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October 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nationals' great regular season ends on a low note

It was the best of games, and then it was one of the worst of games. My old pal Dave Givens and I arrived at Nationals Park during the first inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night, just in time to see Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI double that gave the Nats a 1-0 lead. (Unfortunately, however, we were too late for the Budweiser Oktoberfest beer steins being given away before the game. frown) Ryan hit another double in the fourth inning, but didn't score, and two innings later, he smacked a two-run homer into the Red Porch seats in left-center field! Two innings later, he did it again: home runs #35 and #36! But it got even better, as the very next batter, Jayson Werth, homered as well!! That was his tenth four-bagger of the year, thus becoming the tenth National to reach double digits in that category. Steven Strasburg had another stellar pitching performance, and almost finished the eighth inning, giving up just two hits and two walks. In the ninth inning, the Pirates scored a run after the first two batters hit safely, but Matt Grace managed to get the next three batters out to end the game. Final score: 6-1. It just doesn't get much better than that!

Zimmerman, Murphy, Werth

After hitting a home run in the sixth inning, Ryan Zimmerman is greeted by Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth. Those three players alone accounted for eight hits, three home runs, and 19 total bases that night! (September 29, 2017)

Then on Saturday evening (after a busy day for me; see below), Ryan Zimmerman put the Nats on the scoreboard first once again, with an RBI single in the second inning. Zimmerman got another hit in second at-bat, making it six consecutive hits. When he's hot, he's hot! Max Scherzer had to leave the game during the fourth inning, which made the fans nervous, but apparently it was just tightness in a hamstring ligament. The air was chilly that night, and this time of year, it's better to be safe than sorry! His replacement A.J. Cole did just fine for the next few innings, and just like the night before, the score remained 1-0 for most of the game -- until the ninth inning, in fact. I was looking forward to seeing the Nats' new star closing pitcher Sean Doolittle come out of the bullpen, and was surprised when Dusty Baker sent Brandon Kintzler to the mound instead. Big mistake! The first batter, Starling Marte, got an infield single after the original "out" call was overturned on review. Then Josh Bell lined out to right field (out of view from where I was sitting on that side) and Jordan Luplow singled, putting two men on base. Uh-oh! Gregory Polanco flew out to left field, so the Nationals were just one out away from getting their 98th win. (That would have matched their best season ever -- 2012.) But then Sean Rodriguez hit an RBI single to tie the game, Elias Diaz walked to load the bases, and then Max Moroff hit a triple to the gap in left center field, clearing the bases and giving the Pirates a 4-1 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats went down 1-2-3, and that was that. frown

Having given up four runs on four hits, Brandon Kintzler was obviously not prepared to assume the responsibility of closing pitcher. What was Dusty Baker thinking? Doolittle had not pitched the night before, and saving a game with a razor-tight score is supposed to be his forte. Losing the lead (and the game) when the opposing team scores four runs in the top of the ninth inning is a twist of fate that the Nationals have experienced before -- in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, in fact. Granted, this game didn't really matter that much, but that kind of a gut-wrenching loss can ruin a team's competitive spirit. As the Nats prepare to take on the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of this year's NLDS on Friday, I dearly hope that's not the case.

Nationals Park at night

Nationals Park at night, showing the new row of front-row seats; click on the image to see it full size. (September 30, 2017)

Several months ago I noticed that a new below-ground row of cushioned seats has been added on the right side of the Nationals' dugout (first base side), and this was the first time I've seen it with my own eyes. That means I'll have to do a new diagram, and calculate the effect on foul territory.

The bad karma from the ninth inning of the game on Saturday night carried into the first inning of the final game of the season on Sunday afternoon. Gio Gonzalez was totally ineffective, giving up multiple hits and walks as the Pirates took a 5-0 lead. Prospects for a happy ending to the regular season seemed bleak, but then Anthony Rendon got the Nats right back into the game with a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning. The Nats seemed poised to tie the game and/or take the lead several times over the next few innings, but nobody could get the needed clutch hit. Instead, the Pirates actually extended their lead with late-inning rallies. Even though the Nats scrounged up two runs in the bottom of the ninth, thanks in part to Bryce Harper's second hit of the day, they still lost, 11-8. So, in the final series of the season, the Nats settled for a 2-2 split.

Harper, Werth, & McCutcheon

The return of Bryce Harper to the lineup last week was a huge relief, but he has struggled to find his rhythm at the plate. In the two games I saw, he failed to reach base, and struck out four times. These last few regular games have served merely as "practice" for Bryce, and he'll be much better prepared when the NLDS starts in four more days.

One of the most emotional moments in Nationals history came in the ninth inning on Sunday, when Jayson Werth was replaced as left fielder. It was a ritual opportunity for the fans to express their appreciation for his seven years of energetic top-caliber slugging. They say "there's no crying in baseball," but... frown

Surprisingly, the Pirates' slugging star Andrew McCutcheon was not in the lineup that day. His contract is about to expire, and many people expect him to sign with a different team next year. It's too bad, since he was the spark that put the Pirates on track to win a wild-card spot in three consecutive years: 2013, 2014, and 2015. This year they finished in fourth place in the NL Central, and that means "rebuilding time."

Andrew McCutcheon

Andrew McCutcheon, playing left field for the Pirates.

Visit to site of Griffith Stadium

One of my main objectives on Saturday was to see the historical marker for Griffith Stadium, where Howard University Hospital now stands. I was there twice before, in October of 2004, soon after it was announced that the Montreal Expos would relocate to Washington, D.C. I also visited a second time a few years later, but couldn't find any historical marker. This time I located the sign in question, and was delighted that it bears such a clear (though pock-marked) image of the ancient home of the Senators. It's part of a neighborhood historical trail that passes around Howard University, about a mile north of downtown D.C. Afterwards, I walked to Oakdale Place on the other side of the hospital, where Mickey Mantle's famous 565 (?) foot home run landed back in 1953. New photos will be added to the Griffith Stadium page soon.

Griffith Stadium historical marker

Griffith Stadium historical marker, in front of Howard University Hospital on Georgia Avenue NW; click on the image to see the stadium photo portion enlarged. (September 30, 2017)

Surprise visit to RFK Stadium!

While driving through D.C. on Saturday morning, I heard on the radio that there was going to be a football game between Georgetown and Harvard University at RFK Stadium. This came as a complete surprise to me, as I did not even know that Georgetown had a football team, much less that any college team used RFK Stadium. I had been thinking about attending the final home game of D.C. United there later this month just to see the insides of RFK one last time, but now I don't have to. There were hundreds of tail-gaters outside, and eventually about 3,000 fans got seated in the southwest side of the lower deck, including several hundred from Harvard, sitting on the northeast side. (That's the movable portion that used to rock up and down whenever "Hogs" fans went into a frenzy.) With peeling paint, rust, cracks, and busted seats everywhere, the former home of the Washington Senators, Nationals, and Redskins is a pitiful sight to behold. Before the game I strolled to the upper deck to take photos, explaining my activities to the ushers, showing them this website on my iPhone. (The guys at the credentials table told me before I went through the turnstile that it would probably be OK.) Anyway, I used my iPhone's panoramic photo feature to capture several dazzling images that will be added to the RFK Stadium page soon. Based on my detailed inspection, I will make some updates to the lower-deck diagrams as well. Stay tuned!!!

