Posts Tagged ‘Florida Marlins’

Melee In Miami

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

There are lots of Nats’ fans who think that Nyjer Morgan has a screw loose — but his scrum in Miami last night (perhaps, as one reader writes, “he misses hockey”), makes for exciting baseball. And it shows that the Nats (first in war, first in peace and still last in the NL Least) have a bit of life left in them. Nats’ manager Jim Riggleman defended Morgan, particularly after the Marlins took umbrage with his decision to steal second and third with the Nats down ten runs — a no-no that’s considered a cheapy in baseball’s Book of Unwritten Rules. Of course, not everyone agrees with that, in part because no one has ever actually seen the book — but because the “rule” is a bunch of hooey. “My feeling has always been, if you hit somebody, you did what you set out to do,” Nats skipper Jim Riggleman said after the game. “If he decides to run on you, that’s his business. I have no problem with that at all. We decide when we run. The Florida Marlins don’t decide when we run. Nobody decides when we run.”

The Miami melee began after, having already been hit once (the result of Nyjer’s decking of the Marlins’ catcher on a play at the plate on Tuesday), Florida starter Chris Volstad threw behind the Nats’ center fielder. Morgan charged the mound and in the ensuing one-on-one (Morgan threw a roundhouse left at Volstad, as both benches emptied), Marlins’ first baseman Gaby Sanchez clothes-lined the Curacao native. “When I saw [Morgan] running out, obviously, he’s not coming out there to talk,” Volstad said. “I was just trying to defend myself and not get hurt. Gaby had my back. The whole team had my back. Everyone was there. It’s just part of the game.” The fight (and Morgan’s decking of Marlins catcher Brett Hayes), resulted in six ejections (Jim Riggleman and reliever Doug Slaten were ejected later in the game — after Slaten plunked cheap-shot artist Gaby Sanchez) and will likely result in suspensions and fines for those most involved.

The Marlins say the bad blood between the teams is now behind them (“I know it’s over for me,” Marlins third sacker Wes Helms said. “I hope it is for these other guys”), but there’s bound to be some lingering irritations — the Nats and Marlins play regularly as N.L. East rivals, and neither Morgan nor Sanchez are the forgive-and-forget types. In the wake of the dust-up, Nats’ commentators were quick to criticize Morgan. Mark Zuckerman said we all should have seen this coming, and described Morgan’s behavior over the last two weeks as “sad and predictable.” Ben Goessling, meanwhile, speculates that it’s all but inevitable that the Nats will part with Morgan. Goessling adds, correctly we think, that Morgan brings an energy to the game that the Nats need. FJB says that “Nyjer needs to go” while Dan Steinberg points out that one of Morgan’s less endearing traits is his tendency to jaw with fans.

All of that is undoubtedly true: Nyjer Morgan can’t be allowed to carry on a dialogue with fans and Riggleman was right to bench him for purposely and unnecessarily elbowing the Cards catcher here in D.C. last week. And despite Zuckerman’s correct judgment (that we should have seen this coming — and we did), there’s need for a little perspective: it’s not a given that Morgan’s collision with Hayes was intended to injure (it probably wasn’t) and Nyjer took his medicine when he was hit the first time by Volstad (he had it coming and he knew it — and trotted to first with nary a second thought). But a second attempt to plunk the plucky center fielder is over the line — as Jim Riggleman, holding a single digit and yelling “one time” at the Marlins manager — showed. And Gaby Sanchez’s clotheslining (which brought oohs and ahhs from the Marlins’ clubhouse) of Morgan is not a sign of Sanchez’s fighting prowess, it was a cheap and thuggish blindside shot. Doug Slaten figured that out, and responded. And rightly so.

Washingtonians have short memories. Last year nearly everyone (including MASN’s Bob Carpenter and his dearly departed sidekick) were telling us how crappy a player Alberto Gonzalez was — this year we can’t get enough of him. Austin Kearns was the fair-haired boy when he came here from hog heaven, but lost his fans when he snapped a tendon and tried to play through it. Remember? We couldn’t get enough of Nyjer last year, when he was the best Nats player in September and ignited a team that didn’t look like it cared. And while we can roll our eyes at Morgan’s “Tony Plush” put-on, he is (by all accounts) a tough team player who wants to win. Now we’re all calling for his head. And why? Because he did this last week what Pete Rose did his entire career. So — yeah — the Nats will part ways with Nyjer this winter, but they shouldn’t do it before then and they shouldn’t do it because he bangs into opponents while playing the game. They should do it for the right reason: because Roger Bernadina is a better hitter and a better fielder. Give me a break: teams don’t win because they are filled with good citizens, they win because they have good players.

