Commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. Hence,
It is of great consolation that the Washington Nationals are not going out with a whimper this year. Yesterday they won both games of a double-header against the NL East Division champion New York Mets, on the road in miserable wet, damp conditions at Citi Field. In the first game, Gio Gonzalez pitched six scoreless innings, and was in line for the win but the Mets tied it 1-1 in the seventh inning. In the top of the eighth, Bryce Harper crushed a two-run home run into the upper deck near the bullpens in right-center field, and the Nats held on to win, 3-1.
But the big drama came in the nightcap, when Max Scherzer took the mound. For the fourth time this year, he was virtually flawless, going deep into the game without giving up a hit. In Milwaukee on June 14, he had a perfect game going into the seventh inning, and ended up with a complete game shutout one hitter, on June 20 he actually did throw a no-hitter at home against the Pirates, and pitches another no-hitter, and at home against the Reds on September 28, he didn't allow a hit until the eighth inning. He struck out nine of the last ten batters, getting the final out on a popup to third base hit by Curtis Granderson. YES!!! Scherzer struck out 17 Mets batters altogether, setting a team record. The Mets actually struck out more Nationals batters, 18 total, so that game had the highest number of total strikeouts in any nine-inning game ever. WOW! The only Met player to reach base was Kevin Plawecki, who hit a groundball to third baseman Yunel Escobar in the sixth inning, and Escobar's throw bounced before it reached Clint Robinson at first base. E-5! It was about as close to a perfect game as can be imagined. See washingtonpost.com.
Today Tanner Roark takes the mound for the Nationals' final game this season. It means nothing but pride for either team, since the Dodgers have already claimed home field advantage from the Mets in the NLDS. Roark has had a difficult year (he's 4-7), not adjusting well to becoming a relief pitcher after the acquisition of Max Scherzer.
The real excitement this afternoon will come in the American League West, where the Texas Rangers are clinging to a one-game lead over the Houston Astros, who in turn one game ahead of the L.A. Angels for the second wild card spot. The Rangers are hosting the Angels, in what may be a decisive showdown, while the Astros are playing against the D-Backs in Phoenix. (The Yankees will host the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday.)
The curse of Taylor Swift?
I recently heard of an explanation for the downward fortunes of the Houston Astros since August: Taylor Swift gave a concert at Minute Maid Field. The same thing happened at Nationals Park, where she performed in mid-July. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, she also had a concert in Rogers Centre, which may explain why the Blue Jays blew a lead in the bottom of the ninth inning yesterday. It doesn't matter, they still have home field advantage in the ALDS against whoever wins the AL West.
Rogers Centre tweaks
I added a new second-deck diagram to the Rogers Centre page, and that led me to make a few minor corrections and enhancements. For example, the support columns in the first and second decks are now shown, as are the small "cranes" that suspend the "foul poles," which are actually small nets or big yellow ribbons.
My estimate of foul territory at Rogers Centre has been raised to 30,500 square feet, rather than 29,000 square feet.
I've also been hard at work making revisions to the Turner Field diagrams, and since the Braves are playing a double-header today (because yesterday's game was rained out), I may just finish them before the last out in Atlanta this year.
Now that the Washington Nationals are officially out of the postseason picture, I can spend a bit more time on keeping up with the other division races. It was a busy day, with three double-headers making up for the rained-out games in the northeast yesterday. The Blue Jays officially clinched the AL East Division title with their afternoon win in Baltimore, but they had to postpone celebrating until after the second game had been played. (On MASN tonight, F.P. Santangelo joked that the umpires in that game might need to give breathalizer tests to the batters.) The Blue Jays have had a sizeable lead over the Yankees for over two weeks, and were almost assured on the AL East title.
In Pittsburgh, it was the other way around, with the Pirates winning the first game and the Cardinals winning their symbolic 100th game of the season in the nightcap -- the first team to reach that mark since the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 (102-60).
The L.A. Dodgers claimed the NL West title last night with an 8-0 victory in San Francisco over their division rivals, the Giants. For many weeks the Dodgers had maintained a sizeable lead over the World Champions of last year, so it was basically just a matter of time before the NL West was settled.
