MAGIC NUMBER: 1
October 1, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nationals on the brink of triumph
By defeating the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night, the Washington Nationals reduced their magic number from two to just one. They could have clinched the NL East title if [the New York Mets] had beaten Atlanta either Saturday or Sunday, but that didn't happen. It's perhaps for the best that the Nats will have the opportunity to cross the triumphant threshhold while they are back home in D.C. this week. All they need to do is win one of three games against the Phillies, or else have the Braves lose one of their games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
The Saturday night game was unusual in several ways. The Nats got on the board in the first inning after Michael Morse hit a grand slam that was initially ruled in play. It cleared the eight-foot-high inner fence and bounced off the wall that's three feet in back. (That small gap is correctly depicted on my diagram for Busch Stadium III; I have been much more attentive to such small but often-vital details* over the past couple years.) After the umpires reviewed the video tape, they made the correct ruling, but just to make sure, they told Morse and two of the base runners to retrace their steps and run home again. It was rather surreal. And those were the only runs scored by the Nats for the next eight innings. Meanwhile, the Cardinals closed the gap with three runs in the seventh inning and one more in the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. It was the once-and-future closing pitcher Drew Storen's first blown save of the year, robbing Jordan Zimmermann of what would have been his 13th win of the year. In the top of the tenth, the Nats had runners on first and third via two walks and a passed ball, when Kurt Suzuki surprised everyone by crushing a two-run double to the fence in left-center field. The Cardinals failed to respond in the bottom of the inning, and the visitors won by a final score of 6-4. That gave the Nationals a 14-6 record in extra-innings games this year. See MLB.com.
On Sunday, the Cardinals came charging back, as Ross Detwiler gave up seven runs in the second and third inning. Only three of those runs were earned, as an error by Danny Espinosa (trying to make a double play) proved costly. The Nats came back with a four-run rally in the fourth inning, but then relief pitcher Chien-Ming Wang gave up a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning, widening the gap again. Final score: Cards 10, Nats 4.
And speaking of triumph, the Baltimore Orioles have officially qualified for the 2012 postseason, the first time they've gone past the regular season since 1997. The current issue of Sports Illustrated (dated today) features the Baltimore-Washington area as the emerging capital of pro sports. Notwithstanding all the hype over RG III, the Redskins are lucky to be 2-2, after a last-second field goal to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday.
Tonight in Washington the Phillies have a 2-0 lead over the Nationals in the seventh inning, but the Pirates have a 2-1 lead over the Braves, who are valiantly clinging on to hopes of catching up to the Nats and forcing a tie-breaking game to decide the NL East Division title.
* Speaking of attention to details, I'm afraid I have to make one more significant correction to the Nationals Park diagrams. Stay tuned...
The mail bag
More news from Mike Zurawski: In St. Louis, the long-deferred Ballpark Village project was given the go-ahead by the Missouri Development Finance Board. The state will pay $17 million out of a total of $89 million for first phase of the project. It will include a Cardinals' Hall of Fame, an Anheuser-Busch brew pub, and a variety of shops. See stltoday.com, via ballparkdigest.com.
And in Los Angeles, the city council has given preliminary approval to a proposed new football stadium to be located downtown, not in that far-off suburb known as the City of Industry. See ESPN. Is the NFL's long exile from the City of Angels near an end???
Finally, the Texas Rangers plan to make another round of renovations to the Ballpark in Arlington. Yet another row of up-close box seats, shrinking foul territory even more? I don't like that part. See ballparkdigest.com.
Brandon Henderson informs me that a soccer match between Venezuela and Nigeria will be held at Marlins Park later this year. The official announcement will be tomorrow; see MLB.com. If so, another diagram may become necessary...
Finally, Ira Pastor wanted to know if I agree that the deepest part of Yankee Stadium II is slightly left of dead center field. Yes, I'd say it's about 410 or 411 feet.
MAGIC NUMBER: 0
October 2, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nationals are NL East champions!
It wasn't pretty, as they needed help from Pittsburgh, but the Washington Nationals clinched the National League Eastern Division title last night, in spite of losing 2-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies. The only runs scored came on a triple hit by the Phillies' Darin Ruf; they ball sailed into the corner to the left of the Red Porch, just barely out of reach of Bryce Harper, who crashed into the wall. (He's OK.) See MLB.com. So even if it wasn't the most dramatic way to cross the finish line, it was still very satisfying, a reward for a long season of consistent, top-notch playing by the Nationals.
The Nats are well-accustomed to playing the role of spoiler, in 2007 (against the New York Mets) and 2010 (against the Atlanta Braves). This year it was the Pittsburgh Pirates who played that role, to the Nationals' benefit. [They beat the visiting Atlanta Braves, 2-1.]
Bryce Harper has two more games to tie Tony Conigliaro's 1964 record for home runs hit by a rookie (24); since it doesn't much matter who wins or loses, he can feel free to swing away. It should be noted that Bryce has only played for five full months this year.
Tigers win AL Central Division
Who would have thought one month ago that the Detroit Tigers would [have] as big a lead in their division (3 games) as the Washington Nationals, and an even bigger lead than the Texas Rangers (2 games)? Well, they successfully finished their late-season push by beating the Royals in Kansas City last night, 6-3. The crushing 11-0 victory by the White Sox over the host Cleveland Indians did not even matter. What a disappointing September swoon for the Chicago south-siders.
In that Tigers-Royals game, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hit his 44th home run of the year, retaking the league lead from Josh Hamilton. Cabrera has a slight edge in batting average over Joe Mauer of the Twins (.325 vs. .323) and a solid advantage over Josh Hamilton in the RBI department (137 vs. 127). Will he become the first player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967? See the "Triple Crown Watch" at MLB.com.
In other races...
The Yankees clobbered the Red Sox, while the Rays beat the Orioles, who fell a game behind.
The surging Oakland A's beat the visiting Texas Rangers last night, pulling to within a single game in the AL West race. Texas better get busy quick, or they could lose the division race outright in the final two games.
The Reds fell to the Cardinals, so the Nationals are still tied with the best record in the majors, 96-64.
October 4, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Upset: A's depose the Rangers!
In a shocking development, the Oakland Athletics swept the Texas Rangers in a three-game series and thereby claimed the American League West title. It was a humbling, rude jolt to the team that had won two consecutive pennants and had come within a single strike -- twice! -- of winning the World Series last year. As in politics, the advantages of being an "incumbent" are often overestimated. A key turning point was when center fielder Josh Hamilton dropped a pop fly in the fourth inning, extending a big rally by the home team. See MLB.com.
Upset: Teddy wins presidents' race!
For the very first time in five and a half years of trying, the "Teddy Roosevelt" mascot won the presidents' race at Nationals Park. He was helped by a faux Phillie Phanatic mascot. This amazing event may have sparked the Nationals' offense, as Ryan Zimmerman hit a game-tying home run (#25) just minutes later. Michael Morse later hit a home run, his 18th. Final score: Nats 5, Phillies 1.
Even if the Reds had won last night, the Nats would still have claimed top-seed honors since they were 5-2 against the Reds this year. But as the Washington Post notes, having the best record in the regular baseball season has very little to do with whether a team goes all the way to winning the World Series. It's a whole new season just getting started from scratch.
Kudos to Adam LaRoche for hitting his 33rd home run in the Nats 4-2 win on Tuesday night, thus reaching the 100-RBI plateau. He's just the third National player to have done so.
Miguel Cabrera wins Triple Crown!
Congratulations to Miguel Cabrera for making baseball history by winning the Triple Crown, the first time anyone has done so since Carl Yastrzesmski in 1967. Meanwhile, the Yankees' Curtis Granderson hit two home runs to close to within one of Cabrera's total. (Yikes.) Miguel ended the season with a .330 average, 44 home runs, and 139 RBIs. See MLB.com.
Postseason matchups set
Otherwise, the teams expected to win the division titles and wild card slots pretty much did so. The Yankees crushed the Red Sox again, and earn highest-seed postseason honors on the American League side, with a record of 95-67. They will face the winning wild card team on Sunday. That could be either the Orioles, who lost to the Rays (thanks mainly to three home runs hit by Evan Longoria), or the Rangers. The wild card teams will face each other in Arlington, Texas on Friday. The Oakland Athletics will host the Detroit Tigers in that divisional series beginning on Saturday.
In the National League, the Braves will host the Cardinals in the NL wild card game on Friday. The winner of that game will host the Nationals, beginning on Sunday. The Cincinnati Reds will host the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night. I have updated the Postseason scores page with the correct matchups, but I may yet modify the way the wild card teams are displayed. It's complicated.
October 9, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Postseason 2012: home field disadvantage?
