Ask Boswell: Nats, Wizards and Orioles

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 28, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, May 21 at 11 a.m. ET, to take your questions about the struggling Nationals, the Wizards potential draft future and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

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Boswell Column Archives

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Virginia: Will Dunn have more homers than the Nats have wins this year? Has anyone done this before, or come close?

Tom Boswell: Great question. Dunn is now leading 16 to 13.

No, I don't think so. But Dunn's gargantuan homer off Sanatana last night -- he really is in the Frank Hioward category -- and the utter misery of the inert way the Nats were swept by the Mets does make you wonder what's possible.

At the beginning of the season, I'd have put Dunn's maximum homers, off his history, at greater than 50 and the Nats minimum wins at 59 on grounds that they couldn't possibly be as bad as last year.

Ha! Well, I'm all for patience in evaluations. But Dunn looks like he's a better hitter than in the past, although fast starts and slow finishes are a trademark. He's on pace for 56 homers. The Nats are on pace to go 46-116.

No, they aren't that bad. But the 2-12 collapse, starting with their last homestand, has changed the season. Things can fll apart fast. And they have. If they played .500, which they won't, they'd go 71-91. So, from this point, anything that avoids 100 loses is probably a minor "success."

Man, we're back to those bleak days of "Sievers/Killebrew/Howard Homer But Nats Lose Again."

Many of us are all to familiar with awful Washington seasons where the at bats of the potential Home Run Champion were the highlight. "Better than nothing" doesn't cut it.

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Hopeful O's Fan: They are aleady hitting a ton, and Matt Wieters, the second coming of Johnny Bench,is making his ML debut tomorrow. There are more young pitchers than I can count tearing up the minors, and Bergeson and Berkem have started well here. Is it time to pour out the koolaid? I'm still ot a huge fan of Trembley's, but Andy MacPhail is a genius.

Tom Boswell: Nolan Reimold's walk-off homer in the 11th yesterday was a kick. A homegrown product, like Weiters who will be one of the more highly awaited players to hit the majors in the last decade. With Adam Jones emerging the O's have a fine middle-of-the-order for a long time. I loved the "reaction shot" of Dave Trembley in the dugout with his team still behind 11-9 and one grounded into double play away from defeat and he turned to somebody in the dugout and gave this huge "Ain't this a great game" grin. Trembley's a very good fit for that team.

Bud Selig directed MacPhail to Baltimore to fix the Orioles, imo, and Peter Angels was so beaten down by so many years of losing that he has let Andy have a free hand. It's certainly working. The Bedard trade has been spectacular. The Tejada deal is nothing special yet, but okay. However, don't drink the koolaid quite yet. The starting pitching is very weak, Bergeson doesn't impress me as more than a stop-gap starter. (Be glad to be wrong.) And the O's don't want to rush-and-ruin their young pitchers. Will the Nats poush their young starters to far too fast simply because they have no options?

The contrast to the Nats is obvious. Selig also guided Kasten to the Nats to give the Lerners an expert to run things. He can only dream of having MacPhail's latitude.

Owners who think they understand a sport because they love the sport, who think that they'll do what's best for the team because they want what's best for their home town __when will they ever learn? Hire pros. Let them go. And admit, at least to yourself, that you know little about a subject inwhich they have proven themselves.

To MacPhail's credit, I think he would have walked the instant Angelos blocked him. Kasten? Clearly not.

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Anonymous: Tom - What is it that Acta does well? From a regular fan's perspective, the guy is an absolute do nothing.

Tom Boswell: I'm writing about that. You see it up on the web this afternoon.

Fans get absolutely no emotional satisfaction from watching a manager who has two calls reversed on replays to give home runs to the home team and barely utters a peep.

When Dunn came in to the edge of the infield to dispute the HR reversal last night, it should have been Acta's cue to make a statement. If you don't back up Dunn, who do you back? It was almost like Adam, a veteran, was saying, "Okay, if you need an excuise to come out and get in somebody's face, I'm giving you the 'cause.' You're 'protecting your player.'"

Manny didn't budge. Bad. As I've said in past chats, 7-17, stay calm, 14-34 seat is warm, 21-51 Manny (or any other young manager with a .393 career winning percentage is gone or very close to it. Well, they're at 13-33 -- right on target. If they keep playing this way, especially after Flores and Dukes get back, Manny probably has until the All-Star game (maybe) to get things normalized.

However, I went back through every mid-season firing in the last 50 years. The huge majority result in little change in performance. A few actually make things worse. However, there are enough cases of improvement that it's not entirely pointless. Once in a great while, you get a Weaver or LaRussa.

