October 1, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Fish beat the Nats again
At rain-soaked Nationals Park last night, the Miami Marlins took an early 4-0 lead, as starting pitcher A.J. Cole once again showed that he is not ready for prime time. At one point in the second inning, five consecutive Marlins hit the ball hard, four reaching base and one flying out to the warning track in center field. Dusty Baker replaced him after just three innings. Hopes soared after Anthony Rendon and Stephen Drew hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the fourth, launching a four-run rally to tie the game. It could have been more, except that [Wilmer Difo] was tagged out at third base, the umpire's call being upheld by video review. That might have made all the difference. The Marlins scored three more runs in the latter innings, and the final score was 7-4.
Of all the rival teams in the National League East Division this year, the Washington Nationals have had trouble against only one: the Miami Marlins. [In contrast,] the Nats' head-to-head record against the Atlanta Braves is 15-4, against the New York Mets is 12-7, and against the Philadelphia Phillies is 14-5. What gives?
Average per-game attendance at Nationals Park this is is 30,656 so far, with just two more games to go. I'll be doing my part at this afternoon's game to make sure the average stays above 30,000 for the fifth year in a row. It will be the first time I have seen Tanner Roark pitch.
Cubs - Pirates game tied!
For the first time since 2005, an official Major League game was declared tied, as rain forced a premature end to the Cubs - Pirates game on Thursday. Since the outcome would not affect the postseason positions, it just didn't matter. Final score: 1-1.
Wild card update
Led by ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner, the San Francisco Giants did the Nationals a favor by trouncing the L.A. Dodgers at AT&T Park last night. If the Nats win either today's game or tomorrow's, or the Dodgers lose either today's game or tomorrow's, the Nats will have clinched the National League second-seed, with home field advantage in the NLDS. And the Mets won again, assuring that they will be a wild card team, probably with a home game at Citi Field.
But in the American League, things didn't go as well for the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost to the Red Sox. All of a sudden, the Jays are in peril of losing their wild card slot to the Detroit Tigers, only a half game behind.
October 2, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals' regular season ends on a high note
I just had to see one more Nationals game this year, but the lousy weather this past week forced me to choose the date with care. The forecasts said the rain would taper off by Saturday morning, and that the skies should clear by the afternoon. NOT! I realized as we were driving up to D.C. that the forecasts had been revised, and the radio was full of reports of traffic accidents due to cars slipping on wet pavement. Not a good omen at all. After getting burned on parking during my last visit on June 29, I decided to take Metro into the city. That entailed extra hassles because of the massive repair work following a major accident last year. Nevertheless, I arrived at Nationals Park [an hour and a half] before the 4:05 scheduled game time, and decided to buy cheap tickets for the upper deck, which is sheltered from rain by the roof.
My first objective was to go to the rooftop bar at the brand-new Hampton Inn and Suites, which offers a great view of the field at Nationals Park. (Much like the rooftop seats at Wrigley Field, but about six stories higher!) I had seen a photo taken from there in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago, and I was all excited to take such a photo myself, but I was told that the rooftop bar was closed because of the continuing drizzle. Given that conditions for taking photos were so bad, I suppose it wouldn't have been worth the effort. But as I took photos during the game, I could see that there were in fact bar patrons on the roof! Perhaps it was decided that the drizzle wasn't so bad. [As it turned out, conditions remained about the same throughout the game: chilly, breezy, and misty.]
Nationals Park, with the newly-built Hampton Inn and Suites in the background. Do a mouse rollover, and then click on the photo to see a zoomed-in image of the rooftop bar.
The Marlins had out-scrapped the Nats in the Friday night game, winning 7-4, and there was some anxiety among Nats fans about clinching the second playoff seed which would ensure home field advantage. On the plus side, their best two pitchers were on the mound: Tanner Roark [on Saturday] and Max Scherzer [on Sunday]. On the negative side, many of their best players are still suffering various aches and pains, and of course Wilson Ramos is out of the picture entirely now.
Before going up to my seat in the upper deck, I took some photos of some of the players from in back of the lower deck, where one of the TV cameras is. Roark had a bit of trouble early on, as the Marlins had two runners on base in each of the first three innings. But thanks mainly to some fine defense, nothing came of it, while the Nats took an early 1-0 lead.
Christian Yelich, batting in the top of the first inning; he drew a walk. Note the number "16" on his shoulder, which all Marlins players wore in honor of their recently-departed team mate Jose Fernandez.
Bryce Harper, hitting an RBI single to center field in the bottom of the first inning; see next photo.
Trea Turner slides into home, after hitting a leadoff single and then reaching second base on a groundout.
Tanner Roark, pitching in the second inning. Do a mouse rollover to see a closeup of him during pregame warmups.
In the middle of the fifth inning, I went down to get an adult beverage (Goose Creek IPA) and a "Nats Dog," figuring that with the bottom of the lineup coming up to bat, I had plenty of time. NOT! Just as I made my purchase, I heard a huge roar from the crowd and realized to my utter dismay that I had missed seeing Trea Turner hit a solo home run into the left field bullpen. Ar-r-rgh-h-h!!! It was his 13th home run of the year, and as the Washington Post noted, Turner is the very first player in (Expos-Nationals) franchise history to get at least 100 hits with fewer than 100 games played. This kid is setting some unbelievable records, and promises to be a huge part of the team for years to come.