What is striking about the baseball playoff games thus far is how little benefit there has been for the team playing at home. Six of the first eight games were won by the visiting team, and seven of the first twelve games. The Cardinals, Reds, Nationals, Yankees, and Orioles all won their first postseason games as the visiting team, leaving the Tigers as the only team to begin the postseason with a win at home. Detroit and Cincinnati each took a commanding 2-0 series lead against Oakland and San Francisco, as the industrial Midwest teams prevailed over the ones from California. In the other two divisional series, the Orioles and the Cardinals bounced back after losing Game 1 and won Game 2. Ordinarily, one would think the two "bird" teams face steep odds playing the next three games on the road, but now it's anyone's guess.
Nationals and Cards split, 1-1
The NLDS began on a fine note for the Washington Nationals, if you ignore the ugly details and just look at the final score, that is. Kurt Suzuki hit an RBI single in the top of the second to put the Nationals on the board first, but then the Cardinals scored twice in the bottom of the inning, without even getting a hit. Somehow Gio Gonzalez completely lost control, and walked four batters, plus a wild pitch. He had seven walks total over five innings and left the game behind a run, even though he only gave up one hit! Fortunately, the bullpen bailed him out. The Cards loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, but then Ryan Mattheus came in as a relief pitcher and put out the fire with just two pitches. Allen Craig hit a ground ball to shorstop Ian Desmond who threw to home for the force out, and then Yadier Molina grounded into a double play to end the inning. Whew! The Nationals also had the bases loaded twice, in the second and sixth innings, and both times Jayson Werth was out to end the inning. In the sixth inning, Werth did make a great leaping catch at the right field fence, preventing a home run by Daniel Descalso. But the decisive moment came in the top of the eighth inning, when Michael Morse reached first on a hard ground ball to shortstop that was ruled an error, and Ian Desmond singled, sending Morse to third. Danny Espinosa then hit a surprise sacrifice bunt that did advance the Desmond to second. I doubted the wisdom of that move, especially after Kurt Suzuki struck out. But then pinch-hitter Tyler Moore stepped up to the plate and hit a two-run single to give the Washington Nationals a 3-2 lead. A huge clutch hit! Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen shut down the Cardinals in the final two frames, and the Nats claimed a victory in their very first postseason game. Tyler Moore was named the player of the game. NATITUDE!
The game on Monday night started out in much the same way, with the Nats getting on the board first in the second inning, and the Cardinals quickly scoring runs to take the lead in the bottom of the inning. The difference is that it was four runs, not two. Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann gave up three singles and a double to the first four batters, in sharp contrast to his quick 1-2-3 first inning. After giving up a homer and then a single, he was relieved of duty at the end of the third inning. Craig Stammen couldn't do much better in the fourth inning, giving up two more runs (one earned). The Nationals showed signs of life in the fifth inning, as Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche hit back-to-back solo home runs, but that was about it. A promising rally in the seventh inning was cut short when Bryce Harper tagged up from second base on a sacrifice fly and was thrown out at third. To add insult to injury, the Cardinals tacked on four more runs in the eighth inning, charged to Sean Burnett. Final score: Cards 12, Nats 4.
Well, at least the Nationals came out of St. Louis with a 1-1 split. In Game 3 tomorrow, the first postseason game in Our Nation's Capital since 1933, Edwin Jackson will face his former team mates. The last time against the Cardinals, on September 28, he gave up eight earned runs. Fortunately the team's manager, Davey Johnson, has a calm and reassuring style of leadership that will help to lower the anxiety level. The first pitch will be just after 1:00.
I must say, I was delightfully overwhelmed by the Washington Post's in-depth coverage of the Nationals' NLDS games. Pages and pages of detailed descriptions, statistics, and play by play. Last week the Post also published a commemorative section in honor of the Nationals' historic 2012 season, featuring a detailed recounting of the big stories and a summary of all 162 regular-season games. Worth its weight in gold, just about!
Reds take 2, Giants win 1
In San Francisco, the Reds trounced the Giants 5-2 and then 9-0, raising hopes of a three-game NLDS sweep once the series returned to Cincinnati. But in tonight's game, they scored a run on three hits in the bottom of the first, but only got one hit after that. The Giants only got one hit and one run (in different innings) through the end of regulation play. Then in the top of the tenth, a passed ball by Reds pitcher Jonathan Broxton allowed a runner to reach third base, and an error by Scott Rolen allowed that runner to score. The Giants won, 2-1, but the odds are still in the Reds' favor.
Tigers take 2, A's win 1
In Detroit, the Tigers were the only team to use home field advantage, beating the Athletics 3-1 and 5-4. The latter game was a dramatic back-and-forth affair, with a walk-off sacrifice fly by Don Kelly in the bottom of the ninth. So, the A's are still alive as well, with two more games at home. That may prove decisive in this series, in which the home team has won all three games so far.
Yankees, Orioles split, 1-1
In Baltimore, the Yankees trounced the Orioles 7-2 in Game 1, thanks to a five-run rally in the top of the ninth. Otherwise, it was a very close game. In Game 2, aging veteran Andy Pettitte pitched well over seven innings, but gave up three runs and the Yankees ended up losing, 3-2. Game 3 will be tomorrow, in The Bronx.
Braves, Rangers exit stage
The brutal one-game "play-in" wild card teams took two very worthy victims: the Atlanta Braves, who really put the heat on the Nationals in the NL East divisional race, and the Texas Rangers, who slumped badly at the end, much like the Braves did last year. In the former case, all the momentum from September dissipated in the blink of an eye, as the Cardinals won, 6-3. It was the first game stared by Chris Medlen that the Braves lost since 2010. In the other case, the once-dominant Rangers just crumpled, losing to the Orioles, 5-1. In both cases, subjectively speaking, it's just a real shame.
Verducci on "What It Takes"
In this week's Sports Illustrated (print edition), Tom Verducci asks "What It Takes" to go all the way in the baseball playoffs. He addresses four big myths:
- Home field is an advantage. (NOT! See above.)
- Experience is essential. (NOT! See below.)
- Aces rule. (Actually, dominant starting pitchers aren't as important as they used to be.)
- Momentum matters. (Actually, many teams that do great in September choke in October. See above.)
Regarding the second item, Verducci writes, "The good news for Bryce Harper and the young Nationals: Outside of the New York dynasty, experience has been a non-factor." His general point is that we should ignore conventional wisdom and recognize how trends in the sport and the new wild card format have changed things. With the "tournament" atmosphere, "the hot team trumps the better team." That may not bode well for the Nats. Also, "The high strikeout rates could make October rough for Danny Espinosa and the Nats, and Drew Stubbs and the Reds." Or Bryce Harper, who has struck out six times in ten at bats so far, with just one hit.
Comparing postseason experience
The table below shows that the Yankees and the Cardinals are the two "regular" postseason contenders, with predictable diminutions of frequency in reaching subsequent rounds. The Athletics and the Braves have reached the postseason several times, but they rarely make it past the first round. In contrast, the Tigers and Rangers have only reached the postseason twice in this century, but they have each gone at least one more round both times. The Postseason scores page has the scores going back to 2002, when I started this Web site.
Among the teams with zero postseason experience this century, the Baltimore Orioles last made the playoffs in 1997, defeating the Mariners in the ALDS and losing to the Indians in the ALCS. Before that, they won the World Series in 1983. The Washington Nationals' franchise predecessors, the Montreal Expos, reached the playoffs only once: in the strike-shortened 1981 split season.
Postseason experience, 2000-2011
||League Championship Series
|New York Yankees
|St. Louis Cardinals
|San Francisco Giants
Nationals Park tweak
As mentioned recently, I realized there was another correction to the Nationals Park diagram, so I got that out of the way. The upper decks on the third base side do not curve as sharply as I had originally estimated. The far end is now about 10 feet farther from the left field foul pole than it was before. There are a few other tiny tweaks as well. Plus, I added some photos from the September 22 game (against the Milwaukee Brewers) to that page.
The mail bag
Mike Zurawski sent me another batch of ballpark news. First, the Seattle Mariners announced they will reduce the outfield dimensions at Safeco Field next year, to help their hitters get home runs. The fence will be brought in about four feet in left field and in right-center field, and by as much as 17 feet in left-center field. Call me skeptical; why should all ballparks have similar outfield sizes? Also, the hand-operated scoreboard in left field will be moved back and out of play, which is too bad. The foul poles will remain put. See MLB.com and/or ballparkdigest.com. That'll keep me busy...
