September 3, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]
Nats beat Mets in amazing fashion
For non-contending teams, September is the month for letting rookies have a chance to play and thinking about how to win more games next year. And so, when I heard that the Washington Nationals (who had won only one of their last ten games) were letting a new guy named Tom Milone pitch against the Mets this evening, I figured that meant they were writing off the series as a lost cause. WRONG! The Nats' very first batter, Ian Desmond hit a solo home run, getting things off to a fine start. In the second inning, the pitcher Milone stepped up to the plate with two runners on base, and promptly swatted that ball into the bullpen in the right field corner. According to my records, it was the 77th time that a major league player had homered in his first at-bat, and only the 15th time it has happened on the first pitch. I thought perhaps it was the first time such a feat had been done by a pitcher, but in fact Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals did so a mere five years ago, on May 24, 2006. See MLB.com
On the mound, Milone pitched very well for the first three innings, but gave up four runs in the fourth inning, and was replaced one inning later. Tom Gorzelanny gave up two runs in the sixth inning, and Tyler Clippard gave up another one inning later, and the Mets took a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth. That was when Jesus Flores led off with a single, and soon the bases were loaded with only one out. Why Bobby Parnell intentionally walked Roger Bernadina with Ryan Zimmerman on deck I'll never understand. Everyone knows the "Z-Man" is the king of walk-off hits in D.C. (He was in almost the same situation two weeks ago, hitting a walk-off grand slam to beat the Phillies.) Tonight, he did it again, lobbing a broken-bat single into right field, batting in two runs to end the game. YES-S-S!!! Yet another incredible triumph for Ryan Zimmerman, the "face of the franchise."* For the complete wrap-up, see MLB.com.
In the rubber match game tomorrow afternoon, the Nats (64-73) will try to pull within two games of the Mets, who hold third place in the NL East. "Should I stay or should I go?"
Nats hit four homers, win!
Before tonight, the Nats' only recent win was a 9-2 game in Atlanta that was fueled by four (4) four-baggers. Unlike the game last Saturday where they hit three home runs, all solos, and nothing else, this time they made it count. Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, and Laynce Nix put the wood right where it counted, helping the Washington Nationals break their six-game losing streak. Braves' star pitcher Jair Jurrjens was roughed up, rather unusual for him. The Nats outscored the Braves in that series, 12-10, but couldn't manage to win either of the next two games.
Zimmerman's future in D.C.
* Speaking of Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton recently wrote about the necessity of getting a long-term contract signed before he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. "The Nats want to avoid an Albert Pujols-type situation because if Zimmerman hits the market, all bets are off." She also opined that Zimmerman "looks like a sure-fire Hall of Famer." Whoa, not so fast! He is certainly a strong prospect, but no one can predict how he'll play for the next 10-15 years.
That being said, as someone who was there in RFK Stadium to witness Zimmerman's first major league hit (a double), and who studied at the same university (Virginia!), I have a special devotion as a fan to him, and I look forward to the day when he leads Washington to their first World Series victory since 1924. I'm not kidding.
September 5, 2011 [LINK / comment]
End-of-summer day tripping
Labor Day marks the effective end of summer, in terms of most people's vacation travel. (For many of us in the education sector, the fall semester actually began two weeks ago.) Anyway, it's time to wrap up another seasonal batch of scenic photos, which you can see on the Summer 2011 photo gallery. (Two of those pics are shown below on the blog post.)
A couple weekends ago, Jacqueline and I paid a visit to Natural Bridge, the second time we had been there. The weather was perfect: mild temperatures and clear blue skies. We walked underneath the bridge (U.S. Route 11 passes overhead), along a trail that goes past a recreated Indian village, an abandonded saltpeter mine (very cool inside!), and terminates at a nice waterfall. It was very enjoyable, and yes, awesome! Afterwards we went to the Wax Museum next door, observing historical displays and many presidential figures. (They actually use a plastic material, not wax.)
One of the new features at Natural Bridge is the butterfly exhibit, which is staffed by a government biologist. As someone who has recently taken an interest in those winged insects, I was very impressed. Some of the children were less than cautious with those tiny creatures, and I wonder what the "attrition rate" is due to carelessness by patrons.
