July 9, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Busy, busy, busy: Birding in June
Apparently I was so busy birding in June that I didn't have time to blog about it! That was at least true for the first three weeks, as long as pleasant weather continued. Since then I've been getting caught up on other things. On the very first day of the month, I joined 30 or so other members of the Augusta Bird Club for our annual picnic brunch, held for the second year in a row at the Humpback Rocks picnic area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Crista Cabe and I led separate bird walks along nearby wooded trails, but we didn't see as many birds as we had hoped. At one point there was an Ovenbird with agitated behavior, usually a sign that it is guarding a nest nearby. We looked briefly, but didn't find any. Later we had a nice view of a Black-and-white Warbler, but it was hard to get a good photo of the little speedster. The real highlight, however, came on the way home when I stopped at an "overlook" (where the trees have grown so tall that the view is gone), and got some pretty good photos of a Cerulean Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cerulean Warbler (M), Eastern Phoebe, Scarlet Tanager (M), American Redstart (adult male), Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting (M), Black-and-white Warbler (M), and American Redstart (female); near the Humpback Rocks picnic area and along the Blue Ridge Parkway on June 1.
Hearthstone Lake II & III
In preparation for a field trip (see below), I made a preliminary "scouting" visit to the north side of Hearthstone Lake on June 4, following up on my initial visit to the south side on May 18. (See May 31.) I took special care to map the limits of the block as accurately as possible. Most of the highlights were to be expected: Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (close!), Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Acadian Flycatcher, and Red-eyed Vireos. On the way back I stopped at nearby Hone Quarry, which was mistake because the road was so full of potholes (presumably due to the floods of last year) that I was afraid my car would get damaged. I saw an American Redstart for the first time that day, but otherwise the effort getting there did not pay off.
(On June 6 I went for a short walk around Betsy Bell Hill, and saw an Eastern Towhee, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and a Wood Thrush, but my photos weren't particularly good.)
As part of the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA-2) survey, on Saturday, June 8 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the north side of the Hearthstone Lake area for the first time. The weather forecast was bleak, however, and only three other members showed up: Dan Perkuchin, Ann Cline, and Roz Holt. It was overcast but at least it didn't rain until almost the end of our trip. Our first major stop was at the intersection of Tillman Road and Sand Spring Mountain Trail, at the northern edge of the Reddish Knob SE block. (For VABBA, the entire state of Virginia is divided into rectangular "blocks," some of which are designated as "priority blocks.") A bit south of there we saw a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched at the top of the very same bare tree branch it had been four days earlier. We also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (again), but didn't see it this time. The biggest surprise of the day was hearing and eventually seeing a Red-breasted Nuthatch. With poor lighting conditions, however, the photos were rather mediocre. We also saw a Pine Warbler that was carrying food (an indicator of probable breeding), and we heard others later on. At the nearby Narrowback trail head, we saw an Acadian Flycatcher. We heard several of them at various points further along Tillman Road, where we made two or three brief intermediate stops, and likewise there were Ovenbirds at multiple locations. One of the Hooded Warblers we saw was carrying food, and we also had brief views of Scarlet Tanagers (probable mated pair) and a Black-and-white Warbler. Other birds that we heard only included Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos (fewer than expected), Blue-headed Vireos, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Wood Thrushes.
At our terminal stopping point near the Hearthstone Lake dam construction site (road closed!), we saw two Bald Eagles, one an apparent mature adult and the other either a second- or third-year bird. I listened for the American Woodcocks which I had seen near there on May 18, to no avail. On our way out of the area, we paused to take a look at an Eastern Phoebe at a stream crossing, and noticed three Cedar Waxwings bathing. We ended our visit to the Hearthstone Lake area with 26 species total. Many thanks to Dan Perkuchin for keeping close track of our observations.
Afterwards we drove up to Reddish Knob, only about seven miles to the west-northwest as the crow flies, but more like 15 miles along the roads, as the human drives. Approaching the mountain crest we saw a Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warblers, an Eastern Towhee, and a Common Yellowthroat at close range. To my great annoyance, my camera battery ran out, and I missed some great photo ops. Near the summit, we finally heard a Black-throated Green Warbler and saw some Dark-eyed Juncos. At the summit, we saw an Chestnut-sided Warbler and I managed to take a couple photos with limited battery power. At the ridgecrest crossroads on the way back down we saw an American Redstart (oddly absent from the Hearthstone Lake area), but we didn't get any of the hoped-for Black-throated Blue Warblers or Red Crossbills.
One final oddity to cap off a very successful outing was a flock of 20 or so mostly white doves in a grassy field along Rt. 257 on the way back to Briery Branch. Released from a wedding, perhaps?
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting (M), Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler (M), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), Cedar Waxwings, Acadian Flycatcher, and (in center) Eastern Phoebe and Pine Warbler (M); June 8, 2019.
Ramsey's Draft & Shen. Mtn.