Zimmermann Gem, But Nats Fall

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The Washington Nationals might not have found their replacement for Stephen Strasburg — but nearly so. The newly healed Jordan Zimmermann pitched a gem against the Florida Marlins on Tuesday night in Miami (giving up one hit and no runs through six complete innings), though the Fish won in the 10th inning, 1-0. Zimmermann was in complete control in only his second outing since returning to Washington — one year after having Tommy John surgery. He struck out nine and walked none in throwing just 86 pitches, 55 of them for strikes. “It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Zimmermann said after the game. “I kept the ball down and actually got some fastballs inside, which I didn’t do in my first start.” The Marlins’ winning run came in the bottom of the 10th inning off of Drew Storen, as Hanley Ramirez slid under the tag of Nats’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

The game featured yet another Nyjer Morgan controversy, and one likely to seed the kind of bad blood that was present during the Nats-Cardinals series in Washington. In the top of the 9th, Morgan headed home for what would be the go-ahead run, attempting to beat a throw to the plate from infielder Ramirez. Morgan might have slid into home, but decided instead to move Marlins’ catcher Brett Hayes. The resulting collision (in which Morgan was called out) ended with Hayes on the ground, who left the game with an aching left shoulder. “Somebody who does that is looking to hurt somebody,” Hayes claimed after the game. But the Nats are contending that the Morgan-Hayes collision was a clean play: Morgan rarely slides feet-first into a base (and certainly not into home) and would not slide feet first with a catcher retrieving a ball thrown high. “I don’t have any problem with his decision,” Jim Riggleman said.

But in the wake of Morgan’s bump at home against the Cardinals during the last game of the last home stand (a bump for which Riggleman apologized), the collision on Tuesday night leaves lingering questions about Morgan’s intentions — and the Nats’ center fielder has been under pressure recently to produce at the same level that he did in ’09. Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider told the folks at ESPN 980 this afternoon that he thought the play, which has already generated controversy, was clean — a view that he articulated in his column on the game at Nats Insider: “Across the Nationals’ clubhouse, the prevailing sentiment was that Nyjer did the right thing. That came from players, from coaches and from front-office execs. All felt it was a clean play, and the right play.” But, during his radio interview, Zuckerman said that he doubted that Morgan would be with the Nats in center field next year. That may have little to do, however, with his play against either the Cardinals or his collision with Hayes. He is simply not the player now that he was for the Nats in ’10. And, in reflecting on tonight’s tilt in Miami, Zuckerman adds this: “If Morgan is in the Nationals lineup — and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be — don’t be surprised if he gets a fastball in the ribs.”

(above: Nyjer Morgan with Marlins catcher Brett Hayes — AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

A Laugher In Miami

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn homered, and Jason Marquis pitched 5.2 solid innings to lead the Nationals to a 9-3 victory over the Florida Marlins in Miami on Monday night. The win was the third in a row for the Nationals — a “laugher” — who have energized their sudden surge by scoring 40 runs in the last five games. On Monday, the Zimmerman-Dunn combination accounted for seven of the nine runs, as Zimmerman hit his 25th and Dunn hit his 33rd home runs. Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse also continued their offensive assault, with both accounting for two hits. The sudden plate production stands in stark contrast to the Nats of just a week ago — when the Anacostia Nine had difficulty scoring against the Braves, Phillies and Cubs, and dropped seven of nine games.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains: It was a bad night for Florida baseball. The official attendance for the Nats-Marlins tilt was given as 18,326, but after a nearly three hour rain delay the Marlins were playing in front of hundreds — not thousands. In the seventh inning, a ballgirl snagged a ground foul along the first base line and trotted towards the seats to hand it to a fan: there was no one there. Then too, it’s an open debate whether anyone scrambled for Adam Dunn’s home run into the right field seats — no fan was even close. If you head to see the Marlins tonight, you might want to look under your seat. When the game finished at 1 a.m this morning, there were more people in Dupont Circle than at the Marlins game. The Marlins are counting on a new stadium to solve their attendance woes, but you have to wonder whether that’s really going to work. There’s a beautiful stadium in Toronto and a good, young team — and they don’t draw a lick . . .