The Royals clinched the AL Central division over a week ago, but haven't been winning as often lately, and they are now one game behind the Blue Jays in the race for the top seed in the AL postseason. The real drama is in the AL West, where the Astros fell behind the Rangers last week, after holding a big lead for most of the season. Over the past few days, the gap has narrowed to just 1 1/2 games, and the Angels are hot on both teams' heels, just two in back of the Rangers. The Yankees will host the wild card game, but we may not know the other wild card team until the final day of the regular season. By the way, all games on Sunday October 4 will start at or shortly after 3:00, so no teams will be able to hold pitchers in reserve for the playoff games if they don't need them to clinch a postseason berth.
As of October 1, the table of postseason scores will automatically be displayed at the bottom of the baseball blog page. Until Sunday (or perhaps Monday), however, some of those matchups are not yet firm...
The ugly aftermath
The "D.C. 9" are evidently still reeling from that dugout brawl between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper. In their first two games against the Braves in Atlanta, the Nats repeatedly wasted run-scoring opportunities and lost both games (2-1 and 2-0), in spite of fine outings by (respectively) Tanner Roark and Jordan Zimmermann. Indeed, the only run scored was the first career home run by newbie Trea Turner, who looks like a scrawny high school kid. He'll probably see plenty of action next year, but it's premature to say whether he is ready to fill Ian Desmond's shoes at shortstop.
Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell ridicules manager Matt Williams for ignoring the fight taking place on the other side of the dugout. Most people expect Williams to be fired as soon as the season is over. But Boswell's main point is about the big changes in the Nationals overall roster for next year, with as many as one third being new faces. Ian Desmond got a nice farewell from the crowd on Sunday, something that Jordan Zimmermann did not get to enjoy, which is a shame. I still think the Nats should pay Zimmermann enough to keep him in Washington, and in a postgame interview tonight, he left open that possibility but didn't give any hint about his wishes. Otherwise, the Nats' starting pitcher rotation will be almost the same, but the bullpen will have to be rebuilt almost from scratch. Craig Stammen will resume relief pitching duties after missing all of this year due to surgery, while the Nats front office will be taking a big hit to trade away the much-despised Jonathan Papelbon, to whom they owe $11 million for services in 2016. Is it too late to rebuild Drew Storen's shattered self-confidence? He did very well as the closing pitcher this year, until Papelbon replaced him.
Au Revoir, Montreal!
Nationals fans who have suffered such agony late in the season in recent years should remember what it was like for the fans of the Montreal Expos eleven years ago yesterday, when the final game in Olympic Stadium was played. (Diagram update pending...)
How long should a player who insults, assaults, and actually tries to choke a team's brightest star stay with the team? Probably less time than it took me to write that sentence. Well, apparently manager Matt Williams didn't see what was going on, because he sent Jonathan Papelbon back to the mound in the ninth inning immediately after Papelbon did just that to Bryce Harper yesterday afternoon. Not only that, Papelbon then proceeded to give up a go-ahead home run (the score had been 4-4), and he was tagged with the loss in the 12-5 debacle. Five Phillies players crossed the plate (three of which were unearned runs) while he was on the mound, and three more did after he left the game. An eight-run ninth inning!? Read all about it in the the Washington Post.
After the game, Papelbon admitted he was wrong to criticize Harper for not running faster on that pop fly, but that is completely beside the point. Whenever a team is in such a fragile emotional state as this, that kind of behavior can easily have extreme (negative) consequences. Meanwhile, Matt Williams repeated his typical, robotic line about Papelbon being his closer for the ninth inning, a non-explanatory explanation. Papelbon the closer? How about "Papelbon the closer"?
First, he literally choked (his fellow team mate), and then he figuratively choked. Papelbon, who had a reputation of being somewhat of a jerk while playing in Boston and Philadelphia, is officially persona non grata in Washington. Whatever team he is with when he next appears in Washington will get a resounding chorus of boo-oos!
Obviously, there was no way Papelbon was going to play with the Nationals again, and today the Nationals front office announced that Papelbon had agreed to accept his three-game suspension from MLB over the Manny Machado hit-by-pitch incident last week, dropping his appeal. In addition, the Nationals suspended him for an additional four games; see MLB.com. Since there were only seven games left to play anyway, that means Papelbon has effectively been kicked off the team. Good riddance!