Second, Tampa Bay developer Darryl LeClair released a proposed stadium for the Rays. The key feature is that office buildings and apartments would be an integral part of the structure, forming the ballpark's exterior. The complex would have a small architecctural "footprint," saving money by sharing the foundation and utilities. The ballpark itself would either have a retractable roof or a hard, clear plastic roof to allow the sun to get in. Political tensions and jealousy between Tampa and St. Petersburg may be a key part of whether the Rays get the kind of ballpark they deserve. Otherwise, as Mike says, they'll "have to stay in Tropicana Field for the remaining 15 years of the lease." See tampabay.com, via ballparkdigest.com. Well, it doesn't hurt to dream, does it?
Third, there will be a soccer match at Marlins Park on November 14, between the national teams of Venezuela and Nigeria. The soccer "pitch" (as the field is called in that sport) will be roughly parallel to the right field line. It will be the first of many non-baseball events at Marlins Park. See MLB.com. More ballpark news to come soon...
Finally, on a separate matter, thanks to Jonathan Karberg for fact-checking a statement I made last Tuesday. I wrote that Tony Conigliaro had the record for most home runs by a rookie, because there have been a lot of comparisons between Bryce Harper and him, but it was actually the most home runs by a teenager. So, I used the comment feature to make the correction on that blog post. For more on Tony's tragically-curtailed career and life, see sabr.org.
October 11, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Do or die time for the Nationals
Midway through NLDS Game 4, at home in D.C., the Washington Nationals are faced with the possibility of elimination if they can't straighten up quick and start scoring runs. The good news so far is that Ross Detwiler has a quality start, allowing only one run in six innings. Thanks to a second-inning home run by Adam LaRoche, the Nats took an early lead. Jordan Zimmermann just came in as a relief pitcher in the top of the seventh, striking out the side. That's a welcome improvement from what happened on Monday in St. Louis. The score is now tied, 1-1.
UPDATE: Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen put in flawless relief pitching performances in the final three innings, striking out eight batters and allowing just two men to reach base on walks. In the bottom of the ninth, with the score still 1-1, Jayson Werth stepped up to the plate and faced down relief pitcher Lance Lynn. Werth kept fouling off pitch after pitch, and then smashed the 13th ball he saw into the left field bullpen. A walk-off home run, just like I saw him do on September 8! And so the Washington Nationals survive for another day and take the series to a full five games, with the momentum back on their side. Final score: Nats 2, Cards 1, with 44,392 in attendance, almost as many as yesterday.
Way to go,
You ARE Natitude!!!
Yesterday's game, the first postseason baseball game in Our Nation's Capital since 1933, was an outright disaster. Nats starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, who is sometimes hot and sometimes not, was the latter. He was hired by the Nationals precisely because of his postseason experience, but it didn't show at all, as he gave up one run in the first inning, and three more in the second, thanks to a home run by Pete Kozma. That was a dagger blow to the Nats' hopes of keeping the game close. Unlike Game 1 and 2, the bullpen buckled under the pressure, as the Cardinals scored four more runs in the late innings. Final score: Cards 8, Nats 0, with 45,017 in attendance, a record crowd for Nationals Park. Too bad all those fans didn't have more to cheer about. See MLB.com.
Do or Die time for the Reds
Who saw this one coming? After the Cincinnati Reds took a 2-0 series lead on the road in AT&T Park, all but guaranteeing an easy pass to the next playoff round, the San Francisco Giants came roaring back and won three straight games at Great American Ballpark. The Giants got six runs in the fifth inning, and the Reds cut the lead in half going into the bottom of the ninth inning. That's when things got interesting, as the Reds scored a run and had two men on base, but then veteran Scott Rolen struck out. That ended the 2012 season for Cincinnati, the team with the second-highest winning percentage in the majors this year.
So the Giants become the first team to advance to the League Championship Series.
Amazing comebacks in the AL
In both New York and Oakland last night, it looked like the visiting teams were going to win going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The Orioles had a 2-1 lead over the Yankees, and the Tigers had a 3-1 lead over the A's. With one out, Manager Joe Girardi pulled Alex Rodriguez and replaced him with Raul Ibañez. On the second pitch, the pinch hitter slammed a ball over the right field wall for a home run, tying the game. Yankee magic once again! The game went to the 12th inning, whereupon none other than Ibañez once again homered, this time into the second deck in right field, sending Bronx fans into a fit of euphoria. Un-be-lievable!! See MLB.com.
In Oakland, meanwhile, the A's fans looked glum as their team faced elimination with a two-run deficit going into the final inning. But the A's bats got hot all of a sudden, with several hits that were very uncharacteristic of the Tigers' closing pitcher, Jose Valverde. Two runs scored on a double by Seth Smith, tying the game, and putting huge smiles on Oakland fans' faces. The next two batters were out, and then Coco Crisp delivered the game-winning RBI, a single that was mishandled by the right fielder. That marked the 15th walk-off win by the Athletics this year; see MLB.com. Wow!!!
So, tonight, it will be the decisive game in Oakland, and one team's season will come to an end. In New York, the Yankees enjoy a 2-1 series lead, so Baltimore faces long odds in striving for a comeback.
Is this a great sport, or what??!
Another "baseball" movie
On Turner Classic Movies recently, I noticed a scene in the movie Test Pilot (1938) with the Los Angeles version of Wrigley Field. Later on there was a great aerial view as Clark Gable (supposedly) flew over the stadium. It was awesome.
October 12, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Romney wins the debate, cheers the Valley
By nearly all accounts, Mitt Romney decisively won the first presidential debate last week,* and on the very next day he came right here to our own neck of the woods in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I had learned about the big event several days in advance, on NBC-29's late night news. Almost immediately I registered online to get admission tickets. I had been hoping he would visit somewhere nearby, and I could hardly believe that he would be coming so close to our fine community. The rally was held at at the Augusta Expoland in Fishersville, where the county fair was held in August, just a few miles east of Staunton.
After my classes on Thursday morning were done, I drove back toward home, crossing the Blue Ridge from the east as is my custom. It was a beautiful day, with skies that turned clear blue as the afternoon progressed. I expected there to be heavy traffic, so I astutely avoided the bottleneck at the Fishersville exit, and instead took the western Waynesboro exit, then driving along Ladd Road, which parallels I-64. I could soon see that cars were backed up for miles along I-64, and even after I reached the vicinity of Fishersville, I had to wait in line for 45 minutes before I could actually park. Apparently, many people never even made it in. I passed through the security gate about 5:20, well ahead of the scheduled start time.
The crowd eagerly anticipating Mitt Romney's arrival. (Looking east toward the Blue Ridge.)
It was hard standing up for so long, but it was worth it. I noticed campaign workers passing out a variety hand-written signs, as well as the pre-printed "Romney-Ryan" signs. The formal proceedings began about 6:30, as Congressman Bob Goodlatte welcomed the crowd. He introduced Del. Ben Cline, who gave the invokation prayer and then introduced Del. Dickie Bell, who in turn introduced Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who is running for governor next year. Former Virginia First Lady Susan Allen also spoke for a few minutes; her husband George, who is running for U.S. Senate, was elsewhere that night. Then came the featured musical entertainment, country singer Trace Adkins. His band rocked the valley for about a half hour, with as many a six guitars (including bass and pedal steel) on some songs. (I saw another free country music concert three weeks ago: Dierks Bentley, who performed after a Washington Nationals game.) Afterwards, Adkins spoke to the crowd about freedom and respect for military veterans for a few minutes. He then welcomed to the stage National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre and an associate. The NRA had a major presence at the event, passing out lots of bumper stickers, orange hats, and "Fire Obama" cardboard fans. Then came the number-two attraction of the evening, Rep. Paul Ryan. In contrast to the Paul Ryan rally in Harrisonburg last month, this time I managed to get within 25 feet of the stage, which is how I got such good photographs.
Mitt Romney speaks to the crowd. (An uncropped version of this photo appeared in the News Leader on Wednesday; see below.)
Just after 8:00, Gov. Mitt Romney finally stepped on stage to join Paul Ryan. The crowd, estimated at over 10,000 people, cheered long and loud for the man who had done so much to revive their spirits by virtue of his debate performance the night before. Romney spoke for about 15 minutes, explaining why this election is so important for the cause of freedom. He was clear, in command of his facts, and very convincing. Whether or not you agree with him on the issues, he does seem to have what is called "presidential timber." After his speech, he and Ryan clasped hands in a victory salute, amidst a fireworks display. Then all the other Republican leaders gathered on the stage for a series of hand-shakes and bear hugs. It was quite a spectacle!
Mitt Romney descends from the stage to shake hands, applauded by Del. Ben Cline, former Virginia First Lady Susan Allen, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte.
Those photos and several others can be found on the Autumn 2012 photo gallery page. While searching for other photos of Ben Cline with Mitt Romney on the Internet (none others to be found), I came across this blog about a visit to the big event: Adventuring with Oliver and Nicole.