Over in Tampa, where the Rays were taking on the Jays, precisely 11,968 patrons showed up at “The Trop” — an embarrassing non-anomaly for a team that now ranks 23rd in MLB attendance (just behind the last place Nats). The Nationals ranked as high as 19th in attendance this year, but the Rays have never been a notch over where they are right now. Bleacher Report’s J.C. De La Torre says there’s a reason for this: 70 percent of the fans live nearly an hour from the stadium (which is true) and Tampa has the second highest jobless rate in the state. And De La Torre notes that Cincinnati, San Diego and Texas also have attendance problems. They are all first place teams with 62 percent or less in capacity this season.

No matter what the issue, the Rays’ problems are long term and not likely to be resolved anytime soon — and they will have an impact on the franchise, which will see star left fielder Carl Crawford headed out of town (wouldn’t it be nice if he came to Washington, instead of New York) come October. “It was a big letdown,” Crawford said of the sparse crowd. “We came out all fired up and you see that, it’s really depressing.” The Rays desperately need a new stadium, but are locked in a head-to-head battle over whether the team will play in St. Petersburg (where they are now, officially, located) or Tampa — which could be the site of a new stadium in the waterfront area. The battle won’t be joined until after the season, which means that a new stadium (if there is one) won’t be started for at least another year. And no one has yet figured out how a new ballpark will be funded.

CarlCrawford.jpg image by BEEZEWAX34

(above: Jason Marquis AP Photo/Wildredo Lee; below: Carl Crawford against the Red Sox in Tampa)


				

Back In The Win Column

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Nationals’ starter John Lannan and relief specialist Sean Burnett combined to shut down the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night 4-2, to put the team back in the win column. The badly needed victory followed a disheartening three game set against the Florida Marlins, in which the team was outscored 22-7 and failed to get the pitching necessary to catch the hit heavy Fish in the N.L. East. The 4-2 victory had to be one of the most satisfying of the year, marking the continued comeback of Lannan and an exclamation point to Burnett’s continued mastery (2.72 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 43 innings). “I just feel good out there,” Lannan said after the win. “I feel confident with my stuff. I spent time down [in Double-A] trying to get my two-seam [fastball] back, getting in good position to hide my ball more and being more deceptive. It still is going to get better.” The Nats continue their series against the Showboats on Saturday night, when a struggling Jason Marquis will go to the mound.

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: The last Stephen Strasburg outing against the Marlins was unusual in at least three respects. The first is that the stands weren’t full — as they usually are when “the kid” pitches. And it was noticed. “Where the hell is everyone?” There was no answer, but at least one grumpy sigh. “Maybe that other team is playing tonight.” The point was rhetorical — they weren’t . . . The second is that Strasburg did poorly, a disappointment and a distinct surprise for the 25,000-plus who did show. “Amazing,” a Strasburg partisan noted . . . The third seems almost immoral (or perhaps simply disloyal): Strasburg’s early exit against the Marlins spurred an early exit for Nats fans. “It’s not that Strasburg is done,” a Section 1-2-9 loyalist announced while getting up from his seat and averting his eyes, “it’s just that I’ve been here before — I’ve seen him” — and there was a quick nod to Miguel Batista, warming up on the mound . . .

In fact, Batista has been exactly what skipper Riggleman said he would be: an innings eater who can pitch more than three frames per stint. That is to say, his heroism in subbing for “the kid” against Atlanta at the end of July has been quickly forgotten. “Yeah, I loved that,” a season holder noted, “but that was then and this is now. And right now I’m thinking that we need something longer term than ‘Miss Iowa'” . . . “Geeeez,” another said, in referring to Strasburg’s inability to control his breaking stuff, “what the hell do you suppose is wrong?” There was silence for only a heartbeat. “There isn’t anything wrong, it’s just a bad outing. We need to be patient. A career is a long time. There’s going to be bad outings.” The same might be said of the entire team. When the Nats failed to get to Ricky Nolasco (with Livan pitching), there was a palpable discomfort among the section’s more vocal partisans. “So much for 3-4-5,” a fan said, referring to the Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham combination. “This guy [Nolasco] isn’t exactly Cy Young.”

