June 1, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nationals trounce the Phillies
Will wonders never cease?! Coming off the worst slump they have endured this year, the Washington Nationals overcame the Philadelphia Phillies, beating them 10-2 last night and 2-1 this afternoon. It was only the third time since the beginning of 2008 that the Nats prevailed in a series against the Phillies. In fact, none of the Phillies' top three aces -- Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, or Roy Oswalt -- recorded a win against the Nats. Last night was a rout, as rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa hit two home runs, and now leads the team with ten for the year. (Oddly, his batting average is only .218, however.) The Nats scored in the double digits for only the second time this year, and the final score was 10-2.
This afternoon John Lannan got his first career win against the Phillies, having lost his ten previous decisions against them, including two this year. But the undisputed star of today's game was Laynce Nix, whose solo homer in the third inning proved to be the deciding margin. That was a welcome and very timely boost to the team's sagging fortunes, but Nix's biggest contribution was making a diving catch of a ball hit by Dominic Brown with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. It was the third out, so he probably prevented two runs from scoring, and the Phillies almost certainly would have won. That will make the highlight reel on "TWIB" next Saturday for sure: "How about that!" See MLB.com.
That concludes the current home stand in Washington, with three wins and three losses. A win against Philadelphia is almost worth two wins against any other team, so it has to be considered a success. Now the Nats head west for an eleven-game road trip against Arizona, San Francisco, and San Diego. It is interesting to note that even though the Nationals had won only three of their eleven games prior to today, they actually outscored their opponents during that same period, 55-54. If they could just score runs at the right time, when they are really needed, they would rank much higher in the standings.
Arlington Stadium update
As is so often the case, it turned out that getting all the details right on Arlington Stadium was a lot more time consuming than I had expected. The field itself is virtually unchanged, but the grandstand profile and details such as peripheral structures and light towers are much more accurate than before. Also, I have included additional diagram versions for 1965, 1970, and 1985, showing how the stadium gradually "evolved" over the years. To better convey the subtle complexities of the stadium, I have depicted profiles at four different positions.
Of particular use to me in redrawing the diagrams was Bob Busser's wonderful phanfare.com photo gallery Web site. He has a great eye for significant details that most photographers would miss. Also, long-time fan of this Web site Bucky Nance provided me with an aerial photo from late 1971 or early 1972 that shows Arlington Stadium in the midst of construction. (The Washington Senators were in the process of relocating there, becoming the Rangers.) It is the first time I have seen the lower deck swiveled around to left field, to make way for a football game.
Obviously, there is no need for a lower-deck version diagram of Arlington Stadium, as I did with RFK Stadium!
June 2, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Republicans declare candidacies
Today was marked by a curious convergence of local and national campaign politics. In New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney formally announced he is running for president, eliciting a vast surge of yawns all across the Fruited Plain. He emphasized his knowledge of economic policy matters, declaring that the United States is in a deep crisis and that President Obama "has failed America." See the Washington Post. Well, that's certainly not news. Romney is trying to project a more friendly, casual image, but in straining to reach out to prospective voters, he runs the risk of being seen as less than authentic.
Romney's big Achilles Heel, obviously, is his record as governor of Massachusetts, signing the law that requires each resident to buy health insurance. Perhaps the passage of such a measure was inevitable in a liberal state such as Massachusetts, but how in the world could a person in his position take the lead the reversing Obamacare? Romney seems competent and sincere, but he has a tendency to shift his positions according to political expediency, making one wonder what he really stands for. It's a wonder that Romney thinks he has much of a chance of winning the Republican nomination.
Working in Romney's favor is the weakness of the Republican field. Donald Trump is a joke, and few of the serious candidates have much going for them. Last year, I was hopeful about Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty, but he is becoming another "me too" candidate who is too prone to pandering. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has very solid credentials as a government executive, but is a bit wobbly on some issues of concern to conservatives. I really like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but he is new to that office and needs more experience. On Facebook a few weeks ago, I expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican candidates, saying that Ron Paul (from Texas) was the only one who excites me at all. (I share his libertarian outlook for the most part, though I regard his foreign policy approach as too isolationistic.) As for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's "One Nation" bus tour and what it means for the 2012 presidential race, the less said the better.
Bell runs again
Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Delegate Dickie Bell announced he is running for reelection in the Virginia House of Delegates. (He was first elected in 2009, replacing the then-incumbent delegate, Chris Saxman, who unexpectedly bowed out of the race in July 2009.) He made public appearances in Staunton and in Waynesboro, which is where I went to see him. Because of redistricting (see April 3), Bell now represents the city of Waynesboro as well as Staunton. (His newly revamped 20th District also includes parts of Nelson County, on the other side of the Blue Ridge!) Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling was there to endorse Delegate Bell and to praise his work with the Republicans in Richmond. Bell reminded everyone that he is not afraid to speak his mind, and occasionally disagrees with others in his party. It's too bad there's not more independent-minded leaders like that in Richmond. See his Web site at bellfordelegate.com.
Bell advocates merit-based pay for public school teachers, reasoning that effective educators should have nothing to fear from competition. True, but unlike the private sector, there is an inherent difficulty in measuring performance in the classroom. The last thing this country needs is more standardized tests. They create a big temptation for teachers to teach only what the tests cover, which severely undermines education.
