September 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Two clutch homers end Nats' skid
I have to say, if I was going to pick only one game in Nationals Park to see all year, yesterday's game was it! Traffic was worse than I expected as I headed into D.C., so I didn't get inside the stadium until the middle of the first inning. I wish I had given myself more time, as I missed a pregame ceremony in which the University of Virginia Cavaliers baseball team was honored for making it to the College World Series in Omaha this past June. The weather was very nice, mostly sunny with clear blue skies and a few clouds. Great for taking photos.
The game itself was well-played by both teams, with fine performances by both starting pitchers (Anibal Sanchez for the Marlins and J.D. Martin for the Nationals), and no errors by either team. The first run in the game came on a long home run by Hanley Ramirez in the fourth inning. The ball landed at least 20 rows up in the left field stands, and another 25 feet or so, and it would have reached the plaza. According to hittrackeronline.com, it went 422 feet. The Marlins got another run in the seventh, while the Nats kept wasting run-scoring opportunities, loading the bases with only one out in the sixth -- for nought. A certain fan in the upper deck (moi) was starting to get hoarse from all his cheering...
When sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham both flew out in the eighth inning, it looked like the Nats were going to drop another one, losing nine straight. But then Elijah Dukes showed uncharacteristic patience at the plate and took a walk, followed by a single by pinch-hitter Josh Bard and another walk by Wil Nieves. Then pinch-hitter Mike Morse hit a ground ball single up the middle, and two runs scored, tying the game! What a huge turn of events that was! (I was really whooping and hollering by this point.) Unfortunately, Morse tried to reach second after the catcher bobbled the ball, but Wil Nieves stayed put on second, and Morse was trapped between the bases for the third out.
In the top of the ninth, the Marlins kept advancing runners around the bases by playing effective "small ball." Willie Harris, who was just moved in from center field to second base, made a great throw to the catcher to put out Emilio Bonifacio for the second out. Then, of all people, former National Nick Johnson hit a two-run single to take the lead again, 4-2. That really took the wind out of the Nats' sails. But in the bottom of the inning, something magical happened. Willie Harris swung at the first pitch he saw from Leo Nuñez, and the ball soared into the second deck above the bullpen in right field. That brought the score to within one run. Well, at least the Nats weren't going to give up easy. On the very next pitch, Cristian Guzman hit an infield single just past second base, showing surprising hustle as he just barely beat the throw to first. Then, Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate, and everyone waited in tense anticipation. On a count of one and one, he smashed a low-trajectory home run into the "Red Porch" seats in left-center field, quickly ending the game in an unimaginably dramatic and spectacular fashion. It was Ryan's fifth career walk-off home run, a virtual carbon copy of the one he hit to end the first (official) game ever played in Nationals Park -- March 30, 2008. More importantly, the 5-4 victory over the Marlins was a team effort, in which several players had a key role. After all the awful heartache and frustration of the past couple weeks, the Nationals finally came through in the clutch and gave the home-town crowd (attendance: 22,325) something to cheer about.
As I wrote on my Facebook page,
Andrew Clem is in a state of utter bliss after seeing Ryan Zimmerman hit the game-winning home run in Nationals Park this afternoon, putting an end to the Nats' awful losing streak. Blessed relief! "It just doesn't get any better than this, folks!"
I would have thought that this big come-from-behind win would get prominent coverage in the Washington Post. Nope -- only a tiny blurb on the front page of the sports section, while the story itself was buried inside on page D7. Are the WaPo sports editors asleep at their desks, or what? This is the last Sunday before the pro football season begins, so there should be no excuses about having to cover the Redskins. Ironically, one of the newspapers near where I live, the Waynesboro News Virginian, had a headline at the top of the front page, and was the main story in the sports section. Kudos to their editors for prominently featuring that remarkable game in Washington.
By the way, I simply must point out that the Nationals have won both games I saw them play this year, in both cases putting an end to a losing streak -- four games, as of August 1, and eight games, as of September 5. The August 2 victory I witnessed in Pittsburgh was the first of eight consecutive wins (see my Great Baseball Road Trip 2009 blog piece), so maybe yesterday's game was the start of another hot streak for the Nats. Hey, we can dream, can't we?
In checking my records, I also noticed that the Nationals have won all three games I have seen at Nationals Park. They ought to pay me to attend games in D.C., as a good luck charm! In any event, I have updated the Nationals Park page with seven bright, sparkling new photographs I took, including this one: