In what would seem like an uninspiring 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals Monday night, the Expos/Nats fan stranded in St. Louis got to see one of the two games he'll see them play in person all year. However, despite the disappointing end result, there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
1) The future is now! There will be more on Storen, who deserves his own sub-heading, later in the entry. However, he wasn't the only youngster to provide some fireworks in last night's game. Ian Desmond was outstanding, pounding out four hits and making some nice rangy plays to his right defensively. He made a terrific play to his right, robbing David Freese of what probably should have been a single in the hole to start an inning-ending double play in the third. Desmond also combined with his (usual) double play partner, who was playing 1b last night, to carry what offense there was from the bottom of the order. He looked strong and patient in the box, and spread his hits around the field. You often see young hitters constantly trying to pull the ball, but two of Desmond's four hits were to the right side, while the other two were more up the middle.
Roger Bernadina was even better with the glove, robbing Colby Rasmus of a homer (hurt my fantasy team, but who cares!) in the sixth and taking extra bases away from Ryan Ludwick with a terrific catch in the fifth. He hit a ball just foul that didn't sound or look like more than just a pop-up (off the bat) in the second that remarkably had home run distance. Bernie also showed the speed that we should expect, forcing a bad throw by Cards second baseman Skip Schumaker on the chopper that scored the Nats' first run (Schumaker probably should have just eaten the ball, to be honest) and got called out on a bang-bang play in the seventh where my rose-colored glasses thought he'd beaten it out.
2) Storen! We only got to see him face three hitters, but he looked really strong on the hill. The gun in Busch was consistently putting his fastball at about 94. He wasn't afraid to attack inside, which did cost him his only baserunner when he hit Ryan Ludwick. From the angle I was sitting (between home and third), I couldn't see how much Ludwick was leaning over the plate, but it didn't look like Storen completely lost it or anything. He came right back up and in to Matt Holliday three pitches later, prompting a mound visit from (presumably) McCatty. The fans (of course, predominantly Cardinals.... though there was actually another group of Nats fans I heard behind home plate!) started mumbling, "Good, get him out of there" as their own rose-colored glasses thought that Storen was intentionally throwing at people, or perhaps a little too amped up in his big-league debut. However, the McChatty must have calmed him, as he worked his way out of the jam with a 3-2 pitch that looked like a change from where I sat, but was a fastball per the Federal Baseball Report. Holliday swung over it, and it looked like there was definitely some downward movement on it. I'm thankful he got Holliday, because I'm not sure whether he would have (or should have) stayed in to face Pujols. There are some things you just don't want to do to a kid in his big-league debut, and facing the best hitter in baseball with the bases loaded is one of them. That said, I'd have liked to see him stay in to pitch the eighth (even with Pujols leading off) to get him some exposure. We'll see if he goes again tonight!
More after the jump.........
3) Zimm needs to pull the ball more often - OK.... For those who won't read the italics as sarcasm, that's what it is. Last night, though, seeing him pull the ball a little more would have been nice. Why? Ryan Ludwick robbed him of extra bases in the first (it was a bit of a chilly night... mid-50s.... his deep fly to right center would probably have carried out of Busch on a warmer evening) and then stole a double from him in the eighth with an outstanding diving catch. While Ludwick isn't the most phenomenal defensive right fielder, he's light years better than Holliday is in left. File it away in the "Oh well" department. Zimm was on the ball last night, but considerably unlucky at the plate. He only had two chances defensively that I can remember (which was disappointing... part of why I was so excited with the seats along the third base line!) and only made one of the plays. While Albert Pujols was credited with a single on the first chance, it's a ball that I've come to expect Zimm to get 95 times out of 100 and most major league third basemen get 70 times out of 100.
4) We had some luck, too! The luck was that, despite pitching to Pujols, the Nats never saw a result worse than the walk he should be given at all times. Pujols was 3-for-3 (all singles) with a walk. I attended one of the three Nats games here in St. Louis last year, and was disappointed that Riggles didn't realize the DLPBY (Don't Let Pujols Beat You) mantra, allowing Jason Bergmann to pitch to him in a tie game leading off the bottom of the ninth. Needless to say, the at bat (and game) lasted another 45 seconds, with Pujols showing the Nats up a bit after the walkoff homer.
