July 4, 2013
The emerging pattern this year is that the Washington Nationals repeatedly surge ahead with big victories, raising hopes for a big turning point, and then they immediately fall flat once again. The past week has been full of such ups and downs, and today's game was itself likewise full of both. Until the very last out of the game, it was about as tense as you can imagine.
But first, let's establish the context. In Washington on Sunday, the Nationals clobbered the New York Mets 13-2, thanks to four home runs and a fine outing by starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. (He and Stephen Strasburg appear to be back on track, another reason for Nats fans to cling to hope that they'll rebound in the second half.) The next day, the Nats beat the visiting Milwaukee Brewers 10-5, the first time this year that they have reached double-digit scores in two consecutive games. Jordan Zimmermann got his 12th win of the season, [with a big boost from Bryce Harper, who was playing for the first time since May 26 and homered on the very first swing he took in the first inning!] The good vibes quickly evaporated on Tuesday, however, as Stephen Strasburg's great seven-inning outing, allowing just two hits, was wasted when Drew Storen came in to relieve him. Storen had been showing signs of improvement lately, and the MASN announcers noted that his confidence level was back up, but this time he gave up four earned runs on four hits and a walk. Both teams racked up eight hits, but the final score was Brewers 4, Nats 0. That was a bitter disappointment. It would have been the exact same score on Wednesday had Anthony Rendon not hit a solo home run. And so, the Nationals were back down to .500 once again, 42-42.
Today, Wilson Ramos -- just off the disabled list, for the first time since mid-May -- was the undisputed hero, batting in five runs and getting three hits. Taylor Jordan was on the mound, subbing for Dan Haren, who is on the disabled list. The Brewers scored a run in the top of the first, but Jordan kept his cool even with a runner on third base, and got the third out. It helped a lot that the Nats hustled their way to two runs in the bottom of the first, giving Jordan a lead that he maintained for 5 2/3 innings. Just like two nights before, however, Drew Storen failed in his duties as relief pitcher. With one out in the seventh inning, he gave up a solo home run to Yuniesky Betancourt, and then with two outs he gave up a single and then a home run, hit by Carlos Gomez. Just like that, [the game was tied 5-5 and] Taylor Jordan's fine outing and probable first career win were thrown away. Fortunately, Wilson Ramos came through in the clutch in the bottom of that inning, hitting a three-run monster home run over the left field bull pen, putting the Nationals ahead for good. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth each got three hits, and Ryan Zimmerman (who has made some costly errors recently) made some great defensive plays at third base. Final score: Nats 8, Brewers 5. See MLB.com. That was a huge relief, earning the Nats a split in the four-game series with Milwaukee, and possibly saving the chance to get the team rolling again as the second half of the season begins.
Welcome back to Washington, Wilson Ramos!
It has become a solid tradition that baseball is played in Our Nation's Capital every Fourth of July. In fact, the Nationals have played at home in all but one July 4 since they transformed their identity and moved down from Montreal in 2005. Not surprisingly, they have a winning record, 6-3. So, I thought it would be nice to recall the July 4 games of the past nine years. A year ago they beat the San Francisco Giants, who went on to win the World Series. I was at the July 4 game two years ago, when the Nats won on a wild pitch.
|Year||Nats' score||Opp. score||Opponent||Notes|
|2005||2||5||NYM||End of Nats' 6-game winning streak, begin of decline.|
|2006||6||4||FLA||Ryan Zimmerman 3-run HR in 9th!|
|2007||6||0||CHC||Dmitri Young grand slam.|
|2008||0||3||@ CIN||The Nats' only 4th of July away from Washington.|
|2009||5||3||ATL||4-run rally in 8th inning.|
|2010||5||9||NYM||Ryan Zimmerman HR for nought.|
|2011||5||4||CHC||Winning run on wild pitch by Carlos Marmol in 10th inning.|
|2012||9||4||SF||Nats hit four home runs.|
|2013||8||5||MIL||Wilson Ramos 3-run HR in 7th inning to retake lead.|
Half the 2013 season is already gone, and time is growing very short. The first three months of 2013 have fallen far short of expectations, but their win-loss record (41-40 at the end of June) could have been even worse. During that period, the Nats were outscored by their opponents, 314-295. The good news is that they are breaking their old attendance records, but that won't continue for long unless they start winning like last year once again. See the Washington Nationals page.
In recognition of the Nationals' origins,* I updated the Jarry Park diagrams -- both the baseball and tennis versions. There were only two notable changes: inclusion of the entry portals (which happened to be wider than usual), and the reorientation of the swimming pool beyond right field, perpendicular to the end of the grandstand rather than to the right field fence.
* They used to be the Montreal Expos, until the end of 2004. It is rather ironic that the Nationals were a foreign team in their previous "incarnation."
Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds threw the first no-hitter in the majors this year, and by amazing coincidence, he also threw the last no-hitter of last year. This time a key defensive play by Joey Votto might have saved the day. The 3-0 win on Tuesday was against the San Francisco Giants, who remain in a perplexing downhill spiral. See MLB.com.
My picks for the All-Star game this year are fairly conventional for the American League, and fairly biased in favor of the Nationals on the National League side. (Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper clearly deserve it; I'm not sure about the others.) Somehow I forgot about the Angels' phenomenal young slugger Mike Trout; he is batting .315 with 53 RBIs but "only" 13 home runs so far this year. I didn't forget about Chris Davis, however. He has hit 32 home runs so far, on track to challenge Roger Maris' (unadulterated) record of 61 home runs in a season. The Washington Post had an article about him a few days ago. Before getting traded to Baltimore in July 2011, he played for the Texas Rangers, but never got enough at-bats to prove himself as a slugger. In fact, he almost ended up as a life-long minor leaguer, like Kevin Costner's character in Bull Durham. What an inspirational turnaround!
Jonah Mackey came across a cool photo gallery that shows external views of Nationals Park before and after it was built. See jdland.com. I used to live near that part of D.C., and I remember some of those bleak urban landscape scenes.