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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,

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it's an adventure!"

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October 24, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Giants rout Royals, & vice versa

The San Francisco Giants started off the 2014 the World Series with a bang in Kansas City. In the first inning on Tuesday night, Pablo Sandoval hit an RBI double and Hunter Pence hit a two-run homer. They kept adding runs, and the score was 7-0 by the bottom of the seventh inning, at which point Salvador Perez hit a solo homer to give Kansas City their only run. With a 7-1 final score, the Giants broke the Royals' amazing eight-game postseason winning streak.

Unfortunately, I was in class that night, and didn't see the game until later. While watching on the DVR, I was struck that the Royals kept hitting the ball well, but just could not capitalize. In fact, they had runners on second and third with nobody out in the third inning, but failed to score a run. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner struck out the next two batters, gave up a walk, and then induced a ground ball to end the inning without damage.

On Wednesday night, the Giants jumped out with a leadoff home run by Gregor Blanco, but the Royals tied it 1-1 in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a clutch two-out RBI single by Billy Butler. That was crucial in halting the visiting team's momentum, and the Royals took the lead one inning later, on an RBI double by Alcides Escobar. The Giants tied it 2-2 in the fourth inning, but Billy Butler hit another RBI single in the sixth inning, then Salvador Perez hit a two-run double, and Omar Infante hit a two-run home run. That five-run rally charged up the Kansas City crowd, and the folks savored a 7-2 triumph to even the series at one game apiece.

In Game 3 in San Francisco tonight, Alcides Escobar swung at the first pitch thrown by veteran Tim Hudson, and knocked the ball into the left field corner for a double. He scored a run after the next two batters hit ground balls, and the Royals clung to a 1-0 lead for the next few innings. Both teams scored twice in the sixth inning, and in the middle of the eighth inning, it's now 3-2 in the Royals' favor.

[UPDATE: The Royals held on to win, 3-2, thanks once again to their solid bullpen. Closing pitcher Greg Holland got three quick outs in the ninth inning, thus getting the save. That gives the Royals a 2-1 lead in the World Series. As long as the Giants win a game this weekend, there will be a Game 6 in Kansas City!]

National League: no DHs

As the World Series moves to San Francisco, the two teams' lineups are changing. The Giants are putting Michael Morse on the bench as a pinch-hitter, and the Royals are doing likewise with Billy Butler. Both players have done superbly as designated hitters, but how will playing by National League rules affect them?

Billy Butler home run

Billy Butler hit a home run to put the Royals ahead for good, in Kauffman Stadium on July 25, when they beat the Cleveland Indians, 6-4. (See my July 31 blog post.)

Zimmerman lauds Morse

Ryan Zimmerman, whose own postseason as a Washington National came to a premature end this year, expressed good wishes for his former team mate Michael Morse: "He is such a good guy. ... People in D.C. enjoyed him on the team. Hopefully, he can take advantage of his opportunity and do something, win something that all of us want a chance to do at one time in our careers." See MLB.com.

No room for LaRoche

Speaking of Zimmerman, he is widely expected to move over to first base on a regular basis next year, so there will be no room on the Nationals roster for Adam LaRoche. His current contract has a clause with a mutual option to renew for 2015, but that is very unlikely. It's like a game of musical chairs, and he's the odd man out. LaRoche seems to be taking it well, as this situation has been anticipated for several months, ever since Ryan Zimmerman was put on the disabled list with a thumb injury back in May. LaRoche is widely liked and admired by his team mates, for his slugging prowess and vacuum-cleaner-like glove at first base. Washington Post writer talks about LaRoche's outside interests and activities, such as hunting, building a high school baseball stadium in Fort Scott, Kansas, and distributing Bibles to Africa and Asia. He is a first-class athlete and a real gentleman. Whatever team he ends up on next year will be lucky to get him.

On a related note, LaRoche (first base) and Denard Span (center field) have been nominated for the National League Golden Glove award for their respective positions. The winners will be announced on November 4.

1989 S.F. earthquake

It's hard to think of a World Series in San Francisco without thinking of the famous 1989 earthquake. Thanks to Facebook friend Patrick McAtee for this YouTube video of the 1989 World Series Game 3 on ABC, with TV announcers Tim McCarver and Al Michaels, just as the earthquake struck. Where was I on 17 October 1989? Well, I tuned into the game a few minutes late, and was aggravated to see some other show on TV instead of the scheduled baseball game. Within a few minutes they went back to to Candlestick Park, at which point I found out what had happened.

World Series stadia

Just like last year (albeit two months late!), and several years before that, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. Just roll over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.

I heard one of the FOX announcers mention that Kauffman Stadium has the largest outfield in the American League, and that didn't sound right to me. For some reason, I was under the impression that Comerica Park was bigger in area, but after checking my figures on the Stadium statistics page, I realized he was right. The outfield in Kauffman Stadium is approximately 117,800 sq. ft., compared to 110,800 sq. ft. for AT&T Park, which is likewise above average.

Comerica Park AT&T Park
Kauffman Stadium

COMMENT by: Chris Knight, of Kansas City, KS on Oct 25, 2014 00:53 AM
Yea the outfield of Kauffman Stadium Diagram is a bit off. The Fountain is off a little bit (It's actually 3 separate fountains the 2 1973 sections and the 1991 section) , The Batter's eye Area is wrong, The Outfield bar is a little misshaped (Half circle instead of an oval), The Fountain Seats is off (It covers the area behind the 1991 fountain), and some of the outfield handicapped sections is off. I have made a diagram that has corrected these issues if I can email it to ya. BTW I have been to all the home postseason games and I have to keep on pinching myself still in great disbelief that the Royals are in the World Series. It's so unreal! I hope we can get the job done in SF, It would be nice for us to win it in Game 6 at home but I want my team to get the job done in Game 5.



October 20, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Life Bird: Red Phalarope

Thanks to an e-mail alert from William Leigh, I saw my 454th life bird last Tuesday: a Red Phalarope, in a pond near the town of Bridgewater, about 20 miles north of here. The weather was terrible, as a massive front dumped several inches of rain along the eastern seaboard, but I didn't care. I missed a chance to see a Red-necked Phalarope in this area last spring (during a similar period of rainy weather), and I was determined not to let that happen again. I arrived at the location in question in the early afternoon, and I had to retreat to my car to wipe off my binoculars more than once. Finally, the skies started to clear a little bit, and I spotted the little bird almost right away. As you can see in this photo, it has no red feathers in its winter plumage. Very few people ever get to see their brilliant colors during the breeding season, as they nest above the Arctic Circle in northern Canada. I learned that Phalaropes are strange in that they are shorebirds but often catch their food while swimming rather than wading. Red Phalaropes spend the winter months in the Atlantic Ocean, and only one has ever been seen in Augusta County. I'm not sure about Rockingham County records.

The photos I took weren't very good, as the bird was almost 100 yards away, but they are good enough for positive identification. I was lucky to meet three local ladies who know the people who own the farm on which that pond is situated.

Red Phalarope

Red Phalarope, east of Bridgewater, on October 14.

I have also seen a few Palm Warblers over the past week, but not much else. I was going to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow on October 11, but that was rained out. (I have rescheduled that to November 1.) My two significant birding ventures this month were October 4 at Augusta Springs, and October 8 at Montgomery Hall Park. I took a closeup photo of a Box Turtle at the former location, and I'll post that soon. Plus, I have been to the Rockfish Gap hawk watch a few times, and the most notable sighting was an immature Golden Eagle on October 16. It was a great view, but I didn't have my camera! frown

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler, in Swoope, October 4.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo, in Montgomery Hall Park, October 8.

I also have seen a number of Monarch (endangered!) and Buckeye butterflies lately, and got a nice photo of the latter, but not the former. So I updated the Butterflies page, and will add a few more photos to it soon.

