April 4, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Happy tenth birthday, Nationals!
Does anyone remember what happened, or where they were, exactly ten years ago today -- April 4, 2005? I sure do! The Washington Nationals were officially "born," playing their first regulation game on the road in Philadelphia at Citizen's Bank Park. And I was there! The Phillies ended up winning, 8 to 4, but that hardly mattered, as the Nats took the next two games to win their very first series, and went on to take first place in the NL East and finished the season with a more-than-satisfactory 81-81 record.
At that game, I had the pleasure to meet (in person) Phil Faranda, one of the folks who first started following my Web site in the early years. He has since become a very successful real estate executive in the suburbs of New York.
Center field at Citizens Bank Park, from the left field corner. (Taken April 4, 2005 at the very first Washington Nationals game!)
The Nats played their first game in Nationals Park this year today (just an exhibition game, of course), taking a 3-0 lead over the Yankees in the first inning, but then they stalled, as the Yankees won the game, 4-3.
Opening Night 2015, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, is less than 24 hours away, and Opening Day in D.C. and 13 other cities is less than 48 hours away! The Nats will host the New York Mets, with their new ace pitcher Max Scherzer taking the mound.
April 12, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Play ball! Opening
Day Week 2015
A full week has now passed since the first official baseball game of the year in Chicago. (The Cubbies lost to the Cards.) There are a number of surprises, such as the fact that the only two teams with undefeated records (6-0) are from the same division: the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. Two of the weekend series pitted two teams that had not won any games: the Minnesota Twins at the Chicago White Sox, and the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Milwaukee Brewers. No sweep in either case, so all 30 teams have won at least one game this year.
Frustrations for the Nationals
For the Washington Nationals, widely expected to make another postseason run this year, the first week was a rude shock. Lacking three key players (Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Denard Span) clearly cost them, but they should have won at least four of their first six games. Their first game on Monday was going very well for the first 5 2/3 innings, as Max Scherzer had a no-hitter going, with a 1-0 lead thanks to a Bryce Harper homer in the first inning. That's when Ian Desmond bobbled a routine ground ball that should have been a double play, but instead left two runners on base with just one out. The next batter hit the ball into the right-center gap, and before you knew it, the Mets were ahead, 2-1. Another error by Desmond gave another run to the Mets, and the final score was 3-1.
Hopes that the first game was just a fluke seemed born out by the second game, which the Nats won, 2-1. Ryan Zimmerman's two-run homer in the first inning was all the offense the Nats needed, thanks to Jordan Zimmermann's commanding performance on the mound. The afternoon game on Thursday raised concerns again, however, as Stephen Strasburg struggled to contain the Mets' batters. Michael Taylor got two RBIs, but otherwise the bats were quiet. Final score: 6-3.
So, the Nats headed up to Philadelphia, and the very first batter in Friday night's game, Michael Taylor, hit a home run into the left field corner. But no other Nationals players crossed the plate for the rest of the game, while the Phillies took advantage of Gio Gonzalez seeming to get tired in the seventh inning. (Gio had been throwing quite well up to that point.) But after walking two batters and then hitting one with a pitch, loading the bases, he was replaced by Xavier Cedeno. Then came a two-run single, another hit by pitch, another RBI single, and an RBI sac fly. And that's how the Phillies came from behind to win, 4-1.
In the fourth inning of the game on Saturday, Wilson Ramos hit his first home run of the year, a solo shot, and the Nats again had a rally going in the top of the eighth inning, but only scored one more run. The fact that Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman had back-to-back strikeouts with two runners on base in the top of the eighth says a lot about what is going wrong. Much like last year, the Nats just aren't taking advantage of run-scoring opportunities. In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies tied it, and in the bottom of the tenth, they scored, winning, 3-2.
Today's game fit the dreadful pattern to a T, with the Nats losing an early lead, even going into extra innings with the same score as yesterday (2-2). But this time the Nats got a genuine rally going in the top of the tenth, thanks to a leadoff double by Yunel Escobar (who made it to third on a sac fly and then home on a wild pitch), a double by Clint Robinson, and an RBI single by Wilson Ramos. The added insurance run made all the difference, as Drew Storen walked the first two batters in the bottom of the tenth, one of whom scored. But Storen hung in there, and when Ryan Zimmerman snagged a hard bouncer for a force-out at first, that was the game. Whew! Ryan seems to be adapting to his new defensive position very well, making a number of great plays.
The Nats thus averted being swept by the Phillies, and can at least have something to be proud of as they head to Boston for a three-game series beginning on Monday. Jayson Werth may be in the lineup tomorrow, which would be great. With a 2-4 record, the Nats are in fourth place in the NL East. Until today the Braves were undefeated, but the Mets edged them 4-3.
