Games » Washington NationalsJun23
Games like this are the reason I’m a baseball fan. Veteran pitcher against rookie sensation, mistakes, great plays, close calls, lots of strategy and a nail-biting 1-0 finish. Easily the best game I’ve seen all year.
Where to begin?
OK, you shouldn’t be surprised the Royals are the first team to beat Stephen Strasburg. Their lack of power actually helped. Power swings are bigger and longer, contact swings are shorter and quicker. When a pitcher has a 90-mph change-up…let me write that again…A 90-MPH CHANGE-UP!…the hitter just wants to make contact and let the pitcher supply the power. A singles-hitting team probably had the best chance against Strasburg, and the Royals got nine hits, five more than any other team so far.
Brian Bannister got back on track and did it under pressure. He changed speeds, had good movement on the ball and located it down in the zone.
Just to prove my point…
Bannister’s movement and location frequently had the balls in the dirt. Without Jason Kendall behind the plate, this could’ve been a mess.
In the second inning, Brian struck out Josh Willingham but had to throw two pitches in the dirt to do it. Jason blocked both to keep Adam Dunn at first. Next Ivan Rodriguez hit into a 1-6-3 double play to get out of the inning. That wouldn’t have been possible if either pitch had gotten by Kendall.
In the fifth, with Willingham on third, Jason blocked three pitches in the dirt while Bannister was striking out Adam Kennedy. If Bannister doesn’t trust Kendall, he can’t throw those pitches.
In the sixth, Jason blocked another pitch in the dirt that kept Roger Bernadina at second. Otherwise, Bernadina would’ve been on third and scored when Adam Dunn hit his single. Because of Kendall, Bernadina was still on second, which allowed Jose Guillen to throw him out at the plate…(OK, he was probably safe, but if all those outside pitches were strikes, Roger Bernadina was out)…and Kendall made another great play to corral the off-line throw and get back to the plate. (He got outstanding plays for the three blocks with a runner on third and the tag at the plate.)
This game shows exactly why I’d want Jason Kendall behind the plate even if he hit like me at it. If you kept count, that was six blocks in one game; two kept a double play in order and the four others preserved the lead and allowed the Royals to win.
According to my records, that’s five games won by a single run in which Jason Kendall blocked a pitch with a runner on third. If he’d hit five home runs to win one-run games, everyone would be saying what a clutch player he is, but because he does it on defense, it goes largely unnoticed.
I’ve been critical of Guillen’s range in the outfield (and still am…I think it’s only a matter of time before he doesn’t get to a ball others would), but I should also say he’s caught everything he’s reached. And without his arm in right, the Royals might not have won this game.
Watch closely when the pitcher gets to a 2-2 count. This is probably his last chance to throw a pitch with a lot of movement that may end up out of the zone. If the count goes to 3-2, the pitcher will have to throw a strike and that probably means a fastball.
It was a judgment call, so I didn’t give it a mental mistake, but Billy probably made the wrong choice on a play with no outs in the fifth. Willingham was on third and running the “contact play” (the runner breaks for home on a ball hit with “down angle”). The ball was hit to Billy, and he had Willingham halfway between third and home. Billy chose to take the out at first (and did prevent the run from scoring), but he probably should’ve abandoned first and run at Willingham, forcing him into a rundown.
All’s well that ends well, but I’d rather not have to rely on Bannister striking out the next batter to preserve the lead.