So, of course this embarrassing fracas made all the newspaper headlines and the evening news today, drawing widespread unwanted attention to what a disaster this year has been for the Nationals. Good grief.
Fortunately, the Nationals were able to quickly put that disgrace behind them. In the July 8 makeup game against the Cincinnati Reds this afternoon, Max Scherzer was actually flirting with another no-hitter, spoiled when Tucker Barnhart singled to left field with one out in the top of the eighth. Barnhart later scored after the second hit given up by Scherzer. Final score: Nats 5, Reds 1.
What a coincidence that would have been if Scherzer had gotten those last five batters out: exactly one year after the no-hitter by Jordan Zimmermann!
And that, sports fans, wraps up baseball in Our Nation's Capital for this year. Tomorrow the Nationals head to Atlanta for a three-game set, and then they finish the season in New York, facing the NL East Champion Mets. (That would have been an exciting series had the Nats still been in contention!) According to my own unofficial figures, the Nationals drew a total of 2,620,443 home attendance for the year, their third-best year ever. Total attendance was 2,720,322 in 2005, and 2,652,892 in 2013. Next week I will update the Washington Nationals page with the complete data for 2015.
Football season is back!
Well, let's turn our attention to something more pleasant like football, shall we? Oops, the Washington Redskins are in as much disarray as the Nationals are right now, or perhaps more. Before the season started, Kirk Cousins was named the Redskins' regular starting quarterback, leaving Robert Griffin III's future status unclear. In New York on Thursday night, the Redskins lost to the Giants 32-21. Both teams are now 1-2.
To mark the near-end of the regular baseball season, and the beginning of autumnal Pigskin Fever, I have posted a batch of photos of football stadiums I took last summer, including the two NFL stadiums below plus a few others including two college stadiums. See the Football stadiums photo gallery page.
The Edward Jones Dome, on the north edge of downtown St. Louis.
Ford Field, across the street from Comerica Park in downtown Detroit, with the GM Renaissance Center beyond.
NFL division realignment
I was dubious about going from a three-division conference system to a four-division system in the National Football League back in 2002 (too many teams into the postseason!), but I don't think they're going to turn back the clock. What irks me in particular is the irrational assignment of teams to "regions," most notably putting the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East, just to maintain the traditional rivalry with the Washington Redskins. They could have achieved that objective by some kind of informal arrangement.
It was with that in mind that I propose the following divisional groupings for the NFC and AFC. For the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys would join the South Division, trading places with the Carolina Panthers who are currently in the NFC East. On the AFC side, Indianpolis would move to the North from the South, Miami would move to the South from the East, and Baltimore would move to the East from the North. Now seriously, doesn't that make more sense??
Mets clinch the NL East, Nationals wait till next year
This afternoon the Washington Nationals broke their four-game losing streak with a dramatic 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, as Bryce Harper hit a game-winning RBI double in the bottom of the twelfth inning. But it didn't matter, as the Mets beat the Reds 10-2, thereby clinching the National League East Division title for the first time since 2006.
I was at last night's game, joining my old friend Dave Givens to give one last "hurrah" to the Nats. I was anxious about getting there on time because they were giving out Jordan Zimmermann bobbleheads, commemorating his no-hitter on September 28 last year. I made it with about 20 minutes to spare, but so few fans showed up that there were "leftover" bobbleheads which they offered to fans who bought a Jordan Zimmermann T-shirt or jersey. That's a sad reflection on how fans' enthusiasm has waned toward the end of this bitterly disappointing season. Announced attendance was 31,019, and the bobbleheads were going to be given out to the first 25,000 fans, so something doesn't add up.
For the first time, Dave and I had seats in the second-deck "Club Level" of Nationals Park, with a great view not far from third base. It's on the same level as the "Mezzanine Level," but is situated near the infield, behind closed doors to keep out the riff-raff. I'm sure it's nice to be near air-conditioned comfort on hot summer days, but the weather on Friday was cool and breezy, so that didn't matter much. Indeed, I was afraid it was going to rain, as a big storm system was soaking most of Virginia that day, but not a drop fell in Washington. (The second deck offers good shelter from the rain, unlike most of the rest of Nationals Park.)