2018 All-Star Game in D.C.!
The new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was at the Opening Day game in Washington, for the purpose of officially announcing that the 2018 All-Star Game will be played in Nationals Park. Huz-zah-h-h!! That means that four consecutive All-Star Games will be played in National League stadiums, the first time more than two consecutive All-Star Games have been played in one league's stadiums. So, of course I updated the Annual chronology page almost as soon as that became official.
Astrodome: 50th birthday!
It's hard to believe, but today is the 50th anniversary of the first official Major League game in the Astrodome. Mark London was at a "birthday" celebration there, and I look forward to hearing about what happened there.
And you know what that means: I updated the Astrodome diagrams, with more accurate profiles, minor corrections, and additional details such as the entry portals in the upper deck. The last diagram update for the Astrodome was in June of 2011.
Opening Day at new (?) stadiums
I've been seeing various references on Facebook, etc. lately about this or that day being the Nth anniversary of the first-ever game at So-and-so Stadium. It occurred to me that there ought to be a systematic record of all such Opening Days. And now there is!
||Nationals Park (2008)
||Great American Ballpark (2002), Chase Field (1998), Tropicana Field (1998)
||Turner Field (1997), Progressive Field (1994), Marlins Park (2012)
||Sun Life Stadium (1993)
||Kingdome (1977), Metrodome (1982), Miller Field (2000), Oriole Park at Camden Yards (1992)
||Milwaukee County Stadium (1970*), Exhibition Stadium (1977), Minute Maid Park (2000)
||Jack Murphy Stadium (1969), K.C. Municipal Stadium (1969*), Petco Park (2004)
||Ebbets Field (1913), RFK Stadium (1962), Angels Stadium (1966), Mile High Stadium (1993), PNC Park (2001)
||Dodger Stadium (1962), Colt Stadium (1962), Veterans Stadium (1971), Kauffman Stadium (1973), Busch Stadium III (2006)
||Crosley Field (1912), Sicks Stadium (1969), Rangers Ballpark (1994), AT&T Park (1999), Comerica Park (2000)
||Shibe Park (1909), Griffith Stadium (1911), K.C. Municipal Stad. (1955), Candlestick Park (1960), Astrodome (1965), Atlanta-Fulton Co. Stad. (1966), Citizens Bank Park (2004), Target Field (2010)
||Polo Grounds (1962*), Citi Field (2009)
||Sportsman's Park (1909), Jarry Park (1969), Milw. County Stadium (1953), RFK Stadium (2005*)
||Memorial Stadium (1954), Seals Stadium (1958), Olympic Stadium (1977)
||Yankee Stadium II (2009)
||Braves Field (1915), Shea Stadium (1964), Oakland Coliseum (1968)
||Yankee Stadium (1923), L.A. Memorial Coliseum (1958), U.S. Cellular Field (1991)
||Fenway Park (1912), Tiger Stadium (1912), Wrigley Field (1916*)
||League Park (1910), Metropolitan Stadium (1961), Arlington Stadium (1972)
||Wrigley Field (1914)
||Coors Field (1995)
||Wrigley Field, L.A. (1961)
||Baker Bowl (1895)
||Busch Stadium II (1966)
||Rogers Centre (1989)
||Polo Grounds (1911)
||Forbes Field (1909), Riverfront Stadium (1970)
||Comiskey Park (1910)
||Safeco Field (1999)
||Three Rivers Stadium (1970)
||Cleveland Stadium (1932)
* : Latter date for "hand-me-down" stadiums used by expansion or relocated teams.
Standard stadium names are used, often differing from the original name.
SOURCE: Lowry (2007), Green Cathedrals, Washington Post, etc.
It so happens that on this date (April 12), there were more MLB stadium openings (eight) than any other date.
Did you notice which stadium opened earlier in the year than any of the others? That's right, Nationals Park! It's rather odd that four stadiums opened during the last two days of March, but no stadiums opened during the first three days of April. The question mark after the word new in the headline above refers to the ambiguous situations when the stadium in question wasn't really "new," but the team was. After making enhancements and/or corrections, I'll probably put the above table on one of the baseball stadium reference pages some time in the future.
April 30, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Nationals end dismal skid with historic comeback
After a six-game losing streak, the Washington Nationals staged a spectacular victorious comeback in Atlanta on Tuesday night. It was a desperately needed win for a team that had been stumbling badly. The game started on a hopeful note, as the Nats scored a run in the first inning. But by the end of the second inning, the Braves were ahead 9-1, humiliating the Nats' starting pitcher A.J. Cole in his major league debut. It seemed that the demons of defeat were haunting them again, but the Braves' pitcher Julio Teheran failed in the task of containing the Nats.
