OH NO, NO NO-NO! (BUT ORTIZ CAME CLOSE)
[September 4th] -- I don't understand how this happens. Last month, Pedro Astacio spun a two-hit complete game shutout after getting pummeled for most of the season. He continued getting pummeled shortly thereafter. On Sunday, Ramon Ortiz, he of the 5.36 ERA, steps to the mound and comes within three outs of throwing the first no-hitter in the Majors since Randy Johnson two years ago. I assume that he'll start getting pummeled shortly as well.
But until then, wow. What a game.
I didn't even notice that anything special was occuring until the 7th inning. As usual, I was busy doing my homework in front of the computer while keeping an eye on the game on mlb.com. I did notice that the game was moving along at a brisk pace, but I didn't notice the no-hitter possibilities until the crowd gave him a large ovation as he walked off the mound. I wasn't holding out much hope, however, until his quick and effortless 1-2-3 8th inning. Things were looking good for only the 3rd no-hitter in Washington baseball history. I said to my son, "The Nationals have to get out of the bottom of the 8th quickly and with no distractions."
It took exactly one pitch for Ramon Ortiz to be distracted. Jorge Sosa, Atlanta's rotation savior last season (and this year's bust), threw a strike that Ortiz tomahawked deep over the left field fence for his first career home run and only his third extra-base hit. Ortiz pumped his fist like Ryan Zimmerman as he rounded first. A couple more hits, another run, a pitching change and twenty minutes later, Ortiz got hit with the double-whammy, a huge distraction, and time enough to cool down. So, I wasn't surprised when Aaron Miles looped Ortiz's 0-1 pitch into right-center field for a base hit, and I was half expecting Albert Pujols' long homer to left field. Too many distractions, too much time. That said, what a wonderful performance by a man who has given relatively few this summer.
Austin Kearns kept his magic bat alive, hitting a two-run home run off of Jason Marquis, his 22nd, and drove in his 77th and 78th of the season. Kudos for Kearns. A week ago, he had a .231 average since coming to the Nationals and had Nook Logan type power numbers. He's now hitting again, and with a strong September, could end the year somewhere near .270-27-75, solid production from a teams, any teams, number five hitter. I don't think his post-trade slump was necessarily a bad thing. He obviously didn't want to leave the Reds, his home town team, and I think there was a bit of "I'm better than Washington" arrogance playing out at RFK. He was humbled by his struggles, and perhaps now will be more of a "team" player. The first five hitters in the team's lineup are as good as it gets (unless you're the Yankees or Mets), and Kearns anchors that group, being the last real chance for the team to drive in runners. A strong Kearns makes a strong Nationals' team.
Frank Robinson announced that Nook Logan would be the team's everyday centerfielder for the rest of the year. From the sounds of it, it's as much finding out what Logan can do as it is telling Ryan Church that he continues to be the last option for the Nationals in center. There is still hints of a bad attitude and poor defense (though only two errors in 153 games as a National) coming from the shadows, and Frank sounded like he's grown weary of Church when he said, "I think we all have a feel for what he's capable of doing and what he's done. I think the jury is still out on him because of the lack of consistency and we probably have a decision to make on him this winter, and all of us feel like we've seen enough to make a pretty good sound decision on him one way or the other, whether he will be a part of this ballclub, going into the spring, or no." Now, let me get this straight. Jose Guillen has a long and sordid history of being a big jerk, probably the biggest jerk on seven different teams, but because he's a true home run threat, people just mutter under their breath about him, but Church, a deeply religious man still trying to find himself, is somehow a cancer that should be jettisoned from the team in favor of a singles-hitter who has proven throughout his career that he can b-a-r-e-l-y hit major league pitching? Sadly, I have no doubt that Church will play his last game as a National when this season comes to a close. Sad, really really sad.
Good job, Ramon. You almost got your 15 minutes of fame.
It's this type of stupidity that causes me to worry about the Nationals' future. Robinson says he "knows" what Church is capable of. How? He's never seen him play on a regular basis.