The game got started on a very encouraging note, as Jordan Zimmermann pitched a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts. In the bottom of the first, lead-off batter Anthony Rendon smashed a double over the head of left fielder Aaron Altheer, and two batters later, Jayson Werth hit an RBI single. Yes!
In the top of the third inning, I went to the Club Level lounge to get refreshments when something very strange happened. Aaron Altheer came up to bat with the bases loaded. He smashed a single up the middle, but it got past the center fielder Michael Taylor, and before you knew it, four runs had scored, making it a 4-1 game. Yes, sports fans, it was an inside-the-park grand slam, the very first one of the 21st Century! But what made it especially weird was that the miscue by Michael Taylor (not ruled an error) was a virtual carbon copy of the play that he himself had started with a line drive on September 8. In that game, the Nats blew a 7-1 lead after the Mets scored six runs in the seventh inning. The italicized words above were copied from that previous blog post, adding Michael Taylor's name and adjusting the score. And guess who was pitching in that other game? Yes, Jordan Zimmermann! How creepy is that bit of deja vu?!
His pitch count wasn't that high (79 altogether), but Zimmermann must have been getting tired by the fifth inning, because he gave up two more home runs, both of which went over the fence. Aaron Altheer hit a towering fly ball that just barely cleared the left field wall, and Darin Ruf hit one into the Red Porch seats left of center field. In the sixth inning, Jayson Werth hit a solo homer to left field, briefly raising hopes for Washington fans, but the Nationals had a hard time getting men on base after that. In the eighth inning, the Phillies' Darin Ruf doubled, and Cody Asche hit a tremendous home run onto the green slope batters eye beyond center field, making it an 8-2 ball game. Bryce Harper struck out three times, and hit a long fly ball to center field for the third out in the eighth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Ian Desmond and Clint Robinson both singled, but nobody scored.
And so, the Nationals went out "gentle into that good night." (Dylan Thomas) It was a melancholy way for Jordan Zimmermann to end his season pitching in Nationals Park, and perhaps the last time he'll start there in a Nationals uniform.
Nationals Park from Club Level, on Friday night.
Ballpark or hotel lobby? The Norfolk Southern Lounge (formerly the Stars and Stripes Lounge) on the Club Level features carpeting, plush furniture, a full-service bar, and big glass windows with a view of South Capitol Street.
I added those photos to the Nationals Park page, and am in the process of making small revisions to the second-deck diagram based on my first-hand observations.
No Nats wins for me
Just like two last years ago, the Nationals did not win any of the games I saw this year. Harrumphh! Here's an updated version of the table of all the Nats' games I have seen, showing an apparent growing correlation between the games I see and the team's overall record each year:
Nats' games I've seen
Underlined numbers include away games (one each), three total.
R.I.P. Lawrence "Yogi" Berra
Yogi Berra, one of the most productive and popular players in the history of the New York Yankees, died on Tuesday night at the age of 90. He was born in St. Louis, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and played virtually his entire career (1946-1963) with the Yankees, racking up 358 home runs and a .285 batting average. He almost always played as catcher, but happened to be in left field when the Pirates' Bill Mazerowski hit the famous walk-off home run over his head in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series in Forbes Field, Pittsburgh. Yogi later managed for the Yankees as well as the Mets, for whom he actually played four games in 1965. See MLB.com and baseball-reference.com.
When I was very young, I had a hard time understanding why a baseball player would be named after a cartoon character.
Yogi was revered for his playing excellence as well as his good attitude and amiable personality. For a good chuckle, read "35 of Yogi Berra's most memorable quotes" at New York Post. #35 is one that my father repeats ad infinitum: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
I picked a good time to visit Toronto, just as the Blue Jays were beginning a hot streak that ultimately put them in first place in the AL East Division. Just like last year, when I visited Kansas City at a time when the Washington Nationals were widely expected to go deep into the postseason, few people had hopes for the American League club I was visiting. How things change! At this point, the Blue Jays have a three game lead over the Yankees, and are favored to win a division title for the first time since they won the World Series in 1993.