Natural Bridge, the premier natural wonder of the Old Dominion.
On the way home from Natural Bridge later in the afternoon, we drove into picturesque downtown Lexington, Virginia, took some pictures, and had dinner at the Southern Inn Restaurant. The old-fashioned neon-light sign outside is quite a contrast to the modern, upscale furnishings inside. Fine food, and very good service.
This past weekend we drove up to Shenandoah National Park, doing a bit of hiking. I was hoping to see some migrating birds, but hardly any were present; more on that later. There were a few interesting mushrooms along the trail, but the photographic highlight of the day was at the store at Loft Mountain: Arachnophobia!
The ventral (belly) side of a Marbled Orb Weaver, at the Loft Mountain Wayside, Shenandoah National Park. It's a little less than one inch across.
September 5, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Not-so-happy Labor Day, 2011
As the nation's unemployment rate remains stuck at 9.1 percent (see bls.gov), with no sign of improvement, President Obama spent Labor Day this year in Detroit. While lamenting the current job situation, he also hailed the historic role of labor unions in bringing about widespread prosperity in America. From whitehouse.gov:
But I'm not satisfied just to get back to where we were before the recession; we've got to fully restore the middle class in America. And America cannot have a strong, growing economy without a strong, growing middle class and without a strong labor movement.
If he really means to suggest that giving more power to labor unions is going to help our economy recover, he must be out of his mind. Look what the United Auto Workers did to Detroit, for Pete's sake! Thanks largely to sky-high labor costs and union rules that inhibit productivity, the American auto industry was rendered unable to compete in a global market. The once-vibrant "Motown" is today a vast industrial wasteland, with a steadily shrinking population and thousands of abandoned houses. (I'm not excusing dumb decisions made by overpaid auto executives, mind you.) I think Obama was probably just paying back one of the Democratic Party's core constituent groups, but the possibility that he actually believes his rhetoric on unions is frightening.
We'll have to wait until his big speech on Thursday night to see what President Obama plans to do to get the economy moving forward again, but one thing is almost certain: He has repeatedly called on Congress to approve yet another extension of the unemployment insurance benefit. Obama says that that is the best way to help jobless folks "get back on their feet." (See american99ersunion.com.) I'd say it is more likely to keep them sitting on their %@* asses, putting off looking for a job. But I'm just one of those heartless right-wingers, so what do I know?
September 10, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Kauffman Stadium update
After taking a close look at all the photos I took there last month, I have updated the Kauffman Stadium diagrams. At first I thought all I'd need to do would be to add a new lower-deck version, but then I noticed more and more minor discrepancies between the photos and the diagram. For example, the dugouts are curved a bit less than before, and the upper deck is angled inward a fraction of a degree more. Among the other new details are the restaurant/clubs in the left field and right field corners, the covered concourse that stretches between them in a broad arc, as well as the mini-diamond for kids beyond left-center field. Also, the ticket vending buildings and the curved peripheral fence between them are now shown as well. The new full-size version diagram shows those entrance gates in their entirety.
Strasburg returns to Washington!
In the wake of an earthquake and a hurricane, the National Capital Region suffered monsoon-like rains this past week, forcing the cancellation of the game with the L.A. Dodgers scheduled for Wednesday. But there was one piece of good news: At long last, Stephen Strasburg has returned to the pitcher's mound playing for the Nationals! I cringed when the first Dodgers batter got a double off him, but he kept his cool and prevented any runs from scoring for five solid innings, while giving up just one more hit. He left the game with game tied 3-3, a no decision. Unfortunately, the Nats relievers choked, and the Dodgers won, 7-3.
Tonight, starting pitcher John Lannan was badly roughed up by the Houston Astros, who scored six runs in the third inning. It's the worst outing he has had all year; there musts be something wrong with him that he isn't telling anyone. On the plus side, Michael Morse got his 27th home run of the year. He is fast closing in on the 30-homer threshhold, and his batting average is .313, ranking #6 in the National League among players with at least 300 at bats. If he plays this well next year, he should be a serious contender for the All Star team.