Bell also said he won't shy away from social issues, which many economic conservatives (such as yours truly) regard as an emotional distraction from the more crucial matters. Interestingly, I recall Bill Bolling making a very similar statement when he was first running for lieutenant governor in 2005.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Del. Dickie Bell, and his wife, Anne.
June 6, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Wild and crazy game in Arizona
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.
U.Va. advances to super-regionals
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.
Pujols does it again
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.
June 10, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nats hold their own vs. the Giants
The Washington Nationals surprised nearly everyone by winning three out of four games against the World Champion San Francisco Giants at the end of April and early May. But could they do it again? The Nats actually did pretty well in the Monday night game, taking a 4-1 lead lead thanks to the red-hot Michael Morse, who homered and doubled, getting three RBIs. But the Giants scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the game went into "overtime," a virtual repeat of how things transpired the day before in Arizona. But whereas the Nats prevailed against the Diamondbacks, this time they failed to capitalize on run-scoring opportunities in extra innings, and the Giants finally put it away in the 13th inning, winning 5-4. Here on the East Coast, it was 2:45 A.M. One could regard that as a very disheartening loss, but considering it was against the Giants, and they overcame both starting pitcher Tim Lincecum and closer Brian Wilson, I'd say they deserve to be proud of themselves. Indeed, the Nationals showed they still had their fighting spirit the next day, winning 2-1, but the Giants won the final game of the series, 3-1.
There was little to commend in last night's 7-3 loss to the Padres, however. The Nats are now 27-36 for the year, nine games below .500, and 3.5 games behind the fourth-place Mets in the NL East. They gotta do better than that.
Nats' pitcher Jason Marquis has been given a five-game suspension and was fined an undisclosed amount for hitting a batter with a pitch in Arizona last Sunday. See MLB.com.That is just not fair.
Major baseball page upgrades
Among other things, I've been busy revamping many of the Baseball pages on this Web site, starting with the Chronologies Web pages:
The information content on those pages is more or less up to date now, and I have also incorporated a new technique to display column headings in a fixed position while the rest of the table scrolls up and down. I think this will yield more consistent displays across various browser platforms than was the case before, but you never know. If anyone has a hard time viewing those pages, please let me know.
I am also in the midst of making some long-overdue stylistic changes, aiming for easier readability and less contrast. The most obvious difference is that column headings are now forest green rather than maroon in color, and table rows are a pale cream color rather than light orange.
While redoing the RFK Stadium diagrams last month, it occurred to me that this October will be the 50th anniversary of its formal dedication. Imagine that: a half century! It served as home of the Washington Redskins for the remainder of the 1961 season, and then became the home of the Washington Senators as well the following spring.
Facebook friend Rex Hamann would like everyone to know that April 14 was the 58th anniversary of the opening of Milwaukee County Stadium as the home of the National League's Milwaukee Braves. (I'm still getting caught up with news, as you can see.) That would be in 1953, and what a joyous occasion it was in Milwaukee.
The Sporting News recently had a cover story on the upcoming centennial (!) of Fenway Park, ten months from now. That momentous event coincided with the opening of Navin Field (later called "Briggs Stadium" and finally "Tiger Stadium"), preceding the sinking of the Titanic by just a few days. 1912 also marked the electoral victory of Woodrow Wilson as president of the United States.
Needless to say, I've got a lot of other e-mail inquiries to get to...
June 13, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nationals' road trip ends well
The Washington Nationals still cannot hit consistently even if their lives depend on it, but their pitching and fielding have been nearly flawless this month, and that was how they managed to take three of four games from the San Diego Padres. On Sunday afternoon, Jordan Zimmerman pitched seven innings without giving up a run, but didn't get credit for the win because the Nats did not score until the ninth inning. Danny Espinosa launched a ball to the right field corner that came within a couple feet of clearing the fence for a grand slam, but it was only a sac fly. The Nats had wasted three prime run-scoring opportunities in the earlier innings, but they still pulled out a win, and that's all that matters in the end. (Right?) All told, they were 6-5 in the eleven games played in Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Diego. It's only the third time this year they have won three in a row, and this streak was notable for the fact the Nats only scored two runs in each of those three wins.
The Phillies have been winning too, however, so even though the Nats' winning percentage has climbed to .455 (30-36), they remain ten games behind in the NL East race. I should mention that Michael Morse has continued to lead the way offensively, as his two-run homer in the first inning on Friday evening was all the Nationals needed to win. It was a towering bomb that landed several rows up in the upper deck in the left field at PETCO Park.
Tomorrow night the St. Louis Cardinals arrive in Washington for a three-game series. Speaking of which, congratulations to Tony LaRussa for recently surpassing the 5,000-game mark as manager, second on the all-time list behind Connie Mack (7,755). LaRussa has managed the Cardinals since 1996, and managed the White Sox and A's before that. See MLB.com. Unfortunately, this occasion was marred by a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, who swept the Cardinals and took over first place in the NL Central Division.
Indians lose their lead
Another big change in the standings took place over the weekend: the Cleveland Indians, who had the highest winning percentage in the majors until earlier this month, have lost nine of their last ten games. As a result, the Detroit Tigers now share first place honors in the AL Central Division. The Indians have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season, and I'm very glad for their manager, Manny Acta, who was released from managerial duties in Washington two years ago. Meanwhile, in the same division, the Minnesota Twins have finally gotten on the track to winning, and have climbed to .400, though they are still in last place. Only one team is currently below .400 -- the Houston Astros, and only two teams have a percentage of as much .600 -- the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies. It's good for baseball when there's not so much of a spread between the top teams and the bottom teams.