On June 12 Ann Cline and I went hiking at two separate but nearby locations on the western edge of Augusta County. We are both trying to get better photos of various uncommon (and elusive) neotropical migrants, especially warblers, and accomplishing that task requires more patience and determination than most non-photographers have. The first Road Hollow Trail, going about 3/4 mile up from Ramsey's Draft. We saw a nice mix of warblers, vireos, and flycatchers, and got some good photos. At the kiosk in the picnic area, we saw a pair of Eastern Phoebes and a nest. Nearby was a Brown-headed Cowbird, a species that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. Next we drove up to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain, spotted a couple Cedar Waxwings, and then hiked about a mile and a half south, to the. (I had led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to that location on May 24 last year.) Once again, we saw a nice variety of birds along the way. The weather was just perfect. Near the intersection with the Georgia Camp trail (where we turned back), we had some good looks at a Hooded Warbler and took some photos. On the way back I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco singing from a dead tree snag; they are very common in Virginia in the colder months, but we never hear them sing. They are only found at high elevations in Virginia during the summer. We met an interesting outdoorsman on the way back, and then saw a curious thing: a pair of Black-capped Chickadees clearing out wood chips from a broken tree trunk for a nest site, almost like what a woodpecker would do! While driving back on Route 250, we to stop and hike for a while on the Georgia Camp trail, which I had only visited once before. Not many birds were present, but toward the end we heard and then got a look at a Blackburnian Warbler: one of our main target birds!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Dark-eyed Junco, Scarlet Tanager, Hooded Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting (F), and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler; at Ramsey's Draft and Shenandoah Mtn on June 12.
On June 15 Ann Cline and I went on sort of "makeup" field trip to Highland County, trying to recruit other folks who weren't able to be at the "official" field trip there led by Allen Larner on June 2. As it turned out, nobody else could make it that day either. We first stopped at John and Nancy Spahr's house in the village of New Hampden, getting tips on where to see various birds. At Lisa Hamilton's new house nearby we saw a Red-headed Woodpecker and a Phoebe gathering material to make a nest. Driving north along Wimer Mountain Road, we saw the expected Eastern Meadowlarks and a Bobolink. At the home of the late Margaret O'Bryan, we saw House Wrens, an Eastern Towhee, an Indigo Bunting, an American Kestrel, and at least two Chestnut-sided Warblers. After a while we finally heard and then briefly saw our main target bird: the Golden-winged Warbler! In fact, there were two of them briefly scuffling, and while Ann managed to get some decent photos of one of them, I never did. That was a disappointment, but at least I got some good looks at that striking bird. Next we headed west and saw even more Red-headed Woodpeckers, one of which was perched very nearby on a fence post! We had nice views of Cedar Waxwings, American Redstart, In the rhododendron forest along the stream, we saw another target bird: Canada Warbler. We saw three altogether, but couldn't get any good photos due to their speed and stealth. Finally, we drove farther west and saw a family of Dark-eyed Juncos as we approached the West Virginia state line. We stopped briefly at a brushy area where Mourning Warblers used to frequent, but struck out with that target species. We did at least hear a Veery while we were there. It was getting late (almost 2:30), so we then headed straight home.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Meadowlark, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Canada Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, American REdstart, Cedar Waxwing, and in center, Eastern Phoebe; all in Highland County on June 15.
Hearthstone Lake IV & V
Two days later, on June 17, I made a fourth trip to the Hearthstone Lake area, but only the second trip to the south side. My objective was to explore some of the trails that lead away from Tillman Road. I walked for about a half mile (one way) along a gravel road which eventually becomes Buck Mountain Trail, and saw a Pine Warbler, a Hooded Warbler, and a male Indigo Bunting that responded to the recorded songs I played on my iPhone with a wing-flapping mating ritual. That was surprising! I looked and listened for American Woodcocks once again, but not succeed. Next I hiked for about 3/4 mile (one way) along the Grooms Ridge Trail. I saw the usual Ovenbirds and Red-eyed Vireos, but not much else. Near the trail head I had a great view of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Returning south, I stopped at the Wild Oak trail head, and saw an Eastern Phoebe and a nest at a sign kiosk -- just like at Ramsey's Draft! On the way back I stopped in the village of Stokesville, mainly to take pictures of the old bridge there, but in so doing I came across a Red-eyed Vireo and got some excellent sunlit photos of it.
On Sunday, June 23rd, I led another Augusta Bird Club field trip to the north side of the Hearthstone Lake area, with Dan Perkuchin, Peter Van Acker, and Roz Holt. Unlike our previous field trip on June 8, this time we hiked along four separate side trails -- from 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile (one way) in and back each time, for a total of about 3 miles, plus another mile or so walking along Tillman Road. I was pleased to learn that those side trails were surprisingly well-maintained, and offered a nice variety of habitats, from shaded streams to semi-open meadows. The weather was almost perfect, and the scenery was beautiful.
Early on, we were excited to find a bulky nest inside a steel tube at a trail gate, but it turned out to be that of a relatively common Carolina Wren. No doubt the biggest thrill of the day was seeing (and photographing) a Blackburnian Warbler in the tree tops. It briefly skirmished with a presumed rival (or prospective mate?), behavior suggestive of breeding. At a stream crossing we saw an Eastern Phoebe at the same place as last time. Dan Perkuchin peeked under the culvert and found a nest there, just as expected, with at least two babies. Other signs of breeding included a pair of Indigo Buntings (male and female), and two pairs (male and female) of Scarlet Tanagers, the latter pair with two fledglings. Just like before, there were numerous Ovenbirds and Red-eyed Vireos, and several Acadian Flycatchers, Pine Warblers, Hooded Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireos at various locations. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched in the very same dead tree snag as it had been on the two previous visits! We also had a brief view of a Red-shouldered Hawk at the dam. Among the big "misses" that we had seen in that area previously but not this time were American Woodcocks, Bald Eagles, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
I owe thanks once again to Dan Perkuchin for compiling the eBird report, and to all three for helping out with the VABBA-2 project. I will try to arrange one or two more field trips to the Hearthstone Lake area in the near future.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: [Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting (F), Acadian Flycatcher, Pine Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager (F), Scarlet Tanager (M), and (center) Blackburnian Warbler;] north of Hearthstone Lake on June 23.
