July 4, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Happy 4th of July! (in Washington)
The emerging pattern this year is that the Washington Nationals repeatedly surge ahead with big victories, raising hopes for a big turning point, and then they immediately fall flat once again. The past week has been full of such ups and downs, and today's game was itself likewise full of both. Until the very last out of the game, it was about as tense as you can imagine.
But first, let's establish the context. In Washington on Sunday, the Nationals clobbered the New York Mets 13-2, thanks to four home runs and a fine outing by starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. (He and Stephen Strasburg appear to be back on track, another reason for Nats fans to cling to hope that they'll rebound in the second half.) The next day, the Nats beat the visiting Milwaukee Brewers 10-5, the first time this year that they have reached double-digit scores in two consecutive games. Jordan Zimmermann got his 12th win of the season, [with a big boost from Bryce Harper, who was playing for the first time since May 26 and homered on the very first swing he took in the first inning!] The good vibes quickly evaporated on Tuesday, however, as Stephen Strasburg's great seven-inning outing, allowing just two hits, was wasted when Drew Storen came in to relieve him. Storen had been showing signs of improvement lately, and the MASN announcers noted that his confidence level was back up, but this time he gave up four earned runs on four hits and a walk. Both teams racked up eight hits, but the final score was Brewers 4, Nats 0. That was a bitter disappointment. It would have been the exact same score on Wednesday had Anthony Rendon not hit a solo home run. And so, the Nationals were back down to .500 once again, 42-42.
Today, Wilson Ramos -- just off the disabled list, for the first time since mid-May -- was the undisputed hero, batting in five runs and getting three hits. Taylor Jordan was on the mound, subbing for Dan Haren, who is on the disabled list. The Brewers scored a run in the top of the first, but Jordan kept his cool even with a runner on third base, and got the third out. It helped a lot that the Nats hustled their way to two runs in the bottom of the first, giving Jordan a lead that he maintained for 5 2/3 innings. Just like two nights before, however, Drew Storen failed in his duties as relief pitcher. With one out in the seventh inning, he gave up a solo home run to Yuniesky Betancourt, and then with two outs he gave up a single and then a home run, hit by Carlos Gomez. Just like that, [the game was tied 5-5 and] Taylor Jordan's fine outing and probable first career win were thrown away. Fortunately, Wilson Ramos came through in the clutch in the bottom of that inning, hitting a three-run monster home run over the left field bull pen, putting the Nationals ahead for good. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth each got three hits, and Ryan Zimmerman (who has made some costly errors recently) made some great defensive plays at third base. Final score: Nats 8, Brewers 5. See MLB.com. That was a huge relief, earning the Nats a split in the four-game series with Milwaukee, and possibly saving the chance to get the team rolling again as the second half of the season begins.
Welcome back to Washington, Wilson Ramos!
Tradition: July 4 in D.C.
It has become a solid tradition that baseball is played in Our Nation's Capital every Fourth of July. In fact, the Nationals have played at home in all but one July 4 since they transformed their identity and moved down from Montreal in 2005. Not surprisingly, they have a winning record, 6-3. So, I thought it would be nice to recall the July 4 games of the past nine years. A year ago they beat the San Francisco Giants, who went on to win the World Series. I was at the July 4 game two years ago, when the Nats won on a wild pitch.
||End of Nats' 6-game winning streak, begin of decline.
||Ryan Zimmerman 3-run HR in 9th!
||Dmitri Young grand slam.
||The Nats' only 4th of July away from Washington.
||4-run rally in 8th inning.
||Ryan Zimmerman HR for nought.
||Winning run on wild pitch by Carlos Marmol in 10th inning.
||Nats hit four home runs.
||Wilson Ramos 3-run HR in 7th inning to retake lead.
2013 season: first half
Half the 2013 season is already gone, and time is growing very short. The first three months of 2013 have fallen far short of expectations, but their win-loss record (41-40 at the end of June) could have been even worse. During that period, the Nats were outscored by their opponents, 314-295. The good news is that they are breaking their old attendance records, but that won't continue for long unless they start winning like last year once again. See the Washington Nationals page.
Jarry Park update
In recognition of the Nationals' origins,* I updated the Jarry Park diagrams -- both the baseball and tennis versions. There were only two notable changes: inclusion of the entry portals (which happened to be wider than usual), and the reorientation of the swimming pool beyond right field, perpendicular to the end of the grandstand rather than to the right field fence.
* They used to be the Montreal Expos, until the end of 2004. It is rather ironic that the Nationals were a foreign team in their previous "incarnation."
Homer's second no-hitter
Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds threw the first no-hitter in the majors this year, and by amazing coincidence, he also threw the last no-hitter of last year. This time a key defensive play by Joey Votto might have saved the day. The 3-0 win on Tuesday was against the San Francisco Giants, who remain in a perplexing downhill spiral. See MLB.com.
All-Star picks, 2013
My picks for the All-Star game this year are fairly conventional for the American League, and fairly biased in favor of the Nationals on the National League side. (Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper clearly deserve it; I'm not sure about the others.) Somehow I forgot about the Angels' phenomenal young slugger Mike Trout; he is batting .315 with 53 RBIs but "only" 13 home runs so far this year. I didn't forget about Chris Davis, however. He has hit 32 home runs so far, on track to challenge Roger Maris' (unadulterated) record of 61 home runs in a season. The Washington Post had an article about him a few days ago. Before getting traded to Baltimore in July 2011, he played for the Texas Rangers, but never got enough at-bats to prove himself as a slugger. In fact, he almost ended up as a life-long minor leaguer, like Kevin Costner's character in Bull Durham. What an inspirational turnaround!