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Sec 114 Row E: Bos,

Any word from the Lerners?

Tom Boswell: I told Mark that I'd like to interview him, his father or both at any time. No word yet.

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Washington D.C.: Re: owners waking up to what they don't know: Why did Angelos chase off Pat Gillick, who had an even stronger track record than Andy McPhail brought to the Orioles. Gillick (and Johnson) were turning the Orioles around and Angelos ran them both off. Maybe, in a different way, it's kind of like the Yankees, who settle down and started winning in that period when George Steinbrenner was banned. When he got back, Steinbrenner realizes that continual meddling and micromanaging is not the way for owners to get a winner.

Tom Boswell: All the O's had to do to keep Gillick was put an arm around him and appreciate him a little.

A few years after he left, an extremely successful A.L. GM of a team visiting Baltimore stood with me in the back of the O's pressbox and said, "You are witnessing the destruction of a great franchise."

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Boston: It seems to me that nowadays, whenever a microphone is thrust into the face of a sports figure, each sentence begins with "you know", contains at least one more "you know" and then ends with yet another "you know." Do they not realize that when they rely on such vapid sports celebrity speech filler they demean themselves a bit? Rarely do I hear interesting complete sentences anymore, or that expecting too much?

Tom Boswell: You know, I've noticed that, too.

Also, it's possible that communication-by-Tweeting from star athletes may not quite give us the same in-depth look as a full-length profile, based on weeks of reporting and long interviews with the subject, by a thoughtful writer.

But, you know, I could be wrong.

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Washington, D.C.: Kasten has said that the Nats would like to draft pitchers with the No. 1 (obviously) and No. 9a picks. In your opinion, what would you do with the 9a pick?

Tom Boswell: As I have said, I'd defy the poor history of high-pick pitchers and draft Strasburg with No. 1 overall. But I wouldn't dare the fates twice. I'd go for the best hitter (as long as he isn't a third baseman) with the 10th overall.

The history of No. 10 overall. Hitters: Ted Simmons, Tim Wallach, Mark McGwire, Robin ventura, Charles Johnson (C), Carl Everett, Eric Chavz, Carlos Pena. Pitchers: Jon Garland, Ben Sheets, Tim Lincecum.

As with every pick in the top 15, there are quality hitters and pitchers. But your odds are better with the hitters.

But, from talking with the Nats, I bet they'll go "pitcher" unless a hitter falls a lot more than they expect.

Just to annoy everybody, there probably is at least one REALLY good hitter at the top of the draft -- Dusty Ackley (first baseman UNC). Maybe he'll be more a high OBP guy than a power hiter because of his build -- a better Nick Johnson hitting No. 2 -- or a Nick Markakis kind of hitter.

But don't say, "There are no hitters." There's just as much of a cheery consensus about Ackley being dead-flat excellent and a model citizen as there is about Strasburg being eye-popping.

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Washington, D.C.: Gilbert Arenas came in for two games at the end of last season and then sat on the bench for the last five.

There was never an official statement made regarding his status. Did his knee bother him again? Was it sore, painful ...?

If so, what is he doing in the way of medical treatment so that next season doesn't end up being a repeat of last season (surgery in the 11th hour, missing nearly every game)?

Tom Boswell: The Wiz wanted to see him play to judge what they were holding before making off-season decisions. They saw enough in two games to think they had a picture of the future Gilbert. Those 20 assists and (I think) one turnover seemed to imply that he had a future at point guard. However, perhaps due to rustiness, he needed seem to have as good a "handle" on his dribble in traffic and didn't have as much explosion to the rim to finish his drives. IOW, he may be an 18-to-20 point scorer with 8-or-more assists, if things work out well.

The Wiz didn't see anything in those two games that made them believe Gilbert would be a 27-point scorer again. But it was only two games. While I was there, Arenas talked convincingly about how hard he planned to work in the off-season.

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Fairfax, Va.: Tom:

A number of Hall-of-Fame or future Hall-of-Fame managers were fired from their first jobs before achieving great success with other teams. Casey Stengal (Dodgers), Whitey Herzog (Rangers) and Tony LaRussa (White Sox) are just a few that come to mind. In your opinion, is Manny Acta a manager the Nationals should hold on to because he has the potential to be a great manager for a team with sufficient talent?

Tom Boswell: Oh, go on and steal part of my column. I showed the whole list of such manager to Acta over the weekend. Before he even looked he said that Torre and Cox (his two models) and Francona would be on it.

