October 25, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Holy cow: Cubs beat Dodgers, win NL pennant!
For the first time in my entire life, the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series. The words in that sentence seem so outlandish and exotic to me that it's hard to believe that it is really true. On an emotional level, I am filled with joy mixed with sadness that my father, a lifelong Cubs fan, could not live long enough to see his team become world champions. (See the obituary blog post I wrote for him in April and the blog post from August 2009 when he, my sister Connie, and I saw a Cubs-Rockies game in Denver.)
The Dodgers won NLCS Game 3 by a score of 6-0, as veteran pitcher Rich Hill outperformed the Cubs' ace Jake Arrieta. Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner both homered, and presumptive NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager went 3 for 5 at the plate. The Cubs' sluggers could only muster four hits, two of which were hit by Kris Bryant. Cubs fans started getting nervous after that one.
But in Game 4, the Cubs took back the momentum in a decisive way. They scored first with a four-run rally in the fourth inning, capped by a two-run homer by Addison Russell. That knocked the Dodgers' young starting pitcher Julio Urias out of the game, but the Cubs just kept piling on more runs. They had a 10-2 lead by the middle of the sixth inning, and that turned out to be the final score. That evened the NLCS, 2-2.
In Game 5, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI double by Anthony Rizzo. The Dodgers tied it two innings later, and in the sixth inning, the Cubs' shortstop Addison Russell hit a two-run homer (his second in two days) to take a 3-1 lead. The Cubs added five more runs in the eighth inning, putting the game out of reach, so it didn't really matter that the Dodgers scored in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: Cubs 8, Dodgers 4. Taking two out of three games in Dodger Stadium provided a huge psychological boost to Chicago. Nonetheless, it is of some concern to the Cubs that Aroldis Chapman has not been his usual dominant self in this postseason, with an ERA of nearly 4.
Back in Chicago for Game 6 after a day of travel and rest, the daunting Clayton Kershaw again pitched for the Dodgers, but this time his human weaknesses finally caught up with him. The Cubs jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and added another run in the second. Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo hit solo homers, while Kyle Hendricks pitched the game of his life, allowing only two hits in 7-plus innings. The Cubs got the final out on a double play, a fitting punctuation to a flawless game that sent Chicago fans into euphoria. Final score: Cubs 5, Dodgers 0.
So how would I have coped with a Cubs vs. Nationals NLCS, if that matchup had occurred? I suppose I would have been happy either way, but obviously with mixed emotions.
Go Cubs, Go!
By the way, I learned that song "Go Cubs, Go" on the guitar today, after discovering to my astonishment that it was written by Steve Goodman, the very same guy who wrote "City of New Orleans." Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, mere days before the Cubs advanced to postseason play for the first time since 1945. What a tragedy. (The Cubs lost to the Padres in the 1984 NLCS.)
Indians beat Blue Jays, win AL pennant
When the Cleveland Indians beat the Blue Jays 4-2 in ALCS Game 3 in Toronto, the series was just about decided. (Hardly any team -- other than the 2004 Boston Red Sox, of course -- has won a seven-game series after losing the first three games.) The Blue Jays staged a brave comeback attempt in Game 4, sparked by a solo homer by Josh Donaldson, eventually winning 5-1. So at least there was no sweep. But in Game 5 the Indians scored single runs in the first, third, and fourth innings, putting the Blue Jays in a terrible bind. The unexpected hero of that game was 24-year old Indians pitcher Ryan Merritt, who did not allow any runs and only two hits during 4 1/3 innings. With Andrew Miller on the mound for two innings, there wasn't much hope for the Blue Jays, and the final score was Indians 3, Blue Jays 0. And that is how the Indians won the American League pennant for the first time since 1997.
World Series "droughts"
Much has been said about the long "droughts" suffered by the Cubs and Indians since the last time they were in a World Series (1945 and 1997, respectively) and since the last time they won a World Series (1908 and 1948, respectively). No doubt about it, this is definitely a "feel good" year for baseball fans everywhere, as one of those cities is going to experience once-in-a-lifetime jubilation over the next week or so. But since professional sports are tied to cities, it is worth pointing out (as the Washington Post did yesterday) that the city of Washington has suffered a longer drought than any of the other MLB cities: the Washington Senators were last in the World Series in 1933, and the last time they won it was 1925. The Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. Likewise, it is worth mentioning that the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship in June. (Tonight was the first game of the 2016-2017 NBA season, with baseball and basketball games being played simultaneously in Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena, right next door.)
World Series stadia
Just like last year, 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. Fortunately, my diagrams for both those stadiums are fully up to standard, requiring no updates.
Wrigley Field has about 107,800 square feet of fair territory, and about 18,600 square feet of foul territory, according to my best estimates. Progressive Field has about 105,400 square feet of fair territory, and about 21,900 square feet of foul territory. But the high left field wall in Progressive Field makes it less hitter-friendly than those area data might suggest. (See the Stadium statistics page.)
October 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Waynesboro "Greenway"
This morning I joined Allen Larner on a field trip along the Greenway Trail which parallels the South River in Waynesboro. In contrast to most Augusta Bird Club field trips, this was a public event, in coordination with the Waynesboro Dept. of Parks and Recreation. Three non-club members attended, and we tutored them on identifying species by sound, and so on. The weather was fine early on, sunny (except for fog along the Blue Ridge) with cool breezes. There were plenty of birds both at the beginning and the end of the trail, but not much in between. A total of 32 species of birds were identified by sight or sound, including the ones in the photo montage below. (NOTE: I saw the Double-crested Cormorant at a nearby pond after the field trip had ended.)
Later in the morning, three other club members and I went with Stephanie Seltzer (who works in Parks and Recreation) to inspect the proposed Sunset Park, which will occupy the hill on the east side of town where the landfill was formerly located. Aside from providing a spectacular view of the city, the area features a combination of woodlands and open areas that seem to be ideal habitat for various kinds of birds. Along the way, we came across a Box Turtle, a species I had not seen in over a year. Highlights over there included a probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a Palm Warbler, and a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Late in the morning, the skies grew very dark, and it soon started to rain. I strained to cover my camera and binoculars as we hurried back to the truck in the rain. Nevertheless, it was a successful day of birding.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing (juv.), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warbler, and Northern Mockingbird.
Box Turtle, on the woodland trail east of the proposed Sunset Park.
View of Waynesboro from the proposed Sunset Park on the east side of town.
October 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Chimney Hollow
Yesterday morning I "led" an Augusta Bird Club field trip to one of my favorite places, Chimney Hollow. Unfortunately, nobody else showed up, probably due to the fact that it was rescheduled from last Saturday, to avoid a conflict with the club's bird seed sale. So, just like the last time I "led" a field trip there (March 26), though for a different reason, it was a solo venture, hence the quotation marks around led. Just like the last time, I heard a Pine Warbler as soon as stepped out of my car, and heard a number of different birds soon thereafter, including a Blue-headed Vireo and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. But quite unlike the last time, I never did see any of those birds. Not until I reached the part of the trail that begins to climb steeply uphill (where I usually turn around and head back) did I get a good view of any birds, in fact. Overall, it was a disappointing day, but at least I spotted (and photographed) a Black-throated Blue Warbler. On the way back I heard and saw what was almost certainly a Winter Wren along the banks of the stream. I definitely heard the slow-cadenced call of Black-capped Chickadees, and probably Carolina Chickadees as well. Western Augusta County marks the approximate border between the ranges of those two closely-related species, and there may be some inter-breeding. Finally, I heard the loud scream of Pileated Woodpeckers at two different locations. I ended up with very few bird photos, but I took plenty of mushroom photos, which will be posted in the near future.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-throated Blue Warbler (male), White-breasted Nuthatch*, Red-bellied Woodpecker*, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Hairy Woodpecker (male).
* photographed a day earlier, in Staunton.
Chimney Hollow, October 18.
Chimney Hollow Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
Oct 18, 2016 9:10 AM - 11:50 AM
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
19 species (+1 other taxa)
- Turkey Vulture -- 1
- Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 2 (H)
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- 1 (H)
- Downy Woodpecker -- 1
- Hairy Woodpecker -- 3
- Northern Flicker -- 2 (H)
- Pileated Woodpecker -- 2 (H)
- Blue-headed Vireo -- 1 (H)
- Blue Jay -- 5
- American Crow -- 2
- Black-capped Chickadee -- 3
- Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee -- 4
- Tufted Titmouse -- 3
- Red-breasted Nuthatch -- 1 (H)
- White-breasted Nuthatch -- 4
- Winter Wren -- 1
- Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 8
- American Robin -- 2 (H)
- Black-throated Blue Warbler -- 1
- Pine Warbler -- 1 (H)
NOTE: "(H)" = heard but not seen. View this checklist online at ebird.org
Backyard fall birds
While looking out back on Sunday afternoon (October 16), I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male) -- in each case, the first of the fall season for me as far as the Staunton area. A photo of the latter, as well as the montage above, be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. Also, a Sharp-shinned Hawk (probably the same one I photographed on Saturday) has been shrieking in the neighborhood, eliciting alarm calls from Blue Jays and forcing smaller birds (including our canaries inside!) to take cover. Finally, I noticed that one of the recently-arrived White-throated Sparrows out back has a single white feather in its left wing, just like a bird we have seen here for the past two winters, and I strongly suspect it is the very same bird!
October 17, 2016 [LINK / comment]
NLCS: Dodgers & Cubs split, 1-1
After a dramatic and ultimately jubilant (for the home fans) Game 1 in Wrigley Field on Saturday night (see next paragraph), the Los Angeles Dodgers prevailed in yet another tense pitchers' duel in Game 2 last night. On just two days' rest, their ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw kept his pitch count low enough to last for a full seven innings, confounding the expectations of critics. How did he do that? The red-hot Cubs sluggers could only manage two hits over the course of nine innings, while the Dodgers had three -- one of which was a solo home run by Adrian Gonzalez in the second inning. One slight lapse by the Cubs' starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks was all it took. Final score: Dodgers 1, Cubs 0.
In Game 1, the Cubs took an early lead and had a 3-1 lead going into the eighth inning. The the Dodgers loaded the bases with nobody out on two hits and a single, and manager Joe Maddon decided to send in closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman to the mound. The next two Dodgers struck out, making Cubs fans feel a little better, but then Adrian Gonzalez hit a single that tied the game, 3-3. Cubs fans groaned nervously, but their spirits rose in the bottom of the ninth when Ben Zobrist hit a leadoff double. Two outs and two intentional walks later, the bases were loaded as pinch-hitter Miguel Montero stepped up to the plate. When the count when to 0-2, hopes dim. And then a miracle happened: a grand slam that almost went over the bleachers in right field!! As Harry Caray would say, "Holy cow!" But wait, there's more: Dexter Fowler hit a solo homer, and then Kris Bryant doubled. Joe Blanton was replaced as pitcher, but with the Cubs 5 runs ahead, it didn't seem to matter. In the top of the ninth, however, the Dodgers scored a run, and threatened to get more, raising nerves a little once again. Nevertheless, the Cubs got the third out to win it, 8-4.
Joe Maddon later defended his decision to remove starting pitcher Jon Lester after six innings in Game 1; he had only thrown 77 pitches. Maddon did regret having Aroldis Chapman try to rescue the Cubs from a precarious situation in the eighth inning, however. That's not his usual job. See chicagotribune.com
That continues the pattern in which the Dodgers have won all four of their games this postseason by exactly one run, including their three wins against the Nationals last week. It was somewhat similar in the regular season against the Nats: the Dodgers won five out of six games, even though the cumulative score in those games was only 26-21.
The last time the Cubs faced the Dodgers in the postseason was the 2008 NLDS, which the Dodgers won in three straight games. By amazing coincidence, I paid a visit to Wrigley Field exactly one day after Game 2 was played there on October 3, 2008.
It's the second consecutive year in which both the Cubs and the Blue Jays have reached their respective league championship series. The last time in the NLCS before 2015 for the Cubs was 2003, which many of us would just as soon forget. The last time in the ALCS before 2015 for the Blue Jays was 1993, when they went on to win the World Series.
FUN FACT: Even though my dad was a huge Cubs fan, he didn't care much for Harry Caray, the jovial, bespectacled play-by-play announcer.
Old Wrigley Field photo
Speaking of the Cubs, just yesterday a guy named Stew Thornley posted on Facebook this photo of a game he saw at Wrigley Field in June 1972, with Roberto Clemente at bat. (That was about a year and a half before the heroic slugger tragically died.) The photo had special meaning for me, as I too saw Clemente in the same place in the first major league game I ever saw, in August 1963 (see My ballpark visits), with my dad and younger brother Chris. So, I asked if I could use it, and Stew graciously said yes.
Wrigley Field with the great Roberto Clemente at bat, in June 1972. (Courtesy of Stew Thornley.)
ALCS: Indians take 2-0 lead
About 340 miles to the east on the shores of Lake Erie, meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians edged the Toronto Blue Jays in the first two games of the American League Championship series, by scores of 2-0 and 2-1. In Game 1, Francisco Lindor's home run provided the only runs the Indians needed, and in Game 2, his RBI single in the third inning gave his team a 2-1 lead it would not relinquish.
ALCS Game 3 begins very soon...
October 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]
World War II aircraft show (II)
On Thursday, Jacqueline and I drove up to the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyer's Cave, to see the World War II air show put on by the Collings Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving history. I had been there once before, almost seven years ago. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I was glad that Jacqueline did as well. It's a special privilege to be able to climb aboard those old war birds, and get a sense of what it must have been like to risk your life on a bombing mission over Germany, Italy, or enemy-held territory. Three of the aircraft were the very same ones I saw there before: a B-17 Flying Fortress (bomber), a B-24 Liberator (bomber), and a P-51 Mustang (fighter). For the first time, I saw a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, which was what they used in General Doolittle's surprise bombing raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Sixteen of those planes somehow took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet, but not all of them made it to China, where they were supposed to land. Eleven crew members were captured, and three were executed.
Most of the folks in attendance were older, including several veterans, and I had some nice conversations with some of them. One guy has been searching for the crash sites of old military aircraft, including several crashes in the Blue Ridge of which I was not aware. A guide gave us a "tour" of the B-24, explaining the ways in which it was better than the B-17. For example, the belly turret on the B-24 was retractable, unlike that on the B-17; that was safer and made landing easier. (The B-24 had modern "tricycle" landing gear, whereas the B-17 had two big wheels in front and a small "tail-dragging" wheel in back.) I was thrilled to get some video clips of the P-51 taking off, and plan to post it on YouTube soon. While we were driving toward Dayton later, I saw the B-25 Mitchell flying ahead of us, but couldn't get a good photo. Fortunately, it came back along the same flight path about 20 minutes later, and I got some nice, sunlit photos of it.
Friday was the last of the air show, and around noon I heard the distinctive deep rumble of those big piston engines, and raced outside just in time to catch a glimpse of one of the bombers passing Staunton as it left the Shenandoah Valley. The montage below is just a small sample of the photos that I will be posting soon on the the Chronological (2016) photo gallery page.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: B-25 Mitchell, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, P-51 Mustang, side machine gun on the B-17, bomb bay on the B-24, and cockpit of the B-17.
Yours truly, wearing my "Witchcraft" B-24 T-shirt (which I bought during my last visit in 2009) in front of the namesake B-24 Liberator.
October 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Beautiful day for hawks (and a warbler)
This morning was pickup day for folks who bought bird seeds in the Augusta Bird Club's annual bird seed sale, in nearby Verona. I took some photos for the website, and helped out a little. Unlike some past years, the weather was bright and beautiful. While there, Jo King and I noticed two Red-tailed Hawks circling overhead, so I took some photos of those too. On my way home I photographed an American Crow bathed in bright sunlight, and an hour or so later I noticed a hawk shrouded by bushes in the back yard. I carefully stepped onto the patio to get some photos, and could see that it had killed a Starling. Good! Even better, I saw a female Purple Finch at the feeder, the first of the season for me, and a Cape May Warbler hopping along nearby tree branches in search of insects to eat. Not a bad day of (casual) birding!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Purple Finch (female), Red-tailed Hawk, Cape May Warbler, Sharp-shinned Hawk (juv.), and in center, American Crow.
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. One of them is a Common Tern, which three of us saw in at the quarry pond in Fishersville on October 8. That unusal sighting was on the way back from an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Lofton Lake, in southern Augusta County. The highlights of that trip (which was very wet, with steady drizzle) included some Cape May Warblers and a couple Wild Turkeys. Speaking of warblers, I saw at least 15 Yellow-rumped Warblers on Bell's Lane on October 12, and several Palm Warblers a few days before that.
After going to the World War II air show in Weyer's Cave on Thursday (October 13), Jacqueline and I drove up to Dayton, where we went shopping at the mall and had a great barbecue sandwich at Hank's. Then I checked out Silver Lake, where I saw the usuals plus a Pied-billed Grebe, a Great Blue Heron, and over a dozen Killdeers foraging on the mud flats. For some reason, the water level was low. But my main destination that day was the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, where I hoped to see some American Golden Plovers. I saw them there for the first time on September 29; it is surprising that so many of them have lingered so long. After a few minutes of scanning the fields, I spotted them, about 80 altogether. Jacqueline noticed the golden tinge on their wing feathers, without me prompting her!
October 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Shenandoah National Park getaway
Jacqueline and I spent a pleasant two days at Shenandoah National Park early last week, taking advantage of good weather following many days of rain and/or gloom. (I previously reported on our birding activities there in my Oct. 5 blog post.) To avoid missing any important baseball games, I picked a day between the end of the regular season and the first of the two wild card games. Unlike our previous trip to SNP in late June, the weather was very nice for the most part, excellent for taking photos. It was getting a bit cloudier as we departed to return home on Tuesday, October 4.
Yours truly and spouse Jacqueline at Hawksbill Mountain.
While hiking to the top of Hawksbill Mountain on Monday, October 3, we were advised by other hikers that a bear was lurking in the area. We didn't see it, which was both a relief and a disappointment. But later as we were driving from the parking area along Skyline Drive, we saw some cars that were stopped up ahead, and sure enough we had a great closeup bear photo op! In the late afternoon we strolled casually through the amazing, unique habitat that is Big Meadows. We had such a busy day hiking to and fro that we fell asleep not long after enjoying a sumptuous dinner at the Big Meadows lodge. It's a very good restaurant there, with a good choice of wine and beer.
Black Bear along Skyline Drive, a half mile north of Dark Hollow Falls, October 3; one of two we saw that day!
The next morning we hiked along the west slope near the Big Meadows lodge, and I found it difficult to get good photos, because of the glare from the morning light and the fact that my camera (Canon PowerShot SX-50) can't handle extreme variations between light and dark portions of a photo. So, I had to spend some time carefully editing some of those photos on my Macintosh back home. Later in the morning we hiked along the road on the south edge of Big Meadows, where we saw a number of butterflies. Then we headed for home, full of natural energy from the beautiful surroundings.
To see more photos from that trip, see the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.
To the home of James Monroe (?)
Later that week (Thursday, October 6), we made a day trip to Albemarle County, intending among other things to see Monticello, home of the third president, Thomas Jefferson. (We have not been there since we lived in Charlottesville in the 1990s!) The skies were overcast, however, and I didn't want to waste the steep price of admission ($25) only to get mediocre photos. So we contented ourselves with browsing through the "David Rubenstein Visitor Center," an entirely new addition that was built since our last visit.
Then, we drove a few miles southeast to visit the nearby "Highland" estate, home of the fifth president, James Monroe. (For years it was also called "Ashlawn," but that was the name given by the subsequent estate owner.) I had been there with my brother Dan during the early 1990s, at which point there was some doubt about which of the currently-standing structures were in existence when James Monroe was alive. Just in the last couple years, archeologists have determined that only the smaller white portion of the main residential structure was there during Monroe's life, and it was just a guest residence. Monroe's own home burned down in the mid-19th Century, and was replaced by the yellow house which stands today. (That is why the title above contains a question mark.) The tour guide was very knowledgeable about history, and I learned quite a bit about the president who promulgated the Monroe Doctrine (1823), a lynchpin of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. I also learned that Monroe came from humble middle-class origins, and indeed Highland pales in comparison to the elaborate Monticello nearby.
