August 6, 2013 [LINK / comment]
A-Rod is suspended, fights back
As had been widely rumored for the past few weeks, Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the rest of this season and for all of next year. Ironically, he was allowed to play after filing a formal appeal, and actually played in his first game with the New York Yankees last night. (They lost, but A-Rod got a hit.) In addition, twelve other MLB players received 50-game suspensions. See MLB.com and ESPN. (Thankfully, the list did not include Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who was linked to the Florida sports "pharmacist" Anthony Bosch earlier this year.)
A-Rod's combative response to the announcement was rather strange. (It almost reminds one of Richard Nixon's famous "I am not a crook" declaration during the Watergate scandal.)
If the ESPN radio commentary I heard on Sunday afternoon is correct, I am not alone in having scant sympathy for the Yankee third baseman. A-Rod's denials sound phony and mechanical, as if he has been rehearsing dozens of times with some public relations expert. It's not very convincing, which makes you wonder what he really wants: redemption among his fans, or a better deal in renegotiating his contract? He is owed over [ $90 ] million by the Yankees, and their lawyers [are no doubt going through the fine print of the contracts to see how much of his compensation can be voided.]
One thing that really bothers me about this whole episode is how the rumors have been leaked to the press, bit by bit. Apparently it's part of the MLB Commissioner's bargaining strategy with the MLB Players' Association, but to me it really seems sleazy.
Nats keep wasting opportunities
After getting drubbed in Detroit by the Tigers last week (5-1 and then 11-1), the Washington Nationals got themselves back in sync and took the first two games of the road series against the Milwaukee Brewers, winning 4-1 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday. Sunday afternoon's game started off just fine, as the Nats had a lead. Rookie pitcher Taylor Jordan once again had a super outing and was in line for his second career win -- until everything fell apart in the sixth inning. Jordan suddenly ran out of steam and loaded the bases with nobody out, at which point Fernando Abad came in from the bullpen. This time Abad did have a bad day (sorry I can't let go of that pun), as the Brewers scored five runs while he was on the mound. In the top of the seventh inning, Anthony Rendon hit a lead-off home run, sending a signal that the Nats weren't about to give up. But after that, more runners were left on base, and the Brewers added insurance runs to make it an 8-5 victory. Completing a sweep of the Brewers would have been a great psychological boost for the Nats at this critical juncture...
Back home in D.C. last night, the Nats really played their hearts out. They almost scored two runs in the first inning, but Wilson Ramos was thrown out at the plate in a remarkable relay from outfielder Jason Heyward to shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Thanks to a superb seven-innings pitched by Stephen Strasburg, the Nats had the game tied 2-2 going into the eighth inning. That's when usually-reliable reliever Tyler Clippard gave up a home run to Justin Upton. In the bottom of the eighth, Scott Hairston hit a leadoff double, but the next three batters failed to get him home. The Nats out-hit the Braves 9-8, but the final score was 3-2 in favor of the visitors. (See MLB.com.)
That painful loss put the Braves 13 1/2 games ahead of the Nats in the NL East, an almost insurmountable margin. The Braves have won eleven games in a row, the hottest team in the majors right now. The games tonight and tomorrow night are pretty much make or break if the Nationals want to maintain a realistic hope of making it to October this year. It sure would be nice to see some meaningful games late in the season...
On a brighter note, Jayson Werth was named National League player of the month for July, the the first time any Nationals player has been so honored since the team was "reborn" in 2005. See MLB.com. Too bad all those home runs went for nought. Adam LaRoche has been hitting some home runs too, but his batting average remains very low, just .234 with 16 home runs. He has a career pattern of starting off slow each year and then doing much better by midseason. Bryce Harper is struggling to regain his batting prowess after a lengthy DL hiatus earlier in the summer. He has gone hitless in the last three games, and his batting average has sunk below .270, also with 16 home runs.
Amazing walk-off wins
In my July 26 blog post, I made a big deal about two walk-off wins by the Washington Nationals, but since then some other teams have had equally remarkable victories. First and foremost, the Boston Red Sox, who scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth to seal an improbable 8-7 win over the Seattle Mariners. No, it wasn't David "Big Papi" Ortiz this time, it was Daniel Nava, who hit a walk-off single. It was the Red Sox' biggest comeback win since July 3, 1940, when they beat the Philadelphia Athletics a 12-11. See MLB.com.
For a quick video review of the other big walk-off wins last week, see MLB.com.
