Saturday, December 1, 2007

The hardest part of the game

So the big trade news has hit. Ryan Church and Brian Schneider are going to the Mets; Lastings Milledge coming to us. Is this a great move? Is Milledge the answer to our center field problems? Could be. I haven't seen the kid enough to have an opinion of him yet. Ask me again in May and I might have an answer for you.

Of course, we Ryan Girls are sad to see Church go. But we knew it would happen, and we were prepared. We'll miss him.

The real shock in this though, is Schneider. Yeah, there were a few rumors that he was on the block, but the Ryan Girls never believed them. They didn't have much to back them up. They would never trade him, we thought. At least not this year. But then the news came. He was gone. We couldn't believe it. How could Schneids go away? We NEED him!

Forget for now the practical implications of having our team father and “captain” now calling games for our frequent opponents. Forget the way he performed for us. Right now, we'll just miss his guidance. His presence. We'll never again see him playing with his daughter on the field before a game, her in a Nats jersey way too big for her. He won't hug Daisy anymore after Daisy gets a game winning hit. He won't do the weekly mike checks for MASN. He won't be leading the charge onto the field to mob Zimm. There will be no more fist-bump tomahawk-chop with the Chief.

Yes, this trade might work out wonderfully. We might look back on it as one of the greatest trades. But for now, we Ryan Girls are still to shocked by the idea of seeing Schneider, and Church, in Mets uniforms.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I've seen the future, and it is sweet!

The last pitch flew right over the center of the plate, past the batter who didn't even try to swing. The pitcher threw his glove in the air with joy, before being mobbed by his teammates. The crowd, already on their feet for the entire last inning, somehow managed to yell even louder. The bullpen door flew open and the pitchers who had been stuck in there streaked across the field at full speed to join their team in the tangle at the mound. The joy was evident in every face. Even though my team had just lost, I couldn't help but smile. This was it.

The Nationals lost the game and the Phillies won the division. But it was a battle to the end. Our boys were determined not to make it easy for anyone. And, possibly more importantly than the game itself, they got to see what it would be like to win it all. They saw the crowd. They heard the cheering. They saw the joy on the faces of the other team. After the game, instead of slinking off into the clubhouse after the loss, several of our boys stayed in the dugout, watching the celebration happen. A few exchanged hugs with Phillies players. One head popped out and looked around at the crowd, soaking it all in. Someday soon, they'll get to see this in DC. They've now seen what they're playing for. They've seen what it could be like.

It was great, as a fan, to be able to experience that as well. From a perch high up at the very top row at Citizen's Bank Park, The Ryan Girls watched the celebration. I could see the whole stadium from up there, the rally towels swinging wildly. The hugging, the cheering that just seemed to go on forever. It wasn't the outcome I wanted. I wanted to see my boys win. And I definitely didn't want the Phillies to win the division. But I saw what I did want. I want that celebration. I looked at Ryan Girl #2 and saw she was smiling too, looking around and taking it all in. We stayed for a few minutes, soaking it all in until our boys all disappeared into the dugout. As we left, the cheers continued around us. The usher in our section hugged us good-bye, despite the ribbing she had given us earlier over our Nationals t-shirts.

The celebration continued outside the stadium as we walked around it. Most of the fans were too happy to care that Nats fans had come into their midst. "Thank you!" many of the shouted at us. "Thanks for taking out the Mets." (Not that they were all sweet as pie or anything. A few of them shouted things that were much less nice. Gotta keep their Philadelphia sports fan reputation intact.) The cars in the parking lot all had their windows down, horns honking, rally towels swinging out the windows. Out on the roads it continued, cars that weren't even coming from the game joining the celebration. A fire truck drive by, honking its horn with hands holding Phillies flags out the windows. An hour later, halfway down the highway toward DC, it seemed like the celebration was over. Then, in front of us, a horn honked, a window came down and a swinging towel was held out the window. All around us, every car I could see, responded with their own towels. These people were thrilled.

One day we'll have that in DC. Cars up and down Capitol Street(s) in all directions, honking and waving their Nats flags. Metro conductors getting in on the celebration, honking their horns all through the tunnels. We'll have it. I can feel it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sweet Sweep

Oh, how sweep it is.

The headlines are only talking about the Mets' tumble; I choose to talk about the 72nd win of the season. Church has finally relaxed, and good things come from it. I'm not sure if he gave up hope or if someone gave him a firm talking to. Either way, my Ryan is hitting nearly .400 in the month of September. He got his 43rd double; if he had been allowed those extra 100 at-bats, I have no doubt my boy would have made it to his desired 50.

