Friday, May 04, 2007

The play of the game came with one out in the first inning, with the Washington Nationals already beating the Chicago Cubs, 4-0. Dmitri Young put a charge into the ball, but Jacque Jones chased down the ball in right center, laid out and made a spectacular backhanded, diving catch. The Nats' had their best start to a game, yet. Felipe Lopez led off the game with a triple, and came home on a professional ground-ball out by Belliard, to the other side. Ryan Zimmerman walked, Ryan Church doubled, and Austin Kearns drove a three-run home run to center field. If Young's smash had fallen, it was at least a double, and perhaps a triple, even for a porker like Young. There was a good chance of the Nats adding to their lead. More to the point, it's likely that the Cubs' starter would have been relieved.

Instead, the Nats relied on their own starter Jason Bergmann to shut the Cubs down. He did will, until there was one out in the third, when the other crucial play occurred. Alfonso Soriano had a check swing hit, that got past Bergmann, and left Ronnie Belliard with no chance of throwing out Soriano. Two batters later, Derek Lee got the Cubs on the board with a two-out, two-run shot. Then, Aramis Ramirez doubled. Ramirez would score an unearned run, when Ryan Zimmerman's wild throw went over Young's head at first base, on Michael Barrett's grounder.

It was game on, at that point. The lead got away from the Nationals, in the fourth inning. Once again, Bergmann had trouble getting the third out, and it was costly. Soriano hit a run-scoring double, and then scored on Cliff Floyd's single, both coming with two out.

In the ninth inning, with the Nats down 6-4, Belliard delivered a two-out single, but the game ended when Ryan Zimmerman fanned on a 3-2 pitch. Zimmerman is in a serious funk. Baseball is not an easy game, but Ryan Zimmerman has made it seem easy. That changed for him, when the Nats broke camp and headed north from Florida, five weeks ago. Few of the Nats are getting key hits with men on base, but Zimmerman may be the biggest disappointment in this regard. This is especially true, because he set such high expectations based on his performances, in a late season call-up in 2005, and a marvelous rookie season last year. As a Nats fan, you feel for him, but you also wonder what he has to do to turn things around.

Meanwhile, this was the kind of loss that we expected to see a lot of, but hadn't yet. The Nats getting a good lead, but then fizzling at the plate, while the Nats' pitchers squandered the lead. I'll say it again: It's a long season. Teams lose games in lots of different ways. This game was one the Nats should not have lost, but the Cubs went out and won it -- so they are the better team.

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