Brown’s Blunder Seals 5-3 GOP Win
Republicans Take 1-0 Series Lead
Republicans held off the rain and a late rally by their Democratic opponents to win 5-3 in the 42nd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, played Thursday night in Bowie, Md.
Democrats had a real chance to overcome a four-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh, and final, inning. But with the bases loaded, Rep. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) was picked off second by Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), the GOP’s pitcher and most valuable player. The out stopped the Democrats’ momentum and helped the Republicans take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five quest for the coveted Roll Call trophy.
“I was trying to distract the pitcher and I was more distracted myself,” said Brown, who had to listen to Republican fans’ jeers on his way back to the dugout. “It was the longest walk of my life.”
“He’s a very aggressive base runner,” Shimkus said of Brown. “His coach went out there to calm him down, and even a calmed-down Sherrod Brown is an aggressive base runner.”
“That was the key play of the game,” said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who received the throw from Shimkus and tagged Brown out.
Prior to being picked off, Brown had attempted to steal third base, only to realize a colleague was already occupying the bag.
Both former Rep. Marty Russo (D-Ill.), one of the game’s play-by-play announcers, and the Democratic manager, Rep. Martin Sabo (Minn.), warned Brown after his mental error, only to see him picked off seconds later.
Brown may have been overexcited at the prospect of extending the game, as he could be heard in the dugout in the fourth inning rooting for extra frames. His blunder led to some ribbing from teammates.
“Hey, Sherrod, you got a ride?” asked one of his teammates, Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.), after the game. After Brown responded in the affirmative, Baird joked: “Good, because I’m not giving you one.”
But until completing the tag on Brown, Ensign appeared well on his way to playing the role of goat in this game, as the Senator’s sure hands left him briefly in the seventh inning and allowed Democrats a glimmer of hope.
With the GOP leading 5-1, the inning began innocently enough as Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) made a stunning bare-handed pickup and threw out Brown thanks to a stellar pickup by Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) at first.
Santorum nearly made another great play on a hard grounder by the Democratic MVP, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), but the Pennsylvania Senator’s toss was wide of first, pulling Hulshof off the bag.
Then, the wheels of the Republicans’ well-oiled defensive machine fell off.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) flung the ball out of Ensign’s reach on an attempted force out at second, which allowed Democrats to score their second run of the game. Ensign then made two blunders of his own as Democrats plated another unearned run.
“We made some really stupid errors in the last inning, and I blame myself for that as much as anybody else,” Ensign said. “I was just switching hands and dropped the ball.”
Ensign redeemed himself, however, by flipping a ground ball off the bat of freshman Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), who represented the winning run, to Kingston for the final out of the game.
Shimkus, making his second straight start, limited the Democrats to just four hits over his seven innings of work but was plagued by an inconsistent defense that logged five errors — three of which came in the Democrats’ final round of at bats.
“We made more mistakes in the last inning than we did in the last three years,” said Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio), the Republican manager, after the game. “It was ugly, but it was a W.”
Despite his base-running blunders, Brown, who did not play last year because of an injury, was a welcome addition to the Democrats’ side.
He broke up Shimkus’ no-hitter in the bottom of the fourth with a slap single between the third baseman, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), and shortstop Ensign. The Nevada Senator stopped it with a diving play but was unable to throw out the speedy Brown, who stole second and scored on an RBI single by Baca.
As always, the real winners in the game were local charities. The proceeds from the event, estimated at $95,000 at press time, went to the Washington Literacy Council and the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as a group of Prince George’s County charities selected by the game’s host, the Bowie Baysox.
Republicans trotted out a roster consisting of 25 Members, one of their largest clubs in recent memory. They needed each and every player as injuries quickly thinned their ranks.
“I’m glad you guys got 30 players for crying out loud,” quipped Dr. John Eisold, Congress’ Attending Physician, who attended to the wounded.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) led off the game with a walk and quickly advanced to second on a passed ball by catcher Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.).
Wamp, a regular GOP standout, singled into right center and Brady chugged for home. A solid relay throw by Rep. Chris John (D-La.) to Democratic pitcher Rep. Mel Watt (N.C.) led to a play at the plate where Brady collided headfirst with Holden. The catcher dropped the ball, but Brady stayed on the ground, grabbing his left shoulder. It was later diagnosed as a dislocation by Eisold.
“We’re going to need medics out here,” said St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, who threw out the game’s first pitch. “This is serious stuff.”
The play — and injury — was eerily reminiscent of a 1956 collision between Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy (Minn.) and GOP Rep. Tom Curtis (Mo.). Curtis emerged from the partisan clash with a dislocated shoulder, leading Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) to cancel the game for two years.
Both Brady and Holden have sacrificed their bodies for their respective parties’ causes in past years.
In last year’s game, Brady, a Houston-area Congressman, slid headfirst — and a bit awkwardly — into third base, leading House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to joke: “You didn’t land, you skipped like a baseball.”
In the 1996 game, Holden broke his nose, jaw and cheekbone in a collision with Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).
While Brady’s injury was the most serious of the night, he was not the only Republican with bumps and bruises.
Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) was hit in the jaw by a floating curveball in the third inning and struck again with a fastball in the back in the fourth.
The first blow knocked Pickering to the ground, but he recovered nicely and trotted to first base.
“That’s for attaching a rider to his amendment,” cracked one wag in the press box.
“I kept on thinking it was going to break and it didn’t break,” Pickering explained later. “It hit me square, like when you get a punch in the face.”
After being hit again the following inning, Pickering sauntered out to the mound, but instead of exchanging angry words with Watt, the two embraced, and Pickering again made his way to first, where he was lifted for a pinch runner.
“I didn’t want to let the Democrats think they could knock me down and keep me down,” Pickering said.
The game seemed sewn up for Republicans after the first three innings, as they put four runs on the board thanks to the hitting of Wamp, Shimkus and Ensign.
Wamp singled in the first and third, leading to a pair of runs.
Ensign, perhaps the most talented all-around player for the Republicans, showed off his glove several times in the game’s early innings, helping to stymie Democratic rallies. Ensign’s glovework conjured images of Smith’s acrobatic plays during the 1980s as a member of the world champion St. Louis Cardinals.
In the bottom of the second, Ensign went deep into the hole to glove a ground ball off the bat of Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), gathered himself, and threw a one-hopper to Hulshof, who scooped the ball for a fantastic put-out.
The next inning saw Ensign make a more routine play on Rep. Linda Sanchez (Calif.), the only woman on the Democratic roster.
Sanchez, who joined her sister Loretta in Congress in 2003, sported a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform with the number 37 on the front and “IX” on the back.
“The number 37 is for my district and the number nine is in honor of Title IX, which is a program that provides college scholarships to women,” Sanchez explained. “I’m going to take this time to make a political statement as well as have a great time.”
Ashley Johnson and David Perera contributed to this report.