The Marlins put a run on the board in the sixth inning, on another walk by Christian Yelich,* who stole second base and then scored on a single by Chris Johnson. Dusty Baker was taking no chances, so he replaced Tanner Roark with Blake Treinen, who quickly got the third out. Over the next three innings, Shawn Kelley, Mark Rzepczynski, and Mark Melancon shut the Marlins down, allowing only one hit and one walk between them. A special moment came when future Hall-of-Famer Ichiro Suzuki came up to pinch hit in the seventh inning, and I almost felt bad for him when he grounded out to Ryan Zimmerman at first base.
* I should perhaps remind folks that it was Christian Yelich who hit that long fly ball to left-center field on the final game two years ago, when Steven Souza Jr. made a leaping catch for the final out, preserving Jordan Zimmermann's historic no-hitter.
Ichiro Suzuki, heading back to the dugout after grounding out to first base in the seventh inning.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, it was announced on the main scoreboard that the Giants had beaten the Dodgers, which meant that the Nationals would get home field advantage in the NLDS, regardless of the last two games in Washington. That drew a big cheer from the crowd. It was then that Danny Espinosa got his second single of the game, but he was soon called out when pinch-hitter Chris Heisey popped out to foul territory on the first base side; Danny didn't bother getting back to first, evidently thinking there were already two outs. Not good. And so, the Nationals prevailed 2-1 in a strange sort of pitchers' duel in which neither starter made it to the sixth inning. Wei-Yin Chen took the loss for the Marlins. Official attendance was 31,635, but I would be surprised if 20,000 fans were actually present, as bad weather probably discouraged many season ticket holders from making the trip. "Phantom fans!"
In stark contrast to the game I saw, this afternoon's game took place in beautiful weather, and was quite a slug-fest, with the Marlins repeatedly catching up or narrowing the gap every time the Nats built a lead. Max Scherzer seemed to be in control, enjoying a 3-0 lead, but left the game after five innings with the score tied 5-5. Amazingly, Scherzer batted in four of those five runs, hitting singles up the middle with runners on second and third in both the second and fourth innings. His shot at getting the symbolic 20th win of the season was in jeopardy, but Bryce Harper doubled and soon scored on an RBI groundout by Wilmer Difo. Then Danny Epinosa hit a two-run homer to give the Nats a 3-run lead again. In the eighth inning both teams scored two more runs, and the Nats held on to win it, 10-7."All's well that ends well."
Wrapping up 2016
So, the Nationals end the 2016 regular season with a 95-67 record (.586), tied with the Texas Rangers for the second highest percentage in the majors. In their previous two division championship years there record was 98-64 (in 2012) and 96-66 (in 2014). This year they finished the season with a seven-game lead over the Mets, whereas in 2014 they had a 17-game lead and in 2012 they had a 4-game lead (over the Braves in both years). I have updated the monthly and annual statistics on the Washington Nationals page, including the head-to-head win-loss records for each of the teams they faced this year. There are also a few new mini-photos of players I took yesterday. [NOTE: My attendance figures don't match what was reported on MASN, so I'll have to make some corrections in that.]
In that rough final game today, Scherzer's ERA climbed from 2.82 to 2.96. Nevertheless, with a best-in-the-majors 20-7 record and 284 strikeouts (30 more than the #2 pitcher in that category, former team mate Justin Verlander of the Tigers), he has to be considered a leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award. Tanner Roark ended up with the highest ERA among Nats' pitchers this year: 2.83. Kyle Kendricks and Jon Lester of the Cubs have much lower ERAs compared to Scherzer, but also far fewer strikeouts and innings pitched.
In today's game, Daniel Murphy had a pinch-hit at-bat, hoping to retake the lead in the NL batting competition from D.J. LaMahieu of the Colorado Rockies, but he flew out. Meanwhile, his rival LaMahieu played it safe and sat out the last two games of the year, finishing with a batting average of.3478, compared to Murphy's .3465. No Ted Williams, he. (.406!) I think the choice of league MVP should reflect not just raw numbers (which are often influenced by ballpark-specific factors such as altitude), but the psychological effect on winning that a player exhibits. "No guts, no glory." Murphy all the way!
Wild card races end
In Atlanta, the Braves beat the Tigers for the second day in a row, thus spoiling Detroit's hopes of making it as a wild card team. So, there will be no makeup game against the Indians in Detroit tomorrow, and no tie-breaking games either. In New York, the Orioles beat the Yankees, while in Boston the Blue Jays beat the Red Sox. They both ended up with 89-73 records, but the Blue Jays have the edge in head-to-head matchups, so they will get the coveted fourth seed. In the National League, likewise, the Giants ended up with the same record as the Mets (87-75), but came up short in head-to-head matchups with the Mets. [The Giants swept the Dodgers, to the surprise of many, so the Cardinals basically had no chance in that race.]
On Tuesday the Toronto Blue Jays will host the Baltimore Orioles in the AL wild card game, and a day later the New York Mets will host the San Francisco Giants in the NL wild card game. On Thursday the American League Division Series will begin, with the Boston Red Sox at the Cleveland Indians and the AL wild card winner at the Texas Rangers. On Friday the National League Division Series will begin, with the L.A. Dodgers at the Washington Nationals and the NL wild card winner at the Chicago Cubs. The table of the 2016 postseason matchups shown at the bottom of the baseball blog page (and on the Postseason scores since 2002 page) is now updated.