How about the Kansas City Royals this year!!?? They are currently 57-52, five games above .500, and in the hunt for a postseason berth. Perhaps most impressive was their 12-inning 4-3 win over the Mets in Citi Field on Saturday. Will wonders never cease?
Miller Park update
Prompted by seeing the recent Nationals-Brewers series on TV, I redid the Miller Park diagrams. To my surprise, it has been three years since the last update of those diagrams. (I know, some diagrams of older stadiums are even more outdated than that.) Once again the inclusion of entry portals made a significant difference. The lights are shown on the "open roof" version, but not on the others, which is ironic because the lights are most needed when the roof is closed. I also made some minor corrections to that enormous retractable roof, showing how the inner sections overlap the outer ones. There is also an "opaque roof" version, as also is the case with Marlins Park.
Not surprisingly, Miller Park a smaller-than-average foul territory compared to most other current MLB stadiums: 21,100 square feet.
Web site maintenance
I just updated the Stadium statistics page, showing new data for several stadiums whose diagrams are "in progress," but please bear in mind that some of the new data is still "subject to revision."
I spent some time this afternoon weeding out "dead" links to baseball Web sites, a long-overdue chore. The newly thinned-out list of links is on my Baseball blog page, which is the most-visited page on my Web site. I also did likewise with links to baseball-related blogs. I usually am quite receptive to solicitations from other Web masters to post reciprocal links. I made an effort to see whether the "peer" Web sites (non-MLB, non-government, semi-pro, or amateur) include links to this Web site; If not, I have removed them for the time being. In some cases, I kept the links if there was at least some new content over the past year or so. Sadly, Chris Needham's "Capitol Punishment" blog about the Nationals seems to be "Resting In Peace."
That was prompted in part by a (semi-)recent e-mail message from Jake Cain, who brought to my attention his Web site, ballparksavvy.com. As Jake explains, it "is primarily about helping fans save money while going to MLB games." A noble cause, without a doubt!
Also, I belatedly updated the text and layout on four stadium pages, about three full years after I should have done so. Good grief! (It was during 2010 that I adopted the current standard page layout for those pages.) And so, the Comiskey Park, Metropolitan Stadium, Cashman Field (Las Vegas), and Estadio Dennis Martinez (Nicaragua) pages now look like they are supposed to.
NOTE: I have re-ordered the sequence on the "Coming Attractions" list of stadiums whose diagrams are in the process of being updated. The biggest change is that I have made finishing all the current MLB stadiums a top priority. Of course, that list is only a loose guide as to which stadiums I do when, which is why I thought I should pay more attention to harmonizing it with my actual work.
OMISSION: Last week I mentioned a certain "Kansas City fan (and classic rock D.J.!)" who gave me a tip about Kauffman Stadium a couple years ago. Unfortunately, I neglected to mention his last name. Sorry about that, Scott Rhodes! (rockinplanet.com) And thanks, again.
School's out for summer!
Remember that Alice Cooper song? In case you're wondering, I was teaching summer school this year, taking up more of my time that I had planned. That's why I haven't done as many diagram updates as I had planned. It's also why I won't be making any long-distance trips this summer. I had really hoped to attend the recent SABR convention in Philadelphia, but regretfully just didn't have the time.
According to my calendar, school will resume in just a few weeks. Sigh...
August 8, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Braves sweep the Nationals
The Washington Nationals' quest for a return trip to the postseason came to a premature and definitive end last night, as the Atlanta Braves beat them for a third consecutive game. With a lead of 15 1/2 games over the Nationals and just seven weeks left in the baseball season, the Braves are virtually assured of winning the NL East title. It will take a few more weeks for them to formally clinch that honor.
All three games were razor-close most of the way, as the Nationals again played hard with relatively few mistakes. Tuesay's game was highlighted by the "plunking" of Bryce Harper by Braves pitcher Julio Teheran, apparently to "punish" him for pausing in the batter's box to watch his earlier home run. See MLB.com. Benches cleared, but no fisticuffs ensued. Surprisingly, there was no retaliation by any of the Nationals pitchers. The umpires had issued a warning, meaning a likely suspension for any pitcher doing so. In the MASN postgame analysis, Ray Knight said pitchers have got to stand up for their team mates, or else morale suffers. Final score: Braves 2, Nats 1.
