July 4, 2016
The weather forecast for today's game in Our Nation's Capital was bleak, but somehow they managed to get in a full nine innings. There were signs of drizzle by the middle innings, and the precipitation steadily got worse and worse. It's a good thing they started so early; the first pitch was at 11:05 AM. There was a hilarious snafu in the first inning soon after the Brewers' Ryan Braun hit a single up the middle. Dusty Baker noticed that the lineup card said that Jonathan Lucroy was supposed to bat third, and Braun was fourth. The umpires confirmed the goof, and Braun was called out. Oops! The only run in the game came in the 5th inning, when the Brewers' Martin Maldonado hit a home run over the left field bullpen. Max Scherzer did fairly well in pitching a full six innings, but got zero run support from his team mates; the Nats only got two hits, in fact. His record fell to 9-6. It was the first time the Nats have been shut out since May 25, when the Mets beat them 2-0. Quite a change from what happened the day before! (See below.)
It was three years ago (July 4, 2013) that I summarized all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals. Other than 2008, they have all been at home at RFK Stadium or Nationals Park. Here is an update:
|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 in 5th inning.|
|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 Carlos Marmol's wild pitch in 10th inning. I was there!|
|2012||9||4||SF||Nats hit four home runs.|
|2013||8||5||MIL||Wilson Ramos 3-run HR in 7th inning to retake lead.|
|2014||2||7||CHC||Tanner Roark pitched 7 innings; Jayson Werth HR.|
|2015||9||3||SF||S. Strasburg pitched 3.2 innings; Michael Taylor & Bryce Harper HRs.|
|2016||0||1||MIL||Max Scherzer pitched 6 innings; Martin Maldonado HR in 5th.|
The Nats' record in 4th of July games at home is now 7-4.
On Sunday, for the second time in three days, Danny Espinosa hit another grand slam, his second in that series with the Reds, and in fact he hit two home runs in both of those games. In both games, he hit one home run from each side of the plate, a feat which had not been accomplished by a Washington player since the 19th century. Perhaps just as significant was the performance by Stephen Strasburg, just back from the disabled list. He actually had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning, when his pitch count went over 100. Dusty Baker wisely gave him a rest, and the fans gave him an ovation. The Nats went on to beat the Reds 12-1, winning three of four games in the series, which is not bad.
Elsewhere in the majors on Sunday, the Mets clobbered the Cubs 14-3, thus completing a stunning four-game sweep of the Chicago team, while the Blue Jays clobbered the Indians 17-1, one day after they stopped the Indians' 14-game winning streak with a 9-6 victory.
The Nats' six-game winning streak was interrupted on Saturday night when Joe Ross gave up four early runs, much like when he faced the Mets on June 27, when he emerged victorious. But this time the bullpen crumpled under the pressure, wasting a heroic comeback sparked by Danny Espinosa, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning. Bryce Harper batted in another run to make it 4-4, and the game went into extra innings. Sammy Solis gave up the decisive go-ahead runs in the top of the tenth, and Matt Belisle allowed the gap to reach five runs, almost hopeless. And so, the Reds won in ten innings, 9-4. Joe Ross has been put on the disabled list, and evidently Lucas Giolito will remain part of the starting rotation for a while.
One of the nicest surprises for the Nationals this year is how Danny Espinosa has flourished ever since he was moved from second base to shortstop, replacing Ian Desmond.* In the four-game series against the Reds, he hit five (5) home runs, two of which were grand slams, and racked up 15 total RBIs. For most players, 15 RBIs would be a pretty good month! He now has 18 home runs for the year, which is one more than Bryce Harper has!!! Danny's batting average has climbed to a respectable .242, and he deserves serious consideration for inclusion in the All Star Game. In today's Washington Post, columnist Thomas Boswell wrote that Danny has finally "found himself" in his new (old) position at shortstop. After a thrilling major league debut in September 2010, when he hit his first grand slam, there followed six years of "baseball hell," during which he had a total career meltdown. I always admired Danny's hustle and team spirit, and now it appears that his latent talent has been unleashed at long last. It couldn't happen to a better guy.
* After a slow start in Texas, Ian Desmond has flourished in his new role as center fielder. More on him and the other former Nationals star, Jordan Zimmermann, soon...
Prompted in part by Danny Espinosa's recent slugging feats, I made some corrections to my list of grand slams on my Washington Nationals page, based on the 2016 Official Media Guide, which I purchased at Nationals Park last Wednesday. It is chock full of tasty factoids, well worth the $20 price. (In their list they mistakenly identify Busch Stadium III as "Busch Stadium II," however.)
The "+" (plus) symbols mean that the grand slam in question was added to the list based on the Nats Media Guide. I knew that my record-keeping in early years was not as detailed as it has been more recently, but I was nonetheless surprised that I had omitted seven grand slams. All but one of them were in road games. Elsewhere on that page, I also added to the list Nationals' walk-off home runs the game on May 23, 2010, when Josh Willingham was the deciding factor when the Nats beat the Orioles 4-3 in 10 innings.
Last night, the "Atlanta" Braves were the hosts of a "home" game at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, part of a special tribute to America's armed forces. It was the first official MLB game ever played on a military installation, and in fact only service personnel and their families were allowed admittance. The Miami Marlins won the game, 5-2. The Braves' only two runs came in the bottom of the ninth. The greater part of the grandstand at Fort Bragg Field (which seated 12,500 fans) was only temporary bleachers, however, and most of it will be torn down before long. The outfield dimensions were symmetrical: 331 down the lines, 387 feet to the power alleys, and 405 to center field. HUGE! I updated the Anomalous stadiums page with that information, and have started work on a diagram for the Fort Bragg field. (I classified it as a "Neutral & special occasion" stadium, even though the Braves were supposedly the home team.)
K.C. fan Chris Knight shared an amusing tale on Facebook: While the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright was throwing a pitch to Cheslor Cuthbert, a bird flew near home plate at Kauffman Stadium, and narrowly averted death. See kansascity.com. Not surprisingly, it was one of the Western Kingbirds which the team has adopted as a semi-official mascot, since they are "royal" (in name) and frequent the ballpark during evening hours when insects swarm around the lights. (See my January 31 blog post.)