RFK Stadium

RFK Stadium from what would have been behind home plate under the baseball configuration. Roll your mouse over the image for a surprise, and click to see it full size. (September 30, 2017)

FOOTNOTE: To my surprise, the Georgetown Hoyas lost that game to the Harvard Crimson, 31-2. In fact, the only points scored by the home team came when the opposing team's center hiked the ball over the punter's head and out of the end zone, for a safety! I left during the third quarter, but frankly almost all of my time and attention was focused on the stadium, not the game being played.

Audi Field constuction site

But wait, there's more! After leaving RFK Stadium, on my way to the Saturday Nats-Pirates game, I walked by the construction site of the future home of the D.C. United soccer team: Audi Field. It is located about two blocks southwest of Nationals Park. (Parking tip: You can save money by parking at the Lewis Creek Marina on V Street SW; it costs just $10, rather than $20 or more that you have to pay elsewhere.) The structural work on the west grandstand is nearly done, but they haven't even started on the east grandstand yet. From the artist's renderings, the east side seems to be double-decked. Both sides will have a large roof to provide shade and protection from rain.

Audi Field

Audi Field under constuction, southwest side. In the distance (about three blocks away), Nationals Park is visible; click on the image to see it full size. (September 30, 2017)

Assuming that construction is finished on time, D.C. United will move into their new home next spring, meaning that RFK Stadium will essentially enter a state of "limbo," slated for demolition. But maybe if somebody had the bright idea to put on an exhibition "Old-Timers" game there with retired Nationals or Redskins players before it is torn down... Hmm-m-m...

New BIGGER photos

In recognition that more and more people these days have large, high-resolution computer monitors, I am moving toward posting photos with dimensions twice as big as before: a standard size of 1200 x 800 pixels, rather than 600 x 400. Panoramas will generally be 1200 x 480 pixels, rather than 960 x 400. Hence the multiple caption phrases above, "click on the image to see it full size," etc.

So, how's that for an action-packed weekend full of fun and frivolity for a stadium geek??!! smile

October 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Wild! Yankees & D-backs advance

This year's wild card games lived up to their name, in ultra-high-pressure conditions. In New Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, the Minnesota Twins scored three times in the top of the first inning, and everybody started thinking upset. But the Yankees did the same in the bottom of the inning, and later took the lead while the Twins could only get one more run. Final score: Yanks 8, Twins 4.

In Chase Field on the next day, the Diamondbacks' star Paul Goldschmidt hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and after three innings his team had a 6-0 lead against the Rockies. The outcome seemed like a foregone conclusion, but the Rockies scored four times in the fourth to make it a real game. Both teams scored multiple runs in the latter innings in what ended up as a slugfest, but the lead did not change. D-Backs 11, Rockies 8.

Divisional series begin

Yesterday (Thursday), the Cleveland Indians shut down the visiting Yankees, as Trevor Bauer had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. His team was already ahead 4-0 by then, thanks in large measure to a two-run homer and a sac fly RBI by Jay Bruce, and neither team scored after that.

In Houston later that evening, Jose Altuve led the Astros to a lopsided win over the Red Sox, with three (3) home runs! I read that it was the ninth time a player has homered that many times in a postseason game, but chances are that he (standing 5' 6" tall) is the shortest of all of them! Former Tiger Justin Verlander got the win for his new team, going six innings. Final score: 8-2.

This afternoon it was a different pitcher on the mound (Dallas Keuchel), but the same result. Astros 8, Red Sox 2. As the series returns to Boston, the Red Sox are in dire straits. But they have come back to win postseason series before (e.g., 2004), and as we know, anything can happen in the postseason.

[In the late-afternoon / early evening ALDS game, the Yankees forced the Indians' ace pitcher Corey Kluber out of the game before he finished three innings. It was a devastating blow, and the Yanks had an 8-3 lead before the Indians began a big comeback thanks to a grand slam by Francisco Lindor. In the bottom of the ninth, it's 8-8.]

And this evening the Nationals welcomed the World Champion Chicago Cubs to Our Nation's Capital for the NLDS, and thus far (fourth inning) the game is tied, 0-0. Stephen Strasburg has already tied a franchise record by striking out seven opponents in a postseason game. I'm pretty confident that the Nats will prevail in this series, and I think they have at least a 50-50 chance to beat the Dodgers (presumable opponents) in the NLCS.

Go Nats!!!

Later this evening, the Dodgers welcome the D-Backs to Los Angeles. Anything can happen...

Consistent inconsistency?

In a way, the Nationals' lackluster finale was par for the course this year: Even though they have played very well, they never sustain winning streaks for very long (seven is their maximum this year), and likewise for losing streaks (maximum of four). Both as a team, and individually, they seem to be "consistently inconsistent." I tabulated their series records and their home stand and road trip records for the 2017 season, and as you see, they prevailed consistenly even though they occasionally slipped up badly. Nobody's perfect!

Series end date Home stands Road trips
Opponents Win - Loss Opponents Win - Loss
Apr 6, 2017MIA2 - 1
Apr 9, 2017PHI1 - 2
Apr 16, 2017STL, PHI4 - 2
Apr 27, 2017ATL, NYM, COL9 - 1
May 4, 2017NYM, ARI3 - 3
May 7, 2017PHI, BAL2 - 3
May 14, 2017BAL, PHI3 - 1
May 21, 2017PIT, ATL2 - 4
May 28, 2017SEA, SD4 - 2
Jun 7, 2017SF, OAK, LAD7 - 2
Jun 14, 2017BAL*, TEX, ATL3 - 4
Jun 21, 2017NYM, MIA4 - 3
Jun 29, 2017CIN, CHC4 - 3
Jul 2, 2017STL1 - 2
Jul 9, 2017NYM, ATL4 - 2
Jul 23, 2017CIN, LAA, ARI7 - 2
Jul 30, 2017MIL, COL3 - 3
Aug 6, 2017MIA, CHC3 - 3
Aug 16, 2017MIA, SF, LAA6 - 3
Aug 24, 2017SD, HOU5 - 2
Aug 30, 2017NYM, MIA5 - 2
Sep 6, 2017MIL, MIA4 - 3
Sep 17, 2017PHI, ATL, LAD5 - 5
Sep 27, 2017ATL, NYM, PHI5 - 4
Oct 1, 2017PIT2 - 2

* = Rescheduled game due to bad weather.

RFK Stadium

RFK Stadium mini-update

Based on my inspection of RFK Stadium on Saturday, I made several small changes to the diagrams for RFK Stadium, former home of the Washington Nationals and Redskins. It mostly involves details that are visible only in the lower-deck and upper-deck diagrams. I wanted to get that done before the Cubs-Nats game started, and since it is already underway, I will leave an explanation of these changes until later. [NOTE: To let people know what exactly changed, I left the old (2013) football lower-deck diagram intact for the time being.] Several dazzling new photos taken during my visit there will be posted on that page soon, such as this one:

RFK Stadium east pan

Extreme panoramic interior view of RFK Stadium from the upper deck on the southeast side. (Sept. 30, 2017)

October 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Washington weekend in review

Although my primary mission during my brief visit to Washington, D.C. last weekend was to see baseball games (the first games I had seen there this year, actually), I accomplished several other tasks in the short time I had available. So, here's a quick review of what I saw in Our Nation's Capital.

National Cathedral north 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: National Baptist Memorial Church (in Adams Morgan), Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (seen from RFK Stadium); Howard University clock tower; National Cathedral north side; and the Uline Arena, formerly known as the Washington Coliseum, (September 30, 2017).