- 1B - Davis, Chris (BAL)
- 2B - Cano, Robinson (NYY)
- SS - Peralta, Jhonny (DET)
- 3B - Cabrera, Miguel (DET)
- C - Mauer, Joe (MIN)
- DH - Ortiz, David (BOS)
- OF - Bautista, Jose (TOR)
- OF - Hunter, Torii (DET)
- OF - Markakis, Nick (BAL)
- 1B - LaRoche, Adam (WSH)
- 2B - Carpenter, Matt (STL)
- SS - Desmond, Ian (WSH)
- 3B - Zimmerman, Ryan (WSH)
- C - McCann, Brian (ATL)
- OF - Beltran, Carlos (STL)
- OF - Harper, Bryce (WSH)
- OF - Werth, Jayson (WSH)
The mail bag
Jonah Mackey came across a cool photo gallery that shows external views of Nationals Park before and after it was built. See jdland.com. I used to live near that part of D.C., and I remember some of those bleak urban landscape scenes.
July 7, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Padres
Thanks to a sudden profusion of big hits, and a couple lucky breaks, the Washington Nationals capped a successful weekend series with an 11-7 victory over the San Diego Padres today. It was the Nats' first three-game series sweep since April 9-11, when they swept the Chicago White Sox, which was just a week after they swept the Miami Marlins; both times were at home in D.C. The Nats took a 1-0 first inning lead, but the "defining moment" (MASN jargon) came when the bases were loaded in the third inning: On the very first pitch, Ryan Zimmerman crushed a home run ball several rows deep in right field, his fourth career grand slam. Two batters later, rookie Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer to make it a 7-1 lead. The Nats added four more runs two innings later, which came in handy because the Padres kept adding runs in the later innings. Stephen Strasburg was straining in the hot and humid weather, which doesn't suit him well, but he lasted six full innings and finally got his fifth win of the season. See MLB.com. It was the Padres' ninth loss in a row; they had been closing ground in the NL West race during the latter part of June. They and the San Francisco Giants (!??) are losing ground quickly in a division that is pretty much up for grabs right now.
The following list is extracted from the complete list of grand slams at the bottom of the Washington Nationals page.
- Apr. 22, 2007 -- Ryan Zimmerman; FLA 12, WSH 6 * @
- May 12, 2007 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 7, FLA 3 *
- August 19, 2011 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 8, PHI 4 *
- July 7, 2013 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 11, SD 7
* = 9th inning. That's right, ALL of Zimmerman's previous grand slams were in the 9th inning!
@ = away game
In Friday night's game, Wilson Ramos batted in three more runs a day after his "explosive" Fourth of July display (!), and that ended up being the winning margin. Final score: Nats 8, Padres 5. Gio Gonzalez went 6 2/3 innings, and got his sixth win of the season.
On Saturday, Adam LaRoche homered (solo), and Bryce Harper batted in three runs. Jordan Zimmermann was in line for his 12th win of the season, but relief pitcher Ross Ohlendorf gave up a three-run homer to the very first batter he faced, Jesus Guzman. That converted a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit. Groan... Until then, Ohlendorf had pitched superbly since getting called up from the minors last month. Fortunately, the Nats staged a two-run rally in the seventh inning, and Ryan Zimmerman put the team ahead with a clutch broken-bat RBI single. In the top of the ninth, closing pitcher Rafael Soriano allowed two runners into scoring position, almost blowing the save. Adam LaRoche snagged a hard ground ball and lobbed it to Soriano, who ended the game by stepping on first base. Whew! Final score: Nats 5, Padres 4.
Since the Braves lost four of their last five games (thanks, Phillies and Marlins!), the Nationals have climbed to within four games of the Braves in the NL East. It's the first time they've been that close to the divisional lead since May 20. Going by win-loss records, the Nats are now 46-42 (.523); before this weekend, the last time the Nationals were more than two games above .500 was May 18.
Before we get all ecstatic about the Nats' improving fortunes, let's consider one sobering statistic: During every one of the seven games in this home stand, the opposing team scored at least four runs. The Nationals' batters can't be counted upon to sustain their recent surge for the entire season, so the pitching staff needs to step up to the plate -- or the rubber, actually -- and do its part.
Yanks almost sweep O's
The New York Yankees were in a similar situation today, poised to wrest second place away from their AL East rivals in Baltimore. (The Red Sox remain on top in the standings, with a small but comfortable lead.) The Bronx Bombers were ahead by a run (1-0) in the top of the ninth inning. But Nick Markakis singled, and Adam Jones homered to put the O's on top, 2-1. It was the first blown save in a home game by Mariano Rivera since 2010. In the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles' often-shaky closer Jim Johnson retired the three Yankee batters in order to get the save. Quite a shocking turn of events in The Bronx!
Tigers reclaim first place
Evidently not amused that the Cleveland Indians had surged ahead of them in the AL Central toward the end of June, the Detroit Tigers beat the Indians two games out of three, thereby solidifying their hold on first place. This came on the heels of beating the Blue Jays three games out of four earlier in the week.