Buckeye butterfly

Buckeye butterfly, at the Frontier Culture Museum, October 17.



October 20, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Royals sweep the Orioles, win AL pennant

As they say, "Anything can happen in October, and probably will!" But a team full of young unknowns sweeping the two teams with the best regular-season records in consecutive postseason series? It's never been done before, at least not since the advent of the three-stage playoff format in 1995. Yet somehow, the Kansas City Royals edged the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in both Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS last week, thereby winning the American League pennant for the first time since 1985. How does an underdog team like them keep winning? Ah, such are the mysteries of baseball.

In Game 4, played on Wednesday afternoon, the Royals scored two runs in the first inning, and that was all they would need. It was a bizarre play. With runners on second and third, and just one out, Eric Hosmer grounded to first baseman Steve Pearce, who threw it to catcher Caleb Joseph, but the ball got past him, and both runners scored. The Orioles got a run in the third inning, but wasted a precious run-scoring opportunities in the sixth inning, and that was that. They were caught flat-footed once again, reminding me of the Nationals playing the Giants in the NLDS, I'm sorry to say. The Royals' pitcher Jason Vargas, a veteran with a career ERA of 4.20, somehow kept his team ahead by giving up just one run in five-plus innings.

And so, without much slugging but with plenty of grit, the Royals brought an American League pennant to Kansas City for the first time since 1985. Kauffman Stadium, jam-packed with blue-clad fans, was delirious with joy. The Royals may be underdogs in the upcoming World Series, but they have thrived in that role thus far in the postseason, and as we know, "Anything can happen in October!"

Giants beat the Cardinals, win NLCS

That evening in San Francisco, meanwhile, the Cardinals and Giants traded blows in a tense NLCS Game 4. Neither of the starting pitchers, Shelby Miller and Ryan Vogelsong, made it to the fifth inning. The visiting team had a 4-3 lead going into the sixth inning, and had high hopes for evening the series. The Cards were handicapped, however, by the absence of slugging catcher Yadier Molina, who had strained a back muscle while swinging in Game 2. He was replaced by A. J. Pierzynski, formerly of the Chicago White Sox. The Giants got three runs in the sixth inning, with smart, efficient "small ball," and held on to win the game, 6-4.

Game 5 on Thursday night developed in a somewhat similar manner. The Cardinals took a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning, thanks to solo home runs by Matt Adams and Tony Cruz. It seemed like a decisive momentum-shifter that might just send the NLCS back to St. Louis for Game 6. But the Giants had other plans. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Michael Morse stepped up to the plate as a pinch hitter. The popular former Washington National then got a hold of a ball that landed just beyond the fence in the left field corner. That tied the game 3-3, and re-energized the Giants and their fans. Sure enough, with two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth, Travis Ishikawa hit a home run into the right field seats, ending the game in triumphant fashion. WOW! Final score: Giants 6, Cardinals 3.

What if? Intriguing pairings

So tomorrow night the World Series begins in Kansas City, as the Royals host the Giants. It's fresh, eager spunk versus battle-tested experience. Not the most likely matchup, but unique in one key way: Neither team is a division champion! The other potential World Series pairings this year offered some intriguing possibilities:

  • Cardinals vs. Royals: all-Missouri World Series (just like 1985)
  • Cardinals vs. Orioles: the 1882-current St. Louis team vs. the 1902-1953 St. Louis team
  • Giants vs. Orioles: two teams with orange uniforms
  • hand point Giants vs. Royals: both wild card teams, the first [second*] such World Series

* [CORRECTED. In the 2002 World Series, the Giants and Angels were both wild card teams.]

It might also be noted that the Giants and Royals are also noted for residing in the best stadiums of their respective class. It will be a very "photogenic" World Series!

Too many wild cards

I'm all for exciting underdog champioship games, but I think the current playoff format may paradoxically favor the wild card teams, who can sustain momentum in the wild card "play-in" game while the division champs rest and lose their edge. (Nationals?) Also, knowing that securing a wild card spot is good enough takes the pressure off teams trying to catch up to the division leader late in the season. Prior to this year, wild card teams played in nine of the 19 World Series since the expanded three-division structure began. What's more, they won in five of those World Series, including three years in a row: 2002, 2003, 2004. Meanwhile, non-wild card teams (three fourths of the total, roughly) had a lower probability of winning a league pennant, as if the system was tilted against them. I know this is an old gripe of teams like the Braves who won many division titles but few league pennants or World Series, and more recently the Washington Nationals are in the same spot. I hope the MLB bosses at least consider restructuring the playoffs. I think there should be only one wild card team, and a seven-game divisional series, prerferably in a 2-2-3 format rather than the traditional 2-3-2 format. That would really give more of an advantage to the top-seeded teams!

Mad Bum's grand slams

One thing I learned during this postseason is the remarkable batting of Giants' ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner: This year alone he has hit two grand slams, which is more than Derek Jeter hit in his entire 20-year MLB career (one). How weird is that?

Busch Stadium II update

Busch Stadium

Since all my San Francisco stadium diagrams are more or less up to my highest standards, I decided to focus on the other team in the NLCS, the St. Louis Cardinals. As a start, I updated the Busch Stadium II diagrams, which now include an upper-deck version and a lower-deck version, both of which show the entry portals and lateral aisles. The profiles have been tweaked a little, as well. Those diagrams now reveal the distinctive arched roof that gave Busch Stadium II more character than most other "cookie-cutter" stadiums of that era. That's not just for aesthetic effect, however. As part of maximizing diagram accuracy, I have been concentrating on the sections in each stadium, usually manifested in the entry portals or (for older stadiums) the structural beams supporting the upper decks.

Last month I acknowledged a broken link on the Busch Stadium II page, and now you can see what I had been working on. Believe me, getting the details just right was agonizingly frustrating, with multiple false starts. The same goes for other diagrams I have been working on during the past few days. Among other things, I am close to finishing updates to the other two Busch Stadiums, the one originally known as Sportsman's Park (1910-1966), and the third incarnation, built in 2006. In the former case, there are a few uncertainties that may have to remain unsettled...

Stadiums in the news!

It has been several months since I last made a serious attempt to deal with my (figurative) e-mail "bag," which is now overflowing. Mike Zurawski recently brought some important items to my attention, and I also checked out a few of his reports from several months previous. Here goes:

In Cleveland, renovation work has begun on Progressive Field. They will reduce capacity to between 37,000 to 38,000 by next season. The seats in the upper deck in right field will be replaced with broad platforms for group parties, etc. Also, elevated walkways over the Gate C entrance (center field) will be torn down and replaced with a new plaza with open views of the downtown skyline. In addition, the bullpens will be rebuilt, parallel to the right-center field wall, in tandem, no longer separated. See cleveland.com. Ten luxury suites were removed prior to the 2013 season,

In Chicago, they are moving ahead with another (final?) phase of renovations on Wrigley Field, a project whose total cost will be $575 million. I knew about the additional electronic signage, but didn't realize they are going to further expand the bleachers. Also, they will fill the narrow triangular space on the southeast side with a "Friendly Confines" restaurant/pub. Contrary to earlier plans, they are not going to build a new clubhouse/parking garage on the west side of the stadium. However, "Eight nearby rooftop owners are suing the city claiming the project violates their profit-sharing agreement with the team." See the TV report at nbcchicago.com

In Toronto, they are preparing to replace the current ersatz surface with natural grass, but it won't happen until 2018. It's partly a matter of technical difficulties, and partly because of the desire to accommodate the Toronto Argonauts, who have a lease that will expire after 2017. (Those terms were agreed to in October 2013.) Prior to the 2014 season, as a stopgap measure, they renovated the fake turf with new rubber beads so that balls will bounce the way they are supposed to. See thestar.com. That's a commendable change, and long overdue. As shown on the Turf page, previous MLB stadiums in which fake turf was replaced by grass include:

  • Comiskey Park (infield only)
  • Busch Stadium II
  • Riverfront Stadium
  • Candlestick Park
  • Kauffman Stadium

L.A. Angels owner Arte Moreno has been negotiating with local government officials in Anaheim and nearby Tustin in hopes of acquiring cheap land on which to build a new stadium, but so far he isn't getting what he wanted. See fieldofschemes.com.

