RFK: Thanks for the memories; Nats acquire Lefave from Brewers as PTBN
Small bit of news to start: The player to be named in the Ray King-to-Milwaukee trade of Sept. 4 is South Atlantic League batting champ Andrew Lefave, a 1B/OF. He hit .345 with 17 homers and 25 doubles for Class A West Virginia this season. Among minor league players with at least 350 at-bats, he ranked second in batting average this year. Lefave, 23, was a non-drafted free agent who signed with the Brewers last year. This gives them a first baseman for Class AA Harrisburg next year, potentially, if Josh Whitesell moves up to Class AAA Columbus.
So those of you who stopped by the chat the other day know I posed this question there, but I think it'd be a particularly good topic for today - and for this group.
Tonight, the final baseball homestand at RFK Stadium begins, 10 games against the Braves, Phillies and Mets - all technically, I suppose, still in the playoff race. The players' feelings about the place were outlined here in the $.35 edition, but I suspect some folks around here have some more romantic notions. (In case you didn't see it, the Nationals would like to usher in their new stadium in grand fashion on national TV.)
How many of you went to games at RFK before it was RFK, back when it was D.C. Stadium? How many of you went to Senators games there in the late 60s and early 70s?
Chime in with that. But I'll also give you my top five RFK moments from the last three seasons, the time since baseball returned to Washington. See if they match yours - and if not, offer alternatives.
5. Ortiz nearly no-hits Cardinals, hits homer, Sept. 4, 2006 - I don't think I've really discussed what a good guy Ramon Ortiz was. Always a smile on his face, and despite being a mediocre pitcher, a competitor. The guy really worked at it. He was just a bit of a spaz.
That day, Labor Day, a year ago was pretty special. He spent most of it shaking off catcher Brian Schneider, going into the ninth inning with a no-hitter. He drilled a homer in the eighth, the first of his career, and that may have actually cost him the no-hitter, because he flew around the bases. When that ball left the park, GM Jim Bowden began throwing pieces of paper out of the window of his box - throwing up his hands at the absurdity of it all. Aaron Miles broke up the bid with a clean, leadoff single in the ninth. He was erased on a double play, and Albert Pujols hit a homer that drove Ortiz from the game.
How unexpected was this: In his previous four starts, Ortiz was 0-3 with a 11.42 ERA. His ERA of 7.50 that August was the second-worst of any starter in baseball. But as Ortiz would say, "It's crazy, man."
4. 13-game homestand, May 30-June 12, 2005 - The Nationals salvaged the finale of a three-game series in St. Louis the day before (Livan Hernandez beating Chris Carpenter), and staggered home after a 2-7 road trip. They sat exactly at .500, 25-25, 50 games into their first season here.
What happened next couldn't have been forecast. The club went on an absolute tear, taking three of four from the Braves to start the homestand - then didn't lose the rest of it. They went 12-1, sweeping, in order, the Marlins, A's and Mariners. Their only loss during the stand was 5-4 to John Smoltz. Seven of the wins were by one run. Among the victorious pitchers - Tomo Ohka, Hector Carrasco, Sunny Kim, Tony Armas Jr., Esteban Loaiza - and, in an indication of how many late-inning comebacks there were, four for Luis Ayala. That began a remarkable June in which they went 20-6, seized first place in the NL East - and immediately preceded the trip to Anaheim to face the Angels, when Frank Robinson and Mike Scioscia went toe-to-toe (the series that I actually hold as the most memorable since baseball returned).
3. Night becomes morning, Sept. 28, 2006 - The Phillies and Nationals needed to play this game, the last of a three-game series, because Philadelphia was still in a pennant race and there were no more dates available on the calendar. So the teams waited out a 4-hour, 27-minute rain delay for first pitch - which came at 11:32 p.m. Washington fielded a lineup that included leadoff man Bernie Castro and left fielder George Lombard - yet beat the Phillies, 3-1. The game started on Ryan Zimmerman's 22nd birthday, but finished at 2:07 a.m. on the 29th. A bizarre sight at the end of the game, when there were only a few dozen fans left. The club allowed people who came to the park at midnight or so to come in for free. The Phillies, somehow, flew to Florida and beat the Marlins the following day.