Fish Wrap

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The Washington Nationals loss to the Florida Marlins on Tuesday was yet another example of the Nats’ good-news-bad-news season. The good news is that Stephen Strasburg is healthy, the bad news is that the Florida Marlins roughed up “the kid” — who lasted just 4.1 innings in his worst outing of the year. If that comment seems unfair, it’s only because it is: while Nats fans have expected a stellar outing whenever Strasburg steps on the mound, the simple truth is that any old 22-year-old phenom can get hit, as can any Hall of Famer or Cy Young winner. Strasburg is not the only very good pitcher who, after trying out his best stuff, finds himself tramping to the dugout. That said, there are reasons for Strasburg’s indifferent outing on Tuesday. Reasons. Not excuses.

Strasburg had not pitched in three weeks and, in the wake of his activation from the D.L. was not given the luxury of a rehab start in Triple-A. It was Strasburg who said it best: “Everybody is human. They are going to have these days sooner or later,” he said after the game. “I’m a little disappointed in myself, because I really went out there not focusing on the one thing that you really have to focus on: Just going out there and competing, and going with what you had. I spent the whole time worrying about trying to fix what was going wrong instead of just letting it go — just throwing the ball.”

And credit the Marlins. If Hanley Ramirez were to spend his career playing only the Nationals he’d be the next Stan Musial, while Dan Uggla hit the pitches he wanted (mostly up-in-the-zone fastballs that went wicked fahhh). The barrage, when coupled with 6.2 innings from a tough Anibal Sanchez and nearly spotless Fish relief spelled the difference. Oh, and the failure of Nationals’ hitters to take advantage of the few chances they had to score runs. Most disturbing of all, perhaps, is Josh Willingham’s continued drought, a slump that has now reached epic proportions. Willingham was 0-3 with a strikeout; his down-the-drain average is at .262, his power numbers plunging. The slump hasn’t really lasted all that long — only since June.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: You’d have to be an insensitive lout to not be overtaken by the emotion of Andre Dawson’s appearance at Nationals Park on Tuesday. The former Expos great teared up during his induction into the newly inaugurated Ring Of Honor — as good an idea as the Nationals front office has had since the hiring of Mike Rizzo. Dawson was joined by former Expos catcher Gary Carter, who told MASN broadcasters Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble that he was honored by his name being included, but that the night was “really about Andre.” The Ring of Honor celebrates Hall of Fame inductees who played for the Montreal Expos (the home franchise team of the Nationals), the Washington Senators and the Homestead Grays of the old Negro League, who played their games in D.C. for many years. Those honored include Dawson, Carter, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Walter Johnson and Harmon Killebrew. You have to have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame to be considered — hence the non-inclusion (alas) of Washington Senators’ first baseman Mickey Vernon, perhaps the most deserving veteran who has not yet been voted into the shrine. So change the rules: Mickey’s name belongs on that ring.

Auctions and Auditions

Friday, August 6th, 2010

It is that time of year, when contending teams stock up for a final run to the flag and non-contenders send unsubtle signals to their players about their plans for the future. In Kansas City (for instance), the Royals designated Jose Guillen for assignment and signaled that they would be open to dealing him to a contending N.L. team, perhaps the San Francisco Giants. The message couldn’t be plainer: after their three year $36 million splurge on Guillen, the Royals are calling it quits on the outfielder, who’s on the brink of free agency. And if the Royals can’t find a taker? Well, Guillen is free to find work elsewhere. Guillen isn’t the only one on the hot seat. In Florida, Cody Ross is getting unmistakable signs that he’s not in the team’s future plans, while in Chicago, baseball yakkers say that Kosuke Fukudome is so unwanted that the Cubs will not only ship him out to a team that wants him, but will pay a large part of his remaining salary if only he will go elsewhere.

The Washington Nationals are sending signals of their own. On Thursday, the Nats placed Nyjer Morgan on the 15-day disabled list. The Nats’ center fielder wasn’t pleased: “”It [freaking] sucks,” Morgan said. “I feel fine. But, whatever.” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman ignored the comment, putting his best this-is-really-terrible face on the move. “I hope it’s just two weeks,” he said. It seems likely that Morgan, despite his protest, gets it; he might “feel fine,” but the Nats don’t. By putting Roger Bernadina (.277, 8 HRs) in center and Michael Morse (.330, 7 HRs), in right, the Nats are auditioning their 2011 outfield: which would be younger and more potent– a good outfield, sans Morgan. The same kind of a signal was sent by Riggleman to Jason Marquis, who was recently reactivated and is set to pitch in Los Angeles on Sunday. After a season of elbow woes (and surgery to remove bone chips), Mike Rizzo & Company would love to include Marquis in their future plans. But whether Marquis is around for 2011 is an open question. He wants to contribute,” Riggleman said. “If he’s the real Jason Marquis, the guy who is sinking the ball and getting ground balls and attacking hitters, he can really help us and be a part of our future.” And if not?