After saying goodbye to my friend Dave Givens up in Bethesda on Saturday morning, I drove into the city along Wisconsin Avenue hoping to see the National Cathedral. It happened to be cloudy at that particular time, and indeed the sky kept changing throughout the day as strong winds swirled about. I noticed the scaffolding in place for the extensive repair work made necessary by the 2011 earthquake in Virginia. It seems odd that it is taking so long. Given the mediocre conditions for taking photos, I decided to leave.

I then descended into Rock Creek Park, that exquisite natural sanctuary where I used to go for long bicycle rides. I thought I might find an easy place to park and do a quick bird-watching walk, but with all the traffic and crazy one-way signs, that proved to be too much, so I resumed an easterly course. I passed through the funky Adams Morgan neighborhood, pausing just long enough to get a nice church photo, and then continued on to Howard University Hospital. Why there? It is where Griffith Stadium (former home of both the Senators and the Redskins) once stood, and I learned that there is a historical marker there. (I apparently missed seeing it during my last visit, or else it had not yet been installed.) The Shaw neighborhood near the hospital includes a lot of African-American history, such as the Howard Theater.

From there I headed toward the southeast along Florida Avenue, and I stopped at the Uline Arena, which was known as the Washington Coliseum when the Beatles performed their very first concert in the U.S. there, in February 1964. I stopped there once about ten or fifteen years ago, when it was rundown and abandoned. Last year they completed a major renovation project, evidently part of a community arts promotion. The original coliseum was basically just a big brick Quonset hut. That structure has been restored and now serves as an REI testing facility of some sort. On the east side there is a new parking garage and office building bearing big posters of the Beatles and other historical events that took place there.

Just down the street from the Uline Arena is a large graffitti mural on the side of a row house. I was intrigued by the message "Love is still the answer" and (in reverse letters): "Epatitude" (??), so I Googled that first phrase and came up with a site by a photographer named Frank Cevarich that provides some background on that.

Graffitti mural on 3rd Street NE

Graffitti mural on 3rd Street NE; click on the image to see it full size.

As mentioned in my recent blog post on baseball, my visit to RFK Stadium was entirely unplanned, the result of learning that there was a Georgetown football game there that afternoon. But aside from the stadium itself, I also took time to see the nearby D.C. National Guard Armory, which now features an F-16 "Fighting Falcon" jet on display. That was very impressive! I also took photos of the U.S. Capitol and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, located about two miles to the north. Finally, I stopped to take a closeup look at the Robert F. Kennedy memorial -- the namesake for the stadium. He is someone who should be remembered for all he did and all he could have done for this country, were it not for an assassin's bullet.

Robert F. Kennedy memorial

Robert F. Kennedy memorial, in front of RFK Stadium.

Finally, I took a quick look at the Buzzards Point area where Audi Field is being built. There are big plans to turn the entire area (which was an industrial eye sore for many years) into a trendy residential / commercial center to complement the development around Nationals Park and Navy Yard.

A complete set of photos can be seen on the Chronological photo gallery page.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I have begun posting larger-size photos than before. My old standard (since 2008 or so, roughly) was 600 x 400 pixels for scenic photos and 480 x 360 pixels for birds, butterflies, etc. From now on, my default standard size for scenic photos will be 1200 x 800 pixels, and the standard size for panoramic photos will be 1200 x 480 pixels. I have set up that photo gallery page in such a way that the photos will be squeezed proportionally, depending on the size of one's computer monitor and web browser window. In some cases, you can click on a specified link to see a "jumbo-sized" photo, or else you can either right-click (Windows) or control-click (Mac) to open the photo in question in a new window.

October 11, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Harper & Zimmerman save the Nats' season:
But can they do it again?

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.

Bryce Harper

The heroic Bryce Harper, in right field on September 30.

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.

Max Scherzer

Good ol' Blue-eye (and Brown-eye) Max Scherzer, on September 30.

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.]

Brandon Kintzler

Brandon Kintzler, on September 30.

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.


Yesterday's conference at the pitching mound between Dusty Baker and Max Scherzer was a lot like the one I saw on September 30. Except for Anthony Rendon instead of Wilmer Difo at third base, the cast of characters was the same.

Game 4: rain delay!

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! smile]

Ballpark eye candy

Here's one of the prettiest sights you'll ever see in southwest Washington, D.C.:

Nationals Park SW plaza

The southwest plaza at Nationals Park in the late afternoon, on September 30.

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 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.

Nationals Park MGM National Harbor Dugout Club seats

The new seating area at Nats Park, sponsored by MGM.

RFK Stadium touchups

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:

RFK Stadium lower deck, catwalks

The lower deck of RFK Stadium on the south (first base) side, showing the long catwalks that fans must traverse in order to reach the mezzanine and upper deck.

Dodgers sweep D-backs

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.

Astros oust Red Sox

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.

Yanks force ALDS Game 5

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.]

October 12, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Winter birds begin to arrive

After three weeks without any significant birding (the last time being in mid-September), last Saturday, October 7, I went along with an Augusta Bird Club field trip led by Allen Larner. We were hoping to see a combination of late-migrating neotropical species and early-arriving migrants from the northern latitudes, and we did very well.

Our first destination was the rolling pastures around the Swoope area of Augusta County, a few miles west of Staunton. But before we even left the Food Lion parking lot in Staunton, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker in a distant tree top! As we left town driving along the northern side of the Rt. 262 bypass, Allen noticed a group of big birds in a field, so we did a U-turn, and sure enough there were nine Wild Turkeys foraging in the dim light of dawn. I would never have noticed that, but Allen has amazing powers of visual perception. Then on Livick Road in Swoope, we saw several clusters with several species of sparrows (most notably Grasshopper and Savannah), plus Goldfinches, Meadowlarks, etc. A little further along, we saw two young Bald Eagles, and then even more raptors. Perhaps the highlight of the day was a group of seven Northern Harriers that were circling low around a field, as they typically do. All or most of them were juveniles.

Next we stopped at nearby Smith's Pond, a local hot spot for shorebirds. There we saw several several dozen Tree Swallows, about fifteen Killdeers, and several Wilson's Snipes, along with a single Rusty Blackbird along the shore. They were too far (150+ yards) for a good photo, however.

At the Augusta Springs wetland area, about six miles farther to the west, we were treated to a nice mixture of birds soon after we arrived. I had decent looks at a Blue-headed Vireo, a Tennessee Warbler, either a Palm or a Magnolia Warbler, and a probable Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I originally thought might be a Cape May Warbler or a Blackpoll Warbler. Those "confusing fall warblers" can be a pain! There were also a dozen or so Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or two. Farther along the boardwalk trail, we saw some Golden-crowned Kinglets. On the pond were a few Wood Ducks, and in the woods along the upland trail we saw a few woodpeckers, but no thrushes or any other warblers. That was a bit of a disappointment. We also saw our final raptor of the day, a Sharp-shinned Hawk overhead.

Altogether we tallied 64 distinct bird species, give or take a couple. There were so many birds that I had to make two separate photo montages (see below) to provide a suitable summary. The four of us enjoyed great weather and great company. I'll be leading a field trip this Saturday to Chimney Hollow, and I hope we'll be at least half as successful!