The night beforre, the Nats edged the Astros 4-3 in 11 innings. The conclusion was less than satisfying: Jayson Werth hit a hard grounder to the third baseman, who unwisely threw it to second base in hopes of getting an out, and when the ball sailed into center field, Ryan Zimmerman ran home for the winning run. Hey, a win's a win.
Adios to Livan & Pudge?
Two of the Nationals' seasoned veterans may no longer play for the team in the starting lineup: Livan Hernandez and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. Livan recently threw his 50,000th major league pitch, an incredible milestone. Unfortunately, he had a rough outing in his last start, giving up six runs to the Mets over 5 1/3 innings on September 4. He has proven himself to be useful in other ways, however, such as getting down a perfect sacrifice bunt in one of their recent victories. He's not a bad hitter, either. As for Pudge, he will play in a reserve role while Wilson Ramos gets more experience [as first-string catcher while backup catcher] Jesus Flores gets a chance to rehabilitate himself after being out for more than a year due to injury. Livan and Pudge have each indicated they want to continue to play in Washington, but their careers may be coming to an end very soon.
Astros to the AL?
I heard a rumor on the radio that the Houston Astros may move to American League, depending on how the proposed sale of the franchise to Jim Crane goes. See MLB.com. Drayton McLane paid $117 million for the Astros in 1992, and the sale price is reportedly $680 million, quite a hefty rate of return. (The price was $103 according to Forbes magazine, and the franchise was valued at $463 million in 2008; see MLB Franchises.)
For years, I have been in favor of moving the Astros to the National League Western Division, while moving the Arizona Diamondbacks to the American League West. That would provide for much better geographical dispersal of each league, bringing more American League teams to the southwest USA. The Astros and the Rangers make natural cross-state- interleague rivals, like the Mets and Yankees or Cardinals and Royals. Why change that?
Shorten the season?
Sports writer Frank Deford was recently interviewed on NPR radio, about his proposal to reduce the overlap between baseball and football. (Hat tip to Matthew Poteat.) Deford suggests:
First, end the season on Labor Day. A 140-game season will do just fine. Other sports are not prisoners to old records.
But second, as you reduce the regular season, add teams to the playoffs.
Count me as very dubious. Baseball is not like other sports. Old records are the standard against which present-day performance is measured. I could see going back to a 154-game season, with only teams that are contending for a postseason slot playing the post-1961 schedule of 162 games. A better way to compress the season would be to cut down on the number of rest days, to an average of two or three a month. Or perhaps four, by relying on occasional planned double-headers. "Let's play two!"
And as for adding more teams to the playoffs, that is what has made the NBA postseason such a tedious bore. The NBA playoffs ought to finish by the end of April, likewise for hockey, baseball should finish by mid-October, and the NFL ought to finish by the end of January, period.
New Fenway video boards
The other day I noticed a new video board at Fenway Park, and one of my Facebook friends informed me that new set of video boards was installed this past spring. The LED "Electric Diamond Vision" video screens are made by Mitsubishi; see MLB.com and YouTube. This means I'll have to update the Fenway Park diagram soon.
NOTE: Several text corrections and clarifications were made the following day.
September 11, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]
9/11: Ten years later
The tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks finds America in a gradual process of disengaging from two long wars, with deep anxiety about our economic future and widening political divisions in our society. Because some of those problems can be traced to the immense human and financial resources devoted to striking back at the terrorist movement that caused us so much harm, it is worth considering the disturbing question of whether Al Qaeda has achieved a measure of success. Just because we finally managed to kill their leader, Osama bin Laden, does not mean that we have "won the war." It is a struggle that will continue for decades, a stern test of our national resiliency and resolve.
But for now, we are focused on remembering the terrible losses that we suffered on that beautiful late fall day. At Ground Zero, in New York City, President Obama and the man he replced, George W. Bush, stood side by side during memorial ceremonies. That was a fitting gesture of the desire to live up to the slogan, "United We Stand." Similar cermonies took place at the Pentagon and in the field nea Shanksville, Pennsylvania where United Flight 93 crashed into the ground. Who knows where it would have gone had the passengers not thwarted the terrorists' aims -- the U.S. Capitol? The White House?