The mail bag
In response to frantic pleas from fans, I plan to finally make the necessary (and overdue!) changes to the Safeco Field diagram in the next few days. The Mariners moved the fences in by a few feet this year, similar to what the Padres did at PETCO Park. Also, Jonathan Karberg reminded me that soccer and football games are being (or have been) played in Busch Stadium III this year, necessitating new diagrams. And there's more to get to after that...
July 16, 2013 [LINK / comment]
All the Stars gather in Queens
Tonight's All-Star Game at Citi Field will be a chance for fans like me with a strong regional (or even local) bias to get better acquainted with baseball players from all across the Fruited Plain. It's great how every year baseball gives rise to a new crop of emerging superstars; this year the newbie standouts are Chris Davis, Matt Harvey, and some guy named Yoenis Cespedes. (See below.) As of the eighth inning, the American League is ahead, 2-0. That's as many runs as they have scored in the three previous All-Star Games combined!
The venue for this event -- spacious Citi Field in Flushing Meadows, Queens County, New York -- could hardly be more appropriate. It's the first time since 1964, when Shea Stadium was just a baby, that the Mets have hosted the Midsummer Classic. Across town in The Bronx, the old Yankee Stadium hosted All-Star Games in 1977 and 2008, and they will probably have to wait at least another ten years before the new Yankee Stadium gets the same honor.
Several cities have been clamoring to get the All-Star Game, and some of them are indeed long overdue. First among them, I would say, is Washington, D.C.! In the Washington Post, columnist Adam Kilgore observes, "Twenty-six cities have hosted the all-star game since RFK Stadium hosted it two generations ago." (That was 1969; see the Baseball annual chronology page.) Next year's All-Star Game will be held at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Home Run Derby 2013
Washington's Bryce Harper made it to the final round of the year Home Run Derby, but just couldn't keep pace with Yoenis Cespedes, of the Oakland A's. Harper hit eight home runs in the first, second, and third rounds, displaying amazing consistency, while Cespedes got a big jump by hitting 17 homers in the first round. It reminded fans of Josh Hamilton's 24 first-round homers in the 2008 Home Run Derby. (Justin Morneau won in the final round that year.) What made Harper's appearance extra special was that his father threw him the pitches; one of them hit Bryce, who did not charge the mound in anger. The other semi-finalists were the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer and the Orioles' Chris Davis, who has hit an incredible 37 home runs (real ones!) so far this year. See MLB.com.
Nationals avert being swept
Having lost three out of four games in Philadelphia, and the first two games of a series in Miami, the Washington Nationals were on the verge of suffering an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the last-place Miami Marlins. After an uplifting 5-2 home stand, they dropped the first two games in Philadelphia last week, with small margins of defeat both times. No big deal. The game on Wednesday pointed to a resumption of their winning ways, featuring four home runs (a veritable derby!) and a great outing by starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Just like last year! But then on Thursday, Jordan Zimmermann faltered on the mound, allowing the Phillies to win the game and take the series, 3-1. (It turned out that Zimmermann had a strained neck, reducing his effectiveness, and that's why he pulled out of the All-Star Game, leaving Bryce Harper as the Nationals' only representative.)
Heading south to Miami, the Nationals had every reason to expect to get two or three wins, and indeed they scored three runs in the top of the first inning on Friday night. But then the most unbelievable series of events unfolded, as Stephen Strasburg walked three of the first four batters and then gave up a triple to Marcell Ozuna. (Who?) Just like that, the Nats' early lead evaporated, and it only got worse after that. The Marlins scored two more runs that inning, and another two in the second, giving them a commanding 7-3 lead and forcing the erstwhile ace pitcher out of the game. It was the worst outing in Strasburg's career as a major league pitcher; his record is now 5-7. The Nats were clearly discombobulated by this ugly reversal of fortune, and could not get anything going after that. Final score: Marlins 8, Nats 3.
The Saturday night game was even more distressing to Nats fans. The D.C. 9 held a slim 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, thanks in large part to starting pitcher Dan Haren, who threw his best game of the season. That's when closing pitcher Rafael Soriano spoiled everything by giving up a home run to Giancarlo Stanton. So it went into the tenth inning, and the Nationals got a rally going, with singles by Chad Tracy and Ian Desmond, who made it to second and third with only one out thanks to a wild pitch. But then Scott Hairston (newly acquired utility player) and Ryan Zimmerman both struck out, wasting the opportunity. In the bottom of the tenth, the Marlins got the bases loaded without even a hit, and then scored the winning run on a ground ball to second base. The throw to home was not quite in time. Ugh...
That put the Nationals back down to 47-47, barely ahead of the Phillies, and all their hopes for the rest of the season seemed to rest upon the Sunday afternoon game. Had they lost it, they would have fallen into third place, a psychological burden almost impossible to overcome. Rookie pitcher Taylor Jordan once again put in a fine performance on the mound, and once again the game went into extra innings, tied 2-2. With two outs and a runner on first, Denard Span (batting seventh for the first time) crushed a long double off the wall in the right-center gap, allowing Ian Desmond to score. Then Wilson Ramos singled to get Span across home plate, and then Chad Tracy doubled to allow Ramos to score. This time Rafael Soriano did his job as closer in the bottom of the tenth, and the Nats eked out a precious 5-2 victory. So at least they are above .500 going into the All-Star break. Things could be worse. But will they get better???
"The Freak's" no-hitter
The San Francisco Giants have endured even worse agony than the Washington Nationals this year, but they did have a brief moment of glory over the weekend: Tim "Freak" Lincecum threw a no-hitter against the Padres, on the road in San Diego.
