July 16, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.]
It was only for a day, and they shared the top spot with another team (the St. Louis Cardinals), but the Pittsburgh Pirates can take great pride in reaching first place for the first time (other than early in the season) since 1997. On Friday night they beat the Houston Astros 4-0, as Jeff Karstens got a complete game shutout. See MLB.com. On Saturday they lost, however, and fell one game behind the Cards, with the Brewers a half game behind. The Cincinnati Reds are not far behind, and are a potential contender. An extremely tight race in the National League Central Division this year!
The Pirates' success this year is a much welcome development in baseball, showing that the Major Leagues are fairly well balanced. It adds to the significance of the Washington Nationals' recent 2-2 series split with the Pirates, who are a worthy competitor indeed.
Thanks largely to a three-run home run by Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, the National League won the All Star Game for the second year in a row. Final score: 5-1. After a winless drought of 13 years (1997-2009, including the tie in 2002), it's quite a turnaround, and will help the National League with home field advantage in this year's World Series. That ASG result is now included on the Annual chronology page.
I would like to call attention to the fact that, in this game as well as in last year's game, the winning pitcher was from the Washington Nationals. Tyler Clippard was called in after starting NL pitcher Cliff Lee gave up a homer and two singles. Tyler only faced one batter, Adrian Beltre, and had a 0-2 count on him when Beltre lined a single into left field. It almost scored a run, but Jose Bautista was thrown out at the plate to end the top of the fourth inning -- luckily for Tyler! Last year the winning pitcher was Matt Capps, who was later traded to the Minnesota Twins.
In the Home Run Derby, Robinson Cano -- a New York Yankee of the "home grown" variety -- prevailed in a very impressive sluggers' duel with Adrian Gonzalez of the Boston Red Sox. It was nice that Cano's father was pitching to him, getting to share in the proud moment. It was a father-son moment kind of like in Field of Dreams. Another near-tragedy was averted when an overzealous fan almost got himself killed lunging after a ball hit beyond the swimming pool at Chase Field. Coupled with the recent tragedy in Arlington, Texas, it suggests that baseball fans may have to be subject to tighter control in the future.
Just as the baseball world was bracing for another round of sleaze and conflicting accusations, the trial of Roger Clemens on charges of perjury came to an abrupt end. A Federal judge declared a mistrial, after prosecutors presented video evidence that had been specifically excluded. Ironically, Clemens benefited from the fact that his lawyers failed to object to this evidence. If they had, it might not have tainted the jury and the trial could have gone on. There is a possibility that Clemens may not be tried again because of Fifth Amendment double jeopardy provisions. It all makes you wonder about our legal system. See the Washington Post.
The Washington Nationals got off to a lousy start of the post-break visiting Atlanta on Friday night, as the Braves beat them 11-1. The Nats got on the board in the first inning, as Ryan Zimmerman batted in a run on a fielder's choice ground out, but in the bottom of the inning, Livan Hernandez gave up four runs, and it could have been even worse. In later innings, Livan gave up two more runs, and the bullpen allowed an additional five. Ugh. The Nats' previous worst defeat this year was on April 3, versus the Braves (!), who won, 11-2. Dejà vu?
Tonight, the Nats bounced back, shaking off that loss and beating the Braves 5-3. Wilson Ramos got three RBIs off a homer and a double, while pitcher John Lannan got two RBIs on a single up the middle. He added his second hit of the 2011 season later in the game, and evened his win-loss record to 6-6.
Bruce Orser informed me that Stephen Strasburg threw pitches in batting practice for the first time this season, a hopeful sign that he may return and pitch for Washington by September. See MLB.com.
At Nationals Park on Friday, the Democratic members of Congress defeated their Republican counterparts by a score of 8-2. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) allowed only one hit and struck out 13 in the seven-inning game. This annual charity event seems to be growing in stature; see MLB.com.
Nearly all of the Stadium comparison pages have been updated and reformatted to conform to the new standard layout. Yet to do in that category: Stadium Rankings and Stadium Proximity. Also, I moved the Football Use and (Artificial) Turf pages from the Stadium comparison category to the Chronologies category.
After I finish with the page reformatting tasks later this month, I'll get to the big pile of e-mail messages from fans. I promise!