Friday, May 12, 2006

Our American Cousin

But other than that, how as the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

Up until Frank ran out to the mound screaming "Sic Semper Tyrannis," it was a pretty damn fine play. There was a lot to like about the game, and that's why the loss was so frustrating.

Jose Vidro said it best:
"It's in the bag. Any time you're on the road and you get ahead after being down the whole game, and all of a sudden you score three runs, good ballclubs win those ballgames. Right now, we're just not playing well.

Notice what he did there. That's the hallmark of a professional athlete, one who's full of pride. Everything in his statement up until the "right now" tells you what he's really thinking. But pride won't let him come to the logical conclusion. "Playing well" might be what he was thinking. But deep down, there probably are some doubts.

Good teams DO win those games. And it really seemed like the Nats were going to.

Zach Day pitched out of his mind. He's really taken to his new arm slot, and he's found movement on his pitches, working his sinker, which dives left to right with his slider which bends right to left. He kept hitters off balance, letting them get just enough of the ball to bounce it to one of the infielders. It's another encouraging outing, especially in that park against that powerful offense.

Chad Cordero was an unsung hero, gutting out 46 pitches over two innings. He worked around Ryan Zimmerman's error in the bottom of the ninth, which led to a runner on third with only one out. But pressure is when Cordero's at his best, getting a weak flyball that combined with Ryan Church's strong arm to keep the game tied. The ensuing grounder to second ended the threat, and, perhaps, I shouldn't have doubted it in the first place.

Frank Robinson even managed an excellent game, pulling the right buttons and twisting the right nobs -- until pressure got to him.

Frank brought in Cordero in a tie game on the road! Excellent move! Preserving a tie is more important than protecting a lead that may never come. (A lesson that's hard to internalize after last night's result -- but would you have preferred FRodo in the 9th innning?)

Frank used (and sit for this) the hit-and-run beautifully in the 8th inning. On a 2-1 count, he sent Marlon Byrd while Jose Vidro was at the plate. Vidro's grounder went right through where the shortstop would've been -- one of those plays where the shortstop nearly doubles himself over while trying to change his momemntum to go to where he was and the ball is. I hate the HNR, but that was a judicious use of it. Vidro hits a ton of grounders, and he's probably the best contact hitter on the team. Byrd's not fast, but he has some speed. Johnson and Guillen yakked the inning away, but Frank did what a manager's supposed to do -- put his players in a position where they can succeed.

Frank was great again in the 9th, sending up Daryle Ward to face the mediocre David Weathers. Ward had an amazing at bat, taking a bunch of close pitches and working the count full before singling hard to center. Using his bench and putting players in the right roles, he pinch ran with Damian Jackson, who promptly stole second on the very first pitch.

Then came his best decision of the night. With Jackson on second and the streaky Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, Frank did NOT call for the bunt. Don't play for the tie! Play for the win! Zimmerman didn't get the hit, but his grounder had the same effect as the bunt, moving Jackson to third. He didn't automatically waste the out, and the Nats still got a good result. Matt LeCroy's sac fly to right was a close play at the plate, but the game was tied. With the execrable Royce Clayton up, Frank used his biggest bullet, giving Alfonso Soriano an all-or-nothing chance to win it.

Frank even worked the double switch to perfection, getting Ryan Church in the game a move that saved the game in the 9th inning on that fly ball with a runner on third -- They would've challenged Soriano. When the 11th rolled around and Chad Cordero's spot rolled around again, Frank sent Livan up to pinch-hit which was absolutely the right move considering Brian Schneider's injury. That it worked out and Livan singled (Livan's first meaningful contribution of the year) was gravy.

What wasn't to like? Sure, it's easy to credit him because the players executed, but Frank gave them a chance to succeed -- a lesson he'd forget in the bottom of the inning.

True, Frank didn't call for the mediocre fastball that Lame Duck Winner Joey Eischen threw, but Eischen should NEVER be in the game in a situation like that -- unless it's the bottom of the 21st.

Encouraging signs, but still disappointment. This season is teaching me to look for the small things. Focusing on the big ones is going to give me a stroke.