October 11, 2017 [LINK / comment]
After the crushing disappointment of Friday night's game (see below), and falling behind once again in Saturday night's game, the Washington Nationals just about had their backs against the wall. Anthony Rendon hit a solo homer in the first inning, but the Cubs' Wilson Contreras did likewise to tie in the second. But the Cubs took a 3-1 lead from a home run by Anthony Rizzo, perhaps with a little help from a Cubs fan sitting in the front row in right field, but an official review confirmed it. So, by the eighth inning it was a virtual do-or-die situation, as coming back from a 2-0 series deficit in Wrigley Field would be an immensely daunting task. But Bryce Harper finally hit a long ball to tie the game 3-3, and the crowd went wild!!! The next two batters reached base, and Ryan Zimmerman came up to bat. He knocked a high fly ball that carried just beyond the reach of the left fielder, giving the Nats a 6-3 lead, thus saving the Nats' season, for all intents and purposes.
As I noted on Friday (midway through NLDS Game 1), a dominant theme of the Nationals' 2017 season has been their "consistent inconsistency." Game 1 and Game 3 were perfect examples of how the Nats' vaunted sluggers just couldn't come through when they needed to. In both games, outstanding performances by the Nats' top two pitchers were utterly wasted. In Game 1, Stephen Strasburg pitched into the sixth inning before he gave up his first hit, and thanks to a weird play at third base in which Anthony Rendon was charged with an error, the Cubs scored two unearned runs. Two innings later the Cubs tacked on another run, with another RBI single by Anthony Rizzo, and the final score was 3-0.
On Monday, [the Nats had a 1-0 lead thanks to an error in the sixth inning by left fielder Kyle Schwarber
Anthony Rizzo that got Daniel Murphy to third base, and a clutch RBI double by Ryan Zimmerman.] Max Scherzer pitched into the seventh inning before he gave up his first hit, a double to the left-center gap by Ben Zobrist. Then came one of the most fateful (and argued) managerial decisions in Nationals history: Dusty Baker took Max off the mound and brought in the young Sammy Solis. Why him?? If you're going to replace Scherzer in a clutch situation, why not bring in one of your best relievers??? So the very next batter, Albert Almora, hit an RBI single to tie the game, and the next batter Justin Heyward) singled as well, so that was it for Solis. In came Brandon Kintzler, and the Nats were lucky to get out of that inning alive, as Michael A. Taylor made a great catch of a fly ball in right center field, throwing it in to get a double play at first base. But in the very next inning, the Cubs [got a lead-off walk courtesy of Kintzler and later scored a run on a bloop single by] none other than [Anthony Rizzo. It fell into "no man's land" in short left-center field, and Michael A. Taylor flinched rather than trying to make a diving catch. Cubs 2, Nats 1.] MLB.com
I'm no authority when it comes to baseball strategy and tactics, so I hesitate to second-guess Dusty Baker as others have done. But whether he returns as manager of the Nats next year depends on whether they beat the Cubs in this series.
The weather may have intervened in favor of the Nats, much like it did for the Cubs in Game 7 of last year's World Series. Tanner Roark was slated to start for the Nats, and after the heavy rains forced a postponement, everyone assumed that Stephen Strasburg would start, having had four full days of rest. But Dusty Baker surprised everyone by saying that was "under the weather" (an ironic phrase, given the rain!), and that Roark would pitch as originally planned. But today he changed his mind, and so far, it's working out very well. Strasburg pitched seven full innings without giving up a run -- earned or unearned. Right now it's the eighth inning of NLDS Game 4 in Chicago, and the Nats are clinging to a 1-0 lead. Can they hang on and bring the series back to Our Nation's Capital? I say YES!!!!
[UPDATE: Thanks to a grand salami by Michael A. Taylor in the eighth inning, the Nats padded their lead with four insurance runs, and won it, 5-0. Now it's back to D.C. for Game 5, tomorrow. No travel day due to the rain-postponed Game 4. Can they get over the hump this time? Yes, they can! ]
Here's one of the prettiest sights you'll ever see in southwest Washington, D.C.:
I found out about those new below-ground seats near the home dugout at Nationals Park, which I mentioned previously: they are called the "MGM National Harbor Dugout Club," and I must have missed the announcement that came out last March. There are eight (or perhaps nine) cushioned seats, and I noticed in my photo that each seat is labeled "MGM," which made it easier to Google. See washingtonpost.com The new seating area occupies the space where the tarpaulin roll used to be, so the tarp has been moved to the third base side.
I finished the lower-deck football diagram for RFK Stadium, and after a few finishing touches to the other diagrams on that page, will hopefull have most of the new photos posted on it by tomorrow. Here's one of them:
If the other NLDS is any indication, the L.A. Dodgers that dominated everybody until late July is back again. In Phoenix on Monday night, they neutralized the Diamondbacks' potent offense and won it, 3-1, thereby sweeping the series. It was Arizona's first postseason series since 2011, when they won the NL West Division title but lost to the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS. Whoever wins the ongoing NLDS will have their hands full in coping with the renewed (and well-rested) Dodgers on Saturday.
When Justin Verlander came in for the Houston Astros in his very first relief appearance and promptly gave up a two-run homer (to Andrew Benintendi), it seemed like a huge managerial miscalculation. The Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into the late innings, but usual starting pitcher Chris Sale (a 2017 All-Star) likewise gave up a home run and was charged was two earned runs as usual closer Craig Kimbrel gave up an RBI single, as Houston regained the lead. Both teams scored once in the ninth inning, and the leadoff inside-the-park-home run by Rafael Devers was one of those magical baseball moments that momentarily lifted the hopes of Boston faithful. But that was all there was and the Astros won it 5-4, taking the series 3 games to 1.
When the Indians came back from an 8-3 deficit to win ALDS Game 2 in extra innings on Friday(9-8), it seemed like they had all the momentum they needed to wrap up the series in New York. But those pesky Yankees had some tricks of their own up their sleeve, including a semi-rookie named Greg Bird. In Game 3 on Sunday, his solo home run in the seventh inning was the only score made by either team. Game 4 on Monday was a bit more of a slug-fest, with the Yankees taking a 4-0 lead in the second inning, and holding on to win it, [7-3]. So fans attending Game 5 in Cleveland tonight will have the dubious pleasure of watching their team advance to the ALCS for the second year in a row -- or maybe not.
[UPDATE: Not. Didi Gregorius homered twice in the early innings for the Yanks, who added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth to seal the deal, beating the forlorn Indians, 5-2. The Yankees thereby advance to the ALCS, heading to Houston on Friday.]