[Many more photos are on the Wild Birds yearly page.]
July 8, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals almost sweep the Royals
The good vibes from the triumphant Fourth of July game in Washington carried over into the following series, as the Kansas City Royals came to town on Friday. Trea Turner hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, followed by a single, a walk, and a double, but no more runs scored because Anthony Rendon grounded into a double play after Adam Eaton's single. Young Austin Voth was pitching again, and once again he lasted exactly 4 1/3 innings before he was replaced. Ryan Zimmerman hit three (3) doubles, the second of which (in the seventh inning) was his 1000th career run batted in. The third double came in the bottom of the ninth inning, bringing the Nats to within one run of the Royals (4-3). He then scored on a Brian Dozier single, and with nobody out, it looked like the Nationals were almost guaranteed a walkoff victory. But they choked and the game went into extra innings. They had another prime opportunity to win it in the tenth, but the rally fell flat. In the tenth inning, recently acquired relief pitcher Jonny Venters took the mound, and he loaded the bases with nobody out. Before you knew it, the Royals were ahead 7-4, and that was the final score. Major bummer.
On Saturday afternoon, Max Scherzer was pitching, and once again he threw every ounce of energy he had into that game. He went seven full innings and got 11 strikeouts, raising his season total to 181. (That's 11 more than Garrett Cole of the Astros, and 43 more than the next-highest National League pitcher(s); Stephen Strasburg and Jacob deGrom of the Mets.) [He even hit a single and stole second base!] Kurt Suzuki homered, and Juan Soto got two RBIs as the Nats prevailed, 6-0.
On Sunday, Patrick Corbin exactly matched what Max Scherzer had just done: 11 strikeouts over seven innings with no runs allowed. Unfortunately, the bullpen let him down, so he didn't get credit for the win. After Fernando Rodney gave up two hits in the top of the eighth inning, Sean Doolittle came in to replace him, and immediately gave up a double that tied the game, 2-2. It was another gut-wrenching choke, but all ended well as the Nats staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth. Clutch RBI doubles by Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick (pinch hitting) made all the difference as the Nats won the rubber game, 5-2.
That win preserved the Nats' hold on second place and the first of the two wild card slots, keeping them within six games of the division-leading Atlanta Braves. If only they hadn't choked at the end in the Friday game, they would have swept the Royals after having just swept the Marlins. In any case, it provided very positive vibes for the team as they entered the All-Star break with far higher hopes than they had a month ago.
All Star 2019 selections
The rosters for the 2019 All Star Game are pretty much set, but some players asked to be excused and will not appear. The Nationals' third baseman Anthony Rendon was selected after the voting phase of the selection process ended, but he is feeling banged up and says he needs time off. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer has a sore back and likewise will prioritize his own health, which is obviously a good thing. (He also is tending to a baby daughter who was born last week!) Anyway, not many of my All Star picks this year actually made it. The only two National Leaguers I correctly picked are Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger, who are -- coincidentally -- rivals in the NL Most Valuable Player race this year. Incredibly, either one of them could conceivably win the Triple Crown! I admit, Nolan Arenado is stiff competition at third base, but I think Juan Soto was more deserving than Ronald Acuña as an outfielder; the latter hits a lot of home runs, but Soto is better overall. On the American League side, I correctly picked five of eight position players plus the designated hitter.
2019 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
|| National League
|| American League
|| Wilson Ramos
| Wilson Contreras
| Gary Sanchez
| Gary Sanchez
|| Josh Bell
| Freddie Freeman
| Carlos Santana
| Carlos Santana
|| Mike Moustakas
| Ketel Marte
| Brandon Lowe
| D.J. LeMahieu
|| Anthony Rendon
| Nolan Arenado
| Alex Bregman
| Alex Bregman
|| Trea Turner
| Javier Baez
| Xander Bogaerts
| Jorge Polanco
|| Christian Yelich
| Christian Yelich
| George Springer
| George Springer
|| Cody Bellinger
| Cody Bellinger
| Trey Mancini
| Michael Brantley
|| Juan Soto
| Ronald Acuña
| Mike Trout
| Mike Trout
|| Josh Bell
| J.D. Martinez
| J.D. Martinez
|| Hyun-Hin Ryu
|| Justin Verlander
"Trop" capacity drops
I recently noticed that the seating capacity of Tropicana Field is now being reported in the Washington Post as 25,025, compared to 42,735 before, a drop of 17,710. The change was made some time in June, according to my clippings of box scores. So, contrary to what I wrote on May 12, there was in fact a change in capacity at an MLB stadium this year. I'll update that page shortly. The big drop reflects the closure of the upper deck, and indeed is fitting inasmuch as the team rarely draws more than 10,000 fans to a game. (The same thing goes for the other Florida team, the Miami Marlins.) How long can this go on?
More stadium locations
I updated the "new" (?) Stadium locations page with map/diagrams for four more cities: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Some of them include locations for football stadiums and/or basketball/hockey arenas. I may eventually do a separate such diagram for Anaheim. That takes care of all of California, and leaves only Phoenix and Denver among cities in the west.
Angel Amezquita made some helpful suggestions about that page, and I will try to get to those in the near future.
