Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Small Ball Fetishists Need Not Apply

Oh, they're working themselves into a lather tonight. The story of tonight's game, despite what they'll say, is not Nick Johnson's sac bunt and Jose Guillen's sac fly. Those small ball fetishists can work themselves up into a frenzied lather all they want, but the key to the game was something the chicks truly dig: the ol' long ball.

Let's set the stage.

In a 1-1 game, Jose Vidro led off the bottom of the 7th with a non-small double, ripped to deep centerfield. At the crack of the bat, Astros CFer Wily Taveras, did a deep knee bend, as he tried to recover from his natural urge to run in. Speeding back, he took a looping route as the ball sailed further and further away from him. He caught up to it, just getting a piece of it with his glove, knocking it to the ground, and keeping Vidro to a double.

Nick Johnson, who's been in a terrible rut over the last three weeks or so (but who scorched a few hard hit balls in yesterday's game), came up, and saw two pitches, fouling one off, taking the other for a ball. Then, he did the somewhat unthinkable. He bunted a high pitch, barely getting the bat on the ball and knocking it towards the first baseman, scooting Vidro over to third.

Do you really want your team's cleanup hitter, even if he's slumping, bunting a runner from second? Isn't it better to have the next three batters take their cracks at the RBI single? Also, as a left-handed batter, isn't it likely that, if he puts the ball in play, it's going to be to the right side, driving the runner to third anyway?

What about the context of the game? The Astros only had six outs left, but they're a capable and powerful offense, and our bullpen is shaky. Would one run be enough? What about the successive batters? Jose Guillen hasn't hit crap this year, and I'm not sure that he's capable of driving a ball -- his sac fly to short right, should've been a closer play at the plate. Ryan Zimmerman's been good, but he's not George Brett, yet.

I dunno. I wouldn't have bunted NJ there. I can see the arguments for it. But...

Regardless of what decision you make, the story was the power. Of the five runs in the game, four of them came on homers, three by the Nats, one by the Astros. Damian Jackson ripped a drive deep to left in the 5th. And Alfonso Soriano and Daryle Ward hit back-to-backers in the ninth. Soriano's was a monster shot to dead center field, but Ward's was the one we'll remember, lauching high and far into the upper part of the upper deck in right. When you see a no-doubter like that, especially in this park, it's a sight to watch!

While it's good to see the Nats play small ball, I prefer the sort they used to frustrate the Orioles with -- hit-and-runs and steals and bunts with the crappy players. Small ball is for non-entities like Royce Clayton and Wiki Gonzalez, simply because they can't do anything else. Let the mediocrities play small ball; let the big boys play long ball.

  • Pitching was the other story.

    Ramon Ortiz pitched his best game of the year, handcuffing the Astros through seven innings, while allowing just one run -- a homer by Morgan Ensberg. Amazingly, he struck out five batters (but you need to adjust that for Preston Wilson's presence).

    Ortiz didn't give up as many screaming liners as he has in past outings. Flipping through my scorecard, previous appearances are full of 4Ls and 7Ls. Even his outs have been ugly. Other than the homer, the hardest hit ball was a slicing liner down the left field corner, which Alfonso Soriano made a terrific sprinting catch on.

    But the Majority Whip goes to the unsung hero of the game, Gary Majewski. When he came in, it was with that tenuous 1-run small-ball lead. Majewski had a formidable task: Craig Biggion, Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg. He carved them up, getting Biggio to pop weakly to second. Berkman battled him, but ultimately succumbed to a fastball that I swear buckled his knees the way a big looping curve would. And Ensberg ripped the first pitch he saw down the 3B line, where Ryan Zimmerman was guarding, fielding the ball easily. 1,2,3. It doesn't look like much now, thanks to the later homers, but at the time, that was the game.

  • Other random notes, which don't mean anything....

    --In the third inning, Craig Biggio hit a grounder into the hole at first. NJ fielded, then AGAIN couldn't decide whether to take it to the bag or shovel it to the covering pitcher. By the time he decided to take it on his own, Biggio has almost stolen a hit, the way NJ stole that one against the Braves.

    --In the second inning Jose Guillen worked the count beautifully, but checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch. The home plate umpire called him out, and Guillen fumed. Guillen wanted an appeal, but that's at the home plate ump's discretion. When it didn't come, Guillen got right into the ump's face, held his arms out at the universal angle for "What's your problem, pendejo?" and stood there arguing for 15-20 seconds. The ump showed amazing discretion in not tossing him for the display.

    What struck me as odd, though, was that Frank didn't move a muscle from the dugout, just standing there, watching. Tony Beasley stormed down from third to separate Guillen from the ump, but that was it.

    Good job by The Beas-ster, and the ump!

  • The Nats aren't quite hot, but they are when you consider how dead they were. 4-2 in their last 6 feels good, at least! Three more against the Astros, then three against the Dodgers. At least the Nats are starting to play well at home.


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