Montage 07 Oct 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Harriers (juv.), Bald Eagle (juv.), Savannah Sparrow, Red-headed Woodpecker, Grasshopper Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and in center, Wood Duck (M) and Wilson's Snipe. (October 7)

Montage 07 Oct 2017 B

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Bluebird, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestreal, Cedar Waxwing, Great Blue Heron, Eastern Phoebe, and (prob.) Yellow-rumped Warbler. (October 7)

October 13, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nats suffer another NLDS heartbreaker

When the Washington Nationals won Game 4 on Wednesday night to bring the National League Division Series back home, it seemed like they had the Chicago Cubs on the ropes. Stephen Strasburg pitched one of the very best games of his career, striking out twelve batters without allowing any runs (and only three hits) over seven utterly dominant innings at Wrigley Field. After years of doubts as to whether the decision to keep him off the roster in the 2012 postseason (when he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery) would ever really pay off, Strasburg vindicated himself in true superstar fashion. A cosmic convergence of opportunity and a burning desire to win had the Nationals poised for their very first postseason series triumph since the franchise "rebirth" in 2005!

Stephen Strasburg

The heroic Stephen Strasburg at Nationals Park on September 29, when he won his 15th game of the season pitching against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But just like last year, "something (or things plural) utterly improbable and unpredictable decided a high-stakes baseball showdown in NLDS Game 5 on Thursday evening, as the {Cubs} came back from a {4-1} deficit in the top of the {fifth} inning and held on to defeat the Washington Nationals, {9-8}." If that sounds familiar, it's because I copied the text from my October 14 blog post last year and put the appropriate modifications in {brackets}. Four years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals likewise came back from a deep deficit to stun the Nationals in the top of the ninth inning. (In the 2014 NLDS, the Nats were eliminated by the Giants on the road in Game 4, under relatively "normal" circumstances.) I shun superstitious talk of jinxes and curses, but the repeated pattern of "Nightmares on South Capitol Street" does kind of make you wonder what keeps going wrong.

The game got off to a disturbing start when Jon Jay hit a leadoff double, and later scored. Gio Gonzalez was obviously nervous, throwing the ball wildly several times. He finally got out of a bases-loaded jam when Jason Heyward grounded out to first base. In the bottom of the first, Trea Turner hit a leadoff infield single, stole second, and made it to third on a sac fly by Jayson Werth, but was then thrown out at the plate on a ground ball to second base hit by Bryce Harper.

Gio settled down in the second inning, getting three quick outs. Then Daniel Murphy stepped up to the plate and quickly smashed a home run into the right field seats, and the crowd was thrilled. Anthony Rendon then singled, Wieters laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line, and Michael A. Taylor swung at a pitch that was at least at neck level. Sometimes he lacks discipline, but this time he managed to put enough wood on that ball to send it into the left field bullpen. A three-run homer! And the crowd went wild!! After the next two batters struck out, Jayson Werth hit a double to the right-center field gap, and Bryce Harper was intentionally walked. It was a big opportunity for Ryan Zimmerman to get some more runs in, but he struck out.

In the third inning, Gio started having problems again. Kris Bryant hit a leadoff double, and after two more walks, the bases were loaded. Bryant scored on a ground ball hit by Addison Russell, and then a wild pitch by Gio allowed Contreras to score, making it a 4-3 game. Gio has a reputation for not being able to maintain leads, and Dusty Baker rightly decided that was enough pitching for Gio that day. In the fourth inning, Matt Albers got three quick outs.

Fifth inning nightmare

"What's the worst that could happen?" We may have found out in the fifth inning, as Max Scherzer took the mound. I knew that Max was available for emergency relief duty, but this situation just didn't seem to warrant resorting to such extreme measures. (See my Facebook comment below.) As expected, Max Scherzer quickly got two outs, but then he had to battle Willson Contreras to a full count, ultimately giving up an infield single. That's when all hell broke loose. So, just as I did in 2012 (for the ninth inning of NLDS Game 5), here is the complete play-by-play sequence for the Cubs in the bizarre, "stranger-than-fiction" fifth inning:

  1. Kris Bryant grounds out to shortstop.
  2. Anthony Rizzo flies out to center field.
  3. Willson Contreras hits a single to shortstop.
  4. Ben Zobrist hits bloop single to left field.
  5. Addison Russell doubles to left field corner, Contreras and Zobrist score.
  6. Jason Heyward is intentionally walked.
  7. Javier Baez strikes out but reaches base on passed ball*; throw from catcher to 1st base goes into right field, and Russell scores while others advance to 2nd and 3rd.
  8. Tommy La Stella is awarded first base on catcher interference, loading the bases.
  9. Jon Jay is hit by a pitch, Heyward scores, and others advance.
  10. Kris Bryant pops out to shortstop.

* = controversial play; see below.

I simply could not believe what was unfolding before my eyes on TV. Highly-paid professional players were panicking and blundering like Little Leagers. Russell's double gave the Cubs the lead which they would not relinquish, putting the Nats' ace pitcher Max Scherzer in line to become the losing pitcher. Just like in 2012 and 2016, the Nats went from having a comfortable lead to finding themselves in a desperate hole in a virtual blink of an eye.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters at Nationals Park on September 29.

Back & forth slugfest

The Cubs added a run in the sixth inning, as Brandon Kintzler gave up a walk and then another RBI double by Addison Russell. After that point, the Nationals finally regained their wits and started displaying their renowned offensive prowess. With two outs, Jayson Werth drew a walk and Bryce Harper doubled. Then Ryan Zimmerman walked, with ball four being a wild pitch, allowing Werth to sprint home to score. The next batter, Daniel Murphy hit a high fly ball that landed right at the left field wall. Harper scored but Zimmerman was held up at third. I wondered why he wasn't waved home, and after watching the MLB TV abbreviated rebroadcast today, I could see it was a combination of Zimmerman's short lead at first and a well-played carom off the wall by Ben Zobrist. With the score now 8-6, Anthony Rendon was intentionally walked, and Matt Wieters came up to bat. Wieters has had a disappointing year since the Nationals signed him last spring, but he did get two hits in the early innings, including that bunt along the third base line. This time he punched a fly ball to the right field corner, and Jason Heyward was just able to get there in time for the third out. It could have been two or three runs for the Nationals...

The Cubs scored again in the seventh inning, as Sammy Solis gave up two consecutive hits -- just like he did in Game 3. Next! Dusty Baker challenged the call on the run-scoring play, arguing that Jon Jay made an illegal slide into second base, but was denied. (See below.) When the Nats came up to bat, Michael A. Taylor drew a leadoff walk and soon the bases were loaded for Bryce Harper. What a moment of suspense that was! Bryce connected on a ball toward the right-center gap, but he didn't get all of it, and he was very disappointed to settle for an RBI sacrifice fly. Ryan Zimmerman then struck out on a bad pitch, as he seems to do too often, unfortunately. That left the score 9-7.

Relief pitcher Ryan Madson (who had come in to finish the seventh inning) had a nice 1-2-3 eighth inning for the Nats. In the bottom of the inning, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon drew walks, and Adam Lind came in to pinch hit for Matt Wieters. Once again, fans in Nationals Park stirred with excitement. Lind has proven an invaluable bench player and all-around utility man for the Nats this year, with several clutch homers and RBIs. This time, however, he grounded into a double play, dousing the flame of fan passion. But then Michael A. Taylor came up and smashed an RBI single into center field, and hopes rose once again. Michael thus became the very first player in MLB history to get four (or more) RBI's in two consecutive postseason games. He is simply amazing! That brought the Nats back to within one run of the Cubs, and Jose Lobaton singled as well. But what could have become a game-changing rally ended when Lobaton was picked off first base by the catcher in yet another controversial play discussed below.