For hockey fans, plans were announced to build a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings, as part of a downtown entertainment district near Comerica Park and Ford Field. That means Joe Louis Arena will eventually be replaced. See mlive.com. The Red Wings' current home is one of the biggest 20,066) and oldest (1979) arenas in the NHL. (At least I think so. smile)

Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays have renovated Tropicana Field once again, with a new 360-degree walkway around the lower bowl, an open air meeting spot in centerfield and smoother access from the rotunda entrance to the seats. ... The renovation includes the removal of about 3,000 seats. See tampabay.com and/or tbo.com. I was vaguely aware of that, and will need to come up with a 2014 version diagram depicting the reduced seating areas.

Also, I should have mentioned the completion of the "ballpark village" across the street (north side) from Busch Stadium (III). That project was delayed for years because of the bad economy.

Finally, Ian Cypes informs me that RFK Stadium played a key part in the recent movie X-Men: Days of Future Past. See a clip at: youtube.com. However, "There is one continuity error. The 'past' scenes in this movie are in 1973, 2 years after the senators moved to Texas; yet the stadium is in baseball configuration."

More stadium news from other fans, as well as more diagram updates to come later this week!



October 13, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Cardinals even the series

That was quite a fun ball game to watch last night. The Cardinals took an early lead, cheering the St. Louis fans who were made nervous by the previous night's loss, then the Giants came back and briefly had a 3-2 lead after the top of the seventh. It was a perfect "binary" scoreboard, with nothing but zeroes and ones in each of the innings' run totals. In contrast to their usual weak slugging performance of the regular season, the Cardinals somehow hit four home runs. The first was by Matt Carpenter in the 3rd inning, and then more by Oscar Taveras in the 7th, Matt Adams in the 8th, and Kolten Wong in the 9th innings. Wong's homer into the right field corner was on the first pitch of the inning, just after the Giants had tied it 4-4 in the top of the ninth. WOW! A huge celebration ensued on the field, so now the Cardinals can face the next three games in San Francisco with some confidence.

Facebook friend David Finkel doesn't like the term "walk-off" home run, etc., and I tend to agree. What's wrong with calling it a "game-winning" home run? Perhaps it's because many announcers have gotten used to calling RBI hits and homers that give a team the lead "game-winning" when the term "go-ahead" RBI, etc. is more appropriate. At the time, no one knows whether the hit in question will actually give a team the win.

Tonight the Orioles were supposed to play ALCS Game 3 against the Royals in Kansas City, but heavy rains and thunderstorms forced a postponement until tomorrow. So now the next three American and National League Championship Series games will be synchronized, screwing up the plan to stagger them. If there is an ALCS Game 6 in Baltimore, it will take place on Friday night as previously scheduled, meaning no travel day for the teams.

Football stadium photos!

Now that the Nationals have been eliminated from the baseball playoffs, Washington sports fans yearning for a championship can turn their attention to the Redskins. Whoops! After yesterday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals, I guess they're pretty much out of contention as well.

It so happens that I paid a visit to the home of the Redskins after seeing the final Nationals game of the regular season on September 28. I had parked my car at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station,* and figured it would be easy to drive from there a few miles east to the Maryland suburbs, and soon came upon FedEx Field, perched on a big hill. Even though the stadium is 17 years old, it was my first time there. Actually, I had seen it once or twice before, but from an eight-mile distance. As you're driving into Washington on I-395, from the top of the ridge just south of the Pentagon, you can see FedEx Field on the horizon off to the east.

* Not wanting to pay $15 to park a mile away from Nationals Park, I was hoping to park at RFK Stadium, where there are thousands of seldom-used parking spaces, and then take the Metro. The lady at the RFK entry gate told me there's no public parking there, but that I could either park free at the nearby jail or at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station about a mile to the east. I chose the latter. When Nationals Park opened in 2008, they had a shuttle bus to and from the RFK parking lots, and that worked out great. As the parking lots in the booming Navy Yard area of Southeast D.C. get swallowed up by new construction, they really ought to bring back that parking option for us out-of-towners.

During my big road trip last summer, I not only saw six baseball stadiums (five MLB) but three football stadiums as well: the "Dallas" Cowboys' AT&T Stadium (in Arlington), the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium, and the Cincinnati Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium. The latter two I had seen before. If I had really thought about it, I could easily have taken short detours and seen two more: the Arizona Cardinals' "University of Phoenix"** Stadium and the St. Louis Rams' Edward Jones Dome.

** To my knowledge, it's the only football stadium named for a university that does not have a football team, hence the quotation marks.

And so, I have put together a brand-new photo gallery page for Football stadiums! It includes seven current NFL stadiums, three former NFL stadiums, and two college football stadiums. They are listed in chronological order according to when I took them, and the first two photos (Memorial Stadium, home of the former Baltimore Colts, and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens) are of rather poor quality. They were taken in 1986 and 2006, respectively.



TOP: Arrowhead Stadium
MIDDLE: M&T Bank Stadium
BOTTOM: FedEx Field

Do a mouse rollover to see a closeup of the FedEx Field name with the Redskins logo.

Football stadium montage

In the photo above, you can clearly see the bare steel beams on the left (west) and right (east) sides, a dramatic indication of how they have reduced the seating capacity of FedEx Field from about 91,000 to about 79,000 over the past few years.

What to call the Redskins?

Since today is Native American Day (formerly known as "Columbus Day"; see argusleader.com), it's a good occasion to bring up the sore subject of the name of Washington's pro football team. Some sports announcers and newspapers have declared they will no longer use the name Redskins, which many people believe is necessarily pejorative or even insulting. I understand that some people are more sensitive than others, and I would readily grant that Native Americans are entitled to much greater respect than they have been given since the first European colonizers arrived 522 years ago. But it makes no sense that a team would call itself a derogatory name. To me, Redskin connotes bravery and a fierce competitive spirit, which in the world of sports are usually considered virtues.

Might it perhaps be that offense is being taken by some Native Americans because the Redskins have been playing so poorly in recent years? Would a winning record change things?

In related news, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder made a point of inviting the president of the Navajo nation, Ben Shelly, to his luxury suite during yesterday's game in Phoenix. See Washington Post.

Last year I received a joke e-mail message concerning this topic:

The Washington Redskins are going to change their name because of all the hatred, violence, and hostility associated with their name.

From now on they will be known simply as the Redskins... smile

Actually, here's a better idea: As sports history buffs know, the Washington Redskins franchise originated as the Boston Braves, playing in Braves Field in 1932. One year later they moved into Fenway Park, which was better suited for football. Obviously, they couldn't call themselves the "Braves" anymore, but they wanted a name related to Indians, preferably with some connection to their new "landlord" baseball team, the Red Sox. Hmm-m-m, what name would fit? The answer was obvious.

So while one possibility for what the team might be called would be Washington Braves, I would suggest as an alternative the Washington Red Sox! Although not at all realistic, that would at least call attention to from whence the name Redskins came in the first place.