Here in Staunton, the local fire station unveiled a small monument to the firefighters who died on September 11, including a chunk of twisted metal from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Facebook friend Eric Pritchert posted photos of that.
Our service at Emmanuel Episcopal Church included remarks by someone who was working in Manhattan on that morning ten years ago, as well as a special litany. I thought this passage was especially important:
From prejudice, hatred and a desire for revenge
Savior deliver us.
As I noted to another parishioner after church, the absence of revenge-seeking is one of the central distinguishing characteristics of Christian religion. Certain other religions share that emphasis, while others explicitly justify the "eye for an eye" approach to settling scores. Many who call themselves Christians have fallen prey to the urge to get revenge, forgetting the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. So, let us remember from Romans 12: 21 --
Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.
One wonders whether the annual remembrances of 9/11 will begin to recede in prominence now that the tenth anniversary is behind us. I made note of the fifth anniversary on Sept. 11, 2006 and the eighth anniversary on Sept. 11, 2009. What about fifteen or twenty years from now, or one hundred? There will no doubt still be people alive on Sept. 11, 2101 who will remember the attacks when they were very young.
The Global War on Terror
We Americans have been understandably focused on the terrorist threat to our own homeland, but it is important to remember that the 9/11 attacks were merely one stage in a prolonged war against Western Civilization being waged by Islamic radicals. It truly is a Global War on Terrorism. Here are some other attacks or crucial battles or other key events before and after September 11, 2001, with blog links for those instances where I made comments at the time. The numbers of victims is shown in parentheses, where appropriate.
- Feb. 26, 1993: World Trade Center, NY (6)
- Oct. 12, 2000: U.S. Navy destroyer Cole, at port in Yemen (17)
- Sept. 11, 2001: World Trade Center, NY, Pentagon, VA (2,976)
- Oct. 2001: U.S. forces attack the Taliban, begin liberation of Afghanistan.
- Dec. 24, 2001: Attack by Richard Reid ("Shoe Bomber") fails.
- March 19, 2003: U.S. and British forces invade Iraq.
- Oct. 12, 2002: Bali, Indonesia (202)
- March 2004: Madrid, Spain (250)
- July 5, 2005: London, England (52)
- Oct. 2, 2005: Bali, Indonesia (26)
- Nov. 2005: riots in Paris, France
- June 2006: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed.
- Aug. 2006: Israel invades Lebanon
- Jan. 2007: Pres. Bush announces "surge" in Iraq.
- Nov. 2008: Mumbai, India (166)
- Dec. 2008: Israel attacks Hamas in Gaza.
- Nov. 2009: Fort Hood, Texas (13)
- July 2009: U.S. Marines launch offensive in Helmand, Afghanistan.
- May 1, 2011: U.S. Navy SEALs kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
September 16, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Mets !
And a four-game sweep at that! Thanks in large part to shortstop Ian Desmond, who went five for six last night, the Washington Nationals trounced the New York Mets 10-1 in Flushing Meadows, New York, yesterday afternoon, thereby completing their sweep the Mets. In the three preceding games at Citi Field, the Nats won by only one or two runs. It was only their fourth sweep of the year, having beaten the Brewers, Cardinals, and Mariners in three straight games each, during the first half of the season.
As a result, the Nationals now have sole possession of third place in the National League East, the most competitive division in all of baseball. Not bad! The last time they were in third place this late in the season was August 18, 2005. They maintained a higher winning percentage throughout that season, however, finishing at an even 81-81.
The last time the Nats reached a double-digit run total in a game was exactly three months ago, when they beat the Cardinals 10-0. It was their fifth straight victory, their longest winning streak since the eight game streak in mid-June. The Nats have been notably less successful on the road this season (currently 30-44), making their achievement all the more remarkable.
I plan to join the festivities this evening, when the Nationals return home and face the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins. John Lannan will be the Nats' starting pitcher. Stay tuned!