U.C. Irvine beats U.Va.
I hope the University of Virginia Cavaliers had not already purchased their tickets to Omaha. After beat the University of California at Irvine (the Anteaters!) 6-0 in Charlottesville on Saturday, it looked like smooth sailing. They led 3-0 in the fifth inning, when a thunderstorm forced a rain delay of over four hours. When the game resumed, the Anteaters closed the gap and took the lead late in the game, winning 5-4. At this very minute they are playing the final game of the series to decide who will go to Omaha. Go Wahoos!
Bryce Harper's kiss
Future slugging star Bryce Harper is known for being a bit of a showoff, but his apparent sarcastic blown kiss to the pitcher while rounding third on a home run was a bit much for some people. With so many narcissistic athletes these days (did LeBron James jinx the Miami Heat?), it's easy for fans and pundits to criticize ill-mannered gestures. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell is more forgiving, however, saying it is just a phase the 18-year old is going through.
Astrodome update, etc.
Prompted by my recent work on Arlington Stadium, I have updated the Astrodome diagram, with a more accurate profile than before. I was vaguely aware that the profile was too short, and recently noticed that some blueprint images I came across indicate that the standard height of each level was 11.5 feet, rather than 10 feet, as I had estimated before. Small differences like that can add up significantly in multi-story structures.
I also updated several of the stadium comparison pages, and added a table of chronological summary data to the chronologies navigation page. Glenn Simpkins kindly drew my attention to a couple of broken links, which have now been fixed. One of the affected pages, Stadiums by Class, remains a "work in progress" because I am still not sure whether the baseball stadiums of the last few years deserve to be in a separate category from the ones built from 1992 to 2004. For the time being, six stadiums (plus the Marlins' under-construction ballpark) are considered both "neoclassical" and "postmodern." I made a few more stylistic alterations to the baseball pages as well. Yet to do: weeding out links to other baseball blogs that are either shut down or in "hibernation."
June 14, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Late rally sends U.Va. to Omaha
You just can't make this stuff up. With just one out away from an awful repeat of last year's disappointing elimination (losing to Oklahoma 11-0), the #1 seeded University of Virginia Cavaliers somehow put together a rally and won the game in spectacular fashion. The University of California at Irvine took a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning, and then the first two batters in the bottom of the ninth were put out. Hope for a trip to the NCAA baseball championships was hanging by a thread. Then the next two batters reached base on singles, one of which fortuitously bounced off the pitcher's foot. A walk then loaded the bases, whereupon Chris Taylor hit a single up the middle, scoring two runs and setting off euphoric pandemonium at Davenport Field. The Cavaliers are now 54-10 for the 2011 season, and it is a huge relief that their amazing regular season accomplishments were not squandered in the playoffs. They will join seven other teams in the NCAA basebaall championships in Omaha this weekend. See virginiasports.com.
And now ... On to Omaha. Go, Virginia!!!
June 14, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Anti-tax dogma vs. fiscal sanity
Anyone with an elementary knowledge of market economics knows that subsidizing ethanol made from corn is a terrible waste of public resources that does virtually nothing to enhance U.S. energy security. It also creates all sorts of perverse unintended consequences, such as food riots in Mexico, stemming from the artificial diversion of the staple food commodity into the energy sector. So you would think at a time of fiscal crisis, with rising doubts about the U.S. national debt, that eliminating such subsidies would be a matter of widespread consensus. Sorry, no such luck. Fierce obstructionism from certain anti-tax activists may doom any such reform, raising the specter of default by Uncle Sam.
What has happened is that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has been pushing to eliminate the special tax breaks for ethanol producers, as part of a compromise with Democrats to reduce the federal budget deficit. His attempts to muster a legislative coalition been thwarted, however, by Grover Norquist, leader of Americans for Tax Reform. (He's the guy who drafted the anti-tax pledge that many Republican legislators and candidates around the country have been bullied into signing, often against their better judgment.) According to Norquist, any elimination of a tax break is the same thing as a tax increase, and in his mind, no tax increase is ever justifiable, no matter what. As a "compromise," he has proposed cutting taxes on other things so that the net effect on revenue would be zero. (The ethanol subsidy costs about $6 billion a year.) In other words, Norquist wants to make sure that there are no increases in revenue to reduce the gargantuan $1.3 trillion deficit. It is, to be perfectly blunt, a stupid and reckless policy position. The vote in the Senate could take place later today, and I hope enough Republicans have the courage to stand up to Norquist and do what's right for this country. See the Washington Post.
It's ironic that an organization devoted to "Tax Reform" would be so adamantly opposed to reforming a provision of the Tax Code that desperately needs to be reformed. A better name for Norquist's group would be "Americans and Others for Permanent Tax Reduction." I say "and Others" because Norquist has raised funds from foreign sources, including wealthy Middle Easterners with connections to Islamic extremist groups. As I wrote on April 15 last year, Norquist was a central figure in the (second) Bush administration's drive to enact radical tax cuts that led to a huge increase in the federal deficit, even before the Obama administration took office. If the government does go into default this summer, you can thank Grover Norquist for the central role he played in this economic crime.