The crucial moment came in the fifth inning when Braves shortstop Alberto Callaspo fumbled what would have been a double-play ground ball. That set the stage for an RBI sac fly by Jayson Werth and a three-run homer by Jose Lobaton. That narrowed the gap from 10-2 to 10-6, making it a real game all of a sudden. Denard Span homered in the sixth inning, but the Braves got a run right back in the bottom of the inning. In the seventh inning, Dan Uggla (who used to play for the Braves) hit a two-run triple and then scored when Reed Johnson got a pinch-hit double, making it 11-10. Excitement rippled all across Nats Land at the prospect of a miraculous come-from-behind victory, but down 12-10 with two on and one out in the top of the ninth, it seemed too much to hope for. Dan Uggla had two strikes against him, and then connected perfectly with the ball, which sailed a dozen or so rows beyond the wall in left field. Un-be-lievable! That made the score 13-12 in favor of the Nationals, and their closing pitcher Drew Storen maintained his composure well enough to get the save.
And that is how the Nationals won their biggest comeback victory ever, turning an eight-run deficit into a one-run margin of victory. Take a look for yourself at MLB.com.
The acquisition of Dan Uggla by the Nats this year may turn out to be one of the smartest moves by the front office. He was released by the Braves in the middle of last year, and managed to win a spot on the roster after hustling his way through spring training. He is still being paid $12+ million by the Braves under the contractual obligations -- Ouch!
As for the unfortunate A.J. Cole, he was sent back down to the minors a day later. He filled in for Max Scherzer, who hurt his thumb in the game against the Cardinals on April 23. (Scherzer is expected to start against the Mets on Friday.) Meanwhile, Michael Taylor was called back up to the majors. He had started most of the games in center field earlier this month, before Denard Span returned from the DL. During his recovery from surgery earlier this year, Jayson Werth was replaced in left field by Clint Robinson. Both Taylor and Robinson have had a few hits, and both show great promise for the future.
The following night, the Braves took a lead in the first inning, putting heavy pressure on starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. But he kept his cool, and the Nats staged a big rally in the fourth inning, with one RBI by Ryan Zimmerman, and three more by Jordan Zimmermann. An intentional walk loaded the bases, as the Braves expected the Nats' pitcher to be an easy out, but he hung in there pitch after pitch and finally belted a line drive into the gap in left center. He da mann! Bryce Harper scored all the way from first, making it a rare three-run single. In the seventh inning, Danny Espinosa knocked in two more runs, and the Nationals added four more runs in the ninth inning, thanks mainly to a three-run homer by Denard Span, making the final score 13-4.
Those two games set a consecutive-game offensive record for the Nationals, scoring 26 runs. On June 30 - July 1, 2013, they scored a total of 23 runs, beating the Mets (on the road) 13-2, and then beating the Brewers (at home), 10-5.
Tonight in New York, the Nats beat the division-leading Mets by a score of 8-2. Once again, the Nats got plenty of clutch hits, including a bases-clearing double by Bryce Harper in the ninth inning. As a result, they scored 34 runs in three consecutive games, thereby surpassing their previous such record of June 26-28, 2012, when they amassed 33 runs against the Colorado Rockies (in Denver): 12-5, 11-5, and 10-11. (They actually lost that last game, in 11 innings.)
And speaking of records, the Nats' win tonight put an end to the Mets' home-field winning streak of ten games, the most they have done since moving to Citi Field in 2009. The Mets have lost three games in a row, and the Nats are now just five games behind them, and only a half game behind the Braves and Marlins, tied for second place in the NL East.
So, the Nationals end the first month of the 2015 with a 10-13 record, far below what had been expected of them, but not as bad as it could have been. See the soon-to-be-updated Washington Nationals page.
That bleak losing streak
The preceding six straight losses had many Nats fans wondering if the team would be a big flop this year. The Nationals had climbed back to .500 by April 21, beating the Cardinals 2-1 in ten innings. (There were ahead 1-0 in the ninth, but Drew Storen blew the save.) That made it five wins over a six-game stretch, which was quite encouraging after their feeble 2-6 record in their first eight games. But the next night, defensive miscues turned what could have been a win into a 7-5 loss. Max Scherzer
committed two errors [gave up two runs -- one on a wild pitch in the first inning, and another after hitting a batter with a pitch in the sixth inning -- ] in the 4-1 loss to the Cards on April 23. Then the Nationals traveled to Miami, where they were swept in three games by the Marlins. They had solid outings by their starting pitchers, but failed to score more than two runs. In Atlanta on Monday night, the misery continued, as they lost 8-4, sending them into last place in the NL East Division. The last time the Washington Nationals were in fifth place was August 6, 2011, when their record was a semi-respectable 54-59.
Among the most notable factors was Ian Desmond's horrendous defensive performance at shortstop. He currently leads the majors with nine (9) errors, but it should be noted that the first six players on that list are also shortstops. He muffed what should have been an easy double play in more than one game. His batting is mediocre as well, and he somehow just can't seem to resist swinging at bad pitches. He'll snap out of it sooner or later.
