April 12, 2010
For the first time in over two years, April 5, 2008 to be exact, the Washington Nationals have an even .500 record, having won three and lost three of their first six games this year. They are now tied for third place in the NL East, having had sole possession of last place ever since April 7, 2008. This (relatively) remarkable turn of events came about after clutch performances led to two victories over the New York Mets this weekend. On Saturday, reserve outfielder Willy Taveras (who??) batted in four runs, with a triple in the second inning and a single in the fourth, and that was all the Nationals needed. With the score 4-3, closer Matt Capps allowed the Mets to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth, and when Rod Barajas hit a low line drive to left field, it appeared as though the Mets would at least tie and probably win the game. But Willie Harris made a spectacular diving catch to make the third out and end the game -- just like he did at Shea Stadium in May 2008! Harris is a true clutch performer, on defense as well as at the plate. In the game I saw in Washington last September, it was his ninth-inning home run that launched the improbable comeback victory over the Florida Marlins.
In Sunday's game, once again, all of the Nationals' runs were batted in by one player -- in this case, outfielder Josh Willingham. In the first inning, he hit a grand slam after being called out at the plate. The umpires reviewed the play on instant replay, and his triple was turned into a home run. See MLB.com, which includes a video clip. (Hit "pause" at 12 seconds into the video, and you'll see exactly where the ball bounced -- to the right of that vertical orange line.) If the fence in center field were angled back several feet so that it met the grandstand at the corner, such anomalous situations would not arise. In any case, the extra run didn't end up mattering, as the Nats won by three runs, 5-2. Willingham doubled in another run in the third inning, and Mets' starter Johan Santana was taken out of the game after the fifth inning. In contrast, the Nats' reliable veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez went seven full innings without giving up a run, and in his last at-bat, he got a single! He isn't a fastball pitcher, and doesn't have any tricky pitches, he just outwits the batters, and lasts for inning after inning... In the eighth inning, Brian Bruney gave up two runs, but in the ninth, Matt Capps got three quick outs on seven pitches to earn his third save of the season.
[UPDATE: Willingham's blast marks the 16th grand slam ever hit by a Washington Nationals player, and Willingham himself hit four of them. See Oct. 1, 2009 for a complete list.]
A few miles to the west in New York, Yankee Stadium is in the final stages of demolition. As you can see from the helicopter photos at wcbs880.com, most of the external structure that once housed the concourses and ramps is now gone. On the positive side, workers salvaged three of the balconies from the demolished ballpark, and some people hope that they will be somehow incorporated into "Heritage Park," which will occupy the land where the original Yankee Stadium once stood. See nydailynews.com. Well, I guess that's better than nothing, but not by much. (Links above and below via Mike Zurawski.)
In Dallas, meanwhile, Texas Stadium -- the home of the Cowboys from 1971 until 2008 -- was quickly demolished via implosion at 7:05 on Sunday morning. Watch it at youtube.com.