After Celebration at Home, Anderson Is Sent Packing
Friday, September 1, 2006
On the diamond, Marlon Anderson said he was prepared for anything, and as soon as the slider hit the dirt, he showed it, breaking for home like a veteran should, never mind that the Washington Nationals have been dealt one misfortune after another. But off the field, there is no preparation for what was to follow, regardless of how many times players recite the mantra: Baseball is a business.
Last night at RFK Stadium, Anderson had this rare doubleheader. He scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the Nationals' wild 6-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, a win that involved balls that bounced peculiarly and lasted 10 innings. And afterward, when he had just arrived home, he found out that he had been dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a minor league pitcher.
"I've never had a night like this," Anderson said by phone after the deal had been completed. Indeed, few players have. He was mobbed by teammates before heading to the clubhouse, but then found out he'd have a whole new set of teammates when he woke in the morning. First baseman-outfielder Daryle Ward was traded in a separate deal to Atlanta for another minor league pitcher.
Yet before all that, the essential parts for the Nationals' victory came in the 10th. Philadelphia reliever Aaron Fultz uncorked a slider in the dirt, a ball that got away from Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal. Anderson, alert and awake, darted home. It was a moment as much ugly as it was uplifting.
Ugly? Really, no victories are ugly for the Nationals these days. The win over the Phillies -- who could have pulled even in the race for the National League's wild-card playoff berth with a victory -- was as needed as any the Nationals have had this year. But it was, at the same time, unusual -- and the trade of Anderson merely capped a night that was strange throughout.
The Nationals yielded Ryan Howard's 49th homer of the season, a blast that landed in Section 461 and broke the Phillies' single-season record, previously held by Mike Schmidt. They needed a two-out, two-run single from Felipe Lopez just to tie it in the ninth. They nearly gave it away on a passed ball that allowed the Phillies to take the lead in the top of the 10th.
Yet they won. And this group that had lost four straight and nine of 10 just needed to hear the music play in the clubhouse afterward, just needed to smile and joke with each other.
"Huge," was how Anderson described it before the trade. A better word: Weird.
Start with the ninth. The Phillies -- who entered the game trailing idle San Diego by a half game for the wild-card lead -- led 4-2 and needed just three outs to sweep the Nationals. But they had to send out veteran left-hander Arthur Rhodes because regular closer Tom Gordon is still unavailable with a strained right shoulder.
Anderson led off with a nice drag bunt that Rhodes couldn't corral, a play that was originally scored an error but later changed to a hit. Brian Schneider, who was inserted in the seventh, then stuck himself into the middle of the comeback by smacking a fastball to left, an opposite-field double that put runners on second and third.
The Nationals might have won it in the ninth, but Rhodes made Bernie Castro look overmatched, striking him out. He then got Henry Mateo on a soft come-backer. Anderson and Schneider stayed put.
With two outs, the Phillies intentionally walked Alfonso Soriano to get to Lopez. The shortstop managed to poke a ball through the hole on the left side, scoring Anderson and Schneider to tie.
"I thought we could have gotten more out of that situation," was Manager Frank Robinson's assessment, and with Ryan Zimmerman up, they might have. Zimmerman -- who already has ended three games at RFK this year, two with homers and one with a single -- struck out on three pitches against Rhodes, and the Phillies had another chance.
That's when it truly got strange. Washington reliever Ryan Wagner hit Lieberthal with a pitch and had Jeff Conine scorch a ball off his glove. With two outs, the Phillies ended up with men on first and third. With Jimmy Rollins at the plate, Schneider, the catcher, called for a slider from Wagner.
"The whole time, with a guy on third base," Schneider said, "I'm thinking, block the ball."
Rollins swung. Schneider went to make a back-handed catch. And at the last second, the ball moved. It got through Schneider -- a passed ball -- and Abraham Nuñez scored, putting the Phillies up 5-4. When Schneider returned to the dugout, teammates and coaches wanted to know what happened.
"Honestly," he said, "I didn't know."
Frame-by-frame replays indicated Rollins may have, ever so slightly, delivered a foul tip. It might have meant a loss, except Schneider inserted himself again in the 10th. After Nick Johnson led off with a single, Anderson singled him to second. Schneider, again going to left, scored Johnson with a single off Fultz, and the Nationals had tied it at 5. Anderson then alertly moved up on Castro's fly to center. On third, he danced, trying to get in Fultz's head.
With most of the announced crowd of 22,221 long since headed home, Anderson didn't know about the trade. But he knew Fultz throws sliders. "If you don't premeditate that situation," he said, "you won't act in time."
There was no way to premeditate the rest of the night. Ryan Church swung through a 2-0 slider in the dirt. It bounced away from Lieberthal. And Anderson pounced, his last official act as a National, one that his teammates -- now former teammates -- badly needed.