Nationals' great regular season ends on a low note
It was the best of games, and then it was one of the worst of games. My old pal Dave Givens and I arrived at Nationals Park during the first inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night, just in time to see Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI double that gave the Nats a 1-0 lead. (Unfortunately, however, we were too late for the Budweiser Oktoberfest beer steins being given away before the game. ) Ryan hit another double in the fourth inning, but didn't score, and two innings later, he smacked a two-run homer into the Red Porch seats in left-center field! Two innings later, he did it again: home runs #35 and #36! But it got even better, as the very next batter, Jayson Werth, homered as well!! That was his tenth four-bagger of the year, thus becoming the tenth National to reach double digits in that category. Steven Strasburg had another stellar pitching performance, and almost finished the eighth inning, giving up just two hits and two walks. In the ninth inning, the Pirates scored a run after the first two batters hit safely, but Matt Grace managed to get the next three batters out to end the game. Final score: 6-1. It just doesn't get much better than that!
Then on Saturday evening (after a busy day for me; see below), Ryan Zimmerman put the Nats on the scoreboard first once again, with an RBI single in the second inning. Zimmerman got another hit in second at-bat, making it six consecutive hits. When he's hot, he's hot! Max Scherzer had to leave the game during the fourth inning, which made the fans nervous, but apparently it was just tightness in a hamstring ligament. The air was chilly that night, and this time of year, it's better to be safe than sorry! His replacement A.J. Cole did just fine for the next few innings, and just like the night before, the score remained 1-0 for most of the game -- until the ninth inning, in fact. I was looking forward to seeing the Nats' new star closing pitcher Sean Doolittle come out of the bullpen, and was surprised when Dusty Baker sent Brandon Kintzler to the mound instead. Big mistake! The first batter, Starling Marte, got an infield single after the original "out" call was overturned on review. Then Josh Bell lined out to right field (out of view from where I was sitting on that side) and Jordan Luplow singled, putting two men on base. Uh-oh! Gregory Polanco flew out to left field, so the Nationals were just one out away from getting their 98th win. (That would have matched their best season ever -- 2012.) But then Sean Rodriguez hit an RBI single to tie the game, Elias Diaz walked to load the bases, and then Max Moroff hit a triple to the gap in left center field, clearing the bases and giving the Pirates a 4-1 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats went down 1-2-3, and that was that.
Having given up four runs on four hits, Brandon Kintzler was obviously not prepared to assume the responsibility of closing pitcher. What was Dusty Baker thinking? Doolittle had not pitched the night before, and saving a game with a razor-tight score is supposed to be his forte. Losing the lead (and the game) when the opposing team scores four runs in the top of the ninth inning is a twist of fate that the Nationals have experienced before -- in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, in fact. Granted, this game didn't really matter that much, but that kind of a gut-wrenching loss can ruin a team's competitive spirit. As the Nats prepare to take on the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of this year's NLDS on Friday, I dearly hope that's not the case.
Several months ago I noticed that a new below-ground row of cushioned seats has been added on the right side of the Nationals' dugout (first base side), and this was the first time I've seen it with my own eyes. That means I'll have to do a new diagram, and calculate the effect on foul territory.
The bad karma from the ninth inning of the game on Saturday night carried into the first inning of the final game of the season on Sunday afternoon. Gio Gonzalez was totally ineffective, giving up multiple hits and walks as the Pirates took a 5-0 lead. Prospects for a happy ending to the regular season seemed bleak, but then Anthony Rendon got the Nats right back into the game with a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning. The Nats seemed poised to tie the game and/or take the lead several times over the next few innings, but nobody could get the needed clutch hit. Instead, the Pirates actually extended their lead with late-inning rallies. Even though the Nats scrounged up two runs in the bottom of the ninth, thanks in part to Bryce Harper's second hit of the day, they still lost, 11-8. So, in the final series of the season, the Nats settled for a 2-2 split.
Harper, Werth, & McCutcheon
The return of Bryce Harper to the lineup last week was a huge relief, but he has struggled to find his rhythm at the plate. In the two games I saw, he failed to reach base, and struck out four times. These last few regular games have served merely as "practice" for Bryce, and he'll be much better prepared when the NLDS starts in four more days.
