Rep. Tom Rooney drove home the decisive run to give the Republicans an 8-7 win over the Democrats in a heart-stopping finish to the 55th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game on Thursday night.
The Republicans had squandered a five-run lead in the sixth, but kept their cool at the plate and delivered two runs to win the game in their last at-bat in the seventh, ending the Democrats' seven game winning streak.
"All streaks come to an end," said Democrat Manager Rep. Mike Doyle as Republicans celebrated at home plate.
Winning "feels a lot better than losing," said Republican skipper Joe Barton.
With fans on their feet, the two sides slugged it out over the final two innings of the game that has been a Washington mainstay for the better part of the past century. Both sides were animated in their dugouts as the game for charity barreled toward its raucous finish at Nationals Park.
And, of course, politics found its way into the stadium.
In the exciting final inning, Rep. Patrick Murphy of Florida stepped up to the mound to relieve Democratic ace Cedric Richmond of Louisiana. Murphy is challenging Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is seeking re-election , and the GOP fans wasted no time in taunting Murphy with chants of “MAR-CO RUB-IO!”
Murphy faced Rooney, a fellow Floridian, with two-out in the final inning and the score all tied up.
Congress Rocks Nats Field
“I thought it was awesome,” Rooney said of the Rubio chants. “I know Patrick was smiling, too. Hey, the Democrats do that stuff, usually better than us, so it was great.”
For much of the game, Republicans dominated, largely due to pitcher Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, and key defensive plays. Walker had quieted the Democrats for five innings before exiting, allowing his offense to go to work and build a commanding 6-1 lead heading into the final two innings.
“After five innings of pitching, I’m a little tired but the win makes it feel great,” Walker said.
Having only managed a couple of hits and a measly one run, the Democrats came to life in the top of the sixth. Led by Richmond, the MVP last year, they loaded the bases.
At the end of the game, Richmond said he felt “sore.”
“I need to stop goofing off during the year and stay in shape,” he said. “Those guys hit the ball well.”
Rooney said the GOP secret to hitting Richmond, a dominant player, was bringing in young staffers to pitch to them in practice, so they could get used to the speed.
“It’s literally taken us seven years to catch up to Cedric’s fastball,” Rooney said. The Republicans were able to hit Richmond in the first inning. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona walked and advanced to third on a double by Kevin Brady of Texas. Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, possibly playing his last game after an unsuccessful Senate run, drove in Flake with a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0.
"It’s terrific,” Brady said on how he felt after the game. “The Democrats are an awesome team and they’ve been on a long streak. So to have the team come together, battle back in the final inning and Tom Rooney coming through, it was huge.”
Democrats finally got on the board with one run at the top of the fourth, but Republicans quickly answered, growing their lead to 6-1 in the fifth.
The Democrats' frustrations showed in the fifth when they failed to score after a double by Sen. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut to center. There were some heated words between the umpire and first base coach Bill Pascrell of New Jersey after a close play at first to end the inning.
“We will come back and win next year,” Pascrell said.
In the decisive seventh, the top of the Republican order came to the plate.
Rep. Ryan Costello hustled to first for a single and later stole second. Flake hit a line drive to right to bring in a sliding Costello to tie it up. Costello had cuts on his forearm to prove that he dove hard into home plate.
With two outs, Rooney came up and slashed a line drive to right that drove in Flake with the winning run. The Republicans cleared their bench to celebrate at home plate.
Despite the tough loss, some Democrats were looking on the bright side.
”You know I accomplished a great goal,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. “I didn’t hurt myself.”