Georgia Dome is doomed

There's a new stadium under contruction in downtown Atlanta, but it's being built for the Falcons, not the Braves. The contruction activity, next door to the Georgia Dome, has curtailed parking available for Falcons fans, much like what Washington Nationals fans have dealt with, as noted above. The new stadium should be completed by 2017, with 65,000 seats, significantly less than the Georgia Dome's 71,228 capacity. See forbes.com, which states that the Georgia Dome's capacity is 80,000. If the image in that story is accurate, the new stadium will have a roof that retracts like a camera iris, with eight segments. The Georgia Dome was built in 1992, and also served for a while during the 1990s as the home of the NBA Atlanta Hawks.

Coincidentally, 2017 is the same year Turner Field will be replaced by Sun Trust Field. Turner Field will "retire" after an absurdly brief 20-year career, five years less than the Georgia Dome.

Lots of other stadium news, etc. from Mike Zurawski and others to report. I'll have time to get to that tomorrow, since Monday and Tuesday this week are "fall break."



October 11, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Nationals fall flat, exit early

Ouch, ouch, ouch. It wasn't as traumatic as the sudden collapse at the end of the 2012 NLDS, but this year's defeat was nearly as disheartening for Nationals fans. Two years ago, the team was a young, untested crew "just happy to be here," but this time they were seasoned veterans who were widely favored to go all the way. But, the experts' predictions were foiled, as all those sky-high expectations came crashing to the ground. The San Francisco Giants edged the Washington Nationals three games to one in the National League Divisional Series. Somehow, the momentum from the final six weeks of the season dissipated. For a full wrapup of final game in the series, see MLB.com.

You might say that the entire NL Divisonal Series hinged on which team's pitchers were going to make the biggest blunders. The crucial play in Game 3 (which took place as I was finishing my last blog post) was when Giants' pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw a ball bunted by Wilson Ramos toward third baseman Pablo Sandoval, sailing way over into the bullpen area. That allowed Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper to score, and made possible a third run scored thanks to an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera. Bryce Harper added an insurance run in the ninth inning, a home run that bounced past the elevated seats in deep right center field. That really caused the psychological edge to shift in the Nats' favor, making a comeback from an 0-2 series deficit a real possibility. In the bottom of the ninth, Drew Storen, who tragically gave up a game-tying run to the Giants in the top of the ninth inning in Game 2, almost let another one get away. He gave up two hits and one run, but that was the extent of the damage. The 4-1 victory provided a much-needed uplift to the Nationals after the "prolonged agony" of the 18-inning marathon that was Game 2.

Indeed, it looked like Game 4 was heading in the same direction, as Bryce Harper doubled in a run in the fifth inning, and hit a solo homer (McCovey Cove splash!) to tie it 2-2 in the top of the seventh. That erased the nervousness surrounding Gio Gonzalez's fielding error that allowed the Giants to score two unearned runs in the second inning. In sharp contrast to 2012, this time Harper rose to the occasion with his awe-inspiring slugging power. It was the perfect storyline, setting the stage for a historic comeback rally in the late innings.

But the bullpen flinched in the bottom of the seventh inning, and disaster ensued. Matt Thornton, who has served as the Nats' reliable lefty since the end of July, gave up two hits and was quickly taken out. So who did Matt Williams send in to replace him? Rookie Aaron Barrett. WTF?? In a tense situation like that, Tyler Clippard is the man to call. Barrett has shown occasional promising signs, but he has faltered badly more than once this year, and it made no sense at all to put him on the mound. To his credit, he hung tough facing Hunter Pence in the batter's box, but ultimately he walked him, thus loading the bases with just one out. Then Pablo Sandoval steps up to the plate, and before you know it, Barrett throws a wild pitch into the dirt, allowing Joe Panik to score from third. So then he tries to intentionally walk Sandoval, but hurls the ball way over the catcher's head, and Buster Posey dashes for home. Somehow Ramos threw the ball to Barrett in time to tage Posey out, keeping it a one-run game. It was one of the most bizarre sequences of events I can remember...

In the bottom of the ninth, Adam LaRoche flew out, Ian Desmond struck out, and then Bryce Harper showed great self-control by drawing a walk. You know he was tempted to play the hero and swing away, and I was very impressed. Maybe it was a sign of hope... Nah-h. Wilson Ramos grounded out to second, and the Giants poured onto the field, celebrating their series victory. Giants 3, Nats 2. As I wrote on Facebook in a moment of bitterness, "So much for the Nats' top-notch bullpen..."

In the four-game series, the aggregate score was tied: 9-9. It was a very close contest. [I still find it hard to believe that the Nats didn't go farther in the postseason, but for the time being, I'll refrain from drawing deeper lessons. I do think baseball would be better served if the first round (divisional series) were best-of-seven rather than best-of-five, but the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell has a point when he writes that "The Nationals ... must stop resenting the insanely intense version of warped baseball that is played in October."]

And so, in spite of the disappointing conclusion, I am proud to say,

Thanks for a great season, Nationals!
We look forward to an even better 2015!

Offense? What Offense?

Perhaps most shocking aspect of the 2014 NLDS was the ice-cold batting of the Nationals. For much of the series, their offense was almost nonexistent, with the team as a whole getting 26 hits in 159 at bats -- a measly .164 batting average. The standout was Anthony Rendon, who went 7 for 19 (.369), while Bryce Harper came in second, hitting .294. Harper accounted for three of the team's four home runs. (Asdrubal Cabrera hit the other.) The team's regular season batting average leader, Denard Span (.302), barely cracked the .100 level. More than anything else, his failure to get on base probably doomed the Nationals' chances of scoring enough runs. But even he got more hits than either Jayson Werth or Adam LaRoche -- only one each. What can explain this uniformly absymal performance?

The Nationals had the same lineup in all four games, and most players were in the games for a full nine innings -- or 18 innings, in the case of Game 2!

Washington Nationals cumulative batting, 2014 NLDS
Player Position At bats Hits Walks Strikeouts
Denard Span CF 19 2 1 2
Anthony Rendon 3B 19 7 1 2
Jayson Werth RF 17 1 3 5
Adam LaRoche 1B 18 1 1 4
Ian Desmond SS 18 3 1 6
Bryce Harper LF 17 5 2 3
Wilson Ramos C 17 2 1 4
Asdrubal Cabrera 2B 15 3 0 5
TOTAL* -- 159 26 12 39

* Includes pitchers and pinch hitters.

Managerial brain freeze?

It is easy to pin blame on Nats' manager Matt Williams for replacing Jordan Zimmermann with Drew Storen in the ninth inning last Saturday night, and for putting in Aaron Barrett in the seventh inning on Tuesday night. For example, Dave Cameron, at www.foxsports.com, mercilessly chastises Williams' multiple bad decisions. Indeed, in the seventh inning of Game 4, why he "didn't call on Tyler Clippard, the team's best relief pitcher" is a complete mystery to me.

After the game, Williams explained that his decisions were based on a pre-set plan. That sounds weird to me. He has every contingency mapped out in advance? I wouldn't make too big of a deal out of those decisions, because the players themselves were not exactly at the top of their games. That was what cost the Nats the series victory. One thing is for sure: Matt Williams' chances of being chosen NL Manager of the Year took a big nose dive after the NLDS.

On the disabled list

Surprisingly, not much was made in the sports news media of the relative absence of Ryan Zimmerman from the Nats' lineup. Still recovering from a badly strained hamstring, he pinch-hit once in each of the four games, and didn't spend any defensive time on the field. Even though he didn't play a part in the Nationals' surge toward the NL East championship this year, he remains the heart of the team. Over the years, he has made more clutch hits and defensive plays than any other National, as exemplified by his career number of walk-off home runs: 9, compared to just 2 for second-ranked Bryce Harper; see the Washington Nationals page. A healthy Ryan Zimmerman could have made the difference in this year's postseason.