In last night's game, the Nats got a big boost when Jayson Werth hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, their first hit of the game. Jordan Zimmermann had to leave after that inning because of recurrent neck stiffness, apparently. The game was tied 3-3 in the top of the eighth inning, when Davey Johnson put in Ian Krol to replace Ryan Mattheus on the mound. Immediately Jason Heyward singled in a run, and then Justin Upton doubled in two more runs. The Nats didn't give up, and had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, sparked by Bryce Harper's leadoff double. Wilson Ramos then hit a line drive to right field, in exactly the wrong place, and that's how the game -- and in effect, the season -- ended. Final score: Braves 6, Nats 3.
So while the Braves have won 13 in a row, the Nats have lost four in a row. [This is an off day, so tonight they are resting and ruefully reflecting; the Phillies arrive in Washington tomorrow for a weekend series.] Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers have won 11 games in a row. With the Indians and Royals well above .500, the American League Central Division has some of the hottest teams in baseball right now.
In today's Washington Post, Tom Bosworth says the Nationals have forgotten the fundamentals of baseball: "Those two games were an execution by proper execution." He pointed to the failed bunt attempt by Gio Gonzalez, and the successful bunt by the Braves which set up a two-run single, their only scoring in Tuesday's game.
Citi Field update
I made some changes to the Citi Field diagrams, almost a full month after the All-Star Game was held there. Most significantly, the grandstand beyond first and third bases angles in more than before. The lateral walkway in the upper deck is wider than before. [I made a special effort to accurately depict the stairways between the upper and lower portions of the upper deck. You may also notice dots where small flagpoles are positioned on the roof at the juncture between each grandstand section. Those details, and the entry portals behind home plate in the upper deck, helped get everything just right.] In some sections there are two extra rows of seats in place of the "balconies" for fans in wheelchairs, but I'm not sure if those are permanent seats, so I have not indicated them for the time being. Also, the lower-deck diagram has more details than before.
One question that had me befuddled was the new rows of box seats between the dugouts. I had thought that they were going to be more or less permanent, but evidently they will only be installed for special events such as the All-Star Game. So, I decided to put those temporary box seats on the lower-deck diagram only.
August 13, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Phillies
Soon after the Washington Nationals endured being swept by the Atlanta Braves at home last week, they bounced right back and did likewise to the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend. On Friday night they jumped to an early lead, with home runs by Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman in the second inning. On the mound, meanwhile, Dan Haren had yet another fine outing, giving up only two runs on four hits over seven innings. The Nats piled on more runs in the later innings to put an end to their four-game losing streak. Final score: Nats 9, Phillies 2.
Saturday's game was almost the opposite, as the Phillies jumped to a 4-0 lead in the second inning. The Nats' starting pitcher Taylor Jordan, who has surpassed expectations of a rookie since being called up in June, struggled to make it through five innings. Led by Jayson Werth, who hit a two-run homer, the Nats staged a five-run rally in the seventh inning, and went on to win it, 8-5. A comeback like that was just the kind of psychological tonic the forlorn Nationals needed to sustain their late-season efforts.
On Sunday, the Nats completely dominated, as Stephen Strasburg pitched a complete-game shutout for the first time in his career. He threw ten strikeouts and kept his pitch count to just 99 -- very efficient! Jayson Werth continued his amazing hot streak at the plate, going three for four, and the Nats won again, 6-0. S-s-sweep! See MLB.com.
Weird walk-off win in New York
In New York, meanwhile, the Yankees' closing pitcher Mariano Rivera blew a save opportunity for the third consecutive game on Sunday, as the Detroit Tigers hit two home runs (solo) off him in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game, 4-4. Miguel Cabrera and then Victor Martinez (the DH) each smashed balls into the right field seats. A deathly pall fell over Yankee Stadium, where the fans aren't used to losing. But then in the bottom of the ninth, Brett Gardner came through with a dramatic walk-off home run, giving Rivera a hollow "win" to his credit. See MLB.com.
That game marked Alex Rodriguez's first hit in a home game since he returned to the Yankees lineup last week. In fact, it was a home run, his first of the season, and the 648th* home run of his career. Many people cheered! Others didn't; it was ... awk-ward! It was also the 1,951st* RBI of A-Rod's career, going ahead of Stan "The Man" Musial and taking fifth place on the all-time list. See MLB.com.
* Subject to future dispute...
Yankee Stadium II update
Seeing that game on TV got me to thinking I ought to get the Yankee Stadium II diagrams up to date, so I went ahead and did so. There were small changes in the grandstand, and a very slight change in the area around the dugouts. There are new first-deck and upper-deck diagram versions, the latter of which shows the entry portals and balconies for handicapped fans along the lateral walkway. Note that the steps to the lower portion of the upper deck only coincide with those entry portals in the curved part of the grandstand behind home plate, and also for a small straight portion beyond third base.