If the past is prologue, the Nats have their work cut out for them going up against the Dodgers, who they only beat in one of six games this year. The Nats' starting (and winning) pitcher in that one game (July 20)? None other than left-hander Gio Gonzalez, much derided lately! It's worth noting that the Dodgers did not face Max Scherzer at all this year. In the one game Tanner Roark pitched against them (June 21), the Dodgers were shut out until the eighth inning. Getting home field advantage in the NLDS was obviously very important for the Nats. If they make it to the NLCS, presumably facing the Cubs, the prospects are likewise daunting: the Cubs beat them in four out of seven games this year.
October 5, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Shenandoah National Park birding (II)
Jacqueline and I had an overnight trip to the Shenandoah National Park earlier this week, and of course, looking for birds was a major objective -- at least for me. Unlike our previous such trip in late June, the weather was very good for the most part, though a bit chilly and occasionally cloudy.
Our first major activity was hiking up to the peak of Hawksbill Mountain, elevation 4050 feet -- the highest point in the Shenandoah National Park. It had been many years since my last time there. It was about a mile in each direction, with a net altitude gain of about 500 feet; a good workout but not too strenuous. On the way up we heard there was a bear in the area, but didn't see any.* We did see a Phoebe and Blackpoll Warbler, as well as a few typical woodland birds. Jacqueline had a glimpse of a probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the trees. At the top we saw three Ravens swooping around, and a probable Red-tailed Hawk, plus a few Juncos on the ground. The views were awe-inspiring, making the effort more than worthwhile.
* Later in the day, we did see bears in two different locations; photos of them will appear in a separate blog post.
Late in the afternoon, we walked around the Big Meadows area, and I stumbled upon a cluster of warblers and at least one Blue-headed Vireo in the trees next to the Byrd Visitors Center. I saw two more "winter" birds for the first time this season: Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, American Goldfinch, Blue-headed Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco, Hairy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, and in center, Common Raven. (All on October 3.)
Roll your mouse over the image to see photos taken the next day...
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, American Pipit, Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanger (F), Downy Woodpecker, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Swainson's Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, Ovenbird, and in center, Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (All on October 4.)
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
We got up before dawn the next day, and I had the good fortune to see a variety of interesting birds in an oak tree right next to the west-facing balcony of the Big Meadows Lodge: Phoebes, Blue-headed Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Juncos, and a Magnolia Warbler, among others. While on a short loop hike a bit later, we saw a Swainson's Thrush and an Ovenbird, plus another Blue-headed Vireo. Later in the morning, we did a short hike along the road adjacent to Big Meadows, where we saw a plain-looking bird walking (not hopping) ahead of us. The closer we approached, the more he kept walking away. Fortunately, I was able to get some nice closeup photos, confirming my hunch that it was an American Pipit, a bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra; I have only seen it a few times before.
American Pipit, at Big Meadows, October 4.
Finally, on our way out of the park, we stopped at the Pocosin Cabin trail, where I saw some Ruby-crowned Kinglets and yet another Blue-headed Vireo, but no warblers at all, to my surprise. Nevertheless, it was a very productive two days of birding.
October 7, 2016 [LINK / comment]
2016 postseason is underway!
All ten teams that made the 2016 playoff series have now played at least one game, and one of them (the Toronto Blue Jays) has already played three games, winning each one. On Tuesday night, the Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles in the AL wild card game on a walk-off home run by Edwin Encarnacion in the 11th inning. (The "bird" team that has made the playoffs more frequently than any other team other than the Yankees over the past decade -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- failed to qualify this year.)
At Citi Field in New York on Wednesday night, the San Francisco Giants beat the New York Mets in the NL wild card game. It was a classic pitchers' duel in which Noah Syndergaard faced off against Madison Bumgarner, but one swing of the bat in the top of the ninth inning by Conor Gillaspie (who?) made all the difference. With a comfortable 3-0 lead, Bumgarner pitched the bottom of the ninth to get a rare postseason complete-game shutout.
In the ALDS on Thursday, the Blue Jays stunned the host Texas Rangers, winning by a 10-1 margin. (It was the most lopsided margin in a postseason game since Kansas City Royals beat the Blue Jays in ALCS Game 4 last October, 14-2.) The score was 7-0 going into the top of the ninth, when Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer to put icing on the cake. The Rangers' sole run in the bottom of the ninth was merely symbolic. This afternoon, [the Blue Jays] won ALDS Game 2 by a more "conventional" score of 5-3. When the series shifts to Toronto on Sunday, the Rangers will have their backs to the wall, with bleak prospects in a hostile environment.
In Cleveland, the Indians have likewise taken a 2-0 series lead (in the other ALDS) over the Boston Red Sox, winning by a slim 5-4 margin yesterday and by a 6-0 margin today. Lonnie Chisenhall's three-run homer in the second inning was all "The Tribe" needed for the victory. Their starting pitcher Corey Kluber prevailed over David Price, whose performances in recent postseasons (Detroit 2014 and Toronto 2015) have not exactly lived up to the expectations he set during his earlier years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Now the Red Sox are in an unexpected "do-or-die" situation just like the Rangers, but with home field advantage -- magnified by the unique and historical Fenway Park. Of note to fans of the Nationals is that their former rookie catcher Sandy Leon hit a home run, and has done very well for the Red Sox since being called up from the minors in late June.