The Statue of James Monroe on the grounds of his Highland estate, October 6.
Then we had a tasty all-natural lunch at a delightful country market in the village of Simeon, where St. Luke's Episcopal Church stands. Then we headed back up hill, went past Monticello, and arrived at Carter's Mountain Orchard to shop for apples and other farm treats. The skies had turned clear blue by then, perfect for taking photos of Charlottesville and the surrounding countryside! Too bad it was cloudy earlier in the day... After sampling some local wines and buying some bottles, we drove back down the mountain, and stopped to browse at the shop in the Meadow Run Mill, next to historic Michie Tavern. Then, we headed home, satisfied with another fun day.
The vineyards which are part of Carters Mountain Orchard. The lowlands to the left are northeast of Charlottesville.
To see more photos from those two trips, see the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.
October 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals flinch, Dodgers advance to NLCS
Once again, something (or things plural) utterly improbable and unpredictable decided a high-stakes baseball showdown in NLDS Game 5 on Thursday evening, as the L.A. Dodgers came back from a 1-0 deficit in the top of the seventh inning and held on to defeat the Washington Nationals, 4-3. (Sound familiar?) Over and over again, the Nationals just couldn't get hits when they needed it, while the Dodgers pieced together an amazing rally in the seventh inning, accounting for all their runs. Both managers constantly adjusted their lineups and pitching duties in a most unorthodox way. You would have to see it to believe it.
During the first half of the game, there was plenty of room for optimism, as the Nats took an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Danny Espinosa in the second inning. For the second game in a row, Danny redeemed himself, after getting zero hits in the first three games of the series. But after that, the Nationals stranded Ryan Zimmerman on third base (where he had reached with just one out), the first of several run-scoring opportunities in which the Nats choked. On the mound, Max Scherzer was in the groove and had a no-hitter through four innings, so the Nats' one-run lead seemed safe enough. But in the fifth inning he gave up three hits all of a sudden, loading the bases with just one out. Fortunately, he got out of the jam intact. In the bottom of the fifth, Bryce Harper walked on a full count, but was then picked off first base by Dodgers' pitcher Julio Urias, on what should have been called a balk. (Personally, I think it would be better to get rid of the balk rules entirely, because they are enforced too unevenly. It's just too subjective.)
Scherzer got through the top of the sixth giving up just an inconsequential hit, and in the bottom of the inning, Jayson Werth (who was at the plate when Harper was picked off the inning before) drew a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Ryan Zimmerman smashed a double to the left field corner, which was exactly the kind of clutch hit from Ryan that Nats fans had been waiting for! But left-fielder Andrew Toles quickly threw the ball to the cutoff man, and for some inexplicable reason, third base coach Bob Henley waved Werth home. That was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in a baseball game. Werth was out by a mile (technically, only about 45 feet), and what could have been a game-deciding rally came to an abrupt and disheartening end. See MLB.com. In the post-game interview, Werth said he was just doing the same aggressive base-running the Nats have been doing all year, but the responsibility lay with Henley, and I hope he never wears a Nationals uniform again.