Note that I modified my suggested alternative configuration, keeping the center field distance the same as at present (408), to provide enough room for the re-oriented bullpens. The outfield fences are pushed out by up to 10-12 feet (four rows of seats) in the power alleys, as before, but I decided that my idea of rebuilding the dugouts and box seats to more closely resemble the original Yankee Stadium wasn't practical, so I left those areas the way they are now. The new-fangled "Yankee Stadium" only has 19,700 or so square feet of foul territory, compared to 21,000 (preliminary estimate) in the "classic-era" (1938-1973) configuration of Yankee Stadium. In the final years, it was about 19,400, I estimate.
Hockey in The Bronx
The National Hockey League announced that there will be a hockey match at Yankee Stadium (II) next January. There will also be hockey games at L.A.'s Dodger Stadium (???) and Chicago's Soldier Field, for a total of six total outdoor games this season. See nesn.com; hat tip to Matt Ereth. More diagrams to do ... Will it never end???
August 15, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nationals beat the Giants, twice
The Nationals won their first two games of the series against the World Champion* San Francisco Giants, extending their winning streak to five. On Tuesday, Gio Gonzalez was having some difficulty during the first four innings, and did not return to the mound after a one-hour rain delay. There was an incident in the dugout in which (apparently) Jayson Werth criticized Gio for his lack of hustle getting to first base on what would have been a force out. Gonzalez was suffering from a bad back, evidently. Rookie Tanner Roark took the mound in his stead after the rain stopped, and gave up a home run, tying the game 1-1. In the sixth inning, Adam LaRoche hit a two-run blast to retake the lead, and the Nats held on to win, 4-2.
In the second inning last night, Ian Desmond hit a monster home run over the visitors' bullpen in left field to tie the game 1-1. Then the Nats took a big 6-1 lead after a five-run rally in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded, Anthony Rendon hit a double to the wall in center field, and the runs just kept coming. That felt good for a change. Unfortunately, the bullpen faltered, as the Giants scored three in the eighth inning, charged to Ian Krol and Ryan Mattheus, and one in the ninth charged to Rafael Soriano. The Giants came within inches of tying the game or taking the lead when Hunter Pence smashed a line drive toward the Red Porch in left-center field. Somehow the Nationals' fleet-footed center fielder Denard Span made a leaping catch to get the out and end the game. What a huge relief that was! Span's "Web Gem" was perhaps the most important defensive play of the year for the Nationals, and he deserves strong consideration for a Golden Glove award.
This afternoon, the Nats are going for another sweep, and with any luck, I'll be there to see it!
UPDATE: Gr-r-r-roan! Now I know what it was like to be at Game 5 of the NLDS last year. The way today's game ended was almost exactly the same. The "agony of defeat" stings a lot more when you're there in person. More tomorrow...
* The Giants have one of the lowest winning percentages of any team that won the World Series in the previous year.
Who will replace Davey Johnson?
"World Series or bust" [was the avowed goal of Nats manager] Davey Johnson [after he announced that this would be his final season. Aiming high may have backfired. Who knows?] The Washington Post recently had an article on the possible managers for the Washington Nationals. The leading candidates:
- Randy Knorr, Nationals bench coach
- Trent Jewett, Nationals third base coach
- Bo Porter, Houston Astros manager, former Nationals coach
- Matt Williams, Diamondbacks third base coach
- Jay Bell, Pirates hitting coach
From what little I know, either Randy Knorr or Bo Porter would do pretty well. But what about Nats former manager Jim Riggleman? He was effective, and his only big drawback is a misguided negotiating strategy which backfired and resulted in a sudden departure two years ago. I know, it's not going to happen because of the hard feelings on the part of everyone concerned. What a shame.
Nats' complete-game shutouts
After Stephen Strasburg's 4-hit, nine-inning triumph on Sunday, I got to wondering how many other Nats' complete-game shutouts there have been. Here is what I came up with (or up with which I came):
|4 Aug 2005
|15 Aug 2006
|21 Jul 2009
|17 Apr 2010
|29 Apr 2011
|31 Aug 2012
|26 Apr 2013
|11 Aug 2013
Note that, of those eight games, each of them was unique in terms of the pitcher, the opposing team, and the number of runs scored. Also, every one of those shutouts took place at home in Washington, and all but one of them was in either April or August. Once I've verified the information, I'll put that table on the Washington Nationals page.
