Matt Cain pitches perfect game
I went to bed early for a change on Wednesday night, and didn't learn until the next morning that Matt Cain had pitched a perfect game in San Francisco the night before. It was the 14th no-hitter in Giants history (the sixth since they moved to San Francisco), and the first perfect game in the team's history. If it weren't for the diving catch of a long fly ball by center fielder Gregor Blanco in the seventh inning, however, Cain's achievement would have been voided. See MLB.com.
Other recent no-hitters
It's quite jarring to realize that this perfect game was the second one this year (Phil Humber of the White Sox did so against the Mariners on April 21), and was one of five no-hitters altogether this year. On May 2 Jered Weaver helped the Angels beat the Twins, on June 1, Johan Santana earned the first-ever no-hitter for a Mets pitcher (in the franchise's 51st year, no less!), as they beat the Cardinals, 8-0, and and on June 8 Stephen Pryor (along with five relief pitchers) pitched a combined no-hitter, as the Mariners beat the Dodgers 1-0. Two no-hitters in Seattle this year! Today's Washington Post explored the reasons for the increasing number of no-nos in recent decades, with a long-term statistical chart. Some people say it's because of the increased number of major league teams, while others say there are just more good pitchers than batters these days. The article points out that in a variety of sports, instances of peak performance (such as horse racing Triple Crown winners) tend to cluster together, i.e., they are not randomly distributed on a historical timeline.
|Chi. White Sox
|@ Seattle Mariners
|(Stephen Pryor, 5 others)
The home team won all games except for the one on April 21 (marked "@").
On the very same day as Matt Cain's perfect game, R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets pitched a one-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays. The only was was a single by B.J. Upton in the first-inning, when third baseman David Wright tried to bare-hand a high bouncer. The Mets have taken the unusual step of formally petitioning Major League Baseball to overturn the "hit," charging Wright with an error, which would give Dickey a sort of "retroactive" no-hitter. See MLB.com. Not quite as satisfying.
Dickey pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings against the Nationals on June 7, one of only two games the Nats have lost this month. That morning's Washington Post had a feature article on Dickey, with a big photo of him riding the Metro subway. Dickey is one of the few successful knuckleball pitchers in baseball right now, and has had to overcome childhood trauma and behavioral issues. Did that article give Dickey a psychological edge in the game against the Nats that night? In any case, I've been paying a lot more attention to him since then.
Nationals sweep the Blue Jays
Somewhat overshadowed by Matt Cain's exploits, the Washington Nationals completed their second consecutive series sweep, beating the Blue Jays in three games at Toronto. On Monday, Edwing Jackson had a superb outing on the mound, going 8 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, Bryce Harper put the Nats on the scoreboard in the third inning when he crushed a home run into the Blackberry banner that covers the (usually empty) second deck in right-center field. I estimate the ball was at least 45 feet high and 405 feet from home plate at the moment of impact, and would have gone 450 feet, but hittrackeronline.com says only 438. (Hat tip to home run expert Bruce Orser.) Maybe it's because they erred in the placement of the ball on their diagram of Rogers Centre. You can watch a video at MLB.com. Danny Espinosa and Jhonatan (!) Solano also hit home runs, and it was the first of Solano's career. Nats 4, Jays 4. On Wednesday, the surprise hero was rookie Tyler Moore, who doubled in two runs in the second inning, hit a two-run homer to retake the lead in the fourth inning, and also hit a solo home run in the sixth inning, for five RBIs total. It was such an incredible performance that Ian Desmond's four-bagger was hardly noticed. Stephen Strasburg earned his eighth win, as the Nats won 6-2.
Altogether, the 6-0 road trip to Boston and Toronto was a splendid team effort by the "D.C. 9," who are now getting serious respect across the country as a dominant team. Even though veteran sluggers like Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse are still not 100% health-wise, other team members such as Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Steve Lombardozzi are more than pulling their weight, a clear sign of high team spirit where the players motivate each other to do better and better. They are making that corny 2012 buzzword "Natitude" really mean something! The Nats currently enjoy a 4.5-game lead, a higher margin than any other division leader in the majors. With a record of 38-23 (.623), they are within a hair's breadth of the current major league leading L.A. Dodgers (.625).
After a day of rest, this evening the Nationals begin a home stand by welcoming the New York Yankees to town. As a Yankees fan since childhood, I have deeply mixed feelings about this titanic clash of division leaders. (Oh, how I wish I could be there.) After a slow start, the Yanks have climbed into first place in the American League East, but with two strong rivals (Orioles and Rays) that race will probably remain close for a while to come.
Rogers Centre update
Watching replays of Bryce Harper's home run made me notice a few details that were a little off in my diagrams of the Blue Jays' home. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had thoroughly revised the Rogers Centre diagrams -- once again. I paid more attention to the scoreboard and restaurant in center field, as well as to the position of the upper deck seats in the power alleys, and the lights that are suspended from the roof girders. (Not shown in all versions.) there is less vertical space above the second deck than before, and the two luxury suite levels above it are each recessed by a few feet. relative to the level above. Finally, the entire playing field and lower deck "moved forward" by five feet relative to the rest of the stadium. Now everything fits just about perfectly.
A-Rod's 23 grand slam
There was one other landmark historical achievement this week: Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam, thereby tying Lou Gehrig for the all-time record of 23 grand slams. A-Rod helped the Yanks come back from a 4-0 deficit against the Braves in the eighth inning in Atlanta, tying the game in one fell swoop. Later that inning, Nick Swisher hit a two-run homer, and the Yanks won, 6-4. See MLB.com.
The mail bag
A guy named Sammy recently asked if I have thought about doing college baseball stadium diagrams. There is one already, the University of Virginia's Davenport Field, and I plan to do Rosenblatt Stadium and TD Ameritrade Field in Omaha, the old and new homes of the College World Series (see June 26, 2011), but no plans otherwise at present.
I promised Mike Zurawski I'd get caught up with the stadium news, etc. he has brought to my attention, and I'll get a few of those take care of mañana.