June 4, 2010 [LINK / comment]
What a terrible fate befell Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga on Wednesday: he had gone eight and two-thirds innings without allowing an opponent player to reach first base, and then caught a toss from the first-baseman who had fielded a ground ball and stepped on the bag, forcing out the batter. Unfortunately, the first-base umpire Jim Joyce didn't see it that way. He thought Galarraga's foot was not on the bag, so he called the Indians shortstop Jason Donald safe, thereby ruining what would have been the third perfect game in the past 30 days. Later on, when he saw the video replay, Joyce realized what an awful blunder he had made, and he wasted no effort to apologize to Galarraga. It was an appropriate gesture, but of course there is no way he can ever make up for one of the biggest umpiring goofs in baseball history. See MLB.com.
But that's not all...
On Tuesday evening, the Washington Nationals were robbed of a hard-fought comeback victory by a lousy call by an umpire. Nats closing pitcher Matt Capps was one strike away from getting the third out and sealing what should have been a 7-6 win, and Astros slugger Lance Berkman tried to check his swing on, but his bat clearly went in front of home plate. Unfortunately, third-base umpire Bill Hohn didn't see it that way. (The home plate umpire deferred to the umpire at the appropriate corner, as is customary.) Hohn called it a ball / checked swing, apparently giving the benefit of the doubt to the hometown hero. On the very next pitch, Berkman punched a single down the left field line that scored two runs, instantly reversing the game's outcome from 7-6 to 8-7. See MLB.com. Berkman himself later acknowledged that he had swung at that pitch, but as far as I know, Mr. Hohn has issued no apology to the Nationals. True, it may not have been a historic moment like what happened in Detroit, but it did decide the outcome of the game, and given the tight race in the NL East this year, a game or two difference in the standings could end up making all the difference. It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.
On Wednesday, the Nats failed to rebound from their disappointment, as the Astros beat them 5-1. But last night (Thursday), was another story -- or actually, the same story as Tuesday. The Astros scored three times in the first inning [on Tuesday, and one run in each of the first three innings on Thursday. Just like before, the Nats scored two runs in the top of the ninth to take a one-run lead, and just like before, Lance Berkman (who else?) stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. When he hit a line drive right at the right fielder, it appeared that the game was over, but Cristian Guzman (who had been shifted from shortstop after making two errors) misjudged the ball, allowing the tying run to score. The next batter, Carlos Lee, hit a walk-off home run into the short left field porch, and the Astros won, 6-4.]* See MLB.com.
* [UPDATE: I had to hurry out to go play softball (!) before I was able to finish that paragraph; my apologies for the incomplete post. I'd just like to add that I don't really blame Guzman for missing that catch, because he's not used to playing outfield, and because he really has been hustling this year, at the plate and on the field. In the game the Nats lost on Tuesday, he made a great throw to get the out at home plate in the ninth inning, after Ryan Zimmerman committed a rare error, allowing Pedro Feliz to reach base. Ian Desmond made three errors in the Wednesday game, which is why Guzman replaced him there on Thursday. On the up side, defensively, Roger Bernadina has been making some spectacular diving catches in right field, including one in Houston, and one tonight that probably prevented a couple runs from scoring. It might well have been the deciding factor in the Nats' 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Matt Capps finally gets another save after two ugly losses in Houston. Whew!]
The Minute Maid Park page has been thoroughly revised, with a brand-new set of exquisitely accurate diagrams. The page also has a modified layout conforming to the enhanced navigation system. Compared to the old version, there is less foul territory, more upper-deck overhang, and the upper deck is slightly bigger. The profile is much more detailed, and things such as the old Union Station building beyond left field are now included.
Obviously, I was motivated to a large extent by the Nationals-Astros series, which gave me several opportunities to make note of certain details. Along with Chase Field and Miller Park (which share the similar awkwardness of dealing with retractable roofs), it was among the most outdated diagrams on this Web site. It's hard for me to believe that the last time I revised that diagram was five years ago. How time flies...
I have raised my subjective ranking of Minute Maid Park, which really does have a great design. Fans of this Web site will note that it has been a full month since the last diagram update. Fear not, I'm getting back on track, after having done a lot of Web site maintenance chores, some of which will become obvious soon.
With the Nationals having lost three games in a row to one of the lowest-ranked teams in baseball, it is cause for some concern, but not panic. After a road trip in which they won three and lost seven, they are now 26-29, the farthest below .500 they have been this season. Aside from the large number of away games, a big part of the reason for their slump is the absence of catcher Pudge Rodriguez, who leads the Nats in batting average, with .326 currently. The team's batting is often inconsistent, but the pitching is mostly very solid, and with Stephen Strasburg due to join the team next week, things will only get better. Putting the season thus far in the context of past years, it's hard for Nats fans to complain. As a friend of a Facebook friend, Rick Pearson, noted a couple days ago: "If the Nats lose their next 35 games, they would have a 26-61 record, which is what they had last year when Manny Acta got fired."
After the first two months of 2010, the Washington Nationals were exactly .500, 26 wins and 26 losses. It is an appropriate moment to update the Washington Nationals page, which has monthly and annual playing statistics for the "D.C. 9."
Wednesday's Washington Post had a retrospective article: "Five years ago, the Washington Nationals were on top of the world." I remember the ten-game winning streak that put the Nats on top of the NL East like it was yesterday... See June 2005.