Too bad my favorite fictional sports character, Crash Davis, from the 1988 classic baseball movie "Bull Durham," wasn't in the Pittsburgh Pirates locker room Thursday at RFK Stadium after the Washington Nationals completed a three-game sweep of their National League rivals for a stunning 20-6 record in the month of June.
I would have asked Crash what he thought about the Nationals' turnaround from the last-place Montreal Expos of 2004 to first place in the tough NL East despite a rash of injuries and a roster that had preseason prognosticators saying this was a team destined for the cellar.
I would have asked Crash how a team without its best player, second baseman Jose Vidro, and, recently, Nick Johnson, could possibly be nearly 20 games over .500 at the magical July 4 mark?
And, finally, I would have asked Crash's protege, the hard-throwing but wild right-hander Nuke LaLoosh, how could he explain the brilliance of relief pitcher Chad Cordero, who at 23 just tied the much respected Lee Smith and John Wetteland with the most saves (15) in a month and finished June with an 0.00 ERA, saving 28 of 30 on the season?
If Crash and Nuke are figments of writer-director Ron Shelton's imagination, Pirates Manager Lloyd McClendon and right fielder Ryan Doumit are real. So real, McClendon, his team beaten in three tight games last week, was asked to explain the Nationals' success.
"Their pitchers don't walk guys and their players catch the ball," McClendon said. "They're playing with a lot of confidence. That's huge, particularly when you have the talent."
Doumit, whom Cordero induced into a game-ending flyout to right field with the bases loaded in a 7-5 game Thursday, was slightly more expansive. "I recognize a good team when I see it and that's a good team."
On the final out, Doumit said: "Cordero is sneaky. He puts it wherever he wants. My hat's off to him and his team.
"Look, we played them three tough games and they won them all. They've got chemistry and confidence. They walk the walk."
Down the hall from the Pirates' confines, in the crowded and cramped Nats locker room, one gets the feeling these Nats, many of them ignored much of their professional careers, truly are cherishing their moment in the spotlight. Even the brightest star, Cordero, seems surprised and truly delighted by his success. He stands fast, answers every question until the last camera light is turned off, and politely nods his head when some old dope informs him the first full-time relief pitcher in major league history was a Washington Senator, Firpo Marberry, from 1923 to '32.
"I never thought I could do this," Cordero said of his record-tying performance the past month. "Who knew I could do this? Not me. I just go after the hitters and try to learn something every day. I haven't been fancy these last couple of weeks. Throwing just fastballs."
"He's just one cool customer," Manager Frank Robinson said.
This Old House
Here's what's wrong with the Nationals and RFK Stadium: TV situation is maddening, radio broadcasts sometimes hard to find, no owner, loose outfield turf, soft infield, food feh, lines for feh food too long, security in players' parking lot as vulnerable as security for local police chief's car, not enough ticket business in D.C., not enough banners in D.C., not enough ticket windows at RFK and throughout town, weather is too hot, and some fans who bought tickets don't go to games -- costing D.C. money from beer and hot dog sales.
But don't try telling that to Allison Van Ocker, who works the memorabilia stand in the lower concourse selling everything from Nats hats, shorts, batting helmets, mini-bats, yearbooks and, of course, Feinstein's latest book on his recent shoulder surgery, "Season in the Sling."
On a hot and sunny Thursday, I estimated about 33,000 fans were in the 44-year-old ballpark -- which was 33,000 fans more than last year's baseball crowd here or any of the previous 32 years.
"They buy all kinds of stuff," Van Ocker said. "Red hats, blue hats, shirts, everything. You can feel the energy in this park. It's fun."
When the season ends, whenever, Van Ocker will return to MCI Center, where she works Wizards and, hopefully, Capitals games. "I like selling to people who go to events," she said. "It's a fun environment. People who go to games are excited."
Outside the gate, Virginia kids Scott Measell, John Dodd and Sam Obenshan were waiting for their ride home. "I like the games at RFK," Dodd said. Obenshan was more pointed. "We like Vinny Castilla."
I like the kids.
Like Father, Like Son
Three years after finishing his 10-year NBA career, former DeMatha and Duke star Danny Ferry is the new general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ferry spent the last two years as the director of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs after playing his final three years there. He played for the Cavaliers from 1990 to 2000, appearing in 723 games.
Ferry, of course, is the son of my China Doll tablemate Bob Ferry, the former GM of the Bullets. I asked Danny Ferry what he'd learned about the job from his father: "How you can be a good dad and do this job. He was always there for us. But I could see how much work the job took. I also remembered how he tried to treat players fairly and honestly, and hopefully I learned that from him."
Ferry has $25 million to spend on free agency and the responsibility of keeping LeBron James, one of the NBA's bright young stars, committed to the team. "The owner wants to do this right," he said. "I've got a heckuva opportunity."
The Wizards drafting 6-foot-11 high schooler Andray Blatche with their only draft pick -- in the second round -- generated scant buzz in town. Blatche, from South Kent (Conn.) Prep, seems destined for assignment to the development league, unless he does better than anyone anticipates in the summer league.
GM Ernie Grunfeld's priority is signing unrestricted free agent guard Larry Hughes, one of the team's best players. Restricted free agents Kwame Brown and Steve Blake have been tendered qualifying offers, but I wonder if Kwame has a future here. Also, I'd like to see unrestricted free agent Juan Dixon return.
* What's the story with runners on area tracks jabbering away on cell phones in the middle of a jog? When did that fad start? Why am I always late to discover fads? And should we put a stop to this?
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