Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Race To The Bottom

With another loss (1-0, sigh), the Nats are only 7 games away from the inevitible, the number 1 pick. Right now, we'd have the fifth pick, so when Chicago comes to town (they're in 3rd), I hope the Nats go out there and rest on their laurels. A Cubs sweep would be great!

But enough about that crap.

It's Tuesday's game that makes me smile. What a fun game. It's the kind that's memorable because the Nats had NO business winning the damn thing. They pitched like crap. Hit like crap. Fielded like crap. Yet somehow, the mingling of mierda produced a beautiful smell. (tortured metaphor alert)

The play that's going to stick with Marlins and Nats fans is Reggie Abercrombie's bunt homerun. Basil at Federal Baseball had the definitive breakdown of that play, which was about as brutal a play as you'll ever see on a major league diamond. If you didn't see it, the video's here, but I'd advise against it. It's traumatic.

Michael O'Connor got the start, and completely stunk up the park in the first inning. He had zippo control, and was wild high with all his pitches. That's fine if you throw like Pedro used to. But the kid's doing it with smoke and mirrors, and he got punished. But after that, he settled down, pitching effectively into the sixth inning.

I've thrown out a theory before that I'd love to be facile enough with retrosheet to check. It seems that when a team rallies from a deficit of, say, four runs or more, if they don't take the lead, they end up losing the game more often than not. And when the Nats stormed back with two runs in the sixth and seventh innings to tie the game, I figured it was going to be another test of my theory.

The seventh inning rally was a marvel. Dontrelle was flinging the ball with his typical herky-jerky motion, keeping the Nats off balance, more or less. Robert Fick fought off a tough pitch, pulling it into right field. Luis Matos (who knew?) drove a ball to right for a double. Soriano popped up, and it was time for the moment of truth for Felipe Lopez.

Lopez would stink underwater, and hitting against a LHP, he might as well just give up and try to lean into a pitch. In his short time as a Nat, he's left more men on base than even Jose Guillen! But what's this? Ball 1. Ball 2. Ball 3. The bastard's gonna do it! The next pitch was a terrible call by the ump. A ball that was high, and probably outside, but it was fairly close. A gimme pitch on a gimme count. Instead of trotting to first, Lopez had to keep swinging. With two strikes, Dontrelle reared back, flung his right arm in front like a third-rate magician, then followed through with his left, slipping a strike right on the inside corner. You could just see Lopez lock up. Everything had been high, and wild. This was perfect. A perfect pitch at the right time. That pretty much sums up the FLop experience so far.

Then came the choice. Ryan Zimmerman was at the plate, and Nick Johnson was on deck. Dontrelle Intentionally Walked Zimmerman to load the bases. Bad move. Even though Johnson fell behind early, with two strikes, Dontrelle left a pitch high over the plate that NJ ripped hard up the middle off the mound and through into centerfield, tying the game. It wasn't a beautiful hit, but it was the right swing, as the ball sailed right back through the box.

But in the bottom of the inning, right on cue, Kevin Gryboski wasted no time in untying the game. Aha! My theory is right!

Anyone watching probably assumed we were done. With a craptastic bullpen, and a flaccid offense, we'd probably done about as much rallying as we possibly could've.

Kearns struck out (again!?!?! the bum!). Marlon Anderson (in for a hobbling Vidro) struck out. Game over, man! But Robert Fick!?!? What? Deep to right it went, and the game was amazingly tied. Watch the pitch he hit. He didn't hit a mistake. He hit a ball low out of the zone and just golfed it, a beautiful swing on a less-than beautiful pitch. Great hitting.

Mike Stanton did his damndest to cough up the lead, allowing a single, but then picking off the runner. But, continuing the little league defensive theme, FLop (or maybe Vidro) failed to cover second in time, so no one was around for NJ's throw on the pickoff. Safe was the runner, and Stanton had to grit his ancient teeth harder, getting Joe Borchard (who?) to pop to right, ending the inning. Phew!

The top of the 9th went quickly, thanks to another Felipe Lopez out (Washington: Where shortstops go to die). With two outs, Ryan Zimmerman (who else?) ripped a double to left, and then came another intentional walk. Maybe Girardi thinks he's Frank Robinson? Alex Escobar was at the plate, with the game on his bat, only because noted Manly Man Jose Guillen pussed out of the game with an elbow injury. And he came through! Perfect hitting, again, ripping the ball right back through the box on a fastball that caught the fat part of the plate. Gotta love those intentional walks, eh?

How the hell were the Nats winning? They weren't doing anything right, but for those two hits up the middle.

So in came Cordero, trying to get his first save in a month. A month!

With the way he pitched, it was easy to say. Two bunts in a row, one for a hit, one for a sac, put the tying run at second. Then came butchery #, well, I lost count of how many there were, but this was a doozy. Cordero tried the pickoff, but yacked the throw, putting Almezega at third with just 1 out.

The winning run, Miguel Cabrera was at the plate. So what does Frank do? Yep. Sure. Let's intentionally walk him! It worked well for Girardi. It's bound to work here, huh?

Keep in mind that Cordero is an EXTREME flyball pitcher. Last season he only induced two double-plays -- and that wasn't for a lack of baserunners! Sure, Cabrera's an All-World hitter, but, man. I just don't get Frank sometimes.

But as Cordero frequently does, when his back's against the wall, he fights hard. 3 strikes later, Mike Jacobs was pulling his head off his helmet as he stumbled back to the dugout. But Cordero wanted to make it more interesting, walking Wes Helms, pushing that winning run that Frank just had to put on to second base. A hit loses the game!

That wasn't any matter for Cordero, at least, even though this had all the signs of being a typical (and probably deserved) Nats loss. Wham! Wham! Wham! went the fastballs, and Josh Willingham flailed helplessly as Cordero overpowered him, something he hasn't done in months. Nats Win! Nats Win? Wow.

What a game.

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