As for Sen. Coburn, who is among the senators I respect the most, he recently left the "Gang of Six" bipartisan group in which Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) has been playing a keep part. The legislators are trying hard to reduce the federal budget deficit, but anti-tax dogma and lack of leadership in the White House have undercut the initiative. It is a tragic situation when so many politicians in both parties put their own interests and agendas ahead of the nation's financial security.
June 17, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Cardinals
Back home again in Our Nation's Capital, on the heels of a successful road trip, the Washington Nationals managed to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals this week. The Nationals thus extended their winning streak to six games. On Tuesday, Ryan Zimmerman appeared in the lineup for the first time since he went on the disabled list in mid-April. Ryan soon demonstrated how much he means to the team by hitting an RBI double down the right field line in the seventh inning, sparking a six-run rally, and the Nats came from behind to win, 8-6. On Wednesday the Nats' hitters finally let loose with a barrage of extra-base hits, including two homers by Michael Morse (his 11th and 12th), and one each by Danny Espinosa and Jayson Werth. No one was happier than starting pitcher Livan Hernandez, who pitched a complete game, giving up just three hits and no runs. It was the ninth shutout of his long career. Livan, who has been getting practically no run support at all this year, improved his record to 4-8. Final score: a whopping 10-0. See the Washington Post. On Thursday, the Nats had a 4-2 lead late in the game, as hopes rose for a sweep against the Cards, but solo home runs by Albert Pujols (in the 8th) and Yadier Molina (in the 9th) sent the game into extra innings. Would the Nationals blow it again. NO! Thanks to Danny Espinosa, who homered into the bullpen in right field in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Nats won the game 7-4 and pulled off the improbable sweep. As a consequence, the Nationals pulled ahead of the Florida Marlins in the NL East after spending nearly a full month alone in the division cellar.
Tonight interleague play resumed, and the Baltimore Orioles outhit the Nationals 18-10, but they just couldn't capitalize on the many opportunities they created, and the home team prevailed, 8-4. That makes it seven in a row for the Nats, their longest series of consecutive victories since the end of the 2009 season, when they won their final seven games. Ian Desmond was the hero tonight, with two hits, two RBIs, two stolen bases, and was also great defensively, including a double play. It just shows once again that the Nationals have a very deep roster full of top-notch talent, and they are not far from the point at which they will be considered serious rivals of the best teams in baseball.
LaRoche out for the season
First baseman Adam LaRoche had surgery on left shoulder to repair a torn labrum, and is not expected to play any more this year. See MLB.com. It's a disappointment, since he was one of the key acquisitions made by the Nationals in the off-season, but Michael Morse has done extremely well filling in at first base. So much so that he is a legitimate contender for the 2011 National League All Star team.
College World Series
In Omaha, meanwhile, the top-ranked University of Virginia Cavaliers and seven other teams are assembling for the College World Series, which begins this weekend...
June 21, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Orioles end Nats' winning streak
Well, it was bound to end sooner rather than later. The Washington Nationals had won eight consecutive games, their longest winning streak since August 2-9, 2009*, but the Baltimore Orioles decided that "eight was enough." It's too bad, because the Nats were just one game below .500, and it would have been the latest in the season that had reached that mark since the end of 2005. Starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, making his first appearance after being on the 15-day disabled list, just could not contain the O's, and was replaced during the fifth inning. Meanwhile, the usually-reliable Nationals committed three defensive errors, including one by Ryan Zimmerman. Without a doubt, Zimmerman's bat has been a huge factor in the Nationals' improved offensive performance since he returned from the DL.
One positive effect of interleague play is in the attendance figures: All three Orioles-Nationals games in D.C. had a paid attendance of at least 35,000.
Tonight the Nationals welcome the Seattle Mariners to town, and the visitors have a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning...
Outfielder Rick Ankiel has been placed on the 15-day DL because of a minor injury to his rib cage.
* See my Washington Nationals page.
Michael Morse: All Star?
For the past month or so, Michael Morse has repeatedly filled the role of hero, and is currently the hottest slugger in the major leagues. In the one game at Nationals Park I have seen this year thus far (May 27), he hit a walk-off solo home run. Today's Washington Post had a feature article on Morse, noting the similarities between his career path -- a sudden breakout year at age 28 -- and that of Jayson Werth. He has made some technical adjustments in his swing, and is finally living up to his potential. Morse is currently "fourth in slugging (.564), sixth in OPS (.925) and eighth in batting average (.309)." That alone ought to qualify him for the All Star Game, and the following (unfortunate) news item may give him a chance to play at least a couple innings. Joey Votto of the Reds will probably start the game as first baseman. Morse's future looks very bright, and the same is true of his team.
Pujols out for 6+ weeks
The Cardinals' star player, Albert Pujols, suffered a small fracture in his forearm, after colliding at first base with Wilson Betemit of the Kansas City Royals. He will be wearing a splint on his wrist for the next month or so, and they hope he will be back on the field a couple weeks after that. See MLB.com. That is terrible news for a team whose fortunes have been on the downswing lately. It also puts the contract negotiations between Pujols and the Cardinals in new light.
U.Va. beats Cal at CWS
For the first six innings, it was quite a pitchers' duel, but the University of Virginia Cavaliers baseball team finally got some runs late in the game, and defeated the University of California in their first game at the College World Series on Sunday, 4-1. They are now playing against the South Carolina Gamecocks, who jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Keep up with the action on the ESPN scoreboard.