July 4, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Red-hot Nationals surge into
third second place
In the three weeks since my last baseball blog post (June 10), the Washington Nationals have continued to recover from the dreadful first two months of the 2019 season. For all but a few days until the middle of June, they were stuck in fourth place, but they had already begun a long, arduous climb from the lower tier on May 24. In fact, they have the best win-loss record in the major leagues (26-10) since that date. The higher the temperature climbs, the hotter they are playing! There are still signs of persistent problems with the bullpen and hitting, but the worst seems to be behind them, and they now claim one of the two wild card spots. That was almost unthinkable one month ago.
Nats split with Chi-sox
In Chicago on June 10-11, the Nationals split two games with the host White Sox. Anibal Sanchez had another fine outing in the first game, while Trea Turner came a single short of hitting for the cycle as the Nats won easily, 12-1. But everything fell apart the next day as Patrick Corbin gave up seven runs in five-plus innings, including a grand slam in the first inning. White Sox 7, Nats 5.
Nats split with D-backs
On June 13, the Nationals returned to D.C. and began an 11-game home stand against the Arizona Diamondbacks on a sour note, losing 5-0. Erick Fedde took the loss, but the Nats only managed three hits, two of which were by Trea Turner. The next day Max Scherzer was pitching, and put in yet another amazing performance, with ten strikeouts over seven innings. Nats 7, D-backs 3. On Saturday the 15th Stephen Strasburg was ineffective on the mound, giving up six runs in five innings even after Juan Soto and Matt Adams had homered in the first inning for the Nats. They lost that one, 10-3. But in the final game on Sunday, Anibal Sanchez rose to the occasion again, while the Nats' bats went wild. Matt Adams smacked two home runs, including a grand slam, for a total of 7 RBIs. Kurt Suzuki and Anthony Rendon also homered, and the Nats won easily, 15-5, thus splitting the four-game series.
Nats sweep Phillies
Then the Philadelphia Phillies came to town, but so did bad weather: rain, rain, rain. Two games had to be postponed, one of them until September 24, and the other became part of a double-header on June 19. In the afternoon game, Patrick Corbin sailed through seven innings, while Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra homered in the eighth inning to put the icing on the cake. Nats 6, Phillies 2. In the night game, Max Scherzer pitched seven scoreless innings, while Brian Dozier and Victor Robles provided all the runs the Nats would need, as they won 2-0, thereby overtaking the Mets and claiming third place in the NL East! In the finale on Thursday, Erick Fedde was replaced as pitcher in the fourth inning, but the bullpen managed to hold together and the Nats won, 7-4. Suzuki, Rendon, and Robles all homered in that game, which brought the Nats' record up to 36-38.
Nats fall short vs. Braves
The division-leading Atlanta Braves arrived in Our Nation's Capital for a pivotal showdown on Friday, June 21, and Stephen Strasburg held them to three runs over six innings. Yan Gomes, the nominal first-string catcher this year, hit a home run and the Nats held on to win, 4-3. Wander Suero even got the save! That gave the Nationals their first five-game winning streak of the season, and they rode that momentum into the Saturday game. Matt Adams homered again, and the Nats were ahead 8-4 after five innings. It was at that point that one of the most disheartening sequences of events of the entire year transpired. The struggling relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal took the mound in the top of the seventh inning, and once again was about as wild as you can imagine. He walked the first two batters, and for some reason, manager Dave Martinez decided to give him one more chance. Not a smart move at all! Rosenthal walked the bases loaded without getting an out, and was then replaced. Tanner Rainey walked in a run and then gave up a bases-clearing double hit by Freddie Freeman, and the game was tied. The Nats retook the lead (9-8) in the bottom of the inning, but then the Braves scored four more runs, all charged to former starting pitcher Joe Ross. The Braves scored once more in the ninth inning, for a total of nine (9) runs given up by the Nats' horrendous bullpen in the final three innings. Braves 13, Nats 9. In the rubber game on Sunday, Austin Voth put in an admirable performance as a spot starter for the Nats, giving up just two runs over seven innings. The game went into extra innings tied 2-2, but Tanner Rainey couldn't quite get the third out in the top of the tenth, when a two-run homer by Johan Camargo put the Braves back ahead. The Nats rallied in the bottom of the tenth, but could only manage one run, thereby losing the game, 4-3, and the series. It was the only series the Nationals have lost since May 23.
The very next day, the Nationals unconditionally released Trevor Rosenthal, in effect "eating" his salary of $7 million, pending other teams' reactions. A few days later the Detroit Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract, and he will pitch for their AAA farm club -- the Toledo Mud Hens! Maybe Rosenthal will somehow regain control of his pitching as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and resume his major league career, but for now it looks like an awful tragedy for the former St. Louis Cardinal star.
Nats sweep Marlins (I)
After a day of rest, the Nats flew south to Miami on June 25. Max Scherzer had another great outing against the Marlins, striking out ten batters over eight innings. What's more, he got two hits and scored two runs! Trea Turner homered, and the Nats won, 6-1. On Wednesday, Patrick Corbin gave up just one run over seven innings, but they bullpen gave up four more, and the Nats won, 7-5. On Thursday, Stephen Strasburg got the win even though he gave up four runs over seven innings. Four Nats home runs proved to be the deciding factor in the 8-5 victory by the visiting team. In none of those games did attendance at Marlins Park reach 8,000 fans, an absolutely dreadful testament to the woebegone state of that franchise and its feeble fan base. Something needs to change down there fast.