The shift in momentum became dramatically apparent in the top of the seventh inning, when Joc Pederson hit a leadoff homer to tie the game. That exposed Max Scherzer's fatal flaw that we have seen more than once this year: his proneness to giving up home runs. Dusty Baker immediately replaced Max with Marc Rzepczynski, who walked Yasmani Grandal, and was then replaced by Blake Treinen, who gave up a single and then got a strikeout, after which Sammy Solis took the mound. Carlos Ruiz came in to pinch hit for Chase Utley, and hit an RBI single to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. The dangerous rookie Corey Seager flew out, after which Shawn Kelley came in to pitch to Justin Turner, who smashed a long fly ball that bounced off the center field fence for a two-run triple. It's too much to expect Trea Turner to have caught the ball, but an experienced center fielder would have at least handled it better. Would that have affected the score? No. [ Then Oliver Perez threw a 4-pitch walk to Joc Pederson, one of the Dodgers known to hit poorly off left-handers. Justin Turner ... ]
The seventh inning of the 2016 NLDS Game 5 will be remembered in much the same traumatic way that the ninth inning of the 2012 NLDS Game 5 is remembered. In both cases, the opposing team grabbed the lead with four runs, but in this case at least there was time for the Nationals to regroup mentally. I confess to losing heart in the wake of the Dodgers' rally last night, expressing "doom" in Facebook posts. But that turned out to be premature, as the Nationals bounced back in the bottom of the inning, as Danny Espinosa took a lead-off walk and pinch-hitter Chris Heisey hit a home run to close the gap to just one run. Then Clint Robinson singled, and the Dodgers' manager brought in their closing pitcher Kenley Jansen, a truly stunning development. Trea Turner flew out, and then Joe Ross (a pitcher!) came in to pinch run for Robinson. That turned out to be a smart move, as Ross made it to third base on a single by Bryce Harper. With runners on first and third with just one out, Nats fans' hopes were soaring, but Jayson Werth struck out (on a full count), Daniel Murphy was walked to load the bases, and then Anthony Rendon struck out to end the inning. Ouch.
In the bottom of the eighth, Stephen Drew drew (!) a leadoff walk, but Danny Espinosa popped out in a botched sacrifice bunt attempt. The next two batters were hapless second-stringers: Pedro Severino flew out, and Michael Taylor struck out to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth drew consecutive walks with one out, and in another stunning bullpen move, none other than Clayton Kershaw came in to relieve Kenley Jansen. Daniel Murphy was coming up to bat, and the Dodgers could take no chances. It was a showdown between superstar pitcher and superstar slugger, a confrontation that will be part of baseball lore for years and years to come. All the chips were on the table, and the crowd cheered lustily. And then the mighty Murphy popped out, as hearts sank all across Natsland. There was still one out to go, and the burden of saving the game -- and the year -- fell upon the shoulders of young pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo, who swung wildly at three of the four pitches he saw to end the game.
Complete reports of NLDS Game 5 can be found at MLB.com.
I don't want to be too hard on Dusty Baker, who has been magnificent as a manager this season, a key ingredient in the Nationals' regular-season success. But I think it's clear in retrospect that he should have kept Max Scherzer on the mound after Max gave up that solo home run in the seventh inning. Max later told reporters he told Dusty that he was ready to keep going, and even though his pitch count had reached 99, he probably could have finished that inning intact. That fateful decision was the main theme of the Washington Post article summarizing the game by Adam Kilgore. After Max was replaced, Dusty changed pitchers after every batter, which seemed rather desperate. Other than Chris Heisey, who homered, the double-switches made necessary by all the pitching changes ended up costing the Nats dearly. I was appalled when Dusty replaced first baseman Zimmerman in the seventh inning and third baseman Anthony Rendon in the eighth inning. I just couldn't believe it when in the final two innings, the Nationals' fate was decided by a bunch of untested rookies. Michael Taylor??? Wilmer Difo??? It was as if it was a preseason game, or an inconsequential late-season game when the veterans need a rest.
Manager Dusty Baker, at the October 1 game. (See October 2 blog post.)
In sum, the Game 5 loss by the Nationals was a combination of adverse circumstances and failure to execute in clutch situations. Without a doubt, the loss of pitcher Stephen Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos to injuries in the final weeks of the season cost the Nationals very dearly. Overall, player for player, the Nationals are probably a better team than the Dodgers, but several of their players lacked the mental discipline and grit needed to prevail when they absolutely had to. For the series as a whole, the Nationals outscored the Dodgers 24-19. All three Dodgers' wins were by exactly one run.
Attendance at NLDS Game 5 was 43,936, the eighth consecutive postseason game sellout at Nationals Park. In contrast, there were at least six thousand empty seats at Dodger Stadium (nominal capacity 56,000) in Game 4.
Having desperately pulled out all the stops in two elimination games in a row, the Dodgers are now exhausted and frankly ill-equipped to take on the Chicago Cubs. The NLCS begins in Wrigley Field on Saturday night, and I'll be rooting for my dear departed dad's team -- the Cubs!