2. Zimmerman walk-off homer beats Yankees, June 18, 2006 - The largest crowd to see a baseball game in Washington - 45,157 - was on hand on a Sunday afternoon, Father's Day. Mike O'Connor - my goodness, did he really start this game? - held the Yankees to one run over seven innings, but Chien-Ming Wang, on his way to being the runner-up for the AL Cy Young award, was every bit as good, and it was 1-1 headed to the eighth. Gary Majewski came on in that inning and gave up a two-out, RBI double to Alex Rodriguez to give the Yankees the lead.
But the key to this whole thing: the Yankees didn't have Mariano Rivera available to close it out. He had saved a New York win Friday night, and the Nationals - in stirring fashion - had come back on him to win Saturday's game. So Wang pitched the ninth, leading 2-1. Marlon Anderson hit a one-out single, bringing Zimmerman to the plate. He had eight major league homers at the time, and had never had a walk-off hit at any level, he said.
Zimmerman got a two-seam fastball that he had missed in previous at-bats. On the first pitch in the ninth, he didn't miss one that Wang left up. He held his right fist in the air as he ran toward first, and RFK exploded as the ball departed the yard in left. Nationals 3, Yankees 2, and Zimmerman received the Nationals' first curtain call.
1. Opening Night, April 14, 2005 vs. Arizona - Doesn't this have to be the choice? I remember being disappointed that all the extra security because of President Bush's appearance to throw out the first pitch caused thousands of people to be late, and the stadium wasn't completely full by the time Livan Hernandez threw that first-pitch strike to Craig Counsell. They had old Senators on hand, and the Nationals took the field replacing guys at their position, which was cool.
But the game itself was also extraordinary, if you recall. Hernandez took a one-hitter into the ninth, and the one hit was a groundball up the middle that Cristian Guzman couldn't quite control. He allowed a one-out, three-run homer to Chad Tracy in the ninth to provide the final 5-3 margin, and the Nationals stayed in first place.
That was the first time I saw the stands along the left field line bounce. I had never been to those games at RFK Stadium, and I remember Boz telling me that night that it used to happen all the time at Redskins games, that the entire upper deck would shake and roll, an amazing sight. Shortly thereafter, with the press box quivering, then-team president Tony Tavares came in and said he was in his box when the upper deck first shook. "I was like, 'Holy s***! What's going on?'" he said to us, though he got used to it over the course of the summer.
I think my favorite moment of that night, though, came when Vinny Castilla came to the plate in the eighth. He had already gone 3 for 3 with a double, a triple and the Nats' first home run at RFK, driving in four funs. He was a single short of the cycle. Here's a segment of my game story from that night:
"I wanted to do that," Castilla said [of the cycle]. "I never do that in my career. It would be great."
But Arizona reliever Lance Cormier plunked Castilla with the first pitch. No cycle. Before Castilla could take two steps toward first, the crowd booed, a sound that resonated as if it came from the bottom of 45,596 throats.
"I mean, it's 5-0," left fielder Brad Wilkerson said. "A lot of fans would've been out of there. . . . But they were paying attention. They knew he was going for the cycle. They booed the whole inning. That showed me a lot, right there."
Pretty cool stuff.
One event to point out: At least four Nationals - Wily Mo Pena, Justin Maxwell, Ryan Church and Ryan Zimmerman - will take batting practice at the new ballpark tomorrow, a staged-for-the-media event. I believe some stadium workers challenged them to take BP. The grass is set to be put in Nov. 1. This could be fun. I'll go and get you an update in the Journal tomorrow.
But for today, the discussion is yours. I'll get you lineups - and, yes, a Patterson surgery update - from the ballpark.
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