The plan was to “win every game,” according to Schneider. Now the plan is “to sweep the Phils,” as Church so concisely put it. Ryan Girl #1 and I have had this plan for a while; it's good to hear the Nats finally had it occur to them too.

Only the first game of this series came easily, 13-3. Austin just keeps getting worthwhile hits, and pitchers keep being foolish enough to walk the men in front of him. Tuesday night looked like another blowout until Colome and the Human Heartburn (Chad Cordero) allowed 3 runs each. Rauch finished it off and fell on Schneids in relief when we got out of the ninth still leading 10-9. If it wasn't for the Mets quiting the game in the top of the same inning, allowing Batista to saunter into home on a hit that didn't even approach being deep enough, we would have gone into extra innings. Wednesday night it looked like the Mets had finally become angry enough at us to grab a victory. But, alas, poor Willie Randolph, Ryan Church continued to plague him. A homerun to give us energy again, and a 3 for 5 night to make all of DC feel good.

It wasn't just Church that had himself together this week. Kearns is on fire. Batista keeps doing well. Fick is actually on a hitting streak. Zimmy started a beautiful and extremely long double-play. Bergmann pitched a fantastic birthday game for himself, getting his own double-play started. Shoot, even Ryan Langerhans knocked that white and red spheroid out of Shea Stadium.

As it currently stands, the Nationals are in a strong 4th place (if the Marlins lose tonight, it's clenched). In the whole of the MLB, we are 10th from the last. We are not the lowest scorer in the NL. We have met our goals. And we are ever so far, far away from looking like the '62 Mets. Let's see how Zimmerman does this Friday. It should be good; the boy has to consider his own birthday a holiday.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My College Home

I may not have been at RFK for years on end. I may not have gone to concert after concert or a multitude of sporting events. I will, however, continue to think of that park as a home.

I moved to DC only a few months before the Nationals did. I began my college hunt right around the time that the MLB started a serious search for a place to move the Expos. My freshman year of college saw me pouring of the newspaper at breakfast to keep track of how the discussions were progressing with getting a team to Washington.

Personally, I would like the think that I've been good luck for the Nats. I move then DC gets a team. My first game was Memorial Day 2005 and we beat the Braves. I've obviously been back several times since then, carting roommates, friends, and the occasional awkward date out to the ol' concrete doughnut.

RFK was the place where I first got a team of my own. My father (I am aware that what I'm about to say is boarder-line evil) raised me a Yankees fan. (I would like to say that he did use to play in their minor league system before going to Vietnam; that usually gets me out of trouble.)

However, earlier this summer when I finally got it in my head to ask my dad what number he used to wear, he realized something. Dad said he wore number 11, and I told him a little something about Ryan Zimmerman and the hot corner. My dad paused briefly and then said, “You really have a team you follow now, don't you?” Thanks to the Nats and RFK, being down there so often these past three years, my dad realized that I had grown up. I had my own ball team now.

This entire last week the Ryan Girls sat in our favorite sections, getting looks at the field we'll never manage again: Friday, the boxes that we'll never be able to afford again; Saturday, section 517 where we spent most of our season; Sunday, started in the outfield upper deck and finishing up down in 214.

The 3-5 win was just that much sweet coming off of two days of losses. It takes a lot to get Phillies fans to quiet down but losing to the home team managed it. Daisy's hit by pitch got us the lead; he did ask Manny before he went up if he should take one for the team. It was the way the Nats have played all year. Fight to the end for everything, and remember you're part of a team, do it for the team. Everything was sweeter that day. The stands bounced in nearly every inning and it sounded like every third out was being pitched in the ninth.

I know that Nationals Park will be better for everyone. But RFK will be the place that marks where I grew up. I moved away to college, and I moved into that stadium. I finish up college this year and the Nationals move. The whole of my collegiate career has been connected to that stadium. Nothing can replace that sensation of leaving home and finding a different one. I found Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and I'll miss it too.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Off to Spoil the Phillies

Well, we didn't sweep the Mets; we lost 8-4. But we did clean out a couple of cobwebs on our own team. For two games our offense remembered how to hit and Pena learned how to follow a ball coming off of the bat. Our starting pitchers choked often, with only Chico not given up runs in the first (and, oddly enough, the only one to log a loss).

