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One Day, A Lot Of Surprises

Somehow, baseball always finds a way to surprise you. I learned this last year, inexorably, on May 21. On that particular day, the undermanned, under-talented, injury-decimated Nationals were 6 1/2 games out of first place. (How's that for perspective?) Jim Bowden, always a walking and/or Segwaying surprise, was asked about his team's 20-27 record and got kind of excited. He dropped the two golden words, "Pennant race," and said his team was right in the thick of it. "We are," he said. "How many games out of first place are we!?"

One question later, Bowden was asked about his team's preparations for the draft. The answer he gave was so long, so outlandish, and so tangential to the many bigger issues to mention here that I will only say two things.

1.) It was very surprising.

2.) If you want to read it, scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post.

The surprise theme is especially relevant this morning, given what happened in yesterday's series finale against the Marlins and then in the hours afterward. The game itself was one of the most dramatic, tense contests I've seen during my time on the beat. Just when you thought the Nationals would bust the game wide open, they'd leave the bases loaded -- again. Just when you thought the Marlins would take a one-run lead in the eighth, right fielder Austin Kearns threw a Nolan Ryan fastball to home plate from about 325 feet, nailing Alfredo Amezaga. Just when you thought the Nats were toast, Florida gifted them a run with a throwing error, giving them the lead entering the ninth.

Then, in order, we saw the following:

1.) A Saul Rivera meltdown. (Surprise factor: 4.5, scale of 1 to 10). Maybe Rivera's ineffectiveness wasn't a total shock, but how many teams succeed in blowing saves three days in a row? Plus, it was Rivera who entered the spring as perhaps the team's most reliable relief pitcher, and who was one of two bullpen members guaranteed a job from the get-go. Now, he has an 0-3 record.

2.) A disgusted Manny Acta. (Surprise factor: 5). Every man, like every team, has its breaking point. Acta didn't lose his temper, but he offered up some of the strongest quotes of his managerial career. Most of the juicy ones I posted yesterday. Talking about the chronically wild Rivera, Acta said, "He can't make pitches right now. He's pitching behind everybody. Even I can hit a guy 2-0, 3-1, if I know a fastball is coming." Acta, if you're wondering, was a career .241 minor league hitter.

3.) The unapologetic demolition of the bullpen. (Surprise factor: 9). Roster moves typically come in spurts, sure, but this was a downright overhaul. Three relievers were sent down, three more called up. It was a desperate move and a warranted one. Now, the Nats are basically running a tryout camp in search of anybody (Kip Wells?) who can get outs.

4.) The promotion of the team's top prospect, Jordan Zimmermann. (Surprise factor: 0). We knew this was coming. All along, Zimmermann was slated to debut today, as the Nats expand to a five-man rotation.

5.) Oh, and then the Nats finalized their long-term deal with Ryan Zimmerman. (Surprise factor: 3). We knew this was coming together; it was just a matter of when. The news conference is scheduled for today.

(*) Bowden's answer about the draft, unfiltered: "It is the biggest decision we make every year... that is where we are competing with the biggest markets in baseball. We have the best scouts in the game. We throw a lot of money into it, a lot of research, a lot of work. Mike Rizzo and Dana Brown, I've said it before, are the two best scouting directors in the game, and we have both of them. Working every day, they're on flights every day. I went with them for two weeks, Mike Rizzo and I, and you're up on an airplane to Nashville, Tenn., and all of a sudden you're in Ontario, you're in Texas, you're in South Carolina, then you're in Florida, and that's all you do every day. And people fart on the airplane and it's horrible, and I had to call timeout on one because the stench was so bad that I just couldn't take it. The stewardess was spraying Lysol up and down and it was embarrassing. I said, look, go to the bathroom. There's no need for this! Have more respect for the person next to you! Stop farting!"

(Surprise factor: 7.5)

By Chico Harlan  |  April 20, 2009; 8:26 AM ET
 
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Comments

Thanks Chico, I forgot how classy JimBo was...

