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Thanks for the memory

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Rocket Bill's current mailbag contains this sad note:

[Q] Where does Henry Mateo fit into the Nationals' plans?
-- Wally R., New Cumberland, Pa.

[A] Mateo is a six-year Minor League free agent and will not return. He has not fully recovered from a right shoulder injury that he suffered while playing winter ball in 2003.

This is an underappreciated loss, if you ask me. Mateo, brought in to provide utility infield depth, never sported a healthy throwing arm, as Rocket Bill notes. But he provided unexpected offensive efficiency. Did you know that Mateo:

  • tied for the team lead in on-base percentage, with a .500 mark?
  • paced the team, by far, in ratio of bases on balls per plate appearance?
The guy walked one time for every two plate appearances!

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll also note that Mateo walked one time in a total of two plate appearances, for the entire season---which is to say, one game.

Oh, but what a game it was. If the Nats had actually prevailed, the May 13 contest versus the Cubs might forever have been known at the Mateo Game. It was a Friday night, cloudy and 61 degrees at game time, with a wind from the right to left line at 13 miles per hour. Dale Scott manned home plate.

With one out in the top of the third, Esteban Loaiza induced a grounder to second, perfectly fielded by Mateo and assisted to Nick Johnson for a routine 4-3 out to retire the dangerous Neifi Perez.

In the second inning, Mateo was even more active. He began the frame by retiring Aramis Ramirez on a pop-up. Then, on a sharply hit grounder by Jeromy Burnitz, Mateo handled it perfectly---as he did with every opportunity for the season---and recorded the second out by tossing to Johnson.

And then it happened---

Bottom of the second, first-and-third, one out, Nats up 1-0:

Pitch 1 - Missed Bunt
Pitch 2 - Called Strike
Pitch 3 - Ball
Pitch 4 - Ball
Pitch 5 - Ball
Pitch 6 - Blocked Ball in Dirt

Henry Mateo walks.  

Clutch.

In the fifth, Mateo nearly kept the perfect on-base percentage:

Pitch 1 - Ball
Pitch 2 - Called Strike
Pitch 3 - Ball
Pitch 4 - Ball
Pitch 5 - In play, out(s) recorded

Henry Mateo pops out to second baseman Jerry Hairston.

So close!

Well, that was pretty much the end of the day---and, as it were, the season---for Mateo. On May 15, without appearing in another game, Mateo was tucked back on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendonitis. (The newly-acquired Marlon Byrd took Mateo's place on the active roster.) And that was that.


Careful, Henry! Whoa,
watch that right shoulder!

Gone---but never forgotten. That's Henry Mateo, our unheralded Nat. Unheralded maybe for a reason, but unheralded nonetheless.