May 21, 2019

Centerfield in Washington Is Ankiel’s Now

April 3, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

When Rick Ankiel laid down the perfect squeeze bunt in the seventh inning yesterday all the thoughts of the Nationals nagging center field question disappeared like Brad Wilkerson going back into the dugout after waving to the crowd upon hitting for the cycle early in the 2005 season.  Nyjer who?  And what was that other guy’s name?.

Tommy Hanson starting game two in Washington for the Braves looked like another bus ticket to “Palookaville” with a big “L” obliterating everything else. Washington was on its way to another horrible loss, another bad April. Hanson notched 21 wins and a 3.16 ERA in his first two seasons for the Braves, enough to convince last year’s Nationals to sit back and see what Adam Dunn could do against the kid.  This year the Nats are different.

A funny thing happened on the way to the third inning.  The Nationals starting playing that smart baseball that Ian Desmond talked about in spring training.  They manufactured a run in the second on nothing more than a walk, a throwing error and moving the runner around to score without a hit. After Lannan coughed up a tying run in the top of the third they did it again in the bottom of the inning.  Then to make the point clear for Atlanta, Ankiel hit a two-run home run to give the Nationals a lead they would never relinquish.

Rick Ankiel had been ticketed for story hour.A baseball legend almost before he threw his first pitch in the majors, he became famous as a pitcher with the yips who let the game get in his head. No one questioned that it was immense pressure for a young kid who had just arrived in the big leages–starting a game in the World Series.  But the resulting mess was something for folks to talk about.

Ankiel remade himself into a successful hitter in St. Louis, but he needs to remake himself again and on Saturday against the Braves a clear picture may be emerging.

Regardless whether Ankiel goes the way of Brad Wilkerson or not, the Washington team on the field Saturday against the Braves bears little resemblance to those we have seen for the past six seasons. In the past when the Nationals got a runner to third base with one out, he died there more often than not.  Moving runners, taking the extra base, great defense at the right times, all those things have been missing, but they were there for all to see yesterday.

But a squeeze play?  Who would have thunk it.  And Ankiel made it work to perfection in a way that Nyjer Morgan could never have done or at least few would have had enough confidence in the mercurial player to chance it.

And the 2011 Nationals can flash the leather with the best of them.  Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond all made fine plays to seal off the Braves at key moments in the game. All those sessions with Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo talking about how the Nationals were going to play smart baseball in 2011 were not the usual fluff.  It looks like the real thing.

So whether the Nationals win the NL East or not, there is proof in Washington that someone knows how this is supposed to be done.  Call it what you will, “inside baseball” is what they used to call it, now it is “playing the game the right way.” The 2011 Nationals are going to be a lot of fun to watch if they keep playing like this.

And the Nationals are going to enjoy playing the game a lot more as well. The smile on Rick Ankiel’s face back in the dugout after the squeeze play told it all.  It was a smart baseball decision when Mike Rizzo wrote Ankiel’s name into the starting lineup. Center field in Washington belongs to him now. No one would have it any other way.

Comments

2 Responses to “Centerfield in Washington Is Ankiel’s Now”
  1. ken voytek says:

    Interesting and provocative article about center field in NatsTown. I would urge you to look up the beltway to see a team that is indeed getting the pieces into place. I think Luke Scott would match up well in DC. It should prove an interesting season in both places.

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    As a resident of Maryland I have divided loyalties. I never felt comfortable with the Orioles as “my” team, being from the DC suburbs, but I remain a fan nonetheless. I am rooting for the Orioles to put it back together and stood in line for two hours to get Cal Ripken to autograph a book for my daughter who will forever be the Iron Man’s biggest fan.

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