A Visit From The “Evil Empire”

By Carla Peay
Updated: June 19, 2006

WASHINGTON–It could be the title of a new science fiction movie. No doubt the drama surrounding the Nationals since relocating to Washington last year has certainly resembled a movie plot. But no, it was a visit by the Bronx Bombers, the first in 34 years.

The last time the New York Yankees came to the nation’s capital was September 30, 1971. Their opponents on that day, the Washington Senators, were playing in their final game before leaving Washington D.C. for Texas.

The Senators were leading that contest by a score of 7-5 heading into the final inning, but history records the game as a 9-0 loss for the Senators. The score was determined by a forfeit, as fans stormed the field in the ninth inning, and the teams were unable to complete the game.

Fast forward thirty-five years, to a hot and humid weekend in June of 2006. The Yankees, accompanied by their traveling road show of visiting and transplanted fans, many of whom proudly sported their ‘Evil Empire’ tee-shirts, tried their best to out yell the National’s fans in their own stadium.

These three games weren’t a series, they were events. Each game produced sell out crowds, averaging 45,000 per game, with a total of almost 135,000 for the three game set. Regardless of rooting interests, the games themselves did not disappoint.

Game one on Friday night saw both teams take a 5-5 tie into the top of the ninth, until the Yankees scored two runs. Bernie Williams hit a solo home run, and an insurance run was added by a Jorge Posada double, and a sacrifice fly by Johnny Damon.

Former Yankee Alfonso Soriano also homered, his 24th of the season. The Yankees took game one by a score of 7-5.

Game two, a near four hour affair, saw a 2-2 tie heading into the fifth inning, when the Yankees exploded for 7 runs to take a 9-2 lead. But the Nationals fought back scoring 4 runs in the fifth, 2 in the seventh, and 3 in the eighth for a stunning come from behind 11-9 victory.

The Nationals handed the Yankees their worst blown lead since 2002. Slumping Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez homered for his 15th of the season. Posada also homered for his 9th of the year, and National’s reserve Daryle Ward blasted an upper decker for his 5th homer on the season.

Game three was a 2-1 pitchers duel favoring the Yankees heading into the ninth inning. It ended in perhaps even more dramatic fashion than the previous day’s game with a 2 run, walk-off homer by National’s rookie and budding star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The result was a 3-2 victory in game three and a series win for the Nationals.

“I’ve never hit a walk-off anything, a single, anything”, said the normally stoic Zimmerman, who even keeled manner belies his rookie status.

“The fans here are great. The atmosphere here this weekend was awesome. It was great to be a part of it. Hopefully (this win) will get us back on track”, he added. Zimmerman allowed himself a rare display of emotion as he rounded third base with his fist in the air as a mob of teammates greeted him at home plate.

Was this the highlight the 21 year-old third baseman’s career, whose play has already drawn comparisons to Scott Rolen and Brooks Robinson? “It’s pretty high up there, to hit a home run against them (the Yankees). Especially to win the series”, he admitted with a rare smile.

The way this week started for the Nationals, smiling might have been the last thing on anyone’s mind. “If you’re leading by two runs in the seventh inning, you have to win your share of these games and we’re not doing that”, said Nationals manager Frank Robinson after the game one loss on Friday night.

The National’s had just lost five straight, dropping game one to the Yankees after being swept four straight by the visiting Colorado Rockies. But the mood of the team was clearly elevated after the spectacular come from behind win in game two.

“Anytime you come back from a 9-2 deficit, it’s always a great thing”, said National’s catcher Brian Schneider after the dramatic game two victory. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It just shows that although we’ve lost some games the past couple of nights, that guys here still continue to play hard.”

“It shows a lot about our team. After losing a bunch of games in a row, we needed that game last night, and hopefully that will help us for the next couple of nights. For the last month we’ve played very good baseball and I think it’s coming together real good for us”, added Schneider.

Things came together quite well in the series finale.

“It’s very satisfying and it’s huge, to go out on the road after two wins like we accomplished in the last two ballgames. Especially the way we won them. I don’t know if we need a plane today to go to Boston. Maybe we’ll just fly over there ourselves”, said Robinson, cracking a rare smile.

What’s next for the Nationals after closing out their longest home stand of the season thus far? A trip to Fenway Park where they will face the ‘green monster’, in a three game series against the nemesis of the ‘Evil Empire’, the Boston Red Sox.

Sounds like a movie all right.