In Washington this evening, the Nationals had high hopes for NLDS Game 1 with Max Scherzer on the mound, but the Dodgers' second batter, rookie Corey Seager jumped on the first pitch and smashed a home run over the center field wall. In the third inning, the Dodgers added three more runs, two of which came on a home run by Justin Turner that just barely eluded the glove of Jayson Werth in left field. The Nationals fought back hard, getting three runs and putting heavy pressure on Clayton Kershaw, but couldn't quite get hits in the clutch situations. They ended up with more hits than the Dodgers (8 vs. 9), but neither team scored in the latter innings, and the Dodgers won it, 4-3.
And at Wrigley Field in the late game this evening, the Chicago Cubs edged the San Francisco Giants 1-0, as Javier Baez homered off Johnny Cueto in the bottom of the eighth inning, after a long at-bat. Jon Lester got the win for the Cubbies. Could this be "The Year"??? I have strong sympathies for the Cubs, who have not won the World Series since 1908, and have not even won the National League pennant since 1945. My dear departed dad Alan "Cub" Clem (see April 18 obituary blog post) waited his whole life for his team to win it all...
Citi Field update
Based on my thorough inspection of the innards thereof during my visit last month, I made some updates to the diagrams on the Citi Field page. (I was hoping I could finish this in time for some Mets home games in the postseason, but couldn't get it done before the Mets were eliminated.) Most of the changes involve details in the peripheral structures such as exit ramps, and the profiles changed slightly, especially in the lower-deck diagram, the profile of which depicts the area around the left field corner. Based on a photo I took from the rear of the bullpens, where there are some picnic tables, I ascertained the precise alignment of the fence between the two teams' bullpens, which is angled slightly more toward home plate than I had previously estimated.
October 10, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Blue Jays sweep Rangers, advance to ALCS
It was looking like this year's American League Division Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers was going to be a mirror image of last year, with the visiting team winning the first four games and the home team (presumably) winning the deciding fifth game. Last night the Rangers scored in the top of the first, but the Blue Jays came back with two home runs in the bottom of the first, making it a 3-1 game. From there, it was a classic back-and-forth game, and the Rangers took a 6-5 lead in the sixth inning, on a two-run double by Mitch Moreland. The Blue Jays then tied it in the bottom of that inning on a wild pitch, and would have opened a big lead except that right fielder Nomar Mazara grabbed a line drive hit by Ezequiel Carrera to end the inning. It went into extra innings, and in the botom of the tenth, Russell Martin grounded into what would have been an inning-ending double play except that Rougned Odor threw the ball wide of first base allowing Martin to reach base. Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson rounded third base and charged toward home like a madman, scoring the winning run amidst jubilant cheers from the nearly 50,000 Toronto fans. Wow!
And so, the Blue Jays will most likely play at Cleveland (or possibly Boston) on Friday as the American League Championship Series gets underway.
Nationals even the series
Just like in the Friday game, one of the Washington Nationals' two best pitchers struggled in the Sunday afternoon game. But Tanner Roark managed to limit the damage to just two runs, getting out of bases-loaded jams. But when he allowed two base runners with just one out in the fifth inning, Dusty Baker replaced him with Mark Rzepczynski, who held the line. In the bottom of the inning, one of those totally unpredictable postseason "miracles" took place, when the Nats' backup catcher Jose Lobaton hit a three-run home run to take the lead, in spite of swirling winds. Hardly anybody expected that, but I know that Lobaton has risen to the occasion once or twice over the past couple years. But nothing in his career up to now could possibly compare to that heroic feat that instantly changed the chemistry of the game and may have saved the Nats' chances in this NLDS. Daniel Murphy got two RBIs in the latter innings, getting three hits in three at-bats plus a walk. Glad that sore gluteous maximus has healed up! The Nats' bullpen really did their job, preventing any more runs from scoring, and the Nationals won 5-2, thus evening the series at one game apiece. MLB.com
Because of the rain-postponed game, there was no travel day as the NLDS resumes in Los Angeles this afternoon.
Boston game rained out
The same storm system (related to Hurricane Matthew?) that drenched Washington on Saturday forced a postponement of the Indians - Red Sox game in Boston on Sunday. So, they're going to play this evening instead. It's a possible elimination game for the Red Sox, and therefore may be the final game of David Ortiz's career. Even though I favor the Indians, I hope [it's not the end for "Big Papi"]. I wonder what the record for rained-out games in a single postseason is?
Citi Field update update
I was going to finish the Fenway Park diagrams by today, which may be the last game played there this year, but I had to make some further corrections to the Citi Field diagrams. First, I remembered finding out that the outside ground level was the same as the field level, probably a reflection of the wet lowland soil in Flushing Meadows. (It's basically a reclaimed marsh.) Second, I noticed in one of my photos that the diagonal sides of the second deck near the two foul poles are angled [less sharply] than I previously estimated. Third, I noticed that the glass-enclosed multi-tiered luxury dining area near the left field foul pole has one one corner (not two), and that the portion toward the infield is angled differently than the upper deck above. [There is also an outdoor balcony with tables in front of the glass. Another new detail is the small video board squeezed between the second decks in the right field corner; the Mets added that in 2012 or 2013, I believe.] Finally, I made some corrections to the position of some of the upper deck stairways, elevator sheds, escalators, etc.
