April 2010

Five is the magic number and lineups

Apparently three is a magic number for someone–I don’t know who– but the Nationals magic number in the first 13 games has been five. As in, the Nats are 7-0 when their starting pitcher goes at least five innings. They are 0-6 when the starter goes less than five innings. They were 6-23 last season when the starting pitcher lasted less than 5.0 innings. It really isn’t mindboggling–the longer the starting pitcher pitches, the higher probability the team has of winning the game. It is as conventional as wisdom gets.

The 2010 season is still young but it will rest in the arms of the starting rotation–that probably is true for every MLB team. At 7-6, the Nats are off to their best start since 2005. They didn’t win their seventh game until May 4 last year. It took them 24 games. It took them 23 games to win seven in 2008 and 22 games in 2007.

Winning cures all ails. There is a different attitude in the clubhouse this season–they are finally having fun playing baseball. They are winning games they would have lost last season and coming back from games they would have given up on. You can debate all day if team chemistry creates winning or if winning creates chemistry but there is no question the Nats have chemistry in the clubhouse.

“We have more chemistry here. It’s just a different feeling,” Harris said. “If you believe, you just don’t know what could happen. We play nine innings of baseball, and the Nats are going to come at you for nine innings. That’s all there is to it. Our Manager Jim Riggleman demands it, and that’s how we play.”

Lineups:

Rockies (6-7):

1.      Ryan Spilborghs – LF

2.      Dexter Fowler – CF

3.      Todd Helton – 1B

4.      Troy Tulowitzki – SS

5.      Brad Hawpe – RF

6.      Melvin Mora – 2B

7.      Miguel Olivo – C

8.      Ian Stewart – 3B

9.      Jorge De La Rosa – SP (1-1, 2.77 ERA)

*Troy Tulowitzki leads all National League shortstops with .986 fielding pct and his 118.2 innings are the most played at the position in the NL, and he leads all NL shortstops in double plays (12), total chances (74) and putouts (39). And by the way, he has not made an error since Opening Day, April 5.

 

Nationals (7-6):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Cristian Guzman – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Pudge Rodriguez – C

7.      Justin Maxwell – RF

8.      Ian Desmond – SS

9.      Scott Olsen – SP (0-0, 6.35 ERA)

*SITUATIONAL HITTING: Right from Elias Sport Bureau…Willie Harris’ three-run homer in the second inning put the Nationals on course for a 5-2 victory over the Rockies–and if you have been paying close attention to the Nationals early this season, you should not have been surprised. Washington has been getting big hits at opportune times, producing an NL-leading .353 batting average (24-for-68) with at least two runners on base. Ivan Rodriguez is 6-for-10 in those situations, including a hit on Monday night.

Former Maryland star Darrius Heyward-Bey stops by Nationals Park


heybey.jpgOn Saturday, we caught up with Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, at his first MLB game ever.  Heyward-Bey is on a three-day “break” in his hometown–he grew up in Silver Spring, Md.–after participating in offseason workouts in Oakland the past several weeks.

We discussed his Facebook page, how to pass University of Maryland classes while playing football and his fear of foul balls.  Here’s what the rest of our conversation looked like:

You were an NFL rookie last season and the No. 7 pick in the draft, what has the past year been like?

“It was interesting…going all the way across the country, away from everybody that I know. Going to an organization like the Raiders, people love us or people hate us. Al Davis is one of the best in the game when it comes to coaching, ownership and being a GM. It just feels great to be a part of the silver and black.”

How was it different than what you expected?

“It’s a business. It’s not for fun. Well, it is fun, but it’s a business first. You have guys that are your friends with in training camp and then they’re gone the next day. You’re not used to that in college. There are guys that don’t play and they’re there all four or five years that you’re there [in college]. So that was a little different.”

Compare Raiders fans to these fans.

“Our fans would be dressed up in helmets, paint, yelling, cussing… crazy. If we do something good, they’re with us. If we do something bad, they’re going to let us know. But that’s good. That’s a good thing. Because we know how they feel, and we know how much it means, for them, to do well out there. Overall, baseball is a lot more laid back. The game’s a little slower. But it’s still fun.”

Yes, and they have a lot more games.

“Too many games. But the way I look at it, they don’t do a lot of practice, and nobody likes practice.”

So you’re jealous.

“I’m a little jealous.”

Yeah, but they’re never home.

“Ahhh, but their money’s guaranteed. So that makes it a little easier.”

Have you ever played baseball?

