Chico man enough as Nats win
Starter goes five-plus as Washington weathers cold, Braves
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Manny Acta said if he was just a baseball fan, he didn't know if he would have attended Monday's game between the Nationals and Braves because it was cold at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The game-time temperature was 44 degrees, but the 18 mph winds made it feel 10 degrees less.
"We have to give it up to our players, the Braves and the fans to show up today," Acta said. "I'm a guy that lives for this -- like the [Major League Baseball] model -- but I don't' know if I would have made it to the park today as a fan. I was surprised at the amount of people that showed up today."
It was the Nationals who ended up winning the game in the cold, 5-1, in front of 16,316 fans. The game marked two significant milestones. Left-hander Matt Chico collected his first big-league win, and Dmitri Young represented Jackie Robinson very well by wearing his No. 42 and collecting three hits and driving in two runs.
At first, it looked like Chico was not going to make it past the first inning. With two outs, he walked the next three consecutive hitters -- Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Jeff Francouer -- to load the bases. It didn't help that Chico had problems gripping the baseball because of the cold weather.
While watching Chico get in trouble, Acta was then telling himself how lucky the Nationals were to have a rainout Sunday against the Mets, because Washington's bullpen was rested and the skipper was thinking he might have to use his relievers early.
"I'm really optimistic, but I really didn't think Chico would make it to five innings, just by the way he started," Acta said.
But the Nationals didn't need to go to the bullpen early, as Chico managed to get out of the inning when he induced Brian McCann to fly out to center fielder Ryan Church. Chico ended up throwing 37 pitches in the frame.
"The first inning was kind of a rough one for me. The ball was a little slick. After that, I wanted to try to get to the fifth and give the team a chance to win," Chico said. "It wasn't so much the cold. It was the wind. I couldn't feel the ball in the beginning."
Chico ended up pitching five solid innings, plus two batters in the sixth inning, and gave up one run on four hits. He walked five batters and didn't record a strikeout. For his effort, Chico was given the game ball and lineup card, which he plans to hang on his wall at home.
As a kid growing up in San Diego, his favorite team was the Braves, and he said he had dreams of picking up his first big-league win against them by pitching seven innings. He picked up the win, but it was two innings shy of his fantasy.
"I always wanted to throw against them and Chipper. I always wanted to get my first win off them. I thought I would do a little better, maybe go seven, but I'll take it," Chico said.
Last week, Braves left-hander Chuck James blanked the Nationals for six innings, but Washington was able to take the lead against him in the third inning Monday.
Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead by hitting a single to right field to drive in Felipe Lopez. It was only Zimmerman's third RBI of the season after entering Monday in a 1-for-22 slump, but he ended up going 2-for-4 in the game. Zimmerman felt relieved he was able to chip away at the slump.
"It was the first time I spoke to [first-base coach] Jerry Morales in a long time," Zimmerman said. "It was good to get to first base and say something to him. He gave me a high-five and said, 'Nice to see you.'"
But the hitting star was Young, who wore Robinson's No. 42 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Hall of Famer's entrance into the big leagues, and Young said Robinson's spirit was with him.
After the Zimmerman single, Young followed and drove in two more runs with a double to left center field. Young would collect another double and a single the rest of the way.
"I had an out of body experience. Jackie Robinson was in my soul tonight. He is the one that played. He is the one that collected the doubles," Young said. "Had it been Willie Stargell night, it would have been a couple of home runs."
The Nationals have now won two straight games for the first time this season and three out of their last four to improve their record to 4-9.
"Those guys are not going to get down. They are very positive. The plan for today was, 'We have to be out here [in the cold], so we might as well give it our all and win the ballgame.'"
The Nationals accomplished their mission.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.