Posted by: CajunD | April 20, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Should have sent down Hanrahan and not Shell..... and Shawn Hill, Shawn Hill, Shawn Hill. Stupid move to cut him at the worst possible time. If he ends up with even 20+ starts with decent ERA, they'll regret letting him go for a long time.

Posted by: gonats1 | April 20, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Best. Nats Journal Post. Ever.

Nice work, Chico!

Posted by: bkriner | April 20, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

according to ESPN radio, firt time in HISTORY a time has swept a three game series where they trailed going into the ninth each game.

Posted by: sjt1455 | April 20, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Ah - so that would be the "more corporate" atmosphere that Rizzo is bringing - less fart talk?

I'm dying to know what your follow up to that was - "so, which of the college arms do you think can really crack one off, Jim?"

This alone makes me feel better about the decisions made yesterday.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | April 20, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

A disgusted Manny Acta. (Surprise factor: 5).

**************

This was a surprise factor 9 for me, but it also sounded more emphatic in the writing of it.

When I watched it on MASN, I cracked up because Manny was talking all disgusted and tough, but as soon as a reporter called him out saying, "you're mad," Manny calmed down and was his usual calm, smiley, I'm-not-mad-I'm-patient-and-positive self.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 20, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

The JimBo passage was a little long-winded. It really stinks to keep ripping on a former GM like that. It would be a breath of fresh air were such activities to stop. Talk about the unkindest cut. The guy just had some tough breaks. Maybe he did toot his own horn a little too often. Cheese Louise, Chico.

Seriously, nice post. I'd had given the Rivera inning a 0-1 though, given his recent outings.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 20, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Just to clarify, 1 is least surprised and 10 is most surprised, right?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 20, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

You forgot Surprise Factor of Rizzo having to fix his mistake of keeping bullpen guys based on options remaining rather than whether or not they had EARNED Major League Jobs in Spring Training: 0.

Posted by: VladiHondo | April 20, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

nice whiff, er, I mean riff, 1a.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 20, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Big whiffa!
-----
Why not have Biemel close?

Posted by: dclifer | April 20, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Zimmermann and Zimmerman

http://www.rotoworld.com/content/features/column.aspx?sport=MLB&columnid=13&articleid=32551

Posted by: dclifer | April 20, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Oh man...

Brad Wilkerson retires after eight-year career

http://www.projo.com/pawsox/content/sp_bb_wilkerson_web_20_04-20-09_8KE3COL_v2.2fc8a84.html

Posted by: dclifer | April 20, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

I'm personally very surprised at Saul Rivera. He's had bad games before, but never anything like this stretch since the beginning of the season. It was usually a one-time thing and then he'd go back to form.

Posted by: Section506 | April 20, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Quick one: was at the game yesterday and sitting next to some people and we were discussing the problems with the nationals. I thought of a quick point. Even if you dump Acta, who's out there to replace him with that could be a lock to do better?

Posted by: alex35332 | April 20, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

"I'm personally very surprised at Saul Rivera. He's had bad games before, but never anything like this stretch since the beginning of the season. It was usually a one-time thing and then he'd go back to form."

As I said in the earlier thread, I think his participation in the WBC may have something to do with this. If nothing else, for several weeks going into the season he was operating out from under the watchful eye of Randy St. Claire. Who really knows what the Puerto Rican manager and coaches were doing with him during that time?

Posted by: nunof1 | April 20, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I was certainly a Bowden apologist for several years. I thought (and continue to think) that he managed pretty well with limited dollars under MLB and that he did a reasonable job under the Lerners given the paradigm to develop from the bottom up. But his stated philosophy regarding relief pitching was always flawed. He felt that relief pitchers were replaceable and that you could/should trade them for position players whenever possible. As with everything else, its an ok philosophy when practiced with moderation. But when you don't value relievers you eventually run out of talent. Cordero, Rauch, Ayala, Stanton, Bray, Majewski (sp), Alabadejo, (sp), and others, plus the failure under Bowden to acquire any frontline relievers over 4+ years (Beimel came after Bowden left). Maybe Mock turns out ok, but he was acquired as a starter.