In sum, that rally was a moment of jubilation on the campaign trail, and I was privileged to be part of it. The momentum seems to be swinging in Romney's favor right now (he has a 49%-46% lead, according to Pew), but anything is possible in the next three and a half weeks before election day, including some sort of "October surprise."
Did Romney give up on the 47%?
From the infamous secret video of Mitt Romney's chat with donors last May, you might think he had lost all hope of getting the votes of anyone who receives government benefits. I think it's pretty obvious that if he had paused to reflect a few seconds, he would have phrased that comment in a much better way. You can read a full transcript of the the secret video at motherjones.com.
In retrospect, it's odd how so many people thought that 47% gaffe would be fatal to Romney's campaign. Perhaps they underestimate just how pernicious the Obama administration is, and how many Americans are beginning to realize it. For example, Josh Barro wrote "Today, Mitt Romney lost the election" at bloomberg.com (link via Bruce Bartlett) and Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei wrote "How Mitt Romney stumbled" at politico.com. Everybody makes mistakes, but only winners know how to pick themselves up and continue the race. Here was my early response on Facebook to someone who asked whether I thought Romney's proverbial goose was cooked:
Sure, it's possible, but I'm skeptical about the talk about Romney's campaign imploding. His lack of discipline in conveying a consistent campaign message is a matter of concern, but I can't believe he would have come this far without a rock-solid management ability. If he can't at least make a very close showing in the election, of course, there will be hell to pay, and the GOP as we now know it will come to an end. What I'm curious about is how all those bastards who hounded out anyone for being disloyal to Dubya are going to rationalize the catastrophe that the Bush-Rove approach to politics brought about. They'll be spinning and rewriting history faster than anything.
The GOP Base vs. Romney
The last part of that comment in turn calls attention to a certain weakness on the Republican side in this race. Much like the situation with Sen. John McCain four years ago, Mitt Romney has weak ties to the hard-core conservative "Base" of the Republican Party. That, of course, is one reason he chose Paul Ryan to be his veep, no doubt a wiser selection than Sarah Palin. So far, Romney seems to enjoy greater leeway in his campaigning than did McCain, which means he can devote greater energy to attracting independent voters -- especially the ones who voted for Obama four years ago. James Atticus Bowden warned on Facebook that if Mitt Romney wins, he should be put on "probation" from the get-go. My response:
I think the way it works is that you give your own side's newly elected leaders at least a couple months of honeymoon. Mitt is clearly not ideal from a conservative point of view, but he has some admirable qualities and deserves the initial benefit of the doubt, especially given the alternative. I distinctly recall that those of us who spoke up when Bush Jr. strayed from the path were cast aside, and I'm still not convinced that most Republicans have really faced up to the disaster he helped bring about. Those who are still in denial should hold their own feet to the fire.
I hope that is sufficiently clear.
My recent op-ed columns
I have been busy writing columns for the local newspaper again. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of entitlements" appeared in Wednesday's News Leader (October 10). That generated a fair amount of response -- mostly positive -- via e-mail, the News Leader comment system, and Facebook.
And before that, "Mendacity, mendacity, mendacity: Do all politicians lie?" appeared in the Sunday, September 16 News Leader. I received a couple of compliments on that one.
Much more fact checking
Speaking of mendacity, Facebook friend Clifford Garstang, a local left-leaning Democrat and author of What the Zhang Boys Know (cliffordgarstang.com) is among those who keeps accusing Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney of lying. On September 28 he cited Rachel Maddow's blog post, "Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity, Vol. XXXVI," at msnbc.com, Here's my response:
I just wasted a half hour trying to see if something in there qualifies as a deliberate, demonstrably false statement. #2 (fewer ships) was a stupid beside-the-point remark, but even Maddow's source did not refute the technical accuracy of it. All those arguments about which side's plans will save money in the future are inherently unknowable, based on a wide variety of assumptions, and there's no use in calling someone else's forecast a "lie." As for what Romney said Obama said: 'If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Someone else did that.' Maddow said, "That's not even close to what the president said." In fact, it was almost a verbatim quote. Romney has a tendency to speak inappropriately off the cuff, but Maddow seems to stray from the truth much more often. It's an awful shame when intellectuals become partisan shills.
Of course, many accusations of falsehood has been directed at the President himself. In the 2008 campaign he talked about how his father received government benefits after serving in World War II, which is not true, but he may have been referring to his grandfather on his mother's side. I was appalled by the lame "fact-checking" at snopes.com, which says that Obama's "complicated family tree encompasses multiple fathers." (So why was his first book not entitled "Dreams From My Biological Father"?) Sheesh. Clearly, Obama grew up in a very disordered household, and one can only guess at the psychological effects all that had on his character and personality.
With regard to Obama's 2008 claim about an uncle who helped liberate Auschwitz, which I mentioned on May 28, 2008 and in the "Mendacity" column cited above, Obama apparently did have a great uncle who served in the division which helped to liberate the Buchenwald concentration campaign in April 1945, but obviously not Auschwitz, in Poland. For more on this, see Byron York at nationalreview.com. If I were going to make a public speech about an ancestor's military service, I would want to get the facts right. For example, my great uncle Chuck Clem was shot down while piloting a U.S. Navy fighter plane during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. It would be ridiculous to call him my uncle.
Perhaps one of the boldest misrepresentations by President Obama in recent months was the TV ad in which he calls for (among other things) "asking the wealthy to pay a little more so we can pay down our debt in a balanced way." [Emphasis added.] See for yourself at youtube.com. During Obama's nearly four years of office, the budget deficit has remained over a trillion dollars each year, not even close to his pledge to cut it in half, so the idea that we are actually going to have a budget surplus and therefore start to "pay down our debt" any time soon is absolutely ludicrous. Here's my take, on Facebook:
I'm starting to think that all the uproar over "lies" by Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney were a tactic to confuse and distract people, so that the President can get away with lies of truly monumental proportions. "Paying down the debt" is a real whopper.
On the other hand, I think Mitt Romney's campaign aide Matt Rhoades was quite wrong to blame the Obama administration for the Federal Reserve's recent "QE-III" monetary expansion; see factcheck.org. I know the Federal Reserve comes under heavy political pressure from time to time, but I'm pretty sure that there remains at least some degree of autonomy in its policy-making.
* This is obviously a rather "tardy" blog post, reflecting my preoccupation with the baseball postseason, teaching duties, involvement with church and the bird club, as well as writing columns for the newspaper. I hope I can do better as this campaign season winds to a close.
October 13, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Déjà vu: The Cardinals do it again
"From the thrill of victory ... to the agony of defeat ... " Never did those words from "ABC's Wide World of Sports" have as much meaning for me as they did last night. After a dramatic walk-off win in NLDS Game 4 on Thursday afternoon,* and a blazing-hot beginning in Game 5 last night, the Washington Nationals had the misfortune to experience the very same ghastly twist of fate that was suffered by the Texas Rangers in World Series Game 6 last year. Twice -- yes, twice -- the Nationals were within one strike of winning the National League Divisional Series and advancing to the NL Championship Series. Fans in jam-packed Nationals Park were grinning in gleeful anticipation, barely able to breathe in the chilly autumn air. And just like last year, the Cardinals spoiled the party by tying the game and then taking the lead. The difference is that this year those two events happened in the ninth inning, rather than the ninth and the eleventh inning. All of a sudden, a triumphant win turned into a disgraceful loss. It left hundreds of thousands of Nationals fans in D.C. and across this region shell-shocked, or "Dazed and Confused."
* I should have called attention to the spectacular catch by shortstop Ian Desmond of a short fly ball near the left field line in NLDS Game 4. That saved a run and probably helped tip the game in the Nats' favor. For a full Game 4 wrap-up, see the Washington Post.
So, let's retrace the steps of the historic Game 5 and try to draw some meaning from it. In the bottom of the first inning, Jayson Werth hit a leadoff double down the left field line, Bryce Harper hit a triple to center field, and Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run into the seats to the right of center field. Just like that, it was 3-0 with nobody out. The psychological momentum from Jayson Werth's home run the day before was in full force, and the record crowd of 45,966 fans roared their collective euphoric approval. Two innings later, more fireworks: Bryce Harper smashed a home run to right-center field, Ryan Zimmerman doubled past the center fielder, Adam LaRoche struck out, and then Michael "Beast" Morse homered to left-center field. That forced the Cardinals' starting pitcher Adam Wainwright out of the game, charged with six earned runs.
