Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
On Twitter: AdamKilgoreWP and PostSports  |  Facebook  |  E-mail alerts: Sports and Redskins  |  RSS

The Streak remembered: Ryan Church

Game 4, June 5
Nationals 6, Marlins 3
W: Ayala (5-3)
L: Riedling (2-1)
S: Cordero (15)

When the day began, Brad Wilkerson was out with a sore forearm and Jose Guillen was out with an aching right hand - this with Jose Vidro already on the disabled list. A.J. Burnett was throwing 97 mph for Florida - fast enough that Frank Robinson had the stadium radar gun turned off so his club didn't get distracted. The Nationals found themselves down 2-0 headed to the bottom of the seventh - and they scored three times. Setup man Luis Ayala allowed a game-tying run on a pinch-hit double by Lenny Harris (who would later become the Nats' hitting coach) in the top of the eighth - Ayala's first blown save. And Ryan Church connected on a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning, sending the 40,995 fans who filled the stands to their feet.

"The way they have carried themselves and the way they feel after tough losses and the way they carried themselves the next day," Robinson said, "you get a good feeling that good things will happen to them and for them."

The Nats' seventh win in eight games put them in a position in which no Washington baseball team had resided since 1933 - first place.

At end of the day: 31-26, first place in NL East by1/2 game over Philadelphia

When 2005 spring training began, Ryan Church wasn't assured of a spot in the Nationals' outfield. Brad Wilkerson and Jose Guillen were sure to play somewhere, and Endy Chavez was the leading candidate to hit leadoff and play center. But General Manager Jim Bowden was never a fan of Chavez, and though Church struggled in spring training, he won a spot on the team - and then forced his way into the lineup.

The sweep of Florida that put the Nats in first place was one of Church's high-water marks in Washington. The three-run homer that beat the Marlins was his fourth of the year, and he finished the day hitting .319 and slugging .496. When I talked to Church about those few months in first place and his role in it, he didn't specifically remember this home run. But he did remember something else.

"The stands bouncing," he said. "We were in first place, and no one expected that. We were winning, and the fans came out and they started packing the place. We all were feeding off it."

Church's rookie season, though, took a decided turn for the worse on the afternoon of June 22, the final game of the Nationals' long road trip through Anaheim, Texas and Pittsburgh. In a game in which Jose Guillen hit a pair of solo home runs, Church secured the 5-4 victory by slamming into the wall in left field at PNC Park for a game-ending catch. I remember Church dressing gingerly that day - Jamey Carroll had to help him put on his shirt - and the collarbone injury he suffered kept him out of the lineup until July 14.

"What are you gonna do?" Church said when I spoke with him last month in the visiting clubhouse in Philadelphia, where he was in town with the Pirates. "You run through walls for people, and you still don't get any respect."


This was wholly unsolicited. Church became something of a divisive figure for fans in Washington - some thought he was talented and should be given every opportunity to play every day, while others thought his act was tired and that he would never completely fulfill his potential. When I talked with him about his time in Washington and 2005 specifically, he said, "I don't have anything negative about D.C. Just butted heads with Frank. I don't know why."

The injury, though, clearly turned his season around. He was hitting .325 and slugging .544 at the end of that day. The rest of the way, he hit .231 and slugged .352.

"I think that kind of sidetracked me," he said. "I still have my collarbone out. It's not fractured anymore, but it's out of place. Never been the same."

Originally traded by the Nationals to the Mets in the deal that brought outfielder Lastings Milledge to Washington, Church was then dealt to the Braves for outfielder Jeff Francouer, then ended up in Pittsburgh last offseason. He is struggling for the Pirates now, hitting .202 with two homers and nine RBI in 35 games. And behind him in the outfield is that wall that turned around his 2005 season.

"It's just weird," he said. "I'm playing there, and I kind of look back there and say, 'Ah, I remember that part of the wall. Try not to do that again.'"

By Barry Svrluga  |  June 5, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
 | Tags: The Streak remembered  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Livan Hernandez fined for arguing Tuesday
Next: Tonight's lineups

Comments

So remind me again why free agency is a good thing? Even the rich players seem ambivalent with it.

Posted by: sec205 | June 5, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Anyone else out there who thinks we'd be a lot better off with Ryan in rf instead of the BernaHarrisMaxGuzMorse circus we've seen?

Posted by: whereswilky | June 5, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Church could crush the ball but he had the personality of Barry Bonds and the skills of a fourth outfielder. He'll be out of baseball in a couple years.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | June 5, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Anyone else out there who thinks we'd be a lot better off with Ryan in rf instead of the BernaHarrisMaxGuzMorse circus we've seen?

Posted by: whereswilky | June 5, 2010 1:40 PM
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Not this fan...sorry.

"He is struggling for the Pirates now, hitting .202 with two homers and nine RBI in 35 games."

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | June 5, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

So what are we going to do about RF? I sure hope Rizzo is spending a lot of time trying to address this issue... if his plan is to simply punt the season away and try to lure Crawford or Werth in the offseason, fine, but if thats the case we should be unloading guys like Livan and Capps for prospects ASAP while their value is still high.

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | June 5, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, where is this coming from?
*************
So remind me again why free agency is a good thing? Even the rich players seem ambivalent with it.
Posted by: sec205 | June 5, 2010 1:03 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 5, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

The Department of Non Sequiturs, perhaps?

I liked chanting "Church on Sunday" as much as the next fan, but the guy did seem to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder as well (and I mean before he ran into the wall - ouch. I don't wish that on anyone).

Seems like centerfield's always been a bit of a revolving door for us, though. Wonder why that is? Really, I don't do the armchair GM thing, but I do wonder. I can think of at least one former Nats OF who's doing pretty well this year. Plays for the Cubbies, and I don't mean Fonsie. Yeah, I always had a bit of a soft spot for Marlon. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 5, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Now that I think of it, Church didn't man CF for us back in the day, so where did that one come from? hmmm...

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 5, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Are you telling me there is no RF in the Nats minor league system that can play defense and hit at least .250? That is sad!

Posted by: JohnWWW | June 5, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Are you telling me there is no RF in the Nats minor league system that can play defense and hit at least .250? That is sad!

Posted by: JohnWWW
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sounds an awful lot like Bernadina. Let's give the kid a shot to get his bat going again. He defense is superb and he runs like an antelope... Sure I'd love to see a bigger output offensively from him, but I think that will come.

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | June 5, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Good memories and I think BS hit it on the head that Church was quite divisive - certainly on the NJ! I was never sold, but also didn't think he got a fair shake.

I agree with a previous post that it seemed like he had a Bonds like attitude with a 4th outfielder ability. But he sure had his believers here!

Posted by: mo_dc | June 5, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Church did play center for us, at least when Wilkerson wasn't in there. We had Guillen in right that first season. Marlon Byrd played left field mostly, and I agree, he's one that got away. Always played hard, which I'm not sure you could say about Church.

Posted by: Section222 | June 7, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company