Not that I'm laying our poor start at the feet of Jim Bowden. This one belongs squarely on the shoulders of the current administration, but the bullpen does need to be a priority. Especially when your plan is to go with a young rotation.

Posted by: natbiscuits | April 20, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Manny's public outburst, surprise factor 9 a week ago. Maybe a 5 yesterday. Culture change for sure.

To kick Bowden again amid our bullpen disaster, Albaladejo won in relief for the Yankees and Clippard continues to toil in the minors. And Gallaraga's a decent starter for the Tigers.

Geezer

Posted by: utec | April 20, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

"Roster moves typically come in spurts, sure, but this was a downright overhaul. Three relievers were sent down, three more called up. It was a desperate move and a warranted one. Now, the Nats are basically running a tryout camp in search of anybody (Kip Wells?) who can get outs."

Well, yes. But still I'd say it's a better situation than 2007 and even 2008 when such roster moves were made only to bring up no-names from the minors or God only knows where else. Jason Simontacchi? Mike Bacsik? Those were painful days. At least now when they're bringing in a whole new cast of characters they're bringing in guys who people were actually saying were deserving of making the team coming out of spring training. This is definitely true of the pitching callups and also for most of the injury replacement callups on the postion-player side. That has to be recognized as a sign of improvement in this slow process of building a complete team.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 20, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Hey, who picked this pen? The players take the heat, but the Mgr and FO made the calls. Better luck next time?

Posted by: joe2chase | April 20, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

My 0-1 rating for Rivera related to his inning yesterday viewed through the lens of his previous several outings this season. With a more long term perspective his performance this season is a turnaround, definitely.

I've also wondered about the WBC connection for Rivera, in addition to wondering whether his workload with the Nats last season is a factor.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 20, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

To Alex35332, who asked Who's out there to replace Acta who would be a lock to do better? Glad you asked. When Frank Robinson was released, I wrote letters to Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden imploring them to hire Davey Johnson... the last manager the Orioles had who was worth a damn! He is one of the best managers in baseball history who is still alive and still actively involved in the game. The Nats front office should offer him Daniel Snyder-type money to take over this team. There is enough talent on this team and in the farm system for a brilliant manager like Johnson to find ways to win games. He may be a pain in the ass to every front office he works for, but who cares! We need to start winning so we can build a fan base around this franchise!

Where Lou Piniella goes, winning follows. Where Tony LaRussa goes, winning follows. Where Jim Leyland goes, winning follows. Where Dave Johnson goes, winning will follow! Managers who have won in multiple locations in the past can win in Washington! And when he comes in here and starts winning, it will be the ultimate F-U to Peter Angelos, who was stupid enough to fire Davey after he led the Orioles to back-to-back A.L. Championship Series... and was voted Manager of the Year!

Posted by: bigmac128 | April 20, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Now that post was quite cheeky. And your post 1a was a gas. It really made a lot of scents.

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 20, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Davey Johnson? What a laugh. Sure he was a good manager, 'was' being the operative word there. He doesn't want to manage any more, lacks the fire in the belly. Couldn't even handle the grind of managing a team of all stars in the WBC. Wanted to take off the day of a semifinal game to go to a wedding! (Although to his credit he did finally realize the folly of his ways and changed his plan.) But still, there's no effin way he wants to become the manager of a rebuilding team.

You're right though that the Nats going after Davey Johnson would be a Dan Snyder move. Not unlike him bringing back Joe Gibbs. How'd that one work out?

Posted by: nunof1 | April 20, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Man, this post had me giggling like a schoolgirl. (A schoolgirl who gets to see JORDAN tonight -- sigh.) And thanks to 1a for elevating our level of discussion even further.

More important, I got to go to a balgame on Saturday. Beautiful.

Most important: 506, you were indeed missed, but I understand you had important work to do. Best wishes to you and the RHCFF.

Posted by: Scooter_ | April 20, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

That surprise from Bowden really makes me wonder if the Nationals shouldn't ask the league if we could settle games by some kind of a farting contest.