Almost updated diagrams
I was determined to finish the Safeco Field and Citi Field diagrams before the All-Star break, but alas there is still work yet to be done on both of them. Yesterday I uploaded preliminary updated diagrams for Safeco Field, including one with the new 2013 dimensions, sort of "jumping the gun." They are definitely much more detailed and accurate than before, but I still need to get the retractable roof just right. Please stay tuned...
July 18, 2013 [LINK / comment]
A Midsummer's Day Dream *
The month of July is more than half gone, and I'm trying to make the best of what precious free time I have this summer by heading out into the Great Outdoors. Today I headed west of town, toward Ramsey's Draft, where I was hoping to photograph a Northern Parula. Oddly, there wasn't much bird activity until about 11:00, when it was really getting warm. I finally did see a Parula, but it was too high in the trees for a good photo. I did get some fairly good photos of some Black & White Warblers, however.
Just before noon it started to rain, and after waiting a few minutes in my car, I noticed that the sky was blue toward the west, so I drove in that direction, up the steep and winding road to the Confederate Breastworks. Gradually the rain tapered off, and it was all sunny at the top. Perfect! The temperature was probably 5-10 degrees lower than it the valley, where it was in the 90s. I was lucky to spot a Red-eyed Vireo in the sunlight, and took a photo of it, but not much else was happening there.
So, I decided to hike south along the summit trail for a few hundred yards. The extra effort paid off handsomely! I only saw a few birds (a Blue-headed Vireo, most notably), but there were quite a few mushrooms and butterflies, and I was furiously clicking away with my camera. Perhaps the most precious moment of the day was when a pale green Luna Moth fluttered by. That species is huge, bigger than some birds, and the way its wings beat so slowly and softly takes your breath away. I had only seen one once before in my life that I recall, and it was worn out. This one, in contrast, was in perfect condition, and was gracious enough to land nearby so that I could get some excellent closeup photographs. Wow!
With all those beautiful sights of Nature, I almost felt like I was in a dream, hence "A Midsummer's Day Dream."
Black & White Warbler, at Ramsey's Draft, today. More recent bird photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
Red-eyed Vireo, at the Confederate Breastworks, today.
Common Wood Nymph, south of the Confederate Breastworks, today. More recent butterfly photos can be seen on the Butterflies photo gallery page.
Luna Moth, south of the Confederate Breastworks, today.
Montage of mushrooms, mostly near the Confederate Breastworks, today.
Other recent outings
I keep checking Bell's Lane once or twice a week, usually on the spur of the moment. Two days ago I was surprised to hear and see some Great Crested Flycatchers, and one even posed for me! It was in a Willow tree, which is ironic because I also saw a Willow Flycatcher which has taken up residence in that same location this summer.
Great Crested Flycatcher, on Bell's Lane, July 16.
Willow Flycatcher, on Bell's Lane, July 16.
I have also been visiting the Shenandoah National Park a few times. On July 13 I paid a brief visit to Madison Run, on the western fringe of Shenandoah National Park, looking for a Louisiana Waterthrush. (I heard one, but didn't see it.) I was startled to hear a loud piercing whistle in the tree above me, and soon I saw a juvenile hawk flying around. I thought it was a Red-shouldered Hawk, but I later learned that that sound is characteristic of a Broad-winged Hawk.
Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile), Madison Run, July 13.
On July 14 (Sunday afternoon) Jacqueline and I hiked to the top of Humpback Rocks, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, not part of the Shenandoah National Park. There weren't many birds but there were lots of mushrooms. The most memorable encounter with wildlife was seeing a Rattlesnake on the trail just ahead of us. A park ranger was passing by, and he checked to make sure the venomous reptile had retreated into its burrow before we proceeded on our way toward the summit. I took a photo, but all I could get was the rattling tail. Actually, it sounded more like a buzz to me.
Rattlesnake tail, Humpback Rocks trail, July 14.
On July 6 I went to Pocosin Cabin, a bird "hot spot" in the Shenandoah National Park several miles north of the Swift Run Gap (Route 33), and was pleased to see Veeries, Canada Warblers, and a few others, but no Kentucky Warblers, which I had been hoping for. I heard but did not see Cerulean Warblers in the tree tops. There were quite a few butterflies in that area, and elsewhere in the SNP that day.
Veery, near Pocosin Cabin, Shenandoah National Park, July 6.
On the way back from that trip, I stopped at an intersection north of New Hope where some Dickcissels have been reported recently, and sure enough, I saw one singing at the top of a tree. Unfortunately, it was almost 100 yards away, too far for a decent photo. I returned another time, and it was there in that same tree once again.
* With apologies to The Bard for stealing his title.
July 20, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Various random day trips
Notwithstanding time constraints owing to the fact that I am teaching summer school classes for the first time this year, I have managed to get out into the Great Outdoors on a fairly regular basis. Jacqueline and I have taken various day trips over the past couple months, and I am almost caught up on posting some of the better photos on the new Summer 2013 photo gallery page. What follows are the highlights, in reverse chronological order (most recent first).
