August 6, 2007
No doubt about it, sports fans, I could not have picked a better day to see a ball game in Washington this summer! For one thing, I was in good company, joined by my old friend Dave Givens and his charming daughter Olivia. An ice-cold beer and hot dog smothered with sauerkraut and hot mustard really hit the spot after the long drive up to D.C. The heat and humidity were a bit oppressive, but not so bad after the sun went down. Attendance was good as well -- just under 30,000. But what happened on the field is what I will remember the most. The last time I saw a game in RFK Stadium (late September 2006), the Nationals lost to the playoff-bound Mets by a humiliating 13-0 margin. The game I saw there on Saturday had the same total number of runs, but the score was almost exactly reversed: The Nationals crushed the St. Louis Cardinals, 12-1!.
The Cardinals scored first, when Adam Kennedy hit a home run just inside the right field foul pole in the third inning. I was disappointed that Albert Pujols was out of the lineup, but that absence was more than made up by Ryan Zimmerman, who hit two huge home runs -- one that landed in the upper deck in left field to spark a five-run rally in the fourth inning, and one that capped a second five-run rally in the sixth inning, going into the mezzanine level in left center field. Both of those balls would have traveled 440 feet or more, I estimate. It was the first multi-home run game of Zimmerman's career. The winning pitcher, Joel Hanrahan, helped his cause by knocking a two-run double down the left field line in the fourth inning. Brian Schneider hit a homer in the seventh inning to put another layer of sweet icing on that proverbial "cake." As they say in those beer commercials, "life just doesn't get any better than this!" For a complete game summary, see MLB.com for the official. I'll post a few new photos I took at that game in the next few days.
But that's not all! On Sunday, the Nationals played a close, hard-fought game with the Cards, who repeatedly failed to score after loading the bases. Relief pitcher Ray King adeptly fielded a hard-hit grounder up the middle, turning an RBI into a double play that ended the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, Ryan Zimmerman prevailed in a war of nerves with Cards relief pitcher Ryan Franklin, fouling several times (on no balls) before looping an RBI single into left field. That gave the Nats a 4-3 lead, and Dmitri Young batted in two more insurance runs right after that with a double to left center. The Nats' closer Chad Cordero did his job in the top of the ninth, sealing the team's splendid sweep of the World Champion Cardinals. Unbelievable! The Cards' manager Tony La Russa bravely faced the TV cameras after the game and graciously paid credit to the Nationals for outplaying his team.
The hero of the series was, of course, U.Va.'s own Ryan Zimmerman. He batted in the winning or go-ahead runs in two of the games, and led the offensive juggernaut with two homers in the other game. For these feats, he was named the "National League Player of the Week," along with Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks. MLB.com. After a mediocre first half of the year, he is now batting .270, up to the level that we would be expecting of him.
So now the Nationals are 51-60 for the year, tied for fourth place with the Marlins in the NL East, after many weeks alone in the cellar. Finishing the year at or above .500 is no longer an unreasonable prospect.
Three cheers to Alex Rodriguez for hitting his 500th career home run on Saturday afternoon, and to Tom Glavine for getting his 300th career pitching victory yesterday. All New York fans got to celebrate together. Two cheers* to Barry Bonds for hitting his 755th career home run, in San Diego on Saturday night. (I heard about it on the radio as I was driving home from the game in D.C.) After a week or more of anticipation, it was remarkable that the three historic milestones all came on the same weekend.
* With the Nats in the midst of a six-game winning streak, I'm in a good mood and more inclined to be forgiving. Let's not forget that, even without artificial enhancements, Bonds would still have been a Hall of Famer.
Tonight John Lannan (who?) will pitch for the Nats against the Giants at AT&T Park. Will he bean Barry Bonds like he did to Chase Utley (most likely out for the season, with a broken hand) and Ryan Howard ten days ago?