Thursday, May 17, 2007

Afternoon Baseball - Nats Keep Rolling; Mets Rally Big in 9th -- It was getaway day, with the Nationals trying to pile on to the visiting Atlanta Braves' misery. Yesterday, the Nats rallied to beat the Braves, while the Mets waited out a long rain delay, before they whipped up on the Chicago Cubs. The result: The Mets moved past the Braves to regain first place, for the first time since the Braves snatched it away over a month ago.

Today, the Braves wanted to grab the top spot back again, and at one point in the afternoon, it looked like they would. The Braves had a 3-1 lead over the Nationals, in the fifth inning, and the Mets had fallen behind the Cubs 5-1, in the sixth inning at Shea. The Nats kept pecking away at the Braves' lead, though. They had scored one run in the fourth inning, after the Braves had grabbed a 2-0 lead. Trailing 3-1, the Nats inched closer, with a run in the bottom of the fifth. The Nats grabbed their first lead, in the bottom of the sixth, on Dmitri Young's pinch-hit two-run single. Once again, the Nats' bullpen completely shut down the Braves in the game's final innings, completing a surprising and impressive series, with the Nats winning three of four against the Braves.

Watching the Nats' game on MASN, I heard Bob Carpenter report that the Mets were trailing in the ninth, with Ryan Dempster on to try and close for the Cubs. So, I clicked on my XM radio and listened to the Mets' game, while I watched the Nats leave two men on in the eighth. The Mets needed four runs just to tie the game, but Dempster couldn't stop the Amazin's.

The Mets did it, with contributions from surprising places. David Newhan led off the ninth with a single. After Ramon Castro flied out, Carlos Gomez, still in his first week in the big leagues, singled. In a rare pinch-hitting appearance, Carlos Beltran worked out a walk, to load the bases. Dempster then walked Endy Chavez, making the score 5-2.Surprisingly, manager Willie Randolph left Ruben Gotay in to hit, with David Wright sitting on the bench. Gotay is another recent call-up, but Gotay performed like a cool veteran, coming through with a single that made the score 5-3.

When Scott Eyre replaced Dempster on the mound, Randolph countered by using Wright to hit for Shawn Green. Wright drove in a run with a single, bringing the Mets within a run. Then, Carlos Delgado came to the plate. Delgado has struggled mightily this season, and this afternoon had been no exception, as the big man had struck out twice, and left 3 men on base. Delgado, though, is hitting over .300 against lefties. In the ninth inning, it was that fact that proved to be the most salient one. Delgado singled home the tying and winning runs.

Within a couple of seconds of the Mets' dramatic finish, Jon Rauch finished off the Braves, to earn his third save since temporarily becoming the Nats' closer last week. The fireworks exploded over RFK, signaling the Nats' win, which was bad news enough for the Braves. The Braves couldn't know that the Mets had just won seconds earlier, so the news would only get worse for the Braves, when they went into the visitors' clubhouse and they learned of the Mets' improbable rally.

A nice afternoon for those of us who still root for the Mets, but are becoming big Nats' fans. The Mets go into the big interleague Subway Series weekend, with a 1.5 game lead in the N.L. East. The Nats go into their Baltimore-Washington Parkway/I-95 series against the Orioles with six wins in the first seven games of this homestand (Some call it the Battle of the Beltway -- which is a misnomer. Battle of the Beltways would be more accurate, since each city has its own beltway. I'd go with the I-95 Championship, or the Battle of the BWP). A footnote: This was the first time since 1999 that the Mets had overcome a four-run (or larger) deficit in the ninth inning. A nice afternoon, indeed.

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