Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Are You My Ace?

It was easy to see why he was so dominant. From high up, even I could see the movement. His curveball came in sharply, floating up, then zipping down as it wrapped around the plate. Even the late zip of his fastball, as gravity and air pressure tugged it down ever so slightly was evident. And he had his control. At one point, I looked at the scoreboard, and he had thrown 18 balls verus 55 strikes, an unheard of ratio.

When you have movement and command, the batters are helpless. They can't afford to wait for their pitch because he's not throwing balls, and getting behind 0-2 with a guy with a curve like that is folly. And when they swing early in the count, they're missing, or hitting weak grounders towards a waiting infielder. Damned if they do; damned if they don't.

Absurdly, in your head, you start thinking about the no-hitter early in the game. After the third inning, when he had gone nine up, nine down, the thought crossed my mind. The Braves had looked helpless at the plate, and with the stuff that even I could see from a million feet away, there wasn't any indication that they'd ever be able to make solid contact.

The first hit of the game came in the fifth. Astacio threw a pitch inside which jammed Jeff Francouer. Francouer, took a horrible swing at the ball, probably hitting it off the handle of his bat, but it was enough to scoot the ball past the second baseman into right field. A hit, but not a solid one.

I've never seen a crowd applaud the loss of a no-hitter so early in a game. We weren't even out of the fifth inning. Were we just pitching starved? Or did everyone see what I saw from upstairs? Assuming the latter makes me feel better.

The game went on. Astacio threw strikes. Braves swung. They missed. Later, Astacio would fall behind 2-0 to Adam LaRoche, making his one "mistake" of the night on the next pitch, a pitch that La Roche would hammer to center for a harmless single, the lone solid hit of the game. Even their outs were soft.

When he came out for the ninth, the game wasn't in doubt. Not with the score. And not with the way he was pitching. One out. Cheers. Two outs. More cheers. Then with the final batter, he did what he did all game, firing that nasty curve, hammering the zone, and keeping the batter off balance, and striking him out.

What can you say? It's the Nats' first complete game of the year. And only their second CG shutout since moving to DC. (Patterson had the other, of course.) I've been higher on Astacio than his stats indicate because even in his bad outings, there's some life to his curve. And as we saw last night, when he's on, he's good.

  • On the other side of the ball, the play that'll stick out in my mind is Bernie Castro's RBI bunt hit. With runners at the corners and two outs, he pushed a hard bunt into the no-man's land between the pitcher and the first baseman. It was hard enough to get by the pitcher, but not hard enough for the second baseman to come in. Adam LaRoche had to come off the bag to field, but with Castro's speed, that was too much. He picked the ball up, looked to first, and knew he had no play.

    Frank talked that play up
    . It's certainly an exciting one, but if you're relying on slap-hitter to make that kind of perfect bunt every time, and for the opposing defense to not adjust, you're going to see a ton of wasted outs.

    As it is, the defense against him is Little League. Third and first play in, with Chipper off the line. The outfield plays at pitcher depth, but shifted WAY around to the right, knowing that he's unlikely to pull a ball or drive it.

    Likely, Frank sees a bit of Jamey Carroll in him. Carroll's a useful player on the bench -- certainly more useful than Damian Jackson -- but as we saw, he's not really much of a regular. (Yes, I know that he's succeeding this season, but that's a perfect storm of a career year combined with a park that intensifies and amplifies the one skill that he actually has: slapping singles. Put him in his park, and he's likely the same Jamey Carroll as last year.)

  • I can confirm that the Home Run Ale is 1)Decent and 2) Cheap. It's on the 100 level, basically behind the plate. From the main entrance, take the ramp right there to the right, then double back at the switch over to head back towards the entrance area. There's a brown wood bar area there, and that's where it is. $5.50 for 16 ounces of non-swill isn't bad as far as ballpark beer goes.

    The Hard Times Cafe chili nachos get my unconditional thumbs up, too. At $8.75, they seem pricey, but that's not a ballpark snack; it's a meal. I'm a big eater, and even I couldn't wolf the entire thing down. They're on the Terrace Food Court on the 300 level behind the plate. (The catfish, at the same place with the crabcakes, is pretty good, too, especially when you load it up with tabasco sauce!)

    I still haven't had the brisket. I'm not sure that I'm worthy.


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