Pennant races start to heat up
At the beginning of September, it seemed that the final month of the baseball season would be less exciting than in most years, but now things are getting interesting. With less than two weeks to go, only one of the divisional races is highly competitive right now, the AL West. The Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Tigers enjoy leads of at least five games, with rapidly shrinking magic numbers. The Yankees have built a 4 1/2-game lead over the Red Sox, while the suddenly red-hot Rays threaten to grab the wild card slot. Angels have slowly crept up on the Rangers, but will need some good luck to close the 3 1/2-game gap. The Atlanta Braves are all but assured of the NL wild card spot. I know the Brewers have been very hot lately, and anything can happen in the postseason series, but it's hard to imagine anyone but the Phillies ending up with the National League pennant.
Save the ash trees!
While reading the Cardinals team magazine which I bought in St. Louis last month, I noticed an ad publicizing Missouri's emerald ash borer control program. Why is that important for baseball fans? Because ash is the preferred wood for baseball bats, which are prone to shattering when substandard material is used. See missouri.edu.
Louisville Slugger museum
Next time I pass through Louisville, I'm going to make a point to stop at the Slugger museum. There's a giant bat outside the factory, which you can see in this photo.
Negro Leagues Museum
Next time I pass through Kansas City, I'm going to make a point to stop at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
September 20, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]
Marlins almost sweep the Nats
Coming off a triumphant four-game sweep of the Mets in New York, the Washington Nationals just couldn't "get 'r done" as they returned home for a weekend series against the Florida Marlins. Maybe it was the cold weather that chilled their hot bats. (They had scored ten runs the night before in New York.) The Nationals lost the first two games in the series, and barely averted being swept by the Marlins with a 4-3 win on Sunday afternoon. That game was notable primarily for the very good outing by starting pitcher Chien Ming-Wang, who went 6 2/3 innings. He gave up a two-run homer in the sixth, or else it would have been a superb outing. Hopefully, he will continue to show improvement next year.
I was at the game in Nationals Park on Friday night, when John Lannan took the mound. It was obvious from the very first inning that he just didn't have his stuff, as the Marlins kept getting hits off him -- eight, altogether. Lannan gave up three runs and only struck out one batter over six innings, while the Marlins' pitcher, Javier Vazquez, threw a complete game shutout, with seven strikeouts. The Nats had run-scoring opportunities in the second and seventh innings, but failed to capitalize on them. Thus, the Marlins won, 3-0.
John Lannan, trying to warm up on a chilly evening.
The Nationals (and all other Major League teams) observed Roberto Clemente Day on Friday, and the video scoreboard played vintage clips of Clemente's wonderful career and his devotion to humanitarian causes. (You can see Clemente's image on the scoreboard in the photo above.) He died in a plane crash New Year's Eve 1972 while en route to Nicaragua, to help the victims of an earthquake. Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond was chosen to be the team's candidate for the 2011 Roberto Clemente Award. See MLB.com.
Ian Desmond, warming up before the game.
After sinking into the doldrums in April and May, Desmond has had a fantastic late season, batting .286 since August 1. Originally he was expected to be stronger at the plate than on defense, but he has turned out to be very reliable fielding balls at shortstop. He is a key part of a very solid infield, including Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa. Michael Morse has moved into left field recently, making room for rookie Chris Marrero at first base. After a shaky start earlier this month, Marrero has started to hit pretty well. I was disappointed that neither Michael Morse nor Jayson Werth played that night. I guess we all need a day (or night) off every once in a while. Morse was on deck as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth, when Ryan Zimmerman lined out to second base to end the game.
Nationals Park grand view, at night. Roll your mouse over the image to see the difference between night and day.
So now the Nationals are in a virtual tie with the Mets for third place in the NL East, and with a record of 72-79, they need to win nine of their remaining ten games to finish above a .500 record. Since one of their recent games against the Dodgers was cancelled due to rain (neither team is in postseason contention), they will only play 161 games this year. After a day of rest on Monday, they head up to Philadelphia to face the Phillies in a four-game series. It begins with a double-header on Tuesday, making up a game that was rained out on August 14.