After splitting their four game series with the woeful D-Backs in Phoenix, the Nats are 14.5 games back in the N.L. East. While there’s no chance that they’ll contend for a playoff spot, the rest of the season is hardly a wash: the team will spend the rest of the current campaign auctioning and auditioning — the Morgan-to-the-D.L. move is just the beginning. And based on what the Nats are doing now, you have to believe the future is bright. While the team cannot overtake the Chops or Ponies, the underfunded and disappointing Fish and the New York Palookas are within striking distance. If the Marlins (losers of four straight) have a plan (except for stockpiling young arms), we can’t find it, while the listless New York Tailspins are beset by “anxiety” and regularly “mailing it in.” For the first time in three years, the Nationals have nowhere near the same set of problems. The team has moved younger and better hitters (Bernadina and Morse) into key spots and are days away from a series of “you’re going to Hollywood” bookings that will start with Marquis and continue with appearances by Jordan Zimmermann (below), Yunesky Maya, Wilson Ramos and (even) Danny Espinosa. Which is not even to mention the continuing American Idol-like tour of “the kid” — who is now slated to start against the Marlins on Tuesday. The news is good for Nats fans: a team that was so filled with hope in April will be filled with even more hope come September.

Willingham’s Gapper Lands Fish

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Josh Willingham’s sixth inning double into the gap in right center field scored three and the Washington Nationals went on to shut out the Florida Marlins, 4-0 on Saturday night in Miami. Starter Stephen Strasburg notched the win with six complete innings of four hit ball. Strasburg struggled in the first two innings of the game (attempting to pinpoint his uncooperative fastball) before settling down and registering seven strikeouts. Willingham’s gapper scored Nyjer Morgan, Cristian Guzman and Adam Dunn — accounting for three of the Nats’ four runs. Dunn just barely beat the throw home to account for the Nats third run. Nats reliever Drew Storen kept the Marlins at bay in the 7th and 8th innings, while Matt Capps closed out the game in the 9th. This was the team’s first shutout since the Nats subdued the Dodgers on April 25, 1-0.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We must be getting close to the trading deadline. Ray Knight subbed for Rob Dibble in the MASN booth and immediately focused his attention on the top of the Nats’ order — noting the poor on base percentages of Nats leadoff man Nyjer Morgan (.313) and number two hitter Cristian Guzman (.342). Knight mentioned the lack of production in the number one and two spots no less than four times during the game; at one point Knight went on at length about the poor OBP performance of the Morgan-Guzman tandem while a MASN camera lingered on the two in the dugout. In the 9th, when Alberto Gonzalez replaced Guzman at second, Knight pointedly gave his opinion of the shift: “Gonzalez is the best defensive infielder on the team after Zimmerman,” he said. As if to celebrate this notice, Gonzalez registered the third out with a circus snag of a hot up-the-middle grounder to end the game . . .

Jim Riggleman was in a semi-permanent snit during the Nats 4-0 win against the Marlins, the apparent result of missed signs, missed bunts and indifferent fielding. His patience might be running out — a sure sign that changes are in the offing. But what kind of changes? Moving Guzman will be difficult (he’s a 10-5 player, so can veto a trade) and he’s owed a chunk of money. And it’s not clear that the Nats are sold on Gonzalez at second — Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson sure isn’t: “I will tell you that Gonzalez is not the answer,” he wrote in a recent column. “He was given a chance last year and didn’t do a good job. He stopped hitting and wasn’t very good defensively. I think he is a very good utility player. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I feel about Gonzalez.”

The CFG team doesn’t agree even a little bit with Ladson, but there are a lot of people who do: Gonzalez was the target of widespread fan grumbling during the ’09 campaign and only really started to hit in September, when it was too late. And while Gonzalez is good defensively (or even very good), he’s not a top-of-the-order guy (his OBP stands at .333, about the same as Guzman’s). Of course, none of that may matter now: the Nats are the poorest defensive team in the NL and the front office is desperate to find a way to stop the bleeding. Guzman is popular and when he could have sulked in April (when Ian Desmond replaced him at short), he sucked it up and dedicated himself to team play. Even so, Rizzo-Riggleman & Company have to do something and, since they’re not going to sit Desmond (and why should they?), Alberto’s time may have come. It’s overdue.

