MASN held their Second Annual Blogger Day this afternoon at Nationals Park, welcoming Nats bloggers into the MASN Suite for a special day of baseball. While I was unable to attend, my father, Papa Yoder, pinch-hit and was able to write up a game summary from his experience. Overall he said it was a great time and that MASN treated the bloggers very well. They enjoyed visits from Carpenter, Dibble, and a special visit from Ray Knight which was quite a treat for my dad (an old Mets fan at heart).
Here's the write-up from Papa Yoder:
In 2005, Livan Hernandez pitched the Nationals to victory in their first-ever home game and the Nats surprised and delighted us all by remaining at or near the top of the Eastern Division until the All Star break. Unfortunately, the Nats eventually tailed off, finishing that inaugural season at .500, and failing to reach even that break-even level during any season since.
But there is a clear sense in the air that this year is different. For the last few years, many of the Nats players have seemed satisfied just to have a job in the big leagues. Any games they won were a pleasant surprise. But that attitude is no longer accepted. Mike Rizzo cleaned house this winter, bringing in a mixture of players with a bright future, and players who have won in the past and desperately want to win again. The front office has been greatly upgraded by hiring talent from other teams. The attitude has changed from "it is OK to lose while we are in a building mode" to "we want to win now and win more later."
Brian Bruney won a World Championship ring with the Yankees last season, and he was showing it off to some of the other players in the clubhouse yesterday. Other new acquisitions Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy also have rings.. They know what it takes to win a championship, and they have helped the younger players on the team to believe that they can win one too. In Washington. Perhaps not this year - but soon. There is a buzz, in the clubhouse, an excitement about what this team can become. The Nats may not be a contender just yet - but they expect to win more often than they lose - and that is a huge step forward.
The Nats awoke on Saturday to find themselves at 5 wins, 5 losses, the latest that they had held a .500 record in any season since 2005. And, just like on that other April day almost exactly five years ago, Livan Hernandez, who also has a ring, was on the mound.. Livan did not start off well. He stranded a runner in the first and walked the bases loaded in the second. Though he had managed to avoid giving up any runs, Livan did not seem fated to pitch long today .
Asked to identify the single biggest difference between this year's team and previous squads, those who travel with the team consistently give one answer: Ivan Rodriguez. It is not just that Ivan has been hitting (though that helps) but it is his leadership, his work ethic, and his handling of the pitching staff that has made the difference. Ivan wants to win - he will not accept losing, and he works extremely hard to keep in shape. His attitude is contagious.
In the bottom of the second inning today, Ivan stepped to the plate and demonstrated some of that leadership by singling in the first run of the game. Before the crowd had finished cheering, Justin Maxwell blasted a two run homer to dead centerfield to give the Nats a 3-0 lead. Then Ivan went to work with his pitcher to make sure that the lead would hold up. And from that point forward, Livan was masterful, completely shutting down the Brewers and allowing only two more singles the rest of the way.
When Ivan drove in two more runs with a double in the sixth, to make the score 6-0, Nats fans were treated to an experience that they have had few chances to enjoy over the past five years. With three innings left in the game, victory felt secure. The only real question remaining was whether Livan could hang on to get the eighth complete game shutout of his career. He did, despite some shaky fielding by second baseman Cristian Guzman and aided by a Brooksian diving play by Ryan Zimmarman. Final score: Nats 8- Miwaukee 0.
With todays win, the Nats pulled into a tie for third place. And by the end of the day, if Atlanta and Florida lose, the Nats could be tied for second. Perhaps it is only April, but it feels good to be in a pennant race.