August 25, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Credit Max Scherzer with (almost) single-handedly rescuing the Washington Nationals from what would have been a humiliating four-game sweep at the hands of their neighbors to the north in Baltimore. Most of the game tonight was a tense pitchers' duel, with a solo home run by Jayson Werth in the fourth inning being the only score. The Os' Ubaldo Jimenez gave up only four other hits over six full innings, and no walks -- quite a good performance for someone entering the game with a 5-10 record! But in the bottom of the eighth inning, Trea Turner started a rally with a single, and Bryce Harper hit a two-run double to make it a 4-0 game. Even though it wasn't a save situation, Mark Melancon pitched in the ninth inning. Dusty Baker wasn't taking any chances. It started on a jarring note, however, as Hyun Soo Kim hit a lead-off double to center field. But the next three Orioles batters failed to reach base, and the game ended on a note of immense relief for the anxiety-ridden Nats fans. Whew! [Scherzer struck out ten batters over eight innings, allowing only two hits and no walks -- simply amazing. So, now his record is 14-7.]
On Tuesday rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez was overwhelmed by the Orioles' slugging power, in sharp contrast to the game he pitched in Atlanta last Friday. This time he only lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up six runs, of which four were earned. At least he showed a good measure of composure under high stress. The only bright spot for the Nationals was that rookie Trea Turner went 4 for 4 at the plate. Final score: Orioles 8, Nats 1.
On Wednesday, as the series switched back to Washington, the usually reliable Tanner Roark had control problems from the get-go, hitting a couple batters and giving up four runs in the first inning. He gradually settled down, but with a pitch count of over 110, he couldn't stay in past the fifth inning -- tired bullpen or not. The Nats narrowed the gap to 5-3, and had perfect scoring opportunities in both the sixth and seventh innings, but their bats turned cold at just the wrong moment. In the eighth inning, Blake Treinen took the mound for the Nats, and a disaster quickly unfolded. Before you knew it, the Orioles tacked on five more runs, making it a seemingly hopeless 10-3 game. No Nats reached base in the bottom of that inning, and the outlook couldn't have been bleaker. But somehow they got their mojo back and started getting hits in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases for Daniel Murphy. BOOM! His very first career grand slam made it a 10-7 game, with just one out. Then Bryce Harper singled, and Anthony Rendon doubled to make it a 10-8 game. Wilson Ramos reached base on a weird infield fielder's choice play, and Rendon made it to third. Then up to the plate came Ryan Zimmerman, "Mr. Walkoff" himself, and those Nats fans who had not already left the ballpark were filled with breathless expectation of a comeback win of truly historic proportions. But Ryan swung at the first pitch, a hard ground ball to the second baseman, and the game suddenly ended on a double play. That was a big letdown, but the big comeback effort meant a lot for team morale, and probably gave them a boost in today's game. Also noteworthy is that Trea Turner got hits in his first four at bats, making 8 consecutive at bats with a hit, tying a franchise record. He struck out the last time up, in the ninth inning.
By salvaging one game out of that series, the Nationals kept a big lead in the division over the Miami Marlins, who lost to the visiting Kansas City Royals tonight. The lead grew from 7 to 8 games. If the Orioles had completed the sweep, there would have been a three-way tie for the AL East lead; instead they are one game behind the Red Sox and Blue Jays. On the west coast, meanwhile, the Dodgers built a three game lead over the Giants, but the Giants have a 4-0 lead over the Dodgers in the ninth inning right now.
On Friday, the Nationals welcome the Colorado Rockies to town for a normal three-game series. Then they head up to Philadelphia next week. (Me too!)
The Chicago White Sox announced today a deal that will result in the name of their stadium being changed from "U.S. Cellular Field" to "Guaranteed Rate Field" as of November 1. (Why not January 1?) The naming-rights agreement will last 13 years. See chicagotribune.com. Never having heard of that company, I am on the skeptical side. Frankly, I was surprised that the "U.S. Cellular Field" name lasted as long as it did. Presumably the World Series will not be played there this year...
Mike Zurawski informs me that L.A. Memorial Coliseum -- the once-again (though temporary) home of the Los Angeles Rams -- will undergo a $270-million renovation, to be financed by the University of Southern California, a private institution. They will build a multi-level tower of luxury boxes, and the seating capacity at USC Trojan games will be reduced from 93,600 to 77,500. latimes.com.
On Facebook recently, I came across a news story about a push in the 1960s by Boston leaders to build a 53,000-seat multi-sport stadium near South Station, replacing Fenway Park. At the time of the AFL-NFL merger, the NFL was requiring that all franchises have stadiums with at least 50,000 seats, and the Boston Patriots' home in Fenway Park just could not cut it. A replacement for the old Boston Garden was also part of the master plan, which fortunately did not come to pass. Can you imagine the Red Sox playing in a boring cookie-cutter stadium? The failure of that initiative is what led to the [town] of Foxborough [a.k.a. "Foxboro"] jumping in with a stadium offer of their own, and upon moving in 1971, the Boston Patriots became the New England Patriots. See boston.com.