Alberto Gonzalez #12 of the Washington Nationals hits a two run RBI against the Florida Marlins during their MLB game on August 6, 2009 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.

Hanley’s Team

Friday, July 16th, 2010

There’s something in each of us that doesn’t like a showboat. Muhammad Ali had a hard time catching on back in the early ’60s for precisely this reason and it’s why I never took to Eric Byrnes — who made several ostentatious attempts to collide with walls in pursuing deep fly balls. He once flapped his arms going backwards, just to show how hard he’d hit the bricks. Puh-leeeez. But, for some reason, showboating never bothered me when it came to Ricky Henderson or Mickey Rivers. And it doesn’t bother me when it comes to Mannywood either, though his case is a little different: Manny isn’t a showboat because he plays hard all the time and in every situation, but because he doesn’t. You can think of dozens of similar examples: I couldn’t stand Pete Rose’s “Charlie Hustle” routine, but loved it when Mark Fidrych sprinted off the mound. Fidrych was believable, Rose was showing off. Then too, I would have hated it if, say, Will Smith had done backflips at shortstop, but Ozzie Smith? Not so much.

Now then for the case of Hanley Ramirez, who is not only the most talented shortstop in the N.L., but probably the best shortstop in the N.L. Ramirez is as far from a showboat as possible, but he’s been accused of “dogging it” during games — which is widely interpreted by baseball pundits as hinting that he thinks he’s more important than the guys around him. That is, he’s a kind of showboat in reverse, an Eric Byrnes at half speed, a Mannywood of Miami. Back during the third week of May, for instance, Ramirez ran at half speed to first on an infield hit and then, the next day, he booted a ball and trotted after it . . . and after it . . . and after it. Fredi Gonzalez, the then-manager of the Marlins had had enough. He benched Ramirez and told him to apologize to the team. Cameron Maybin, Wes Helms and Dan Uggla all thought that would be a good idea. Ramirez refused. The situation was apparently cleared up after two days of sullen silence, when Fredi and Hanley “cleared the air.” Five weeks later, Gonzalez was gone.

While Ramirez has always claimed that his dust up with Gonzalez had nothing to do with his firing, you have to wonder. The Marlins have been down in the standings before and stuck with their manager. And Gonzalez was universally viewed as a top baseball strategist, all-around good guy and friend of the owner. In the end it didn’t matter. Just days after the firing, Bobby Valentine (another friend of the owner) was rumored as his “sure thing” replacement — but that never panned out. Was Valentine deep-sixed because of his view of the Ramirez situation? We can just imagine Valentine’s interview with fish owner Jeff Loria. “Hey Bobby, would you have benched Ramirez for not hustling?” And Bobby’s smiling answer: “You damn right.” The owner nods, squints, fiddles with the things on his desk and then gets up from his chair. “Thanks for coming.” As for Cameron Maybin, Wes Helms and Dan Uggla — well, they’re either headed back to the minors or they’re headed out of town.

Uncomfortable as it is, and as hard as it is to swallow, Hanley Ramirez probably has this right: he’s the best player on the team and maybe even in the NL East. And therefore (therefore), the rules that apply to Maybin, Helms and Uggla shouldn’t be applied to him. In fact, that’s what he said when asked if he’d lost respect for Gonzalez after he was benched. Yeah, he said. A little bit. “We got 24 more guys out there. Hopefully they can do the same things I can do. They’re wearing the Marlins uniform.” Here’s a rough translation: all baseball players are equal, but some are more equal than others. Or perhaps this — if you want to bench someone for dogging it, do it to a player who’s hitting .225. If Casey Stengel had actually benched Mickey Mantle for showing up for a game with a hangover (or worse), who do you think would have been out the door? And don’t claim that Hanley Ramirez is no Mickey Mantle. That’s not the point. The point is that Casey would never have benched Mantle. Ever. Because Casey knew what Gonzalez didn’t: managers don’t win batting titles.