But after that, the Nationals evidently got complacent, and only managed one single and one walk over the next four innings. Meanwhile, their starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez started to lose command and control. In the fourth inning, Matt Holliday doubled in Carlos Beltran, who had walked. In the fifth inning, the Cardinals got a single, a double, and three walks, scoring two runs, one of which came on a wild pitch by Gio. He barely made it out of the inning to qualify for a possible win, with a 6-3 lead. In the seventh inning, Edwin Jackson (a former Cardinal) gave up a double and two walks for another run, making it 6-4. In the eighth inning, Tyler Clippard gave up a home run to David Descalso, making it 6-5. That's when the crowd started to get real nervous, and the noise level dropped noticeably. In the bottom of the inning, the Nats came back with three singles to get a valuable insurance run, with Kurt Suzuki getting the clutch RBI. That was huge. OK, a two-run lead ought to be enough to win the game -- right?
Actually, no. Closing pitcher Drew Storen took the mound in the ninth, and he performed pretty well at first, getting two of the first three batters out. He had a full count going on the next two batters, but he just couldn't get the job done in either case. Five times he threw pitches that would have ended the game had they been strikes, and each time it was a ball. All of a sudden the bases were loaded, and you know what happened after that. Here is the complete play-by-play sequence for the Cardinals in the ninth inning:
- Carlos Beltran doubled to center.
- Matt Holliday grounded out to third.
- Allen Craig struck out.
- Yadier Molina walked on a 3-2 count. (B F B F B B)
- David Freese walked on a 3-2 count. (F B F B B B)
- Daniel Descalso singled, deflected by shortstop; two runs scored.
- Pete Kozma singled to right field; two runs scored.
- Jason Motte struck out.
(The underlined Bs (for balls) for Molina and Freese were potential game-ending strikes.)
That incomprehensible turn of events totally deflated the spirits of fans and players alike. In the bottom of the ninth, Jayson Werth was out on a fly ball to right field, Bryce Harper struck out on a pitch that was as high as his head (youthful lack of discipline), and Ryan Zimmerman popped out to second base. And thus ended the Washington Nationals' hitherto joyous 2012 season on a very depressing note. Final score: Cards 9, Nats 7. The game summary, box score, etc. are at MLB.com.
From the perspective of a "neutral" sports fan, it was a truly awesome game to watch. Both teams got 11 hits, and neither committed an error. The Cardinals demonstrated once again that a team is more than the sum of its parts. No Albert Pujols, no Tony LaRussa, no matter. They had proven last year their ability to come back against overwhelming odds, and I never discounted that possibility, even when the Nats had a six-run lead early in the game. I'm sorry to say, but the Nationals have demonstrated their ability to squander big leads, as when they lost to the Braves 11-10 in 11 innings on July 20, blowing a 9-0 lead.
For the NL Divisional Series as a whole, several Nationals really did come through. Ryan Zimmerman led the team in batting average (.386) and tied with Adam La Roche in home runs (2). Ian Desmond was the hottest Nationals batter for the first four games, and then went 0-4 last night. Bryce Harper was the exact opposite, going 1 for 18 in the first four games and then getting two huge hits last night. Kurt Suzuki had a modest batting average (.235) but got clutch RBIs in Game 1 and in Game 5, when he hit 3 for 4. Pitching? Let's not go there. Aside from Ross Detwiler and the relief pitchers in Game 4, there's really not much to boast about. Given the expectations from early in the 2012 season, that's a big disappointment.
For the Cardinals, Carlos Beltran (.444) and David Freese (.421) led the way in batting average. They and Daniel Descalso (.316) were the offensive powerhouses, but Pete Kozma, who was almost cut from the roster last summer, got some clutch hits as well, most notably the go-ahead RBIs in the ninth inning last night. The 2011 World Champions from St. Louis are very clearly a worthy competitor this year as well, and they fully deserve to go on in the playoffs and vie for a chance to defend their title later this month. I salute them for their amazing accomplishments.
On the bright side, the Nationals are the only team to have won 100 games this year, including the two NLDS wins. The Yankees now have 98 total wins, the Giants have 97, the Cardinals have 92, while the Tigers have 91; those numbers all include 3 divisional series wins, and in the Cardinals' case, the extra wild card game win. Only the Yankees and Giants can exceed the Nationals in that regard.
My reflections on Facebook
In no particular order, here are some of my initial observations on Facebook:
Bob Timmermann of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) determined that this game was the biggest-ever comeback in a postseason series-deciding game in baseball history. My response:
When I boasted that we were watching history being made earlier this evening, when the score was 6-0, little did I realize how true -- and how ironic -- my words would be. :-(
According to SABR member Bob Timmermann, the biggest blown lead in a decisive, winner-take-all postseason game was 4 -- by the 1925 Nationals and the 2003 Red Sox. Tonight, the Nationals were up 6-0 over the Cardinals before falling 9-7. What a stunning comeback by St. Louis.
Was Mike Rizzo's decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg a strategic blunder? Roger Parmelee thinks so. I wrote:
We'll have plenty of time to second-guess that one. The ultimate answer will come in future years, measured by how many times the Nationals get into the playoffs.
David Finkel thinks the same thing. I wrote:
Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I don't know if Strasburg would have made a difference in tonight's game. Gio Gonzalez got wobbly toward the end, but it was mostly the bullpen's fault. Poor Drew Storen. I wouldn't trade places with him for anything.
To MASN Nationals:
For years and years to come, we will remember all of those spectacular game-winning performances, hoping that next time we'll get more of them when we really need it. Go Nats in 2013!
Tigers beat the A's
Whereas the Reds-Giants series was distinguished by all five games being won by the visiting team, the Tigers-A's series was entirely won by the home team, until Game 5, which the Tigers won easily, 6-0, as Justin Verlander pitched a complete game shutout.
Yankees beat the O's
C.C. Sabathia also pitched a complete game, in the Yankees' deciding victory against the Orioles, but it wasn't a shutout, just a 3-1 margin. That game was marred by an apparent umpire mistake in ruling a fly ball hit by Oriole Nate McClouth a foul ball. The slow-motion zoomed-in video seem to indicate the ball changed direction as it nicked the right field foul pole, but apparently it wasn't conclusive enough to change the ruling on the field. So the Orioles remained behind 1-0, possibly influencing the rest of the game.
[UPDATE: The other big news from that game was the decision by Yankee manager Joe Girardi to bench the underachieving Alex Rodriguez, replacing him at third base third base with Eric Chavez. A-Rod will be back in the lineup for this evening's ALCS Game 1, which will start in less than an hour. But Girardi left open the possibility that Chavez could re-appear later in the ALCS. See MLB.com. Will A-Rod get motivated to do better? Who knows? For a multi-millionaire celebrity like him, winning baseball games may not be the most important thing in his life.]
This year is the first time since the advent of the three division plus wild card system in 1994 (in effect, 1995) that all four divisional series went the full five games. Since TBS broadcast all those games, that will have a positive effect on their profitability this year.
So, it's the Cardinals at the Giants, and Tigers at Yankees for the next two-three days as the American and National League Championship Series begin. It's the first time since 1996 (Braves, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles) that all four teams in the league championship series are traditional, pre-expansion era franchises, and the first time since 1990 (Pirates, Reds, Red Sox, Athletics) that all four teams have used their traditional, pre-relocation team names.
Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have a gotten little sidetracked from my main focus on baseball stadium history and design, swept up in the enthusiasm for the Nationals this year. "NATITUDE!" Can you blame me? After all, if baseball isn't all about having fun, then what's the point? It was a huge pleasure as the Nats finally realized their latent potential for greatness and made a serious bid to become world champions. In due course, we'll get over the awful kick in the gut that came at the end of last night's game. I look forward to another run at the postseason by the Nationals next year, and in the years to come after that.
October 13, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Augusta Springs
In spite of wet, chilly weather, the Augusta Bird Club field trip I led to Augusta Springs Wetlands Trail last Sunday (October 7) was a big success. Turnout was light (only two other members), but there were plenty of birds. Allen Larner and I checked out the Swoope area on the way out there, and saw large flocks of Canada Geese, some White-crowned Sparrows (first-of-season for me), an immature Bald Eagle, a Kestrel, a Northern Harrier, and several Phoebes.
Arriving at Augusta Springs, we were joined by Buck Kent, and donned our rain jackets as the drizzle got heavier. Walking along the boardwalk / trail, we observed a mixture of newly-arriving winter birds (e.g., Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Swamp Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos) and late-departing neotropical migrants (e.g., Blue-headed Vireos, Philadelphia Vireo, and Red-eyed Vireo, and Nashville Warbler, Magnolia Warblers, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warblers, and a male Scarlet Tanager). We were extremely busy trying to keep track of everything at one particular hot spot. Phoebes were again numerous, and Towhees and a Pileated Woodpecker made impressionable appearances.