“I played a little baseball in eighth grade, in middle school. It wasn’t good. I was a right fielder. And I wasn’t good.”

You were a right fielder, which when you’re younger… the outfield is just…

“…Is just for standing. Yes.”

But you were probably pretty fast, right?

“I was fast. When I did hit the ball, it was good. But I didn’t hit the ball that much.”


darrius heyward-Bey.jpgAnd you were also in track, right?

“Track and football were my thing. I also played basketball. I was on the Junior Olympics team [for track]. I could have ran and I feel like I still can run in the Olympics. I was ranked sixth in the world in the 200 [meter] at one point in my life. If anything, that was probably my best sport growing up.”

So why didn’t you run track at the University of Maryland?

“The reason I didn’t do it in college is because too many people said I couldn’t play football. People said I couldn’t be good in football. And so I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ And look where I’m at now.”

Now, how did you get set up to participate in the lineup delivery during pregame ceremonies today?

“Some people that used to work in NFLPA work here now. So I just called them up and I was like, man I really would like to check out a Nationals game. I’m from the area, and I’ve never been. They wanted me to do the opening pitch. I said no.”

Why?

“Because I’m an athlete and I’m a competitor. I want to throw it straight down the line. And I need to practice for that. I can’t just go out there and throw anything. So I told them next time. I’m coming back in June.”

How have the fans here at Nationals Park treated you?

“The fans have been great. People have been coming up, saying, ‘Good luck on the season.’ People still know me. I guess from being from the area, playing at Maryland. It feels good to know that people still care about your career and they still follow up on you.”

Nats begin a four-game series against the Rockies

The temperature was in the mid-80s two weeks ago on Opening Day. It was unseasonably warm for the beginning of April so it is only fitting that it is a little chilly today. The sun is shining but the temperature is in the low 60s with a brisk wind.

 

The Nats open up a four game series against the Rockies tonight. Craig Stammen takes the mound in his third game of the season and the good news is that it won’t be against the Phillies.

 

He gave up 11 earned runs in 6.1 innings in his first two starts against the Phillies and lasted just 1.1 innings on Wednesday.

 

“The important thing is to bounce back,” Stammen said.

 

He will be attempting to return to his spring form against a Rockies team that has beat the Nationals nine straight times. The Rockies are a perfect 6-0 at Nationals Park and of the 21 clubs that have played games at Nationals Park, 20 have lost at least once. Of course, the lone exception is Colorado.

 

That means just one thing–statistics majors close your eyes–the Nats are due for a victory.

 

The view is always the same unless you are in front. Don’t look now but the Nationals lead the NL with 14 stolen bases and six triples. Pudge Rodriguez leads the NL with a .444 batting average, Livan Hernandez leads the NL with a 0.00 ERA and Matt Capps leads the NL with five saves.

 

Lineups:

Rockies (6-6):

1.      Carlos Gonzalez – CF

2.      Seth Smith – LF

3.      Todd Helton – 1B

4.      Troy Tulowitzki – SS

5.      Brad Hawpe – RF

6.      Miguel Olivo – C

7.      Ian Stewart – 3B

8.      Clint Barmes – 2B

9.      Aaron Cook – SP (0-1, 5.56 ERA)

 Nationals (6-6):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Pudge Rodriguez – C

7.      Willie Harris – RF

8.      Ian Desmond – SS

9.      Craig Stammen – SP (0-0, 15.63 ERA)

 

Pitching probables:

Tuesday, April 20 Jorge De La Rosa (1-1, 2.77) vs. LHP Scott Olsen (0-0, 6.35)

Wednesday, April 21 RHP Jason Hammel (0-1, 11.42) vs. LHP John Lannan (1-1, 5.74)

Thursday, April 22 RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (3-0, 1.29) vs. RHP Livan Hernandez (2-0, 0.00)

 

Happy Birthday current Rockies and former Nationals relief pitcher Joe Beimel. The left-hander turns 33 today. Beimel did not pitch on his birthday last year while wearing a Nats uniform.

 

Lineups

Brewers (4-6):

1.      Rickie Weeks – 2B

2.      Craig Counsell – SS

3.      Ryan Braun – LF

4.      Prince Fielder – 1B

5.      Casey McGehee – 3B

6.      Jim Edmonds – CF

7.      Corey Hart – RF

8.      George Kottaras – C

9.      Randy Wolf – SP (1-0. 4.05 ERA)

 

*The Brewers have allowed 18 home runs through their first 10 games of the year, which is the most ever allowed by the team through its first 10 games.  The previous mark was 17 HR in 1999 and 2001.

