July 16, 2013 [LINK / comment]

All the Stars gather in Queens

Tonight's All-Star Game at Citi Field will be a chance for fans like me with a strong regional (or even local) bias to get better acquainted with baseball players from all across the Fruited Plain. It's great how every year baseball gives rise to a new crop of emerging superstars; this year the newbie standouts are Chris Davis, Matt Harvey, and some guy named Yoenis Cespedes. (See below.) As of the eighth inning, the American League is ahead, 2-0. That's as many runs as they have scored in the three previous All-Star Games combined!

The venue for this event -- spacious Citi Field in Flushing Meadows, Queens County, New York -- could hardly be more appropriate. It's the first time since 1964, when Shea Stadium was just a baby, that the Mets have hosted the Midsummer Classic. Across town in The Bronx, the old Yankee Stadium hosted All-Star Games in 1977 and 2008, and they will probably have to wait at least another ten years before the new Yankee Stadium gets the same honor.

Several cities have been clamoring to get the All-Star Game, and some of them are indeed long overdue. First among them, I would say, is Washington, D.C.! In the Washington Post, columnist Adam Kilgore observes, "Twenty-six cities have hosted the all-star game since RFK Stadium hosted it two generations ago." (That was 1969; see the Baseball annual chronology page.) Next year's All-Star Game will be held at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Home Run Derby 2013

Washington's Bryce Harper made it to the final round of the year Home Run Derby, but just couldn't keep pace with Yoenis Cespedes, of the Oakland A's. Harper hit eight home runs in the first, second, and third rounds, displaying amazing consistency, while Cespedes got a big jump by hitting 17 homers in the first round. It reminded fans of Josh Hamilton's 24 first-round homers in the 2008 Home Run Derby. (Justin Morneau won in the final round that year.) What made Harper's appearance extra special was that his father threw him the pitches; one of them hit Bryce, who did not charge the mound in anger. smile The other semi-finalists were the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer and the Orioles' Chris Davis, who has hit an incredible 37 home runs (real ones!) so far this year. See MLB.com.

Near-death experience:
Nationals avert being swept

Having lost three out of four games in Philadelphia, and the first two games of a series in Miami, the Washington Nationals were on the verge of suffering an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the last-place Miami Marlins. After an uplifting 5-2 home stand, they dropped the first two games in Philadelphia last week, with small margins of defeat both times. No big deal. The game on Wednesday pointed to a resumption of their winning ways, featuring four home runs (a veritable derby!) and a great outing by starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Just like last year! But then on Thursday, Jordan Zimmermann faltered on the mound, allowing the Phillies to win the game and take the series, 3-1. (It turned out that Zimmermann had a strained neck, reducing his effectiveness, and that's why he pulled out of the All-Star Game, leaving Bryce Harper as the Nationals' only representative.)

Heading south to Miami, the Nationals had every reason to expect to get two or three wins, and indeed they scored three runs in the top of the first inning on Friday night. But then the most unbelievable series of events unfolded, as Stephen Strasburg walked three of the first four batters and then gave up a triple to Marcell Ozuna. (Who?) Just like that, the Nats' early lead evaporated, and it only got worse after that. The Marlins scored two more runs that inning, and another two in the second, giving them a commanding 7-3 lead and forcing the erstwhile ace pitcher out of the game. It was the worst outing in Strasburg's career as a major league pitcher; his record is now 5-7. The Nats were clearly discombobulated by this ugly reversal of fortune, and could not get anything going after that. Final score: Marlins 8, Nats 3. frown

The Saturday night game was even more distressing to Nats fans. The D.C. 9 held a slim 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, thanks in large part to starting pitcher Dan Haren, who threw his best game of the season. That's when closing pitcher Rafael Soriano spoiled everything by giving up a home run to Giancarlo Stanton. So it went into the tenth inning, and the Nationals got a rally going, with singles by Chad Tracy and Ian Desmond, who made it to second and third with only one out thanks to a wild pitch. But then Scott Hairston (newly acquired utility player) and Ryan Zimmerman both struck out, wasting the opportunity. In the bottom of the tenth, the Marlins got the bases loaded without even a hit, and then scored the winning run on a ground ball to second base. The throw to home was not quite in time. Ugh... frown

That put the Nationals back down to 47-47, barely ahead of the Phillies, and all their hopes for the rest of the season seemed to rest upon the Sunday afternoon game. Had they lost it, they would have fallen into third place, a psychological burden almost impossible to overcome. Rookie pitcher Taylor Jordan once again put in a fine performance on the mound, and once again the game went into extra innings, tied 2-2. With two outs and a runner on first, Denard Span (batting seventh for the first time) crushed a long double off the wall in the right-center gap, allowing Ian Desmond to score. Then Wilson Ramos singled to get Span across home plate, and then Chad Tracy doubled to allow Ramos to score. This time Rafael Soriano did his job as closer in the bottom of the tenth, and the Nats eked out a precious 5-2 victory. So at least they are above .500 going into the All-Star break. Things could be worse. But will they get better???

"The Freak's" no-hitter

The San Francisco Giants have endured even worse agony than the Washington Nationals this year, but they did have a brief moment of glory over the weekend: Tim "Freak" Lincecum threw a no-hitter against the Padres, on the road in San Diego.

Almost updated diagrams

I was determined to finish the Safeco Field and Citi Field diagrams before the All-Star break, but alas there is still work yet to be done on both of them. Yesterday I uploaded preliminary updated diagrams for Safeco Field, including one with the new 2013 dimensions, sort of "jumping the gun." They are definitely much more detailed and accurate than before, but I still need to get the retractable roof just right. Please stay tuned...