Colt Stadium update
I made a few minor improvements to the diagram for Colt Stadium, home of the Houston Colt 45s, as the Astros were originally known. That pretty much takes care of stadiums in the Lone Star State.
I also added a lower-deck-only version diagram of the Astrodome, like I did with RFK Stadium last month, and tweaked the other diagrams on that page a little bit. The outfield seating section is rendered more accurately than before, and on the 1960s combined (baseball + football) diagram, there is an alternate profile for the outfield for the years before 1989 when the upper decks were extended all the way around the outfield.
Many thanks to Larry Freitas for his recent donation in support of this Web site. You too can help out by sponsoring one or more stadium pages, or simply by making a smaller donation via PayPal. I deeply appreciate all such expressions of support.
June 23, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep Mariners; Riggleman quits
What an emotional roller coaster it has been for the Washington Nationals today*: first they swept the visiting Seattle Mariners, concluding a triumphant 8-1 home stand and rising above .500 for the first time in over two months, and then manager Jim Riggleman announced that he was resigning from the team. WTF???
First, the good news. The memorable -- indeed, historic -- game on Tuesday night actually started off rather badly for the Nationals, as the Mariners scored in the first inning. Leadoff batter (and future Hall of Famer) Ichiro Suzuki singled up the middle to spark a two-run rally. By the middle of the fifth inning the score was 5-0, forcing Livan Hernandez out of the game, although the Nats did score once in the sixth inning. The bottom of the ninth started on a hopeful note, with the first two batters [reaching base on an error an a walk], and then Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a double play -- very uncharacteristic of him. But then the next three batters hit singles (Michael Morse's injured the pitcher in the process), and two runs scored, making it 5-3. Up to the plate stepped the big-framed catcher Wilson Ramos, who got the changeup he was waiting for and knocked the ball beyond the visitors' bullpen in left-center field, almost reaching the Red Porch restaurant. The Nationals had turned a 5-1 deficit into a 6-5 victory, stunning the Mariners into disbelief. It was, as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore put it, "the most improbable comeback in team history."
That was an excellent way to start the series, and regain the momentum from their interrupted winning streak, but the next two games were of a much different character, being low-scoring pitchers' duels. On Wednesday, the Nats scored one run in the first inning, both teams scored a run in the fourth inning, and after that it was a tense standoff, as the Nats prevailed, 2-1. John Lannan got a much-deserved win, [evening his record at 5-5.] This afternoon, neither team scored for the first eight innings. The Nats had runners on first and second in the bottom of the seventh, and it seemed logical to put in a pinch hitter for Jason Marquis, who was already up to 94 pitches. But Marquis is much better at the plate than most pitchers, and manager Jim Riggleman let him try to bat in a run. It didn't work. In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats loaded the bases with nobody out, and the second batter after that, Laynce Nix, hit a fly ball to left field that was just far enough to get Danny Epinosa home from third base. Final score: 1-0. YES!!!
I got to thinking about the ironic conjunction of Seattle and Washington, the name of the state of which that city is a part. Similar baseball team conjunctions (albeit slightly less ironic): Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, or Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins.
Wilson Ramos' titanic game-winning blast on Tuesday really got my curiousity up, and I spent hours going through my own meticulous detailed records of Washington Nationals games. (There have been 1,046 of them since April 2005.) In a few uncertain cases, I relied upon baseball-reference.com. The following table is a fairly accurate summary of all (or nearly all) the dramatic ninth-inning twists of fate Nationals have experienced, good and bad. It only includes games in which the lead changed during the ninth inning, i.e., it does not include games that were tied throughout the ninth inning.
Washington Nationals' 9th (+) inning comebacks and/or blown leads
runs in 9th
runs in 9th
|Extra innings, notes
||WSH 1 in 10th
||SD 3 in 12th
||Francouer GW GS
||PHI 1, WSH 2 in 10th
||WSH 4 in 8th
||STL 1, WSH 2 in 10th
||Maxwell GW GS, 2 outs
||WSH 1 in 13th
||WSH 4 in 11th
||WSH 5 in 11th; Morse GS
||Ramos 3R GW HR, 2 outs
NOTE: Above data are subject to revision. Home teams are underlined.
The records show that, until [this week], the Nationals had never come back from a deficit of more than two runs in the ninth inning. (I exclude the Montreal Expos from the Nationals' historical records.) On the other hand, they had blown large ninth-inning leads several times. They lost after leading by five runs on Sept. 17, 2005; by four runs on August 24, 2007; and by three runs on July 9, 2006. In each of those cases, closing pitcher Chad Cordero (see below) bore much if not most of the blame. Chad was usually very good, but sometimes not.
Riggleman quits while he's ahead
Now, the bad news. Nats fans' spirits changed from elation to bewilderment as we learned about Jim Riggleman's sudden resignation as Nationals manager soon after the game. It appears that he had told General Manager Mike Rizzo that he wanted a meeting right away to discuss extending his tenure as Nationals manager, "or else." Rizzo said he wasn't prepared to negotiate under those conditions, and Riggleman said goodbye. As reported on MLB.com, Rizzo was "disappointed" by the timing of Riggleman's action, saying "That this is not thinking of the team first." How could such a breakdown of trust happen just when the team is playing so well? Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell writes,
Riggleman says he just "wanted to have a conversation in Chicago" on the subject. Rizzo says it was an ultimatum. It's a distinction without any difference whatsoever. The only words that mattered are, "I'm not going to Chicago unless ..."