Michael A. Taylor

The hero of Game 4, and would-be hero of Game 5, Michael A. Taylor, at Nationals Park on September 29.

In the top of the ninth inning, the Nats' great new closing pitcher, Sean Doolittle, did his job, getting three quick outs. In the bottom of the ninth, Trea Turner swung at a bad pitch on a 3-1 count and then flew out, wasting a walk opportunity. (That was indeed just awful, as MLB-TV's "High Heat" host Christopher Russo practically screamed his derision this afternoon.) Next came Jayson Werth, who already had a run, two hits, and two walks that day. But in his probable final at-bat as a Washington National, he swung at a high fastball for strike three. That left it up to Bryce Harper, who likewise struck out; see my Facebook comment below. And that was that. Cubs 9, Nationals 8. frown

Most of the Nationals players rose to the occasion at one point or another, and there was some genuinely good baseball mixed in with all the sloppy play. Until the late innings, most of the pitchers did poorly. I was disappointed that Ryan Zimmerman went 0 for 4 plus one walk, striking out three times and leaving seven (7) batters on base. Ouch! The Nats out-hit the Cubs 14 to 9, but just couldn't get enough hits in clutch situations. The game was ridiculously slow, taking 4:37 to complete just nine innings. (The stroke of midnight came somewhere around the seventh inning, so superstitious fans could blame the Nats' misfortunes on Friday the 13th.) Attendance was 43,849, almost the same as in NLDS Games 1 and 2.

Dubious umpire calls

Only sore losers blame defeat on unfair officiating, so I hope I'm not doing that. But in three critical situations, questionable rulings had a huge effect on the course of the game, adverse from the Nationals' point of view.

In the wild and crazy fifth inning, when catcher Matt Wieters was charged with a passed ball on strike three, he ran to the backstop and unwisely threw the ball to try to get Javier Baez out at first. I didn't realized it at the time, but Baez's bat struck Wieters' mask, possibly leaving him a bit dazed. Wieters promptly told the umpire that happened, but was told that it didn't matter. frown But according to the Official Baseball Rules:

Rule 6.03 (comment): If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire's judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.

There is no question that the bat struck the catcher, and that it should have been a dead ball. But in such a case (with a passed ball), the batter could not attempt to reach first base, so it would have been the third out, with the score remaining 5-4. Has this situation never occurred before at all? MLB will have to clarify the rules for next year.

Two innings later (the seventh), Jon Jay made an apparent illegal slide into second base, raising his leg and clearly going after Daniel Murphy, to the left of the bag. Such a violation of the "Chase Utley rule" would have have made the batter (Kris Bryant) out at first on a would-be double play, and the run scored by Kyle Schwarber would not have counted. But for some reason, the umps didn't see it that way, and that run ended up deciding the game. frown

Finally, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the catcher, Willson Contreras tried to pick off Jose Lobaton at first base, and the umpire ruled he was safe. But Joe Maddon challenged the call, and although the video replay did show that Lobaton's foot briefly came off the bag when he slid back in, there was no clear proof that Anthony Rizzo had his glove on him at that precise moment. When the evidence is inconclusive, the original call is supposed to stand, so I was shocked when the review overturned the call. If you want to blame Lobaton for taking too big of a lead for no reason (as Christopher Russo did), go ahead, but changing an umpire's call in such a critical situation with such inconclusive video evidence is very bad. frown

Werth's sad farewell

This was almost certainly Jayson Werth's last game as a National (his seven-year contract has expired), and it was painful to watch the postgame interview with him in such a sad and bewildered state. He couldn't believe what had happened, and neither could we the fans. To his immense credit, he spoke openly and honestly about what that game and that series meant to him, and it was obvious how much he craved winning that series and helping take the Nats all the way to the World Series. Even though his batting and fielding performance was gradually declining over the past couple years, no one could ever doubt his passionate commitment to the team. As he (most likely) bids farewell to Washington in the next few months, let's not forget what he meant for helping turn this franchise from an also-ran motley crew to a championship-caliber "band of brothers." heart

Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth at second base after hitting a single in the sixth inning, at Nationals Park on September 29.

My Facebook reflections

Here are some of my initial observations on Facebook, during and immediately after the game:

(On the "Washington D.C. Baseball - Yesterday & Today" page at the top of the fifth inning:) Shouldn't they be holding Scherzer in reserve until the later innings? He'll only last two or three, right? It seems almost desperate.
(In response to a downcast Nats fan on that same page after the sixth inning:) We're being tested just like the players are, Damien. Down two runs with three innings to go is not that bad.
(On my own timeline, after the final out:) "Don't swing, Bryce," I was thinking. "Take the walk and let Zim have another chance." But swing he did, at an awful inside pitch no less, and that's how the 2017 season ends. There's plenty of blame to go around, but I'm not going to mope around. The Nats are still a great team, overall, and have much to be proud of. We can fix the problems and do better next year!

Comparing four NLDS's

Whereas each of the four times the Nats have made it to the NLDS have been marked by a sudden, crushing, hideous twist of fate (to a greater or lesser extent), each one is unique in terms of the sequence of wins and losses. All four times the Nationals enjoyed home field advantage, but in the 2012 series, the format was changed from 2-2-1 to 2-3 because of the addition of a second wild card team that year. The Nats have faced four different opponents, and went all the way to Game 5 in all years except 2014. They lost the first game in three of the four years, and only had a series lead after Game 1 of 2012 and Game 3 of 2016.

Year Opponent Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5
2012 Cardinals W
2014 Giants L
2016 Dodgers L
2017 Cubs L

@ = away game

ALCS Game 1: Astros beat Yanks

In Houston tonight, the Astros edged the Yankees 2-1 in a tense pitchers' duel between Dallas Keuchel and Masahiro Tanaka. (I keep wondering, shouldn't a guy named "Dallas" be playing for the Rangers?) The Astros put together three hits to scrounge out two runs in the fourth inning, sparked as usual by Jose Altuve, while the Yankees failed to score until the ninth inning. The Yankees' stunning series comeback victory against the Indians in the ALDS Game 5 was at least as disheartening to Cleveland fans as the NLDS Game 5 defeat was to fans in Washington.

Tomorrow the Cubs will begin playing the NLCS against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and I think most readers of this blog know where the Clem family sympathies lie. But I'm also intrigued by the possibility of a rematch of one of the classic rivalries in World Series history: the L.A. Dodgers won in 1963 and 1981, while the Yankees won in 1977 and 1978.

October 17, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Home sweet home field advantage

The 2017 MLB postseason thus far has been marked by the strongest home field advantage since I began keeping track in 2002. In the divisional series, only six of the 19 games were won by the visiting team, and none (0) of the AL & NL Championship Series games have been. (Interestingly, however, the visiting team won the final game of all four divisional series: "there was no joy" in Washington, Cleveland, Phoenix, or Boston. Only in the Cubs-Nationals series did the visiting team win multiple games: 3 out of 5.) So, I went through my Postseason scores page, and tabulated the number of games won by the home team and visiting team for the Divisional series, the League Championship series, and the World Series for each year from 2002 up through 2017, including the Wild Card games since 2012, and then computing the home team winning percentages:

YearPostseason games won by home team

Data for 2017 include the ALCS Games 1-4 and NLCS Games 1 & 2 only.

