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Guillen, Chief, Star But Church Saves Day With Acrobatic Catch

[June 22nd]For all the home runs and dazzling defensive plays, it was one little single late in the game that made all the difference between a disappointing road trip and a successful one.

Brian Schneider, left in the game to bat against a lefty relief pitcher, plunked a two strike pitch the other way into left-center field to score Ryan Church from 2nd base. All the other heroics wouldn't have mattered had Schneider not come through.

OK. Now to the cool stuff.

The Nationals are finally, finally beginning to realize that the game begins in the first inning. After scoring in the first inning in the first two games of the series, Jose Guillen stepped to the plate against Josh Fogg. Strike one. Strike two. Instead of wasting a pitch, Fogg threw a fastball down the middle and the former Pirate hit it deep over the left-center field fence. A Ryan Church double scored Nick Johnson and it was 2-0 going into the bottom of the first. I ran to the bath room. I came back. It was 3-2 Pirates. Jason Bay, the former Nationals minor league prospect, homered deep to left, and Rob Mackowiak followed with a 470 foot drive than landed in the Allegheny River. Ouch. Matt Lawton continued the long ball barrage with a deep bomb of his own in the 2nd. However, that was it for the Pirates. They were shut out the rest of the way by John Patterson, Hector Carrasco and Chad Cordero.

The Nats tied the game in the 5th on a very interesting play. With Jose Guillen on first and Jamie Carroll on 3rd, Josh Fogg picked off Guillen and the Pirates got him in a run down. They did everything perfectly. That is, besides forgetting Carroll at 3rd. The diminutive infielder scampered home before Guillen was tagged out to tie the game. Schneider's bloop single in the 8th scored the winning run for the final 5-4 score.

Jose Guillen went 4-5 with two homers and ended the series 8-14 with 4 home runs. Guillen now has 15 home runs for the year. Junior Spivey went 2-2 and is showing signs of life at the plate, although his 67 strikeouts for the season is 4th in the league and just a few behind second place Brad Wilkerson. It looks like Cristian Guzman's 2nd hitting streak is over as he went 2-12 against the Pirates. Carlos Baerga got another pinch hit and is beginnng to show me that he has a real talent for bench work. Wilkerson, Carroll and Guzman had "ofers."

John Patterson. Sigh. John Patterson. I'm ready to finally admit that he isn't as good as his numbers suggested early in the season. I think he's a 14-12, 3.75 type of pitcher, good for a number 3 pitcher, but not for the #2 guy in the rotation. If the Nationals have any hope of staying in the hunt for the NL East title, they have to got another arm, and I don't think there is one available, especially at our price range.

Yes, another one run victory. I'm proud of the boys for getting out of one nasty jam in the 7th inning. With the bases loaded, Carrasco got Tike Redmond to ground to Nick Johnson, who threw home to get the 2nd out of the inning. He then struck out Jason Bay to end the inning.


But none of this would have made a bit of difference if Ryan Church hadn't finished the game with 2 out in the 9th inning. After two easy outs, Humberto Cota slammed a deep fly to left that at first glance looked like it was heading out. Church sprinted towards the wall, and while battling the sun, twisted back across his body and snatched the ball inches in front of the fence. That ball should have been a double, possibly and triple, and who knows what might have happened.

After losing to the Pirates Tuesday night, I felt the "doubts" creeping back at me. You know, we've all felt them: "No way the Nats can keep this up." They proved me wrong again. They went 5-4 on this road trip, winning two of the three series. They now return home to play the Blue Jays, and have the opportunity to give Toronto some "payback" for their last series.

Wow. The beat goes on.


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