Online chat feature?
I've been taking a look at an online chat service that would allow fans of this Web site to pose questions in an instantaneous fashion, perhaps making possible a discussion of issues connected to ballpark design and/or the race for the World Series. I hope to give it a spin later this week. Stay tuned!
September 23, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Believe it or not: Nationals sweep the Phillies!
Maybe it's not such a big deal, since the Phillies have already clinched the National League Eastern Division title, and are pretty much guaranteed a top seed in the playoffs, so they didn't really need the win. But what happened up in the City of Brotherly Love this week sure did provide a lot of satisfaction for Washington-area fans. Against all odds, the Nationals won a rare double-header against the Phillies on Tuesday, the first game of which was a makeup of the rained-out August 14 game. Roger Bernadina hit a three-run home run to take the lead in the afternoon game, but then the Phillies tied it in the bottom of the inning. The deciding run was batted in by good old clutch hitter Ryan Zimmerman in the top of the tenth inning. Final score: 4-3. In the nightcap, rookie Ross Detwiler threw 7 1/3 shutout innings, while rookie Danny Espinosa hit his 20th home run, as the Nats won, 3-0. Not a bad way to start a four-game series on the road!
Amazingly enough, the Nats went on to win on the next two days. In the Wednesday game, Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa each hit two-run homers, and the Nats took a 7-3 lead. The Phillies scored twice late in the game, and I was very anxious when they put in Henry Rodriguez to close the game in the ninth inning. He is fast, but often not very accurate. Fortunately, my fears were not borne out and he got credit for the save. (Whew!) On Thursday night, the Nats took an early lead and held it thanks to rookie pitcher Brad Peacock, who gave up only one hit over 5 2/3 innings. It was an even more amazing performance than on September 14. Michael Morse put the cherry on the topping with a three-run homer (his 28th) late in the game. For some reason, Manager Davey Johnson replaced Doug Slaten with Todd Coffey, who proceeded to allow the Phillies their only run of the game before getting the final out, with a score of 6-1. And that's how the Washington Nationals swept a four-game series for the second time in as many weeks. It was the first time all year that the Phillies have been swept in any three-plus game series, which ought to tell you something about how good the Nationals really are -- or could be. The future of baseball in Washington is very, very bright.
This evening, the Nationals began a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves, who are much more motivated to win than the Phillies. The visiting team jumped to a three-run lead in the first inning, embarrassing the Nats' starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg. He only lasted four-plus innings, and in spite of a comeback attempt -- including Jayson Werth's 20th home run of the year -- the Braves ended up winning, 7-4. Thus, the Nats' five-game winning streak was broken. That means the "D.C. 9" have to win all five of their remaining games to finish the season above .500 for the first time. It's a long shot, but they can do it.
Citizens Bank Park update
The Nationals' splendid achievement in Philadelphia made me realize it was about time to update the Citizens Bank Park diagram. As usual, the profile is more accurate, with about 12 feet per standard-height level rather than 10 as previously estimated (or assumed, rather), and with more attention to detail around the dugouts, the lateral aisles, and the peripheral structures. As for the shape of the field, there is one significant revision: the diagonal portions of the lower deck grandstand extending beyond first and third bases now angle inward slightly more than before, and the bends are located about ten feet further out on each side.
I have fond personal memories of that ballpark, having seen the first-ever Washington Nationals game in Philadelphia, on April 4, 2005. The Nats lost their first game, but then won the next two games, to everyone's surprise, thereby taking the series.
Mariano Rivera sets saves record
New York Yankees closing pitcher Mariano Rivera recorded his 602th career save on Monday, setting a new lifetime record in this category, as the Yanks downed the Minnesota Twins at home in New Yankee Stadium. See MLB.com. I was fortunate to see Rivera when the Yankees visited the Kansas City Royals last month; see photo below. Regarding the "Panamanian gentleman," columnist Thomas Boswell suggested in the Washington Post that Rivera ought to be considered the second greatest Yankee player of all time. Now that's a big claim! Boswell cites an array of statistics that at least provide an arguable case. Rivera and fellow member of the "class of 95" Derek Jeter will certainly be back with the Yankees next year, but Jorge Posada's future is in doubt.