Yesterday, on July 19, we drove across the Blue Ridge to the Chiles peach orchard, where the juicy fruits are just about at peak harvest season. We have been there several times before, but this is the first time we decided to save a little money and pick the peaches ourselves. It was a very hot day, and the peach ice cream we had afterwards really hit the spot. It is a very scenic part of Albemarle County, just west of Crozet, which is growing by leaps and bounds. (We drove through some of the dense housing developments that were portrayed in the movie Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell and Morgan Freeman.) On the way home, I surprised Jacqueline by suggesting that we turn left at the intersection of Route 151 and 250, cleverly taking advantage of the fact that we were so close to the Blue Mountain Brewery, in Nelson County. Their "Full Nelson" pale ale is a true delight for a beer connoisseur, and the company is a prime example of the burgeoning craft brewing industry in the Old Dominion.
Chiles peach orchard, in Albemarle County, July 19.
On July 14, we took a long drive through the Lyndhurst area, passing Sherando Lake and ascending to the Blue Ridge Parkway at the village of Love. After stopping at various overlooks, we reached our destination at Humpback Rocks, which we climbed. (See the July 18 blog post.)
Humpback Rocks meadow, July 14. The Rattlesnake we saw was in this area.
On July 6 I made a solo trek into the central section of Shenandoah National Park, doing some birding around Pocosin Cabin and other places. On the way, I stopped to take a photo of Saint Stephen & Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, a few miles southwest of Elkton. I drove a few miles past Big Meadows and took some photos of Page County from an overlook.
On June 14 and 28 we took casual drives into the southern section of Shenandoah National Park. There were quite a few mushrooms to be seen the latter day, and plenty of birds on both days. On the way back on June 14, we stopped at one of the Port Republic battlefield historial markers, at a place known as "The Coaling." That happens to be located across the street from the picturesque Grace Episcopal Church.
Pine trees, clouds, and Skyline Drive, in Shenandoah National Park, June 28.
Grace Episcopal Church, Port Republic, June 14.
To conclude this account at the chronological beginning, my friend Dave Givens and I drove through the back streets of northwest Washington to get to the baseball game on June 8. En route to Nationals Park, we we got stuck in traffic around the Tidal Basin, so I used the opportunity to take a photo of the Washington Monument, which is under repair because of the damage from the earthquake two years ago.
Washington Monument, with scaffolding during repairs, June 8.
Still to come: Lots of mushroom photos, from recent treks into the back woods.
July 26, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nightmare on South Capitol Street:
Harper, Zimmerman save Nationals from doom
The Washington Nationals began the symbolic second half (post-All-Star Game) of the 2013 season clinging to hopes that they could get a new start during the long home stand, and put the disastrous first half behind them. But instead, they lost the first six games, and came perilously close to losing a seventh straight game after squandering a four-run lead. A loss like that would have driven a stake into the team's collective heart, killing the last vestiges of hope for a postseason berth. Fortunately, Bryce Harper had other ideas.
In the first two games of last weekend's series hosting the L.A. Dodgers, the Nationals couldn't have asked for better performances from their starting pitchers. On Friday July 19 Stephen Strasburg allowed only two runs over seven innings, but closing pitcher Rafael Soriano gave up a home run to Andre Ethier in the ninth inning, and the Nats lost, 3-2. That put them into third place, behind the Philadelphia Phillies. On Saturday Gio Gonzalez threw 11 strikeouts, but the Nats only scored a single run, wasting many run-scoring opportunities as usual. In the 11th inning, the usually reliable reliever Craig Stammen gave up two runs to the Dodgers. Final score: 3-1. On Sunday, Jordan Zimmerman had the worst outing of his entire career, giving up seven earned runs in just two innings. Jayson Werth hit two solo home runs, making the final score 9-2. And so, the Dodgers swept the Nationals and surged into first place in the NL West.
On Monday the Pirates arrived in Washington, and by the fourth inning in the first game of the series had taken a 5-0 lead. But the Nats came charging back with two more homers by Jayson Werth and one by Adam LaRoche, making it 5-5. But in the eighth inning Drew Storen threw a wild pitch that allowed a runner to score, and that was that: 6-5. The Pirates' closing pitcher Jason Grilli strained his forearm and had to leave in the bottom of the ninth inning. He was put on the DL, and his absence will be a tough blow to bear. The Pirates are in a fierce race with the Cardinals for the NL Central crown, and can't afford to lose any key players.
On Tuesday, Wilson Ramos ("the Buffalo") hit a home run, but the Nats still lost, 5-1. Rookie Taylor Jordan pitched OK once again, but was overwhelmed.
On Wednesday, Jayson Werth hit yet another homer, a two-run dinger in the bottom of the ninth. That made the score 4-2. With two outs, Wilson Ramos singled and fans got pumped up by a big rally. Then Denard Span came up to bat. Why Davey Johnson didn't put Bryce Harper in to pinch hit, I do not know. What I do know is that the Nats were robbed when Span grounded to the second baseman and the umpire called Ramos out on a tag; replays showed he missed. Double play; final score: 4-2.
On Thursday, the Nats took advantage of multiple errors by the Pirates, and had a four-run lead going into the ninth inning. After so many dismal performances, that really felt nice. Rafael Soriano was brought in, even though it was a non-save situation, because he needed the practice. Indeed! He walked the first two batters, then gave up a double and a single, only getting one out. Davey Johnson noticed he just didn't have command of the ball, so he brought in Ian Krol to relieve Soriano, a very unusual move. Krol has pitched well as a rookie, but he wasn't used to this kind of pressure. He gave up a two-run single that tied the game, 7-7. All across Our Nation's Capital, baseball fans sank into a mortal dread that yet another hideous turn of events was about to transpire. But in the bottom of the ninth, Kurt Suzuki hit a clutch single, Roger Bernadina grounded into a fielder's choice for the second out, and Bryce Harper came up to bat. He worked the count, showing mature patience, as he usually does. Then he got a pitch he liked, a little on the outside, and he belted that thing into the Red Porch seats left of center field. It was Harper's very first career walk-off home run, as the Nationals beat the Pirates, 9-7!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Nationals barely avoided being swept in two consecutive series. Since the Phillies have been on a losing streak as well, the Nats pulled even with them in the standings.
