Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Game 151: Astros at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan faces fellow lefty J.A. Happ tonight at Nationals Park.
One night after an embarrassingly ugly 8-2 loss to the Astros, will the Nationals rebound with a better performance that snaps their four-game losing streak? One night after the smallest paid crowd since baseball returned to the District, will attendance pick up or actually drop?

These are the broader questions surrounding tonight's game at Nationals Park. On a more-specific level, will John Lannan continue his superb second half, one that has seen the left-hander post a 6-2 record while allowing more than three runs only once? And can the Nats get some semblance of offensive production from the bottom half of their lineup? That group hasn't exactly been tearing it up lately, especially Roger Bernadina, who since the All-Star break is hitting .226 with a .279 on-base percentage and .633 OPS.

Bernadina, who has typically been hitting fifth since Josh Willingham's season came to a premature end, has been dropped down to seventh tonight against Astros lefty J.A. Happ. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn have been flip-flopped, with Michael Morse and Ivan Rodriguez each bumped up a spot to bat fifth and sixth, respectively.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 75 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to LF
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse
C Ivan Rodriguez
LF Roger Bernadina
CF Justin Maxwell
P John Lannan

ASTROS (73-77)
CF Jason Bourgeois
2B Jeff Keppinger
RF Hunter Pence
1B Carlos Lee
LF Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
SS Tommy Manzella
C Jason Castro
P J.A. Happ

7:00 p.m. -- Impossible as this is to believe, there appear to be even fewer people here at the ballpark tonight than there were last night, when they drew the smallest crowd in team history.

7:05 p.m. -- John Lannan starts Jason Bourgeois off with a fastball for ball one. Joe Proletariat on-deck for the Astros. That joke never gets old.

7:15 p.m. -- Well, this one's off to a rousing start. Five batters in, the Astros already lead 3-0 via back-to-back singles from Bourgeois and Jeff Keppinger and a bomb down the left-field line from Jason Michaels. Thus Lannan, who as noted above had allowed three or more runs once twice in nine starts since returning from the minors, has already allowed three in the top of the first tonight.

7:19 p.m. -- Something must have happened to Hunter Pence running out his first-inning grounder, because he didn't take the field for the bottom of the first. Brian Bogusevic now in right field for Houston and batting third.

7:21 p.m. -- Danny Espinosa's numbers through his first five big-league games: 9-for-16, three homers, 10 RBI. Danny Espinosa's numbers through his next 12-plus games (including his strikeout to open the bottom of the first just now): 5-for-47, one homer, one RBI, 17 strikeouts.

7:23 p.m. -- The medical update on Pence: He left the game with "discomfort in his right hip flexor."

7:33 p.m. -- Lannan got himself in trouble again in the second, putting two on with two out. But he caught a break when Bourgeois tried to steal third and was gunned down by Ivan Rodriguez. So it remains 3-0 heading to the bottom of the second.

7:53 p.m. -- Three innings down and nary a hit for the Nationals against Happ. Only batter to reach is Dunn, who walked in the first. Espinosa did tag a ball to right in the bottom of the third, but Bogusevic made a nice play to make the catch.

8:07 p.m. -- Lannan has settled down, allowing one hit and one walk over his last three innings and retiring six straight. But Happ still hasn't allowed a hit through four innings. He's also recorded four strikeouts. Not that I would ever openly root for a no-hitter by an opposing pitcher, but if someone has to do it, I'd certainly prefer it be a fellow Northwestern University alum like Mr. Happ. (That's my official attempt at jinxing him, by the way.)

8:31 p.m. -- Ha, what do you know, Morse leads off the bottom of the fifth with a single to center, foiling Happ's no-hit bid. Of course, Morse later got caught in a rundown when he tried to score on Bernadina's comebacker. That foiled the Nats' hopes of scoring for the first time tonight. A nice play at third by Johnson on a ball smoked by Espinosa didn't help, either. Lannan just cruised through the top of the sixth, so we head to the bottom of that inning with the Astros still leading 3-0.

8:46 p.m. -- Another missed opportunity for the Nats. Two on, two out in the sixth. Pudge worked the count to 2-2. Then he lined the ball right at second baseman Jeff Keppinger. That ended the inning with a big zero still on the board for the home team.

8:53 p.m. -- Tonight's official paid attendance: 11,893. Almost 1,000 more people than last night! NatsTown is alive and well!

8:58 p.m. -- As good as Happ was tonight, he was not very economic on the mound. So with his pitch count at 111 after only six innings, he's done for the night. Right-hander Mark Melancon (one of the players acquired from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade) now pitching for Houston.