As for former National Michael Morse, it was too bad that he was unable to play in any of the NLDS games. He has a "strained left oblique," but will rejoin the Giants' roster for the NLCS, which begins in St. Louis tonight. He batted .279 this year, with 16 home runs. Not quite what he accomplished while in D.C., but respectable nonetheless. See MLB.com.

Giants vs. Cardinals

Having dispatched the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS in spite of playing the first two games on the road, the St. Louis Cardinals seemed confident as they welcomed the San Francisco Giants to town for National League Championship Series Game 1. But the Giants got on the board in the second inning, and Madison Bumgarner went seven and two-thirds innings without allowing any runs by the Cardinals. The home team lost, 3-0.

The Giants and Cardinals have dominated the National League over the past decade, each team winning two pennants over the past four years. It's like deja vu all over again...

Royals vs. Orioles

As for the American League, "and now for something completely different!" It would be hard to find two teams with so little postseason experience. Continuing their stunning postseason hot streak, the Kansas City Royals beat the Orioles in the first two games of the ALCS -- in Baltimore! Game 1 game went to ten innings, and it was the fourth extra-inning victory in this postseason for the Royals, setting a new MLB record. The Royals finally won the slugfest, 8-6.

This evening, the Royals jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and it was a back-and-forth contest after that. The Royals didn't steal bases as much as expected, but they sure got some clutch hits from Lorenzo Cain (4 for 5 today), Eric Hosmer, and Billy Butler. Mike Moustakas homered in the fourth inning to take a 4-3 lead, and Alcides Escobar hit an RBI double in the top of the ninth to put the Royals on top again. Final score: 6-4. It was very frustrating for Baltimore fans, who have been waiting even longer than Kansas City fans (1983, vs. 1985) to host another World Series.

The Royals now have a 2-0 series lead over the Orioles, hoping that this year's apparent home field dis-advantage won't take place as they return to Kansas City for Game 3 on Monday.

Camden Yards

Camden Yards update

Just in time for today's ALCS game in Baltimore,* I updated the Oriole Park at Camden Yards diagrams. In one of the recent games in Baltimore, I noticed that a home run (which had to be reviewed) landed on the roof of a ground-level seating area in right-center field. It seems to be about five feet deep, whereas the gap between the seats and the outfield fence in deep right center field is about three feet. That area seems to for the use of the grounds crew, but I thought I saw fans sitting out there once or twice. That got me started on making a few minor adjustments to the diagrams. The front edge of the upper-deck platforms for wheelchair patrons now is marked with black lines to indicate a barrier, with gaps at the vertical aisles between seating sections. The upper deck is now about three feet higher than before, but nothing else changed significantly.

* If the Orioles don't win two of the three upcoming games in Kansas City, there won't be any more games in Baltimore this year!

As for the other three ballparks that will host League Championship Series games this year, Kauffman Stadium, Busch Stadium III, and AT&T Park are pretty much up to standard.

Lower deck entry portals

As I include lower-deck diagrams on more and more of my pages, the presence (or absence) of entry portals in those lower decks becomes more interesting, to me at least. Most fans prefer stadiums in which the main concourse is at the level of the rear of the lower deck, so as to see what's going on in the game while buying refreshments or heading to the facilities. Among the "neoclassical" stadiums (those built since the early 1990s), here are the ones with that feature:

  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  • Globe Life Park in Arlington
  • Progressive Field (infield, 3rd base side only)
  • Turner Field
  • Comerica Park
  • PNC Park
  • Citizens Bank Park (infield only)
  • PETCO Park (?)
  • Busch Stadium III (beyond 1st base & 3rd base only)
  • Citi Field (?)
  • Yankee Stadium II (?)

In some cases (with question marks), there seem to be entry portals in some parts of the lower deck, but not others. Further research is necessary.



October 6, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Orioles & Royals sweep ALDS, advance to ALCS

The first stage of the playoffs on the American League side were decided in rapid fashion over the weekend, setting up a League Championship series between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals swept their opponents.

In yesterday afternoon's game, in Comerica Park, the [Orioles'] only two runs came in the fifth inning. Nelson Cruz hit a pop fly into the right field corner that just barely carried the fence for a home run. The Tigers staged a dramatic rally leading off in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two consecutive doubles by Victor and J.D. Martinez. The stage was set for a heroic comeback But then popped out, was intentionally walked, and pinch-hitter Hernan Perez grounded in to a double play, thus putting an end to Detroit's season. Orioles 2, Tigers 1.

The wild card underdog Kansas City Royals likewise swept the Angels. In the game at Kauffman Stadium last night, Mike Trout gave the visiting team something to cheer about by homering in the first inning. But the Royals loaded the bases and [Alex] Gordon hit a [bases-clearing double] in the bottom of the first to put the Royals on top, 3-0. Final score: Royals 8, Angels 3 -- in only nine innings!

One of the more amusing surprises of that series was when the Royals' stocky slugger Billy Butler stole second base, only his sixth stolen base of his entire eight-year career. See MLB.com.

The Royals had already made history by winning three consecutive postseason games in extra innings. In the AL Wild Card game, they had beaten the Athletics 9-8 in twelve innings, and in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, they beat the Angels 3-2 and 4-1, respectively. The last time a team won two consecutive postseason games in extra innings was the 2004 ALCS, when the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees 6-4 and 5-4, thanks mainly to David "Big Papi" Ortiz. The last time there were two consecutive extra-inning games in a postseason series was in the 2012 ALDS, with the Orioles and Yankees each winning one of them.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers and Cardinals split the first two games of their divisional series, in Los Angeles. And as for sweeping the divisional series, what is going on in San Francisco at this very moment might yield a third such result, because...

Prolonged agony in Washington

NLDS Game 1 was disappointing [Giants 3, Nats 2], but what happened in Washington [on Saturday] night made Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series (when the Cardinals scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning to win, 9-7) look like a picnic. Jordan Zimmermann had another splendid outing, going 8 2/3 innings and allowing only three hits and no runs. Then he walked Joe Panik, and manager Matt Williams decided to replace him with Drew Storen, the team's closing pitcher. [Storen] quickly gave up a single to Buster Posey and a double to Pablo Sandoval, and the Giants almost scored a second run except that Posey was called out sliding into home.

Here are the protagonists in the high-tension ninth inning drama that changed everything:

Drew Storen
LEFT: Drew Storen pitches to Donovan Solano, in the top of the ninth in on September 27, when the Nationals beat the Marlins, 5-1.

Pablo Sandoval
RIGHT: Pablo Sandoval, after striking out in the August 15, 2013 game. The Nationals lost that game to the Giants, 4-3, after Rafael Soriano gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning.

Nats fans will argue until the end of time whether Zimmermann should have been pulled, or whether that was what really decided the game's outcome. In the Washington Post, Mike Wise wallows in the dark side of despair, fearing that the traumatic episode may linger for years. Maybe, but I don't think so. Professional ball players know that such hideous reversals of fortune are part of the game, and sooner or later the law of averages will work to their benefit.

Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen pitched exceptionally well for the 13th, 14th, and 15th innings, after which Rafael Soriano took the mound. Uh-oh... Actually, he did a good job, getting three quick outs. Then in the top of the 17th inning, Tanner Roark came in as a reliever and did just fine until the 18th inning, when the leadoff batter Brandon Belt smashed the ball into the second deck in right field. That was all it took, as the Nats failed to do much in the bottom of the inning. And so, after six hours and 23 minutes, the longest postseason game in history, the Giants emerged victorious, 2-1. frown

Data footnote: the 44,035 in attendance in two consecutive nights seems implausible to me.

It may seem an impossible situation, to be down 0-2 in a series and facing the opposing team's best pitcher (Madison Bumgarner) in their ballpark (AT&T Park), but stranger things have happened. Indeed, the Giants came back and won the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds after losing the first two games at home. So maybe, just maybe, the Nationals can do likewise this year.