Nats edge the Tigers
The Nationals then boarded a plane bound for Detroit, where the Tigers were waiting to pounce. Last Friday (June 28), Anibal Sanchez did it again on the mound, giving up one run over six innings, while Juan Soto homered and Howie Kendrick went two for four. Nats 3, Tigers 1. On Saturday Austin Voth couldn't make it through the fifth inning, but the Nats managed to stay ahead 5-3 until the seventh inning. That's when Tanner Rainey gave up three runs without getting an out, and after tacking on another run an inning later, the Tigers won, 7-5. In the rubber game on Sunday (June 30), former Tiger Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nats, and of course he delivered another "gem." He struck out a season-high 14 batters over eight innings, and didn't allow a run to score until the seventh inning. A solo home run by Anthony Rendon in the eighth inning put the Nats back on top 2-1, and Sean Doolittle got the save.
Nats sweep Marlins (II)
After another day of rest back home in Washington, the Nationals welcomed the Miami Marlins to town for a rematch on the second of July. The first three Marlins batters all hit singles, scoring a run, but Patrick Corbin composed himself after that. After a couple innings the game was delayed for over an hour by rain, but Corbin return to continue pitching -- somewhat of a surprise in that situation. He pitched a full seven innings without allowing any more runs to score, but Wander Suero gave up a run in the top of the eighth, and it was tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and a 3-2 count, Trea Turner doubled into the right-center gap, and Yan Gomes reached home all the way from first base for the winning run. Turner had already hit two walk-off homers this year, and he's starting to fill the "Mr. Walkoff" role that Ryan Zimmerman has had ever since 2006.
Speaking of Zimmerman, he recently returned to the active roster after missing nearly two months with plantar fascitis. He is making solid contact and has had several hits, so hopefully he will return to his former status as star slugger as the season moves forward.
Last night (Wednesday) Stephen Strasburg matched the performance of Max Scherzer, getting 14 strikeouts over seven and a third innings. In fact, the fourth inning qualified as "immaculate," as Strasburg threw exactly nine pitches, all of them strikes, to get the three outs. That's a very rare feat. A two-run homer by Brian Dozier in the sixth inning was all the Nationals needed, but Matt Adams tacked on another run with a solo shot in the eighth. Sean Doolittle got the save, but it was rough going as he gave up three hits and one hit batter, but only one Marlin scored. He exulted in relief after striking out Yadiel Rivera to end the game: Nats 3, Marlins 1.
Today's game started early (11:00 AM) so as to make way for all the other 4th of July festivities later on in Washington. Anibal Sanchez pitched yet another fine game, giving up just two runs (one earned) over six innings. Kurt Suzuki and Anthony Rendon homered, and Gerardo Parra hit a two-run double in the sixth inning to give the Nats a 5-2 lead. Nobody scored after that. Since Sean Doolittle was exhausted from the night before, the Nats' new relief pitcher Fernando Rodney (age 42) came in to do the job as closing pitcher. He did just fine, celebrating with his signature "arrow-toward-the-sky" gesture after getting the last out. It was indeed a happy July 4 in Washington, D.C.!
Speaking of which, the Nationals' cumulative record in 4th of July games is now 9-5. The Red Sox spoiled last year's 4th of July festivities in Washington, beating the Nats 3-0. (Starting pitcher Erick Fedde only lasted one inning!) In 2017, the Nats beat the Mets 11-4, thanks in large part to ex-Met Daniel Murphy. In 2016, I presented a table summarizing all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals since the franchise "rebirth" in 2005.
Since the Atlanta Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies this evening, the Nationals have now pulled a half game ahead of the Phillies in the National League East Division race, but they remain six games behind the Braves. The rest of the season is going to be very interesting, in the NL East as well as the NL Central, where all five teams are potential contenders.
The Nationals' first half 2019
I recently updated the Washington Nationals page with data for the first half of the year, including head-to-head matchups and various records of note. At the end of June (two days after the exact midpoint in terms of number of games), the Nats' record was 42-41, and now it's up to 45-41 (0.523). It's certainly below pre-season expectations, but they are headed in the right direction, unlike this time last year.
R.I.P. Tyler Skaggs
A sudden tragedy struck the Los Angeles Angels on Monday afternoon when their starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in a hotel room in Southlake, Texas. No foul play is suspected. The game scheduled for that evening was postponed to allow his team mates time to cope with their grief. See MLB.com. It happens that Nationals' pitcher Patrick Corbin was a good friend of Skaggs, as they were both drafted by the Angels in 2009 and came up together from the minors. Corbin was emotionally distraught when he pitched on Tuesday night.
Baseball in London!?
The much-heralded first-ever Major League Baseball game played in England turned out to be something of a joke. Both teams scored six runs in the first inning, and both teams scored six runs in later innings as well. The Yankees ended up beating the Red Sox by the absurd score of 17-13: thirty runs total??!! Well, that's not cricket! For all the details, see MLB.com. Attendance was 59,659, with a capacity of 66,000 seats. The Yankees also won the next day, 12-8, thanks to a nine-run seventh inning; very strange. The way London Stadium was reconfigured for baseball took me by surprise, as I had assumed that the diamond would be laid out with center field being oriented along the the long axis of the oval. That would follow the logic of Memorial Stadium (Baltimore) and Cleveland Stadium. But instead, for some inscrutable reason, they put the diamond such that center field was only 385 from home plate, with the foul poles being 330 feet away. Even with large seating sections being moved in to fill the void on the right and left sides of the field, there was still a huge amount of foul territory. Several folks have asked me about doing a London Stadium diagram, and indeed that is on my "Coming Attractions" to-do list. Stay tuned!