9:08 p.m. -- The Nats are on the board. Yes, they're on the board thanks to back-to-back doubles from Bernadina and Maxwell. Yes, Bernadina and Maxwell. Unfortunately, that's the only run they scored, even though Maxwell advanced to third on a pitch in the dirt. Willie Harris, though, was called out on a check swing. Espinosa hit a shallow fly ball to center. And Desmond also was called out on a check swing. So it's 3-1 after seven, with Tyler Clippard now coming in to pitch. Lannan wound up allowing three runs in seven innings, all of them coming in the first. That's his fifth straight quality start, though at the moment he's in line to take the loss.

9:20 p.m. -- Congrats to Tyler Clippard, the first relief pitcher in D.C. baseball history to record 100 strikeouts in a season.

9:38 p.m. -- Yes, you saw that correctly. Ivan Rodriguez did indeed just hit a game-tying, two-run homer off the left-field foul pole on an 0-2 pitch. It's now 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth thanks to Pudge's fourth homer of the season.

9:48 p.m. -- And now the Nats have taken a 4-3 lead on Adam Kennedy's two-out single to right off Felipe Paulino. ... Whoa, make it 5-3 on a wild pitch. Drew Storen is currently warming in the pen, looks like he'll get a shot at the save after blowing Sunday's game in Philly.

9:55 p.m. -- Now the Nats are piling on, with Ian Desmond driving in another run to make it 6-3. With a man on third, there may not even be a save opportunity tonight. Oh, and guess who's in line for the win? Tyler Clippard, seeking his 10th victory of the year (which would tie him with Livo for the team lead).

10:00 p.m. -- This is bordering on the absurd now. Eight straight Nationals batters have reached safely with two outs in the eighth, turning a 3-1 deficit into an 8-3 lead. They were down to their last strike in this inning when Pudge cranked that homer off the foul pole and they haven't let up since. Remarkable.

10:05 p.m. -- Here comes Drew Storen to finish this off, trying to protect a five-run lead.

10:10 p.m. -- Hold the phone. Chris Johnson blasts a homer into the Red Porch off Storen, making it 8-4 with one out in the ninth.

10:16 p.m. -- Wow, Riggleman just pulled Storen with two outs, one on and the Nats leading by four. Drew didn't look too happy. It'll be Sean Burnett to face pinch-hitter Geoff Blum and possibly end this game.

10:18 p.m. -- One pitch from Burnett and it's over. Nats win 8-4. Clippard gets his 10th win, tying Livo for the team lead. It'll be a race to the finish between those two.


Sam said...

The Nats have to go 8-4 down the stretch in order to get to the vaunted 70-win mark that many fans and analysts (including myself) had predicted for them. Let's hope they can do it. A win here would be a good start!

JaneB said...

A few weeks ago, when people started posting what it would take for them to get 70 wins, I thought,"piece of cake!" ummmmmm.....

But I love them. And I also have come tom love reading what Mark writes, and what you all contribute. We should all find some place at the stadium to meet each other at the final home game. I know we aren't all IN DC, but still...

I'm driving up 95 tonight and won't even hear most of the game, but I'm looking forward to being there tomorrow, no matter who bats fifth.

Go Nats!

Anonymous said...

This team is a piece of SH**!!!

Anonymous said...

JaneB, I am with you in all you say. 70 wins seemed so easy and now it is a distant goal. But I do love them and I do love Mark's reports. I hope Mark decides to continue for another year. We need to beat the drum to encourage him to do just that.

LoveDaNats said...

@rmoore446 I'm with you and JaneB. On Sunday, I said to my husband "As soon as the Nats win this game, they can't lose 100 this year" I said this at the top of the ninth when it was 6-3 and Drew Storen was coming in. Anyway, it was not to be and 100 losses looms ahead unless something happens. But I feel the same way. My name says it all and I'll be back in the stands next year.
Love Mark and his work.

LoveDaNats said...

I meant bottom of the ninth.

LoveDaNats said...

OK....now they're starting to hit.

JayB said...


Did the ushers just let everyone in the part move down to $300 seats behind Home Plate? Just looked like a rush at a concert on tv...

Mark Zuckerman said...

JayB: Didn't see the rush, but looking down at the Presidents Club, it does look pretty packed.

JayB said...


Do you ever talk to Barry S? It would be really interesting to get his take on this mess and why it has happened.

lesatcsc said...

What a shame to waste a good start by Lannan. This may be the worst hitting team in MLB at the moment. Outside of Zimmerman, it's difficult to find a hitter that inspires much confidence. Some of them are cause for despair. Let's pray that Maxwell, Neives, Harris, and Mench are elsewhere next year, and that Bernadina, Espinosa, Gonzales and Morgan are not being relied on to do more than hone their skills in the minors or play a role off the bench.

JayB said...