World Series: 4 scenarios

This matters more than usual this year because of the change in the way that home field advantage for the World Series is determined. Whereas from 2003 until 2016, the league that won the All Star Game got the initial home field advantage in the World Series, beginning in 2017, home field advantage in the World Series goes to the team with the higher regular season winning percentage. The following table shows how the four possible World Series matchups would be affected by the new rules:

NL teamAL teamHFA
OLD system
NEW system
(2017- )

The American League won the All-Star Game, 2-1, and thus would have had home field advantage for the World Series under the old rules.

ALCS: Yankees even the series

Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS in Houston were razor-thin pitchers' duels, with the exact same score: Astros 2, Yankees 1. Game 2 differed from Game 1 in that the score was tied for most of the game, with the deciding run coming in the bottom of the ninth inning on a wild play at the plate in which Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez couldn't handle the relay throw from right field even though he had plenty of time to tag Jose Altuve out. D'oh!

In contrast, Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS in New York were higher scoring. On Monday the Yankees scored three runs in the second inning thanks to a home run by Todd Frazier, and they added five more runs two innings later. With C.C. Sabathia on the mound, the Astros were in a virtually hopeless position. Not until the ninth inning did they get on the board, and the final score was 8-1. In Game 4 late this afternoon, neither team scored until the sixth inning, when Houston broke it open with a bases-loaded double by Yuli Gurriel. They added a run an inning later, and seemed to be in position to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Yankees. But Aaron Judge had other ideas, launching the Yankees' big comeback with a monster home run to center field in the bottom of the seventh, followed by another run, and then four more in the eighth inning. A loss like that can be very disheartening to an up-and-coming team like the Astros, and the pressure will be on their #1 ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel tomorrow when he goes against Masahiro Tanaka.

NLCS: Dodgers take 2-0 series lead

When Clayton Kershaw took the mound in Game 1 in Los Angeles on Saturday, at first there didn't seem to be much doubt that the Dodgers would prevail. But the Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning, momentarily shocking the home crowd. But the Dodgers tied the game 2-2 in the fifth inning, getting Kershaw off the hook, and took a 3-2 lead one inning later on a solo homer by a guy name Chris Taylor. The Dodgers added two more runs in the seventh inning, and won it, 5-2.

The Cubs also took the initial lead in Game 2 with a solo homer in the fifth inning , but the Dodgers came right back to tie it in the bottom of the inning. The home team won the game in spectacular fashion on a three-run walk-off home run by Justin Turner. Dodgers 4, Cubs 1.

Back at Wrigley Field for Game 3 this evening, the Cubs once again took an early 1-0 lead thanks to a home run by Kyle Schwarber, but as of the eighth inning, the Dodgers are ahead 6-1. That puts them in position to become the first visiting team to win an NLCS (or ALCS) game this year!

October 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Chimney Hollow

Last Saturday (October 14), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow, a wooded ravine in the foothills about twelve miles west of Staunton. (I led a field trip there last April 28, and since then only made one brief stop there.) It was chilly and cloudy at first, but later the skies cleared. Two other guys from the club joined me, and we had a fair but not spectacular day. The highlights were seeing my first Brown Creeper and Winter Wren of the fall season, but unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo of either species. We saw several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but most of them stayed at least 20 feet above the ground, and none cooperated with my picture-taking. I got decent photos of a Blue-headed Vireo and Eastern Phoebes, but that was about it.

Around 11:30 we returned to the trail head and then drove over to nearby Braley's Pond. I was hoping to see something on the water, but (except for a dozen or so turtles basking in the sun) it was empty that day. Nevertheless, I did get a brief view of a few Dark-eyed Juncos in a bush, and I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush, which was rather late in the season for that warbler species. (Those are not included in my eBird report, which was strictly for Chimney Hollow.)

	Chimney Hollow Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
	Oct 14, 2017 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM
	Protocol: Traveling
	2.0 mile(s)
	Comments:     Augusta Bird Club field trip
	20 species

	Turkey Vulture -- 1
	Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 2
	Downy Woodpecker -- 3
	Hairy Woodpecker -- 1
	Northern Flicker -- 1
	Pileated Woodpecker -- 2
	Eastern Phoebe -- 3
	Blue-headed Vireo -- 5
	Blue Jay -- 5
	American Crow -- 2
	Black-capped Chickadee -- 5
	Tufted Titmouse -- 6
	White-breasted Nuthatch -- 3
	Brown Creeper -- 1
	Winter Wren -- 1
	Carolina Wren -- 4
	Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 4
	Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- 6
	Yellow-rumped Warbler -- 5
	Eastern Towhee -- 2

	View this checklist online at

Late in the afternoon that same day, I went over to Bell's Lane for the first time in at least a couple weeks, and was pleasantly surprised to see my first White-crowned Sparrows of the season. There were a few other interesting birds as well, but none of the Palm Warblers that I was hoping for.

Montage 14 Oct 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing (juv.), Eastern Bluebird, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Phoebe, Great Blue Heron, and White-crowned Sparrow. (October 14) Roll your mouse over the image to see the White-crowned Sparrow enlarged.

Field trip to McCormick's Mill

Yesterday morning, I joined Jo King and several other birders at McCormick's Mill on the southern edge of Augusta County. The weather was just about perfect, with blue skies. Just as we arrived, we saw two Savannah Sparrows perched on a fence post, a great photo op. Throughout the morning, bird activity was quite high, and we chalked up a good total: 37 species were recorded altogether. Some species were especially abundant: Jo tabulated 38 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 35 Tree Swallows, and 25 Cedar Waxwings! One of the highlights was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (prob. male), one day after I saw my first one of the season in "our" back yard. We also saw a White-throated Sparrow (prob. juvenile) near the upper farm pond, and that was my first of the season.

Montage 18 Oct 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Tree Swallow (F / J), and in Center, Mallard (M). (October 18) Roll your mouse over the image to see the Savannah Sparrow enlarged.

NOTE: Both of the photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.

October 22, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Dusty Baker is dismissed as Nats' manager

The front office of the Washington Nationals announced on Friday that they decided not to renew the contract of Dusty Baker as manager for the 2018 season. The letter from the Lerner family reminded fans of the "One Pursuit" that governs all their actions: to win a World Series for Washington. The letter referred to Baker as "one of the true gentleman in our sport," which may be a backhanded compliment. How many "gentlemen" managers have won the World Series? For every Joe Torre there are at least two guys like Earl Weaver or Billy Martin. As Leo Durocher said, "Nice guys finish last." frown Then there are the guys like Tony LaRussa and Joe Maddon: cold, hard calculators, not warm and fuzzy grandfather figures.

The announcement came as a shock to me, in part since when General Manager Mike Rizzo was asked about Dusty' future soon after NLDS Game 5, he gave his unequivocal support. (That itself was somewhat of a surprise, since I figured there would be a few days of careful reflection before making such a verbal commitment.) This may mean that Rizzo's own job may be on shaky ground, which would be extremely disconcerting to Nationals fans. Who else could have pulled off the deals to acquire Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy over the past two years, and then patch the gaping hole in the Nats' bullpen with three key acquisitions in the middle of the 2017 season?