This afternoon, the Nats welcomed the Mets to town, making up a game that was rained out on June 6. (D-Day!) With the momentum from the previous night's dramatic win and with ace pitcher Jordan Zimmermann on the mound, facing off against an unknown Jenrry Mejia, the Nats expected to win. But Daniel Murphy hit a home run in the first inning, and another one after that, plus another RBI later on. Other than the two home runs hit by Murphy, Zimmermann pitched well, and almost got out of the seventh inning before the Mets raised the score to 5-0. Ryan Mattheus (back from a lengthy DL stint) pitched OK in the eighth inning, but had to be replaced by Drew Storen in the ninth. Unfortunately, the increasingly shaky reliever Storen gave up an RBI single and then a three-run homer by Ike Davis. Final score: Mets 11, Nats 0. So much for a Nats rebound.
In the nightcap, Nats rookie Ross Ohlendorf faced the Mets' new ace pitcher Matt Harvey, a very bleak and daunting predicament. The stakes were enormous, as the Mets had pulled to within one game of the Nats in the NL East. But somehow Ohlendorf managed to match his adversary in a classic pitchers' duel, getting out of jams thanks to some fine defensive plays by Anthony Rendon and Denard Span. It was 1-1 going into the ninth inning, whereupon Nats closer Rafael Soriano came close to handing the Mets another victory, giving up a double to Andrew Brown, who advanced to third on a wild pitch. In the bottom of the inning, Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate with one out. I had already compiled the list you see below because of Bryce Harper's heroics the night before, and I was thinking to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice if..."
Yes! TWO walk-off homers in two days!!
See all the details at MLB.com.
After the night game, it was announced that Drew Storen has been optioned to the Nationals' AAA affiliate in Syracuse, New York. In his post-game interview, Manager Davey Johnson said that's what is best for Storen to learn to relax and not grip the ball so tightly, but I'm not sure. It may be several more weeks at least before we see Storen in a Washington uniform again.
Nats' walk-off home runs
Doing my best to accentuate the positive, I checked my records on Nats games, and compiled a list of all walk-off home runs up to the present. (I previously did so on Sept. 30, 2009.) For those who are curious, the list below has links to my blog posts on the date it happened or shortly thereafter. By definition, the list only includes home games in Washington.
- June 18, 2006 -- Ryan Zimmerman (2-run); WSH 3, NYY 2
- July 1, 2006 -- Nick Johnson; WSH 4, TB 3 (10 inn.)
- July 4, 2006 -- Ryan Zimmerman (3-run); WSH 6, FLA 4
- May 12, 2007 -- Ryan Zimmerman (grand slam); WSH 7, FLA 3
- Mar. 30, 2008 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 3, ATL 2 (Nationals Park very 1st game!)
- Apr. 25, 2008 -- Wil Nieves (2-run); WSH 5, CHC 3
- June 5, 2008 # -- Elijah Dukes (2-run); WSH 10, STL 9 (10 inn.) # (previously omitted)
- June 29, 2008 * -- Ronnie Belliard (2-run); WSH 3, BAL 2 (12 inn.) * (error in blog post)
- June 20, 2009 -- Willie Harris (2-run); WSH 5, TOR 3 (12 inn.)
- Sept. 6, 2009 -- Ryan Zimmerman (2-run); WSH 6, FLA 4 (I was there!)
- Sept. 30, 2009 -- Justin Maxwell (grand slam); WSH 7, NYM 4
- July 6, 2010 ^ -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 6, SD 5 ^ (vacation; no blog post)
- July 31, 2010 ^ -- Ryan Zimmerman (3-run); WSH 7, PHI 5 ^ (vacation; no blog post)
- Sept. 28, 2010 -- Adam Dunn; WSH 2, PHI 1
- May 27, 2011 -- Michael Morse; WSH 2, SD 1 (I was there!)
- June 21, 2011 -- Wilson Ramos (3-run); WSH 6, SEA 5
- Aug. 19, 2011 -- Ryan Zimmerman (grand slam); WSH 8, PHI 4
- May 2, 2012 -- Ian Desmond (2-run); WSH 5, ARI 4
- Oct. 11, 2012 -- Jayson Werth; WSH 2, STL 1 (NLDS Game 4)
- July 25, 2013 -- Bryce Harper (2-run); WSH 9, PIT 7
- July 26, 2013 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 2, NYM 1 (2nd game of double-header)
That adds up to 21 walk-off home runs in Washington Nationals history, and I was fortunate to be there for two of them. Almost ten percent; not bad! Not surprisingly, Ryan Zimmerman leads the team with nine (9) walk-off home runs, two of which have been grand slams. Ryan has hit one or two walk-off homers every full year he has played with the Nationals except for 2012 -- the team's very best year, ironically! If my records are correct, no other Washington National player has hit more than one walk-off home run while playing for the Nationals. That is surprising. Jayson Werth hit a walk-off grand slam while he was with the Phillies, beating the Nationals 7-6 on September 19, 2010. A few months later, he signed a contract with the Nats. Smart move!