I'm serious. There is incredible sound technology at Nationals Park. The farts could be broadcast, and then fans could vote using text-technology, the way they do now for "best dancer" or "fan of the game" contests they have at games now. I mean, the technology is there.

I think it would be fun for everyone.

Posted by: ThinkingOne | April 20, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

At least they guys who were sent down/DFA'd still draw a salary....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Designated_for_assignment

Posted by: Juan-John | April 20, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

"Where Lou Piniella goes, winning follows. Where Tony LaRussa goes, winning follows. Where Jim Leyland goes, winning follows."

Where all of those three goes, there's a GM and ownership that has built a team with a lot of very good players and is willing to pay the sort of money those managers can ask for, because they know they've got the personnel to get the wins.

Posted by: Section506 | April 20, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Scooter! She's very sad right now, because they took her ring away to size it.

Posted by: Section506 | April 20, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

506, just remind her that she's building for the future: short-term pain, long-term gain.

It's all part of The Plan.

Posted by: Scooter_ | April 20, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Oh, yeah, and ... bisc/quit(s), I liked what you had to say about Bowden and the bullpen. Just one additional thought to toss in: Garrett Mock being a former starter doesn't militate against Bowden's philosophy; it's one of the underpinnings. Relievers aren't replaceable just because you can bring in other relievers, but partly also because you can also stick a failed starter in there.

Posted by: Scooter_ | April 20, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

And if you're Boswell, you can stick a new post in here.

Posted by: Scooter_ | April 20, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Anyone know when the press conference on Zim's contract will be held?

Posted by: ramgut | April 20, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I just hope she doesn't decide to call someone new up from the minors because I blew it!

Posted by: Section506 | April 20, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Will someone please ask Manny why Alex Cintron is pinch hitting with Willingham on the bench and why Dukes and Dunn keep getting pulled for AAA outfielders halfway through the game?

Posted by: raymitten | April 20, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone think Zimmerman's being rushed up here in light of this weekend's debacle my worry is that the kid will be under pressure given this teams one win ten loss record.Any thoughts?

Posted by: dargregmag | April 20, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Well Nunof1, we made the playoffs twice during the second Gibbs era. How did the Redskins do during the 11 years between Gibbs 1 and Gibbs 2, and how did we do last year after Gibbs retired for good? Nats fans would be ecstatic if their team made the playoffs in two of the next four years. The stadium would be filled and the team would get more media coverage than the Caps have gotten during the past year. Boswell wrote in one of his Chats that Johnson was done as a manager, and that may be true, but the Nats need to stop experimenting with unproven managers and bring in a proven winner. If that means overpaying to steal a great manager away from another team, then so be it. Pay big bucks to hire a great manager before you spend a dime on any free agents. A great manager can come to Washington right now and have a winning team on the field by next year. See Piniella, LaRussa, and Leyland for current examples of this, and check out Leo Durocher, Billy Martin and Sparky Anderson for historical reference.

Posted by: bigmac128 | April 20, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

"Where Lou Piniella goes, winning follows... Where Jim Leyland goes, winning follows"

Have you forgotten Lou's three years of utter futility with the Devil Rays in the '90s before he gave up in disgust? Have you forgotten that the Pirates under Leyland went right off the table after the '92 division title, that the Marlins under Leyland did the same after the '97 world championship, and that after the 2006 pennant in Detroit under Leyland it has been all downhill?

The point is not that Lou and Leyland are not good managers--they are. But it takes much more than a manager to make a winner.

Having said this, if we are going to replace Manny, one name that hasn't been brought up is Buck Showalter, who has built teams before, but never been around long enough to enjoy the result.

Posted by: sjberke | April 20, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. Hold the phone. I've not been reading the comments for the past few days and I seem to have missed something major. You and RHCFGF are engaged, 506? Congrats and felicitations! I assume that the wedding will take place on the pitcher's mound a la Bull Durham?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 20, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

1a, we have to get her to change to 506's RH*N*FF first.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 20, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

". . . the Nats need to stop experimenting with unproven managers and bring in a proven winner."