And so, the Nationals are done for the year, going home once again with the shadow of deep disappointment hanging over their heads. In some ways, it's not as bad as either the 2012 or 2014 NLDS defeats, as they played better for the most part. Indeed, they came very close to clinching the series in both Game 4 and Game 5, and that's what hurts the most. The Nationals' cumulative win-loss record in postseason home games is now an abysmal 2-8, a sharp contrast to their fine regular-season home game record (50-31 this year). Nevertheless, they have nothing to be ashamed of, and much to be proud of. Hopefully this "character-building" ordeal will strengthen them as they prepare to embark on yet another quest for the world championship in 2017.
So how I am going to cope with this grief? (Lord knows I have had enough of it this year.) Well, I'm learning to play the Eagles' song "Heartache Tonight" on the guitar, and plan to play it in public next week -- possibly with a new verse referring to what happened last night. I played Terry Cashman's nostalgic tune "Talkin' Baseball" a couple weeks ago, and will have more to say on that soon...
October 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Cubs slay the Giants, advance to NLCS
Once again, something utterly improbable and unpredictable decided a high-stakes baseball showdown in NLDS Game 4 on Tuesday evening, as the Chicago Cubs came back from a 5-2 deficit in the top of the ninth inning to defeat the San Francisco Giants, 6-5. The Giants seemed to have the situation well in hand, anticipating a Game 5 in Chicago. With Matt Moore pitching the game of his life, somehow they limited the slug-happy Cubs to just two hits during the first eight innings. And then all hell broke loose! Kris Bryant singled, Anthony Rizzo walked, Ben Zobrist doubled to make the score 5-3, and then rookie Willson Contreras (who??) batted in two more runs with a pinch-hit single, thus tying the game without a single out. If the Giants' closer Sergio Romo couldn't hold the line in that situation, their hope was fading fast. After a fielder's choice out, Javier Baez batted in the go-ahead run with a single, and the rest is history. Cubs 6, Giants 5 -- the reverse of the previous night's score.
Back to D.C.: Dodgers edge the Nats
Earlier that day, the Los Angeles Dodgers escaped elimination and forced a Game 5 in the other NLDS, which will culminate this evening in Our Nation's Capital. Out of desperation, they called on ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw to pitch on just three days' rest, and he came through -- almost. He did just fine for six innings, but Danny Espinosa got a hit off him in the top of the seventh, sparking a three-run rally that ended up tying the game at 5-5. It was Danny's first hit in the entire series, a troubling sign that he just can't get his mind to focus when he's in the batter's box. That one hit may have salvaged his reputation for now, but he still is under pressure to deliver. Once again, Daniel Murphy delivered in a clutch situation, with a two-run single up the middle. He is absolutely awesome. Unfortunately (for Washington fans), Chase Utley hit an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to take back the lead for the home team, and the Nationals went down in order 1-2-3 in both the eighth and ninth inning, losing by a score of 6-5.
In a few minutes, the Nationals take the field to face the Dodgers one last time this year, and I'm feeling pretty confident. True, the Nats have not used their home field advantage in postseason games thus far, but fan support will still provide a huge advantage. And with Max Scherzer on the mound, who could ask for more?
Looking ahead: ALCS & NLCS
Looking ahead to the NLCS, which begins in Chicago on Saturday, the Cubs have to be regarded as favorites no matter who wins in Washington tonight, both merit-wise and in terms of pathos. Whispers of the Billy Goat Curse may have been heard during Game 4 in San Francisco, but that's all behind them now. On the American League side, there is no clear favorite, as both the Indians and Blue Jays were the underdogs against (respectively) the Red Sox and the Rangers.
The last time the Indians were in the World Series was 1997 (when they lost to the Marlins), and the last time they were in the ALCS was in 2007, when they lost to the Red Sox in seven games, after taking a 3-2 series lead.
The last time the Blue Jays were in the World Series was 1993 (when they defeated the Phillies), and the last time they were in the ALCS was just last year, when they lost to the Royals in six games.
the last time the Cubs were in the World Series was 1945 (when they lost to the Tigers), and the last time they were in the NLCS was just last year, when they were swept four games to none by the Mets.
And the last time the Nationals (or their franchise predecessors in Montreal) were in the World Series was ... never!
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