While looking at the photos I took in New York during my 2008 trip, I happened to see a headline on the scrolling marquee outside the ABC News studios on Times Square: "Mets pitcher sought by police." That piqued my curiousity, so I Googled that phrase and found a news item at ESPN.com dated October 2, 2008 -- the same day I was at Shea Stadium / Citi Field. A guy named Ambiorix Burgos was driving an SUV that struck and killed two women in the Dominican Republic. A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that he has had a number of personal problems, and is no longer in the major leagues.
October 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Indians sweep Red Sox, advance to ALCS
Confounding just about everyone's expectations, the Cleveland Indians completed their sweep of the Boston Red Sox last night, leaving the fans in Fenway Park dazed and confused. How could this happen? Well, the Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz only had a 8-10 record this year, and in the fourth inning he gave up a two-run single to Tyler Naquin that gave the Indians the lead for good. The Red Sox rallied in the bottom of the eighth to close the deficit to just 4-3, but Xander Bogaerts hit a hard line drive right to the second baseman to end the inning. The Red Sox put two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth, but Travis Shaw hit a fly ball out to end the game -- and the Red Sox postseason dreams.
Perhaps more importantly, this marked the end of an era in baseball that will be remembered for a long time. David Ortiz was loudly cheered when he was replaced by a pinch-runner during the eighth-inning rally, and he came back onto the field after the game was over to issue a tearful farewell to his adoring Boston fans. What a moment to remember! "Big Papi" is almost guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame, even though most of his career was as a designated hitter.
"Thank You Big Papi": a closeup of the photo I took at Fenway Park on September 5, and previously posted on September 16.
So the Cleveland Indians will host the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on [Friday]. It's the second ALCS in a row for the Blue Jays, and the first ALCS for the Indians since 2007, when they lost to the eventual World Champion Boston Red Sox. Neither Cleveland nor Toronto was considered a top contender back in mid-season, which reminds you that in baseball, as in life in general, the future is never a sure thing.
Magnitude 8: Werthquake hits L.A.!
After the big victory on Sunday, Nats fans were cautiously hopeful, but not many of them expected the eight-run outburst unleashed by their batters in Dodger Stadium yesterday afternoon. In the pivotal confrontation with the Dodgers, the Nationals rose to the occasion, inspired by the clutch hitting and dauntless leadership of Jayson Werth. (He actually started his career as a Dodger before joining the Phillies.) For the third game in a row, the Los Angeles team took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to Corey Seager. But this time it was from an RBI double rather than a home run. After that, the Nats' starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (a left-hander) did pretty well. The Nats put together a big rally in the third inning, starting with a single by Trea Turner, then an RBI double by Werth, then an RBI single by Bryce Harper, and finally a two-run homer by Anthony Rendon. Unlike his recent shaky outings, this time Gio Gonzalez did not give the lead right back to the opposing team. But when Carlos Ruiz hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, shrinking the Nats' lead to just one run (4-3), Dusty Baker replaced Gio with Sammy Solis, who gave up a walk but no runs.
After that came Oliver Perez, and Shawn Kelley, and all of them performed superbly. In the three NLDS games thus far, the Nats bullpen has pitched 14 innings without giving up a single run. That is much, much better than most observers expected of Washington's relief pitchers at the beginning of the season. In the top of the ninth, Jayson Werth led off with a tremendous home run (estimated at 450 feet) high up into the left-center bleachers, stunning the Dodgers' closing pitcher Kenley Jansen. He was obviously not used to pitching with the other team ahead, as he proceeded to allow two more base-runners, at which point Ryan Zimmerman smashed a two-run double to the top of the right field fence. Another couple feet, and it would have been a home run, but it might have been just a long out if Josh Reddick had judged it better. Zimmerman then scored on a sac fly to make the score 8-3, and Mark Melancon got the Dodgers out 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth to seal the spectacular victory. For more details, see MLB.com.
As the Nats go for a series win in Dodger Stadium this afternoon, it marks the first time they have enjoyed a 2-1 postseason series lead. In 2012 they won NLDS Game 1 against the Cardinals in St. Louis, even though they had supposed home field advantage (it's complicated), then they lost the next two as well as Game 5. In  they lost the first two games against the Giants, wasting their home field advantage, then won Game 3 in San Francisco before being eliminated in Game 4. Thus far in postseason play, the Nats are 2-5 at home and 3-2 on the road. Hmmm...
Giants survive in epic marathon
Further up the coast in California, the San Francisco Giants were fighting for their lives hosting the Chicago Cubs in NLDS Game 3. It was yet another unbelievable saga that tested the mettle of players, and fans as well. The Cubs' ace pitcher Jake Arrieta shocked everybody by hitting a three-run homer to left field in the top of the second inning. The Giants scored two runs over the next three innings, while the Cubs' slugging crew fell curiously silent. Were they getting complacent? Then in the bottom of the eighth inning, their manager Joe Maddon, often regarded as a baseball genius, put their closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman on the mound. Chapman was not accustomed to pitching before the ninth inning, and he not only failed to hold the one-run lead, he let the Giants take the lead, 5-3. Things seemed pretty bleak for the Cubs, but then Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. The Cubs wasted a chance to score in the top of the 13th inning, and that failure cost them dearly as Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik hit consecutive doubles to end the game in astounding walk-off fashion. So, there will be a Game 4 this evening!