New (?) page: Stadium locations
As a way to provide a clearer idea of where various stadiums are (or were) located, I have recently been adding some new thumbnail map/diagrams, including Chicago (see below), Cleveland, Kansas City, as well as Milwaukee. I also greatly enhanced ones I had previously done for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc. back in January. I even added the locations of certain turn-of-the-20th-Century stadiums such as West Side Grounds, where the Cubs resided before Wrigley Field. Finally, I decided that I needed to rename what had been called the "Stadium proximity" page. It is now called "Stadium locations," since it encompasses not just stadiums that happened to be situated next to their predecessors, but all MLB stadiums. For the time being, however, there are no thumbnail map/diagrams for some cities. I have finished with cities in the central portion of the country, and have done a few eastern cities but so far only Seattle in the west.
Abstracted map of the "Windy City" of Chicago, showing where several stadiums are (or once were) located.
NOTE: One detail shown on the Arlington map/diagram is that the future home of the Texas Rangers will be called "Globe Life Field," rather than "Globe Life Park" (the same name as their current stadium) as I had thought. I have been doing very preliminary work on a diagram for it based on photos at MLB.com, as well as the aerial photo taken by Clifford "Bucky" Nance. (See March 20, 2019.)
All Star selections, etc.
I need to get caught up commenting on the selections for this year's All Star Game, which will be held in Progressive Field. Plus there are some other news tidbits that I have neglected...
June 11, 2019 [LINK / comment]
A history of rock music, Part II: from H to N
Over the last two months since I left off at "G" (Grateful Dead), I have continued my alphabetically-ordered musical odyssey almost every Wednesday night at the Queen City Brewing open mic events. (My review of Part I: from A to G was on April 17.) Playing in public with greater regularity, I am getting better responses from the audience.
H is for Hootie & the Blowfish: On April 17, open mic host Fritz Horisk instituted a new arrangement such that performers who arrive early get to play more songs than those who arrive later -- such as me, in this case. (Domestic chores often detain me.) That meant that I only got to do three of the four songs I had planned, but as you will see, that worked out for the best. Two of the songs were "first-timers" for me, but I did well enough and got good applause. I didn't use the harmonica on any of them, which is rare for me. HOOTIE!
- * Hold My Hand
- Only Want To Be With You
- * Time
* : first time in public
(This notation applies throughout this post.)
I is for Imagine Dragons: One week later (April 24) I was in a quandary, since the only suitable group I know that starts with "I" is Imagine Dragons, and I only know one song by them. (I ruled out INXS as way too loud for an acoustic instrument.) So, I began by playing the "left-over" song that I was unable to play the week before. That still left two slots open, and I was prepared to resort to one of my own modest musical creations (using the logic that I start with "I"), but that proved unnecessary because of the tight scheduling that night. With a full slate of performers, I only got to do two songs. Just as well. Both were OK, but I felt a bit uncomfortable doing "Radioactive." (Those are some thought-provoking lyrics, by the way: "This is it, the Apocalypse.")
- * Let Her Cry (Hootie & the Blowfish)
- * Radioactive (Imagine Dragons)
J is for Joe Walsh: The very next week (May 1) I signed up in advance to make sure I got to do four songs. I paid tribute to the bad boy classic rocker who took the Eagles to new heights in the late 1970s. All four songs were "first-timers" for me, and I rose to the occasion by nailing them with technical accuracy and passion. I recently changed the way I playe "Rocky Mountain Way," and it sounded great with the harmonica filling in for the lead guitar. One guy wondered how I was ever going to get through the complex "Life's Been Good," and he was impressed that I pulled it off. That was a good night!
- * Rocky Mountain Way ( # )
- * Walk Away ( # )
- * Life's Been Good
- * Life Of Illusion
# : with harmonica
* : first time in public
(These notations apply throughout this post.)
K is for Kansas: I missed the next week mainly because I was exhausted from a busy day of chores, and it was just as well, because I really needed to polish the four songs by Kansas, which is very challenging material. They were one of the leading examples of "progressive rock" in the 1970s, along with Yes, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, and Rush. By May 15 I was ready, and I played my heart out. The first and third songs were relatively easy and familiar to most of the folks in the audience, but the second and fourth songs were musically complex and apparently new to almost everyone there. I got polite applause, but I was a little disappointed I didn't make a bigger impact.
- * Reason To Be ( # )
- * Incomudro - Hymn to the Atman
- Dust In The Wind ( # )
- * Angels Have Fallen ( # )
L is for Led Zeppelin: And speaking of "challenging material," I had a plate full on May 22, when I decided to tackle one of the best rock groups of all time. I began by noting that my previous week's set (Kansas) kind of went over like a lead balloon, a humorous segue into Led Zeppelin. I started with the mellow "Going to California," and then switched gears with a wailing harmonica on "When the Levee Breaks." Damn, that sounded good! I learned both of those songs relatively recently. The third and fourth songs were ones I have played many times, and they happen to occur in sequence on side one of Led Zeppelin IV! (Indeed, all four songs were from that album.) For "Stairway To Heaven" the harmonica did the flute notes in the introduction, and the lead guitar in the grand finale. It was one of the biggest risks I had ever taken, and this time at least I really pulled it off. Some parts weren't quite as "clean" as I would like, but the audience reaction was fantastic.
- * Going to California
- * When the Levee Breaks ( # )
- * The Battle of Evermore
- * Stairway To Heaven ( # )
There was a nice-sized crowd at the Queen City Brewing open mic event on May 22, soon after I had finished playing four Led Zeppelin songs. That's Jacqueline standing next to the barrel.
