This time it's Section 217Club Level at Nationals Park in DC. I went here twice last summer. Saw the Nats lose badly to the Phillies and lose badly to the Mets.
This year it was the Red Sox. My friend Charlie Sislen invited me to see the Sox first appearance in DC since 1971. Boston had already won the series, taking the first two games. Game 3 was in Thursday night, and John Smoltz was making his Red Sox debut after 20 seasons with the Braves.
First in war....
The Nationals, firmly holding on to the worst record in the majors, have been doing their best to live up to the legend of the old Washington Senators - both the first edition (1901-1960, now the Minnesota Twins) and the second (1961-1971, now the Texas Rangers). The oft-repeated slogan, "Washington...first in war, first in peace, last in the Amercan League" was all too true. The last time Washingtion had a team without a losing record was 40 years ago...the 1969 Senators. Before that it was 1952, the original Senators. 1st baseman Mickey Vernon, as nice a guy as you'd ever want to meet, won his second AL Batting Championship that year.
Back to the Future.
Last Thursday. When I went to Nationals Park last summer there were billboards and signs galore about a new development -Half Street - directly across from the main ballpark entrance. Offices, shops, condos....it was to be like Patriot Place. Opening Spring 2009. Eleven months later, June 2009, ground had yet to be broken.
Inside it looked as great as any new ballpark. As we walked in I couldn't help noticing that about half of the fans had Red Sox hats, shirts or other apparrel. Myself included. I had on my well-worn traditional blue cap and a tasteful blue polo with the red hanging sox logo. None of the loud obnoxious stuff that Yankee fans tend to wear on the road. All three games were sellouts, with Thursday as the biggest crowd ever at Nationals Park...41,900. Average attendance there is about 21,000.
In the club level there are many cuisine choices, but we went directly to the Ben's Chili Bowl stand. Ben's is a DC tradition, and I'm a big believer in ordering local cusisine.
Top of the 1st is a 1-2-3 inning for Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. Bottom one, John Smoltz starts it off with a grounder to Ortiz at 1st. 3U. Then he hits Nick Johnson on the foot (Johnson's back foot was practically on home plate), gives up a double to Ryan Zimmerman, walks Adam Dunn (a big home run threat but also a huge strikeout threat) to load the bases. Josh Willingham singles in a run. 1-0 Nats. Former Sox backup catcher Josh Bard (two stints trying to catch Tim Wakefield - neither one successful) singles down the 1st base line. The ball eludes Ortiz' glove by about two inches. Youk would have had it without breaking a sweat, even in the 90-degree DC heat. Probably could have turned an inning-ending 3-2-3 double-play. But no, it goes into right field and the score is 2-0. Bases re-loaded. Line drive to right, caught by Drew, two outs, then a single to left scoring two more runs. End of one, it's 4-0 Nationals, and John Smoltz, with a career ERA around 3.10, sits at 54.00.
After a 1-2-3- second, Washington gets a fifth run in the 3rd with a double followed by another grounder to first that Ortiz can't handle. Smoltz has a 1-2-3- fourth and a 1-2-3 fifth, then yielded to Daniel Bard. Bard gives up a two-run single that goes right down the first base line and Ortiz again can't get to it. Two runs score. and it's 7-1. Two batters later there's a Josh Bard homer and it's 9-1. Final was 9-3 after Rocco Baldelli homered in the 9th with one on. Too little, too late.
The 54.00 dropped to 9.00.My point is that Smoltz was nowhere near as bad as the line score makes it look (the ERA did drop from 54.00 to 9.00 by the fifth inning), and that four (possibly five) of those nine runs wouldn't have scored if Youk had been playing 1st base. We all love Big Papi, but why sit Youk? He has more home runs, more RBI, is batting about a hundred points higher than Ortiz, and is a Gold Glove 1st baseman. Papi went 0 for 4 in that game and, while not horrible, is certainly no Yoooouk as a 1st baseman.
Despite the score, it was a fun time, and Washington fans have suffered much more then we ever did pre-2004. A home-field win against Boston - especially after taking 2 of 3 from both Toronto and the Yankees - gave them a glimmer of hope...despite being 17 games out in the NL East with 50 losses already.