The big showdown was earlier this week, when the Blue Jays hosted the New York Yankees. The home team won the first game 4-2, and were on the verge of winning the second game. Dioner Navarro hit a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie it, and the Blue Jays then loaded the bases with two outs, but Josh Donaldson struck out. In the top of the tenth, the Yankees took a 6-3 lead thanks to a home run by Greg Bird, and that was the final score. Nevertheless, the Blue Jays came right back on Wednesday and beat the Yankes 4-0, thanks largely to a three-run homer by a former Yankee, Russell Martin. So, taking two out of three in that series gave Toronto a 3.5-game lead in the division.
A key part of the Blue Jays' offense has been Josh Donaldson, acquired from the Oakland A's in a trade last November. He just turned 30 last month, and leads the Blue Jays regular players in batting average (.301), home runs (39), and runs batted in (124). (Chris Colabello is batting .324, but has barely half as many at-bats.) Together with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays are loaded with slugging power, but their pitching is only average: overall ERA of .377, [ranked 11th] in the majors. Recognizing that weakness, they acquired David Price from the Detroit Tigers in late July -- just a couple weeks after I was in Comerica Park for David Price Bobblehead Day!
Josh Donaldson drew a walk in the bottom of the eighth inning, and scored immediately thereafter on a home run by Jose Bautista. (Photo taken July 19, when the Blue Jays beat the Rays 4-0.)
Rogers Centre update
Based on my personal observations, including hours of squinting at photos I took while there, the Rogers Centre (ex-SkyDome) diagrams have been revised. (The last diagram update for that stadium was in June 2012!) As so often happens, it was a lengthy, excruciating process to get all the details as accurate as humanly possible. Overall, it's about 10-15 smaller in diameter than before. One key finding concerns the lower deck, which is unique in various ways. As noted on that page, "the patrons gain access directly via the main concourse or via a ramp along the rear of the lower deck in the outer sections." Other details include (of course) the entry portals in the upper deck, the different heights for each separate track platform, and the bullpen mounds. Needless to say, there are boatloads of new photos which I took there on July 19. I also realized why it was hard to reconcile my estimates of the depth of the upper deck based on photos with my diagrams-in-process: the last few rows of seats actually are tucked beneath the platforms upon which the dome wheels roll. (The new upper deck diagram shows this very clearly, when you compare it to the other diagrams.) One missing detail, pending a minor update: the small cranes that suspend the "foul poles" (which are actually yellow nets) from the front edge of the lowest dome section. (See the photo below.) I may eventually create a second-deck diagram for Rogers Centre as well.
On a sunny midsummer afternoon (July 19,), Rogers Centre gleams brightly.
Royals win the AL Central
Last year, the Kansas City Royals came from out of nowhere to sneak into the playoffs via the second wild card slot, and stunned everyone with amazing late-inning comebacks to get into the World Series. This year they have played like champions from the very beginning, and tonight became the first team to win a division outright. It's surprising, because their cross-state rivals in St. Louis have a higher winning percentage (.634 vs. .586), but the Cardinals are facing some very tough competition from the Pirates and the Cubs. In fact, both of those probable wild card teams have higher winning percentages (.608 and .586, respectively) than the other two presumed division champions: the Mets (.562) and the Dodgers (.572).
Orioles sweep the Nationals
After getting swept by the Mets two weeks ago, the Nationals were in danger of a collective meltdown, and they lost the first two games of the subsequent series against the Marlins in Miami. But fortunately the Nats showed they have a fierce competitive spirit early on, and they won seven of their next eight games. The Nats swept the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, a friendly place for home run hitters. Back home in Washington, the Nats beat the Marlins in three out of four games. In the finale, the Nats racked up a 13-3 score, narrowing the gap behind the Mets to just six games. Hopes were high again! Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were pitching like their old selves, Bryce Harper (M.V.P.! M.V.P.!) had four more home runs during that streak (he's now at 41), while Jayson Werth had a grand slam and other clutch hits. The bullpen actually did their job, but things took a turn for the worse when the Orioles came to town.
