Nationals Top Orioles, 8-5
Monday, May 25, 2009
Long after Adam Dunn's grand slam landed over the fence in left-center and the 30,880 fans in attendance cascaded out of Nationals Park yesterday having celebrated a pleasant end to an otherwise dreadful homestand, Washington Manager Manny Acta explained the subtle decisions that led to the contest's game-changing circumstances.
Take, for instance, Dunn's seventh inning, bases-loaded, game-saving bash. Two batters earlier, with men on first and second and no outs, Acta called for Cristian Guzmán to lay down a sacrifice bunt. The potential benefits made the choice seem obvious: Advance the runners, take the out and let the heart of a resurgent Nationals batting order come through.
But Acta also had to consider that he was taking the bat out of the hands of Guzmán, who entered the game batting .357, and he was opening first base, which would allow Baltimore to intentionally walk Ryan Zimmerman, who was batting .348. Plus, the Orioles could bring in a left-hander to face Dunn, a left-handed batter. Lefty pitchers typically perform better against lefty batters.
Last season, Acta said, he probably would have let Guzmán swing away. These days, though, he can afford to set off such chain reactions. Guzmán moved the runners over. Zimmerman took his free pass to first. The Orioles brought in lefty Jamie Walker. And on a 2-2 slider, Dunn crushed the ball into the left field bullpen, providing the margin for the Nationals' 8-5 victory.
"It's just a different story," Acta said. "You want to walk Zimmerman? Good, then pitch to Dunn. That's something we didn't have here in the past."
Yesterday's game took an altered course not merely because of what Washington didn't have in the past, but also because of what it didn't have in the present. Twenty minutes before first pitch, bench coach Jim Riggleman came into the Nationals' clubhouse and notified Austin Kearns that he would, in fact, be in the starting lineup because Nick Johnson's stomach discomfort would keep the first baseman out of action.
With Johnson sidelined, Kearns trotted out to right field, Dunn -- who was scheduled to start in right -- moved in to pteagylay first. In the top of the opening frame, Kearns ranged backward and to his left before nabbing a Nick Markakis line drive as he tumbled into the right field wall.
Markakis's first-inning drive was not the last time Nationals starter Shairon Martis flirted with danger. Although he allowed five runs on seven hits, he lasted into the seventh inning before succumbing pitfalls of his deficient control.
Entering the seventh, Washington led by one and Martis had thrown only 85 pitches. He had allowed Markakis to slap a two-RBI triple in the third and Aubrey Huff to collect an RBI single in the fifth, but each time the young right-hander recovered. Managers want to show trust in their young arms, especially those performing well, and so Acta allowed Martis to carry forth.
But after allowing a leadoff single to Brian Roberts and a two-run blast to Adam Jones, Martis was pulled in favor of veteran Ron Villone, an admirable day's work done in by one hanging slider.
"With this offense, if I keep the ballgame close, we still have a chance to get the win," Martis said. "And that's what happened."
Following Zimmerman's walk in the bottom of the seventh, Dunn stepped to the plate, having already pounded a two-run homer the previous inning. He fouled off the first 2-2 offering, a slider that was a tad high.
"I thought that might have been my pitch that I missed," said Dunn, who said that his main goal in that at-bat was not to hit into an inning-ending double play. "I was fortunate enough to get another one."
The second slider was lower and Dunn stroked the 10th grand slam of his career. His six RBI was a career high and enabled Washington to depart for New York having won two games during its 11-game homestand.
"He showed today the difference that he makes in our lineup and how much we need him here," Acta said. "We can not mind bunting Guzmán, knowing that they would probably walk Zimmerman. But it's a totally different story when you have a guy like Dunn behind Zimmerman."