The loss of this game won't phase Manny or most of the players. Our boys of summer still took the series, still are a little closer to that magic 72. But Daisy (Jesus Flores, the nickname is not an insult, the story is odd, but daisies are strong, manly flowers) will beat himself up over this loss for days. He has openly admitted to feeling a need to try hard to impress the team that let him go. He managed hits in the bottom of the second and sixth, hopefully they were enough to get him over the complex he has developed when it comes to the Mets. I just hope that Daisy won't focus on the idea that with Schneids calling the game we won, and with him behind the plate we stumbled.

Maybe it was Pelfrey's mouth guard that threw off our players. Maybe it was the ball getting trapped in, in, in the outfield wall that was just too odd for us to come back from. Maybe it's simply that the Mets are a first place team.

We had amazing moments that showed what we are capable of, that showed that the first two games of the series weren't a fluke: Chico's RBI, Austin's Gold Glove caliber play, Fick playing dirty for the sake of the team, Nook diving for catches.

We have the stuff to take on some of the best teams and give them a run for their money, and we get to decide the NL East winner. Let's see what happens against the Phillies, shall we?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Never say die.

"I'm not looking at myself as a spoiler. I just want to win. I want to win as many games as possible, so my team could keep showing progress. I'll tell you what I'm playing for: I don't want to finish last. ... Regardless, if it's the Mets or the Phillies, I just don't want to finish last." Those are the words of Manny Acta after Tuesday night’s victory over the Mets. He made it clear. It’s not about beating them. We’re winning for us. We’re not going to roll over just because they have a shot at the pennant and we don’t.

The boys showed this same spirit during the game, as they battled their way back to a win from a four run deficit for the second night in a row. They just refused to give up. They scored in nearly every inning, slowly hacking away at the Mets’ lead. Home runs by Austin Kearns, D’Angelo Jimenez, and (the big one!) a three-run homer by Ronnie Belliard. Near home runs by Justin Maxwell and Nook Logan (it would have been his first of the year). And Robert “Oh no not” Fick bunting for a base hit! How does that even happen?

My boy Ryan Z. was pretty much the only batter not to take part in the fifth inning rally, striking out on a horrible call by the home plate umpire. “It was out! Out! Out!” Zimm yelled all the way back to the dugout. I was afraid the ump was going to show him out, but thankfully not.

Jesus Colome pitched a one-two-three sixth inning and picked up the win. After Jimenez's home run in the sixth, the score remained at nine-seven in favor of the Nats until the ninth inning, when Chad Cordero once again sent hearts racing all over the District by getting two outs, then giving up three hits and allowing one run to score. But he finished the game beautifully with a swinging strikeout by pinch hitter Rueben Gotay. Gotay slammed his bat into the plate in frustration as the Chief and Schneids celebrated win number 68 for the Washington Nationals.

This game was another rocky outing by our starting pitching, another game pulled back into reach by our offense, another game won by our bullpen, another game taken by our boys who just refuse to give up. With eleven games left, the Nats need just four more wins to reach our magic number of 72 wins. The final game against the Mets here at home is tonight and, as much as the Ryan Girls love RFK Stadium, even we admit it’s an old, dirty place. What do you say we give it a good sweeping before we go?

- The Ryan Girls

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We Were Playing the First Place Team?

There are days when you wake up as a depressed Nats fan: this past May for example. But then there are those other days when you bound out of bed and grab a cap that never had to be turned inside out for good luck.

Monday night's game looked to promise the first type for Tuesday morning. Redding had little to no control and allowed 4 runs off of 2 homers against the Mets. Redding went out in the fourth, and September call-up Albaladejo (The Kid, seriously try cheering for Albaladejo in the middle of a game) took the mound. There is a clear reason this guy claimed so many positive decisions in Columbus: the Mets never scored again.

From that moment on, the lackluster offense the Nationals have shown of late turned around. A barrage of hits, a plethora of Mets errors (one resulting in Nook Logan bunting for a triple!), and Ryan Church's (Ryan Girl #2's) homerun that took us from security runs to bragging rights, the second half of the game was against a different team. We took advantage of mistakes that were made and channeled energy from Manny to notch another win on our way to 72.

A game that started off as another depressing night for Washington, well at least for those not into football, turned around. The Nationals have made enough mistakes this season that we know how to take advantage of it when other teams do the same thing. The only people on our team not to get hits last night were pitchers, Langerhans (shocker), and Batista. For the second half of the game everything we did was right. We pulled it out and made something out of what looked like a guaranteed loss. You never can count out Washington. Like Zimmerman keeps saying, “we're scrappy.”

