Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sending Out the Nats

Thinking positively about the Nationals? Am I kidding? 103 losses and three games left in Atlanta to push that even higher. I've managed to see them twice this week--Sunday when they had the game tied up through the 9th and then let the bullpen pull its usual tricks to blow it in the 10th, but then there was yesterday...

A "businessman's special," as they used to call those late-afternoon starts in New York, and the last home game of the season, against the now lowly New York Mets, who had managed to drop the first two games of the series, no less. A good friend secured some Annie Oakleys that let us into the Diamond Club, which features a terrace where you can sit outside and watch the game from a nice vantage point up behind the plate. It was the 5th before we stopped chowing down and moved down to the seats, also well situated behind the plate.

Game was close all the way, with neither team ever ahead by more than two runs. Zimmerman showed his stuff with a homer and in the climactic 9th, the Nats slowly clambered back -- having had numerous men on base throughout the game who failed to score -- with some nice hits. There were also plenty of errors on both sides-- neither of these teams got where they stand in the bottom of the standings without some.

Zimmerman couldn't repeat so Adam Dunn came up with bases loaded -- and two outs. The high-paid reliever for the Mets, Francisco Rodriguez, walked him to cut the Met lead to 4-3. Then Justin Maxwell, a 25-year-old rookie who had come in to pinch hit earlier, was up. Not much info on him either in the paper or on the big screen. He might as well have been Cornbread Maxwell on the Celtics some years ago.

He pops a long ball from an unexpected fastball that Rodriguez let loose and it goes just over Pagan's glove in left field into the stands out there -- no one back where we were truly knew it was a homer until the left-field contingent began standing up and shouting. The team runs out to greet him at home after the walk-off grand slam on the last pitch of the game.

Satisfaction for a season where the club won about a third of its games? Of course not, but of such marvelous moments is baseball still our most delightful sporting event. The owners may be cheapskates (something that going back to the Griffith-owned Senators has been a D.C. tradition), the seats are expensive (usually), the food costs a lot too, the Metro station hasn't been expanded yet, and on a warm Sunday as this past one was, no beer vendor appeared for about eight innings, even in the high-priced seats.

And the middle of the infield is still suffering from injury-caused absences, the pitching staff has one reliable starter, the bullpen at long last has one decent operative, and no one has much confidence in management even with the pitching phenom they drafted and signed on deck for next season. All true. But then you have that one moment that sends everyone home with a smile because for at least a few minutes, baseball has put you on top of the world.

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