Sunday, September 04, 2005

Game Report: Nationals vs. Phillies - C'mon, can we stay one more inning? Pleeeeeease?

For Labor Day Weekend, I am doing the Marinerd tour of Phillies, Phamily, and Phriends. As such, I was in Washington DC on Saturday, spending the day touristing, and the evening at the Phillies-Nationals game with my brother and his wife. My brother and I both grew up attending Phillies games, but now that he lives in DC and they have a team, he has become a Nationals fan. Go figure: he's been to 5 Nats games this year and they've won them all, including Saturday's. However, I must admit, it's pretty funny to go to a game with my brother and be rooting for different teams.

RFK Stadium gets a lot worse rep than it deserves, I think. Yes, it's one of those old concrete cookie-cutter stadiums, but the only real downsides to it in my opinion are that the seats are pretty uncomfortable after a while, and some of them seem to be pretty far back from the action. On the other hand, we showed up day-of and got three seats together in the "400 level", which is about the same level as Terrace Club at Safeco Field. Even better, we got those seats for $20 each and had a fantastic view. The problem with RFK is more the angle of the seats, not the height. The way it is, the height makes the seats even further back, which causes weird vertigo. My sister-in-law won't sit in the 500 level if she can help it, not because the seats are bad but because she gets dizzy climbing the stairs there.

We watched batting practice for a little while; at the end of it I got Endy Chavez to sign my ticket. There were plenty of Nationals players coming out and signing things too, since the crowds weren't too huge or obnoxious. My brother, who has never shown up to a game early, was like, "You mean if you bring a baseball to the game, you could get it autographed that easily?" I was like "Yeah, if you don't really care which player signs it..."

Anyway, there was a game. It was a pretty annoying game from a Phillies fan perspective, until the 9th inning. (Why does it feel like all the extra-inning games I've been to this year have involved the Phillies?)

Keeping score when you're used to an American League game is generally pretty annoying when you go to National League games, but it's even worse when compounded by two major factors: 1) the roster expansion on September 1st 2) extra innings with lots of pitchers used. The Phillies used a total of 20 players in the game, and the Nationals used 17. I ran out of room pretty much everywhere on my scorecard, both in the individual lineup spots for players, in the pitching section, and even in the innings section. It didn't help that the Nationals only list the batting order of the team currently up to bat, so I got several of the roster changes wrong when they just switched fielders.

The game got off to a lousy start with a first inning that consisted mainly of "Why me, god, why me?" moments for David Bell and Pat Burrell. After Wilkerson grounded to first, Deivi Cruz hit one of those obnoxious foul ball doubles into left, which Pattycakes pretty much had to gather up from the stands. Nick Johnson walked, and with men on first and second, Preston Wilson hit a long drive into left field. Pat Burrell ran a long way and dived to get it, but he got it on a bounce *and* the ball fell out of his glove while he was sprawled on the ground. Cruz scored easily, but Pat recovered in time to fire the ball home and catch Nick Johnson at the plate. With one guy on second base and two outs, Vinny Castilla lined to left past a diving David Bell, but fortunately it only went for a single. Immediately afterwards, since obviously Bell hadn't eaten enough dirt yet, former Phillie Marlon Byrd hit another shooting grounder towards third. This time, David Bell was ready for the ball and dived and got it in a really nice stop. One out of three ain't bad... his throw to first wasn't fast enough and Byrd got the single and Wilson scored. Mercifully, Gary Bennett also hit to left field.. and it was a nice high pop fly that Pat Burrell could catch.

Score after the first inning: Phillies 0, Nationals 2, Dirt 4, Burrell 1, Bell 0.

Alright, I'm not even going to really talk about the Phillies offense until the 9th inning, because there was no offense to really speak of. Pat Burrell hit a home run right over the 380 marker in left field in the 2nd inning to bring the score to 2-1, which is where it remained for most of the game. John Patterson struck out 8 Phillies in 7.2 innings, which gives you a pretty good idea how a lot of the rest of it went. The only mildly interesting thing was that in the top of the 5th inning, Bell and Pratt managed to get themselves on first and second base with two outs, so Charlie Manuel decided that even though Eude Brito (pronounced "Ay-You-Day") had only pitched 4 innings, he would pinch-hit for him and hope to knock in a run. Michael Tucker walked and J-Roll flew out, so that didn't work, and Geoff Geary had to go in for long relief.

Actually, wait a minute, to be honest, I don't have that much to say about the Nationals offense until the 8th inning either. Most of the things I have noted on my scorecard are actually stadium notes. For example, Preston Wilson uses the same at-bat music that Jamal Strong used to use down in Tacoma. I noted that in the middle of the 6th inning they have a "Sweet Sixth" and they play Sweet Caroline. (What the heck is up with every single stadium playing that song now?)