We all know that the Nationals aren't going to the win the pennant this year (Ryan Girls eagerly await 2009) and that the Mets and Phillies are battling one another for the NL East title. We get to decide which of these teams walks into the post-season and who has a panic attack on the way there. That's power, that's amazing, that's fun. This season, the spoiler, next season, the wild-card.

-The Ryan Girls

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Go Dmitri Go!

We Ryan Girls have a habit of chanting at games. A single phrase repeated over and over again until it becomes more of an incantation than a cheer. Sometimes the chant is quiet, whispered only so each other can hear, the types of things we wouldn't want to accidentally get a stadium full of people chanting ("Don't choke, don't choke, don't choke, don't choke.") Sometimes it is increasingly loud and frustrated ("Catch it, catch it, catch it, CATCH IT, NOOOOOO!") Other times it is words of encouragement ("Come on Wily Mo, come on Wily Mo, come on Wily Mo, come on Wily Mo.") Whatever the chant, we spend most of the game directing our players ("Run, run, run, run, run"), the opposing players ("Miss it, miss it, miss it, miss it"), the ball ("Drop, drop, drop, drop"), and even the umpires ("No swing, no swing, no swing") on what we want them all to do. They usually don't listen, but that is beside the point.

But Saturday night a new chant found its way into the ballpark. In the top of the third inning, a ground ball hit by Braves first baseman Teixeira took a bad hop and hit the head of Dmitri Young. Dmitri fell, motionless, to the ground. A collective gasp from the stands and then silence. Pure silence. A big man like that does not go down easily. The other players, plus the coaches and trainers quickly surrounded Dmitri, so that all I could see of him were his legs. His unmoving legs. I watched silently, hands clasped in front of me. After a moment I became aware of the fact that my lips were moving, even though no words were coming out. "Be ok, be ok, be ok, be ok, be ok," I was chanting to myself. I looked at Ryan Girl #2 and saw that she was chanting the same thing. We half smiled at ourselves, realizing how ridiculous it was to chant that. But we kept going. After about a minute we finally saw a leg twitch. Then he rolled over and sat up. Then stood. The crowd erupted in cheers. He was going to be ok. He finished the inning and then left the game, but at least he got back up.

He was replaced by Robert "Oh no, not"-Fick, who proceeded to hit a three-run home run to push the Nats into the lead. Apparently miracles do happen. D'Angelo Jimenez also hit a home run, his first since April 2006. Our starter, Jason Bergmann, who is always great against the Braves, picked up his fifth win of the year, and gave our overworked bullpen a bit of a rest by going 6 2/3 innings. Chad Cordero, who is always shaky against the Braves, got himself out of a jam for his 34th save. The final score was seven to four in favor of the Nats. All in all, not a bad night at the ballpark.

- The Ryan Girls

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Step right up! Step right up!

Friday night we sat through 5.22 hours of baseball. That's three hundred thirteen minutes. Every single one of them in the rain. The longest game in Nationals' history and we were there through the bitter end. Through the ninth blown save by the Chief. Through the three runs given up by Colome in the thirteenth inning. And through the three missed balls by Wily Mo Pena. We were also there for the highlights. Ronnie Belliard's home run in the first inning, a distant memory by the time the game finally ended. Ryan Z's two run homer in the seventh, shortly after the halfway point of the game, to give us the lead. A very good outing by Matt Chico. But all for naught. We stuck it out to see our excellent bullpen give away a game.

Our entire bench got a chance to play in this game. You can't afford to leave any one out when playing 13 innings. Maxwell got his first start as a National, and made a great show of it, but was replaced by Nook in the seventh. After Pena dropped the ball a third time, he was replaced by Ryan L., who was replaced by Ryan C., after Batista pinch hit for Langerhans. When the final out was recorded off the bat of Austin Kearns, the man standing in the on deck circle to pinch hit for the pitcher, was a pitcher, Joel Hanrahan (and hey, if I had to choose one of the pitchers to come in and pinch hit, the one who hit a triple in his first big league at bat is the one I'm picking too). If you had been scoring, you would have needed an extra page in your book for this game.

What the game came down to was a test of endurance. How much sleep you had the night before and how much Red Bull you had in the dugout. In the most simple way, we were out-caffeined.

So what else went wrong? Obviously there was the ninth blown save by Chad Cordero. But that's what happens sometimes. The bigger question is, what would have happened had Pena not missed those three fly balls? In theory, three caught balls, three outs sooner, equals an inning Pena should have given us. Would those outs have come before Chad blew the save? Would Chad have blown the save if facing the bottom of the order instead of the top? That's baseball. It all builds. It's rarely just one thing that loses or wins a game.

- The Ryan Girls