As shown in the table below, which covers the 162 regular-season games, the Nationals enjoyed a 5-2 win-loss ratio over the Giants this year. That means the best the Giants can hope for is to earn a 5-5 split with the Nationals for regular-season and postseason games combined.

Nationals' head-to-head matchups, 2014
OpponentWinsLosses
ARI61
ATL811
BAL13
BOS00
CHC43
CHW00
CIN33
CLE00
COL51
DET00
HOU40
KC00
LAA12
LAD42
MIA136
MIL42
MIN00
NYM154
NYY00
OAK03
PHI910
PIT43
SD43
SEA21
SF52
STL25
TB00
TEX21
TOR00
Totals9666

As of the sixth inning in Game 3, it is still a scoreless tie. Can the Nats still pull it off? I say YES!


UPDATE: As I was finishing this blog post during the top of the seventh inning, the Nationals staged a three-run rally in which the key play was a throwing error to third base by pitcher Madison Bumgarner. He was charged with the loss in the 4-1 game, so there WILL be a Game 4 tomorrow. More details tomorrow. Natitude!!!



October 1, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Amazing comebacks: Royals win!

Last night's American League Wild Card Game in Kansas City was truly something to behold. The Royals made two amazingly dramatic comebacks when they were at death's doorstep, in the ninth and twelfth innings. The Oakland A's jumped to an early 2-0 lead thanks to a home run by Brandon Moss, but the Royals put together a run in the bottom of the inning, showing fighting spirit. They then took a 3-2 lead in the third inning, but the A's staged a five-run rally in the sixth inning, as Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer. Then the Royals clawed their way back with three runs in the eighth inning, and one in the ninth to tie it. Their key to success was speedy baserunning, in particular Jarrod Dyson, who pinch-ran in the ninth. In the top of the twelfth, the A's took the lead on an RBI single by Alberto Callaspo, but the Royals refused to give up. After fouling off several pitches, Eric Hosmer blasted a triple to deep left-center field, bouncing off the top of the fence. That sparked a rally in which RBI singles by Christian Colon and Salvador Perez tied the game, and then won the game. Final score: K.C. 9, Oakland 8.

Talk about joy in the ballpark! Kansas City had not experienced any postseason baseball action since they won the World Series in 1985, and they were overdue. It was ironic that they were facing the team that preceded them in Kansas City -- the (former Philadelphia) Athletics!

Two former Washington Nationals were on the teams last night, and Josh Willingham had a clutch pinch-hit single leading off in the bottom of the ninth inning that helped the Royals tie the game and stay alive. The other one, Adam Dunn, sat on the bench the entire 12-inning game, since A's manager Bob Melvin decided to put Brandon Moss in as designated hitter because he needed a faster player to patrol the vast outfield at Kauffman Stadium. (I think Moss's performance erases any doubt as to whether that was a good move.) Dunn is expected to retire, without ever having played in a postseason game. What a pity.

As for the Oakland A's, it's yet another frustratingly brief postseason appearance. Since 2002, they have reached the playoffs six times, but have only advanced to the American League Championship Series once -- in 2006. The last time they were in the World Series was 1990. See the Postseason scores page.

The Athletics had the best record in baseball at midseason, but went sharply downhill after that. It's a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Atlanta Braves in that regard. I found a couple Washington Post articles by Barry Svrluga from a month ago (August 27-28), and they gave the likelihood (from Baseball Prospectus) of various National and American League teams reaching the playoffs as follows:

N.L. team Playoff
chances
A.L. team Playoff
chances
Washington Nationals 99.7% smile Los Angeles Angels 99.8% smile
Los Angeles Dodgers 98.3% smile Oakland Athletics 99.5% smile
Milwaukee Brewers 87.6% frown Baltimore Orioles 96.6% smile
St. Louis Cardinals 75.1% smile Kansas City Royals 68.2% smile
San Francisco Giants 64.8% smile Detroit Tigers 63.5% smile
Atlanta Braves 41.3% frown Seattle Mariners 49.2% frown
Pittsburgh Pirates 28.7% smile New York Yankees 12.3% frown

(Smiley and frowny faces indicate whether the teams actually made it or not.)

Postseason reflections

According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, a large majority of MLB insider-experts expect the Washington Nationals to win the World Series. The Nats got 37 votes, compared to just 19 for the L.A. Dodgers, and no more than four votes among any of the other teams. But that same "Forecaster Panel" also picked the Oakland Athletics to win the AL wild card game, so don't put too much stock into their predictions! Oddly, former Nats manager Manny Acta picked the Dodgers. I'm surprised that so few people think the Angels can go all the way. Here's my Facebook reaction to Jayson Stark's predictions:

I know, anything can happen in the playoffs. But the Nationals' roster is as deep as the Marianas Trench (I just made that up), and they can outmatch any rival in just about any category. Plus they have tons of mojo and experience from the 2012 NLDS. As Jayson Stark says, no team has a better shot at winning the World Series.

The last time both Los Angeles teams were in the playoffs was in 2009, and both teams advanced to the respective League Championship Series, but neither team reached the World Series. In 2004, both those teams made it to the playoffs, but neither team reached League Championship Series. That was when the Angels were stilled affiliated with Anaheim.

The Nats' first no-hitter!

Somehow, I didn't quite get around to mentioning on Monday's blog post what was so important about that game in Washington which I saw on Sunday. It was the Nationals' first-ever no-hitter!!! (It's rather like if a newspaper article were written in 1969 about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon, but neglecting to point out that it was the first time such a feat had been accomplished. That reporter would get fired!) Ironically, I had already put that vital factoid under the "2014 memorable moments" on the Washington Nationals page, which will be updated with more data later this evening. For the record, from the Washington Post, here are the other "pre-Nationals" no-hitters -- for the city, and for the franchise:

  • Walter Johnson, Senators vs. the Red Sox, July 1, 1920
  • Bobby Burke, Senators vs. the Red Sox, Aug. 8, 1931
  • Bill Stoneman, Expos vs. the Phillies, Apr. 17, 1969
  • Bill Stoneman, Expos vs. the Mets, Oct. 2, 1972
  • Charlie Lea, Expos vs. the Giants, May 10, 1981
  • Dennis Martinez, Expos vs. the Dodgers, July 28, 1991

Walter Johnson also threw a no-hitter in a rain-shortened seven inning game, in 1927 I believe, but that does not count in most record books.

Giants vs. Pirates

Tonight's NL Wild Card game in Pittsburgh went scoreless for three innings, and then Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam to give the Giants a 4-0 lead over the Pirates. (It's a good week for sluggers named Brandon!) Either team would be a worthy competitor to the Nationals when the victor of tonight's game plays in Washington on Friday afternoon.

COMMENT by: Chris Knight, of Kansas City, KS on Oct 02, 2014 21:59 PM
After a 29 year playoff drought. I had to get a way to get the whole postseason strip. I got it and attended the Wildcard game, which had to be the greatest game I have ever seen in person. The stadium was wild and very loud. The loudness of the stadium allowed Eric Hosmer to get a triple as a result of miscommunication by the Oakland Outfielders because they could hear each other make the I got it call beyond the noise of us fans. I hope we do good in the ALDS and hopefully make it all the way to the World Series and win.



September 29, 2014 [LINK / comment]

(Almost) Perfect weekend in Washington!

I was determined to make up for not seeing as many Nationals games in Washington as I had hoped this year, and boy, did I! Not only was the weekend weather almost perfect, starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann indeed came very close to getting a perfect game in the regular season finale yesterday, settling for a "mere" no-hitter. He also came very close to giving up a double in the top of the ninth inning, putting the Nats' lead in jeopardy, but thanks to rookie Steven Souza Jr., who had just replaced Ryan Zimmerman in left field, the ball was caught and the game was won. Yes!!!