Nats, Capps Defrock Friars

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Matt Capps pitched out of a based loaded jam in the ninth inning to preserve a Washington Nationals and John Lannan win in San Diego, 5-3. The victory marked an all-the-way back start for the Washington mainstay, who had his best outing of the year — a seven inning, seven hit semi-gem that fed off the Friar’s lack of power and Washington’s ability to put the ball in the seats. Josh Willingham began the Washington scoring with a three run top-of-the-fourth dinger off of starter Clayton Richard, who held the Nats to four hits. Ian Desmond went 2-4 for the night, which included his fourth homer, a solo shot in the seventh. The game’s comic interlude was provided by San Diego, which filled out its staring line-up card incorrectly, spurring the Nats to play the game under protest. But the protest was dropped by the Nats front office after the win.

While Richard could not stop Washington’s long ball, San Diego manager Bud Black named closer Matt Capps as the difference in the game. Capps struck out two and then induced a ground ball to pitch out of the ninth inning jam. “That was a tough one for Capps, and he got it done,” Black said following the San Diego loss. “He’s pitched well. He has that in him. We had some good swings, but we just didn’t connect. We got it in position with those four hits there in the ninth, but it just didn’t turn out.” Capps register his 17th save, throwing 24 pitches, 17 for strikes. His ERA now stands at 2.96. The Nats face off against the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego in a Saturday night game that will feature recently recalled Nats Triple-A pitcher (and spot starter in 2009), J.D. Martin against young Friar hurler Mat Latos.

Waiting For Strasburg Stanton: While Washington fans speculate endlessly about just when Stephen Strasburg will make his debut in the Bigs, Fish Fans are all agog about Michael Stanton — “the next big thing” in Florida. While Stanton (more properly, Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton) was hardly judged a “phenom” when he was drafted in the second round (79th overall) of the 2007 draft, his semi-meteoric rise through the Marlins farm system (he’s now at Double-A Jacksonville) has been accompanied by a breathtaking display of power. Back on May 6, one of Stanton’s towering drives in Montgomery not only cleared the centerfield wall, it sailed effortlessly over the 95 foot scoreboard behind it. Stanton’s teammates immediately engaged in speculation about whether the ball would ever be found — it wasn’t.

The Marlins clearly know what they have, fueling speculation about just when Stanton will appear — and what kind of difference he’ll make when he does. The excitement is not confined to the front office: when not waiting for Hanley’s next tantrum, the Uggla-Cantu Fins are twittering about Stanton’s prodigious shots. This is not all hype: through his first 38 games this year (albeit, at Jacksonville), Stanton is hitting .310 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs with a .447 on-base percentage. He leads the minors in just about everything having to do with hitting. There’s no reason to think this won’t continue with the big club, when he’s called up sometime in June. He’s “Florida big,” following the Marlins’ tradition of drafting tall ironman types that are more Ruth than Ripken.

Of course, Stanton’s arrival as “the next big thing” is highly anticipated by Marlins’ fans (here they are), in large part because the last big thing (Cameron Maybin) hasn’t worked out so well — and because, despite fielding a good team, Miami’s fans seem as unexcited as any team in baseball not named the Blue Jays. It’s no wonder then, that Marlins President Larry Beinfest channels Mike Rizzo when he talks about Stanton, giving cagey answers to reporters who hound him about Stanton’s prospective arrival. Beinfest knows what he’s doing — increasing speculation about just when Florida’s version of Jason Heyward will arrive at Landshark Stadium. Patience, patience, Beinfest says. Stanton justs needs to continue working on his game “and the rest will take care of itself.”

Fish Fall, Nats Take Series

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals nudged out yet another victory against the Florida Marlins, defeating the Fish at Nats Park on Sunday, 3-2. The game clinched the series for the Nationals, who took two of three. The hero of the game was Josh Willingham, whose home run in the eighth inning was the difference in the win. Livan Hernandez, who is now the ace of the staff, pitched seven solid innings, giving up only one earned run. But Hernandez didn’t notch the win: reliever Tyler Clippard (usually perfect in such relief situations) gave up the tying run to the Marlins in the top of the eighth. So while Clippard was assessed a blown save (his fourth), he was credited with the win — bringing his record to an unlikely 6-0. After Willingham’s homer put the Nats ahead, Matt Capps came on (in the ninth), to get his 13th save in as many tries. The Nats are starting to learn how to win one-run games. “I think our players feel like if we’re close, we’ve got a chance to win the ballgame,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “We’ve got some real pros in there.”

