In the bottom of the 7th inning, sitting in the press box for the first game of the series against the Florida Marlins, someone mentioned that the crowd didn't seem to be very much into the game. The paid attendance had just been announced as 19,828 which, in a stadium which holds about 42,000 looks exactly like the small crowd it is.
There was a bigger problem. Josh Willingham, leading off for the Nationals, popped out to first. Willingham had been the last National to reach base which had been in the bottom of the 1st, an hour-and-a-half earlier.
One of the biggest cheers of the night was the first time long-time Nats first baseman, Nick Johnson came up to bat - as a Marlin - having been traded a week earlier.
The second biggest cheer of the night came when Thomas Jefferson stumbled during the Presidents' Race and landed face down in the grass; a tumble so inglorious that it made the in-game highlight tape.
By the end of the 7th the Marlins pitcher had retired every batter he had faced since there was one out in the opening frame. The tally stood at 20 Nats in-a-row who had come up to the plate and 20-in-a-row who had failed to get on base.
The reason for drilling down into that one inning is to, unhappily, make the point that not much has changed for the Nats since the All Star break when they fired manager Manny Acta and replaced him with acting manager Jim Riggleman.S-T-O-P
All right, this is the danger of writing a column at the end of the 7th inning. In the bottom of the 8th, trailing four-zip the Nationals rallied with three singles, a double and an infield out to close the gap to 4-3, with one out and a man on third. The crowd was standing and cheering.
Shortstop Christian Guzman stepped in. The infield was playing on the edge of the grass to cut off the run with a play at the plate if Guzman hit a grounder. He worked the count to 3-2 and then smacked a single between the drawn in infielders to right field to score the tying run. The crowd went wild.
The very same Josh Willingham who started this column came up and popped out to first in foul territory. [I am typing this in real time as I am watching the action] That brought up Adam "27-Home-Runs-So-Far-This-Year" Dunn who had struck out three times in his previous at-bats. On a 3-2 pitch Dunn parked an opposite field homer into the left field stands to give the Nats a 6-4 lead. The crowd was delirious.
Which only goes to prove that old baseball adage: "If you're going to get 8 hits in game, it's good to get six of them in the same inning."
In the top of the ninth, the Nationals put in their defensive team and brought in their closer, Mike McDougal who, after putting two on with one out got Jeremy Hermida to ground into a double play to end the game.
The crowd stood and roared as the home team slapped hands in the middle of the diamond and then went home happy.
What a game, this baseball. What a game.
-- Rich Galen