This feat came almost exactly a year after Trevor Hoffman, long-time closer for the Padres who was traded to the Brewers last year, became the first pitcher ever to reach the 600-save milestone. (See Sept. 18, 2010.) The Padres held a special retirement ceremony for Hoffman this past August 21; see MLB.com.
Mariano Rivera, pitching in Kansas City on August 16.
Pennant races come into focus
So far, the Phillies have clinched the NL East, the Yankees have clinched the AL East, and the Tigers have clinched the AL Central Division. The Rangers are almost assured of winning the AL West, while the Brewers and Diamondback have comfortable leads in the NL Central and NL West. The big question marks are the wild card races. On the American League side, it appears that neither the Red Sox nor the Rays have much desire to win, both contending teams having lost most of their recent ten games. In the National League wild card race, the Cardinals are only a couple games behind the Braves, but the Cubs are leading them 4-1 in the ninth inning in St. Louis right now, which further reduces the Cards' chances of reaching the postseason this year.
It is a welcome development that the baseball regular season is ending in September this year, which is the way things ought to be.
Citi Field to shrink
Obviously, I have fallen way behind on correspondence with fans once again, which is typical for this time of the academic year. I plan to get to most of those tips and queries this weekend, but in the mean time let me just draw your attention to this piece of intriguing news from Queens, New York: The Mets are planning to reduce the outfield dimensions in Citi Field next year, but the details are not yet firm. See MLB.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who points out the similarity between that and what the Detroit Tigers did by adding an inner fence in left field at Comerica Park. It's probably a good idea, not only from the batters' perspective, but also to reduce the amount of outfield territory that is out of the field of vision of upper-deck patrons on that side of the stadium. They should also straight the fence in right field and eliminate that rather artificial overhang
September 25, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]
Braves, Red Sox cling to shrinking wild card leads
As recently as a week ago, it seemed like a fairly safe bet that the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox would make it to October via the wild card route. After losing their respective series over the weekend, however, those two teams' hopes of playing into October are in grave jeopardy. Thanks to wins by my two favorite teams -- the Nationals and the Yankees -- the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays are only one game behind in the respective races.
In Washington, those late-blooming, suddenly feisty Nationals came back from their defeat on Friday night to win the second and third games of the series against the Braves. In both games, solid pitching was a critical factor. On Saturday, Chien Ming-Wang only allowed one run and four hits over six full innings, his best outing of the season. That game was notable for being Ivan Rodriguez's probable last start as catcher for the Nationals. "Pudge" got a single and made a great throw to second base, stopping a stolen base attempt. He wants to continue playing in the majors and reach the 3,000-hit mark, but it would probably be with a different team next year. See the Washington Post. On Sunday, Ross Detwiler kept his cool under pressure and went six innings without giving up any runs. Home runs by Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse (#29!) provided the winning margin for the Nationals. It was their last home game in Washington this year, and 37,638 fans showed up for the bittersweet occasion. See MLB.com.
In The Bronx, the Yankees and Red Sox played a double-header today. The home team won the afternoon game, making up for Friday night's rain-out, and they held the lead in the second game until the seventh inning. If the Red Sox had lost that one, they would have been tied with the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild card race. But the game was tied 4-4 after nine, and in the top of the 14th inning Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run homer, and Boston eked out a precious win, 7-4. See MLB.com.
Odds would seem to favor the Cardinals on the National League side, and the Red Sox on the American League side. The Braves finish their regular season facing the top-seeded Phillies (99-60) at home, while the Cardinals play on the road in Houston against the "bottom-seeded" (55-104) Astros. Meanwhile, the Red Sox head to Baltimore for their last three games, hoping to avoid becoming the first team to blow a 10-game lead in the wild card race since the divisional playoffs were expanded (or would have been expanded, were it not for the strike) in 1994. The Orioles (67-92) may be in last place in the AL East, but they are no pushover, having just split a four-game series in Detroit against the AL Central champion Tigers. For their part, the Rays face a much more daunting task, hosting the Yankees (97-62) in St. Petersburg. The Angels have pretty much dropped out of wild card contention, putting an end to fears of some kind of "massive tie" scenario, requiring extra playoff games.