I mean really...who would have ever guessed that 2010 in the new park we will sell less tickets than 2006 in RFK when we spent the off season thinking the Park deal fell through or 2007 with Robert Fick at RFK.....Amazing...sure would be interesting to get some perspective from Boz, Barry, Tom L....someone who can assess correctly assign some accountability to this surreal turn of events.

BallstonNat said...

Way to twist a knife in Storen's confidence Riggs. So what if he walked the last batter, let him battle through with the help of the crowd. That is a horrible decision, in a game that doesn't mean anything in the standings, but could have proven a great time to get Storen back on the horse.

In other news...At least Debbie Taylor's mic didn't work.

josh f said...

That was the most fun inning I've seen maybe all year?

Michael J. Hayde said...

Nice to see the Nats finally get a Yankee-esque late inning comeback. Good things can happen with this team once in awhile... which I guess is why we keep coming back for more punishment.

John R. said...

Good job by Riggs to pull Storen and make sure the game is won. Storen had already failed by giving up the HR and the walk.

natsfan1a said...

No worries, Mark. JayB complained about Barry, too, back in the day. (But you probably already know that.) I think you're doing a great job, fwiw.

Great win tonight and another good start by Johnny Boy Lannan. A big Atta Boy to Pudge for getting the hit parade started.

Dryw Loves the Nats said...

Last night on TV, I thought the team had given up. Tonight at the park, even before the eighth, they looked like they were still playing hard. I'm hoping to see a lot more of that this week and next.

However, I will say that it is more likely that the Nats will win 100 games this year than that there were 11,000 people in the park. In the second inning or so, we were estimating it at less than 5,000, although a few people were still trickling in. And, no, the ushers were not being absolute sticklers for section numbers on tickets tonight. (after all, a 3 looks kinda like a 1, doesn't it?)

Faraz Shaikh said...

no Dryw, it doesn't. ;)

Anyways, I tried to stay away from this blog and baseball for couple of days. But who am I kidding?

Good win tonight. We have finally officially avoided the 100 loss mark this season. Lannan has been doing well and I hope he carries this form over to the next season and improved on it. Espinosa has lost his hit stroke it seems but I would still have him as my starting 2B next season (I can't believe I am actually saying this) so he can earn some experience and for defense.

We also heard that talks between Dunn and Nats have picked up. Guess that's a good thing.

I hope we pick more wins until the end. Otherwise I wouldn't mind another high draft pick come next June. :)

Ernie said...

Th walk home from the game was the nicest 20 minutes I've spent after a Nats game in a long while. After the past week of dreadfulness I had almost decided to stay home tonight, but my warped sense of duty to see this season to its miserable end pushed me to go. I'm glad I did. I could pick on dumb at- bats and boneheaded mistakes, but the small crowd wasn't as dead as it had been in recent games I've attended and the team seemed to be trying. They were legitimately stymied by a good pitcher for the first 2/3 of the game, but stuck with it and managed to look like the kind of baseball team I want to root for. Even the guys I want to see DFA'd came through tonight, which made me feel good and remember why it is that I like this game. I was actually smiling and laughing in a non-cynical way during the 8th inning. I can't remember the last time this team had that effect on me. And the crowd was great, even if it was small.

I have tickets to 3 more on this homestand. I think I'm going to be there for all of them. Of course, we'll probably lose them all, maybe in heartbreaking ways, but after tonight I don't think the taste will be as bitter.

I'll never understand why I love this game so much, but after tonight, I am still sure that I do.

JayB said...

1a...can we stop worrying about Mark's Psyche.He knows we all appreciate and respect him. Hell we all pay for him to do this...not enough I am sure but still....would it not be very interesting to hear a discussion of the major players who have been there in the media...with access to all the players for 6 years....reflect on what has happened to the promise of baseball in DC...what has caused the team to reach a new low in attendance in year 2010......Mark by design or skill set rarely gives opinions or holds people accountable in public so if he facilitated such a discussion that would be cool too.....relax mark is a grown man in the new age a media and he is doing great...we are not helping him by just saying thank you all the time.

natsfan1a said...

Yes, I agree that would be interesting, JayB. Svrluga did some posts for the Journal earlier this year, but they were retrospective rather than looking at the state of things today.

On the opinion-giving/holding the team accountable front, my impression is that would tend to fall more under the role of a columnist/editorial writer than that of a beat writer. That said, my impression has not been that Mark pulls his punches. You mileage may vary, as always.

In other news, I'll continue to say "thank you" when I think it's warranted, because that's how I was raised. Old habits die hard. ;-)

natsfan1a said...

You = Your.

SpringfieldFan said...

It has been worse:
"September 7, 1954: The Senators and Athletics draw just 460 fans to a game, the smallest crowd in Griffith Stadium history. The Senators win 5-4."

At the time, the population of DC was somewhere around 800,000, which is more than live in the city now. Of course, the suburbs have boomed in the meantime.

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