On a much brighter note, Bryce Harper has matured greatly both in the batters box and on the field. He is much more patient at the plate, drawing more walks (22) than any other player in the majors this year (month). Plus, he's got five home runs, and has raised his batting average to .286. Can there be any doubt that he'll make the 2015 All-Star Game roster?
Riots cancel games in Baltimore
The Baltimore Orioles were obliged to postpone two of their games against the White Sox this week, and the game yesterday afternoon was held without any fans being allowed inside to watch. That was bizarre, and I just don't see the point of playing under those conditions. Today's Washington Post had a photo of the empty grandstand at Camden Yards while the game was underay. The Orioles still managed to win, They will play their next three "home" games against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
How about them Cubs?!
Until they lost yesterday, the Chicago Cubs had climbed to within one game of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. Could this be their big year??? For your schadenfreude* amusement, read "What The World Was Like The Last Time The Cubs Won The World Series" at buzzfeed.com. (Link courtesy of Doug Mataconis.) That would be 1908, when horseless carriages were a new-fangled curiousity, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire still dominated Eastern Europe.
* German for "taking pleasure in (other peoples') suffering."
The end is near!
End of the semester, that is. I look forward to getting much more active as a baseball fan and ballpark diagrammer in about two more weeks. I'll try to get to some of the e-mail messages I have received lately, acknowledge the support some of you have kindly offered, and so on. The best is yet to come!
April 30, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Spring migrating bird arrivals
I haven't had much time to enjoy the outdoors this spring, but I try to take advantage of the opportunities that arise from teaching at various colleges.* On Tuesday after class at Bridgewater College, I went over to Wildwood Park, about a mile to the northwest, and was pleased to come across two local birders. Within a few minutes, I spotted something in the bushes, and soon determined it to be a male Prairie Warbler. After stalking him for a few minutes, I finally got some nice closeup photos.
Prairie Warbler (male), in Bridgewater, April 28.
I continued walking along the North River, and saw an Osprey circling overhead. Fortunately, it landed at the top of a dead tree, so I was able to get a decent photo of it as well:
Osprey, in Bridgewater, April 28.
Other notable sightings at that park included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Baltimore Oriole, and Black-throated Green Warbler. On the way home, I stopped at Bell's Lane, and saw a Yellow Warbler, as well as another Osprey. And that was on top of my morning walk along the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail, where I saw some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a Yellow-rumped Warbler, plus a flock of 20 or so Black Vultures circling overhead. Finally, in our back yard there have been quite a few Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and a few Purple Finches. The latter two species were unusually scarce over the winter. Some of those can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
On April 21 (Tuesday), Jacqueline and I went for a morning walk on Bell's Lane, and I heard a strange song up in the trees. Soon I spotted what I thought might be a Catbird, but it turned out to be a male Orchard Oriole. Nice!
* I haven't seen many birds at Sweet Briar College yet, but I'm hoping I'll have better luck in the next couple weeks before the semester ends. Barring a miracle of some sort, Sweet Briar will close its doors permanently this summer, a terrible tragedy. More on that soon...
Annual arrival page update
In the above paragraphs, the birds shown in bold face were the first ones I have seen this year. I am in the midst of a long-overdue updating of the Annual arrival page.
Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology
January 10, 2015 ~ Four stars get tapped for Hall of Fame
January 22, 2015 ~ Nats sign Scherzer, Max out their payroll
January 17, 2015 ~ West by Southwest: Winter wonderland scenery
February 12, 2015 ~ Redistricting reform fails
February 26, 2015 ~ Life bird: Smith's Longspur!
March 10, 2015 ~ GOP senators challenge Obama's foreign policy
April 12, 2015 ~ Play ball! Opening Day Week 2015
May 21, 2015 ~ Harper's homers lift Nationals into 1st place!
June 25, 2015 ~ Hiking up Little North Mountain
June 30, 2015 ~ Virginia wins the College World Series!
June 30, 2015 ~ If it's Tuesday, this must be Bridgewater*
June 30, 2015 ~ Emmett Hanger wins GOP primary election
July 8, 2015 ~ "That's gotta hurt!" Nationals' fans share players' agony
July 18, 2015 ~ Fleetwood Mac in concert!
August 14, 2015 ~ Northwest by North: Baseball road trip, 2015
August 25, 2015 ~ Welcome home to Washington?
September 28, 2015 ~ Papelbon chokes (twice!), Nationals fall apart
November 3, 2015 ~ Hey, Hey Kansas City: Royals are triumphant
November 21, 2015 ~ Unanimous: Bryce Harper is the NL MVP!
December 1, 2015 ~ Zimmermann signs with Tigers