Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Cinco De Junio!

Remember last June? Me, too! Good timed, good times! The Nats are playing like it's 2005, as they win their fifth in a row, stealing a game from the Atlanta Braves.

It's weird to think, but if the Marlins lose tonight, the Nats will be closer to second place in the division than to last. They're already just two games behind the Braves; they could catch them with a sweep. Unlikely, and the cart's way before the horse, but winning makes the improbable seem possible, even if my rational side says that we're fecked. Still, it's fun to play!

Last night's game reminded me of last year in a number of ways, starting with Brian Schneider's clutch 2-RBI double, which erased an early Braves lead. Schneider started off slowly last year, but by mid-May, when he started to warm up, he had an amazing knack for letting his few hits be big hits. Last night's fit that pattern. It was the only one he had in the game, but it was good enough (thanks to some shoddy defense) to win the game. (MLB.TV helpfully runs down the entire inning, starting with Schneider's beautiful opposite-field liner)

What, too, was impressive about the game was the lack of Soriano. He had a hit in the game and drew a walk, but really wasn't much of a presence. That's not an indictment of him at all, just a comment on how rare it is for the team to step up when Soriano's not dominating the game.

It was especially important because the lineup that Frank tossed out there was truly horrid. Ryan Zimmerman sat again (back spams), and my hometown boy, Brendan Harris got the start, ripping off two hits and showing off a strong arm at third. But the outfield was a thing of nightmares! Three second baseman traipsed on the turf: Soriano, Jackson, Anderson. That ain't a championship caliber outfield, but, for a game or two, a major league team can get by.

Livan Hernandez pitched ok -- nothing great, but he wasn't horrid. Four runs over six innings isn't what we're used to, but a late Jeff Francouer 1-run homer (man, I hate that guy) made it look worse than he probably was.

Livan was at his best in the second inning. With runners at the corners and the opposing pitcher up, Bobby Cox called for a squeeze play, which Hudson fouled off. Livan was ready on the next pitch, firing a ball high and in as Hudson leaned out over the plate to get the bunt down -- it was the same play! Hudson recoiled back, got the bat on the ball, but his nervous reaction to the eye-high fastball forced him to hit it sharply right to the right of the mound. Livan, who, despite being a fatass, is pretty catlike off the mound, lept forward, scooped the hard bouncer in one motion and fired to the plate, where Schneider had the plate blocked perfectly, tagging the runner for an out.

I'm not sure that I've seen an out on a suicide squeeze play like that (popups, etc excepted). That was a great play by Livan to handle the ball, and a wonderful play by Schneider to get into position, and to catch the ball and tag Francouer in one motion (and tight quarters!), all while preparing to get bowled over. Everything went right. And in baseball, when that happens, it's a beautiful sight.

But, just as it was last year, it was the bullpen which carried the day, getting three shutout innings while holding on to that one-run lead. Majewski went one plus, before Mike Stanton came in, got his man via a SH before being asked to (bizarrely) intentionally walk Francouer, putting the go-ahead run on base. But The Wookiee, Jon Rauch, was there to save it, getting Matt Diaz and Todd Pratt on fly balls -- all of which was much more exciting than I made it sound!

Then the ninth...oh, the ninth! We know how much Chad Cordero loves facing Atlanta, right? Anyone watching was holding their breath and probably squeezing their sphincter. One, two outs in the inning! Then the real Cordero came out, getting Edgar Rentaria to line a double to right on a pitch that fooled Edgar, actually. (He was fooled on the fastball, swung late, but got enough to split the outfielders) Chipper Jones walked, and there he was. Our nemesis, Andruw Jones. The man who single-handedly killed the Nats last year (conversely, we gave him about 400 extra MVP votes). I didn't want to watch, but Cordero did the smart thing, and just walked the bastard to get to Adam LaRoche. Sure, the winning run's at second, but with Andruw at bat, the winning run's at the plate, too.

LaRoche battled, hitting a hard laser right at Vidro, which he lept at, getting his potbelly up, knocking the ball into his chest, and gloving it. He came down, slung it to first, and BANG! ZOOM! (well, in my mind, at least!)

The Nats won using last year's script. For one night (hell, two weeks, even), it sure feels good!

  • Despite the bullpen's success, Brian Schneider wins the Majority Whip. Not only did he have the huge game-tying double, but his play on the suicide squeeze was a thing of beauty -- the kind of play a catcher dreams about, but really gets just a few opportunities to ever attempt.


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