BIG extra-inning games
Six of the 15 games played on Tuesday night went into extra innings, and of five of them last night. Most noteworthy were the victories by the Red Sox over the Blue Jays on Tuesday, and the Diamondbacks over the Orioles three nights in a row. Ouch.
Tragedy in Atlanta
During a rain delay in Atlanta, a Braves fan named Ronald Lee Homer fell from the rear of the upper deck concourse to the team parking lot about 65 feet below. He could not be revived by emergency medical workers. Police have said it was an accident, and no foul play is suspected. Are such tragedies avoidable? See MLB.com.
August 15, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Hummingbirds at last!
For some reason, until recently, we hadn't had any hummingbirds around our back porch this summer. Finally two of them showed up last week, hovering around a neighbor's bush full of purple flowers. I couldn't quite manage to get any good photos of them, but I had better luck a week ago when paying a visit to my friend Matthew Poteat. He has a wide array of bird feeders around his back deck, and sure enough some of those tiny jewels showed up to partake of the sugary sweet liquid. That enabled me to get some decent "hummer" photos, at last. Hopefully I'll get even better photos over the next few weeks, before they leave for the winter.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male, west of Staunton, August 9.
I updated my Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page with that photo, among a few others, including a female Goldfinch on her nest, and (more importantly), did likewise with the Augusta Bird Club Web site.
August 24, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nats keep bouncing back from total disasters
The last ten days have been filled with so many hideous twists of fate and reassuring comeback performances as to leave a Nats fan completely unhinged. I was in Nationals Park on Thursday afternoon last week (nine days ago), and the home team was so close to a second consecutive sweep you could almost taste it. Maybe, just maybe, the Nats could still sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team after all! But with Rafael Soriano on the mound as closer, anything is possible, and in this case the results were disastrous. But let's start at the beginning. As you can see, I had pretty a good view of the action, to say the least. Getting such a prime ticket was a nice consequence of arriving late, yet again.
Panoramic ground-level view of Nationals Park from the 3rd base dugout. Click on that image to see it full-size.
Most of the game went pretty good, as the Nats grabbed a lead with a three-run rally in the third inning. In the photo above it was the bottom of the fifth inning, with two outs and the bases loaded: Werth on third, LaRoche on second, and Suzuki on first. A perfect opportunity to score more runs! But who was in the batter's box? Dan Haren, the pitcher. What??? He was already in line for a win, having pitched five innings, so why didn't Davey Johnson put in a pinch-hitter for him? It was the last real scoring opportunity they had in that game. Later on, the Nats really could have used an insurance run or two. Haren hit a lazy fly ball to right center for the third out.
About half of the fans in my section were Giants fans, and I guess that only makes sense since it was next to the visitors' dugout. It was the first time I had noticed that the field slopes down from the infield, and it seemed like the pitcher's mound was actually higher than my seat.
Bryce Harper in the bottom of the sixth inning, just before he hit a single. In the dugout you can see Stephen Strasburg, Ross Ohlendorf (?), Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche.
[ADDENDUM: In the top of the ninth, with the Nats ahead 3-1, Rafael Soriano came to the mound as the closer. Fans nervously gritted their teeth when Buster Posey hit a leadoff single, but then Hunter Pence struck out and Pablo Sandoval flew out. Some Giants fans near me got up to leave. (Big mistake!) Soriano had a full count on Roger Kierscheck, but then walked him, and likewise had a full count on pinch hitter Hector Sanchez. (Who?) Actually, one of those balls seemed to catch the top of the strike zone, in which case the game would have been over. Darned umpire. And then, just like it was scripted in Hollywood, Sanchez smashed a ball down the right field line, just barely staying fair as it landed in the second deck. Eegad: a home run! Somehow, the Giants were ahead 4-3 all of a sudden, and the Nats couldn't even get anybody on base in the bottom of the ninth, so that was the final score. See MLB.com. (My apologizes for leaving out these crucial details in the original blog post this morning.)]
Portly Pablo Sandoval chugs back to the dugout after hitting a fly ball to right field for the second out in the top of the ninth. Nats fans held their breath in anticipation of a sixth consecutive win...
It's hard to imagine a more disheartening way to end a ball game. Well, maybe not that hard. Indeed, the game's finale bore an eerie resemblance to what happened the NLDS Game 5 last year, when Drew Storen melted down in the ninth inning. According to the scoreboard, Soriano's ERA jumped from 2.88 before that home run to 3.42 after it. And that's how the Nationals almost swept the Giants!