Boswell thinks Riggleman could have nailed down a steady job with the Nats if he had just persevered for the rest of this season, getting a very likely winning record, which would be only the second time a Washington baseball team has done so since 1953. (The other was in 1969.) If he had only learned from Rizzo's own experience in having to prove his worth rather than nagging for a long-term contract. He was clearly irritated that Riggleman had been "lobbying in the media (me included) for help."
I have some sympathy for Jim Riggleman, as I think he's done a very good job for the most part, and certainly deserved a higher salary. He became interim manager in July 2009, in the wake of Manny Acta's abrupt dismissal, and the team has showed gradual, though uneven, signs of improvement. Over the past two years, however, I have sometimes wondered whether he is up to the challenge of managing the Nationals. I have been baffled by some of Riggleman's decisions, such as (one year ago) trusting too much in closing pitcher Matt Capps, who is now with the Twins. At the end of the 2010 season last year (scroll to bottom), I wrote of Riggleman:
He has a calm, patient style much like Joe Torre, who sometimes is not appreciated as much as he should be. If the Nationals don't come close to .500 next year, then it's probably time for Riggleman to go.
The moral of the story is, don't make big career or life decisions based on what you think you "deserve." Hell, almost all of us probably "deserve" more out of life than we are getting, but life ain't fair. If you really are as good at something as you think you are, and you make sure people know about it, better opportunities will come along in due course. Then you can make an ultimatum for a raise or whatever ... but it probably won't be necessary if you play your cards right.
Riggleman's announcement apparently came as a shock to the players, and it puts in jeopardy their recent hot streak, as a replacement is chosen. The Nationals are playing in Chicago against the White Sox this weekend, and Saturday's game will be broadcast on FOX.
new old manager
Riggleman's hasty exit is a big contrast to the sudden resignation of Florida Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez, on the heels of a ten-game losing streak. He was replaced by 80-year old [Jack] McKeon, who managed the Marlins when they won the World Series in 2003; see MLB.com.) McKeon becomes the first octogenarian manager since Connie Mack, of the Philadelphia Athletics.
Chad Cordero to retire
Former Washington Nationals closing pitcher Chad Cordero announced his retirement this week, citing health and family reasons. He suffered a labrum tear in his right shoulder in 2008 and underwent surgery, but he never regained his old form. "His best season was in 2005, when he saved 47 games and posted a 1.82 ERA." That was the year he represented the Nationals at the All Star Game, along with Livan Hernandez. See MLB.com. As one of the fans who vividly remembers the big role Chad played in the glory days of 2005, when the Nationals were in first place for over a month, I thank Chad for his hard work, and wish him all the best in his retirement.
U.Va. stays alive in CWS
There is also some very good news to report from Omaha, and I'll have a lot more to say about that in my next blog post...
* "Today" as in when I started writing this blog post...
June 26, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Two extraordinary extra-inning games
I can't remember the last time I experienced such extreme mixed emotions from two sporting events taking place at the same time. Coming so soon after the emotional roller-coaster from the Washington Nationals' big comeback game on [Tuesday], I'm still quite dazed and exhausted by the University of Virginia's big disappointment and by the Nationals' incredible marathon triumph. I was trying my best to follow the action in the two games from early Friday evening up until the wee hours of Saturday morning.
U.Va. is eliminated from CWS
First, the bad news. After the heroic rally by the U.Va. Cavaliers at the NCAA super-regional final game in Charlottesville two weeks ago, I really thought this year was going to be different. They were "in control of their destiny," and all that. The Cavs did indeed win their first game in Omaha, beating the University of California, but then the University of South Carolina won in the winners' bracket game. On Thursday U.Va. beat California a second time, staving off elimination, but alas, only for one more day. On Friday evening, broadcast live nationwide on ESPN, the South Carolina Gamecocks survived in a marathon that lasted 13 grueling innings, and finally eliminated the Virginia Cavaliers from contention in the 2011 College World Series. Perhaps the deciding factor in the game was that starting pitcher Danny Hultzen had to leave after three innings due to illness, after having "struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced." What an amazing performance, and then it got cut short. See virginiasports.com.
It would be easy to lament the multiple opportunities that U.Va. wasted, including twice when they loaded the bases late in the game -- much like what happened two years ago -- failing to score either time. The important thing is that the team hung in there for so long, and refused to give up easily. So even though they fell short of Virginia fans' high hopes, it was not as much of a disappointment as in 2009, when they were a "Cinderella" team that was eliminated early on. This time, at least, they won two games in the double-elimination tournament. The Cavalier players have every right to be extremely proud of their 56-12 win-loss record for the 2011 season. See virginiasports.com.
Congratulations to the 2011 U.Va. baseball team!