Among the notable names missing from the list above: Alfonso Soriano, Dmitri Young, Josh Willingham, and Adam LaRoche.
I will add the above table (modified) to the Washington Nationals page in the next few days, updating it in the future as often it becomes necessary.
Hitting coach canned
As another sign of how desperate things have become, the Nationals front office dismissed hitting coach Rick Eckstein, replacing him with minor league coach Rick Schu. Manager Davey Johnson strongly disagreed with the decision, saying (via MLB.com):
It was a shocker... I've experienced a lot of things in my career. I've been traded, released, sold and I've been fired, but today is arguably the toughest day that I've had in baseball. I respect Rick Eckstein. I think he is a great coach. He is one of the best hitting instructors in baseball and he is such a great gentleman and a great man, so it hurts, hurts.
The possibility that Davey Johnson's own job may be on the line is too much to contemplate. Well, you can't fire the high-priced players, so somebody has to take the fall when things go bad. If the move was intended to shake the slumbering Nationals out of their doldrums, it failed to work, as the Nats continued to lose.
Division leaders flinch
In a curious coincidence last weekend, all six of the divisional leaders lost on Saturday July 20: Boston (AL-E), Detroit (AL-C), Oakland (AL-W), Atlanta (NL-E), St. Louis (NL-C), and Arizona (NL-W). Don't they want to be champions?? Meanwhile, two little-noticed lower-tier teams burning with "hunger" scratched their way to the top of the respective divisional standings: the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wouldn't it be nice if the Nationals could pull off something like that?
AL wins All-Star Game
The American League team blanked their Senior Circuit counterparts 3-0 to win the 2013 All-Star Game in Citi Field on July 16. The AL champion team to-be-determined is thereby entitled its to get the home field advantage in this year's World Series. Will it be Boston? Tampa Bay? Maybe even Oakland.
The lone representative from the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper, went 0 for 2, but he did make some good catches in left field at least. Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann also qualified, but stayed home to let a sore neck heal.
Ryan Braun is suspended
Milwaukee Brewers star slugger Ryan Braun has been suspended for the rest of the 2013 season because of positive drug test results. He has declined to comment, heeding legal advice he has received. See ESPN. It's a shame, and some are suggesting that his 2011 MVP award be taken away. How about his 2007 Rookie of the Year Award?
Rumors are that Alex Rodriguez may be one of the next to go. A-Rod is currently trying to get back into the Yankees lineup after a long DL stint, impatient with the cautious approach of the front office. "Awk-ward!" The acquisition of Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs may further undermine the mutual confidence between slugger and management. See ESPN.
Amazing game in Boston
There is nothing like the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in all of professional sports, and the game at Fenway Park broadcast on ESPN last Sunday night lived up to the expectations. It was back and forth all night long, and I do mean all night. (It ended after midnight.) The Yankees took an early lead, then the Red Sox came roaring back to take a 7-3 lead, then the Yankees tied it. Finally, in the eleventh inning, Mike Napoli (the Texas Ranger hero from 2011 World Series) hit his second home run of the night, into the bleachers in center field. And the crowd went wild! See MLB.com.
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium update
Once again pursuing the "path of least resistance" (too busy or too lazy?), I made a few enhancements to the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium diagrams. There is now a separate upper deck version, showing the entry portals. That was helpful because the roof covered almost the entire upper deck, similar to RFK Stadium, which likewise has a separate upper deck version diagram. Also like RFK, the structural beams that protrude from the perimeter are now shown. The old stadium in Atlanta had a very large foul territory (about 35,900 square feet), but it was even larger than that before the renovations. My pre-1974 estimate is 39,733 square feet.
As the summer progresses, you will notice more and more stadiums with complete information on fair and foul territory, number of seating rows, etc. on the Stadium statistics page.
July 29, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Rebound? Nats clobber the Mets
Thanks to a grand slam by Wilson Ramos -- the first of his career -- and clutch hits by almost everyone else in the starting lineup, the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon 14-1. Ian Desmond started a rally in the bottom of the second inning with a double, and Bryce Harper capped it with a two-run single four batters later. The Nats scored multiple runs in four separate innings altogether. Getting nine hits out of twelve times when a runner was in scoring position was in stark contrast to all the wasted run-scoring opportunities earlier this season. Meanwhile, rookie starting pitcher Taylor Jordan struck out seven Mets batters, and allowed only five hits and one run over six innings on the mound, thus earning his first career win. In the three games he has been charged with a loss, the Nats have only scored four runs total, and you can't really blame him for any of those losses. He, Ian Krol, and Ross Ohlendorf offer hope that the Nationals pitching staff can rise again to the high standards that were set last year. Fernando Abad's not bad either. Ryan Mattheus, on the other hand, still has to prove himself after recovering from a self-inflicted knuckle crunch earlier in the season. Today he loaded the bases in the top of the ninth without getting a single out, and had to be relieved by Abad, who finished the game.
So, of course, I had to update the Washington Nationals page with the latest grand slam.