Nationals montage 28 Sep. 2014.

I had a seat in the right field second deck, where home runs by Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche often land. Alas, not that day. The Nats stocking caps being given away to early fans seemed out of place on such a warm day, with just a few wispy clouds. Even though outcome of the Sunday game itself was meaningless, since the Nats had already clinched home field advantage on Friday, it really did matter from a psychological standpoint. In sports, as in politics, it's all about the "Big Mo" -- momentum! And so, the game was a nine-inning war of nerves, with manager Matt Williams making multiple changes in the lineup. He has to be considered a top contender for National League Manager of the Year.

Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann, warming up before the game. Did he have any idea what was in store?

The first Marlins batter, Christian Yelich, put some early pressure on Zimmermann, fouling off several pitches and then hitting a line drive to the [right] field corner. Fortunately, Bryce Harper got over there quickly and snagged the ball for an out. Zimmermann's pitch count reached 17 by the third out, and given the low stakes, most people figured he might not last more than five innings.

In the second inning, Ian Desmond hit a solo home run that turned out to be the only run scored in the game. Bryce Harper then doubled on a ground ball to center field, dashing to the base just before the throw. That had us fans thinking we were in store for one of those high-scoring games full of rallies. The next two batters struck out, however, and not much happened offensively after that.

Ian Desmond home run

Ian Desmond hits a homer into the left field bullpen.

In the third inning, Denard Span hit a double into the right field corner, thereby setting a new team record for number of hits in a season: 184. He was rewarded for his efforts by being taken out of the game, and was replaced in the lineup by Nate Schierholtz. The Nats outfielders changed almost every inning for the rest of the game.

In the fourth inning, Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper singled, but then Wilson Ramos grounded into a double play for the third out.

In the top of the fifth inning, three Marlins batters hit the ball hard, and all three lined out to infielders. Zimmermann gave up a walk (his only one of the day), to Justin Bour, thus spoiling any hopes of a perfect game, but that was it. He knew, and we fans knew, that something special was going on...

Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann maintained his composure after giving up a walk in the fifth inning.

The Nationals kept getting hits, and they kept wasting run-scoring opportunities. Kevin Frandsen grounded into a double play in the bottom of the fifth, and in fact, the Nats got two hits but no runs [in the] fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. The Nats had eleven hits altogether, but the ten that came after Desmond's home run did not yield any runs.

The next challenge came in the seventh inning, when Garrett Jones made it to first after striking out on a wild pitch. But that came to nothing because catcher Wilson Ramos threw him out on a pick-off almost right away, and that ended the inning.

In the eighth inning, Reed Johnson flew out to left fielder (!) Ryan Zimmerman, who stayed in the game longer than any of the starters other than the pitcher and catcher. Justin Bour was out on a pop foul caught by Kevin Frandsen at third base, and J.T. Realmuto struck out. That got the crowd really excited about history in the making, but with just a one-run lead it was a very nervous excitement.

Nationals Park RF 2nd deck

Nearly all of the 35,085 fans in Nationals Park were standing and cheering loudly after the second out in the ninth inning.

In the ninth inning, Adeiny Hechavarria grounded out to second, and then Jarrod Saltalamacchia came in to pinch hit for Henderson Alvarez. His slugging reputation put some fans on edge, and indeed, he connected on a pitch and sent the ball far into center field (where I couldn't see it), but Michael Taylor caught it for the second out. Whew!

All that led up to one of the most dramatic plays in Nationals history. Zimmermann faced Christian Yelich, who had given him such a hard time in the first inning, and fell behind in the count. Then he put a pitch over the plate that [Yelich] knocked into the left field gap, and Zimmermann cringed in futile agony, sure that his big opportunity had been ruined. But Steven Souza, who had just been put in to replace Ryan Zimmerman, quickly darted out toward the bullpen and with a flying lunge worthy of Superman himself, he grabbed that ball before it hit the ground. And I took a picture of it!!!

Steven Souza catch 9-28-2014

Steven Souza dives to catch the ball hit by Christian Yelich, thus ending the game and saving the no-hitter. Michael Taylor looks on in evident astonishment.

And of course, the crowd went wild, the team poured onto the field in exultant, joyous celebration for what Zimmermann had accomplished, with the ritual Gatorade shower, shaving cream pie in the face, etc., etc. What a way to end a regular season! That had to be one of the most spectacular and crucial defensive plays made in Nationals history, and Souza may just have earned himself a spot on the postseason roster. (During the playoffs, they go back to 25 men rather than the expanded 40-man roster used in September.)

Nationals mob Jordan Zimmermann

The Nationals mobbed Jordan Zimmermann (#27), celebrating his no-hitter. Steven Souza, #21, is in front.

Ironically, Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter on the last day of the regular season last year! For more on this triumphant finale in D.C., see the Washington Post, and for the "official version" of the day's events, see MLB.com.

Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight

Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight doing the Nats Xtra postgame show from the MASN booth behind the left field stands.

While I was watching the Nats Xtra postgame show replayed on MASN this morning, I heard Johnny Holliday say that was the first no-hitter he had ever seen in person. Wow. I have seen close to 50 Major League games in my lifetime, whereas he must have seen several hundred, so I must be pretty lucky in that regard.

Earlier in the weekend...

Thanks largely to another superb outing by starting pitcher Doug Fister, the Nationals won the first game of the series against the Marlins on Friday afternoon, while I was driving up to D.C. Anthony Rendon hit a two-run home run in the first inning, and the two runs scored later on merely provided a safety cushion. The 4-0 victory by the Nats clinched the best record in the National League, meaning that the Nats will enjoy home field advantage in the NLDS and (hopefully) the NLCS as well.

I made sure to arrive on time for the Friday night game, since they were giving team posters to the first 20,000 fans. After Fister's triumph that afternoon, it was easy to write off the night game as pointless, since hardly any regulars even played. But the Nats were actually very competitive and took a 3-1 lead in the first inning, and stayed ahead until the fifth inning. Rookie pitcher Taylor Hill got two outs, but then just lost control of the situation. He hit Casey McGehee with a pitch, gave up two hits, and then intentionally walked Justin Bour to load the bases. That was a big mistake, as J.T. Realmuto lined a ball into the left field corner for a three-run triple. Instead of a 4-2 Nats lead, the visitors were suddenly ahead 7-4. The Marlins extended their lead to 10-7 in the seventh inning, and in the top of the ninth, they got a grand slam off veteran reliever Craig Stammen. (I think it was the first grand slam I had ever seen.) That was disturbing. Final score: 15-7, more runs than any team had scored against the Nats this year. (That was not the worst defeat suffered by the Nationals this year, however; on April 15, Tax Day, the Marlins beat the Nats 11-2.)

Steven Souza

Steven Souza, Jr. gets high-fives from Ian Desmond and other team mates after hitting a home run in the third inning. He would get even bigger congratulations two days later!

In the Saturday afternoon game, which I saw with my old friend Dave Givens, Stephen Strasburg was totally in control, giving up just two hits in six innings, with seven strikeouts. That put him at 242 K's for the season, tied with the Reds' Johnny Cueto for the National League lead, and three ahead of the awesome Clayton Kershaw. A well-placed bunt by Strasburg in the second inning allowed Bryce Harper to score from third. But that was the only scoring until the eighth inning, when the Nats loaded the bases, and Asdrubal Cabrera hit a clutch double to right-center field, getting all three base runners home. Cabrera soon scored to make it 5-0, and that would have been the final score except for fielding errors by both Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon in the top of the ninth. Fortunately, closing pitcher Drew Storen kept his cool, and got the third out. Nats 5, Marlins 1.

