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Mr. Bonds Comes To Washington
Giants slugger Barry Bonds connects for career home runs number 706 and 707 in RFK Stadium. Photo by John E. DeFreitas.
WASHINGTON— The Washington Nationals mid-September road trip began with such promise, as they started off with a four game winning streak, sweeping the Mets in New York, and posting a victory over the Padres in San Diego in the series opener.
Then came two heartbreaking ninth inning collapses to the Padres as they would go on to lose the series, the second game by a score of 8-5 in 12 innings, and suffering yet another one-run loss by a score of 2-1 in the final game on Sunday.
Returning home to RFK with their playoff chances hanging by a slim thread, the Nationals prepared to face once of the game’s greatest talents, slugger Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. In his first road trip of the season, Bonds did not disappoint.
In the Giants 4-3 victory in the series opener, Bonds smashed a home run into the upper deck in right field in the fourth inning, placing a finger to his lips to silence a heckler as he rounded the bases. The Giants, like the Nationals, are also holding onto slim playoff hopes.
“It was a big win for us. We’ve got to keep winning. We’re chasing San Diego”, said Bonds of his team’s opening night victory. Bonds also lavished praise on National’s pitcher Livan Hernandez.
“Livo’s a great pitcher. He’s a really good friend of mine, too. He’s got a rubber arm and he’s a smart pitcher. I wish he was still with us”, Bonds added with a smile. Asked about his recent return to the Giants lineup after missing most of the season with a knee injury, Bonds turned reflective.
“I don’t know. Right now, everything is rushed. The beginning of the season, you have all year. You go through a see-saw during the course of a season and right now I’m rushed to put everything together really really fast. Sometimes I’m impatient up there (at the plate), but right now I don’t have a whole lot of time to think about those things, and I haven’t played all year to be able to minimize my mistakes.
When asked what would happen once he got in a groove, Bonds flashed his hundred watt smile and replied, “Just enjoy the show.”
Bonds is clearly pleased with the quick pace he has gotten off to after missing so much time. “I’m surprised. A lot of times you don’t do that. Sometimes you get lucky early in spring training and you just go down the tubes. Hopefully I can just hang onto it for as long as I can until the end of the season, and hopefully we can get past San Diego and get in this.”
Replaced in left field in the ninth inning, the Nationals would rally to try and win the game, but a diving catch made by Todd Linden off a line drive by Brad Wilkerson preserved the victory for the Giants. Asked what would have happened had he still been in the game, Bonds smiled and replied, “Yeah. We would have lost.”
As for the show to which Bonds alluded, it would continue in game two as Bonds wasted no time in belting another home run, this one just over the right field wall in the first inning. The Giants would go on to win game two of the series 5-1.
But the Nationals refused to be swept by the visitors from the Bay area, and in the rubber game of the series on Thursday afternoon, they rallied behind a another stellar pitching performance by emergency starter Hector Carrasco, and a revamped starting lineup to take the final game 2-0. Bonds did not play in Thursday’s contest.
“The thought behind the lineup change is giving the guys (the regular starters) a day off and trying something a little different, and giving some of the other guys a shot”, said Robinson of a lineup that featured first round draft pick Ryan Zimmerman, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Church, and September call ups Brandon Watson and Rick Short. As for Carrasco, Robinson had high praise for his newest starter.
“In his first outing, he was good. In his second, he was excellent. Tonight, he was super”, said Robinson. “I told him I wanted the ball”, said Carrasco, when injuries to Ryan Drese and Tony Armas forced the need to find another starting pitcher.
Carrasco has been a stellar reliever all year, and hopes for the chance to become a starter next season. In addition to his praise for Carrasco, Robinson echoed the same feelings about the rest of his team.
“I’m proud of the players themselves. It was a terrific first half. It was a magical first half. And deep down in your heart, you know you can’t keep that up. We won a lot of ballgames in spectacular fashion, especially late in the ballgames. Things happened, breaks happened for us, we got key hits. We won a lot of ballgames with four hits in the first half of the season, and it caught up with us the second half of the season”, said Robinson.
“When I have a chance to sit back and relax and look at the whole thing, I’m proud of the team. I’m really proud of the way they got out of the gate. We talk about fast starts. What is a fast start? Some people think two weeks, or a month. But we met my criteria for a fast start, a half a year. We played very good baseball for a half a year”, he added.
The Nationals finish the season against division rivals New York, Florida and Philadelphia.