Nationals sweep the Braves
It's hard to believe that the downtrodden, hard-luck team from the District of Columbia could make such a dramatic turnaround as the month of August comes to an end. Defeating in succession the L.A. Dodgers and then the Atlanta Braves in three straight games in two series at home was a major accomplishment for the Washington Nationals, coming so soon after they lost 12 games in a row. The Nats are currently the only team with a winning streak of six games, and only one other team (the Brewers) have won eight of their last ten games. You might say the Nats are the hottest team in baseball right now! (OK, would you believe warmest?)
Saturday night's 9-8 win was the first extra-inning victory for the Nats in over three months. They came from behind, showing their increasing confidence, but then gave up a lead in the late innings. In the bottom of the tenth, the bases were loaded with two outs, and Elijah Dukes showed he is maturing by holding off on marginal pitches, drawing an RBI "walk-off walk" to end things in jubilant fashion. On Sunday, the Nats staged another late comeback, as Aaron Boone hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning to take a 6-4 lead, and two more Nats scored after that. Very satisfying!
At long last, the Nats are finally playing like a real team, in which everybody contributes a little bit fairly consistently, and different people make the clutch hits and defensive plays in different games. No single player stands above the others during their current hot streak. Ryan Zimmerman continues to improve his batting average, now above .280, which is in line what everybody has been expecting from the U.Va. wunderkind.
How's this for a statistical fluke: August was the winningest (or "least losingest") month for the Nationals so far this year (14-15), and yet it was also the month in which the team suffered its longest losing streak (12 games) since moving to Washington in 2005! That's because they won almost all their games for the first week of the month, and then won almost all the games for the last ten days of the month.
As Hurricane Gustav slams into Louisiana almost exactly three years after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, it's appropriate to remember the Astrodome, where many of the refugees were taken. So, I have updated those diagrams, rendering the profile more accurately than before, and adding a separate diagram showing the roof structure. The main upper deck is slightly smaller than I previously estimated, and its front edge is directly above that of the next-lower deck, not set back several feet as I had thought before.
Steven Poppe raised an "alternate reality" conjecture: If there had been a Major League team in New Orleans in 2005, where would they have taken refuge while the Superdome was being rebuilt after Katrina hit? The NFL Saints played their "home" games that fall in San Antonio (Alamodome) and Baton Rouge (LSU's Tiger Stadium). Major League exhibition games have been played in the Superdome several times over the years, but I have never seen a photo from such a game, and the only seating diagrams I've seen online are insufficiently detailed for me to come up with a suitable baseball configuration diagram.
Thome ties Mantle
Congratulations go out to Jim Thome, who hit his 536th career home run on Saturday and thereby tied Mickey Mantle on the all-time list. His two-run shot in the first inning helped the White Sox defeat the Red Sox at Fenway Park, which in turn helped the Tampa Bay Rays widen their lead in the AL East to five games.