Braves prevail over the Nats
In the weekend series in Atlanta, all three games were razor close. Friday's game was tied 2-2 after nine innings, and the Braves got a walk-off win in the tenth. Saturday's game was strange, as Stephen Strasburg was ejected in the second inning after hitting a batter and then throwing balls wildly over and behind the next batter, as if begging to be taken out of the game. It's hard to say exactly, but there's little doubt that he was getting back at the Braves for their rude plunking" of Bryce Harper the week before. That put heavy pressure on the bullpen, and relief pitchers ended up throwing the ball in 14 innings altogether. Thanks in part to a home run by Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats had a lead going in the bottom of the ninth, but once again Rafael Soriano failed to close the game. With all the relievers spent, Dan Haren volunteered for relief duty and got his first save of his career. Nats 8, Braves 7. On Sunday, Gio Gonzalez gave up two runs in the first inning, but then settled down and pitched six more scoreless innings. Unfortunately, all the Nats could manage was a single run, so they lost the series, two games to one.
Nats get back at the Cubs
In Chicago, the Cubs trounced the Nats 11-1 on Monday, the third time the Nationals lost by double-digit margins this year. Jordan Zimmermann had yet another awful day on the mound, part of a bewildering downhill trend after a fantastic first half of the year. He's been stuck at 14 wins for about a month now, and what seemed like an easy ride to a 20-win season is now in very serious doubt.
On Tuesday, Dan Haren pitched another great game, continuing his mirror image season trajectory compared to Jordan Zimmermann; bad early on, much better after mid-season. The Nats won that one, 4-2. On Wednesday the Nats benefited greatly from home runs hit by Jayson Werth and Scott Hairston. I had my doubts about Hairston, acquired last month, but he has made some clutch performances, batting as well as fielding. The Cubs scored five runs in the fifth, exposing the weakness of Nats' pitchers, but the visiting team held on to win, 11-6.
On Thursday, the Nats were cruising to an easy win over the Cubs as Stephen Strasburg pitched seven shutout innings. But then he gave up a solo homer in the eighth, and with two outs in the ninth inning (going for his second complete game in three starts), he had a meltdown worthy of Rafael Soriano. Down 4-1, the Cubs strung together some desperate hits, and Nate Schierholtz scored from second after a throw from shortstop Anthony Rendon went wide of first base. That would have been the final out, but instead the Cubs stayed alive. The next batter, Donnie Murphy, placed a hanging curve ball just over the left field wall to tie the game 4-4, and Strasburg was taken out of the game. Yet another kick in the gut! The game went to the thirteenth inning, whereupon Denard Span doubled, then got to third on a sac fly, and then made it to home on a dribbling ground ball hit by Chad Tracy. Drew Storen came in as a reliever, and got his third save of the year. Nats 5, Cubs 4. Whew!
Playing in Kansas City for the very first time last night, the Washington Nationals fell behind 6-0 after two innings, as Gio Gonzalez simply could not get batters out. But the Nats came back with a huge seven-run rally in the fourth inning, thanks two a bases-loaded double by Bryce Harper and a two-run homer into the fountain by Jayson Werth. But Gio gave up another run, narrowing the lead to 8-7, and Davey Johnson took him out. Thankfully, rookie reliever Tanner Roark did much better, going nearly five innings without giving up a run. The Nats had an 11-7 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, and Drew Storen was called in to finish the game. Even though it wasn't a save situation, that was a nice vote of confidence by the manager. But Drew gave up a walk and then a double, and Johnson took him right out of there, replacing him with the shaky Rafael Soriano. As if on cue, Soriano gave up more hits, and before you knew it the Cubs were within one run of tying the game. That's when Bryce Harper saved the day with a diving catch of a fly ball to right field, which could have set the stage for a Royals victory. Instead, Soriano got the next batter to pop out, and the game was over. Nats 11, Royals 10. Whew!!!
Are more violent ups and downs in store over the final five weeks of the season? I'm not sure how much more of this I can take!
Turner Field update, etc.
Seeing those Nats-Braves games on TV got me to thinking I ought to get the Turner Field diagrams up to date, so I went ahead and did so. There were small changes in the grandstand, and a very slight change in the area around the dugouts. There is a new first-deck diagram version, which shows the entry portals.
As with all other recent diagram update, that stadium page now includes a chronology of all past diagram updates. I just can't believe it has been five whole years since the last update of the Turner Field diagrams!
