June 16, 2016
The series that was hyped as a preview of a postseason contest more than lived up to expectations, as the Washington Nationals managed to overcome the visiting Chicago Cubs in unbelievably dramatic fashion. It was a game that Nationals fans will remember for years.
It all started as an epic pitchers' duel between Stephen Strasburg and Jason Hammel, both of whom gave up just one run over seven innings. (Both those runs were scored in the first inning, in fact.) Then, in the bottom of the eighth, pinch-hitter Steven Drew smacked a home run just over the corner in right-center field, giving the Nats a 2-1 lead. That was the Nationals' ninth pinch-hit home run this year -- amazing! But in the top of the ninth, Dusty Baker sent to the mound Matt Belisle, just called back up after being on the disabled list since late April. Apparently, he wasn't ready because he gave up a double (to Kris Bryant) on the first and only pitch he threw. The next pitcher, Oliver Perez gave up a home run to Anthony Rizzo, and all of a sudden a 2-1 lead had turned into a 3-2 deficit for the Nats. But in the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper drew a leadoff walk, and two batters later, Wilson Ramos smashed a single toward center field, allowing Harper to score the tying run from second base. That was a huge clutch hit for Wilson!
The game went into extra innings, and in the top of the 12th the Cubs scored a run thanks to singles by Albert Almora and Addison Russell, and a wild pitch by Yusmeiro Petit, who was in line for the loss. The bottom of the inning started with a called strikeout by Anthony Rendon, who was ejected after arguing with the umpire. Then Trevor Cahill hit Danny Espinosa with a pitch, and Danny soon stole second base. Up to the plate stepped Michael Taylor, who hit a single into right field, allowing Epinosa to score. Adam Warren then replaced Cahill on the mound, and he struck out Chris Heisey, leaving it all up to Jayson Werth. Could he do it again, like he did on Sunday? YES! After another long count, he smashed a ball to center field, bouncing off the wall near the top, enabling Taylor to make it all the way to home plate for the winning run. Un-be-lievable!!! Werth ran out to right field, mobbed by his team mates, a repeat performance from his Sunday walk-off hit. And that is how the Nationals beat the Cubs 5-4, thus winning two out of three games against the best (?) team in the majors right now. For a complete rundown, see MLB.com.
In the postgame on-field interview with "MASN Dan" Kolko, Jayson Werth was at his roguish best, uttering a series of uncensored profanities to express his glee. Asked about critics who said he was over the hill, the veteran slugger said "They can kiss my ass." He'll probably get a fine for that, and MASN may have to do such interviews on a 5-second tape delay in the future.
Another reason for celebrating was that the the Nationals' manager, born on June 15, 1949, just completed his 67th year of life.
Happy birthday, Dusty Baker!
I had been planning to drive up to D.C. to see yesterday's game, but the forecast of overcast skies and chance of rain dissuaded me from making the trip. In fact, it was sunny for most of the day, and I really blew it. Argh-h-h!!! But if I had been there, the climax of the game would have probably looked something like this:
The Tuesday game was also very close and tense, as the Nationals erased a 3-1 deficit with RBI sacrifice flies in both the seventh and eighth innings. But in the top of the ninth, Nats reliever Sammy Solis walked the first batter, who then advanced to second on a sac bunt, and then scored on a double hit by Albert Almora. The Nationals went down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the ninth, and the Cubs won it, 4-3.
Gio Gonzalez lasted six and one third innings in that game, the first Nationals starting pitcher since June 7 (Joe Ross) not to pitch for exactly seven innings. If that's not a testament to the amazing reliability and durability of the Nats' starting rotation, I don't know what is. The Nats' only two losses in the last ten games were in games that Gio started. He's not doing badly, he just hasn't had much run support.
Speaking of pitchers, the Nats' closer Jonathan Papelbon has been put on the disabled list due to an "intercostal strain." That's a muscle in the rib cage, apparently. In the June 12 game against the Phillies, Papelbon allowed the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, and would have been charged with the loss if Jayson Werth had not hit the game-winning two-run single in the bottom of the ninth. For the time being (at least), there will be some anxiety about who serves as closing pitcher for the Nats.
With a successful 5-1 home stand behind them, the Nationals have raised their win-loss record to 41-25, giving them a five-game lead over the Mets in the NL East. Today the "D.C. 9" are flying to California, where they will play the San Diego Padres [in a four-game series] and then the Los Angeles Dodgers in [a] three-game series.
The diagram for The Diamond has been revised for the first time since 2008, and there is a new upper-deck variant as well. Foul territory has been expanded slightly (and measured for the first time), and new detail such as the entry portals, bullpen mounds, and the structural beams behind the rim of the upper deck have been added as well. Finally, there are four new photos which I took while in Richmond last week. For those outside Virginia, The Diamond is the home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, and the former home of the Richmond Braves, who relocated to suburban Atlanta in 2009.
Coincidentally, I noticed on The Diamond page a comment from a fan named Doug Coppage, who grew up in Richmond and said he once "saw Dusty Baker and Ralph Garr play at old Parker Field." That was the minor league ballpark that preceded The Diamond.
I have learned to be very careful in commenting about hockey, a sport that I only follow casually and often describe erroneously. (See, for example, June 15, 2009.) In fact, the last time I made a hockey diagram variant was New Year's Day 2015, when the Washington Capitals won a dramatic outdoor "Winter Classic" match held in Nationals Park. Well, the Capitals set some kind of regular-season record for highest winning percentage this year (2015-2016), but then (as has happened in past years), they fell flat in the playoffs. The team that beat them, the Pittsburgh Penguins, went on to win the Stanley Cup National Hockey League championship, defeating the San Jose Sharks. At least I think so...
As for the other indoor "winter" sport, basketball, Game 6 of the NBA championship series will be held tonight at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Led by LeBron James, the Cavaliers bounced back from a 3-1 deficit against the favored Golden State (Oakland) Warriors, led by Stephen Curry, and have a solid chance to even the series at home. For those with feeble memories (such as me), it may help to mention that the NBA playoffs began on April 16 -- exactly two months ago today! If that's not a ridiculously prolonged schedule, I don't know what is. For the complete NBA postseason scores, see NBA.com.
I already knew that the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans Arena, is right next door to Progressive Field. (I took a photo of it just before attending an Indians game on August 7, 2012; see below.) But then I realized that that other NBA finalist team this year has a home court right next to an MLB stadium: the "Golden State" Warriors' Oracle Arena is next to Oakland ("o.co") Coliseum. So, that led me to inquire into which NHL and NBA arenas are located reasonably close to MLB stadiums. Information in the following table, which should be considered preliminary, will eventually be incorporated somehow into the Stadium proximity page, after I gather similar information for football stadiums. Note that one other arena might qualify for this list, but has neither an NHL nor an NBA franchise at present: U.S. Bank Arena, next to Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
|City||NBA team||NHL team||Arena name||MLB team||Stadium name||Approx. distance|
|Cleveland||Cavaliers||--||Quicken Loans Arena||Indians||Progressive Field||200 ft.|
|Oakland||(G.S.) Warriors||--||Oracle Arena||Athletics||Oakland Coliseum||200 ft.|
|Minneapolis||Timberwolves||*||Target Center||Twins||Target Field||400 ft.|
|Denver||Nuggets||--||Pepsi Center||Rockies||Coors Field||1/2 mile|
|Toronto||Raptors||--||Air Canada Centre||Blue Jays||Rogers Centre||1/2 mile|
|Anaheim||--||Mighty Ducks||Honda Arena||Angels||Angels Stadium||1 mile|
* There is an NHL franchise in Minnesota, the Wild, but it is based at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul.