June 6, 2011
The Washington Nationals split the four-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which is about what you would expect, but how the 2-2 result came about was anything but ordinary. On Friday, the Nats won handily, 6-1, led by Michael Morse who went four for five at bats, with two RBIs. They thus extended their mini- "winning streak," only the second time this year they had won three games in a row. But then they were shut out the next two games, the second time they went scoreless in consecutive games this year. On Saturday, the batters really let down Livan Hernandez once again, as he gave up only one run, while the bullpen gave up a second run.
Then things seemed to take a turn for the better on Sunday. The Nats took an early 1-0 lead and it stayed that way through the seventh inning, in what seemed to be a classic pitchers' duel between Jason Marquis and Ian Kennedy. The umpire ejected Marquis for hitting a batter with the pitch, even though in that situation, there was no rational or emotional reason for doing so. Riggleman was tossed out as well for his strenous objections, and then two innings later Esmerling Vasquez and the D-Backs' Manager Kirk Gibson were ejected for the same reason. All in all, four players were hit by pitch in the game, three of whom were Nationals, one of which (Danny Espinosa) was hit twice. The Nats built a 4-0 cushion when Wilson Ramos hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning, possibly fired up by the controversies, but the lead narrowed to three when the D-Backs got a solo homer in the bottom of the inning. You might think that that would be enough to assure a victory, but somehow closing pitcher Drew Storen just fell apart, giving up two singles and two walks without getting a single out in the ninth inning. Goodbye, Drew! With the bases loaded, the next two relief pitchers, Todd Coffey and Sean Burnett, could not prevent two more runs from scoring, and the game went into extra innings.
In the tenth inning, Danny Espinosa doubled and then stole third base, but did not score. In the eleventh inning, Joe Paterson came in as relief pitcher for Arizona, and that's when the dam burst. He gave up two singles and two walks (sound familiar?), giving the Nats a one-run lead, when Michael Morse came up to bat with two outs and the bases still loaded. You could just tell he was hungry for more glory, after his recent slugging feats. On a 2-1 count, he swung hard at a low pitch and drove the ball over the yellow line 25 feet above the field in center field, for his second grand slam of the year. It was the first grand slam in extra innings since the Washington Nationals were born in 2005.
The University of Virginia baseball team won all three of its games at the first-round NCAA regional tournament in Charlottesville over the weekend, thereby advancing to the super-regional round. Since the Cavaliers have a top-seed, being ranked #1 in the country, they will enjoy home field advantage in the upcoming series. They will face the University of California at Irvine and other teams yet to be determined. See virginiasports.com.
Albert Pujols has had a so-so season thus far by his sky-high standards, but this weekend he certainly rose to the occasion. At home in St. Louis on both Saturday evening (broadcast nationwide by FOX) and Sunday, he hit walk-off home runs to beat the hapless Chicago Cubs, who were swept in the series by the Cardinals. Why on earth did they pitch to Pujols, especially after he hit the first of those homers? The last player to hit walk-off homers in two consecutive games was Albert Belle, who did so in 1995.