One of the most emotional moments in Nationals history came in the ninth inning on Sunday, when Jayson Werth was replaced as left fielder. It was a ritual opportunity for the fans to express their appreciation for his seven years of energetic top-caliber slugging. They say "there's no crying in baseball," but...
Surprisingly, the Pirates' slugging star Andrew McCutcheon was not in the lineup that day. His contract is about to expire, and many people expect him to sign with a different team next year. It's too bad, since he was the spark that put the Pirates on track to win a wild-card spot in three consecutive years: 2013, 2014, and 2015. This year they finished in fourth place in the NL Central, and that means "rebuilding time."
Visit to site of Griffith Stadium
One of my main objectives on Saturday was to see the historical marker for Griffith Stadium, where Howard University Hospital now stands. I was there twice before, in October of 2004, soon after it was announced that the Montreal Expos would relocate to Washington, D.C. I also visited a second time a few years later, but couldn't find any historical marker. This time I located the sign in question, and was delighted that it bears such a clear (though pock-marked) image of the ancient home of the Senators. It's part of a neighborhood historical trail that passes around Howard University, about a mile north of downtown D.C. Afterwards, I walked to Oakdale Place on the other side of the hospital, where Mickey Mantle's famous 565 (?) foot home run landed back in 1953. New photos will be added to the Griffith Stadium page soon.
Surprise visit to RFK Stadium!
While driving through D.C. on Saturday morning, I heard on the radio that there was going to be a football game between Georgetown and Harvard University at RFK Stadium. This came as a complete surprise to me, as I did not even know that Georgetown had a football team, much less that any college team used RFK Stadium. I had been thinking about attending the final home game of D.C. United there later this month just to see the insides of RFK one last time, but now I don't have to. There were hundreds of tail-gaters outside, and eventually about 3,000 fans got seated in the southwest side of the lower deck, including several hundred from Harvard, sitting on the northeast side. (That's the movable portion that used to rock up and down whenever "Hogs" fans went into a frenzy.) With peeling paint, rust, cracks, and busted seats everywhere, the former home of the Washington Senators, Nationals, and Redskins is a pitiful sight to behold. Before the game I strolled to the upper deck to take photos, explaining my activities to the ushers, showing them this website on my iPhone. (The guys at the credentials table told me before I went through the turnstile that it would probably be OK.) Anyway, I used my iPhone's panoramic photo feature to capture several dazzling images that will be added to the RFK Stadium page soon. Based on my detailed inspection, I will make some updates to the lower-deck diagrams as well. Stay tuned!!!
FOOTNOTE: To my surprise, the Georgetown Hoyas lost that game to the Harvard Crimson, 31-2. In fact, the only points scored by the home team came when the opposing team's center hiked the ball over the punter's head and out of the end zone, for a safety! I left during the third quarter, but frankly almost all of my time and attention was focused on the stadium, not the game being played.
Audi Field constuction site
But wait, there's more! After leaving RFK Stadium, on my way to the Saturday Nats-Pirates game, I walked by the construction site of the future home of the D.C. United soccer team: Audi Field. It is located about two blocks southwest of Nationals Park. (Parking tip: You can save money by parking at the Lewis Creek Marina on V Street SW; it costs just $10, rather than $20 or more that you have to pay elsewhere.) The structural work on the west grandstand is nearly done, but they haven't even started on the east grandstand yet. From the artist's renderings, the east side seems to be double-decked. Both sides will have a large roof to provide shade and protection from rain.
Assuming that construction is finished on time, D.C. United will move into their new home next spring, meaning that RFK Stadium will essentially enter a state of "limbo," slated for demolition. But maybe if somebody had the bright idea to put on an exhibition "Old-Timers" game there with retired Nationals or Redskins players before it is torn down... Hmm-m-m...
In recognition that more and more people these days have large, high-resolution computer monitors, I am moving toward posting photos with dimensions twice as big as before: a standard size of 1200 x 800 pixels, rather than 600 x 400. Panoramas will generally be 1200 x 480 pixels, rather than 960 x 400. Hence the multiple caption phrases above, "click on the image to see it full size," etc.
So, how's that for an action-packed weekend full of fun and frivolity for a stadium geek??!!