61!!! Aaron Judge ties Roger Maris
At the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night, Aaron Judge hit his 61st homer of the year, thus tying Roger Maris for the all-time lead in the American League. Just like his 60th homer the week before, it played a key role in the Yankees' victory, breaking a 3-3 tie in the top of the seventh inning. (Toronto had just erased a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning.) With a .314 batting average right now, Judge is in a neck-and-neck race with Luis Arraez (of the Minnesota Twins) for the American League batting title, and if he ends up on top he will be assured of winning the AL Triple Crown.
Nats avoid being swept again
Among the minor accomplishments of the Washington Nationals at the tail end of this bleak season is that they have avoided being swept on a fairly consistent basis. In the final game of the series in Miami on Sunday afternoon they finally unleashed some offensive firepower. For the third game in a row, they scored on a home run in the first inning, and in fact Joey Meneses was the one who did so in the second and third games. The Sunday home run (the 12th of his brief two-month season) was with Lane Thomas on base, and those two runs were all the Nats really needed to win that game. [Starting pitcher] Anibal Sanchez gave up only two hits over five innings and got the win -- only his third of the year.
On Monday the Nats welcomed the World Champion Atlanta Braves to town, and the first game was just plain ugly: an 8-0 defeat for which the young starting pitcher Cory Abbott took responsibility. It was the Nats' first shutout defeat since the Padres beat them 6-0 on August 14. On Tuesday, the Nats took an early 2-0 lead thanks in part to a rare home run by Victor Robles, but starting pitcher Paolo Espino just couldn't contain the Braves, who won it, 8-2. On Wednesday it was a back-and-forth pitchers' duel, and only an unlucky miscue took the potential win away from starting pitcher Josiah Gray. Shortstop CJ Abrams tried to make a heroic throw to first for the third out, but it was too hard for Joey Meneses to handle, and the runner scored the tying run from second. Abrams has made some spectacular defensive plays, but he has also committed a couple errors since he too over that crucial position. The game went into extra innings, and Kyle Finnegan pitched two solid innings to get the win after CJ Abrams hit an RBI single in the bottom of the tenth. It was his first career walk-off hit, and he clearly enjoyed the Gatorade shower even though the air was chilly.
The Nationals rested on Thursday, and this afternoon were defeated by the Phillies 5-1, as Erick Fedde gave up a home run to Rhys Hoskins in the first inning. Joey Meneses singled and later doubled, but his team mates struggled at the plate. Luis Garcia hit an RBI single in the seventh inning, putting the Nats on the board. They had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, but Cesar Hernandez grounded out on a low pitch that would have been ball four. Game over. Lane Thomas was on deck, and the possibility of a walk-off grand slam was surely in everyone's mind, but he never got the chance to do it.
Is Joey Meneses for real?
In today's Washington Post, semi-retired sports columnist Thomas Boswell speculates on the possibility that Joey Meneses may prove to be a top-notch slugger for years to come, even though he has already passed his 30th birthday. He lists several MLB players of past decades who blossomed late in their careers, most notably Lefty O'Doul. Most baseball fans have heard of O'Doul (partly since they named a beer after him), but I was not aware that he had to switch career paths from pitcher (1919-1923) because of an injury. After taking four years to get rehabilitated, he resumed major league play in 1928, and ended his career in 1933 with 113 home runs and a .349 batting average. Meneses signed a minor league contract with the Braves a decade ago, but he never attracted their notice, so he languished in the obscurity of Mexican League play. Since joining the Nats at the beginning of August, Meneses has hit 12 homers, batted in 29 runs, and has a .323 batting average. I heard on the radio that he ranks number six among all major leaguers in [total number of hits since August 1]. That's amazing for a rookie, even a 30-year old one. Boswell rightly lauded General Manager Mike Rizzo for signing Meneses, who will certainly deserve a multi-million dollar contract when he returns with the Nationals next year.
Hurricane wreaks havoc
Hurricane Ian is now just a tropical storm as it barrels northward, but the tremendous amount of rain it has unleashed in the mid-Atlantic region has put the final regular-season weekend of baseball in total chaos. The evening game in Washington had to be postponed, after one of the games from tomorrow's scheduled double-header was moved to Friday afternoon. Supposedly they are going to play two games tomorrow, but that seems very unlikely, given the rainy forecast. If they can't play at all until Sunday, they might have to force a rescheduling of the Nats-Mets series at Citi Field next week. The Phillies are currently a half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the race to become the third wild card team, so (unlike the Nationals) they are obliged to play all their scheduled games. The Tampa Bay Rays are fortunate not to have any more regular season home games, as central Florida has been devastated by the rain and wind. The Rays locked up one of the AL wild card spots today, and the Seattle Mariners just nailed down the third spot thanks to a walk-off home run by pinch-hitter Cal Raleigh. It was a 1-1 game in the bottom of the ninth, with three balls, two strikes, and two outs -- every young boy's fantasy. (I was watching on MLB.TV: wow!!!)