This Day in Nationals History- An Unexpected Gem

ortizlaborday

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.

 

 

Advertisements

June 4th In Nationals History

during a game at Nationals Park on June 4, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Adam LaRoche celebrates scoring the winning run on Steve Lombardozzi’s sacrifice fly in Washington’s 3-2 comeback victory over the New York Mets on June 4, 2013 at Nationals Park.  

Coming off an amazing 2012 season in which the Nationals shocked the baseball world by winning 98 games to capture the National League East title, hopes were high in Washington as the 2013 season began. The Nationals had fortified an already strong roster by trading for lead off man and centerfielder Denard Span, had added a veteran closer in Rafael Soriano and brought in solid starter Dan Haren to add to a young starting rotation that was already one of baseball’s bests.

Things did not start out well for the Nats in Davey Johnson’s final year at the helm of the team. Washington stumbled out of the gate and stood at 28-29 entering play on June 4, 2013, seven games behind the first place Atlanta Braves.

Facing the Nats this day four years ago was a New  York Mets team that had also experienced problems in the early part of the 2013 season. The Mets came to Washington for a two game set sporting an unimpressive 22-32 record after having just been swept in a three game trip to Miami, being outscored by the Marlins 24-8 in the process.

On the mound for Washington in the game was Jordan Zimmermann, who was en route to his perhaps his finest season in a Nats’ uniform. The stoic righty finished 2013 with a 19-9 record and a 3.25 ERA, tying St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright for the most wins in the National League. Zimmermann’s effort earned him a fifth place finish in National League Cy Young Award voting that year.

Zimmermann did not disappoint on this evening,  going eight innings and giving up only four hits while striking out four Mets.  Unfortunately he left the game trailing 2-1, as errors by Zimmermann and Adam LaRoche gave the Mets two unearned runs in the top of the fifth.

With Mets closer Bobby Parnell looking to end the Mets’ three game losing skid, the heart of the Nats’ lineup ensured that the New Yorkers’ nightmare was far from over.  Ryan Zimmerman led off the bottom of the ninth with a double, and advanced to third on a wild pitch. LaRoche atoned for his fifth inning error with a single to drive in Zimmerman, and the score was tied at 2-2.  Ian Desmond, who had homered in the bottom of the second, continued the rally with a double to move LaRoche to third.  With their options limited, the Mets chose to walk Roger Bernadina to set up a force at any base.   Steve Lombardozzi was next up for Washington, and the scrappy infielder battled Parnell to a 2-2 count before hitting a liner to left field that was deep enough to score LaRoche with the winning run in a thrilling victory for the home team.

The 2013 Nats would never gain traction until the season’s final months in which they played .630 ball in winning 34 of their final 54 games.  Washington finished 10 games behind Atlanta in the East, in large measure due to the Nats’ losing 13 of the 19 games played between the teams.