(True confession: Since it was after midnight here in the east, I fell asleep soon after the Giants took the 5-3 lead in the eighth inning, and when I woke up about an hour later, the score was tied 5-5 in the top of the 11th inning. What the heck had happened??? )
October 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Cubs slay the Giants, advance to NLCS
Once again, something utterly improbable and unpredictable decided a high-stakes baseball showdown in NLDS Game 4 on Tuesday evening, as the Chicago Cubs came back from a 5-2 deficit in the top of the ninth inning to defeat the San Francisco Giants, 6-5. The Giants seemed to have the situation well in hand, anticipating a Game 5 in Chicago. With Matt Moore pitching the game of his life, somehow they limited the slug-happy Cubs to just two hits during the first eight innings. And then all hell broke loose! Kris Bryant singled, Anthony Rizzo walked, Ben Zobrist doubled to make the score 5-3, and then rookie Willson Contreras (who??) batted in two more runs with a pinch-hit single, thus tying the game without a single out. If the Giants' closer Sergio Romo couldn't hold the line in that situation, their hope was fading fast. After a fielder's choice out, Javier Baez batted in the go-ahead run with a single, and the rest is history. Cubs 6, Giants 5 -- the reverse of the previous night's score.
Back to D.C.: Dodgers edge the Nats
Earlier that day, the Los Angeles Dodgers escaped elimination and forced a Game 5 in the other NLDS, which will culminate this evening in Our Nation's Capital. Out of desperation, they called on ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw to pitch on just three days' rest, and he came through -- almost. He did just fine for six innings, but Danny Espinosa got a hit off him in the top of the seventh, sparking a three-run rally that ended up tying the game at 5-5. It was Danny's first hit in the entire series, a troubling sign that he just can't get his mind to focus when he's in the batter's box. That one hit may have salvaged his reputation for now, but he still is under pressure to deliver. Once again, Daniel Murphy delivered in a clutch situation, with a two-run single up the middle. He is absolutely awesome. Unfortunately (for Washington fans), Chase Utley hit an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to take back the lead for the home team, and the Nationals went down in order 1-2-3 in both the eighth and ninth inning, losing by a score of 6-5.
In a few minutes, the Nationals take the field to face the Dodgers one last time this year, and I'm feeling pretty confident. True, the Nats have not used their home field advantage in postseason games thus far, but fan support will still provide a huge advantage. And with Max Scherzer on the mound, who could ask for more?
Looking ahead: ALCS & NLCS
Looking ahead to the NLCS, which begins in Chicago on Saturday, the Cubs have to be regarded as favorites no matter who wins in Washington tonight, both merit-wise and in terms of pathos. Whispers of the Billy Goat Curse may have been heard during Game 4 in San Francisco, but that's all behind them now. On the American League side, there is no clear favorite, as both the Indians and Blue Jays were the underdogs against (respectively) the Red Sox and the Rangers.
The last time the Indians were in the World Series was 1997 (when they lost to the Marlins), and the last time they were in the ALCS was in 2007, when they lost to the Red Sox in seven games, after taking a 3-2 series lead.
The last time the Blue Jays were in the World Series was 1993 (when they defeated the Phillies), and the last time they were in the ALCS was just last year, when they lost to the Royals in six games.
the last time the Cubs were in the World Series was 1945 (when they lost to the Tigers), and the last time they were in the NLCS was just last year, when they were swept four games to none by the Mets.
And the last time the Nationals (or their franchise predecessors in Montreal) were in the World Series was ... never!
October 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals flinch, Dodgers advance to NLCS
Once again, something (or things plural) utterly improbable and unpredictable decided a high-stakes baseball showdown in NLDS Game 5 on Thursday evening, as the L.A. Dodgers came back from a 1-0 deficit in the top of the seventh inning and held on to defeat the Washington Nationals, 4-3. (Sound familiar?) Over and over again, the Nationals just couldn't get hits when they needed it, while the Dodgers pieced together an amazing rally in the seventh inning, accounting for all their runs. Both managers constantly adjusted their lineups and pitching duties in a most unorthodox way. You would have to see it to believe it.
During the first half of the game, there was plenty of room for optimism, as the Nats took an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Danny Espinosa in the second inning. For the second game in a row, Danny redeemed himself, after getting zero hits in the first three games of the series. But after that, the Nationals stranded Ryan Zimmerman on third base (where he had reached with just one out), the first of several run-scoring opportunities in which the Nats choked. On the mound, Max Scherzer was in the groove and had a no-hitter through four innings, so the Nats' one-run lead seemed safe enough. But in the fifth inning he gave up three hits all of a sudden, loading the bases with just one out. Fortunately, he got out of the jam intact. In the bottom of the fifth, Bryce Harper walked on a full count, but was then picked off first base by Dodgers' pitcher Julio Urias, on what should have been called a balk. (Personally, I think it would be better to get rid of the balk rules entirely, because they are enforced too unevenly. It's just too subjective.)