*With his two-out double in the fifth inning last night, Rickie Weeks became the fifth player in Brewer history to start the season with a 10-game hitting streak.

 

 Nationals (5-5):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Cristian Guzman – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Ian Desmond – SS

7.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

8.      Justin Maxwell – RF

9.      Livan Hernandez – SP (1-0. 0.00 ERA)

*Last night’s game marked the second consecutive game the Nationals used an 8th-inning rally to claim their first lead en route to victory.

*With his two-out single in the first inning last night, Cristian Guzman recorded his 500th hit as a member of the Washington Nationals…he became just the second National to reach that plateau, joining Ryan Zimmerman (676).

*Matt Capps secured the final two outs of last night’s win to pocket his fifth save of 2010.  Capps is MLB’s only closer with multiple saves who has saved every club win in 2010.

 

Nats are back at home and lineups


Nyjer Morgan NatsTown.jpgIt is a b-e-a-utiful day in NatsTown. It is cliché–even corny–but that’s why I like to say it because it really is. The temperature is in the mid-80s and the sun is shining down as the Nats start to warm up. The Nats are off to their second best start since moving to DC in 2005. They started the 2005 season 5-4 but Washington’s other nine-game starts weren’t as memorable: 2-7 in 2006, 1-8 in 2007, 3-6 in 2008 and 1-8 in 2009. The Nats kick off a 10 game homestand before they play the next 25 of 36 games on the road. For those interested in catching the Brewers, Rockies and Dodgers this season at Nationals Park, keep in mind that this is their only trip to the Nation’s Capital this season. 

Brewers (4-5):

1.      Rickie Weeks – 2B

2.      Corey Hart – RF

3.      Ryan Braun – LF

4.      Prince Fielder – 1B

5.      Casey McGehee – 3B

6.      Carlos Gomez – CF

7.      Gregg Zaun – C

8.      Alcides Escobar – SS

9.      Yovani Gallardo – SP (0-2. 6.75 ERA)

*Prince Fielder has played in 194 straight games, which is the longest active consecutive games streak in the Major Leagues.

*Rickie Weeks has had a wonderful opening week, pun slightly intended. He has hit safely in each of his first nine games this season and is batting .333 with two home runs and seven RBI. He is looking to become just the fifth player in franchise history to open the season with a hitting streak of at least 10 games.

*Ryan Braun went 4-5 with a home run, three RBI and two runs in the 8-6 win over the Cubs yesterday.

 Nationals (4-5):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Willie Harris – RF

3.      Cristian Guzman – 2B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Ian Desmond – SS

7.      Adam Kennedy – 3B

8.      Wil Nieves – C

9.      John Lannan – SP (1-1. 8.13 ERA)

*Ryan Zimmerman will be held out of the starting lineup for the fifth straight game with a sore hamstring but he could be a key bat off the bench late in the game. See yesterday’s two-run home run in the eighth inning for proof.

*Nyjer Morgan is batting .333 (5-for-15) with four walks, a stolen base and a .500 OBP in the last four games.

*Capps is the first Nationals closer to earn the save in each of the Nationals’ first four wins of a season. The only other franchise closer able to make this claim was Rocky Biddle in 2004. Biddle secured the save in each of the Expos’ first five wins that season.

Q&A with Drew Storen

As we said before in The Storen Identity, Drew Storen might not be Jason Bourne but he is special. He can’t fend off 30 people at once, dodge bullets or drive a car like Jeff Gordon during a high speed chase while weaving in and out of oncoming traffic. Well, he might be able to do all that… he doesn’t know. He hasn’t tried. He won’t need to if he continues to sit batters down the same way Bourne puts bad guys on their back. They are one in the same, two people extremely good at what they do. Storen saves games and Bourne saves humanity.

 

The 22 year-old is now pitching for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. He picked up the save in Stephen Strasburg’s first start on Sunday–it won’t be the last time. He has been Storen the Stopper so far this season, pitching 3.1 scoreless innings with four strikeouts in three games. We will be sure to keep you updated on the tenth overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft because it won’t be long before he’s pitching in Washington.

 


Drew Storen Spring Training.jpgThe team record isn’t what you would prefer (1-6) but how has the first week been?

 

“It’s gone well. The three appearances have gone well and getting the save and the win with Strasburg was pretty awesome. I feel good. The arm feels good. I’m happy with the way I started. I’m happy with the way that Spring Training panned out. My body’s in good shape and I’m happy.”