5) Stammen - The Stammenator had some awful luck in the first. Rasmus' single didn't look particularly clean (in fact I thought he may have broken his bat) from the stands, but upon seeing the replay of it (FSN replays the game after their post-game) afterwards, it was just a clean single to right. From the stands, I thought that Willie was a little too short, and that Bernadina probably would have caught Freese's two-run triple (with 2 out in the inning). The replay showed otherwise. While it certainly wasn't an easy play, Willie was there, and probably should have had it. Then Yadier Molina hit a knuckling pop a little too far to Guzman's left that just seemed like one of those balls that drop in when teams are on a roll (as the Cardinals suddenly were) to score the fourth run. Given that Stammen hadn't looked particularly comfortable on the mound (no rhythm/pace, working behind instead of ahead of hitters, etc.), I thought it would have made sense to pinch hit for him in the fifth, when he eventually struck out (?) on two pitches well out of the strike zone that were called strikes. There were runners on second and third and nobody out and the Nats were down 4-1 at that point. It was a crucial situation in the game. Then again, Stammen did come through with two RBI singles in his previous start against the Mets, and Riggles seemingly made a solid decision, as he should have walked on five pitches.... and should have walked on six pitches as well. Riggles then did the one thing that you absolutely can't do, arguing balls and strikes, which is an automatic ejection. I didn't see the exchange prior to the ejection from the dugout, though, so I can't say if it was really called for. As Riggles had never left the dugout, I'd lean towards the uncalled for ejection. But I digress......
This is about Stammen's performance. He put the bad inning behind him and went to work, keeping his club in the game. Even after the at bat in which I thought they should have pinch hit for him, Stammen went back out there and retired six of the next seven hitters to go six fairly strong innings. It would have been easy (and something I've come to expect in the past, not particularly with Stammen, but with the team in general) for him to just fold after the hard luck first inning, but he didn't.
6) The haters were out? Every year, I attend at least one of the Nats games here in St. Louis. I wear my gear. I cheer for my team. I'm not a Philadelphia type fan or anything, and I don't get overly loud and boisterous. I clap when the players are coming to bat. I get excited when good things happen. I basically just sit there with a bit of disappointment on my face if something bad happens. Admittedly, living in St. Louis, I cheer for the St. Louis Cardinals 156 games a year and the Nationals 162 games a year. I pull for the Cardinals most of the time, though I'm there with my Nats (or old Expos) cap on and my Nats shirt. Typically, I don't get much backlash. More often than not, as the Expos/Nats haven't really been that good since the mid 1990s (with a couple of one year outliers), I get sympathy from most of the Cardinals fans, who tend to be pretty good.
Maybe it's that the team is doing better this year, or maybe it's just that there were a few more #$#@$@#! out there than usual, but I was getting booed and jeered a bit last night. It could be a sign of some respect for the Nats, or it could just be that there were a few more d-bags than usual at last night's game. Either way, I was my usual fairly respectful self at the game last night, and don't think I was doing anything to egg them on. While midwesterners are typically extremely friendly, I've always taken a bit of a backlash wearing my Devils gear to Blues games.... I've always thought this had something to do with the fact that the Devils were... you know, pretty good! Perhaps the people in St. Louis are starting to take some notice of the Nats strong early-season performance and are actually considering them a threat. It's not like I was wearing a Cubs jersey or anything!
Oh well, I'll be at the game again tonight (my last Nats game of the year, as a trip to DC just isn't in the cards financially right now) and will be returning to my usual bleacher seat spot. Here's to hoping that Lannan can shut the Redbirds down, because the Cards bring a considerably stronger pitcher to the hill in Carpenter. On the plus side, Lannan's the kind of pitcher who always tends to give the Cards trouble.... soft-tossing lefty!