September 30, 2009
In late-season games between lower-tier teams when not much is at stake but pride, ball games rarely generate much excitement or drama. Well, there's an exception to every rule, and this evening's game in Washington validates another aphorism: "All's well that ends well." What we are talking about here is the Nationals' last home game of the otherwise-forgettable 2009 season. Thanks to a grand-slam home run by the young Justin Maxwell (who had entered the game as a pinch-runner) with a count of 3-2 and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Nats came from behind to win 7-4, thus completing a three-game sweep of the New York Mets. Wow!!! That memorable comeback victory put big smiles on the faces of all the long-suffering fans in Our Nation's Capital and for those of us in the hinterlands. It really took the sting out of a thoroughly miserable year. Appropriately, it was Fan Appreciation Day. In the eighth inning, Ryan Zimmerman hit his 33rd home run of the year, but Adam Dunn remains stuck at 38, without only four more games to go... See MLB.com.
I checked my records, and this was only the second of five final home games that the Nationals have won, since the "rebirth" of the former Montreal Expos in Washington. (Half a decade has passed -- imagine that!) The final series of their first two seasons were played at home in RFK Stadium, and in both cases the Nats were swept -- by the Phillies in 2005, and by the Mets in 2006. In the last-ever game at the old stadium (2007), the Nationals beat the Phillies 5-3, averting a four-game sweep, but in the final game at Nationals Park last year they lost to the Marlins after winning the night before. (They were supposed to play one more game in that series, but it was rained out and cancelled.) In the last two years, they have ended the season on the road, losing the final games both times.
As the Nationals head to Atlanta for a four-game series against the Braves this weekend, they will face a team that is highly motivated to win. The Braves still have an outside chance of taking the Wild Card slot from the Colorado Rockies, but they need to win every game, and get help from Colorado.
In the nearby city of Baltimore, meanwhile, fans of the Orioles are struggling to cope as their team just lost their 13th game in a row, the longest such streak for the O's since 1954 -- their inaugural year after the former Browns relocated from St. Louis. Playing in St. Petersburg this evening, the Orioles scored three runs in the top of the eighth inning, but the Rays held on to win, 5-3.
I got carried away in checking my records, and looked up every game in which a ninth inning home run decided the game. The following list of walk-off homers by definition pertains to home games in Washington, with links to my blog posts on that date or shortly thereafter:
This second list pertains to both home and away games, including opponents' home runs:
Do you notice that a certain name keeps popping up over and over? It's a little odd that neither Alfonso Soriano (2006), nor Dmitri Young (2007), nor Adam Dunn (2008) have achieved such a distinction for Washington.
Even though most of the divisional races weren't very tight this month, the Twins have sure given the Tigers a run for their money in the AL Central over the past week or so. Tonight, however, the Tigers beat the Twins 7-2, meaning that it's do-or-die time for Minnesota in the final game of the four-game series tomorrow.
Congratulations to the Angels for clinching the AL West, and to the Red Sox for clinching the AL Wild Card slot.
FYI, I'm almost done with the Sportsman's Park diagram updates...