Those roughly as awful as Acta in their first few years: Stengel (10 pennants), Torre (6), Miller Huggins (6), Cox (5) and Francona, Chuck Dressen, Fred haney and Burt Shotton, all with two.

I said to manny, "They all have one thing in common."

"They were fired from their first job," said Manny -- smiling.

You can't bug him. His self-confidence (amazingly) is barely dented. His team likes him -- but perhaps because, aside from Dukes last year, I'm not sure he has "jumped" or "shown up" anybody on the current team.

One front office member said, "Manny is going to be a fine manager someday. Will it be here? Nobody knows."

If things are still this ugly at the All-Star break, hard to believe he makes it. In fact, if they stay as embarassing as a 2-9 homestand and all the inertness in Mets World, things could speed up.

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Nervous Nats Fan: How much does this team depend on Dukes? He's going to be great one day, if he can just stop getting injured. Hopefully, he's not a young (somewhat volatile) Nick Johnson ...

Tom Boswell: Dukes has a chronically bad knee and a history of leg problems with four trips to the DL in the last two years. The Nats wish he could play 150 games a year. But, for now, they are assuming that's just not his MO and make their plans around the assumption that what they've seen so far -- bursts of productive hitting, bad but aggressive base-running, good play in right field but only OK in center field, as well as periodic trips to the disabled list is what they've got.

That's another reason that his clubhouse and off-field behavior is essential to his future. After seeing him go down four times, the Nats no longer think they are looking at a perrenial All-Star. "Everything changes everything." So, his demeanor, etc., matters more than before.

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Follow Up to the Gilbert Question: Did you hear anyone (Gilbert or management) say that his knee bothered him during those two games?

That's what I'm dying to figure out. Did he stop playing, because he felt pain and decided he'd proved what he needed to, so decided to give it a rest, or did he feel absolutely no pain, but just came out anyway, because the season was already lost?

Tom Boswell: Nobody, including Gilbert, mentioned any pain at that time. That doesn't end the subject. But it's my contribution.

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Burke, Va.: Tom, what do the Redskins have to accomplish this coming season for Jim Zorn to keep his job?

Tom Boswell: Make the playoffs. Or show undeniable progress and have a good reason why they didn't play in January.

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Arlington, Va.: Deal Adam Dunn to Boston on June 15 when the deadline's up. You should be able to get either Buchholz alone or a Bowden/Bard package for him.

Tom Boswell: Trading Dunn isn't out of the question. The whole baseball world seems to starting to see that Dunn really is very similar to Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco and Darryl Strawberry at the same age (29). Now WHO SAID THAT around here?

You can get a lot in trade, especially from an A.L. team with the DH, for a guy who's under contract through '10 and seems to be Killebrew/Jackson.

However, Dunn really likes the Nats! Enjoys the clubhouse, likes being a leader. He's not looking to go anywhere. And he's already had the Opening Day Show, two enormous bombs in Arizona, the 6-RBI day versus the O's and the shot off Santana that I'll remember a long time. Looks like the Nats attendance, while still bad, is moving up from 29th to 26th and might get as "high" as 22-23rd this year. I assume the reason is: Lets go see Zimmerman and Dunn.

If you trade Dunn, you may retard the sudden and important development of Zimmerman. I'd keep Dunn, try to sign him to an extension, and be glad that you have an actual Heart of the Order at No. 3-4 that shows up and plays every day.

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Wil Nieves: I'm hoping now that Cabrera is gone, I won't have to make so many good saves. Any thoughts on my recent play? Think Bard has a chance of staying up over me?

Tom Boswell: Wil,

DCCab is gone, but Hanahan and Colome remain.

If you stay, get combat pay.

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Seven Valleys, Penn.: Great point about managers backing up their players. In the book on LaRussa's managing a three game series vs. the Cubs that came out, I think, in 2005, he said he will on occasions lose games if that accrues to the benefit of his players. I couldn't believe that when I read it -- a manaager playing to lose? But his record is not too shabby; and, J.D. Drew aside, his players seem to love playing for him, esp. the veterans that he prefers to coach. So maybe there is something to be said for this approach!

washingtonpost.com: Amazon.com: Three Nights in August: Buzz Bissinger

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

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Mechanicsville, Va.: assuming Manny is on the short leash ... who replaces him?

Riggleman - your thoughts ?

Davey Johnson

clearly somebody has to do something with this inept defense and provide a mentor for the young pitching staff.

Finally, would the best hitting second baseman we can draft be an option worth considering rather than Strasburg? Second base might be the lousiest performance we have been getting all year.