Senior Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell noted that the Lerners have been tightwads when it came to choosing managers: "All came inexpensively because they were out of favor or past age 65, such as Davey Johnson and Baker, or else rookies who craved a chance, such as Manny Acta and [Matt] Williams." As a people person, Baker was ideally suited to restoring team spirit after the Bryce Harper - Jonathan Papelbon fight at the end of the 2015 season. But Baker never pretended to be a brilliant tactician, and was merely very good at a time when top notch was required. As Boswell concluded, "Finding a manager better than Johnnie B-plus "Dusty" Baker probably can be done. But good luck trying."

Another Washington Post columnist, Barry Svrluga, is likewise ambivalent about the decision not to bring Dusty back. He writes that it "simultaneously makes some sense and is absolutely jarring." He points to the sky-high expectations placed upon the job candidates (World Series or else!) as perhaps too daunting.

The decision to release Dusty would make more sense if the Lerners were already close to getting a replacement manager. (Maybe they have??) The Washington Post listed six names: Brad Ausmus, Alex Cora, John Farrell, DeMarlo Hale, Dave Martinez, and Eduardo Perez. The first five are current or recent MLB managers or coaches, and Perez is an ESPN analyst.

To me, this is a case of the heart wanting one thing while the head points in a different direction. I have great respect and admiration for Dusty, and was very pleased when the Nats hired him nearly two years ago. (See November 3, 2015 and scroll down.) It is useful to recall that Dusty Baker was actually the second choice of the Nationals' owners after the deal with Bud Black broke down at the last minute.

I made no secret of my doubts about Dusty's judgment in both last year's NLDS and this year's. I was a bit apprehensive when he abruptly took Max Scherzer out in the seventh inning of NLDS Game 3 (immediately after which the Cubs tied the game), and I was extremely dubious when he put Scherzer on the mound as a relief pitcher in the fifth inning of Game 5. (Max proceeded to give up four fatal runs, though he was only partly responsible.) But what do I know? Managers are frequently in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position, and I try to be understanding.

Some of Dusty's sympathizers have argued that a couple clutch RBIs by Harper or Zimmerman in NLDS Game 5 would have changed everything, and that is a valid point. But I think the Nationals were substantially better than the Cubs in most respects, and they really should have won the series in four games at the most.

In any case, I can't express my gratitude to Dusty Baker strongly enough for leading the team to two straight division championships. He took on a thankless job, and gave it all he could. He will be remembered very fondly by Nationals fans for many years to come.

Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker, during the Nats-Pirates game on September 29.

Revolving door managers

The Nats have changed managers with such regularity that it's almost like a revolving door. What is remarkable is that the managerial succession has proceeded in a precise rhythm, with one manager serving exactly two years followed by one who serves two and a half years. If that pattern had continued, Dusty Baker would have continued through the middle of next year.

Year Manager(s) W / L % Final NL East standing Post- season * Departure circumstances,
2005 Frank Robinson .500 5th -- --
2006 Frank Robinson .438 5th -- Retired, age 71.
2007 Manny Acta .451 4th -- --
2008 Manny Acta .366 5th -- --
2009 Manny Acta* / Jim Riggleman .364 5th -- * Fired in mid-season.
2010 Jim Riggleman .426 5th -- --
2011 Jim Riggleman* / Davey Johnson .497 3rd -- * Abruptly quit in mid-season.
2012 Davey Johnson .605 1st lost NLDS Manager of the Year!
2013 Davey Johnson .531 2nd -- Retired, age 70.
2014 Matt Williams .593 1st lost NLDS Manager of the Year!
2015 Matt Williams .512 2nd -- Released
2016 Dusty Baker .586 1st lost NLDS --
2017 Dusty Baker .599 1st lost NLDS Released, age 68.

As this table indicates, the Nats have had two previous NL Managers of the Year: Davey Johnson (2012) and Matt Williams (2014). But how many people remember that Dusty Baker nearly won that honor while managing the Cincinnati Reds in 2010? The winner that year was the very same guy who was the Nationals' first choice to become their new manager in 2016 (see above): Bud Black of the San Diego Padres! He "barely edged Dusty Baker of the Reds, with 16 out of 26 first-place votes, and with 104 total points, compared to 103." See my November 18, 2010 blog post. Wow.

Dodgers win NL pennant

Well, at least the Chicago Cubs avoided being swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Upon returning to Wrigley Field for NLCS Game 3 on Tuesday, they took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a solo homer by Kyle Schwarber, but after that could only manage seven scattered hits (and no more runs) off of the Dodgers' pitcher Yu Darvish. The Dodgers won, 6-1. On Wednesday night, the Cubs won 3-2 thanks to two solo home runs by Javier Baez and one by Willson Contreras. Both Dodger runs came from solo homers as well. But Game 5 was an unmitigated disaster from the beginning, as Enrique Hernandez hit three home runs, tying an MLB postseason record. He only had 11 home runs for the entire 2017 season, and his batting average was only .215 -- What the heck??? Final score: Dodgers 11, Cubs 1. And thus the National League pennant returns to Los Angeles for the first time since 1988 -- 29 years!

Astros win AL pennant

For ALCS Games 3, 4, and 5 in New York, the Yankees capitalized on home field advantage in decisive fashion, taking a 3-2 ALCS lead and forcing the Astros into a desperate last stand back home in Houston. And the Astros in turn did what they had to do, winning Game 6 by a score of 7-1 to force Game 7 and then beating the Yankees 4-0 last night. It seemed like the Yankees would have a decisive edge with aging giant C.C. Sabathia on the mound against Charlie Morton, who had been roughed up in Game 3. (He gave up 7 earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings!) But in Game 7 he pitched the game of his life, giving up just two hits and one walk over five full innings. Thanks to solo home runs by Evan Gattis and Jose Altuve (of course), as well as a two-run double by Brian McCann, the Astros rose to the challenge and beat the Bronx Bombers 4-0.

In the American League Championship Series, all seven games were won by the home team, the first time that has happened in a seven-game series since 2004. (See my Postseason scores page.) That's when the St. Louis Cardinals took the National League pennant four games to three from none other than the Houston Astros!

I don't usually make predictions, but with the extra rest enjoyed by the Dodgers, and their utterly dominant performance up until now, I just don't see how the Astros can match them in the World Series. I think it will be over by Game 5.

Final match at RFK

The very last professional sporting event ever to be held at RFK Stadium took place today, and D.C. United lost to the New York Red Bull, 2-1. And thus ends the storied career of the very first dual-use "cookie-cutter stadium" from the 1960s. How long will that aging hulk be allowed to stand before the demolition crews arrive? frown I'm sure glad I was able to see a game there late last month.

Suzuki's birthday

Ichiro Suzuki turned 44 today, and he continues to work out at Marlins Park every day even though the season is over for his team. He says he wants to play until he is 50! Happy birthday Ichiro! See; hat tip to the Canadian baseball blog, Mop Up Duty (via Facebook).

October 26, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Thriller in L.A.: Astros stun Dodgers!

After the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Astros on Tuesday night, it seemed like smooth sailing for the home team. In the bottom of the first inning in Game 1, a guy named Chris Taylor* swung at the first pitch thrown by Dallas Keuchel and knocked it way up into the left field bleachers. Welcome to "La-La Land"! But Keuchel held firm for the next few innings, and the Astros tied it 1-1 on a home run by Alex Bregman in the fourth inning. That showed that Clayton Kershaw isn't perfect, at least. But in the bottom of the sixth, Chris Taylor drew a walk and the phenomenal Justin Turner got yet another huge clutch hit, a two-run homer that ended up being the decisive run-scoring play of the game. Kershaw gave up just three hits while striking out 11 batters over seven innings. Dodgers 3, Astros 1.

