The Nationals Win! The Nationals Win! Amazingly enough, the Washington Nationals just won a ballgame. I was preparing a very different blog entry, while the Nationals were losing 5-0, and then 6-1. Matt Chico was knocked around by the Marlins' hitters -- going up against the Nationals' pitchers and defense,those Marlins' hitters have all looked like Hall-of-Famers.
I was already planning a t-shirt campaign to rechristen D.C.'s baseball team. I thought we should call them the "Naughts," as it was beginning to seem possible that the Nationals might not be good enough of a team to beat any of the 'real' major league teams. 0-162. Ridiculous? Of course, but the fact that the possibility even occurred to me says something about the downside potential of this team, with its pitching staff of castoff, nobodies and wanna-bees.
Then, the rally started. Ryan Church brought the game back into reach, stroking the Nationals' first home-run of the season -- a three-run job that made it 6-4. The bullpen did a great job, especially Jon Rauch who faced a runner at third with only one out in the top of the ninth. Rauch retired Ramirez and Uggla, something the Nationals' pitchers had found to be a nearly impossible task, up to that point.
The bottom of the ninth was one of the most memorable innings in the Nationals' short history. Just to make it sporting, the Marlins brought in Jorge Julio, to try and close the game. Julio was once an outstanding closer for the Baltimore Orioles for a very brief time. His career has been in a rapid tailspin over the last three or four years. It's beyond imagining why the Marlins think he can be an effective closer. With a strong closer, I think the Marlins could contend. With Jorge Julio, they may have a lot of games like this one.
Here's how it went. Ronnie Belliard doubled to open the innning. Robert Fick singled, and Belliard scored to bring the Nationals within one run of tying the game. Lopez bunted Fick over to second. Then, playing in his second major league game, Kory Casto came to the plate -- with the tying run at second base, in the bottom of the ninth. Casto proved he may possess the same unflappability that has marked Ryan Zimmerman's meteoric rise, since Zimmerman made his own impressive debut at the end of the 2005 season. Casto hit a line drive single to score Fick, and tie the score.
Zimmerman followed with a bloop hit that dropped in front of the Marlins' rightfielder. Casto sped over to third base, representing the winning run. With Casto ready to sprint home, the Marlins' catcher, Miguel Olivo, twice saved the Marlins from Julio's wildness. With Kearns at bat, Olivo made a great play to block a ball that was headed to the backstop. Julio ended up walking Kearns on four pitches, to load the bases. Facing Dmitri Young, Julio again bounced a ball that Olivo ranged wide to get his glove on the ball. Olivo's great catching just made the end more dramatic.
Young hit a ball down the line. Josh Willingham knew that if he caught the ball he would have no chance to throw out Casto at the plate. Willingham let the ball fall, hoping it would land in foul territory, It didn't. The Nationals wildly celebrated their dramatic win.
So, we can't call them the "Naughts." I'm still reserving judgment on the "Nots". Today, was a good day for the Nats, though. They have not had a decent outing from a starting pitcher yet, but they do have a win. As a result, I wrote a very different blog entry than the one I was planning during the fifth inning. Credit the Nationals' players for that. That ninth inning showed the team's upside potential. With Zimmerman and Casto, there are some players to get excited about. If they can get decent starting pitching, the Nationals would be a decent team.
The ledger regarding Nationals' management is still open. They planned to field the worst team in baseball, so they could get the first pick in the draft. I find that to be a betrayal of the fans, and the city that has paid so much to bring the Nationals' here. I also think it's just really foolish planning -- irresponsible management. The Nationals should be building bridges to the community, not deliberately burning the bridges aready there. I might add that it's also foolish to expect that a draft pick is a better bet than a proven free agent veteran. That's a discussion for another day, I guess. Today, the Nats won!