On the return trip to Staunton, Allen and I drove around the Swoope area again. At the Boy Scout Camp we saw Pied-billed Grebes and a group of Lincoln's Sparrows, which provided us with excellent views. On Cattleman's Road southeast of Trimble's Mill we saw a large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds. In brushy places further north we saw many Palm Warblers, and a few Common Yellowthroats and Yellow-rumped Warblers. At Smith's Pond we saw an adult Bald Eagle perched in a distant tree, and our only Great Blue Heron of the day, but no ducks or shorebirds. While heading back east of Swoope, Allen noticed some big birds in a field near the Middle River. It turns out they were two Northern Harriers, and before long we saw two more flying around, including an adult male "Gray Ghost." It was a dramatic end to a very successful (though wet) day of birding.
Altogether, we saw 61 species: 45 around Swoope, and 43 at Augusta Springs.
Yet another Cape May Warbler (female or juvenile), this time in our back yard on October 1. They seem to be getting more common in recent years. Roll over to compare to an adult male of that species, which I photographed on September 19.
I also added three photos to the Spiders photo gallery page.
October 16, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Déjà vu: Ibañez does it it again, but Yankees lose -- [thrice]
If the games had ended on a happier note, "Rah-ool! Rah-ool!" might have become the defining chant of the 2012 postseason, just like "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" was in 1977. In Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers had a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, and prospects for the home team seemed bleak. That's when Ichiro Suzuki and then Raúl Ibañez both hit two-run home runs, the latter tying the game just like he did in ALDS Game 3; see Oct. 11. In the 12th inning, however, the Tigers got two runs off a double by Delmon Young, and then tragedy struck. Shortstop Derek Jeter somehow twisted and broke his ankle while fielding a ground ball, meaning he will be out for the rest of the year. Final score: Tigers 6, Yankees 4. Then the Tigers beat the Yankees 3-0 in ALCS Game 2, [thanks to an RBI groundout by Delmon Young in the seventh inning, and a blown call by an umpire that gave them two more runs in the eighth.] That puts the Yankees in very bad shape as the series shifts to Comerica Park in Detroit for the next three games.
Here's a curious factoid: Attendance at Games 1 and 2 at Yankee Stadium (II) game was 47,122 and 47,082, respectively, which is only slightly over a thousand more than there were at NLDS Game 5 at Nationals Park (45,966). Surely they could have drawn more fans to see the Yankees play at home in The Bronx.
UPDATE: In ALCS Game 3 tonight, neither Derek Jeter (injured) nor Alex Rodriguez nor Nick Swisher were in the Yankees' lineup. Very strange. The Tigers had a 2-0 lead going into the ninth inning, thanks to a home run by Delmon Young and an RBI double by Miguel Cabrera, as well as another splendid outing by starting pitcher Justin Verlander. But in the final frame the leadoff batter Eduardo Nuñez fought off several foul balls before hitting a home run, and Phil Coke came in as relief pitcher. Two outs and two singles later, guess who came up to the plate? ¡Raúl Ibañez! This time there was to be no game-changing magic, however, as Coke struck him out to end the game and earn the save. So instead of being on the comeback trail, the Yankees are in a deep hole, on the brink of elimination. Who ever heard of a team coming back from a 0-3 deficit to win a league championship series? Oh, yeah...
Cards, Giants split 1-1
The St. Louis Cardinals emerged from their historic comeback win over the Washington Nationals in NLDS Game 5 by beating the Giants in AT&T Park, 6-4. Both teams had four-run rallies in the fourth inning, and the Giants almost added a fifth run but for a diving catch by [second baseman Daniel Descalso, who threw to shortstop Pete Kozma to end the inning]. In NLCS Game 2, the Giants came back with a 7-1 victory, once again with a four-run fourth inning rally, thereby evening the series. There was a controversial call [in the eighth inning by the first base umpire, allowing two more Giants to score], but it probably didn't affect the outcome.
The mail bag
More news from Mike Zurawski: The Chicago Cubs are going to squeeze another row of seats behind home plate at Wrigley Field. That might make sense in the small portion directly behind home plate and to the left, but otherwise it's already too tight. I don't like it. See bleedcubbieblue.com.
Art Miller is upset and bewildered that no one knows where the original Yankee Stadium home plate was. In places like the former Forbes Field, there are historical markers showing the location of home plate. If anyone knows, please share that information.
(Several edits for grammar, detail, clarity, etc. were made after initial posting.)
October 24, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Tigers & Giants defy odds, win pennants
As World Series 2012 gets underway in San Francisco this evening, it's time to get caught up on the stunning turns of events that paved the way for the Tigers and Giants to advance to the pinnacle of baseball competition, in most improbable fashion. For all the background info you'll need on this year's Fall Classic, see MLB.com.
Giants refuse to lose to Cardinals
The Cardinals appeared to have the National League Championship Series all wrapped up last week, with a 3-1 series lead, and initial preparations for another World Series in St. Louis got underway. But the San Francisco Giants made history once again by staging an amazing three-game comeback to win the NL pennant. Marco Scutaro was the most impressive clutch player for the Giants. The pivotal moment was in the fourth inning of Game 5 (see MLB.com), when Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn fielded a ground ball and threw to second on what should have been an inning-ending double play. The ball hit the bag and bounced into center field, however, and Giants took advantage of the throwing error by scoring four runs that inning -- all unearned. The Giants' veteran pitcher Barry Zito allowed six hits but no runs over 7 2/3 innings, and the series went back to San Francisco. In contrast to the NLDS against the Reds, the Giants used home field advantage to the max in the NLCS, piling on runs with no mercy. As the rain came pouring down at AT&T Park in Game 7, the Cardinals' hopes of a repeat World Series title dissolved in most depressing fashion, on a pop fly to second base. In spite of the lousy weather, Giants fans were ecstatic at their team's triumph.
Not only was the Giants' NLCS comeback amazing, but the margin of victory in those three games was positively devastating: 5-0, 6-1, and 9-0. The last time there was such a lopsided margin in the final three games of a postseason series was the 2007 ALCS, when the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians by scores of 7-1, 12-2, and 11-2. On the National League side that same year, the Colorado Rockies swept the Arizona Diamondbacks four games straight, which is the same thing that happened this year in the ALCS. Guess what happened in the 2007 World Series? Yep, the Red Sox swept the Rockies four games straight, with the first two games at home. An eerie parallel to this year? Hmmm...
Upset: Tigers sweep the Yankees!
In the American League Championship Series, meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers completed an unceremonious rout of the favored New York Yankees, sweeping the Bronx Bombers in four games straight. The way Game 1 ended, with a spectacular four-run comeback in the ninth inning rendered null by the Tigers' extra-inning victory (see October 16 blog post), was an ill omen indeed. Over the next three games, the Yankees only scored two runs total. Tiger ace pitcher Justin Verlander had a superb outing in ALCS Game 3, pitching 8 1/3 shutout innings before Eduardo Nuñez hit a solo home run. Delmon Young was named ALCS Most Valuable Player, with the game-deciding RBI in all four games. It just wasn't the Yankees' year.
The injury to Derek Jeter was a huge blow to the Yankees' hopes for another World Series. But the poor performance by the other "core" players -- [Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, and Nick Swisher -- was what hurt the worst.] And of course, Alex Rodriguez gained dubious fame by becoming the highest-paid bench player in baseball history. It makes one wonder whether the team next spring will bear much if any resemblance to the team as it presently stands. Are we witnessing the end of a dynasty?? For some speculation on the hazy future of the Yankee franchise, see the Washington Post.
Johnson: best manager!
Congratulations to Washington Nationals' Davey Johnson for being named The Sporting News Manager of the Year. As the managerial veteran of several ball clubs, including the Baltimore Orioles, Johnson had an especially satisfying return from retirement. Talks are underway to give him a contract for at least another year in Washington, but he may want to take it easy and retire once again -- perhaps after the Nationals win the World Series next year! See MLB.com.
Ozzie Guillen is fired
In Miami, meanwhile, the Marlins have fired manager Ozzie Guillen, after disappointing fans and owners alike by finishing last place in the NL East. It wasn't a happy inaugural year for Marlins Park. Guillen, you may recall, earned the wrath of millions of Cuban-Americans in south Florida by saying he admired Fidel Castro at the beginning of the season. ¡Adios, Ozzie! See MLB.com.
The mail bag
More ballpark news from Mike Zurawski: The San Diego Padres are moving the outfield wall forward by several feet in right field and in the deep corner to the left of center field. In addition, the visiting team bullpen will be moved from the right field corner to the area adjacent to the home team bullpen on the left side of center field. See MLB.com. More diagram work for me during the off-season!
Also, the Minnesota Twins are going to replace the bleacher section in the right field corner of Target Field, putting in a new drink-rail seating area covered by a canopy with radiant heating. The stadium's overall capacity will be reduced by about 400 seats. See MLB.com.