 

You and Strasburg have formed a friendly bond and it had to be cool to pick up the save for him.

 

“It was cool…and honestly, I didn’t even think about it when I went into the game. It wasn’t something I realized until somebody asked me after the game, ‘Hey…What was it like saving Strasburg’s first game?’ and I was just like, ‘Oh…oh yea.’  It was like an afterthought, just because I was just thinking, ‘I need to save this game…make sure I go out there and throw well.’  I wasn’t really too concerned with it. Now looking back, I’m glad but I just go out there, and regardless of who pitched, if it’s a close game or a blow out, I try to go out there and do the same thing and hopefully try to get the same result.”

 

Last year, you experienced the Minor Leagues after you were drafted. Have you made it your responsibility to take Strasburg under your wing to teach him the ways of the Minor Leagues?

 

“I’ve been trying to but a lot of it has to do with stuff outside the lines. Different things like… How many bags to pack and stuff like that. You know, he doesn’t really need much help other than that. Everything else is pretty basic. It’s not too much to learn. It honestly comes down to the travel stuff at this point but anything I can help him with, I try to.”

 

Have you taught him any good pointers for the long bus trips?

 

“I told him about my inflatable pool raft.” 

 

The one you guys lie down and sleep on in the aisle.

 

“Yeah, but I don’t know if there would be enough room for two of us, so I want to make sure that he doesn’t do that.”

 

Yeah you don’t want to leave yourself sitting in an uncomfortable chair.

 

“Exactly, I don’t want to help him out and then have to lean myself up against the window.”

 

Numbers alone it seems like your climb through the Minors has been–for the most part–smooth sailing, has there been a frustrating part?

 

“Of course. When I first got signed and got to Hagerstown, I was kind of getting hit around a little bit. I had to make that adjustment to pro ball and realize how I needed to pitch. I guess the big thing is that I needed to make adjustments. That was the thing I learned. Since then, I’ve done well because I keep my eyes and ears open and listen and make those adjustments to get guys out. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had–I don’t know if I would say smooth sailing because it’s been up and down for me–but overall, I’m happy with the way things have progressed.”

 

In the Majors you know everything about every player, how are the scouting reports on players in the Minors?

 

“A lot of it is just word of mouth. A lot of guys have played with these guys or played against them, so they know what to do. For me, I just have to stick with my strengths. My fastball, curveball, slider combination. I’ll watch during the game and I kind of get to cheat a little bit because I get to see other pitchers pitch to these guys, so I can kind of read off that.”

 


storen  gerhart c.JPGHave you talked to your friend Toby Gerhart lately about the NFL draft?
I am still convinced Storen and Toby Gerhart are brothers–the star running back at Stanford who finished second in the Heisman voting.

 

“No I haven’t. I need to though. I need to call him and catch up with him, but I assume he has a couple other things on his plate.”

 

Did you see his performance at the combine?

 

“No I did not. I just got to see his numbers though.”

 

I was going to say, you saw his 4.5 40 and his 38-inch vertical jump?

 

“Yeah, that’s pretty unbelievable.”

 

And 22 reps at 225. I mean, this guy is a beast.

 

“Yeah I could do that easily. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

 

I take it you taught him how to be athletic.

 

“I think if you talk to him, he would give a lot of the credit to his athletic success, especially his football skills, to me.”

 

He could probably jump over you.

 

“Oh easily. He could jump over me or run through me.”

 

I would bet money that you could tackle him without a problem.

 

“I’m pretty excited to see what’s going to happen with him. And he deserves it all, that’s for sure.”

The Nats make a few roster moves

It was a busy day for the Nats. They recalled left-handed pitcher Scott Olsen and outfielder Justin Maxwell from the Triple-A Syracuse Chief and designated right-handed pitcher Jason Bergmann for assignment.

 

It was inevitable when the season started with eight pitchers in the bullpen that the Nats would eventually have to drop down to seven pitchers in the bullpen. Today was that day. Bergmann wasn’t the likely candidate on Opening Day but he pitched himself into that position with a 15.43 ERA (4 ER/ 2.1 IP) in four games.

 

Olsen, 26, started this afternoon’s series finale at Philadelphia. Olsen made one start for Syracuse, allowing four runs on eight hits in 6.0 innings during Friday’s no-decision vs. Lehigh Valley (Phillies). He started just 11 games last season and his last start was on July 10 before he had left shoulder surgery. He wasn’t quite 100 percent at the end of Spring Training but his fastball is back in the low 90′s and he could become a valuable southpaw in the Nats rotation.

