April 18, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Historic weekend in baseball

History was made in three different cities on Saturday and Sunday. In St. Louis last night, the Cardinals and Mets prevented each other from scoring any runs for nine innings -- twice. Broadcast by FOX in living color all across the Fruited Plain, the two teams battled each other for eighteen full innings before either one of them scored even a single run. (And they say soccer games are boring!) Three times in extra innings the Cardinals loaded the bases without scoring once. St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa made some questionable substitutions, such as having the pitcher bat right after Pujols. The Cardinals used up their entire pitching staff, and in the 18th inning, infielder Felipe Lopez (a former Washington National who had single-handedly won the game the night before with a grand slam) came in as a relief pitcher. It was desperation, madcap baseball at its finest. Felipe had a tough time getting strikes and outs, grinning sheepishly at his amateurish efforts, but thanks to a couple spectacular defensive plays, the Cards held on.

In the top of the 19th, however, with outfielder Joe Mather on the mound for the Cards, the Mets finally got a run on a sacrifice fly by Jeff Francoeur, and it looked like it was all over for the home team. But in the bottom of the 19th, the Cards answered with a run of their own, as a single by Yadier Molina got Albert Pujols (who had just doubled) across the plate. Wouldn't you know it: for 18 innings neither team scores, and then they both score in the 19th! Actually, were it not for the failed hit-and-run attempt by Ryan Ludwick, who was thrown out at second (just barely) right before Pujols came to bat, the Cards would have tied the game on Pujols' double, in which case Molina's RBI would have won the game. In the 20th inning, Jose Reyes put one more run on the board with a sacrifice fly, and it proved to be decisive. The game ended shortly after 10:00 PM local time, six hours and 53 minutes after it began, with only about one-sixth of the original capacity crowd of 43,709 still present. See MLB.com; there are related stories on separate pages. Now that's entertainment!

It may not have been the longest game in history, but I'm pretty sure it was the longest game I had ever watched on TV -- nearly [seven] hours of high-tension drama. It was a game the Mets really had to win to prove they can still compete in the National League East, whereas the dominant Cardinals took the loss in stride.

Jimenez throws no-hitter

In Atlanta, Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in Colorado Rockies history last night, as the visiting team beat the Braves, 4-0. See MLB.com. He accomplished this feat while walking six batters over the course of nine innings, and only eight pitchers in history have thrown a no-hitter while allowing more walks than that. Three franchises have yet to record a no-hitter (Mets, Padres, and Rays), and the team that preceded the Washington Nationals in franchise history -- the Montreal Expos -- actually got a no-hitter (by Bill Stoneman) in their very first month of existence: April 17, 1969!

Speaking of Atlanta, a fan named Michael informed me that the Turner Field page lacked an Olympic version diagram, and I quickly realized that there was a formatting glitch that pushed the "control box" with the links that trigger the dynamic diagrams way off to the right of the page. So, I fixed that. Thanks, Michael.

Hernandez gets a shutout

In Washington, Livan Hernandez threw a shutout in an 8-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, as promising rookie Justin Maxwell, young slugger Ryan Zimmerman, and aging veteran Ivan Rodriguez each batted in two or more runs. It was Livan's first complete-game shutout since 2004, and it was a fitting achievement for the most reliable pitcher the Nationals had during their first two years. (He left in early August 2006, and returned to D.C. in August of last year.) He threw a total of 113 pitches over the nine innings, and was helped by a great play at third base made by Zimmerman, who was out with a sore hamstring for several days. See the Washington Post. The last time the Nats shut out their opponent was August 14 last year, when they beat the Reds, 2-0, and the last time they had a victory margin of at least eight runs was last August 25, when they beat the Cubs, 15-6. As indicated above, no pitcher for the Nationals has yet thrown a no-hitter, but there have been four complete-game shutouts:

Marquis gets blown out

In the final game of the series this afternoon, the momentum reversed direction immediately and drastically. Starting pitcher Jason Marquis had the worst outing of his -- or perhaps any major league pitcher's -- career, getting taken out after four runs had scored and the bases were loaded, with no outs. Thanks to a grand slam and a couple more hits, the Brewers scored a total of ten runs in the first inning, which must be some kind of record. Even though Washington's hitters made a respectable comeback in later innings, they still lost, 11-7. Marquis's record is now 0-3, with an ERA over 20! Some acquisition he has turned out to be. frown Well, maybe he'll return to his old form soon.

Nevertheless, at 6-6 so far, the Nationals are off to their best start since their inaugural year in Washington, 2005. The following chart compares the first ten games of each of the six seasons the Nationals have played, as well as the end-of-season percentages, which do seem to bear some correlation to the first ten games:

Year Wins in
first ten games
Losses in
first ten games
End of season %
2005 6 4 .500
2006 2 8 .438
2007 2 8 .451
2008 3 7 .366
2009 1 9 .364
2010 5 5 ???

Would it be too much to suggest that the Nationals might actually prove to be serious contenders this year? If Marquis pitches the way he is supposed to, and Stephen Strasburg and Chien-ming Wang live up to expectations, then the Nats will become very hard to beat after mid-season.