Monday night's game was rained out, which may have taken some of the wind out of the Nationals' psychological "sail." On Tuesday they just didn't have any oomph, and Gio Gonzalez threw a couple sloppy pitches that cost the Nats the game, 4-1. On Wednesday, it was a close, hard-fought match, and the Nats took a 3-2 lead. But Max Scherzer gave up a two-run homer to Manny Machado in the seventh inning, and the O's won, 4-3. In the ninth inning, Jonathan Papelbon hit Machado with a pitch and was ejected by the umpire without even a warning. There must be some hard feelings not evident to fans. [This afternoon], the Nats rallied and took a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, but Blake Treinen gave up a two-run home run to Matt Weiters in the eighth inning, and the Orioles held on to win, 5-4. Suffering two defeats in a row on blown leads is pretty demoralizing, and the Nats don't have much left to fight for except for team pride.
Meanwhile, injuries have come back to plague the Nats again. Ryan Zimmerman is back on the DL, and may not play again this year. With him out of the lineup, any miraculous comeback will be that much harder. Also, Danny Espinosa, who got himself promoted from average utility player to valuable regular infielder, great on offense and defense, is also listed as day to day. But most regretful is that Denard Span, the Nationals' splendid center fielder for the past two years, had a relapse of the back problem that kept him on the DL for most of the season, and he probably won't be seen in a Nats uniform again. His likely replacement, Michael A. Taylor, has been doing very well at the plate, on the base paths, and in center field, and will probably be a regular there next year. We will really miss Denard Span!
But the Nationals still have a tiny flicker of hope left, as the Mets' magic number is now three. If the Nats win nine of their remaining ten games, and the Mets win only two of theirs, there will be a tie in the NL East. (Fat chance!) It would be nice if the Nats could at least stave off elimination until their current (and last) home stand is over. The last home game will be on Monday, when they host the Reds in a makeup game for the rained-out game on July 8. As a loyal fan, I decided I just had to see the "D.C. 9" play one more time this year, so I'm heading up to Our Nation's Capital tomorrow. After all, it's Jordan Zimmermann Bobblehead Day, and Jordan himself will be pitching. It won't be as fun or exciting as the no-hitter which I saw him pitch on the final day of the 2014 regular season, but I figure a big crowd will be a fitting tribute to a great pitcher. Zimmermann will be a free agent after this season, and I just hope the Nationals front office makes him a good offer to keep him on the team next year.
New stadium blog
Take a look at an interesting new blog that recently came to my attention: Abandoned Stadiums, by Ian Harkins. That reminded me, I recently found some old photos I took of the ruins of League Park before the final section of the grandstand was finally demolished several years ago. Stand by!
Any good sports fan knows that you've got to look at the bright side whenever adversity strikes, which is often, and I was really holding out hope that the Nationals could stage a late-season drive to take the NL East title once again. And the dramatic four-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves in Washington, including what might have been a season-saving bottom-of-the-ninth clutch RBI, seemed to bear out cause for optimism. But after what happened in D.C. tonight and last night, I'm afraid that it's time to be realistic and admit that the team just doesn't have what it takes to be champions this year.
And what does it take? Well, a reliable bullpen, for one thing. Last night, Max Scherzer had another mediocre outing, and Matt Williams as usual kept him on the mound for one inning more than he should have. After a grand slam by Wilson Ramos, and two more clutch hits in the fourth inning, the Nats had a 5-3 lead over the New York Mets, and the home crowd was really fired up. But the Mets came back with one run each in the next two innings, tying the game, after which the bullpen came in and ruined everything. (Does that sound familiar?) Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, Casey Janssen (!), and Matt Thornton combined to allow three runs on four hits and a walk. Meanwhile, the Nats' offensive momentum vanished, as only one man reached base in the final three innings -- Jayson Werth had a leadoff single in the ninth, but it almost didn't matter. Mets 8, Nats 5.
