Pitcher Ramon Ortiz celebrates the first and only home run of his twelve year Major League career on September 4, 2006 in Washington’s 4-1 victory over St. Louis at RFK Stadium.
Former Major League player and announcer Joe Garagiola once called baseball a “drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast”. On September 4, 2006 at RFK Stadium, the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals played an drama-filled game that saw a player more used to being an understudy emerge as the leading man.
In his 12 year Major League career, pitcher Ramon Ortiz won 87 games and lost 86. He was durable, he threw hard and he got the most out of his relatively tiny frame, but he was hardly the type of pitcher one would expect to steal the show. Eleven years ago today, he did just that.
Unlike this year’s Washington Nationals team that is playing in September with an eye toward post-season play, the 2006 Nats were simply playing out the string by the time Labor Day arrived. The Nats had exciting Alfonso Soriano, emerging star Ryan Zimmerman and productive Nick Johnson in their lineup, but Washington’s pitching (particularly from its starting staff) was abysmal.
Ortiz took the mound for the holiday contest sporting a 9-12 record and having come off a three game stretch against divisional foes where he had allowed 15 runs in 12.2 innings pitched. His opponents from St. Louis had won seven of their last nine games and were on their way to a National League Central title.
The Nats’ righty started out strong, striking out two (including Cards’ star Albert Pujols) in the first inning. Ortiz walked two Cardinals in the second, but ended the threat by retiring 2005 Nats’ backup catcher Gary Bennett on a fly ball to right.
Ortiz settled in nicely from innings three through seven, retiring 15 of the 16 batters he faced in those frames. The problem for Ortiz and the Nats was that St. Louis starter Jason Marquis had kept Washington off of the scoreboard, working out of several jams in the process.
In the bottom of the seventh, Washington finally got to Marquis. The always patient Johnson led off the frame with a walk and Austin Kearns followed with a two run home run to give the Nats the lead.
With only six outs to go to earn a no-hitter, Ortiz retired Ronnie Belliard on a ground out, Bennett on a deep fly ball to left center and Scott Spiezio on a pop up to send the 31,000 plus at RFK Stadium into a frenzy.
In the bottom of the inning, Ortiz did damage with his bat as he led off the inning with the first and only home run of his career off of Cards’ reliever Jorge Sosa to boost the Nats’ lead to 3-0. The Nationals added another run to their tally later in the inning when Zimmerman doubled off of Sosa and Johnson followed with a RBI two bagger off of Randy Flores.
With RFK Stadium rocking in a fashion usually reserved only for Cowboys-Redskins matchups in the fall, Ortiz took the hill with three outs to go to become part of history. The bid for a no-hitter ended suddenly, with pesky Aaron Miles hitting a clean single to center to start the frame. Chris Duncan then hit a bullet down the first base line, but Johnson snagged the rocket shot and doubled Miles off of first to put the Nats one out away from victory. Ortiz then lost his shutout when Pujols, who was en route to 49 home run season, blasted a solo round tripper to put St. Louis on the board. With his starter obviously out of gas, Nationals’ manager Frank Robinson called on Chad Cordero to close things out. The Chief did just that, striking out Scott Rolen to end the game and give Washington a 4-1 win.
Ortiz would finish the 2006 season (his only one in Washington) with an 11 wins, a National League high 16 losses, a 5.57 ERA and 31 home runs allowed. It would be eight years later that a much more accomplished hurler, Jordan Zimmermann, registered the first no-hitter in Nats’ history in a late September white-washing of Miami at Nationals Park.