Scherzer got through the top of the sixth giving up just an inconsequential hit, and in the bottom of the inning, Jayson Werth (who was at the plate when Harper was picked off the inning before) drew a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Ryan Zimmerman smashed a double to the left field corner, which was exactly the kind of clutch hit from Ryan that Nats fans had been waiting for! But left-fielder Andrew Toles quickly threw the ball to the cutoff man, and for some inexplicable reason, third base coach Bob Henley waved Werth home. That was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in a baseball game. Werth was out by a mile (technically, only about 45 feet), and what could have been a game-deciding rally came to an abrupt and disheartening end. See MLB.com. In the post-game interview, Werth said he was just doing the same aggressive base-running the Nats have been doing all year, but the responsibility lay with Henley, and I hope he never wears a Nationals uniform again.
The shift in momentum became dramatically apparent in the top of the seventh inning, when Joc Pederson hit a leadoff homer to tie the game. That exposed Max Scherzer's fatal flaw that we have seen more than once this year: his proneness to giving up home runs. Dusty Baker immediately replaced Max with Marc Rzepczynski, who walked Yasmani Grandal, and was then replaced by Blake Treinen, who gave up a single and then got a strikeout, after which Sammy Solis took the mound. Carlos Ruiz came in to pinch hit for Chase Utley, and hit an RBI single to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. The dangerous rookie Corey Seager flew out, after which Shawn Kelley came in to pitch to Justin Turner, who smashed a long fly ball that bounced off the center field fence for a two-run triple. It's too much to expect Trea Turner to have caught the ball, but an experienced center fielder would have at least handled it better. Would that have affected the score? No. [ Then Oliver Perez threw a 4-pitch walk to Joc Pederson, one of the Dodgers known to hit poorly off left-handers. Justin Turner ... ]
The seventh inning of the 2016 NLDS Game 5 will be remembered in much the same traumatic way that the ninth inning of the 2012 NLDS Game 5 is remembered. In both cases, the opposing team grabbed the lead with four runs, but in this case at least there was time for the Nationals to regroup mentally. I confess to losing heart in the wake of the Dodgers' rally last night, expressing "doom" in Facebook posts. But that turned out to be premature, as the Nationals bounced back in the bottom of the inning, as Danny Espinosa took a lead-off walk and pinch-hitter Chris Heisey hit a home run to close the gap to just one run. Then Clint Robinson singled, and the Dodgers' manager brought in their closing pitcher Kenley Jansen, a truly stunning development. Trea Turner flew out, and then Joe Ross (a pitcher!) came in to pinch run for Robinson. That turned out to be a smart move, as Ross made it to third base on a single by Bryce Harper. With runners on first and third with just one out, Nats fans' hopes were soaring, but Jayson Werth struck out (on a full count), Daniel Murphy was walked to load the bases, and then Anthony Rendon struck out to end the inning. Ouch.
In the bottom of the eighth, Stephen Drew drew (!) a leadoff walk, but Danny Espinosa popped out in a botched sacrifice bunt attempt. The next two batters were hapless second-stringers: Pedro Severino flew out, and Michael Taylor struck out to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth drew consecutive walks with one out, and in another stunning bullpen move, none other than Clayton Kershaw came in to relieve Kenley Jansen. Daniel Murphy was coming up to bat, and the Dodgers could take no chances. It was a showdown between superstar pitcher and superstar slugger, a confrontation that will be part of baseball lore for years and years to come. All the chips were on the table, and the crowd cheered lustily. And then the mighty Murphy popped out, as hearts sank all across Natsland. There was still one out to go, and the burden of saving the game -- and the year -- fell upon the shoulders of young pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo, who swung wildly at three of the four pitches he saw to end the game.
Complete reports of NLDS Game 5 can be found at MLB.com.
I don't want to be too hard on Dusty Baker, who has been magnificent as a manager this season, a key ingredient in the Nationals' regular-season success. But I think it's clear in retrospect that he should have kept Max Scherzer on the mound after Max gave up that solo home run in the seventh inning. Max later told reporters he told Dusty that he was ready to keep going, and even though his pitch count had reached 99, he probably could have finished that inning intact. That fateful decision was the main theme of the Washington Post article summarizing the game by Adam Kilgore. After Max was replaced, Dusty changed pitchers after every batter, which seemed rather desperate. Other than Chris Heisey, who homered, the double-switches made necessary by all the pitching changes ended up costing the Nats dearly. I was appalled when Dusty replaced first baseman Zimmerman in the seventh inning and third baseman Anthony Rendon in the eighth inning. I just couldn't believe it when in the final two innings, the Nationals' fate was decided by a bunch of untested rookies. Michael Taylor??? Wilmer Difo??? It was as if it was a preseason game, or an inconsequential late-season game when the veterans need a rest.
Manager Dusty Baker, at the October 1 game. (See October 2 blog post.)
In sum, the Game 5 loss by the Nationals was a combination of adverse circumstances and failure to execute in clutch situations. Without a doubt, the loss of pitcher Stephen Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos to injuries in the final weeks of the season cost the Nationals very dearly. Overall, player for player, the Nationals are probably a better team than the Dodgers, but several of their players lacked the mental discipline and grit needed to prevail when they absolutely had to. For the series as a whole, the Nationals outscored the Dodgers 24-19. All three Dodgers' wins were by exactly one run.
