Every year when I cover the Cardinals in our Nations’ Capital, I stay with my friend Trace Wood and his family. Trace is a good friend and a fine baseball writer and as such, it gives me another reason to anticipate this trip.
Yet I feel badly that I head off to the ballpark every day when here while Trace remains home, following a number of games simultaneously on MLB Extra Innings.
Even before my laptop’s monitor died on this trip, I suggested to Trace that we attend one of the four-game series as fans. That would allow us to talk more baseball together.
The designated day was today, Saturday, made even more appropriate given my machine malfunction made working at the ballpark impossible anyway. (OK, so I did take my camera with me and will share those shots once I am back to equipment normalcy.)
As we approached Nationals Park, Trace pointed out an underpass and street where parts of the Peter Sellers movie Being There were filmed. The lead character, Chance the Gardener, a.k.a. Chauncey Gardiner is one of my all-time favorites, hence this post’s title.
As it has all three games so far, rain threatened, but stayed away. While warm and humid, the cloudy skies kept the temperature bearable.
If only Saturday’s game had been as pleasant.
We sat in the third row, between the screen behind home plate and the Nationals dugout – excellent seats. It also afforded me a clear view into the Cardinals dugout.
Other than Albert Pujols and injured Khalil Greene, the Cards sent out their best men into battle. Chris Duncan moved to his “natural” position, first base, while Colby Rasmus manned left.
It was Hispanic Heritage Day at the park. I found it most coincidentally interesting that the battery was Joel Pineiro and Yadier Molina with Angel Hernandez the home plate umpire. Of course, many more Hispanic players competed in the game.
Among those seated in the $375 per person Lexus Champions seats right behind home plate was former Cardinal Bobby Bonilla, now an exec with the MLB Players Association. He shared a long conversation with Nats employee and former Blue Jays outfielder Devon White. White’s Toronto World Series ring was most visible.
The story of the game was starting pitcher Shairon Martis of the Nats, who first came into prominence when pitching a no-hitter in the 2006 World Baseball Classic for the Netherlands.
This game was all about the fifth inning.
Relying almost exclusively on a changeup and a fastball that topped out at 93 mph, Martis had pitched 4 2/3 perfect innings before Yadier Molina shot a clean single up the middle.
In the bottom of the inning, Molina made a stellar defensive play on a bunt by Martis. Yadi fired to second, nailing the runner Anderson Hernandez. Shortstop Brian Barden did a great job holding on after the hard, but clean slide.
Still in the fifth, Nick Johnson blasted a ball to deep center. Rick Ankiel had trouble adjusting to the slice as he ran full speed toward the track, Catching the ball to his left, then crashing into the wall, Ankiel was almost able to double the runner off first.
With two out, Ryan Zimmerman’s easy pop foul was dropped by Duncan. That opened the door for Adam Dunn’s three-run home run launched majestically into the second deck which gave the home team a four-run lead.
The Cards got onto the board with Colby Rasmus’ first career home run, a line drive shot that traveled as far as Dunn’s blast, though not as high. Sadly for the Cardinals, the bases were empty. It was on Martis’ first pitch of the seventh.
St. Louis had another chance in the eighth. With Joe Thurston on second, Khalil Greene pinch hit for Pineiro. The shortstop’s scorching liner to the left side was stabbed and turned into a double play.
Austin Kearns had a triple in the bottom of the inning off P.J. Walters as Ankiel inadvisably dived at a ball he couldn’t have reached. The ball rolled to the wall, giving Kearns another base. The runner on first scored easily. Kearns scored on an Anderson Hernandez single afterward.
By my count, the game would have been 2-1 with a better defensive showing. The three runs following Duncan’s drop were unearned and the second of the runs charged to Walters could have been avoided.
Still, you have to tip your cap to Martis. Despite only having two pitches working, he tossed the first complete game by a Nats pitcher since August 2006. Martis fanned six and walked no one in his 110-pitch gem.
Played in just two hours, seven minutes, despite its outcome, I liked to watch.