May 30, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nationals WIN, then resume plunge
I certainly picked a good day to see a Washington Nationals game, which turned out to be their only victory over the past ten days. John Lannan had a superb outing against the San Diego Padres on Friday night, giving up only two hits and no runs over 7 2/3 innings. With a 1-0 lead, thanks to a home run by Danny Espinosa, Lannan was in position for a win when Drew Storen came in from the bullpen. Storen got the third out of the eighth inning, stranding two runners on base, but then on the first pitch of the ninth inning, he gave up a home run; Jason Bartlett hit a ball that just cleared the fence in the left field corner, thus tying the game, 1-1. Ugh. It quickly deflated the eager hopes of the Washington fans for a win at last, casting a pall of gloom over Nationals Park. But then the mood shifted instantaneously in the bottom of the ninth inning, Mike Morse hit a walk-off solo home run, becoming the hero of the game. Final score: 2-1. YES!!!
Speaking of "pall of gloom," the weather was pretty rough on Friday night, as the photo below shows. The skies were partly cloudy at the beginning of the game but rapidly darkened during the third inning. Before you knew it, there was thunder and lightning, and the grounds crew scrambled to get the tarp rolled out in the midst of a downpour. Fortunately, the rain subsided and the game resumed after a delay of 47 minutes.
I didn't realize it at the time, but it was the fourth consecutive game in which Morse had hit a homer. He has improved markedly in recent weeks, and is currently #2 in batting (.289 average) among regular starting players for the Nationals. Laynce Nix is #1, with a .305 batting average.
It's a shame John Lannan didn't get credit for the win. His 2-5 record thus far this year is not indicative of how well he has been pitching. Having blown the save, Drew Storen certainly didn't deserve the win, but that's how baseball records are kept.
Jacqueline and I sat in the first row of upper level seats in right field, below the scoreboard. (It was Miller Lite Party Night, and we enjoyed pregame music by a retro rock band.) We had a fairly good view, close enough to ground level to feel like you're part of the game. If a home-run ball had come our way, we would have been ready. I had to lean forward to see Rick Ankiel make a superb grab of a long fly ball to center field by Chase Headley to begin the eighth inning. (That was when Roger Bernandina moved over to left field, where Brian Bixler had been playing.) Otherwise, I didn't have any trouble following the action. One of the women fans sitting nearby was flirting with Jayson Werth, playing near us in right field.
This is becoming quite a pattern: When I was at the August 13 home game last year, the Nats broke a five-game losing streak by beating the Diamondbacks, and when I was at the August 2 game in Pittsburgh the year before that, they snapped four-game losing streak. (I erred by writing "the Nats snapped a four-game winning streak" on that post. I meant losing streak, of course.) Unfortunately, this time the Nats were unable to sustain a rebound...
On Saturday afternoon, the Padres got revenge, beating the Nationals by the same score: 2-1. Jordan Zimmermann had another fine outing, but the only run support he got was a homer by Laynce Nix, so his win-loss record fell to 2-6. That is just not fair.
On Sunday, Drew Storen gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning, and the Padres won, 5-4, taking the series from the Nats. Maybe that was karmic justice for what had happened Friday night. To my surprise, Yunesky Maya was called up from the minors to be the starting pitcher that day. (He was tagged with the loss at the last game we saw -- Sept. 25, 2010, when Atlanta beat the Washington, 5-0.) Maybe he's still not ready for the majors. One nice change of routine was that Jayson Werth got three hits; his batting average is finally above .250.
Today in Our Nation's Capital, the Nationals were holding their own against the dominant Phillies of Philadelphia, and they actually took a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning when Laynce Nix homered against Roy Halladay. Wow! There were fleeting hopes for a stupendous upset victory against the Phillies, but alas, the dream was too good to be true. Livan Hernandez had to be relieved in the seventh inning, and his replacement Sean Burnett quickly gave up two runs, which was all the Phillies needed to win, 5-4. Groan... Livan's record is now 3-6, not at all what he deserves.
So, the Nationals have lost eight of their last nine games, leaving them 11 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East, dead last. There must be bad feelings in the Nats' clubhouse, and Jayson Werth had to clarify a comment he made to a reporter a few days ago, to erase the impression he thought others were to blame. There is plenty of blame to go around, from batters who can't get hits when it counts to relief pitchers who can't get outs in the late innings. The Nats have faced harder times than these in past years, however, and I'm sure things will get better before long. That being said, I'm getting tired of having my fan loyalty tested like this.
Movies at Nationals Park
I was aware of the movie How Do You Know, parts of which were filmed at Nationals Park, but I recently caught a brief glimpse of the Nats' home in a night time aerial shot of the Washington skyline in the movie State of Play, starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. Only a stadium nut like me would have noticed the distinctive red NATIONALS letters at the top of the scoreboard, barely visible in the distance. I'll have to incorporate those factoids on the Nationals Park page soon, along with some minor adjustments to the diagram profile.
U.Va. wins ACC tourney
Congratulations to the University of Virginia baseball team for winning the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball tournament, held in Durham, North Carolina. The Cavaliers amassed an incredible 49-9 regular season record (including a game I saw on March 19), and would have reached 50 wins had they not been swept three games straight by the North Carolina Tarheels at Chapel Hill last week. See virginiasports.com. Next week there will be a first-round NCAA tournament in Charlottesville, and I hope to be there.
UVA! UVA! UVA!