College World Series: new home
Until this year, the College World Series had been played every year at historic Rosenblatt Stadium (see photo below), located about a mile south of downtown Omaha. Because of its inherent limitations in terms of generating revenue, however, Omaha was left with no choice but to build a new stadium if it wanted to keep that baseball tradition in their fair city. The brand-new double-decked facility, TD Ameritrade Field, is situated on the north side of downtown, near the Qwest Center basketball/hockey arena. It has the same dimensions as its predecessor (335 down the lines, 375 to the power alleys, and 408 to center), but those numbers are a little misleading. Whereas Rosenblatt Stadium was symmetrical, the left field fence in the new ballpark cuts straight across from the foul pole, perpendicular to the foul line, and intersects with a broad arc fence just to the right of center field. That outfield shape is reminiscent of Turner Field in Atlanta. Center field is oriented toward the southeast, which apparently caused some outfielders to have problems with the sun. One thing that stands out is the large foul territory, quite unusual for minor league stadiums. Attendance at the game in which Virginia eliminated California was 25,833, "the largest crowd to ever watch a Virginia baseball game." For some articles discussing the new home of the CWS, see wowt.com or thestate.com, which provides a South Carolina perspective.
One thing I learned is that TD Ameritrade Field will soon become home of the Omaha Nighthawks in the United Football League. Their season begins in mid-August. The straight fence in right field, where the scoreboard is located, suggests that the stadium design was influenced by its anticipated dual use.
The way it was:
Hey, maybe I'll do a diagram for Rosenblatt Stadium and/or TD Ameritrade Field some time...
Historic Rosenblatt Stadium, in August 2009; click to see a larger image.
Nationals win incredible marathon
Now, the good news. It took fourteen (14) innings, including three blown leads (the most by any team that ended up winning since 1996!), but the die-hard Washington Nationals finally got the job done, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Neither the Nats nor the White Sox scored for the first seven innings, but then that red hot slugger Mike Morse hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning. In the bottom of that inning Interim Manager John McLaren was ejected for arguing a reversed call at first base. (It didn't end up mattering, fortunately.) In the top of the ninth, Ian Desmond batted in an insurance run, and it looked like smooth sailing for another victory. NOT!!! Nats' closing pitcher [Drew Storen] allowed two runners to reach base on singles, and then gave up a home run to pinch hitter Mark Teahen. (Who?) All of a sudden, the game was tied, 3-3, and all the wind was gone from the Nationals' sails. At least Storen got the next two batters out, but that has to go down as one of the worst blown saves of his career.
Hopes rose once again in the top of the tenth inning, when Laynce Nix hit a solo homer, but the White Sox evened it up at the bottom of the frame, thanks to a wild pitch by Todd Coffey. Two innings later, virtually the same thing happened: Brian Bixler hit an RBI double to take the lead once again, but the White Sox responded by a solo home run by A.J. Pierzynski. Tied, 5-5. I had a grim forboding feeling that the same fate just suffered by U.Va. (losing in the 13th inning) was about to befall the Nationals, but they survived until the 14th. That's when things really got strange: Brian Bixler singled, stole second, and then scored on a throwing error on what should have been the third out, as Ian Desmond hit a hard ground ball to shortstop. Then Roger Bernadina singled in another run, and Ryan Zimmerman finally got his first hit of the game, a two-run double to seal the game's outcome for good. The White Sox were totally flummoxed by this outburst, and the game finally ended with a 9-5 victory for the Nationals. It's a good thing, because the Nats had used their very last bullpen pitcher, Collin Ballester, and he couldn't have lasted much longer. See MLB.com.
In my delirious, exultant state of mind immediately thereafter, I made the following Facebook comment:
Absolutely amazing! And I thought the big come-from-behind win against Seattle was a big deal. This triumphant, gut-wrenching game will be remembered for years to come as what defines the new WINNING Washington Nationals. What a great way to get national exposure as FOX broadcasts the game tomorrow.
Was that reaction over the top, or is it understandable in light of the Nats' long string of disappointing performances? You be the judge! Or what about this?
"The Nats (players) just refuse to quit!"
I wouldn't have imagined that I would [already] need to update the table which I did just three days ago, but here is a new line based on that historic game:
Washington Nationals' 9th (+) inning comebacks and/or blown leads
runs in 9th
runs in 9th
|Extra innings, notes
||BOTH 1 in 10th & 12th; WSH 4 in 14th
(I'll put a permanent -- subject to updating -- version of that table on my Washington Nationals page some time soon.) UPDATE: I just noticed that in the line for the May 11 game, the home team was wrongly indicated. That game was played in Atlanta, not Washington.
Over the weekend, the White Sox beat the Nats 3-0 on Saturday, and then blew a small lead late in the game today, losing 2-1. That brings the Nationals up to 40 wins and 38 losses for the season, still 8.5 games behind the NL East-leading Phillies and 3.5 games behind the current Wild Card race leader, the Atlanta Braves. Things are looking good, in spite of all the managerial chaos! The Nationals won four straight games after the Oriole beat them last week, or 12 of the previous 13 games, but the White Sox interrupted that streak on Saturday. With today's win over the White Sox, they have now won 13 out of their last 15 games, tying the record set in June 2005. They can break that record with a win against the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) tomorrow night, which would give them a 14-2 record over the past 16 games.
Nationals: under new management
In the wake of the stunningly abrupt departure of Jim Riggleman, Washington Nationals bench coach John McLaren was named as interim manager. Late on Friday, there were reports that Davey Johnson would get the job. Today, the front office announced that will serve as manager at least through the rest of this season. McLaren will get a new position as a team scout, rather than be demoted back to his old job. That would have been a bit awkward. Johnson will begin managing the Nationals on Monday night in Anaheim. See MLB.com. My preliminary reaction is very favorable, based solely on Johnson's career accomplishments. The fact that there is still nothing definite about his status next year makes me wonder if he lacks commitment. We'll see soon enough. I'll have more to say about that in the near future.
