Familiar Tag Line: Nats Win by One
Saturday, July 2, 2005
CHICAGO, July 1 -- Jeromy Burnitz, the Chicago Cubs' right fielder, danced off third base with one out in the eighth inning Friday afternoon. "I was trying to read a chopper," he said, "or a wild pitch." Get a good break on either one, Burnitz figured, and the game would be tied.
But Brian Schneider, the Washington Nationals' catcher, shot a quick glance down the third base line, then gave an even quicker signal -- "I can't say what," he said afterward, smiling -- to third baseman Vinny Castilla. When Livan Hernandez unfurled his body to toss his next pitch, Schneider received it, jumped and fired toward Castilla.
"I thought it was going to hit [Burnitz]," Castilla said.
Schneider, with the game either saved or tied, thought the same thing. "It made me real nervous," he said, "right when I released it."
But these days, when the word "Washington" is plastered across your chest, the ball never, ever hits the runner. So it sailed just over Burnitz's shoulder, Castilla applied a slap of a tag, Hernandez worked out of the inning, and -- surprise, surprise -- the Nationals took another how-did-they-do-that decision, this one 4-3 over the Cubs in front of 38,973 at Wrigley Field.
"It saved the game right there," said Hernandez, who tied Florida's Dontrelle Willis, St. Louis's Chris Carpenter and the Chicago White Sox' Jon Garland with his 12th victory of the season, virtually ensuring himself a spot on the all-star team, which will be announced Sunday night.
But so much went into that 12th win, both before and after Schneider's gutsy pickoff call. And most of it happened in the bottom of the eighth, when the Cubs looked to the packed house like they would come back on the Nationals, who have dared collapse so often recently, yet always staved it off.
Hernandez took a 4-2 lead into the eighth, allowing homers to Derrek Lee and Todd Hollandsworth in the sixth, yet little else in the way of threats. But Lee, perhaps baseball's best player in the first half, began the eighth with a towering fly ball to right. Jose Guillen tried to settle under it, but as he looked up, he realized something was drastically wrong. His sunglasses were perched atop the brim of his cap, not on his face. He couldn't see the ball.
"I should have been wearing my glasses," said Guillen, who hit his 16th homer in the first. "That was a rookie mistake on my part."
So an out turned into a triple, and Burnitz came up as the tying run. He ripped the first pitch he saw from Hernandez down the right field line, toward the foul pole marked with the words, "Hey, Hey." And when first base umpire Brian O'Nora signaled a fair ball -- a home run -- that's just about what the crowd yelled, for the game appeared to be tied.
Yet the reaction from the Nationals was unanimous. First baseman Wil Cordero and second baseman Junior Spivey ran toward O'Nora. Guillen trotted in all the way from right, and both Schneider and Hernandez pointed foul.
"It wasn't even close," Guillen said.