Are you ready for some football?
Well, here we are in the month of September, that exciting time of the year when fans of postseason-contending baseball teams ramp up their enthusiasm for the big battles to come! This year, however, fans of the Washington Nationals are -- barring a miracle -- left out of that elite club. That leads many such fans to pursue other interests and passions, which in my case means putting in long hours on diagram revisions (stay tuned!!!) and paying a bit more attention to other sports.
This fall the Washington Redskins have a "new" starting quarterback, veteran Alex Smith (formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs), as well as a "new" running back, Adrian Peterson (formerly of the Minnesota Vikings). Will those acquisitions lead to an upturn in the team's (mis-)fortunes? Not according to the Washington Post, which in a special section today forecast that the Redskins will come up short in eight out of their 16 games this season. Yikes. Personally, I think the Redskins would have been better off giving their former quarterback, Kirk Cousins, a multi-year contract. But Redskins owner Dan Snyder essentially slammed the door in his face, and Kirk will be playing for the Vikings this year. He just turned 30, and is in the prime of his career.
Well, given those somber prospects and all the divisive nonsense over players kneeling in protest while the National Anthem is being played, maybe I should pay more attention to college football rather than the NFL. That means enduring the laughably unbalanced matchups of Week 1, when most big colleges pick some hapless underdog as an opponent. But there were a few upsets: For example, in Tallahassee, Virginia Tech got the last laugh, beating Florida State.
It so happens that while in Annapolis a couple weeks ago, I paid a brief visit to the home field of one of the most legendary teams in college football history: Navy! Unfortunately, the University of Hawaii beat Navy 59-41 in the opening game last Saturday; see dailymail.co.uk.
Football in (former) Turner Field
In Atlanta last Thursday (August 30), the Georgia State hosted Kennesaw State, winning in a game that went down to the final minute. (See georgiastatesports.com.) For the second year, they played at Georgia State Stadium, which is the newest incarnation of what baseball fans used to know as "Turner Field," former home of the Atlanta Braves. Before that it was Olympic Stadium, for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. See
A month or two ago, I came across some excellent photographs of the reconfigured Georgia State Stadium, and that was all I needed. Not surprisingly, I felt compelled to make drastic changes to the football-version diagram on the Turner Field page. Note that when I first posted a football diagram for Turner Field on January 19, 2016, I was under the assumption that the gridiron would run along the first base side, maximizing the number of seats with good sight lines for such an arrangement. Instead, as this image shows, it lies roughly parallel to the old third base line. I wonder if they contemplate demolishing the no-longer-used grandstand around what used to be the right-field corner?
WNBA final series!
Last night the visiting Washington Mystics beat the Atlanta Dream to win the fifth and deciding game of the Women's National Basketball Association Eastern Conference series. On Friday they will play against the Seattle Storm, who beat the Phoenix Mercury that same night. (May I interject my personal opinion that it's just dumb for teams to be named after collective phenomena -- such as "Miami Heat" -- rather than discrete entities?) Washington won the Eastern Conference in 2010, but they have never won the WNBA championship. Could this be the year that two Washington teams became champions? (The Washington Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup trophy in June.) The WNBA was launched in 1997, and there are currently six teams in each conference.
Nats get revenge on Mets
In spite of their negligible post-season prospects, the Nationals still show competitive spunk from time to time. After getting shut out by the Mets twice (making it three straight shutout losses), the Nats roared back with a vengeance on August 26. A solo homer by Wilmer Difo broke the 30+ inning scoreless streak, and they piled on more runs in the last couple innings, including a grand slam by Mark Reynolds, his first as a Nat. Final score: 15-0. The Nats could have used some of those surplus runs in the three previous games, when their opponents scored a total of eight runs.
Nats beat Phillies twice
The Nats carried that momentum from Queens to south Philadelphia on the next two nights, beating the Phillies 5-3 and 5-4. The Phillies just didn't play with much enthusiasm, and the small crowd sizes (averaging about 22,000) may have been part of the reason. The Nats had hopes of a sweep, but Gio Gonzalez had an off day in the final game of the series, and they lost, 8-6.