I remembered that Turner Field was featured in the movie Trouble with the Curve (2012), starring Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman. I updated the Baseball in the Movies page with Justin Timberlake's name, previously omitted.
On a related note, I also tweaked the upper-deck diagram of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, making the entry portals a little bit bigger.
August 26, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Fall migration gets underway
Even though the calendar says there's over three weeks of summer still ahead of us, for the birds fall is here already. For example, the first migrating Common Nighthawks of the season have appeard in our area. E-mail reports of various shorebirds prompted me to visit Leonard's Pond (in southern Rockingham County) this afternoon, but the water was high, so there wasn't much mud, and no shorebirds were present. I did get a nice photo of a Mourning Dove, however. On the way home I stopped at Bell's Lane and saw a couple Baltimore Orioles fly into a sycamore tree, and I got a decent photo of an adult male. I also saw a Willow Flycatcher, a Phoebe, and a Least Flycatcher, identified by its small size and clear eye ring and wing bars, which are characteristic of Empidomax flycatchers. Since Least Flycatchers hardly ever nest in this area, it's safe to say it is a southbound migrant.
Some of the afore-mentioned birds can be seen on the newly-update Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
Least Flycatcher, on Bell's Lane this afternoon.
Hawk Watch 2013
Another sign of fall is that the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch has begun. According to Vic Laubach (who shares Coordinator duties with Brenda Tekin), "We've already tallied 172 hawks in the first 10 days of the season, including 10 Bald Eagles, 17 Osprey and 117 Broad-wings. We will be holding an OPEN HOUSE at the hawk watch on Saturday, September 14, from 11 am-2 pm." I look forward to helping out once again this year, as time permits.
August 27, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nats climb back to .500
It's a pretty modest goal, especially compared to their pre-season expectations, but it's a relief to see the Nationals having won as many games as they have lost. After Saturday's game in Kansas City they were over .500 for the first time since the All-Star break, but then they blew the chance for a sweep against the Royals on Sunday, so they're now at an even 65-65. All in all, it was a good road trip: six wins and four losses. But at this point in the season, is "good" good enough?
On Sunday afternoon, Nats starting pitcher Dan Haren seemed to fall apart in the first inning, giving up four runs. He quickly regained his composure, however, and ended up staying in the game longer than the home team pitcher. In the fourth inning Ian Desmond crushed a monster home run to the Royals Hall of Fame building beyond left field, estimated at about 435 feet. In the seventh inning, Denard Span hit a solo homer, Ryan Zimmerman singled, and then Bryce Harper homered, even though he was limping from a sore foot. (A foul ball hit his foot earlier in the game.) But the tie score didn't last long, as egregious defensive lapses by Nats infielders in the eighth inning allowed two unearned runs to score after what should have been the third out. Adam LaRoche, Craig Stammen, and Ryan Zimmerman were just standing around, wrongly assuming some other guy would make the play, and that is what allowed the Royals' rally to continue. The Nats' chances for a postseason berth will go from slim to absolutely none if they slack off like that again. Final score: K.C. 6, D.C. 4. See MLB.com.
In contrast, the Saturday night game was one of the first truly enjoyable, decisive wins the Nats have had in a while. They scored a run in the first inning, and tacked on four more in the fourth inning, winning by a score of 7-2. Jordan Zimmermann went 7 2/3 innings, getting his 15th win of the season.* It was the Nats' third five-game winning streak of the year. Too bad they couldn't quite make it to six. I was impressed with the Royals, who ended a seven-game losing streak, in terms of playing skill and hustle. The Nats did well to get two hits (by Denard Span and Jayson Werth) off the Royals' closing pitcher Greg Holland. The Royals could be a factor next year.
*CORRECTION: In my last blog post (August 24), I wrote that Jordan Zimmermann has "been stuck at 14 wins for about a month now..." but in fact he had already earned two wins this month.
Harper is getting better
Bryce Harper's infamous collision with the right field wall in Dodger Stadium really banged up his knee, and his recovery has taken a long time. He has been doing better in the batter's box lately, and his fielding is top notch as well. Ballpark and home run expert Bruce Orser expressed to me worries about Harper, but the 20-year older looked OK to me when I saw him at Nationals Park two weeks ago. I think he will be back to 100% next month. Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond are providing most of the team's offensive power.
On the other hand, I am a bit worried about Ryan Zimmerman. His ability to choose which pitches to swing at seems to be going downhill lately, as if he needs to wear glasses or something. And Adam LaRoche remains in a slump that has dragged on for just about the whole season.