October 27, 2012 [LINK / comment]
World Series 2012: Giants tame the Tigers
The San Francisco Giants laid to rest any doubt as to whether they could sustain the momentum from their comeback NLCS victory against the St. Louis Cardinals. Soon after World Series 2012 began on Wednesday night, they got on the board first in the first inning. They widened their lead in the subsequent innings, making Detroit Tigers star pitcher Justin Verlander look helpless on the mound. The Tigers depend heavily on his pitching arm, and for them to have been beaten as badly as that (8-3) was a humiliating jolt. But the biggest star of Game 1 was without a doubt Pablo "Panda"* Sandoval, who tied a World Series record by hitting three (3) home runs. (Albert Pujols did it last year, in World Series Game 3; Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson did it many years ago.) The homers came in the first, third, and fifth innings; in his fourth at-bat, Sandoval hit a single. Not only did Barry Zito outpitch Justin Verlander, he actually drove in a run, which is highly unusual for American League pitchers. Final score: Giants 8, Tigers 3.
* I was wondering about all those panda images held up by Giants fans; now I know why.
Game 2 was much closer, but the proverbial "fickle finger of fate" (remember "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"?) favored the Giants. It was a classic pitchers' duel between Doug Fister (Tigers) and Madison Bumgarner (Giants). Fister pitched very well in spite of being hit on the head by a line drive in the second inning, but was replaced after giving up a single (which freakishly bounced off third base, just out of Miguel Cabrera's grasp) in the seventh inning. Fister was charged with a run scored, which happened on a double play, so there was no RBI. The Giants pitcher put in an excellent performance. In the second inning, Delmon Young doubled down the left field line, and Prince Fielder tried to score from first base, but was thrown out at the plate (just barely) by second baseman Marco Scutaro, who strayed into the shortstop's territory. The third base coach (Gene Lamont) should have known better than to take an unnecessary risk when he waved the portly, slow-footed Fielder home. The Tigers would have had runners on second and third with no outs, but they failed to score in that inning, or in any other inning, in fact. The Giants scored a second run on a sac fly in the eighth inning, without any hits, making the final score 2-0. See MLB.com.
In Game 3 tonight, the theme was wasted opportunities by the Tigers. In the first and third innings, they had runners on first and second with just one out, and both times they grounded into a double play. (Prince Fielder and Quintin Berry.) In the fifth inning, they loaded the bases with one out, and still they failed to get a run! Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera popped out to end the inning. Meanwhile, the Giants scored twice in the second inning, thanks to a triple to deep right-center field by Gregor Blanco, and a single by Brandon Crawford. The Giants' Ryan Vogelsong, the journeyman minor-league pitcher who finally caught a break in the big leagues, had one of the best games of his career. Final score: 2-0. It was the Tigers' first loss at home this postseason.
So now the Tigers are on the brink of elimination, and as I mentioned on Wednesday, there is quite an "eerie parallel" between the two League Championship Series and the World Series this year, and the way they transpired in 2007. The team that swept the LCS and therefore got a few days extra rest (the Rockies) were in turn swept by the team that made a stunning three-straight win comeback in the LCS, playing a full seven games (the Red Sox). I'd really like to see the World Series go on for a few more days, so I hope the Tigers can avoid the fate suffered by the Rockies.
World Series stadia
Just like last year, etc., I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. AT&T Park and Comerica Park are both above-average in terms of outfield size, but otherwise have few similarities. Just roll over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.
I've been working on diagram revisions of Comerica Park, as well as PETCO Park, which as I mentioned recently will undergo significant changes in outfield dimensions next year. Tomorrow might be the last game played at Comerica Park this year, so I'd better hurry...
October 30, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Déjà vu: Giants are World Champions, again
Almost as if it were preordained by some Higher Power, the 2012 World Series played out just like the 2007 World Series, as the team that had just swept a league championship series was in turn swept by a team that had had to fight tooth and nail to grab the pennant. The confidently dominant Detroit Tigers exchanged roles with the feisty never-give-up San Francisco Giants, who became World Champions for the second time in three years. No team has matched that achievement since the Yankees won three straight World Series titles, from 1998 to 2000. It was a bittersweet end to the season for the fans in chilly Detroit, but the good news is that their team shook off the doldrums, played very well, and came close to winning World Series Game 4.
Tigers scored first in the second inning, on a ground-rule double to deep left-center field by Hunter Pence and a triple off the wall in [the right field corner by Brandon Belt. (It would have been a homer almost anywhere else.)...]* Gloom momentarily descended upon Comerica Park, as fans realized the Tigers' desperate plight. But just as quickly the mood turned to exhilaration in the third inning when Miguel Cabrera ("MVP! MVP!") hit a fly ball to right field that carried just over the wall, thanks to a push from some stiff northerly winds. After two games in which the Giants seemed to get all the lucky breaks, fortune smiled on Detroit, briefly. But then in the sixth inning, Buster Posey hit a two-run homer to the left field corner, giving the Giants the lead again. But the Tigers' Delmon Young came back with a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to even the score at 3-3. The next batter singled, and then Jhonny (!) Peralta hit a long fly ball to left field that fell just short of the fence for the third out. Just a few more feet would have given the Tigers a two-run lead. The next three innings were scoreless, and the two starting pitchers (Max Scherzer and Matt Cain) were replaced. In in the top of the tenth, Ryan Theriot (former Cub) singled, Brandon Belt bunted him to second base, Angel Pagan struck out, and then clutch batter Marco Scutaro singled up the middle for what turned out to be the game-winning RBI. In the bottom of the tenth, closing pitcher Sergio Romo (sporting a black beard just like Brian Wilson did two years ago) struck out three batters in a row, the final one being none other than Miguel Cabrera, who was caught looking on an unexpected fast ball down the middle. Ouch! Final score: Giants 4, Tigers 3. See MLB.com.
I admit to being partial to the Tigers, who haven't won a World Series since 1984. But before the Giants' big triumph two years ago, San Francisco had never won a (baseball) world championship, so you have to take that into account. (The New York Giants won the 1954 World Series, when Willie Mays made that amazing catch in center field at the Polo Grounds, breaking the hearts of fans in Cleveland.) One thing is absolutely clear: The Giants earned this victory, and they deserve hearty congratulations for winning it!
It was the first time since 1997 that the deciding game of the World Series went into extra innings. That was the year that the Florida Marlins beat the Cleveland Indians 3-2 in the 11th inning of Game 7, which was played in Miami.
The Tigers' aggregate batting average for the World Series was an abysmal [.159, compared to .242 for the Giants. What the heck happened to Prince Fielder?? (.071)] As for the Giants, their manager Bruce Bochy is getting recognized for putting together an awesome team. Most of their players are locked into contracts at least through next year, so they stand a very good chance of making another postseason bid in October 2013. (NLCS against the Nationals?) Barry Svrluga analyzes the Giants' prospects in the Washington Post.
I know all too well how it hurts when your team gets swept in the World Series, remembering the ill-fated (from my point of view) 1963 matchup between the Yankees and Dodgers. An MLB blog, "Getting Blanked," consoles Tigers fans with the thought "So You Got Swept: It Could Have Been Worse." The author summarizes five of the most lopsided World Series outcomes in baseball history:
- 1989 (A's sweep Giants)
- 1932 (Yankees sweep Cubs)
- 1910 (A's defeat Cubs, 4 games to 1)
- 1966 (Orioles sweep Dodgers)
- 1928 (Yankees sweep Cardinals)
The Baseball Annual Chronology page has been updated with the 2012 World Series results, Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown, etc. It also includes two items for 2013: The transition of the Houston Astros from the National League Central Division to the American League West, and the site of next year's All-Star Game: Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
Comerica Park update
It wasn't finished in time for the final game of the World Series, but the Comerica Park diagrams are now corrected and enhanced with new details such as the platforms and entry portals in the upper deck. The only notable change is that the upper deck near the left field corner extends about ten feet less than it did before. I had a preliminary update posted in time for what would have been Game 5 -- for what that's worth. One intriguing detail can be seen in the lower-deck version: the zig-zag ramps to help disabled fans descend from the main concourse to the areas reserved for wheelchairs, on the first base side and near the left field corner.
There will be several more diagram updates in November. Stay tuned for those goodies and other news items to report!
* Thanks to Larry F. for the corrections.
October 30, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Campaign 2012: into the final stretch
As we head into final stretch of this excruciatingly long presidential campaign, the pundits are obsessed with the "horse race" aspect, checking the latest poll numbers from the swing states. But not many of them have dealt with the tragic absence of serious discussion over painful policy dilemmas that confront this country. I briefly flirted with the idea of voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson, but the stakes are too high in this election to indulge in protest voting. Even though Mitt Romney has fallen short compared to what he could have done in this campaign, I still think he is a capable leader whose policy proposals are for the most part heading in the right general direction.
