September 23, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Believe it or not: Nationals sweep the Phillies!
Maybe it's not such a big deal, since the Phillies have already clinched the National League Eastern Division title, and are pretty much guaranteed a top seed in the playoffs, so they didn't really need the win. But what happened up in the City of Brotherly Love this week sure did provide a lot of satisfaction for Washington-area fans. Against all odds, the Nationals won a rare double-header against the Phillies on Tuesday, the first game of which was a makeup of the rained-out August 14 game. Roger Bernadina hit a three-run home run to take the lead in the afternoon game, but then the Phillies tied it in the bottom of the inning. The deciding run was batted in by good old clutch hitter Ryan Zimmerman in the top of the tenth inning. Final score: 4-3. In the nightcap, rookie Ross Detwiler threw 7 1/3 shutout innings, while rookie Danny Espinosa hit his 20th home run, as the Nats won, 3-0. Not a bad way to start a four-game series on the road!
Amazingly enough, the Nats went on to win on the next two days. In the Wednesday game, Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa each hit two-run homers, and the Nats took a 7-3 lead. The Phillies scored twice late in the game, and I was very anxious when they put in Henry Rodriguez to close the game in the ninth inning. He is fast, but often not very accurate. Fortunately, my fears were not borne out and he got credit for the save. (Whew!) On Thursday night, the Nats took an early lead and held it thanks to rookie pitcher Brad Peacock, who gave up only one hit over 5 2/3 innings. It was an even more amazing performance than on September 14. Michael Morse put the cherry on the topping with a three-run homer (his 28th) late in the game. For some reason, Manager Davey Johnson replaced Doug Slaten with Todd Coffey, who proceeded to allow the Phillies their only run of the game before getting the final out, with a score of 6-1. And that's how the Washington Nationals swept a four-game series for the second time in as many weeks. It was the first time all year that the Phillies have been swept in any three-plus game series, which ought to tell you something about how good the Nationals really are -- or could be. The future of baseball in Washington is very, very bright.
This evening, the Nationals began a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves, who are much more motivated to win than the Phillies. The visiting team jumped to a three-run lead in the first inning, embarrassing the Nats' starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg. He only lasted four-plus innings, and in spite of a comeback attempt -- including Jayson Werth's 20th home run of the year -- the Braves ended up winning, 7-4. Thus, the Nats' five-game winning streak was broken. That means the "D.C. 9" have to win all five of their remaining games to finish the season above .500 for the first time. It's a long shot, but they can do it.
Citizens Bank Park update
The Nationals' splendid achievement in Philadelphia made me realize it was about time to update the Citizens Bank Park diagram. As usual, the profile is more accurate, with about 12 feet per standard-height level rather than 10 as previously estimated (or assumed, rather), and with more attention to detail around the dugouts, the lateral aisles, and the peripheral structures. As for the shape of the field, there is one significant revision: the diagonal portions of the lower deck grandstand extending beyond first and third bases now angle inward slightly more than before, and the bends are located about ten feet further out on each side.
I have fond personal memories of that ballpark, having seen the first-ever Washington Nationals game in Philadelphia, on April 4, 2005. The Nats lost their first game, but then won the next two games, to everyone's surprise, thereby taking the series.
Mariano Rivera sets saves record
New York Yankees closing pitcher Mariano Rivera recorded his 602th career save on Monday, setting a new lifetime record in this category, as the Yanks downed the Minnesota Twins at home in New Yankee Stadium. See MLB.com. I was fortunate to see Rivera when the Yankees visited the Kansas City Royals last month; see photo below. Regarding the "Panamanian gentleman," columnist Thomas Boswell suggested in the Washington Post that Rivera ought to be considered the second greatest Yankee player of all time. Now that's a big claim! Boswell cites an array of statistics that at least provide an arguable case. Rivera and fellow member of the "class of 95" Derek Jeter will certainly be back with the Yankees next year, but Jorge Posada's future is in doubt.
This feat came almost exactly a year after Trevor Hoffman, long-time closer for the Padres who was traded to the Brewers last year, became the first pitcher ever to reach the 600-save milestone. (See Sept. 18, 2010.) The Padres held a special retirement ceremony for Hoffman this past August 21; see MLB.com.
Pennant races come into focus
So far, the Phillies have clinched the NL East, the Yankees have clinched the AL East, and the Tigers have clinched the AL Central Division. The Rangers are almost assured of winning the AL West, while the Brewers and Diamondback have comfortable leads in the NL Central and NL West. The big question marks are the wild card races. On the American League side, it appears that neither the Red Sox nor the Rays have much desire to win, both contending teams having lost most of their recent ten games. In the National League wild card race, the Cardinals are only a couple games behind the Braves, but the Cubs are leading them 4-1 in the ninth inning in St. Louis right now, which further reduces the Cards' chances of reaching the postseason this year.
It is a welcome development that the baseball regular season is ending in September this year, which is the way things ought to be.
Citi Field to shrink
Obviously, I have fallen way behind on correspondence with fans once again, which is typical for this time of the academic year. I plan to get to most of those tips and queries this weekend, but in the mean time let me just draw your attention to this piece of intriguing news from Queens, New York: The Mets are planning to reduce the outfield dimensions in Citi Field next year, but the details are not yet firm. See MLB.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who points out the similarity between that and what the Detroit Tigers did by adding an inner fence in left field at Comerica Park. It's probably a good idea, not only from the batters' perspective, but also to reduce the amount of outfield territory that is out of the field of vision of upper-deck patrons on that side of the stadium. They should also straight the fence in right field and eliminate that rather artificial overhang