Phillies almost sweep the Nats
Having lost the last three games and being one run behind going into the top of the ninth inning, the prospects for the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia last night could hardly have been bleaker. Somehow Denard Span hustled his way to a leadoff infield single, keeping alive a spark of hope, but then the next two batters were out. [Adam LaRoche was walked, and then] with everything on the line in a do-or-die situation, none other than former Phillie Jayson Werth stepped up to the plate. To heck with patience! He smashed the very first pitch into left field, allowing Span to score, making it a tie game. Ian Desmond then struck out (for the third time), stranding Adam LaRoche on third base. Unlike two nights before, the Phillies did not score in the bottom of the ninth, so closing pitcher Jonathan [Papelbon did not get a "win" for his blown save.] The game went into the eleventh inning, when Ryan Zimmerman sparked a rally with a double to the left field gap. Soon the bases were loaded on walks with only one out, but then Ian Desmond quickly put himself into an 0-2 hole. He kept his cool, nonetheless, and worked the count back to 2-2. That's when Michael Stutes threw a slider that came into the lower part of the strike zone, and Desmond crushed that ball way up into the the seats beyond the corner in left-center field. It was his first career grand slam, and the first grand slam by any Nationals player since last August 17 (by Michael Morse). In the bottom of the eleventh, Rafael Soriano got the final three outs, allowing just a single. Final score: Nats 6, Phillies 2. See MLB.com and/or ESPN.
That dramatic comeback win was a huge relief for long-suffering Nats fans, and spoiled the Phillies' hopes of taking sole possession of second place in the NL East. Could this finally be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel?
In the first two games of the series in Philadelphia, the Nationals had chances to win, but just could not capitalize on run-scoring opportunities. On Monday night, former Nat pitcher John Lannan had a solid outing for the Phillies, but didn't get credit for the win. Reserve player Chad Tracy homered to right field in the ninth inning to tie the game 4-4, as Jonathan Papelbon blew the save. Domonic Brown's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Phillies a 5-4 win, credited to Papelbon. Nats reliever Fernando Abad was charged with the loss. (Is he A bad pitcher?) And so, the Nats fell below .500 once again.
On Tuesday night, Ross Detwiler pitched fairly well for someone who is just coming off the disabled list, but the only offense the Nats could muster was a solo homer by Werth and one by Jeff Kobernus -- the first of his career! Final score: Phillies 4, Nats 2.
The disturbing pattern is that the Nationals keep blowing critical run-scoring opportunities, and it's getting harder and harder for fans to take. It was of some consolation that the Nationals inflicted upon Papelbon his first two blown save opportunities of the year. All three games could have gone either way, and with a bit more luck (or pluck), perhaps the Nationals could have swept the Phillies. I look at this recent road trip as a case of the glass is either half empty or half full; in spite of the disappointing results, there are numerous signs that things are getting better. Bryce Harper just had a cortisone shot in his knee (like Ryan Zimmerman had in his shoulder last July), and once Harper is back in action, anything is possible!
Indians beat Nats twice
The series at Progressive Field in Cleveland last weekend was similarly frustrating. On Friday night the Indians won 2-1 in a walk-off in a controversial play at the plate in which the throw from first base was obstructed by the base runner. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but the umpire really ought to call an out when the runner veers onto the grass like that. Saturday night was much better, as the Nats hit five home runs -- even without Bryce Harper in the lineup! For a while it was looking ugly, however, as the Nats squandered an early 5-0 lead, and the Tribe pulled ahead, 6-5. In the eighth inning, Chad Tracy hit a solo home run to tie the game, and in the ninth, Anthony Rendon homered into the right field corner, putting the Nationals ahead. (This was right after the Indians failed to catch an easy pop foul ball that landed just beyond first base -- an error for which they paid dearly!) Final score: Nats 7, Indians 6. On Sunday, Stephen Strasburg showed that his strained back has healed, giving up just one run in five innings, but the Nats still lost the game, 2-0, and thus the series, 2-1.
New star at 2nd base
One indisputable recent bright spot is rookie Anthony Rendon, who has replaced the injured Danny Espinosa at second base. Over the past two weeks, Rendon has far exceeded expectations, with a batting average well over .300. That clutch go-ahead home run in Cleveland was the first of his career, one that will be remembered for a long time. Rendon used to be a third baseman, but has adapted very well to second base, which raises the awkward question of whether Danny will get his old job back once his fractured wrist heals. The Nationals optioned him to the AAA affiliate in Syracuse, but he is still in effect in rehabilitation mode. He is solid defensively, but the Nationals can't afford to keep a guy batting under .200 in the lineup for very long. See MLB.com.
Citizens Bank Park update
In recognition of the Nats-Phillies series, I have updated the Citizens Bank Park diagrams. The entry portals in the upper deck are now shown, and they helped get the exact position of the light towers and grandstand corners just right. I may eventually include upper deck (transparent roof) and/or middle deck diagram versions, but they don't seem essential for the time being.
Because the power alley is marked at a non-standard position at Citizens Bank Park, I took the time to double-check my estimates of the "true" power alley distances there. That, in turn, led me to make some clarifications and corrections to the Outfield trigonometry page, including a more detailed diagram.
A's OK, stadium stinks
The OAKland Athletics are doing AOK this year, leading the AL Western Division, but their aging home ("O.co Coliseum," a.k.a. Oakland Coliseum) is really starting to cause serious problems. In the game against the Seattle Mariners last Sunday, which the A's won 10-2, the sewer pipes clogged and started leaking because of the high attendance during the home stand, and both teams had to evacuate their locker rooms. They had to share the Oakland Raiders' locker room which is located on a higher level, but some Mariners players just left without taking a shower. That's an embarrassment for the Athletics, who deserve a lot more respect than they have been getting from the city government. Perhaps it will galvanize local leaders into making some tough decisions about getting a new stadium built, either in Oakland or in nearby San Jose. See ESPN.
The mail bag
Major League Baseball announced that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will play two Major League Baseball season opening games next March at the Sydney Cricket Ground, in Australia. The historic stadium, which seems to be roughly circular, shaped sort of like a tear drop, is currently undergoing a major expansion. From the pictures I've seen, it looks like there will be about an acre of foul territory -- very strange for baseball. See MLB.com and sydneycricketground.com.au ; hat tips to Matt Ereth and Glenn Simpkins.
It looks like the Vikings really will get a new stadium to replace the Metrodome after all. The design is striking and original, with sloped roofs reminiscent of Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, but made of clear glass. (How will they handle the problem of sun glare?) It will be built on the same site as the existing stadium, meaning the Vikings will have to play for at least one full season at the University of Minnesota's new stadium, across the Mississippi River. See kfan.com and vikings.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
That also creates difficulties for the Minnesota Golden Gophers college baseball team, which has enjoyed cozy indoor venue of the Metrodome since the 1980s. "The issue is that a new Vikings stadium's baseball configuration would have a right field foul line only 289 feet away from home plate, and a right field power alley just 319 feet away." See 1390thefan.com.
More stadium news, etc. to get to in the near future...