July 11, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Derek Jeter hits #3000 (and more!)

The long-anticipated career triumph was delayed by a couple weeks due to injury, but when Derek Jeter reached his milestone 3000th hit on Saturday, he did it in a singularly Yankee style: with a home run! And not just a run-of-the-mill four-bagger, but a big blast into the upper tier of the bleachers in New Yankee Stadium, about 430 feet away. That was in the third inning, after he had already singled in the first inning as the leadoff batter, and he went on to hit a double and two more singles in five at-bats in that game, providing the decisive offensive firepower in a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Among the 27 other players who have recorded at least 3,000 hits in their career, one of them went five for six on the day they reached 3,000, but nobody ever went five for five. The last player to reach the 3,000-hit mark was Craig Biggio, in July 2007. Also notable was that Jeter became the very first player to cross the 3,000-hit barrier as a Yankee, and the first to have spent all or most of his career with the Yankees. See www.washingtonpost.com.

One of the nicest parts about how this historical moment unfolded was that the fan who retrieved the ball, Mr. Christian Lopez, returned the ball to Derek Jeter, no doubt forgoing a big cash exchange from zealous souvenir collectors. What a contrast to the unseemly scramble for the ball in AT&T Park when Barry Bonds hit his home run, in July 2006. Lopez said Jeter deserved to have the ball. The Yankees rewarded him with tickets to each Yankees home game for the rest of the season and a bundle of souvenir items signed by Jeter. Baseball fans across the country will reward Lopez by remembering his name for years to come.

Once again, Congratulations, Derek!

Nats bounce back to .500

The resurgent Washington Nationals hit a big speed bump last Thursday, when the Chicago Cubs overcame an eight-run deficit to win the game, setting the stage for two narrow losses by the Nats to the visiting Colorado Rockies. On Saturday Jayson Werth ended the game by hitting into a double play with a runner on third base. Ouch! Ouch! The final game before the All Star break, on Sunday, was a true test of the team's mettle, one they simply had to win, for psychological purposes.

Sunday's game developed into a classic pitchers' duel, and in fact the Nats didn't even get a hit until the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, Ian Desmond reached base on an infield single and later scored on a single by Roger Bernadina. Desmond has been in a slump for most of this season, so that was a nice accomplishment on his part. Jordan Zimmermann got in a couple jams, but lasted into the seventh inning without giving up a run. In the eighth inning, Rick Ankiel hit a home run into right center field as an insurance run, and the Nats held on to win, 2-0. See MLB.com.

And so the Nationals enter the All Star break with an even .500 record for the first time since their "honeymoon" year of 2005. That's not bad at all considering that their star player, Ryan Zimmerman, was on the disabled list for six weeks. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell says the second half will depend above all on how well their new manager, Davey Johnson, succeeds in tinkering with the team's lineup and pitching rotation. There are a lot of hot prospects contending for a shot at stardom, and Johnson might persuade the front office to unload some of their first-stringers (maybe even Livan Hernandez?) in order to set the stage for success next year. That makes me nervous. In any case, the Nats' goal for the rest of the season should be to remain in contention for a wild card spot at least into September. It may seem like an unrealistic target, but the only way they are going to win in the long run is by building a reputation as fierce competitors with the means to make things happen.

Jordan Zimmermann has established himself as the #1 pitcher in the Nationals' starting rotation this year, and the likelihood that he will stay with the team for years to come raises a quandary in terms of identity vis a vis Ryan Zimmerman. I think we should start calling them "R-Zim" and "J-Zim" from now on.

Clemens trial gets underway

The criminal court proceedings against Roger Clemens have begun, with jury selection. It's too bad they had to schedule the trial just as the All Star break, and the coincidence with Derek Jeter's triumph also leaves a sour taste in one's mouth. His attorney hinted that Clemens may not testify in his own defense, exercising his Fifth Amendment rights. See Washington Post. Another unfortunate coincidence: the recent trial and acquittal of Casey Anthony in Orlando, Florida.

Marlins close upper deck

The Florida Marlins announced they will close the upper deck at Sun Life Stadium for the rest of the season; they hardly ever sell enough tickets to fill the lower deck. It's a bleak end to one of the less pleasant "baseball" stadiums of the contemporary era. See palmbeachpost.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Home Run Derby 2011

As the second round progresses, Yankee infielder Robinson Cano is currently in the lead in the Home Run Derby, in beautiful downtown Phoenix. That's a big surprise, as he's a good hitter but not usually considered one of the biggest long ball hitters. If you don't get ESPN, you can watch the slugest live and in living color at MLB.com. Boston's Adrian Gonzalez is in the hunt, catching up quickly. As usual, his team mate David Ortiz was a hot contender, but just got eliminated. Prince Fielder is still in it, with some especially long blasts into the far reaches of Chase Field.