Watch out, Babe and Roger: Here comes the Judge!
Until this week, only two New York Yankee players had ever hit 50 or more home runs in one year twice during their career: Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Now you can add a third player to that list: Aaron Judge! He hit his 50th home run on Monday, and his 51st home run on Tuesday. Both homers were in games against the Angels, in Anaheim. With five full weeks left to play, he has an inside track to surpass both Babe Ruth (60, over 154 games) and Roger Maris (61, over 162 games) in the non-PED era home run race. Judge hit 52 home runs in 2017. Adding to the drama is the fact that Judge is in the final year of his contract with the New York Yankees, and can expect to get an annual salary comparable to that of Juan Soto.
On the National League side, the Phillies' Kyle Schwarber has slowed down in his pace of hitting home runs, logging only 3 of them during the month of August, after hitting 12 in June and 10 in July. Hot on his heels is Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals: he has 33 for the year, including 9 in August. He is tied with Pete Alonso (of the Mets) in the RBI category, with 105, and leads the majors in batting average, with .332. Goldschmidt has a very real chance at picking up the first Triple Crown in the National League since 1937, when Joe Medwick (of the Cardinals) accomplished that feat. The last American League Triple Crown was won by Miguel Cabrera (of the Tigers) in 2012.
Nationals put an end to an awful streak
On Sunday afternoon, the Washington Nationals faced the Cincinnati Reds, who had won the first two games of the series. With Patrick Corbin on the mound, the home team's prospects did not look good at all. The last game he won was on June 28, at home against the Pirates. Since then he has struggled to get batters out, taking the MLB lead in the losses category, with 17. The two most ignominious days for him were July 27 and August 6, in both cases being replaced after giving up several runs before the end of the first inning. But he has shown improvement, including the game in San Diego on the previous Sunday when he gave up only two runs over 5 1/3 innings; with some run support he could have won that game.
Corbin's struggles have been matched by other Nationals starting pitchers, who were then in the midst of a historically bad streak in which none of them had been credited with a win for 43 straight games! That is almost impossible to imagine. The last winning starting pitcher for the Nats was Josiah Gray, on July 6. In the 43 games from July 7 through August 27, Nats starters were 0-20, while the relievers were 12-11. Obviously, lack of run support was part of the problem, but it still added up to one big stinkeroo for the starting rotation.
In sharp contrast, this past Sunday's game may have marked a big turning point for Corbin and for his team. It so happens that I witnessed the high drama in person at Nationals Park, accompanied as usual by my old friend Dave Givens. The first two innings didn't go very well, and I dreaded the possibility of another world-class meltdown, but the Reds only scored two runs.
The Nats finally staged a rally in the bottom of the 4th inning, sparked by Cesar Hernandez's leadoff double. Then the Reds pitcher Nick Lodolo hit the next two batters (Joey Meneses and Luke Voit) to load the bases. Nelson Cruz drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch that could have been called a strike, and the Nats had their first run. But then Lane Thomas lined out to shortstop and C.J. Abrams was called out on strikes, leaving it all up to the catcher, Riley Adams. With a batting average under .200, chances looked bleak, but he roused the crowd with a single to center field that tied the game. For some reason, the third base coach waved the stocky Luke Voit home as he reached third base, and he was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. One inning later, the Nats new third baseman, Ildemaro Vargas (age 31) smashed a home run about 8 rows up in the left field stands, giving the Nats a 3-2 lead. Hallelujah! To my surprise, Corbin returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning, and in spite of my trepidations, he got the three batters out in quick order. From the third through the sixth inning, Corbin allowed only one hit and one walk, with five strikeouts altogether. Hunter Harvey Jr., Carl Edwards Jr., and Kyle Finnegan each pitched a full inning, very efficiently, as only one Reds player got a hit during the final third of the game. Final score: Nats 3, Reds 2.
One reason I was eager to see a game was curiousity about all the new Nationals players. Just like the June 17 game that I saw (see my June 24 blog post), most of the players' faces were virtually unknown to me. [The big changes are that Ildemaro Vargas has replaced Maikel Franco at third base (Franco was "designated for assignment"), Joey Meneses has replaced Juan Soto in right field, and Luke Voit has replaced Josh Bell at first base. C.J. Abrams filled in for Luis Garcia at shortstop, and it appears likely that Garcia (who is error-prone, defensively) will shift to second base. Riley Adams will remain the second-string catcher, as Keibert Ruiz has been doing very well overall. Obviously, there are big questions about center fielder and designated hitter for next year...]
Last night, the Nationals took a 4-1 lead over the visiting Oakland Athletics after two innings, and then starting pitcher Erick Fedde suffered another "meltdown." It's strange how he is so inconsistent: sometimes very good, sometimes lousy. He was replaced during the third inning, and the next pitcher ((Hunter Harvey) gave up a two-run double as the A's took the lead, 6-4. Two innings later, Sean Murphy hit a grand slam to give the A's a 10-5 lead, essentially winning the game. Final score: 10-6.
In tonight's game, however, the Nats took a 4-1 lead and didn't give it up. In the fifth inning the Nats got some great clutch RBI singles from Josh Palacios and Luis Garcia, followed by a two-run homer by Luke Voit. One inning later, Ildemaro Vargas knocked in another run with a double. Anibal Sanchez pitched seven full innings, and got his very first win of the year; he missed the first half of the season due to injury and is now 1-5.
And so, the Nats finished August with a 44-86 record, 38 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading Mets. That officially breaks their previous games-behind record of 38 (on September 27, 2009), as shown in the new monthly table on the Washington Nationals page, which has been updated with new roster information, etc.
"Little League Baseball Classic"
As I mentioned briefly late last month, special MLB games have been played recently in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (where the Little League World Series is played every year) and Dyersville, Iowa (where the movie Field Of Dreams was filmed). The main significance for most baseball fans is that an actual Major League Baseball game had been played at a nearby minor league ballpark just a few days earlier. Last year the "home team" Cleveland Indians defeated the Los Angeles Angels 3-0, but somehow I wasn't paying much attention. The final three games of the Little League World Series had to be postponed due to bad weather played. (The event was canceled in 2020, for obvious reasons.)
In case I didn't mention this before, the "Neutral" category on the Anomalous stadiums page has updated information abouthas been divided between "Emergency" (for sudden, brief relocations due to bad weather, etc.) and "Promotional" (for games played in other countries or in special U.S. locations). For the record, my initial reaction to this game (September 29, 2017) was that it "reeks of cheap sentimentalism." Well, what do I know?
New stadium page: Bowman Field
And so, I drew three diagrams for Bowman Field, including a 1950s version and a "roofless" version that shows details in the small grandstand. I found some good information on dimensions as well as excellent photographs from the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, and from a website called Virtual Globetrotting.
On the day of this year's game it was announced that the Washington Nationals will play the Philadelphia Phillies there next August. It is expected that there will be an MLB game there every year for the indefinite future.