What professional sports franchise (current ownership) has "brought in a proven winner" to DC? None. This is DC, the Potemkin Village whose failed sports franchises reflect the characteristics of DC's main industry—phoniness and hot air. Should we expect anything different from our teams? It's in the water.

(Re the Caps: they were very entertaining during the regular season, but they are blowing it in the playoffs. Per usual for a DC team.)

By the way, I know I said yesterday morning that I'd eat my Senators' hat if Zimmerman signed long-term. In the grand tradition of flapping traps in the Capital, I request permission to revise and extend my remarks . . .

Posted by: JohnRDC | April 20, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Good point, NatsNut. I think he's working on that. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 20, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I have it on good authority that the vows will include a clause to that effect, 1a.

Posted by: Scooter_ | April 20, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

That's a relief, Scooter!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 20, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

I gotta say, 1a, the "look" on your "face" when you realized what you'd missed was priceless.

Heh.

Posted by: Scooter_ | April 20, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

lol lol, scooter. u r 2 funny!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 20, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

nunof1 is just misleading people with that Davey Johnson has no motivation post. That stuff about him skipping a WBC game for a wedding is just wrong -- the wedding was his step-son's, not just some random party that he felt more of a need to hit than an important game. He went to the ceremony and skipped town on a waiting plane to get to the game. That is not a set of damning facts that tells you Johnson has his priorities wrong.

Johnson is a proven winner who has not left the game behind. I have no idea whether he is looking to manage again, but if he has interest in the Nats, the Nats should have interest in him. The fact that he hates Peter Angelos more than most people is a bonus to the fact that the guy has won big in both leagues with all kinds of teams.

Posted by: dfh21 | April 20, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

While we're discussing managers what role if any would Rizzo play in the selection process since he's "acting general manager" if the team decides to go in a different direction and replace Acta.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 20, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

My money if Manny is replaced is Foli - the manager at AAA. I think he is familiar with most players in the organization, and has received positive feedback by everyone who has played for him for his knowledge and enthusiasm.

Posted by: 1of9000 | April 20, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

How about the guy on the bench, Jim Riggleman?

Posted by: CHAMP1464 | April 20, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

My money if Manny is replaced is Foli - the manager at AAA. I think he is familiar with most players in the organization, and has received positive feedback by everyone who has played for him for his knowledge and enthusiasm.

Posted by: 1of9000 | April 20, 2009 11:34 AM

*******************************************

Crazy Horse want no part of it, Kemo Sabe.

"I wanted to be a major-league manager a long time ago, but now I don't," said Foli.

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 20, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

the anti-manny. he would be fun with dunn.

Crazy Horse: "I wasn't fiery. I was a hothead. Yeah, a hothead. And when I was with New York, I wasn't even a hothead then. I was just basically nuts."

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 20, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

-1 to Chico for using "gifted" as a verb.

Posted by: BoteMan | April 20, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse


http://podcasting.fia.net/5868/3601313.mp3

Crazy Horse with the Axeman

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 20, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

"A disgusted Manny Acta."
--------------------------------------------

While I was watching the game on TV -- watching Rivera's meltdown and wondering when Acta would get off hiss ass an pull him out of the game -- he seemed rather placid...even diffident. If there was any disgust hiding behind the shades, it wasn't enough to move him to pull Rivera and bring in Tavarez while the game was still salvageable.

Sorry - but I don't buy the "disgusted" act. Unless Acta felt he need to let Rivera to clearly demonstrate how bad he is right now -- so, he could force Rizzo to do something. Otherwise, Acta cost the Nats a game, just as much as Rivera did. The disgust is mine, not Acta's.

Posted by: fischy | April 20, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Manny needs to go -- every day it becomes more obvious that he's just not the right guy for this job.

Posted by: dfh21 | April 20, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

thank u for helping me save my money, nova_g_man!

Posted by: 1of9000 | April 20, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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