M is for Moody Blues: May 29 went a little easier for me, since I had done all four songs in public before, so it wasn't as hard to prepare. I was poised, and everything sounded fine. I use the harmonica for the flute solo in "Nights In White Satin," and even though it wasn't perfect, it was a vast improvement over the first time I played that song at open mic a couple years earlier. Once again, I got some very warm compliments from the audience and other musicians. In the days that followed, I learned to play another Moody Blues song: "Question," which has some very fast strumming (necessitating a light pick) and striking chord progressions. I look forward to playing that at open mic after I finish my alphabetical sequence.
- The Story In Your Eyes
- Tuesday Afternoon ( # )
- The Voice ( # )
- Nights In White Satin ( # )
N is for Neil Young: Likewise, June 5 was a relatively easy night for me, since I had done three of the four songs in public before. In contrast to the rock songs in which my use of the harmonica is rather unorthdox, for Neil Young songs, it is strictly conventional. "Harvest Moon" could have been a little clearner, but it was OK. I prefaced "After the Gold Rush" with an observation that Neil Young has a dual performing character: sometimes he is a sentimental romantic, and sometimes he is a stridently protesting prophet of doom. The last verse of that song involves a spaceship taking refugees away from an ecologically ruined Earth. As the finale, I really got carried away with the the harmonica on "My My, Hey Hey." Once again, folks really enjoyed it.
- Heart Of Gold ( # )
- Harvest Moon ( # )
- * After the Gold Rush ( # )
- My My, Hey Hey ( # )
I am now officially half-way through the alphabet, slightly over, in fact. At my next musical outing (this Wednesday?), I will be on the letter "O," and anyone who knows me very well knows which group's songs I will play!
Staunton Jams 2019
On May 18, Jacqueline and I went downtown to enjoy the last set of the first "Staunton Jams" street concert of the 2019 season. I greeted lots of people I know from church, from music circles, etc. The local rock group Sun Dried Possums was playing, but the amplifiers were too loud, so we retreated a half block away and enjoyed fine malt beverages at Shenandoah Brewing. (I played two solo shows there last year.) Hopefully I can get another gig there before long...
The "Staunton Jams" event on Beverley Street, May 18.
June 10, 2019 [LINK / comment]
After two flubs, Nats get back-to-back-to-back-to-back on track
The way things have gone for the Washington Nationals this year, you could almost expect them to find a way to ruin the precious momentum they had gained from their recent winning streak. Indeed, in the first game of the series at San Diego last Thursday, the Nationals blew a big early lead. Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier both batted in two runs in the first inning, a nice cushion for starting pitcher Patrick Corbin. But the Padres came back with two runs in the second and three more in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, Trea Turner fielded a grounder awkwardly and threw it to third base but Anthony Rendon missed it, and two runners scored. The next batter hit a sac fly RBI, which was the final run scored during the game, and thus the Nats ended up losing, 5-4. In game two, Erick Fedde pitched a fine game, only giving up one run until the sixth inning, when the Padres scored two more. But in the top of the seventh the Nats finally got a rally going, and a two-run double by Trea Turner tied it, 3-3. The visitors took the lead thanks to a wild pitch in the top of the ninth, but closing pitcher Sean Doolittle proceeded not only to blow the save but lose the game in the bottom of the ninth, giving up three hits and two runs. Same final score as before: 5-4.
With Max Scherzer pitching on Saturday, the Nats were in a much better position. Max struck out nine batters over seven innings, giving up six hits but no runs. Brian Dozier homered again, and the Nats racked up four runs total for the third day in a row, but this time the Padres only scored one run, and that was in the bottom of the ninth. In Sunday's game, Stephen Strasburg nearly matched the pitching performance of Scherzer, but the score was still 1-1 when he left after the seventh inning. And that is when something utterly implausible happened: pinch hitting for Strasburg, Howie Kendrick smashed a solo home run off the front edge of the upper deck in left field. Then Trea Turner came up to bat and homered to center field. Next was Adam Eaton, and he did the same thing! WOW! The next batter, Anthony Rendon, then hit a homer into the "new" seats in right center field. (Before the outfield in PETCO Park shrank in 2013, that ball would have landed in front of the wall.) Believe it or not: back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs!!!
- Howie Kendrick (PH)
- Trea Turner
- Adam Eaton
- Anthony Rendon
Thanks to that offensive outburst, Strasburg got his seventh win of the year; the final score was 5-2. The Nationals thus made history, becoming the first major league team to ever hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats more than once. (I wouldn't be surprised if they set a record for the lowest total score of any team that accomplished such a feat: just 5.) The other time was July 27, 2017, which I mentioned in a blog post that focused mainly on my baseball travels and hence neglected to state which players actually homered. Thanks to today's Washington Post, I learned that they were:
- Brian Goodwin
- Wilmer Difo
- Bryce Harper
- Ryan Zimmerman
It is interesting that not one of those players from 2017 is currently on the active roster. Anyway, the Nats salvaged a split in the four-game series. If they can hold on to their lead in the game against the White Sox in Chicago tonight, they are likely to pull within six games of the first-place Phillies in the NL East race. You never know...
Another foul ball tragedy
Two weeks ago a little girl in Houston's Minute Maid Park suffered a head injury when she was hit by a line drive foul ball hit by the Cubs' Albert Almora, who was stricken with grief when he realized what had happened. In response to this awful incident, USA Today summarized the current extent of backstop netting in all 30 major league parks. While such protective nets have been extended at most ballparks in recent years, none of them are as safety-conscious as in Japan's baseball stadiums, where nets extend all the way from foul pole to foul pole. Perhaps I should find a way to depict such nets in my diagrams...