But last night's game changed everything. The Astros had their new ace Justin Verlander on the mound, and were really counting on him to prevent the Dodgers from gaining a 2-0 series lead. The game unfolded as a virtual carbon copy of Game 1, except that Houston scored first. Once again, in the bottom of the sixth inning Chris Taylor drew a walk and the very next batter hit a home run to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. (This time it was Corey Seager.) Verlander finished the inning, but was in line for what seemed to be a probable Houston loss. But the Astros weren't dead, and in the top of the eighth, Alex Bregman hit a ground-rule double to the right field corner, just out of reach of the diving Yasiel Puig, who threw then his glove down in anger. Bad karma? Carlos Correa batted in Bregman, and the score was 3-2 going into the ninth inning. That's when the leadoff batter (a guy named Marwin Gonzalez) shocked the crowd by hitting a game-tying home run off of the usually-unhittable Kenley Jansen. Maybe it was a mistake to put him on the mound in the eighth inning.

In the top of the tenth inning, things got very weird very fast. Jose Altuve, who had been hitless in five at-bats, hit a leadoff home run, and the next batter Carlos Correa did likewise. Then Yuli Gurriel hit a double, and it seemed like the Dodgers were about to collapse. But a new pitcher and solid defense prevented any more runs. In the bottom of the inning, Yasiel Puig hit a leadoff home run, and all of a sudden Dodger fans came back to life. Ken Giles struck out the next two batters, but then walked a batter, threw a wild pitch, and gave up a game-tying RBI single. This time it was Houston that seemed on the verge of collapse, wasting a two-run lead. It was an incredible reversal of fortune. But in the top of the 11th, Cameron Maybin singled and then stole second base, and the next batter, George Springer, hit a home run to give the Astros a two-run lead once again!! The first two Dodgers batters in the bottom of the inning lined out (to center field and third base), and then Charlie Culberson homered to cut the margin to just one run. Could the Dodgers repeat what they did one inning before?? Well, no. The mighty Yasiel Puig struck out, and the Astros won the game, 7-6. It was the most home runs ever hit during a World Series game (eight altogether), and the first time in major league history that five home runs have been hit during extra innings. (See more on

The outcome of that game gave a big psychological boost to the Astros, as the series shifts to Houston for the next three games. They have never won a World Series, and have only won a single pennant: for the National League! Since they were swept (by the White Sox) in 2005, Game 2 was the first World Series game the Astros have ever won. As a result, this series will almost certainly return to L.A. for a Game 6, and I wouldn't be surprised if it goes all the way to Game 7. My expectation that it would only take five games for the Dodgers to win it was clearly "off base."

* In my October 17 blog post, I meant to draw attention to Chris Taylor, "a guy" whose name I really should have known. He played for the University of Virginia baseball team, yet another Cavalier to make it big in the big leagues. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2014, and was traded to the Dodgers in June 2016. Other former Cavaliers in the majors include Ryan Zimmerman (of course), Brandon Guyer, and Danny Hultzen. (I should make a list...)

World Series stadia

Just like last year, and several years before that, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. The contrasts between Minute Maid Park and Dodger Stadium are stark and obvious in many ways. Although my diagrams for both those stadiums are up to standard, I still need to tweak the recent alterations to the center field portion of Minute Maid Park. Stay tuned!

Minute Maid Park Dodger Stadium
Dodgers Stadium

Just roll your mouse over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.

October 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Thriller in Houston: Astros stun Dodgers again!

With Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the Dodgers in Game 5 on Sunday night (going against Dallas Keuchel of the Astros, just like in Game 1), it looked like the visiting team would take a 3-2 lead in the World Series. But once again, just like in Game 2 (see previous post), the proverbial "Flying Fickle Finger of Fate" (from "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In") changed everything. The Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the first inning, and added another run in the fourth. But the Astros responded with a four-run rally in the bottom of that inning, capped by a three-run homer by Yuli Gurriel, and the home fans immediately became a big factor in the game once again. The Dodgers responded with three runs in the top of the fifth, and then the Astros did the same in the bottom of the inning. Home runs were going every which way out of Minute Maid Park: Bellinger for the Dodgers and Altuve for the Astros in the fifth. It was an incredible back-and-forth slugfest. In the seventh inning, George Springer's home run tied it for the Astros, and then the home team took the lead for the first time on a double by Altuve. Then Carlos Correa hit an extremely high pop fly to left field that landed in the second row of seats, only 315 feet away. The Dodgers scored once in the eighth, and then Brian McCann hit a solo homer to give the Astros their three-run lead back. That seemed like enough of a cushion, but then Yasiel Puig hit a line drive homer to virtually the same place that Correa's homer had gone, but with a much different trajectory. Down to their final out, the Dodgers' Chris Taylor (yes, that Chris Taylor!) hit an RBI single to send it into extra innings. In the top of the tenth, the Dodgers could only manage a single, and with Kenley Jansen on the mound, it seemed certain that the game would go at least another inning. But he hit Brian McCann with a pitch and then walked George Springer, after which Alex Bregman hit a walk-off RBI single to left center field. And the crowd went wild!!!

Thus the Astros won Game 5 by a score of 13-12, the second-highest score in World Series history. (In Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, the Blue Jays beat the Phillies, 15-14.) In tonight's Game 6, the Astros had a 1-0 lead until the sixth inning, when the Dodgers staged a rally. Stay tuned, sports fans!

In Game 3 (Friday), the Astros capitalized on the momentum from their stunning Game 2 victory with a big rally in the second inning. Yuli Gurriel led off with a homer, and his racially-tinged taunt toward the Dodgers' starting pitcher Yu Darvish got headlines, and a five-day suspension effective at the beginning of next year. After the Astros scored three more runs, Darvish was taken out in his shortest outing in the major leagues. The Astros' Lance McCullers pitched into the sixth inning, and his replacement Brad Peacock had a rocky beginning, allowing a second run to score in that inning on a wild pitch. But then he settled down and went the rest of the game to get a record-setting 3 2/3-inning save as the Astros held on to win, 5-3.

In Game 4 (Saturday), the Astros scored first with a solo home run by George Springer in the sixth inning, but the Dodgers tied it 1-1 in the top of the seventh. In the top of the ninth, the Dodgers suddenly exploded with a five-run rally, three of which were charged to the Astros' closing pitcher Ken Giles, who didn't even get a single out. In the bottom of the ninth, Alex Bregman hit a solo homer, but it didn't really matter as the Dodgers still won, 6-2, thus evening the series at two apiece.

I should have mentioned that at the beginning of Game 2 in Los Angeles, the Dodgers had their long-time broadcast announcer Vin Scully throw out the first pitch, and then Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Yeager joined him near the mound. That was a pretty touching moment, I have to admit. Scully retired after the 2016 season, and possibly wishes he could have stuck around for this most successful year for the Dodgers since 1988.

Nats pick Martinez as new manger

In Our Nation's Capital, meanwhile, the Nationals front office announced that Dave Martinez had signed a three-year contract as the team's new manager. Details to follow...

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