July 8, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.]
After the Washington Nationals beat the visiting Chicago Cubs in three straight games, and then took an 8-0 lead midway through the final game of the series, it looked like they were cruising toward a rare four-game sweep. But, as we know, appearances can often be deceiving. In the sixth inning, Livan Hernandez gave up several consecutive hits, capped off by a three-run home run by pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt, and all of a sudden the Cubs were only two runs behind. Livan exited the game, and in the next inning relief pitcher Sean Burnett gave up a two-run homer, and the game was tied. What the ... ???!!! The Cubs took the lead in the eighth inning, but the Nats quickly tied it again thanks to a clutch single by Michael Morse. But in the top of the ninth the Cubs did it again, and the Nats couldn't quite get any runners past third base in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: 10-9. It was the worst blown lead in Nationals/Expos franchise history. See MLB.com. At least the winning team was deserving of a win, after repeated misfortunes this year.
To his credit, Manager Davey Johnson took the blame for leaving Hernandez on the mound even after three straight Cubs had got hits. He wanted to give the bullpen pitchers a much-needed rest, and it ended up costing his team the win.
The first three games of the series were much more fun for Nats fans. I had the pleasure to be at the first game, on Monday afternoon, the Fourth of July. My friend Dave and I had seats in the mezzanine level, on the third base side. It was a better view than in the upper deck, and there was plenty of shade as well. (The skies were overcast, however, so it really wasn't that hot.) The Nats jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, before we arrived. The Cubs scored one in the second and then took a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning, on a pop fly to center field that Roger Bernadina lost in the gray skies. Arghhh! In the sixth inning, Laynce Nix hit a triple off the scoreboard in right center field, and Jayson Werth batted him in with a limp ground ball to first. The Nats tied it 4-4 the next inning on an infield hit by Ian Desmond, a walk, a hit by pitch, and another walk. The game was tied at the end of nine, and in the bottom of the tenth inning Jayson Werth reached first base on four balls, went to second base on a perfect sacrifice bunt by pinch hitter (!) Livan Hernandez, then stole third base. Carlos Marmol was clearly flustered, and Pudge Rodriguez had a 2-2 count when the pitch hit the dirt and skidded past the catcher. Jayson Werth sprinted home, and just like that the game was over. Hey, a win's a win!
The Nats won the next two games as well, and in fact they set some kind of record, with their ten most recent victories all being decided by a single run or else going into extra innings. The element of luck cannot be ignored with repeated razor-thin margins like that. Indeed, things evened out when the Cubs beat the Nats by one run on Thursday night, and when the Colorado Rockies did likewise tonight, winning 3-2. The Nats are now back down to an even .500 record, 45-45.
After the game on Monday, I made a point to investigate certain architectural aspects of Nationals Park, and have made several corrections to the diagram thereof. One thing I realized is that the mezzanine level is bigger than I had thought, with as many as 15 rows of seats. Consequently, there is a great deal of overhang, and most of the seats in that level are very well shaded. The profile is much more accurate than before, as is the lower deck behind home plate, with all the elite mini-sections. While I was at it, I added a new first-deck diagram, as I did with RFK Stadium and the Astrodome. That makes it clear that there is a substantial amount of upper-deck overhang in the right field corner. Another minor detail I learned is that the back two rows of the lower deck are much steeper than the rows closer to the front. I assume that is supposed to facilitate the many wheelchair-accessible platforms.
I also added a new panoramic grandstand photo to the Nationals Park page. You can just make out the "Happy 4th of July" on the mezzanine display "ribbon."
Ryan Zimmerman is a class act all the way, a fine athlete as well as a perfect gentleman. It's probably the result of character-building hardships he endured while growing up, having to take care of his ailing mother while his friends were out partying. Mrs. Zimmerman suffers from multiple sclerosis, and as a tribute to her and as a way to promote the search for a cure, Ryan held "A Night at the Park" fund-raising event last Thursday (June 30) at Nationals Park. It was the second annual such event. Zimmerman's contract with the Nationals specifies that he gets exclusive use of Nationals Park one day a year, and this is how he exercises that prerogative. See MLB.com.
Though we often forget, baseball can sometimes be dangerous, for fans as well as for players. At the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington yesterday, Josh Hamilton tossed a ball to a fan sitting in the front row above the scoreboard in left field, a nice gesture that backfired horribly. The fan leaned forward to grab the ball, lost his balance, and fell onto the field below. He was conscious when they loaded him into the ambulance, asking about his son who was left behind, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital. Deep, sincere condolences go out to the family of the victim, Mr. Shannon Stone. See MLB.com.