Brewers prevail over Nats
Back home in Washington on the final night of August, the Nationals lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1 even though they out-hit the visitors 9 to 6. As is typical of this year, the Nats were 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position. Tanner Roark gave up all four runs in the first three innings, and then pitched three more innings. And thus, the Nationals ended up with yet another losing record (14-15) in the fourth month out of five so far this season. The Washington Nationals page has been duly updated.
The first game of September wasn't looking good when rain interrupted play in the latter innings. But maybe that break was just what the Nats needed, as they staged a clutch rally in the bottom of the eighth, capped by a two-run single by Juan Soto. The Nats held on to win that one, 5-4, thus taking Steven Strasburg off the hook for what would have been a loss.
The rubber game game of that series was going well enough early on (especially given that rookie Jefry Rodriguez was pitching for the Nats), but things went south in a hurry in the fifth inning, when the Brewers scored seven runs. Keon Broxton's homer put the visitors ahead 5-4, and soon Tim Collins took the mound as a reliever. One walk later, the bases were loaded, and Christian Yelich hit the first grand slam of his career, giving the Brewers a 9-4 lead. Neither team scored after that.
Cardinals pound Nats
On Monday the St. Louis Cardinals came to town, and Max Scherzer once again rose to the challenge by striking out 11 batters over seven innings, while allowing just three runs. But the Nats were behind two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Bryce Harper smashed a home run to tie the game. In the tenth inning, he came to bat again, with runners at first and third, and he played the hero role again, with a long sacrifice fly to left field. Nats win, 4-3!
But after that momentum of exhiliration, the Nats had another relapse. In both the Tuesday night game and Wednesday night game, they showed a lot of spunk in spite of adverse circumstances. Erick Fedde did OK as starting pitcher, giving up four runs over five innings, but rookie reliever Austen Williams somehow gave up three home runs in the sixth inning, while Sammy Solis (just called back up from the minors once again) gave up a grand slam in the ninth inning, giving the visitors a six-run lead. The Nats tried their best in te bottom of the ninth, getting three runs and had the potential tying run in the batter's box, but a hard ground ball hit by Matt Wieters was snagged by the second baseman for the final out. Cardinals 11, Nationals 8.
Tonight (Wednesday), Tanner Roark started the game by giving up two singles and a home run -- by none other than Matt Adams, who was recently traded away by the Nats! Adams hit another homer in the fifth inning, giving his new team a 6-0 lead. Once again, the Nats showed spunk with a late rally, getting four runs in the seventh inning thanks mainly to a bases-clearing double by Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats outhit the Cards 16-15, but wasted a huge opportunity in the ninth inning (runners on first and second with nobody out), and fell agonizingly short in the 7-6 loss.
But the Braves lost to the Red Sox in Atlanta this afternoon, as the visiting team scored twice in the top of the ninth to win, 9-8, so the Nationals remain 7 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East race. Ironically, they have a better chance at the division title than the New York Yankees, who are now nine games behind the Red Sox, but a virtually cinch to be a wild card team -- unlike the Nationals.
Goodbye to Gio Gonzalez
The series against the Brewers was marked by a awkward transaction: Gio Gonzalez was traded to the opposing team just before the trade deadline on August 31. So the next day he appeared in the other dugout, wearing a Brewers uniform, and waving wistfully to the crowd. The trade was no surprise, since he was in the final year of his contract and as an aging veteran, there wasn't much chance the Nats would sign him again. Gio has caught some flak in recent years for flinching in high-pressure situations such as last year's NLDS Game 5. For the most part, however, he was a rock-solid, durable pitcher who made a big difference in the Nationals' rising fortunes from 2012 (when he was acquired) until this year.
Goodbye and good luck in Milwaukee, Gio!
Thanks for helping make the Nats a winning team!