Tyler Clippard’s sixth win without a loss (all in relief) reminded MASN baseball analyst Rob Dibble of the careers of two MLB relief specialists: Ahoy legend Elroy Face and Red Sox boxcar Dick Radatz. Though only time will tell, the comparison is fair for Face (spindly and bespectacled, like Clippard) much less so for Radatz. Face was 18-1 for the ’59 Pirates (the team finished only two games over .500), while Radatz (who lasted all of six years in the majors) was 15-6 for the ’63 Red Sox. Both were relief specialists, wracking up unlikely victories for average clubs. Otherwise the two were entirely different. Face was a legend, setting the standard for what a closer can be in fifteen stellar seasons for the Clementes. He led all of baseball in relief pitching numbers for nearly two decades. In 1960, Face saved three games in the Pirates series against the Yankees (won by the Pirates in a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski). “The Moose” Radatz’s short career was meteoric — he won two Fireman of the Year awards and was feared for his 95 mph fastball. In a game in 1963 he came in with the bases loaded and struck out (in order), Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. But in 1965 he injured his shoulder and lost the edge on his fastball. After retiring, Face became a carpenter in Pennsylvania. Radatz lived at his home in Easton, Massachusetts where, in 2005, he fell down a stairway and suffered a life-ending concussion.

What My Buddies Said During Friday Night’s Game: Me Droogs, Willy and Mikey (here they are), were my row-mates during the Nats Friday night loss to the Marlins, commenting on the team and baseball. “God, these guys  stink,” Willy said in the bottom of the third. I was offended: “what the hell are you talking about? They’re young, they’re tough, Stammen is a comer. For God Sakes Man, give-em-a-chance.” I tried to move away from him. He rolled his eyes: “No, not these guys,” he said. “Those guys . . .” and he gestured towards the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Yankees had just posted a nine-spot against his beloved Red Sox. I shrugged: “Oh yeah,” I said. “God, that’s awful. I feel terrible.” The Red Sox are 16-16 on the year. The Nats are 17-14. Enjoy it while you can . . . The scintillating conversation continued. “How many balls do you think they use during a game?” Mikey asked. I thought for a minute: “I hear they start with  72.” He nodded: “That’s six dozen.” Mikey’s no slouch: he graduated from college. After the game he sent me a link, which quoted a Pirates clubhouse assistant as saying the Pirates go through about 120 baseballs per game. The league office, I subsequently learned, asks each team to provide 90 new balls for each game. According to Major League Baseball, between five and six dozen balls are used during a game . . .

“Who’s this guy?” Willy asked during the 8th. I looked out at the Florida reliever. “Renyel Pinto,” I said. “Sneaky quick with a fastball that comes up in the zone. He’s not bad.” Willy nodded: “He looks like Sid Fernandez.” Mikey shook his head. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile.” Willy referenced The Book Of Bad Baseball Memories he keeps in his head: “He pitched the seventh game of the ’86 Series,” he said. “When the Red Sox lost to the Mets.” I harumphed: my God, these Sox fans. It’s like listening to a Believer talk about Lourdes. “I’m right,” he said. “Look it up.” I did. Charles Sidney Fernandez pitched ten years for the Apples, before moving on to Philadelphia, Houston and Baltimore. He developed arm problems after his stint in New York and, after a valiant effort spent at resuscitating his career, retired from the game in 1997. He posted a career 114-96 record — almost all of his games in New York. Fernandez pitched games five and seven of the ’86 Series (an afterthought for “The Nation,” which regularly relives Bill Buckner’s through-the-legs error of Game Six) but the game seven winner was Roger McDowell. Here was the Mets starting staff for the series: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Roger McDowell, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez. Don’t kid yourself, the Chokes wish they had them now . . .

From time to time I get seats in Section 128, just behind the Nats dugout and just to the right of the netting that protects the fans (or, “potential victims” as I all them) from foul balls. We were in the fourth row. Our usher says the same thing at the beginning of every game. “Pay attention Section 128, these foul balls come mighty fast. You have to watch every single pitch.” And then he adds: “Enjoy the game.” In the seventh inning a man and his son (who must have been about 13) moved down to the row in front of us. You could just tell, this kid was thrilled. I leaned forward: “If one of these balls comes streaking this way at about 125 mph, I expect you to catch it,” I said. “Because I’m not going to.” The boy looked at his father, who laughed. “He’s kidding,” he said.

No, actually, I wasn’t.