Tom Boswell: Riggleman or perhaps Tim Foli in the minors are the obvious options. Riggleman has a 522-652 career managing record. Is he one of those "failed before but good now" guys? It's tough to have a .445 W-L in 1174 games. Foli is a firebrand, or was when young.

But you're very unlikely to get any significant upgrade in mid-season with a firing. That's one reason -- beides Acta's undeniably high character and A1 personal work ethic -- that you don't want to give up on him because his managing style (pure no-explosion Torre) drives so many people crazy with a 13-33 team.

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Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom, Should dedicated Nats fans and DC residents like me feel betrayed by the Lerners? For years I prayed that we'd get a major league team. I sent letters and emails to D.C. City Council members, and got my friends to do the same, to build a new stadium so we could get a team. I've been an 81 game season ticket holder since the first opportunity in 2005. I attend 60 plus home games a season and coordinate my business travel to see them on the road. And my reward? An uninspired load of garbage dumped on the field that's supposed to pass for a ball team. Am I the world's biggest sucker and are the Lerners laughing at me others like me on their way to the bank? I'm still overjoyed we have a team, but when the season is over in April, it's not the summertime fun I envisioned back in '05.

Tom Boswell: There has been a significant change in their ownership style since the cold-shower of 102 loses and the sight (evident to them in the off-season) that their tickets sales were going to plummet. The Teixeira offer, Dunn signing, Olsen-Willingham trade, Beimel signing, Zimmerman resigning and their right-out-front we're-gonna-draft Strasburg stance shows that a lot HAS changed. This is all of a piece. Have things changed enough? How is customer service? How is the ballpark experience? How will they try to prevent 102 loses again, even if they can't avoid 95? But don't judge '09 by '08, '07 and '06. Things have changed -- somewhat. But everything still goes through Ted.

There is still a long way to go. Too much micro-managing. Too many people with multiple duties. There is progress. But a ton of progress was needed.

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Short Pump, Va. (yeah for real): Orioles fan here. I think this organization has finally got a plan that will work. Stockpile young pitching and trade, develop and FA your position players. My question is do you see the O's realistically competing in the AL East if they continue with this rebuilding plan?

Tom Boswell: Nobody ever thought the Rays would win the A.L. East.

The Yankees are a mess, no matter how much money they spend. How can you ruin Yankee Stadium!? They've done it. Who signed off on moving IN the RF fence? Who missed the fact that the RF fence is now STRAIGHT, not curved as it used to be. Go back to elementary geometry. The "arc" connecting two points encompasses more area. So, by making the OF walla straight line between two points, rather than an arc, to reduce the distance to the fence = more homers.

Anyway, the Red Sox are more of a long-term problem because they are rich and well-run. As the Rays greater than 24K attendance this year shows -- and at low ticket prices -- they are never going to have much money to send.

One point about the Nats -- their tickets are higher priced that many of the teams with a few thousand more per game at the gate. So, the Nats gate revenue is still "mid-market," not small market. So, they have the money for Strasburg. And the O's are paying them $24M-a-year for their TV rights. They never thought they'd love that deal.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, I read that the Rays are spending millions of dollars to start an academy in Brazil. The Lerners promised to be a leader internationally, but we've had nothing other than scandal. When are they going to do something aggressive with their millions like the Rays are doing?

Tom Boswell: Good question. They still seemed stunned by the Dominican and want to fix that first.

The O's got Koji Uehara. Pretty decent get. The Nats?

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Arlington, Va.: The Orioles future infield is still a disaster. Itzuris and Roberts can probably be around for the next 4-5 years, but Mora and Huff will need replacements sooner. Are there any down on the farm?

Tom Boswell: I just reviewed the whole O's system yesterday. Enjoy the '09 lineup with Wieters in it. Mora, 37, and Huff, walk year, may be going, going...

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Sacramento, Calif.: You stated you would not deal Dunn, but who would you deal and for what? Johnson seems the most likely to me and the person who could bring back the most. Do you know who they may be actually looking at (there are A LOT of internet rumors swirling around) in return for Johnson? I'd love Willingham and Kearns to be dealt, but I'm just not sure what they can bring back. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Kearns is untradeable. They like Willingham because, in future, they could move him to 1st with an off-season to learn the position, while keeping Dunn in left field where he is as comfortable as he will probably ever be anywhere. As I've said, he tracks the ball well, can make running catches and, for the undeniable bloopers, is "not the worst." You don't want "not the worst" in your infield.