In preparation for another thrilling, action-packed October, I have included a highly conjectural 2011 postseason matchup on the Postseason scores page, subject to last-minute revision, of course. It will automatically begin displaying at the bottom of the Baseball blog page at the stroke of midnight on the first of October. Scores on it will be updated daily.
Nats go out with a bang
Having swept the Phillies and prevailed over the Braves in two of three games, the Nationals have raised their win-loss record to 78-80. The amazing feat of winning 12 of their last 15 games keeps their hopes alive for ending the season over .500 for the first time since their 2005 "rebirth" in Washington. All they need to do now is sweep the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins in the final baseball series ever to be played in Sun Life Stadium. The team seems very psyched up, looking forward to becoming real contenders next year, and Michael Morse has the added incentive of trying to get his 30th home run. That would be twice as many as in the year before, and five times as many as in the first five years of his career, when he was plagued by injuries. Hit for the fence, Michael!
According to my records, the Nats had an average home attendance of 28,356 during September, their best month all year. Usually, attendance drops in September, but the return of Stephen Strasburg generated a lot of fan excitement. For the year as a whole, the Nationals recorded a total paid attendance of 1,940,480, a modest improvement over the two preceding years, but still less than in any of their first four years in Washington.
Stadium pages are all "up to par"
Over the weekend, I finally completed one of the biggest and most irritating maintenance chores, making the layout of the stadium pages consistent. (In fact, I missed all of the Nationals-Braves game and most of the Yankees-Red Sox game while I sweated over the HTML code. ) The transition in page layouts began about a year ago, and I never imagined it would take so long to get them all done. In some cases, because of the way CSS works, page layouts were horribly out of whack, but I'm pretty sure that is no longer the case. From now on, all stadium pages have the same navigation system, showing the hierarchical structure in the line of links just below the masthead. The masthead itself is a clickable link to the Baseball home / navigation page, as distinct from the Baseball blog page, which is where the home plate icon still takes you. As another convenience, clicking on any of the same-stadium dynamic links (as opposed to the links to other stadium pages) will automatically position the page so that the navigation link line is at the very top of the Web page.
Aside from the stadium-specific pages, there are still a few baseball information pages to revise, and of course a number of diagrams that are still in the works. Rest assured: steady progress is being made!
Mile High Stadium update
One of the most outdated pages was Mile High Stadium, but that is no longer the case. Instead of having a separate "sideways" diagram to facilitate comparisons between the baseball configuration and the football configuration, I now rely on a new "full-size" diagram in which center field is at the top. Most of the revisions are minor in nature, focusing mainly on the profile, but there is a brand-new (though incomplete) 1960s version diagram, back when it was called "Bears Stadium." I may add an original (1948) version and an early 1970s version later on.
The mail bag
Terry Wallace has been sending me more information on baseball stadiums in football configuration, a diagramming task which I do indeed plan to "tackle" this fall. Speaking of football, while watching Sunday Night Football this evening, I was reminded that I had stopped to take a photo of Lucas Oil Stadium while visiting downtown Indianapolis last month. It's a unique structure, with massive exterior brick walls and a roof that slopes down from the center, like a typical single-family house.
Mike Zurawski informed me that the Marlins' new 2012 logo (with an "M" for Miami rather than an "F" for Florida) was accidentally unveiled by somebody. Some people think it may have been intentionally leaked by the Marlins as part of a publicity campaign. See ESPN.
New fan Daniel Francis writes: "Too bad the Montreal Expos didn't play their home games in Vancouver. Instead they went to Puerto Rico to play their home games there. Maybe a new retractable-roof baseball-only ballpark can be built in the PNE at the site where the temporary Empire Field is located if Vancouver get's an MLB franchise." Hmmm, I dunno... As Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) said in the movie Jerry Maguire, "Show me the money!"