And then came the debacle tonight, which will probably go down in history as one of the three biggest collapses in Nationals history, in terms of the size of the blown lead and how critical the game was. (The other two, of course, would NLDS Game 5 in 2012 and NLDS Game 2 in 2014.) Everything started fine, as the Nats put together four hits to get two runs in the first inning. David Wright homered for the Mets in the top of the second against Jordan Zimmermann, but that was OK because the Nats put another run on the board in the bottom of the inning. What appeared to be the decisive play of the game came in the sixth inning, when Michael Taylor came up to bat with the bases loaded. He smashed a single up the middle, but it got past the center fielder, and before you knew it, four runs had scored, making it a 7-1 game. Euphoria in Nats Town!
But then the bullpen came in and ruined everything. (Does that sound familiar? Have I mentioned deja vu before?) After Matt Thornton finished the sixth inning for Jordan Zimmermann, Blake Treinen and Felipe Rivero did about the same thing as the night before, the difference being that Drew Storen took the mound next, instead of Casey Janssen. With the bases loaded and the score 7-3, Storen gave up a bases-clearing double to Yoenis Cespedes, and then walked the next three batters, reloading the bases and giving up the tying run. He just couldn't throw any strikes, except for ones that were hit hard. Storen was lucky that Bryce Harper caught the line drive hit by Travis d'Arnaud, which could have scored two or three more runs. But it almost didn't matter, because that kind of a meltdown was probably the kiss of death for his career in D.C. To make matters worse, Jonathan Papelbon came in as a relief pitcher in the eighth inning once again (as he had done vs. the Braves on Friday), but this time he gave up the go-ahead home run to Kirk Nieuwenhuis. A pall of mortal doom instantly spread across Nationals Park. How could another such wretched twist of fate happen to the Nats? Once again, Jayson Werth had a leadoff single in the ninth, and Bryce Harper had a one-out walk, briefly raising hopes for a miracle, but then Yunel Escobar grounded into a double play to end the game. Mets 8, Nats 7.
So, whereas the Nats really should have a record of 73-65 right now, just two games behind the Mets, instead they are 71-67, six games behind. With just 24 games left to play, and with the Mets' magic number down to 19, and with confidence in the Nats' relief pitchers utterly shattered, there's really not much left to hope for.
As for the preceding series against the Braves, the Nats pretty much had to win all four games to close the gap with the Mets, and that's exactly what they did. On Thursday night, they vented their frustrations in a 15-1 rout, in which Jordan Zimmermann picked up the win. On Friday, the Braves were ahead 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, when pinch hitter Matt den Dekker hit an RBI single to send the game into extra innings. Except that it only took one extra inning, because Michael Taylor hit a three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth. Nats 5, Braves 2. That was a real feel-good moment for Nats fans, and it seemed that their dreams of another postseason were on the verge of becoming a reality. They kept up the momentum with two more lopsided wins (8-2 and 8-4), including more home runs by Bryce Harper (his 33rd and 34th), Jayson Werth, and Anthony Rendon. How sweet it was...
Or, you could say that the Cardinals almost swept the Nats. That might be more accurate, since the Redbirds were threatening to tie the game and had what would have been the winning run on first base with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning last night. After the previous two star-crossed nights, when the Nationals blew two-run leads late in the game, their fans were terrified of another hideous reversal of fortune. First things first.
In St. Louis on Tuesday, the Nationals took an early lead over the Cardinals. Ryan Zimmerman continued his recent hot streak with another home run, and the Nats were ahead 5-3 going into the seventh inning stretch. And then the bullpen came in and ruined everything. The decisive moment was when Casey Janssen took the mound and proceeded to give up a walk and multiple hits, and the Cardinals won it, 8-5.
In St. Louis on Wednesday, the Nationals took an early lead over the Cardinals. Ryan Zimmerman continued his recent hot streak with another home run, and the Nats were ahead 5-3 going into the seventh inning stretch. And then the bullpen came in and ruined everything. The decisive moment was when Casey Janssen took the mound and proceeded to give up a walk and multiple hits, and the Cardinals won it, 8-5.
Do you ever get that feeling of deja vu? I sure do.