Few expect Johnson to be back next year. He's got a lot of value now. But how well does he (or any player with a history of injuries) age after 30? Etc. So, if the Nats ever get a palatable deal, especially for the reliever, they'd be wise to take it. How does that affect the lineup? Well, falling to 13-33 changes the equation to a degree. The worse you are, the further you bury yourself, the less value this season holds. Another reason not to bury yourself in the first place.

It's getting pretty bitter for Nats front office people (including Bowden) who pushed for Randy Wolfe, Jon Garland or Braden Looper to look at the solid (and typical) work that all of them are providing at not-cheap-but-sane prices to their new teams. Meanwhile, the Nats patched with Cabrera.

Thanks for the tons of questions. Sorry I couldn't get to more. Gotta go finish a column. See you next week.

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Anonymous: Bos,

You are right on Riggleman. Having a .445 Win Percentage while managing more than 1000 games is hard.

He has the 8th worst win percentage of guys who managed 1000 games or more. Jimmie Wilson managed only a .401 Win Pct in his 1228 games at the helm.

Tom Boswell: Interesting. I didn't know that. But Stengel was right at .445 after his first 9 years managing in Brooklyn and Boston.

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Re the destruction of ...: At that time there is no doubt that Pat Gillick was right. While there is no guarantee that Angelos will continue to do what he promised when he bought the team (I'm going to hire good baseball people and let them do their jobs), it looks as though he finally is letting MacPhail do his job. It can't be forgotten though that he and MacPhail were both part of the negotiations between players and owners a few years ago and that Angelos was known to have been impressed by MacPhail. Not to polish the legend too much, but as someone, like MacPhail, who grew up in the golden era of Orioles baseball, I was cautiously optimistic when he was hired. Now, I'm flat out hopeful.

Tom Boswell: Good dot-connecting.

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Washington, D.C.: Frank didn't have the talent that Manny has(ie Dunn, experienced Zimmerman, Dukes, Willingham,Olsen) but his teams looked a whole lot better and had plenty more wins. Isn't this proof that Manny just doesn't have the ingredients needed to produce a respectible team?

Tom Boswell: I remember Frank getting a home run reversed in the Nats favor -- before replay! And, after 70, didn't he try to punch Mike Scioscia in the mouth?

The comparison, and it will be made since Frank is one of his mentors, too, isn't flattering.

Sorry, gotta go.

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Washington, D.C.: Boz, With all the home run controversies last year and the institution of instant replay to review debatable calls, shouldn't there be a more concerted effort by MLB and teams to minimize ballpark features that will clearly cause problems (before the new stadiums are built)? What on Earth were they thinking at Citi Field?

Tom Boswell: Replay in the regular season is the dumbest idea known to man. Over 162 games, it all comes out in the wash. Besides, if baseball were obsessed with "fairness" (as the sport once was, then everybody would play the same SCHEDULE. But they don't. So don't pretend that getting a HR call correct is an integrity-of-the-game issue. Just let the two plays in NY stand as they were called and you'd be just as well off -- and more fun (debating 'em) but without the delays.

In post-season, mabye. Though who needed 'em for 100 years.

It's just NFL envy.

I clearly enjoy these chats -- and your questions -- far too much. So long.

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Falls Church, Va.: Modern ballparks have become a joke. Band box sizes, hills in play, or ridiculously varied dimensions and wall heights have gone too far. Different parks and home field advantage are a tradition no one wants to drastically change, but it has gotten to the point where MLB has to start reigning in some of these truly idiotic eccentricities.

Is there any hope for that? Rhetorical question because I know it comes down to money, money, money and Bud's leadership being equivalent to an 0-2 count.

Watching a game at Citi Field, however, does make me appreciate Nats Park that much more.

Thoughts?

Tom Boswell: With time, we'll probably come to see the hitter-vs-pitcher "fairness" and lack of gratuitous "quirks" as one Nats Park's strengths. Yet the park has variety in its outfield dimensions, a 14-foot wall in RF and potential for a modest home-field advanatge. Also, probably, the best ballpark to walk, or "railbird," in baseball without missing sight of any action.

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Judge Sotomayor: So, Boz, does she get credit for saving baseball? George Will, in my humble opinion, the most overrated baseball commentator around, claims her decision actually interrupted the ongoing negotiating process, and "sided" with the players union.Funny, I don't remember the owners actually wanting to negotiate, they just wanted to break the union. What's your take?

Tom Boswell: I praised her decision at the time and, as someone who covered every twist of the strike, thought she had it exactly right. And I still do.

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