The rain fills up my windshield slowly, drop by drop. I try to avoid acknowledging the oncoming storm by refusing to turn on the wipers. My brother Scout, Braves fan and Source For All Things Baseball, and I are headed to RFK Stadium, Washington, DC to take in the first of a three game series between the Nationals and the visiting Atlanta Braves. The rain is still falling at 7:10 pm as the game gets underway...
We're sitting fourteen rows behind home, just above the field of play. "Look," Scout says, "Zimmerman's(Ryan) been playing catch for five minutes and he hasn't thrown one away yet." "He's over that," I tell Scout.
Justin "J-Max" Maxwell is getting his first Major League start in center after having hit a grand slam for his first Major League hit just last week. Washington starter Matt Chico doesn't look comfortable in the rain. Yunel Escobar splits the gap in right on a full count fastball in the first. Edgar Renteria splits the left side of the infield on another full count offering. Chipper Jones singles to load the bases, in spite of my taunting "Laaarrryy" chants that I'm quite sure Chipper hears. If the Braves score early it could be a quick one with this weather(ed note- "Boy was I wrong.") Mark Teixeira doubles over Wily Mo Pena's head in left, two runs score. 2-0 Braves. Jeff Francouer swings through three straight. Andruw Jones hits a sac fly. J-Max's throw in is late. 3-0 Braves. ("That's how you have 90 RBI's in a season that you're hitting .220," Scout says, explaining AJones anomolous production).
2-2 count to Ronnie Belliard in the Nationals first, Chuck James delivers...GONE!! Belliard hits a long line drive to left center to make it a 3-1 game after one.
"Don't throw him a first pitch strike," Scout warns Chico as he delivers to Matt Diaz. Chico does, and Diaz smokes it. Ronnie Belliard fully extends to rob Yunel Escobar of a single to center. Edgar Renteria flies out to center to end the top of the second. Wily Mo Pena lines a single in the Nationals second. Jesus Flores singles. "All the Nationals hits are coming with two strikes," Scout observes, "You know the Eastwood character `The Man With No Name,' well Chuck James is `The Man With No Out-Pitch.' J-Max, batting eigth, pops out on the first pitch. Chico pops out to end the Nationals second, then on the hill, Chico walks Chipper Jones to start the third, before retiring the next three in order to end the inning.
Ronnie Belliard lines a single through second to start the Nationals third. THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!! THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!!! Ryan Zimmerman doubles to center with Belliard running. Belliard scores easily, and Zimmerman's safe at second where he's eventually stranded. 3-2 Atlanta after three.
Matt Chico retires the Braves in order in the fourth. Wily Mo Pena tears the cover off the ball, doubling to start the Nationals fourth...and Braves Manager Bobby Cox pulls James, not sure if he's hurt or if Cox has just seen enough? Oscar Villarreal is on in relief. Jesus Flores grounds out to third, J-Max hits an 0-1 fastball for a single to center, Pena moves to third. Matt Chico hits a productive groundout to score Pena. 3-3 game after four.
Yunel Escobar doubles over Pena's outstretched glove to start the fifth, "Wow, he played that like a DH," Scout taunts the defensively deficient Pena. Renteria pops up a bunt. CJones grounds out. Teixeira flies out to right. Matt Chico comes back with a scoreless sixth as well.
"Wily Mo Pena has `Popeye' forearms," Scout observes as we watch Pena in the on-deck circle. THE FUTURE IS NOW...Jesus Flores doubles off the yellow line atop the outfield wall with one out in the sixth. J-Max will face the Reliever From Down Under Peter Moylan. J-Max is down looking for the second out of the inning. D'Angelo Jimenez pinch hits for the pitcher and takes a walk. Felipe Lopez goes down swinging. 3-3 after six.
Chris Schroder is pitching in the seventh, and he delivers a two-out walk to Yunel Escobar. Renteria reaches on a swinging bunt that dies in the wet grass. Manny Acta, Nationals Manager goes to the pen. Arnie Munoz on to face Chipper, "Acta's working with last year's scouting report," Scout says of turning Chipper around to bat righty. Passed ball moves the runners to second and third. Chipper gets the intentionals. Teixeira goes to a 3-1 count, then full, but Teixeira takes strike three to end the top of the seventh. Stand up and stretch...
Belliard reaches on an infield single that Renteria can't reach. HERE IN DC...THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!! THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!!! Ryan Zimmerman blasts the first pitch for a screaming line drive home run to right. 5-3 Nationals after seven.
The Tallest Pitcher in MLB History is on for the eigth. Jon Rauch gives up a double to A.Jones that Pena again misplays, almost running through the wall in left after missing the catch. "Played like a DH," Scout reminds me. Brian McCann stares at strike three on a curve. Matt Diaz bloops a single to center. AJones scores. 5-4 Nationals.
Rafael Soriano, Braves reliever hits 102 mph on the radar on the way to a scoreless eigth. Wait for it...
Chad Cordero's jersey is dry, and a brilliant white as he takes the mound in the ninth. "How flat is his brim," Scout asks, "as flat as Screech's mascot antics, as flat as crushed peanut shells in the rain-soaked aisle?" "How `bout flat as the rain-soaked spirits of the DC faithful," I offer. Yunel, Rent, and Chipper to face the Flat-Brimmed Closer. Yunel strikes out swining on a full count fastball. Renteria goes to a full-count and then lines one off Cordero's ankle for a single. Peter Orr on to run for Renteria...Chipper Jones double to right, Orr scores to tie it at 5-5 in the ninth. Teixeira gets the intentionals. Francouer pops out for the second out. AJones goes to a full count...Ball four bases loaded. Brian McCann grounds out to second to end the top of the ninth.
Ronnie Belliard hits a leadoff double in the Nationals ninth off Rafael Soriano. "Can Zim bunt?" Scout asks. "Never seen him try, other than drag bunts," I say. Zimmerman goes down swinging unproductively. Church gets the intentionals. Kearns walks. The Professional Pinch Hitter Tony Batista goes down swinging. "What Would Jesus Do?" Jesus Flores flies out to center on a smoked line drive right to Andruw Jones.
Saul Rivera gies up a two-out single to Yunel Escobar. Martin Prado flies out to right to end the top of the tenth. Jose Acosta, the Braves rookie reliever walks Robert Fick with one out in the Nationals half. Felipe Lopez bounces one off the plate and thus avoids the double play. Belliard pops out to end the tenth.
Saul Rivera gives up a two-out walk to Francouer in the eleventh. AJones goes to a full count again, but grounds out to end the eleventh rain-filled inning. Ryan "Walk-Off" Zimmerman walks to start the bottom of the eleventh. Ryan Church flies to right. Zimmerman takes second on a passed ball with Kearns up. Kearns walks. Brian Schneider ground out. Jesus Flores...lines out to center..."Don't hit it to Andruw," Scout advises the young Nationals catcher.
Big John Albaladejo on to pitch the Nationals twelfth and he retires the side in order. 5-5 ballgame. Martin Prado hits a one-out single in the thirteenth. Chipper singles up the middle moving Prado to third. Teixeira walks. Francouer singles to right...two runs score. 7-5 Atlanta. A.Jones hits another sac fly. 8-5 Braves.
Jose Ascanio on to close it. Belliard reaches on an infield grounder that gets stuck in a puddle. Zimmerman lines out. Church down swinging. Austin Kearns grounds out to end it after five long hours and thirty water-logged minutes...
Nationals now 65-82.