September 3, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.]
For non-contending teams, September is the month for letting rookies have a chance to play and thinking about how to win more games next year. And so, when I heard that the Washington Nationals (who had won only one of their last ten games) were letting a new guy named Tom Milone pitch against the Mets this evening, I figured that meant they were writing off the series as a lost cause. WRONG! The Nats' very first batter, Ian Desmond hit a solo home run, getting things off to a fine start. In the second inning, the pitcher Milone stepped up to the plate with two runners on base, and promptly swatted that ball into the bullpen in the right field corner. According to my records, it was the 77th time that a major league player had homered in his first at-bat, and only the 15th time it has happened on the first pitch. I thought perhaps it was the first time such a feat had been done by a pitcher, but in fact Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals did so a mere five years ago, on May 24, 2006. See MLB.com
On the mound, Milone pitched very well for the first three innings, but gave up four runs in the fourth inning, and was replaced one inning later. Tom Gorzelanny gave up two runs in the sixth inning, and Tyler Clippard gave up another one inning later, and the Mets took a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth. That was when Jesus Flores led off with a single, and soon the bases were loaded with only one out. Why Bobby Parnell intentionally walked Roger Bernadina with Ryan Zimmerman on deck I'll never understand. Everyone knows the "Z-Man" is the king of walk-off hits in D.C. (He was in almost the same situation two weeks ago, hitting a walk-off grand slam to beat the Phillies.) Tonight, he did it again, lobbing a broken-bat single into right field, batting in two runs to end the game. YES-S-S!!! Yet another incredible triumph for Ryan Zimmerman, the "face of the franchise."* For the complete wrap-up, see MLB.com.
In the rubber match game tomorrow afternoon, the Nats (64-73) will try to pull within two games of the Mets, who hold third place in the NL East. "Should I stay or should I go?"
Before tonight, the Nats' only recent win was a 9-2 game in Atlanta that was fueled by four (4) four-baggers. Unlike the game last Saturday where they hit three home runs, all solos, and nothing else, this time they made it count. Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, and Laynce Nix put the wood right where it counted, helping the Washington Nationals break their six-game losing streak. Braves' star pitcher Jair Jurrjens was roughed up, rather unusual for him. The Nats outscored the Braves in that series, 12-10, but couldn't manage to win either of the next two games.
* Speaking of Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton recently wrote about the necessity of getting a long-term contract signed before he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. "The Nats want to avoid an Albert Pujols-type situation because if Zimmerman hits the market, all bets are off." She also opined that Zimmerman "looks like a sure-fire Hall of Famer." Whoa, not so fast! He is certainly a strong prospect, but no one can predict how he'll play for the next 10-15 years.
That being said, as someone who was there in RFK Stadium to witness Zimmerman's first major league hit (a double), and who studied at the same university (Virginia!), I have a special devotion as a fan to him, and I look forward to the day when he leads Washington to their first World Series victory since 1924. I'm not kidding.