GOP Overcomes Deficits, Wins 11-10

Posted July 18, 2008 at 6:07pm

It wasn’t as easy as in years past, but Republicans continued their baseball dominance Thursday night in the 47th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park, coming from behind for an 11-10 walk-off win to sweep the best-of-five series and retire yet another coveted Roll Call trophy.

Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.) scored the game-winner for the Republicans on a throwing error by Rep. Christopher Murphy (Conn.), the Democrats’ catcher, who was attempting a game-ending double play.

The Republicans, who have now won eight games in a row and own 10 trophies to the Democrats’ two, won by overcoming deficits of 4-3 and 10-8 in the final two innings.

“When it counted, we came back, just on true grit, really,” said Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the Republican manager. “We won this game more on heart than on talent.”

The players needed all the heart — and stamina — they could muster. The game began about an hour late and was played through heat and humidity that would drain even more accomplished athletes. But the crowds still filled the stadium — 6,124 attended the game at its new home in Southeast D.C. — and combined with corporate sponsors to set a fundraising record for the game.

According to the Washington Literacy Council (which helped organize the game), this year’s contest raised more than $140,000, which benefits the WLC’s adult literacy programs and the Boys & Girls Clubs.

While all participants must be thrilled with the fundraising success, Democrats would like to have had a bit more success of their own.

They had a chance to win the game when, leading 10-9 with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the final inning, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) hit a comebacker to the pitcher, Rep. Joe Baca. The California Democrat came home for the force-out, but Murphy’s throw to first to complete the double play sailed over the head of the first baseman and into right field. Two runners scored on the play, including Putnam, who scored all the way from first and slid in just ahead of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (N.Y.) throw from the outfield.

“The Democrats deserved to win the game,” said Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.), the Republican shortstop who went 2-for-2 with a triple and two walks. “I’ve played for 12 years, and this was the best baseball game I’ve played in.”

“I feel really bad for Mike Doyle,” added Barton, referring to the Pennsylvania House Member who manages the Democrats, “because they played really hard.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) earned MVP honors for the Republicans, going 1-for-4 with a run and turning in several fine defensive plays at second base. Brady threw out two runners at home and also turned a nifty double play with Wamp.

Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), the Republicans’ veteran starting pitcher, did not throw a complete game this time, unusual for him. But after his reliever, Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), had trouble finding the plate in the seventh inning, Shimkus re-entered an 8-8 game and struck out two batters before Baca put his team ahead with a two-run bloop single to right.

But Baca felt a twinge in his hamstring on his way to first base, so Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.) came on to relieve him on the mound in the bottom of the seventh. Stupak did not record an out, loading the bases on three straight walks. In again came Baca, who induced a pop-up before walking Rep. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) to make it 10-9 and setting up Mack’s game- winner.

Despite the error, Murphy was named co-MVP with Baca for the Democrats. Murphy went 2-for-3 with two runs and a sacrifice fly.

“You can’t put [the loss] on any one player,” Doyle said. “We wouldn’t have been in the game without him.”

The Democrats appeared to have blown any chance for victory in the sixth inning, when they coughed up a 4-3 lead, yielding seven hits, including an inside-the-park homer by Rep. Chip Pickering (Miss.). That was followed by likely the hardest-hit ball of the night, a rocket to left by Wamp that went for a triple.

“Chip and I had been sliding around out there in the field and made some mistakes that hurt us, but we’re gamers and we went to the plate determined to crack the ball, and we did,” Wamp said. (Pickering made two errors and Wamp made three, including two on one play.)

Freshman Rep. Steve Scalise (La.) added a key two-run single, and when the inning ended, it was 8-4 and the GOP was three outs from victory.

The 47th edition of the summer classic was the second in a row to remain competitive throughout (last year, the Republicans won 5-2), but the first in a long while to display such drama.

“It was the most exciting of all the games I’ve been in, and I’ve been in 21,” Barton said.

And with a few top-tier Republicans retiring, including Pickering and Rep. Kenny Hulshof (Mo.), it bodes well for more wild nights at Nats Park.

“I think, frankly, the Democrats have gotten better,” Wamp said. “We’re going to have our hands full next year.”

Melissa Attias, Casey Hynes and Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.