Marlins at "home" in Seattle
I got a hot tip from Facebook friend Matt Ereth and long-time fan Steven Poppe. This weekend's interleague series between the Seattle Mariners and the Florida Marlins was played in Seattle, getting displaced by a U-2 Concert held at Sun Life Stadium. The teams split the first two games, and the rubber match game is still in progress as of now. As Matt pointed out, they were using National League rules (i.e., no designated hitter), and the Marlins were considered the home team. The fact that the Marlins had to make room for a musical event highlights their humble "tenant" status at the home of the Miami Dolphins. Fortunately, that embarrassing situation will be rectified next year when the Marlins' new home is completed. See MLB.com.
June 30, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Dodgers file for bankruptcy
The weird ownership situation with the Los Angeles Dodgers got even weirder this week. Two months after Major League Baseball took over operations of the financially shaky franchise, principal owner Frank McCourt filed for bankruptcy, to stay in business and make payroll while fending off creditor demands. This was precipitated by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's refusal to allow the Dodgers to enter into a new broadcast contract, which McCourt said would have solved his liquidity problems. Selig said it would have exposed the franchise to undue financial risk and would have a harmful effect on the sport in general. Frank McCourt is going through a very messy divorce, and his wife demands half of the franchise equity value. He bought the Dodgers for $355 million in 2004, in a highly leveraged transaction that was a perfect example of what is wrong with professional sports these days. See MLB.com. Maybe they can make more money by moving back to Brooklyn! (Just kidding.)
Everybody in baseball says this will not affect the Dodgers' playing, and that certainly seems to be the case: On [Monday] they beat the Minnesota Twins, 15-0.
This situation has been brewing for many months, in part as collateral damage from the September 2008 meltdown on Wall Street. As Pete Toms at bizofbaseball.com explained in February,
The exponential growth in franchise values, which Selig deserves some credit for, also has resulted in clubs comprising an ever greater share of their owners' overall financial worth. Going forward, some say it is essential and imminent, that MLB will attempt to implement new rules to protect franchises from the debt troubles of their owners.
In other words, by their very success at raising their net worth by coercing state and local governments to pay for new stadiums, the owners have become dangerously exposed to the ups and downs of the baseball (and pro sports) market. Many of them are now in over their heads. In a way, I guess it's poetic justice.
Prompted by this scandal, David Schoenfield lists "The top 10 worst owners in MLB history" at ESPN. (Wouldn't that be bottom 10"?) He ranks Frank McCourt just behind the worst of the worst: Harry Frazee, who owned the Red Sox from 1916 to 1923 and whose signature "accomplishment" in life was trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Of the Dodger's owner, Schoenfield writes:
McCourt has wrapped up all the bad things about an owner into one sad situation: He's turned off the fans, hasn't won, doesn't really have the money to own a team and has become a public embarrassment and a disgrace.
Strangely missing from that list: Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles. One of the commenters ("Jhimmibhob") suggests a reason for that omission...
Angels sweep the Nationals
So much for their hot streak! The Washington Nationals reverted to their old losing ways in sunny southern California this week, as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beat them in three straight games. It wasn't a very auspicious beginning for the team's new manager, Davey Johnson. On Monday,[John Lannan] had a mediocre outing, but good defensive performances at least kept the game close. The Nats had three home runs -- by Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, and Danny Espinosa -- but no runners were on base, and no other Nationals scored. The Angels scored in the bottom of the tenth to win it, 4-3. The next day was a total meltdown, as an awful performance by [Jason Marquis] as well as the relief pitchers allowed 11 runs to score, five of which were in the eighth inning. The Nats committed five errors, but a couple of those may have been caused by poor infield conditions; the Angels also booted a couple hard ground balls. On Wednesday, Jordan Zimmermann had the finest outing of his pitching career, going eight innings without giving up a single earned run. An error allowed one run to score, however, so Zimmermann "lost" the game, 1-0. What a shame. Credit is due to the Angels' starting pitcher, Dan Haren.
So now the Nationals are below .500 again, with a 40-41 record. It's not bad, but it could have been better. For the month of June, the Nats won 17 and lost 10, tied for their second best month ever. (Their best month? June 2005, when they went 20-6.) The team returned to Washington today and rested, in preparation for another lengthy home stand, against the Pirates, Cubs, and Rockies. (I'm hoping to be there for the Fourth of July game!)
Anaheim Stadium update
After watching the Nationals-Angels games on TV this week, I was motivated to update the Anaheim Stadium (a.k.a. Angels Stadium of Anaheim) diagrams. It's mostly small corrections and a more accurate profile, yielding a taller height, just like with the recent Astrodome update.
Rizzo vs. Riggleman update
"I talked to Jim before the season and have emphasized since that no decision would be made on his extension until after the end of the season." See MLB.com. If it's true that Rizzo made his decision crystal clear, and Riggleman agreed to serve under those conditions, then he deserves most of the blame. I sure hope he didn't ruin his career as a manager.
Hockey at Progressive Field
I learned from Matt Ereth that there will be an outdoor hockey match next January at Progressive (a.k.a. Jacobs) Field, as the Ohio State Buckeyes host the University of Michigan. See MLB.com. I supposed I'll have to do a hockey version of Progressive Field now, as I did for Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.