Toledo Mud Hens!
My brother John saw the famed Toledo Mud Hens play a game at their home field last month. Thanks to the TV show M*A*S*H, and to the character "Corporal Klinger," the Mud Hens became one of the best-known minor league teams in the 1970s. In fact, the city of Toledo rewarded the actor Jamie Farr (a Toledo native) by naming a park after him. Fifth Third Field opened in 2002, and is located in a warehouse district of downtown Toledo. One of the interesting features is that historic buildings were preserved in the northeast corner of the city block in which the ballpark was built, and a triangular section of seats is wedged into a tight space in back of the right field foul pole. See www.milb.com. The Mud Hens are a AAA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, based roughly 70 miles to the north in Motor City.
Fifth Third Field from the 3rd base side; photo courtesy of John Clem.
So, what exactly is a "mud hen"? The team's web site explains the origin of their name, deriving from the avian inhabitants of the marshy land near the ballpark where they originally played in the 1890s. The American Coot, pictured below, is one of several birds that are sometimes called "mud hens."
A few weeks ago, a visitor to this web site kindly offered me the use of some of his photos of minor league ballparks, and while I appreciated the offer, I'm afraid that until I finish the main objective of updating the remaining MLB stadium diagrams and get caught up with other web site tasks, I really can't make much use of them.
June 5, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals are on a winning streak!
In case you missed it, the Washington Nationals finally seem to have gotten their act together, winning four games in a row for the first time this season, and four consecuive series as well. After their successful trip to Atlanta last week, they headed to Cincinnati on May 31, but Patrick Corbin had another poor outing (the second in his last three starts), giving up eight runs (six earned). He had to be replaced during the third inning. The smokin' hot Juan Solo had another homer, but the Nats still lost to the Reds, 9-3. The next day (Saturday), Erick Fedde pitched four solid innings, giving up two runs, while the bullpen prevented any more scoring. Home runs by Gerardo Parra, Matt Adams, and Brian Dozier tilted the outcome in favor of the visitors, as the Nats won, 5-2. On Sunday, Anthony Rendon led the offense, while Max Scherzer struck out 15 batters (!!!) over eight full innings. Dave Martinez was going to replace him in the bottom of the eighth, but Max refused to leave and went on to strike out Joey Votto to end the inning. Nats 4, Reds 1.
After a day of rest as they headed home to Washington, the Nationals welcomed the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday. Stephen Strasburg had a nightmarish first inning, giving up four runs, plus another in the second inning. But then the Nats started to come back, and a clutch three-run homer by Anthony Rendon in the fifth inning put the Nats ahead 6-5. Three more runs that inning gave the home team a comfortable margin, and they held on to win, 9-5. This afternoon, Anibal Sanchez had a fine outing for the second time in a row, after losing the first six decisions of the 2019 season. He left the game with a 4-1 lead, in line for his second win of the year, but the bullpen let him down -- in the eighth inning once again! Kyle Barraclough and Wander Suero gave up back-to-back homers that tied the game 4-4. But in the bottom of the ninth inning, Trea Turner smashed a high pitch into the visitors' (left field) bullpen to give the Nats a 6-4 victory. It was Trea's second walk-off homer this year (the first one was one March 31), and the third for the Nats already this year. The Nats had four walk-off homers in 2008, 2010, and 2015, but never more than that. So, they may just set a team record in that category this year.
Tomorrow night, the Nationals will begin a four-game series in San Diego against the Padres. They are now only five games below .500 (28-33), and only 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium tweak
Here is yet another minor touch-up of a "cookie-cutter" stadium diagram: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium diagrams. I recently noticed that some time in the 1970s most of the lateral walkway in the upper deck was filled by seats, so there are now separate 1966 and 1974 upper-deck diagrams. In addition, compared to the last such update (on April 28, 2016), the upper deck is slightly bigger. That post had a preliminary list of stadiums that feature "ribbed" roofs, to which I have added Riverfront Stadium (updated on April 16, 2019). I think the following list is now complete:
- Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (1965, Atlanta)
- Angel Stadium (1966, Anaheim)
- Riverfront Stadium (1970, Cincinnati)
- Veterans Stadium (1971, Philadelphia)
- Olympic Stadium (1976, Montreal)
- Exhibition Stadium -- left field (1977, Toronto)
- Hiram Bithorn Stadium (1980, Puerto Rico)
- Progressive Field (1994, Cleveland)
Basketball in Canada!
Last Saturday marked the first time ever that an NBA finals game was played outside the United States. The home team Toronto Raptors beat the favored Golden State Warriors in Game 1, then lost (just barely) in Game 2, and won in Game 3 tonight. Basketball is not nearly as big in Canada as is hockey, of course. The Toronto Raptors played their first few seasons at what was then called Skydome and is now called the Rogers Centre, so I updated the basketball diagram on that page to more accurately depict the positioning of the temporary seats used in basketball games.
The mail bag
Mark London and Angel Amezquita each provided some information on the location of Three Rivers Stadium relative to other stadiums before and afterward, and I made a small adjustment to the "vicinity" thumbnail map/diagram on that page.
John Morris informed me that I had the wrong year in a caption of photo that my brother John took of the Fenway Park. So, I corrected the date on the Fenway Park page based on what John (Clem) told me: It was 1998, not 1996.
More news from Mike Zurawski and other to get to soon, including recent developments with the Oakland A's proposed new stadium. Stay tuned!!!
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