WASHINGTON -- The political scorecard stood tied: a Supreme Court victory for the Democrats, an attorney general contempt charge for the Republicans. It was time to decide Thursday's victor -- on the baseball field.
For the 51st year, members of Congress took to the diamond for the annual congressional baseball game. As usual, it was Republicans vs. Democrats. Away from the steps of the Supreme Court and the halls of Congress, under the Nationals Park lights, the Democrats slaughtered the Republicans, 18 to 5, in seven innings.
"We started off the morning great, we won that one," said the Democrats' pitcher, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, referring to the Supreme Court's health care ruling. "But then you have to give them a little bit of a win on the Holder contempt-charade-circus this afternoon."
The GOP-led, late-afternoon vote holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress forced both teams to forgo pre-game practice. Team managers said the game showed something good about an institution most Americans now hold in disdain.
"This is about baseball and apple pie and what's right about America," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the Republican manager. He said he and the Democrats' manager, Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle, were "tighter than ticks" on baseball and charity.
"It's probably the only thing we agree on today -- playing baseball for charity," Doyle said. Later, in the Democrats' dugout, Doyle joked, "If anyone did get hurt today, they would all have insurance."
The teams played for nearly three hours in Washington's sweltering heat, showing diligent fielding, grim turns at bat and almost none of the vitriolic jabs they wield at their day jobs in the Capitol. The Democrats brought 17 representatives, including Rep. Linda Sanchez of California. The Republican roster included 36 representatives and a senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Democrats took control in the top of the second inning, scoring 11 runs. Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.), pinch-running for Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), scored first, quickly followed by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ben Chandler (D-Ky.). With the bases loaded, a hit by Richmond drove in runs by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and pinch-runner Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.).
Polis banged out the game's only home run in the fifth inning, capitalizing on poor GOP fieldwork.
All the Republicans' runs were scored pinch-runners: Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (Tenn.), Robert Dold (Ill.), Erik Paulsen (Minn.), Bill Shuster (Pa.) and Sam Graves (Mo.).
Even in crushing defeat, Republicans found solace. They hit far better than last year. Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) credited the improvement to practice with a staffer who used to play for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"We saw the speed we're going to see tonight, which we didn't have last year," Womack said.
But by the bottom of the fifth, Republicans were down 13 runs -- and they needed a rallying cry.
"Take all that anger over the Supreme Court out," a reporter overheard in the GOP dugout.
Democrats failed to score in the final two innings.
Richmond was MVP of the Democrats' lineup, pitching the entire game and blasting several hits to the outfield. A former varsity pitcher at Morehouse College, the 37-year-old congressman was throwing 80 mph fastballs and said he felt less pressure this year than last.
Fans wasted little time using the day's events to frame their taunts. Democratic staffers shouted "Justice Roberts" and "We got health care" while Republicans were at bat.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took seats in the stands. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) joined the Democrats in celebrating after the game.
Presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) threw out the first pitch to his son, the senator. Before the game, Ron Paul was inducted into the game's Hall of Fame for a home run he hit out of the park in 1979, when the game was played on the Four Mile Run field in Alexandria, Va.
Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), said the game was a sweet ending to a rough and tumble day in politics.
"It's sort of nice to rub it in a little bit," Baca said. But "once we get back there tomorrow, its back in the trenches."