The most remarkable defensive play from Monday night, the only one that drew a standing ovation, did not produce an out. In the sixth inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, Carlos Lee flied to intermediate center field. Rick Ankiel camped under the ball. Jordan Schafer, the Astros’ fastest base runner, stood on third.
The writer Raymond Chandler once said, “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” The baseball equivalent may be those few seconds between realizing Ankiel is about to unleash his left arm, that gift from the baseball gods, and the moment he releases the ball.
Schafer and Astros third base coach Dave Clark would not cooperate for a full payoff. With Ankiel about 300 feet from home plate, Clark held Schafer anyway. Ankiel, though, did not disappoint. He rifled a throw straight to home, no need for a cutoff man.
“It came out clean,” Ankiel said. “And it was right on the money.”
Wilson Ramos, standing on home, did not have to move his glove. The throw hit him the chest. The crowd stood and roared.
“I would have called it a strike, that’s for sure,” said Stephen Strasburg, who had run behind the plate to back up the play.
At third base, Ryan Zimmerman and Schafer laughed about what they had just seen. “Everyone knows that it’s kind of predetermined not to test Rick out,” Zimmerman said. “It’s nice to have him on our team.”
Ankiel thought the throw would have arrived in time had Schafer run, but he was surprised Schafer had not even tried.
“It’s one of their fastest guys on their team with the bases loaded,” Ankiel said. “I thought for sure he was going. Ball was in the air, I’m like ‘He’s gotta go.’ But hey, it shows a lot of respect that they didn’t. So, yeah, it makes me feel good.”
It made the Nationals feel good, too. Ankiel has established a reputation as perhaps the last outfielder you choose to run on. He is such a powerful weapon that the threat of his arm convinces opposing teams and coaches to not even try to advance.
“I think it’s huge,” Zimmerman said. “Especially in close games, when there’s guys on second, not necessarily does a base hit mean a run is going to score. When you have the pitching like we have, it’s hard to string together base hit after base hit. Any time you can have an outfield arm like that that practically shuts down the running game and makes the team get another hit, off the pitching that we have, it’s not easy to do.”
Just in case other teams did not have the message, Ankiel provided the latest reminder Monday why they shouldn’t run on him.
“It was a perfect throw,” Ramos said. “I know the manager for them, they know he has a good arm. For me, I say, ‘Pop it up to Ankiel, because he’s got a cannon.’ ”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Pawtucket 4, Syracuse 3: Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 with a double and a strikeout, his second multi-hit game at Class AAA. Atahualpa Severino allowed no runs in 1 2/3 innings on no hits and two walks, striking out three.
Altoona 5, Harrisburg 2: Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 4 with a double. Paul Demny allowed three runs in three innings on four hits and five walks, striking out two.
Potomac 6, Frederick 4: Michael Taylor went 3 for 5 with a double. David Freitas went 1 for 3 with a double and two walks. Cameron Selik allowed no runs in two relief innings on no hits and no walks, striking out three.
Delmarva 5, Hagerstown 4: Adrian Nieto went 3 for 4. Jason Martinson went 1 for 5 with a home run.