 

Maxwell, 26, struggled this spring but was 5-for-15 (.333) with two doubles, two RBI, five runs scored, five walks and two stolen bases in four games with Syracuse prior to the promotion.

 

The Nats also voided the April 11 option of right-handed pitcher Garrett Mock to Syracuse, and instead, placed Mock on the 15-Day Disabled List, retroactive to April 11, with a right cervical spine disc injury. Mock, 26, received a no-decision on Friday at New York (NL) in his 2010 debut. He worked 3.1 innings, allowing two runs on three hits and five walks.

Fly Willie… FLY


Willie Harris DC 1.jpg


 There has been a trend in baseball to focus on defensive stats and there isn’t a shortage of numbers: Arm (Outfield Arm Above Average), DPR (Double Play Runs Above Average), RngR (Range Runs Above Average), ErrR (Error Runs Above Average), WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating).

If you don’t know what they stand for or what they mean, that’s fine. It just means you have a life. We won’t waste your time trying to describe them.

The only stat you need to know is: game saver. As in… Willie Harris is a game saver. He saved the game on Saturday with a sensational diving catch and it wasn’t the first time. It was as good as a walk-off home run. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, Harris went airborne to rob Rod Barajas of a game winning hit, leaving the Nats celebrating and Mets fans on their feet with nothing to cheer about.

“He is so good, you got the feeling he is going to catch it,” Barajas said.

“I said, ‘Willie, you have to catch this ball. At least give it your best effort,’” said Harris, speaking in third person as if he wanted to impress Ricky Henderson. “If the ball falls in front of me, it was the game or at least tied and we have a play at the plate. It was pretty much a gamble. Fortunately, I came up with it and made the play.”

It was the third great catch Harris has made against the Mets since joining the Nationals. He also made a game saving catch when he robbed a home run on August 9, 2007 against the Mets when he played for the Braves.

Harris has moved around the baseball diamond with the Nats–playing every position except catcher and first base.

“You know Willie is a good player,” Jim Riggleman said. “Willie can go a lot of places on the field, he is a good hitter and he is fearless.”

Here are a few fearless defensive plays Willie has made… or at least looked good trying to make. We can’t confirm the ball ended up in his glove but we would just like to assume it did. I wouldn’t bet against it. Just like I wouldn’t bet against his love of flying.


 

Willie Harris DC 6.jpg
Willie Harris DC 5.jpg
Willie Harris DC 8.jpg
Willie Harris DC 2.jpg
Willie Harris DC 4.jpg
Willie Harris DC 3.jpg

Monday morning short hops

·         The Nats wrapped up opening week with back-to-back wins against the Mets. The Nats are .500 for the first time since April 5, 2008 after a 5 RBI day by Josh Willingham and a brilliant pitching performance by Livan Hernandez. The Hammer hit a grand slam in the top of the first off of Johan Santana–originally ruled a triple only to be overturned by instant replay. It was Willingham’s fifth grand slam of his career and the first since he became the 13 player to hit two in one game on July 27 last season at Milwaukee. According to the Elias Sports Bureau… “Willingham’s first slam was for the Marlins on Aug. 11, 2007 off the Mets’ Guillermo Mota at Shea Stadium. No player has hit bases-loaded homers at both Shea and Citi Field for the Mets, but Willingham and Albert Pujols have done so as visitors.”

 

·         Stephen Strasburg earned his first professional victory, leading the Harrisburg Senators to a 5-4 win over the Altoona Curve. Strasburg’s final line was: 5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. He threw 82 pitches, 55 for strikes.

“I definitely was super excited,” Strasburg said. “There definitely was a lot of anticipation for this outing. I went out there, from the get-go, I knew I was moving a little too quick out there. I had the adrenaline pumping. I was able to settle down and keep the team in the ballgame. Lucky enough, the bats came alive.”

·         Drew Storen closed out the first game for Stephen Strasburg and earned his first save of the season.

“I don’t want to be the guy blowing his first win,” Storen said. “Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. Hopefully, it won’t be the last time for me doing that.”

·         Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore writes Scott Olsen will replace Garrett Mock in the Nationals rotation and will start the Thursday game in Philadelphia.

·         ESPN’s Keith Law’s take on Strasburg’s Double-A Debut–Insider only.

