October 4, 2009
It's weird to be playing regular season baseball games this late in the autumn (10/4/09), but I can't complain about the way things turned out for the Nationals. Whereas the luckless "D.C. 9" started the 2009 season by losing seven games in a row, they managed to pull themselves together at the very end, winning their last seven games. No other team in baseball finished the 2009 season with a winning streak longer than four. The best previous season-ending performance by the Nationals was in 2007, when they went 5-2 in their final seven games. Last year they went 1-6. It is the very first time they have won their final game of the season. Hopefully, this is a positive omen for the 2010 season. The last-minute hot streak couldn't have come at a better time for interim manager Jim Riggleman, whose job hangs in the balance. (Among the candidates for a permanent replacement is the Mets' former manager Bobby Valentine.) The Nats were 26-61 (.299) under Manny Acta this year, and 33-42 (.440) under Riggleman.
This afternoon's game was an amazing pitchers' duel, as J.D. Martin went six innings and only gave up one run. In the seventh, Adam Dunn pinch-hit and got an RBI single, evening the score. It is noteworthy that none of the veteran sluggers were in the Nats' original lineup, whereas most of the Braves best players were; they didn't want to end the season getting swept at home. In almost every one of the extra innings the Nats got a runner on base, but failed to capitalize on it. In the 14th inning, Ryan Zimmerman doubled, but Wil Nieves somehow couldn't score from first base, and nothing came of that opportunity. In the 15th inning, Elijah Dukes walked and Alberto Gonzalez singled to left-center field, getting the go-ahead RBI. The Braves advanced runners to second and third base in the bottom of the inning, but Logan Kensing hung in there and struck out Brooks Conrad to end the game. See MLB.com. Whew! I was glad that Rigglemen gave Kensing a chance to test his mettle; this experience will do him good in the future. (If he had screwed up, I would have felt otherwise!) Until today, the longest game played by the Nationals this year was 12 innings, which they did four times.
Yesterday's game was just as dramatic, but not quite as long. The Nats scored a run in the first inning thanks to an RBI single by Ryan Zimmeran, and held a slim lead until the Braves tied it 2-2 in the sixth inning. The game went into extra innings. In the top of the tenth, Cristian Guzman pinch-hit a double that scored two runs, but then the Braves managed to tie the game 4-4 in the bottom of the inning. In the eleventh, Justin Maxwell hit a two-run homer that proved to be the decisive play of the game. When Zack Segovia came in as a reliever, I started to cringe, remembering how he almost gave up a six-run lead on September 10. Once again, he allowed multiple runners to reach base, but this time it wasn't fatal to the team, as the Nats hung on to win, 6-4.
TRUE ANECDOTE: When I was in Denver two months ago, a fan saw my Washington cap and expressed his condolences. I pointed out to him that the Nationals were on an eight-game winning streak, the hottest team in the majors -- for a brief moment. He seemed unaware of that, and probably didn't believe me. And so, once again, the lowly Nats are (temporarily) at the top of the MLB heap!
The Minnesota Twins won their last four games of the season, pulling even with the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central race yesterday. Today the Tigers finally beat the White Sox, averting a sweep at home in Detroit, and forcing a tie-breaking playoff game with the Twins, to be played at the Metrodome on Tuesday. The Metrodome will "retire" as a baseball venue after this season, and the Twins' opponents must be wondering whether the notorious indoor noise advantage will once again tilt the games in Minnesota's favor.
From the "Stranger Than Fiction" Department: Lab workers at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona were allegedly playing around with the the frozen head of baseball legend Ted Williams, and possibly mutilated it. See New York Daily News, via David Pinto.