The Phillies defense fell apart with Ryan Madson on the mound in the 8th. After a grounder to first and a grounder to third, both fielded just fine, Castilla smacked a ball to third. David Bell made another superb stop, but his throw to first was a tiny bit wide, and Ryan Howard had trouble fielding it, so they called it an E-3. Immediately after that, Byrd hit the ball to left, and Castilla ran around to score, but Pat Burrell's throw to the plate was wide, so Byrd got to second and Castilla scored. After that, Gary Bennett hit a single to right, and Byrd scored. The only good part was when Jamey Carroll grounded to second after that and Chase Utley just sort of looked up and tagged out Bennett, like "Dude, just end this pain already, okay?"

(I like watching Chase Utley play. I think he is getting to be a pretty good second baseman. He makes a lot of nice stops and twists.)

The ninth inning was super-exciting. Chad Cordero, the NL leader in saves, came in with the score 4-1 Nationals. With an ERA of 0.94 or so, it doesn't look particularly likely for the Phillies to come out of this with 3+ runs scored off the guy, but you never know, right?


The scoreboards flickered, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF!" My brother yelled, "Go chief!" I said, "Er, I hate to tell you this, but the Chief is Freddy Garcia."

I think I jinxed Cordero right good with that statement.

Pat Burrell led off with a single to left, and they put in Shane Victorino to run for him. Ryan Howard came up to the plate, and I was thinking about how he mashes righty pitching so well, and boy could we use a home run, and wouldn't it be nice if he hit one, and--POW! The ball went flying over the wall into the left-field bullpen, just inches to the right of a leaping Marlon Byrd's glove. With the score 4-3 Nationals, David Bell comes up to hit. You know, I don't have that much confidence in his bat, but my brother remarked, "Isn't this the guy who hit that grand slam yesterday?" And I said "Yeah, let's see if he can bang another homer, okay?"

Holy crap, he hit the next pitch so far it almost went into the suite-level seats in left field. No joke, it hit the outfield wall up high around where the numbers are painted. 4-4.

The next three batters went down in succession, and Cordero was down as well. In the bottom of the 10th, Marlon Byrd almost hit a home run to make up for the catch, but it was about 5 feet to the right of the foul pole. The Phillies threatened in the top of the 11th, even loading the bases, but then they hit into two consecutive fielder's choices to end the inning. The super-frustrating thing is that the inning-ending FC Lofton hit into was totally bogus, because Jimmy Rollins was actually safe at second. It was obvious on the replay, and even my brother the Nationals fan actually agreed with me, that the umpire totally blew the call. I'm pretty sure Jimmy also thought the umpire blew the call, because I saw him say something about it, but he didn't argue enough to get thrown out of the game or anything.

In the top of the 12th, Abreu threatened by hitting a 408-feet-or-so ball to center field, which would have been a home run in just about any other stadium that didn't have the dead center wall at 410 feet. So that was pretty much it. Aquilino Lopez came in to pitch the bottom of the 12th, and he screwed up doubly -- first he walked Jose Guillen and then he threw a bad ball to Preston Wilson, which bounded off Todd Pratt's glove. (I wrote a wild pitch, but they called it a passed ball.) Guillen got to second, and Wilson hit the ball into an annoyingly not-foul but not-fieldable spot along the right field line. It wasn't fielded in time, and that was it for the game, 5-4 Nats.

There was a kid sitting a few rows behind us who kept saying to his mother, "C'mon, Mom, just one more inning? Pleeeeeease?"

It was around 11pm by the time the game ended. I wanted to look around in the team store for a little while. (I ended up buying a Livan Hernandez number shirt as my souvenir, which I think will be sort of amusing to wear for Felix Hernandez starts in Seattle, perhaps.) Then we caught the Metro back home. Really, it's very convenient. I'm rather impressed with RFK stadium, overall. The location is convenient, the ticket prices aren't ridiculous (and there are a plethora of decent cheap seats), the food isn't bad. It was sort of tacky how the ticket booths are basically a trailer parked next to the stadium, but eh. I thought it was all okay.

Today we drove up to Philadelphia, which is where I am now. I'll be at the Phillies-Astros game on Monday night. I cannot wait. Andy Pettitte vs. Brett Myers. Aaaaaawesome. And I hung out with my family this afternoon for our big Labor Day BBQ, and I went to Jim's Steaks with my best friend from highschool this evening for a cheesesteak. So like I said. It's the tour of Phillies, Phamily, and Phriends. It's been a lot of Phun. For now, I need to go to Phleep.

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