the zone. Sitting on a fat 2-0 pitch, Johnson discovered the pitch less appetizing than he anticipated and flied out meekly to center.

---> Johnson would compensate to an extent in the fifth, when his RBI double capped a three-run rally started by Carlos Baerga and Jamey Carroll. One batter before Johnson, Jose Vidro broke through with a hot shot down the first base line to plate Cheeseburger and Chaste, respectively. When Vidro scored on Johnson's knock, the Nats found themselves down by a run. Jose Guillen lined to Utley, ending the threat. It was still early, but the evening appeared to be shaping up as another narrow loss.

---> In the top of sixth, Robinson made a truly strange strategic decision. Well, it was more than that; casting Johnny Knoxville as "Luke Duke"---the smart one, mind you---is a strange strategic decision. What Robinson did made little sense at all. Brian Schneider led off with a swinging strikeout against lefty reliever Aaron Fultz. Robinson then replaced Ryan Church (receiving a rare August start) with Preston Wilson.

Why? To gain the platoon advantage, of course; the move seemed absolutely reflexive, with little conscious reflection of the needs of the team beyond the sixth inning. Perhaps I could understand the move if there had been a runner in scoring position, but there was no one on base. Furthermore, although Church is in a wretched slump and Robinson discourages him from facing lefties (despite Church's small-sample success against them), Church was fairly likely to see a righthander next time up. Or, if the other LOOGY, Rheal Cormier, were to face Church in the seventh somehow, Robinson could perhaps try Wilson then, since there might be runners on in such a position. At any rate, Church was almost certainly assured of steering clear of Phillies' closer Billy Wagner, who could not reasonably be expected to pitch a third time in 24 hours.

It is important to consider the gravity of this move. Robinson used his best bench hitter to pinch-hit for a starting outfielder in a low-leverage situation in a middle inning. The only benefit---and certainly a benefit, as it turned out---was that Robinson's decision locked Wilson into the lineup. Nevertheless, at this point Robinson had exhausted both Vinny Castilla (receiving the night off, but used to pinch-hit for Drese in the fifth) and Wilson by the sixth inning. Wilson promptly popped out to Utley.

As luck would (appear to) have it, Baerga walked and Carroll singled, and suddenly Robinson could have used a competent hitter like Wilson; instead, he was forced to call upon Tony Blanco, a raw Rule V rookie. Blanco's strikeout was thoroughly foreseeable.

To recap, the Nats trailed by a run after five-and-a-half innings and, because the Nats had just purchased the contract of pitcher John Halama at the expense of outfielder Brandon Watson, who was optioned to New Orleans, the entirety of Frank Robinson's intact bench was Cristian Guzman and Gary Bennett. The pitcher's spot would come up again; if it arrived with runners on, the most likely person to drive them in would have been ¡LIVAN! .

It is not hypercritical to contend that Robinson mismanaged his bench, and badly.

---> And yet, the Nats came through in the eighth---with Preston Wilson in the middle of the rally. There were four heroes of this decisive inning. Three are easily identified: Jose Guillen, who doubled resoundingly to left-center; Wilson, who drove Guillen home on a shot to left field, advancing to second on the throw home; and Carlos Baerga, whose line-drive single to center would have earned him a Game-Winning RBI, if MLB still considered that an official statistic.

The fourth indispensible party to the eighth inning rally was rookie third base coach Dave Huppert, who coached the inning in an aggressive and effective manner. Wilson's single on which Guillen scored was the great highlight. The ball was sharply hit near left-fielder Pat Burrell, who came up throwing. Huppert never hesitated sending Guillen, though, and Burrell's weak throw tailed to the left of catcher Todd Pratt, well enough up the third base line for the Nats' interests.

The Nats needed to make something happen tonight. Huppert enabled that to happen, and players like Guillen and Wilson (who aggressively scored the game-winning run) executed very well.

Incidentally, one out later Guzman pinch-hit for relief pitcher Luis Ayala and flied out to center, stranding Baerga.

---> Washington, which had already spent Ayala, one of its money relievers, wasn't out of the woods yet. Lefty Mike Stanton yielded a one-out single to Bobby Abreu. As Burrell, the Phils' right slugger, strode to the plate, Robinson summoned his closer, Chad Cordero. The Chief had not worked a five-out outing since he went two innings on May 24. Yet, Robinson needed this game, and he knew it. Cordero proved worthy of the task. On a 1-0 count, The Chief induced Burrell into a six-three double-play, ending the inning. Closing with a flourish, Cordero fanned two of three hitters in a perfect ninth.

This win---this conquest---belonged to the Washington Nationals!

The night proved additionally serendipitous, as cast-off Tomo Ohka, who was traded for a broken wrist, shut down the Houston Astros. As a result, the Nats find themselves tied for second in the wild card race, one-half game behind the Phillies. One game separates four teams.

A fifth team, the New York Mets, stands only three games out and plays host to the Nats over the weekend, starting Friday night. The three games at Shea Stadium conclude a grueling 13-game road trip, in which the only unscheduled off-day was nothing of the sort and necessitated today's doubleheader. Yet, if the Nats win just one of the three games, they return to RFK on the wings of a winning trip. Take two out of three, and the Nats just might keep pace with Philadelphia (which plays Pittsburgh), Houston (Milwaukee), and Florida (Los Angeles).

The other day, I refused to get too excited about a sweep of Colorado. The Rockies, an unfortunate series at RFK aside, are not good whatsoever, and if the Nats are to remain in the playoff hunt, this kind of series should be taken care of in a coldly efficient manner. Two of three is a baseline expectation, and if a sweep occurs, you appreciate the fact and move on to the next opponent.

And the next opponent, a vastly better one, could do no better than a home split. Now there's a performance worthy of both our appreciation and our excitement as fans. Verily I say to you, I'm excited tonight. Bring on the Mets.

"Cheeseburger and Chaste" sounds like it could be a bad buddy-cop drama.
It's a possibility. The idea's been pitched, and the production company is considering it.

Meanwhile, The Oldski Files is on hiatus; our screenwriter is trying to incorporate a love interest for Oldski, a la Carolyn Hughes. So far, Keli Johnson and Sage Steele are the frontrunners.
Personally I'd like to see Stepfanie Kramer used. The "Brass Cupcake" and Oldski? Match made in heaven.

GW-RBI always remind me of those strange baseball cards from the mid-80's that were 40% the size of a real card and very glossy. GWRBI always seemed to be very important in the stats in the back.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?