On Facebook recently, the News Leader asked its readers to say something positive about the candidates they favor. Here's what I wrote:
The more I hear him speak, the more Mitt Romney comes across (to me) as a decent, sincere man who knows what he's talking about. Granted, he often tries too hard to curry favor with various voter groups, getting his words mixed up in the process, but he has a track record of competently governing and working across party lines. I think America needs that kind of a leader.
The GOP booth at the Augusta County Fair, in August. That's Al Katz talking with another local Republican.
Romney's missed chance
In the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney had a big chance to appeal to independent votes by stating how his presidency would differ from that of President George W. Bush. It was a "town hall" format, and audience member Susan Katz asked Romney to contrast his views with those of Bush 43. I eagerly awaited a firm, clear response, but Romney lamely said, "President Bush and I are -- are different people, and these are different times." He mentioned that Bush didn't "crack down on China" and wasn't focused on small business. Nothing about the flagrant budget-busting programs of Bush, nothing about the harsh, partisan approach fostered by Dubya's adviser Karl Rove, nothing about getting bogged down in privatizing Social Security and divisive social issues. I was heartbroken. Al Kamen covered that critical moment in the Washington Post.
So does that mean that Romney would follow in Bush's footsteps, policy-wise? [Matthew Poteat shared on Facebook an article by Daniel Larison at The American Conservative: "Expecting Fiscal Responsibility from a Republican Administration: The Triumph of Hope Over Experience."] Here's what I wrote in response to Matthew:
Matthew: I disagree with "The Republicans broke free of fiscal integrity with Reagan" I'm no fan of supply-side chicanery, but the rising deficits in the 1980s stemmed in large measure from Reagan's inability to get the Democrat-controlled House to go along with bigger spending cuts. And under Gingrich after the GOP Revolution of 1994, they DID get spending under control, resulting in surpluses by the end of Clinton's term. Most people fail to grasp the central role of the House in fiscal policy, wrongly crediting (or blaming) the president for everything that happens. But none of that detracts from the main theme of the article, which is sadly accurate. The fact that I think Romney will learn from the past and not repeat Dubya's blunders is indeed the "triumph of hope over experience."
I think it is becoming more and more clear that Romney is under heavy constraints as far as what he can say in his speeches. It's not as bad as the situation faced by John McCain in 2008, but it seems to me that Romney is tip-toeing on eggs shells in a frantic effort not to alienate any members of the Republican "Base," since they are especially prone to defect at the slightest provocation. Sigh...
Obama's missed chance
President Obama also failed to take full advantage of one of Romney's weak spots, namely, the vague tax reform proposals. Instead of challenging Romney on what specific tax revenue enhancements he would push to offset the lower income tax rates which he favors, Obama kept harping on this $5 trillion estimate of increased total debt which some liberal think tank came up with. That's a ten-year figure, by the way, which has virtually zero significance. I don't understand why both parties keep using ten-year budget estimates as the basis for comparing their proposals to those of their opponents. Why do any intelligent people take such long-term estimates seriously??
[More generally, Obama is stuck in a rhetorical rut in which he strikes a defiantly demagoguic, populist stance. It's terribly divisive, and yet he pretends to seek bipartisan compromise. Well, that's not the way his number one signature accomplishment -- Obamacare -- was passed by Congress. More and more, Obama feigns an urban African-American dialect in his stump speeches, stammering for effect in a pose of working-class righteousness. To me, it looks as phony as a three-dollar bill.]
So Obama likewise has failed to "close the deal" by convincing skeptical middle-of-the-road votes that he deserves another four years in the White House. Voting for Obama again would be an even more dramatic example of the "triumph of hope over experience," as I mentioned above with regard to Romney and the Republicans. Speaking of which, anyone who thinks that Obama's second term would be any better than his first term should watch this video, full of virtually identical campaign speech lines from 2008 and 2012: thehayride.com As that blog says, it's "Maybe The Best Ad Of The Political Season So Far."
"Hope and Change"? NOT.
Democratic candidate signs near Afton, in scenic Nelson County, Virginia.
October 31, 2012 [LINK / comment]
R.I.P. George McGovern (1922-2012)
I would be terribly remiss if I failed to pay due respects to the man who inspired me to get involved in politics and public affairs when I was young. Former South Dakota Senator George McGovern, the crusading liberal "prairie populist" who lost to Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential race, passed away last week at the age of 90. This was only days after he was sent to a hospice facility for the terminally ill in Sioux Falls.
After growing up in Mitchell, South Dakota, McGovern joined the Army Air Force in World War II and became a B-24 Liberator pilot. He flew 35 combat missions from Italy to targets in Nazi-occupied southeastern Europe and Austria, and once had to overcome heavy damage to his plane from anti-aircraft fire on an arduous trip back to base. After the war he resumed studies at Dakota Wesleyan College (now University) in Mitchell and graduated in 1946. Later he briefly pursued studies in divinity (he was a Methodist) but then switched programs and earned a master's degree in history from Northwestern University (Chicago) in 1949. After that he returned home and became a professor of history at his alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan.
The young academician soon became active in Democratic Party politics and won election to the House of Representatives in 1956. His bid four years later to unseat incumbent Senator Karl Mundt failed, however, and he was appointed to run the Food for Peace program by President Kennedy. In 1962 he was elected to South Dakota's other Senate seat, and he soon became known as a leading critic of the Vietnam War. After Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968, McGovern ran in RFK's stead at the Democratic convention in Chicago, in a largely symbolic gesture. During his second term in the Senate, he became known as the leader of the peace movement on Capitol Hill. He overcame establishment Democrat Ed Muskie in the 1972 primary campaign, surprising the world with his well-organized campaign full of passionate young activists. (Bill Clinton was one of them.) But the tragic Eagleton Affair, a booming (though fragile) economy, and the prospect of "peace is at hand" in Vietnam (Henry Kissinger) doomed his candidacy, and he only won Massachusetts and D.C. in the November 6 election.
McGovern won a third Senate term in 1974, soon after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, but he fell victim to the Reagan Revolution of 1980, and never again served in elective office. He ran for president again in 1984, but dropped out early. Over the next two decades he wrote books, lectured, and worked in various international food and hunger programs. Unlike many other career politicians, McGovern returned to his home state after retiring from public service, living in his home town of Mitchell until recently. In 2006 Bill Clinton spoke at the dedication of the McGovern Library at DWU, and a year later his beloved wife of 64 years, Eleanor, passed away. (They first met as high school debate opponents; she won!) The family suffered the loss of two children who were afflicted with alcoholism.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader had an entire special Commemorative Edition: "George McGovern's life, told in five chapters." Some of the details in the above paragraphs are based on it, but I already knew the highlights of McGovern's life history. Thanks to my brother Chris, who sent me a hard copy as a keepsake. For a more concise obituary, see the Washington Post.
I saw George McGovern for the first time on November 7, 1972, when he gave his concession speech as the election returns made clear he was losing by a landslide to Richard Nixon. Even though I wasn't old enough to vote, I was working that evening with the local TV station in compiling and tabulating election reports from across the state. I got permission to leave for a half hour or so, and walked a few blocks to the Sioux Falls Arena, going through security and straining for a view of the stage from behind the jam-packed bleachers. It was a truly heartbreaking moment. We were sure that there was much more behind the Watergate scandal than had yet been revealed, but the coverup was succeeding quite well at that point, gravely damaging our country's democratic institutions.
The last time I saw McGovern was about a quarter century later, at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, in the late 1990s. He was the featured speaker that day in a series of talks by defeated presidential candidates. We had a pleasant conversation afterwards, and he asked about my father (Alan), whom he knew fairly well through the course of South Dakota politics. Ironically, I already considered myself as a Republican by that point, but of course I didn't mention that during our conversation.
Just writing about McGovern brings out painful conflicts in my own self. I used to be liberal and idealistic, and I know how easy it is to slip toward the other extreme of cynicism when one becomes disillusioned with an ideology. Thankfully, that has not happened to me. McGovern endured severe hardships of all varieties over the course of his life, but he always remained stoic and upbeat. Even as his name became a cliché for failed left-wing Democratic policies, McGovern remained graceful, did not succumb to bitterness, and remained a faithful Christian throughout his life. He was everything that a public servant should be: courageous, energetic, intellectually engaged, decent, modest, and brutally honest. In retrospect, I strongly disagree with many of the policy positions he advocated, but I nevertheless wish I could live up to his sterling example. McGovern should be remembered for his many positive contributions to American politics, especially the ideal of civility in public discourse.