Harper hits home runs #1 and #2
Bryce Harper proved his slugging abilities right from the bat (literally), but it wasn't until this week (Monday evening, to be more precise) that he finally uncorked a four-bagger. It just barely cleared the fence in center field, landing on the green slope just to the left of the corner, which is 409 feet from home plate. You can watch the video replay at MLB.com; link from Bruce Orser. Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady also contributed home runs that proved decisive in the Nats' 8-5 win over the San Diego Padres, the first game of their current home stand.
The next night Harper hit another homer, also a solo shot. Unfortunately, it was the Nats' only run, while starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg had one of his worst outings ever. He gave up three runs in the first inning, and left the game after the fourth. We later learned he was extremely uncomfortable on the mound because he had applied some "Hot Stuff" ointment on himself to help loosen up before the game, and some of it got on his ... Ahem. Live and learn. On a related note, here's a helpful household hint: Always remember to wash your hands thoroughly after chopping up hot chili peppers. Final score: Padres 6, Nats 1.
On Wednesday, Harper hit a triple -- his first in the major leagues.
Not Henry Rodriguez!??
The win on Monday was a closer call than one might guess from the three-run margin. Once again, Henry Rodriguez was called in from the bullpen to pitch in the ninth inning, and sure enough, he loaded the bases on three walks with only one out. Just the day before, the Reds' Joey Votto had hit a ninth-inning grand slam off of Rodriguez to win the game, and the Padres would have taken the lead if they had done likewise. In spite of that awful blown save, manager Davey Johnson had expressed full confidence in Rodriguez; see MLB.com. This time, however, Johnson wised up, and sent in Sean Burnett to fix the mess. The next batter grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the game. Whew!
On Thursday, Washington Post Columnist Jason Reid discussed Davey Johnson's extreme patience with Rodriguez, who he (Johnson) thinks is making progress. Excruciatingly s-l-o-w progress, perhaps. Reid aptly writes that the relief pitcher "has a 100-mph fastball and apparently no clue where it's headed." Indeed. By the time regular closing pitcher Drew Storen (on the disabled list) resumes pitching after the All-Star break, the Nats may have lost too many close games to contend for first place in the NL East.
Pirates, Nats split two
On Wednesday when the Pittsburgh Pirates were visiting, Rodriguez did his job and got credit for a ninth save, as the Nationals won 7-4. First baseman Adam LaRoche once again got some clutch hits, including his 1000th career hit. He says he hopes to stay with the Nationals next year and beyond. The team front office has not yet picked up the one-year $10-million contract extension on LaRoche, but at this point, I think that's a foregone conclusion. LaRoche is currently batting .323, with 7 home runs and 30 RBIs.
On Thursday, the Pirates bounced back and beat the Nationals 5-3, thanks largely to Andrew McCutcheon's two home runs. That guy is very impressive, and dangerous in the batter's box! Henry Rodriguez did not pitch, since it was not a situation for a closing pitcher.
It was the fifth day in a row of alternating wins and losses for the Nationals, like a pendulum. That is much different than the pattern of the first five weeks, in which the vast majority of game outcomes were part of a winning streak or losing streak. This week was also noteworthy in that the Nationals and Atlanta Braves alternated between first and second place on the same five consecutive days. That is, on the days the Nats won, the Braves lost, and vice versa.
Partly because of my recent work on Stadium proximity, I made several corrections and enhancements to the Kingdome diagrams, including an all-new lower-deck version. The profile is much more accurate than before, but I largely confirmed my earlier estimate of an unusually steep lower deck. I had a hard time reconciling the number of rows (40 maximum in the lower deck, 36 maximum upper deck) with the stated diameter of the stadium (660 feet for the dome itself, 720 feet including the external ramps). But once I accounted for more overhang than originally estimated, and what appears to be tighter space between rows than in most stadiums, it all worked out.
The Kingdome had bleacher-style bench seats in parts of the upper deck, much like Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium, another multi-use stadium with a bias in favor of football. Another special (not necessarily good) characteristic was having ground-level "dugouts," like at Three Rivers Stadium and Riverfront Stadium.
Dodgers get new owners
The embarrassing legal battle over control of the Los Angeles Dodgers is finally over. As promised last year, bankrupt former owner Frank McCourt sold the team (and Dodger Stadium, one of the few remaining MLB stadiums that are privately owned!) to a syndicate fronted by NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. They paid a total of just over $2 billion, but details are hazy, so further updates will be forthcoming. See a video report at washingtonpost.com. One key part of that group is Stan Kasten, who resigned from his position as president of the Washington Nationals in September 2010. He says the new owners are committed to acquiring new talent and upgrading (not replacing) Dodger Stadium. See MLB.com. The transfer takes place at a successful moment for the team, which has surprised many people this year by taking a big lead in the NL Western Division. Too bad Matt Kemp got injured...
And so, I made a few updates to the MLB Franchises page.
Stadiums in the news
I am woefully behind in stadium news and general baseball news, needless to say, but I aim to get caught up in the next few days. For starters, speaking of Los Angeles:
The L.A. / Anaheim / California Angels are getting antsy about their rather plain, aging (though renovated) stadium near Disneyland. The recent action surrounding the Dodgers has the owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno, a little jealous and he is dropping hints about alternate sites for a new stadium, including near downtown Los Angeles. To me, that sounds dumb, since a large portion of the vast wealth in the L.A. metropolitan area is concentrate on the southeast, where Orange County is located. As an article in the L.A. Times notes, "... the Angels can exercise an escape clause in their stadium lease in 2016. If they do not, they must remain in Anaheim until 2029." Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
Regarding the recent bittersweet centennial of Tiger Stadium, Patrick McAtee shared the following link on Facebook: tigerstadiumdetroit.com.
Zero stadium construction
On the right column of the baseball blog page, the following text now appears:
For the first time since September 1986 (just before groundbreaking on Skydome in Toronto), there are no major league baseball stadiums currently under construction. Therefore, the table that used to occupy this space has been removed.
Oakland? Tampa Bay? In this case, no news is bad news.