Stephen Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg prepares to strike out Christian Yelich to end the top of the third inning.

Wrapping it up

And so, the Nationals finish the 2014 regular season with a 96-66 record (.593), 30 games over .500, and 17 games ahead of the second-place Atlanta Braves. That's the biggest first-vs.-second place margin since 2008. The Washington Nationals page has been updated with the data for 2014, subject to possible revision later on. I'll have the team-by-team head-to-head records, the daily winning percentage graph, and selected player stats compiled within the next few days.

And on a personal level, I'm pleased that the Nats won 4 of the 5 games I saw this year, much better than their 0-4 record in games I attended last year. I also saw two other games, in Phoenix and in Kansas City, making a total of seven (7) MLB games this year, a personal best! Here's an updated version of last year's table, now including three Nats' games I've seen on the road:

Nats' games I've seen
Year Wins Losses
2005 2 2
2006 1 1
2007 1 1
2008 1 1
2009 2 0
2010 2 2
2011 2 1
2012 3 1
2013 0 4
2014 4 1
TOTAL 18 14

Underlined numbers include one away game (each), three total.

Divisional races decided

Thanks to the Cincinnati Reds, who beat the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1, the St. Louis Cardinals claimed the NL Central Division title for the second year in a row. The Pirates will host the San Francisco Giants in the NL wild card game on Wednesday night.

The Detroit Tigers won the AL Central Division by beating the Minnesota Twins 3-0. The Tigers were already ahead by one game, so it didn't matter that the Kansas City Royals won their game as well. K.C. will host the Oakland Athletics in Tuesday's wild card game, after the A's limped across the finish line, blanking the Rangers, 4-0. The Seattle Mariners finished the season one game out of the playoffs.

The Nationals will host either the Pirates or the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday in Nationals Park, time yet to be announced. The Dodgers will host the Cardinals in the other NLDS, and on the American League side, the Angels will host either the Royals or the Athletics, and the Orioles will host the Tigers. See the Postseason scores page, which now shows the first-round matchups.

Historic milestones

It was exactly ten years ago today that Mayor Anthony Williams announced that Major League Baseball would be coming to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2005. "Oh, Happy Day!" (The linked blog post was taken from text that I wrote and posted before I began blogging in a systematic way, in November 2004, hence the "post facto" date stamp of 28 Sep 2005.)

Sunday was Ryan Zimmerman's 30th birthday, and ironically they didn't give him the day off!

Jeter's encore in Boston

Not content with his amazing walk-off RBI finale in New York, Derek Jeter went out with a bang in Boston as well. He hit a high bouncing ball that the third baseman couldn't reach, allowing the runner on third to score. And then he was taken out of the game, finishing his superlative 20-year career on a successful note.

And here's a parallel from Facebook friend Doug Mataconis: "Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter both played their last game on the same date and in the same park. Mantle in 1968 and Jeter today." He's referring to Fenway Park, of course.

[NOTE: Corrections were made, denoted by brackets, about 24 hours later.]



September 26, 2014 [LINK / comment]

For a few warblers more

It's been a little slow birding-wise this month, but I did come across a nice bunch of neotropical migrants at Spruce Creek Park near the Rockfish Valley trail last week. Unfortunately, the Chestnut-sided Warblers were too far away for a good photograph. On Monday, I saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler at Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton, and I saw that same species the very next day on the Blackwater Creek Trail in Lynchburg, managing to get a decent photo. (Stay tuned.) I also saw a Cape May Warbler there, as well as in our back yard earlier on Monday.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler (probably female or juvenile), in Staunton, September 22.

Warblers montage Sept. 2014

Clockwise from top left: Cape May Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, September 10. All are females or juvenile males.

I have also spent some time up at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch this month, and have seen a number of Broad-winged Hawks, Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and other raptors.



September 26, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Derek Jeter bids farewell to New York

I was lucky to be watching last night's Orioles-Yankees game on MASN (just after the Nationals had beaten the Mets) at exactly the right moment in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was a tense situation, since the Yankees' closer David Robertson had just blown a save opportunity, giving up two home runs to turn a 5-2 lead into a 5-5 tie. (Reminds me of Rafael Soriano!) Anyway, Jose Pirela singled and then reached second on a sacrifice bunt. That's when Derek Jeter stepped up to the plate, and just like it was scripted in Hollywood, in his final career at-bat in (New) Yankee Stadium, he hit a game-winning RBI single to right field. And the crowd went wild! It almost sent shivers down my spine to see this emotional farewell to New York City. Earlier Jeter had issued a message to his fans, giving them credit for raising their expectations of him, thus motivating him to do his very best for the team. Is that class, or what? Wow!

Speaking of luck, my friend Brian Vangor was actually at the game, and he took some memorable photos:

Yankees mob Derek Jeter

The Yankees mobbed Derek Jeter after he hit a walk-off single, to win the game, 6-5. Photo courtesy of Brian Vangor.

Derek Jeter waves goodbye

Derek Jeter waves goodbye to the crowd after the game. Photo courtesy of Brian Vangor; for more photos, see smugmug.com.

On September 7, the Yankees held a special "Derek Jeter Day," with special guests such as Joe Torre, Dave Winfield, Paul O'Neill, Hideki Matsui, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. I believe, but am not certain, that they officially retired Jeter's #2 that day, consigning that number to the Yankees Hall of Fame. And likewise, Brian Vangor was there to record the event:

Yankees at Derek Jeter farewell

Derek Jeter is honored by former team mates and other retired Yankees at the pre-game ceremony on Derek Jeter Day, on September 7. Photo courtesy of Brian Vangor; for more photos from that day, see smugmug.com.

Re2pect!

I was hoping to see "The Captain" in a game at (New) Yankee Stadium this summer, and as a backup plan I planned to see one of the Yankees games in Baltimore earlier this month. But that didn't work out either. So, I had to content my self with the memory of having seen him play in New York in July 2004, in Baltimore in August 2006, and in Kansas City in August 2011, when I sat just a few rows behind the Yankees' dugout and had a great closeup view.

Nats seek home field advantage

After getting rained out on Wednesday night, the Nationals played a double-header with the Mets yesterday. Starting pitcher Blake Treinen was taken out during the top of the fifth inning, when the Mets scored three runs, but the Nats came back to tie it in the bottom of that inning, taking him off the hook. But Tyler Clippard gave up two runs in the top of the eighth inning, and was charged with the loss in a 7-4 final score.

In the evening, Gio Gonzalez pitched one of his best games ever, allowing just two hits over seven innings, while striking out 12 batters, a new career high for him. The Nats loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth inning, and managed to score three runs -- none of which resulted from a hit! Final score: 3-0. Hey, a win's a win.

That means the Nationals are now 93-65, two and a half games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers in the race for the best regular season record in the National League. They're 16.5 games ahead of the Braves, who have fallen four games below .500; who would have expected that? The Nats will have an opportunity today to clinch home field advantage through the first (and possibly second) rounds of the playoffs next month.

Hockey at Nationals Park

Earier this month the NHL announced that the upcoming "Winter Classic" outdoor hockey match will be held at Nationals Park. The Washington Capitals will host the Chicago Black Hawks. The alternative of RFK Stadium was considered, and frankly that would make more sense as far as providing the best sight lines for the biggest number of fans. It depends on the anticipated attendance, and how many luxury suite tickets can be sold. That means I'll have to get to work on a hockey version diagram of Nationals Park, once the position of the hockey rink is decided upon...

And speaking of Nationals Park, that's where I'll be for the better part of this weekend! Natitude!




 

This month's calendar:

October 2014
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19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31 .
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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:

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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.


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"It's not just a blog, it's an adventure!"

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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