Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Wild & Crazy Game!

I left home very early this morning - around 9:20am as I headed to Dodger Stadium to watch the Blue Crew take on the Washington Nationals... now you would think that heading through L.A. around 9:45 in the morning that you wouldn't hit much traffic... wrong!!! I've now come to the conclusion that the only hours you can drive in that town and not run into traffic are between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. This city needs mass transit in the worst possible way...

In spite of the traffic, it only took me an hour and ten minutes to make the forty mile journey... your typical bright, sunshine-filled southern California summer day, though it was a lot warmer than usual - 90 degrees when the game began. It was in the mid-upper 90's and quite humid by mid-afternoon.In addition to beating the traffic, I was also hoping to catch some of batting practice prior to the game, but as it turns out they didn't have it today due to the earlyness of the game. Nonetheless, it was fun being in the ballpark at 10:40am, an hour and a half before the game started and then gradually watch it fill up...Surprisingly, there were actually quite a few Nationals fans there, including (as I found out later when I walked two sections over and talked to one of the groups) some relatives of right fielder Ryan Church - and they were VERY supportive! Church is a Santa Barbara native, so that would explain his family's presence... Being a fan of both teams, I kind of had to dress impartially, so I decided to don one of my UCLA Bruin t-shirts - though I did wear my Nats cap as the weather got warmer. Special thanks to Nicole from Welk Resorts for taking some shots of me prior to the game.

As for the game itself, it was a true rollercoaster ride - one which would last over four hours! Yes, I got my money's worth as did the rest of the 41,913 in attendance. Most expected today's battle between Brad Penny and Shawn Hill to be a pitcher's duel... With ERA's of 2.65 and 2.31 respectively, a 3-2 or 2-1 game seemed to be in the cards. After one inning, all was going according to plan as every batter on both sides made out. Something very unusual though happened (and this set the tone for the game). Every one of the six outs was made in the air. No ground outs or strikeouts. For pitchers like Penny and Hill who try to induce groundball outs, this turned out to be a bad sign.

The Nats would get to Penny in the second inning as both Austin Kearns and Ryan Church would single to right... After DeAngelo Jimenez grounded out, Robert Fick would single to right to score Kearns and give the Nats a 1-0 lead. Jesus Flores would then single in Church to make it 2-0. Hill would then sacrifice, putting Fick and Flores into scoring position. Sure enough, Nook Logan would cash in the two runner with a single to center to make it a 4-0 lead for Nationals. The Dodgers though would make up half of that deficit in the bottom of the inning. Jeff Kent singled and then Russell Martin slammed a ball deep into the left field bullpen for his 17th home run of the year to make it a 4-2 margin.

In the third, the inspired Church would strike again, pulling a ball into the right field corner to plate Felipe Lopez and give the Nats a 5-2 lead. The Dodgers then would come right back to score a run in the bottom of the fourth inning as James Loney singled in Luis Gonzalez to make it a 5-3 score.

The Nats then appeared to take control of the game in the next two innings. Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot hitting, as he singled in Felipe Lopez in the top of the 5th inning to give the Nats a 6-3 lead. Penny was then removed from the game after he was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the frame. In the 6th, the Nats gave reliever Mark Hendrickson a very rude welcome as Robert Fick greeted him with a one out homer deep to right field. Jesus Flores then hit a long double to left field. After Hill struck out, Logan would strike again, singling to center to score Flores. The score was now 8-3, Nationals. It looked like things were well in hand.

The Dodgers though were determined and quickly rallied. Jeff Kent lined a ball on one hop into the right field stands for a ground-rule double with one out in the bottom of the 6th. Luis Gonzalez then walked. And then for the second game in a row, Felipe Lopez made a critical fielding error to give the Dodgers an extra out. Russell Martin hit a routine grounder to Lopez, but he booted it for an error.

James Loney then worked the count to 3-2 before sharply lining a ball down the first base line to clear the bases and end Hill's day. Luis Ayala then relieved Hill, and the newly aquired Shea Hillenbrand would hit a long flyball deep into the left-center field pavalion to tie the game at 8. Ayala would get out of the inning, and we would go to the 7th.

In that seventh inning, the Nats again rallied. Austin Kearns was hit by a pitch, and then Church singled to left for his third hit of the game. The light-hitting Jimenez would strike again, singling to center to plate Kearns to give the Nats their third lead of the game at 9-8. Once again though, the Dodgers would come back in the bottom of the frame. Matt Kemp would lead off with a long home run deep into the right field seats off of Ayala to once again tie the game at 9. Kent then doubled to left for his third hit of the game. Jesus Colome and Jon Rauch would then come in and close out the inning... and as it turned out, the game would end up 9-9 at the end of the 9 innings of regulation... And so it went... the scoring ceased for the first two extra innings as well. Set-up man Jonathan Broxton, closer Takeshi Saito and long reliever Scott Proctor would all pitch scoreless ball for the Dodgers... Chris Schroeder and closer Chad Cordero came in for the Nationals and likewise shut down the home team.

Proctor, always an innings eater for the Yankees, was asked to go a third inning against the Nationals and he got into a little trouble right away, giving up a walk to Church and a single to Jimenez to open up the 12th inning. For Church, it was his fifth time reaching base - the first time he's ever accomplished that feat. His four hits also tied a career high. Yes, he was inspired! Proctor got bailed out by the pitcher's best friend though, as Fick would ground into a double play to end the Nats threat. The bottom of the 12th began omniously for the Nationals. Saul Rivera gave up Jeff Kent's fourth hit of the game - a line single to left to lead off the inning. Then of all things, pitcher Eric Stults pinch-hit for Proctor! It's pretty rare to see a pitcher pinch-hit, but the Dodgers were all out of position players by that time! Stults would eventually strike out. Russell Martin would then hit a ball down the right field line which looked like it might score Kent all the way from first. Kent made it about 1/3 of the way to home before he slammed on the brakes. James Loney was then intentionally walked, setting the stage once more for Hillenbrand. Shea took the first pitch he saw and drove it to medium right field.

Kent tagged and did an outstanding head-first slide into home to score the winning run in spite of a nice throw by Kearns... Kent and Hillenbrand then were mobbed by their Dodger teammates! So, for the Dodgers, it was their third straight one-run victory over the Nationals. The record may show that the Dodgers swept the series, but truth of the matter is that EVERY game could have gone either way!!!
The Dodgers now head off to San Diego to begin a crucial three game series against the rival Padres. The Nationals go home to JFK to begin a three game series against the San Francisco Giants.


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