Actually, there were a few key differences between those mirror-image games. On Tuesday, the Cardinals scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh, whereas on Wednesday, they scored three in the eighth and two in the ninth. On Tueday, Gio Gonzalez had a quality start, going six innings and giving up just three runs, while on Wednesday rookie Joe Ross had the first really bad outing of his brief (and superb!) career in the majors. He only lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up three runs and almost losing the lead. [Actually, the first four relief pitchers on Wednesday did just fine, allowing no runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings. Not until the seventh inning did "the bullpen blow it."] On Tuesday, Ryan Zimmerman homered with two runners on base in the seventh inning to take a 5-3 lead, while on Wednesday he hit a solo homer in the third inning to give the Nats a 4-0 lead. On Tuesday, Casey Janssen was the first relief pitcher, walking one batter and allowing four hits, all of whom scored, while on Wednesday he was the last relief pitcher, walking one batter and allowing two hits, the second of which was the walk-off home run by Brandon Moss. The Wednesday game was also marred by another letdown with Drew Storen on the mound. In the eighth inning, he gave up a leadoff single, then hit the next batter, and then was charged with an error on a bunt when he threw the ball to third base but Yunel Escobar couldn't handle it. I think Escobar deserved the error. In any case, the Cardinals tied it 5-5, setting up the disaster that ended the game one inning later.
In a crucial situation like that, why in the world was Janssen pitching instead of Jonathan Papelbon -- especially after Janssen's meltdown the night before!!?? On Facebook, many Washington fans are furious at Matt Williams for repeated dubious bullpen moves, thinking he ought to be fired. (NLDS Game 2 against the Giants last year was a perfect example.) Williams seems stubbornly attached to his pregame plans, and apparently just will not use Papelbon except as a closer in the ninth inning, no matter what.
Then last night, in contrast to the two previous games, the Cardinals were the first to score a run, as Brandon Moss hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning. But in the top of the third, Jayson Werth came right back with a home run of his own to tie the game. I'm glad he's recovering his old slugging form again. Ryan Zimmerman continued his recent hot streak with two (2) more home runs, but they were both solo shots. But the really decisive hit in the game was Zimmerman's RBI double down the right field line in the top of the eighth inning, as the Nats retook the lead, 4-3. Max Scherzer had his first quality start in some time, striking out ten and giving up just two runs in six innings, but got a no decision after the Cardinals scored a run in the bottom of the seventh. Drew Storen struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon held on to get the save in the ninth, after giving up two hits. The final out came on a close play at first base when Ryan Zimmerman fielded a hard ground ball, and Papelbon got to the base just in time to catch it for the force out. Otherwise, the tying run would have scored from third base. Whew!
Zimmerman has now hit seven home runs over the past nine games, including a grand slam, and has batted in several other runs as well. MLB.com: "Vintage Zimmerman on a tear for Nats." I think he's a shoo-in for NL Player of the Week. If the Nationals somehow manage to win the NL East Division, it will be thanks in large part to Zimmerman's clutch slugging performances. That second homer was the 200th one of Ryan Zimmerman's stellar career. It's too bad it had to happen while out of town. On the other hand, it was a nice coincidence in that it marked the tenth anniversary of his very first hit in his major league career. In fact, I was there on September 2, 2005, when Zimmerman hit a lead-off double in the fifth inning but was stranded after the next three batters flew out. (Man, if I had only taken a photo!)
I should have mentioned that at Nationals Park last Sunday, Ryan Zimmerman played a special role when they had a ceremony for the 2015 College World Series champion University of Virginia baseball team. (See my June 30 blog post.) Zimmerman was a U.Va. Cavalier when the Virginia baseball program was just getting going with a new stadium (Davenport Field) and a new coach (Brian O'Connor).
Busch Stadium (#3), from the Gateway Arch panorama. On the lower right you can the "Baseball Village" added a couple years ago. Click on the image to see it full size.
That photo (and a second one taken from the south side of the stadium) is now posted on the Busch Stadium III page. It now features a new diagram key that is only visible when you click or roll the mouse on the last of the "dynamic diagram" links. In part to help new fans get accustomed, it explains how some of the details such as entry portals, stairs, grandstand creases, etc. are rendered.
Complete blog entries for the current month:
October 2015 (with links to archives of previous months)
My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:
Wild birds (LAST)
Science & Technology *
Culture & Travel *
Canaries ("Home birds")
* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007
The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.
The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.
This blog is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.
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