“Strasburg’s velocity was incredible; he hit 99 with his first pitch and reached that mark two other times in the third inning. He didn’t throw a fastball under 97 until the fourth. Over his final two innings, he was 94-97, although he threw several pitches in the 94-96 range that had the slight tail of a two-seam fastball. His fastball command wasn’t great, although that may have been more a function of situation than inability to locate. His best, most consistent pitch was his curveball, 78-83 mph with incredibly sharp two-plane break and a downward finish, and he threw it for strikes most of the day. His worst pitch was, as before, his changeup, still a work in progress, although he threw several that were plus in the 87-88 mph range with hard downward tail; he overthrew several changeups, some as hard as 92, and didn’t locate the pitch well, throwing many (if not most) below the zone.”

·         Wall Street Journal’s Robert Costa sat down with Nationals season ticket holder and Pulitzer Prize writer George F. Will to talk about everything and anything baseball related.

“In baseball, if you’re a terrific young athlete, you’re going to spend some time on a bus, going from Laramie to Carlsbad,” Will said. “If you go to Ohio State and they make you into a running back, you’re able to go straight into the NFL. Or in college basketball, it’s one and done–you have a great year and then you’re rich, really rich. Baseball remains a humbling game, and partly because of that I think it’s still a pretty admirable slice of young American manhood.”

Capps weathers the storm and Opening Week photos


Matt Capps first save.jpgThe thunderstorm was swiftly approaching Nationals Park, the radar map was decorated with Christmas colors and ominous clouds crept closer with each passing minute. The Head Groundkeeper John Turnour informed the umpires of the looming storm and a few fans in the park intently watched the radar map with their blackberry’s. The Nats were clinging to a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth with the heart of the Phillies’ lineup ready to create thunder of their own. After last year, it seemed only fitting that lighting would strike at Nationals Park, not the lighting from the sky but the Phillies lineup.

If it was last year, the game would have been at 7:05 p.m.–not at 4:35 p.m.–and postponed due to rain. If it was last year, the Phillies would have tied the game in the ninth. It isn’t 2009. It is a new year and there is a new team and bolstered bullpen. Newly acquired set-up man Brian Bruney pitched a scoreless top of the eighth to preserve a one run lead for closer Matt Capps.  

The bullpen gate swung open and Capps slowly made the walk from right field to the mound–the eye of the storm. Capps doesn’t try to create fear with his entry or stare, he just tries to locate his 95 mph fastball and get outs. There is nothing scary about the soft-spoken Capps. His introduction song is Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” he looks like a cuddly teddy bear and if you didn’t know any better you would bet he wouldn’t be able to grow a beard on his baby face.

He threw a couple of warm-up pitches, walked behind the mound, removed his cap, looked down at the grass and said a prayer–he would need all the help he could get against the fearsome Phillies lineup: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth.

It didn’t take long before there was a storm brewing on the field. Utley doubled and Howard was intentionally walked. Two on and zero outs typically spells tied game.

“Only the rain can save this game for the Nats,” yelled a Phillies fan.

But Capps quickly got Werth to fly out to center and Utley advanced to third.

Cool, calm and collected is Capp’s style. He would only need four more pitches, all fastballs, to get the save. He got Raul Ibanez to fly out to left and Shane Victorino to fly out to shortstop.

“To go through that lineup, you have to feel good about it,” Capps said. “It was a great feeling when Guzman caught the ball because I knew it wasn’t hit well [enough] to do any damage. Nyjer did a great job on that ball Werth hit. Nyjer getting that ball saved the game. There were a few more nerves going out in that save situation. Everything felt good today. I threw the ball well… today felt good.”

Capps nailed it down and beat the storm on the field and avoided the storm in the sky. The rain would eventually fall but the Nats were already celebrating on the train to New York. It was only one game but it was an important win and it would have been an even tougher loss, a type of loss they experienced one too many times last year.

“As we saw Bruney battle there in the eighth, and the way Capps was firing in the ninth, it was really encouraging to see because our pitching has to come together,” Jim Riggleman said. “It’s making strides. It’s coming together. When it does, it’s going to give us a chance.”

They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. I don’t know where they got that arbitrary number. I think the best pictures are worth zero words–they tell the story so you don’t have to. But for the sake of argument, let’s say a picture is worth 10,000 words. So here is a thesis paper worth of photos as we look back at the Opening Series…

 


Nats fan.JPG
nyger morgan opening day c.JPG
040510-363 ryan zimmerman c.JPG
nationals park opening day 2010.JPG
pres. obama first pitch.JPG
zimmerman and obama.JPG
obama in the booth.JPG 

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