Shuler, Democratic Defense Can’t Stop Republican Winning Streak

Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:20pm

The Democratic faithful had put their hope in the bat of former Redskins quarterback Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) Monday night. They should have focused more on the fielders because it was the defense, or lack thereof, that did in the Democrats at the 46th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

Their nine errors paved the way for a 5-2 Republican victory before a crowd of 4,132 at RFK Stadium. The GOP now leads the current best-of-five series 2-0.

“This is probably the best-played game in the last nine or 10 years,” said Republican manager, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas). “I’m just glad we got three more runs.”

The wheels came off for the Democrats in the third inning, when five errors — including three by their shortstop, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), who made five miscues total — led to a four-run inning that put the Republicans up 4-1. The GOP starter, Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), took it from there, tossing a complete game with seven innings of five-hit ball. He struck out four and walked two.

The Republicans committed just two errors.

“Solid defensive play made the difference in the game,” said Republican Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.), who went 2-for-3. Barton “substituted at will, and that speaks volumes about the depth of our team.”

Republican Rep. Bill Shuster led off the third with the night’s only extra-base hit, a drive to right field that the Pennsylvanian legged out for a triple. (The Democratic manager, Rep. Mike Doyle, had been concerned about his home-state colleague’s hitting prowess, as he said to one of his players during the at-bat, “Believe me, when Billy hits it, it goes.”) Shuster’s pinch runner, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), scored on a groundout to tie the game at 1-1.

Three more runs, these unearned, came on two singles and five errors. The big blow was a two-run single by Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.).

The Democrats’ starter, Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), finally got out of the inning on a bases-loaded double play.

After the Republicans went up 5-1 in the fifth, the Democrats pulled back within three in the bottom of the inning. Rep. Christopher Murphy (Conn.) reached second on an error and his pinch runner, Rep. Patrick Murphy (Pa.), went to third on a groundout before scoring on a hustle infield single by Rep. William Lacy Clay (Mo.).

But Shimkus allowed only one single over the final two innings to clinch the Republicans’ seventh consecutive victory.

The conventional wisdom entering the game was that some of the new Democratic talent, including the Murphys (unrelated) and Shuler, who starred at the University of Tennessee before being picked third overall by the Redskins in 1994, would give the Democrats a chance to break their losing streak. But Christopher Murphy went 0-for-2 and Shuler went a disappointing 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, which led to the Republican crowd taunting him with chants of “Over-rated!”

Shuler was relegated to designated hitting because of a foot injury.

“I’m really not supposed to do anything,” he said afterward. “Everybody thought I was going to pitch, but there was no way.”

Shuler was robbed on a rocket grounder in the first inning by the Republican third baseman, Rep. Chip Pickering (Miss.), before whiffing in his final two at-bats.

“I just bore down on him a little extra,” Shimkus, who was co-MVP of the Republican team along with Pickering, said of his strategy against Shuler. “If he’d have gotten the barrel of his bat on the ball, it would have gone a long way.”

Besides Shimkus, the other star for the Republicans was Wamp, who in addition to the two hits, which extended his hitting streak to 11 games, turned in several fine plays at shortstop.

Baca pitched a complete game, yielding eight hits and one earned run. He struck out four and walked none in earning the Democratic MVP honor.

So though they fared better than in 2006’s 12-1 defeat, the Democrats still came up short.

“It’s that one-inning jinx for us,” Doyle said. “Joe Baca pitched a great game. We should have won this game 2-1.”

Organizers estimate the game raised over $75,000 for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

Bryce Bauer, Emma Dumain and Rob Silverblatt contributed to this report.