Sunday's game was the Nationals' highest score so far this year, and was the very biggest margin of victory in the team's 8-1/2 year history! (They had 12-run winning margins twice before.) Quite a comeback from the 11-0 shellacking they received on Friday afternoon. More importantly, it gave them the win in the four-game series. It's the first time since the first week of the month that the Nationals have won consecutive games, which is hard to believe. The Nats are currently 52-54.
The Nats won the Saturday afternoon game 4-1, thanks to back-to-back solo home runs by Ian Desmond and Denard Span (his first of the year!) in the second inning, and a two-run homer by Bryce Harper in the third inning. Dan Haren pitched seven innings, only giving up three hits. It was by far his best outing of the season.
So, what started off as the worst home stand in team history (zero wins in the first six games) ended up not quite so bad: 4 wins and 7 losses. The Nationals are enjoying an off day, and are heading to Detroit tomorrow for a two-game interleague series with the Tigers. After that comes another off day, and then a weekend series in Milwaukee.
Hitting rock bottom?
In the Sunday Washington Post, Adam Kilgore tried to explain the Nationals' "ugly unraveling" this year. Early in the season they were straining too hard to meet the sky-high expectations built during the off-season, and toward the middle of the season they were straining too hard to get out of the disappointing malaise. The Nats have scored 3.66 runs per game, have a .299 on-base percentage, and have committed 73 errors. In all three categories, they are either second lowest in the majors, or tied for second lowest.
I think there's no question the Nationals will bounce back and play much better in the final two months of the season, but realistically their chances for making it to October have become rather slim. Since the wild card slots will likely go to teams in the NL Central or West, it mainly depends on whether the Braves suffer a late-season slump, as has happened in the past. We just learned that their pitcher Tim Hudson will be out for the rest of the season, but the rest of the Braves' roster still looks pretty solid. Their late-season schedule includes many home games, and [almost all of the opposing teams are under the .500 mark. That's mainly a reflection of the weakness of the NL East this year.]
Sweeps and near-sweeps
In Atlanta, the Braves completed a three-game takedown of the mighty St. Louis Cardinals, thereby staying 8 1/2 games ahead the Nationals in the NL East. In Detroit, the Tigers swept the Philadelphia Phillies, who have now lost eight straight games. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 in 11 innings thanks to a home run by their flashy new star Yasiel Puig. (The Dodgers struck out a record 20 times in that game, and three of those were by Puig.) Winning the last three games of the four-game series increased the Dodgers' lead over the D-Backs in the NL West. And this is hard to believe: The Chicago Cubs swept the World Champion San Francisco Giants, even without Alfonso Soriano in the lineup! The Cubs are now 48-55, compared to the Giants' 46-58. Who woulda thunk it?
In The Bronx on Sunday, Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup and hit a home run on the very first pitch he saw. (Kind of like Bryce Harper!) After two hitless days, newly acquired Alfonso Soriano had a hot day at the plate, capped by a walk-off RBI single, beating the Rays 6-5. That helped the Red Sox stay in first place, so I'm sure Boston fans appreciated that.
Kauffman Stadium update
I made some enhancements and small corrections on the Kauffman Stadium diagrams. As usual, including the entry portals allowed me to get other details more accurate; in this case, the precise curvature of the uniquely-tapered upper deck. Those entry portals are also unique in that the three outward portals toward the ends of the upper deck are successively lower -- about two feet each. I have estimated fair territory to be 117,800 square feet, nearly as much as Coors Field, which has about 118,500 square feet. Marlins Park and Comerica Park are the other two big-outfield ballparks.
Note that I belatedly corrected the 1973 diagram to reflect that center field was originally 410 feet, not 405 feet as indicated in Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals. The text on that page had already made this clear, based on a tip from Kansas City fan (and classic rock D.J.!) a couple years ago. Thanks, again, Scott! (Check out rockinplanet.com)
Thanks very much to Dr. Thomas Tomsick, author of Strike Three: My Years in the 'Pen, for renewing his sponsorship of the Cleveland Stadium page. (Speaking of which, I am getting close to finishing my estimates of fair and foul territory for all MLB stadiums, something that he tried to do in his book with my diagrams. )
You too can show support for this Web site by sponsoring a page or by making a smaller donation on the Sponsor page.
The mail bag
Bruce Orser let me know about the agreement by which the Chicago Cubs and the city government will collaborate in a half-billion dollar makeover for Wrigley Field. There will be new buildings adjacent to the stadium, and a large video board along one side of the bleachers. See chicagotribune.com.
I learned from Mike Zurawski that San Jose city council voted last month to file a lawsuit in federal court against Major League Baseball. See sfgate.com, via fieldofschemes.com. From what I can tell, at this point Bud Selig is taking a neutral position, letting the owners of the Athletics and Giants negotiate a revised territorial agreement on their own. If it's anything like the March 2005 deal between the Baltimore Orioles (Peter Angelos) and Washington Nationals, I feel sorry for the A's.
Another news item from Mike a few months ago: Former Montreal Expos player Warren Cromartie is leading an effort to bring baseball back to Montreal. See theglobeandmail.com. The Montreal Alouettes football team recently honored former Expo players including Cromartie at one of their games. The campaign even has its own Web site: montrealbaseballproject.com.
And finally, Larry Freitas took exception to my statement in the previous blog post, "There is nothing like the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in all of professional sports." He called to my attention the intense Dodger-Giants rivalry, which of course predates their relocation to the West Coast a half century ago. (It even turned violent on one occasion last year.) OK, maybe I got a little carried away, revealing my East Coast bias once again. Sorry about that.