Nats are busy with trades
Nationals GM Frank Rizzo has been busy making trades and other transactions over the past week or so. Most notably, they traded catcher Kurt Suzuki back to the Oakland A's, almost exactly a year since the trade went in the other direction. Unlike last year, the A's are in a hot race for the postseason, whereas the Nationals are very long shots. I hope Wilson Ramos stays healthy. The Nats' minor league catcher, Jhonatan Solano, shows promise but is not ready to serve full-time in that position in case Ramos gets injured again.
The Nats also acquired David DeJesus from the Chicago Cubs, and within a couple days traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays. He's an unknown to me. I was surprised to learn that Roger Bernadina had been released, and the Phillies picked him up. His batting average was way below last year, and it was probably inevitable. He's a good guy with lots of hustle, and I'm sure he'll be around the big leagues for several more years.
Charlie Manuel is fired
The Philadelphia Phillies decided to fire their long-time manager Charlie Manuel, as their once-proud team flounders in fourth place. The parting was not 100% cordial, evidently. Ryne Sandberg will become interim manager. Since he took command in 2005, the Phillies have won five division championships, and of course they reached the pinnacle of success when they won the 2008 World Series. See MLB.com.
It so happens that Manuel grew up in Buena Vista, Virginia, not far from where I live. As you drive into town, you can see signs proclaiming that it's the home of Charlie Manuel. They are rightly proud of their champion.
More instant replays?
The proposal to adopt a "challenge" system for instant replays next year is rather troubling to me. They say they are working on a video-monitoring system that will prevent delays, but I don't like the idea of some guys in an air-conditioned studio in New York dictating the outcome of a game in Atlanta or Baltimore. I would accept a limited expansion, but one in which each manager can make one (and only one) challenge per game, with the possibility of "saving" one challenge for use in a subsequent game.
Memorial Stadium tweak
I made some small corrections on the Memorial Stadium diagrams, mostly involving the position of the entry portals.
Perhaps more significantly, that page now has the full set of "stadium statistics," including number of seating rows, fair and foul territory, etc. Percent of the upper deck in the shade? ZERO! Speaking of which...
Arlington Stadium pics
Many thanks to long-time fan Bucky Nance for sharing the photos he took many years ago of Arlington Stadium, former home of the Texas Rangers. That, of course, was the other baseball stadium in which the upper deck had no roof whatsoever. There are two "stitched-together" panoramic shots on that page, one showing the grandstand from center field, and one (see below) showing the field and the bleachers from behind home plate. They are excellent images that add a lot to that page. Thanks again, Bucky!
Arlington Stadium, courtesy of Clifford "Bucky" Nance.
Speaking of which, I am always eager to get photographs of stadiums no longer in existence. Take a look in some of those old trunks in Grandpa's attic some time!
August 30, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nats sweep the Marlins
All of a sudden, the Washington Nationals are looking pretty hot, as they just completed a sweep of the Miami Marlins to rise three games above .500 for the first time in six weeks. The first two games of the series were close calls, winning by scores of 2-1 and 4-3. On Wednesday, closing pitcher Rafael Soriano completed his task while only giving up one base hit in the top of the ninth inning. That was less angst and drama than usual. But the game last night was a sign that perhaps the Nats really have gotten over their past frustrations and lived up to their potential. Bryce Harper hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond each hit three-run homers later in the game to seal the deal. Final score: 9-0. Gio Gonzalez struggled in the first inning or two, but then gained command and went a full seven innings to get the win.
Postseason long shot
Ever since I declared the Nationals' chances for making the postseason were over and done with (in the wake of being swept by the Braves, August 5-7), the Nationals have staged a remarkable comeback, winning 14 of their last 19 games.
How's this for a startling factoid: The period August 19-29 is the first time this year that the Nationals have won eight games during a ten-game stretch. Tomorrow they'll go for nine out of ten, and with any luck, I'll be there!
More Nats player photos
I've edited several more photos of Washington Nationals players, including almost all of the current starting lineup. All of them were taken at the August 15 game, when the Nats lost a heartbreaker, 4-3. One player that day has since been traded away: catcher Kurt Suzuki.
P: Dan Haren
1B: Adam LaRoche
SS: Ian Desmond
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
LF: Bryce Harper
CF: Denard Span
RF: Jayson Werth
RP: Tyler Clippard
CP: Rafael Soriano
MANAGER: Davey Johnson