Attendance at NLDS Game 5 was 43,936, the eighth consecutive postseason game sellout at Nationals Park. In contrast, there were at least six thousand empty seats at Dodger Stadium (nominal capacity 56,000) in Game 4.
Having desperately pulled out all the stops in two elimination games in a row, the Dodgers are now exhausted and frankly ill-equipped to take on the Chicago Cubs. The NLCS begins in Wrigley Field on Saturday night, and I'll be rooting for my dear departed dad's team -- the Cubs!
And so, the Nationals are done for the year, going home once again with the shadow of deep disappointment hanging over their heads. In some ways, it's not as bad as either the 2012 or 2014 NLDS defeats, as they played better for the most part. Indeed, they came very close to clinching the series in both Game 4 and Game 5, and that's what hurts the most. The Nationals' cumulative win-loss record in postseason home games is now an abysmal 2-8, a sharp contrast to their fine regular-season home game record (50-31 this year). Nevertheless, they have nothing to be ashamed of, and much to be proud of. Hopefully this "character-building" ordeal will strengthen them as they prepare to embark on yet another quest for the world championship in 2017.
So how I am going to cope with this grief? (Lord knows I have had enough of it this year.) Well, I'm learning to play the Eagles' song "Heartache Tonight" on the guitar, and plan to play it in public next week -- possibly with a new verse referring to what happened last night. I played Terry Cashman's nostalgic tune "Talkin' Baseball" a couple weeks ago, and will have more to say on that soon...
October 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Shenandoah National Park getaway
Jacqueline and I spent a pleasant two days at Shenandoah National Park early last week, taking advantage of good weather following many days of rain and/or gloom. (I previously reported on our birding activities there in my Oct. 5 blog post.) To avoid missing any important baseball games, I picked a day between the end of the regular season and the first of the two wild card games. Unlike our previous trip to SNP in late June, the weather was very nice for the most part, excellent for taking photos. It was getting a bit cloudier as we departed to return home on Tuesday, October 4.
Yours truly and spouse Jacqueline at Hawksbill Mountain.
While hiking to the top of Hawksbill Mountain on Monday, October 3, we were advised by other hikers that a bear was lurking in the area. We didn't see it, which was both a relief and a disappointment. But later as we were driving from the parking area along Skyline Drive, we saw some cars that were stopped up ahead, and sure enough we had a great closeup bear photo op! In the late afternoon we strolled casually through the amazing, unique habitat that is Big Meadows. We had such a busy day hiking to and fro that we fell asleep not long after enjoying a sumptuous dinner at the Big Meadows lodge. It's a very good restaurant there, with a good choice of wine and beer.
Black Bear along Skyline Drive, a half mile north of Dark Hollow Falls, October 3; one of two we saw that day!
The next morning we hiked along the west slope near the Big Meadows lodge, and I found it difficult to get good photos, because of the glare from the morning light and the fact that my camera (Canon PowerShot SX-50) can't handle extreme variations between light and dark portions of a photo. So, I had to spend some time carefully editing some of those photos on my Macintosh back home. Later in the morning we hiked along the road on the south edge of Big Meadows, where we saw a number of butterflies. Then we headed for home, full of natural energy from the beautiful surroundings.
To see more photos from that trip, see the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.
To the home of James Monroe (?)
Later that week (Thursday, October 6), we made a day trip to Albemarle County, intending among other things to see Monticello, home of the third president, Thomas Jefferson. (We have not been there since we lived in Charlottesville in the 1990s!) The skies were overcast, however, and I didn't want to waste the steep price of admission ($25) only to get mediocre photos. So we contented ourselves with browsing through the "David Rubenstein Visitor Center," an entirely new addition that was built since our last visit.
Then, we drove a few miles southeast to visit the nearby "Highland" estate, home of the fifth president, James Monroe. (For years it was also called "Ashlawn," but that was the name given by the subsequent estate owner.) I had been there with my brother Dan during the early 1990s, at which point there was some doubt about which of the currently-standing structures were in existence when James Monroe was alive. Just in the last couple years, archeologists have determined that only the smaller white portion of the main residential structure was there during Monroe's life, and it was just a guest residence. Monroe's own home burned down in the mid-19th Century, and was replaced by the yellow house which stands today. (That is why the title above contains a question mark.) The tour guide was very knowledgeable about history, and I learned quite a bit about the president who promulgated the Monroe Doctrine (1823), a lynchpin of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. I also learned that Monroe came from humble middle-class origins, and indeed Highland pales in comparison to the elaborate Monticello nearby.
The Statue of James Monroe on the grounds of his Highland estate, October 6.
Then we had a tasty all-natural lunch at a delightful country market in the village of Simeon, where St. Luke's Episcopal Church stands. Then we headed back up hill, went past Monticello, and arrived at Carter's Mountain Orchard to shop for apples and other farm treats. The skies had turned clear blue by then, perfect for taking photos of Charlottesville and the surrounding countryside! Too bad it was cloudy earlier in the day... After sampling some local wines and buying some bottles, we drove back down the mountain, and stopped to browse at the shop in the Meadow Run Mill, next to historic Michie Tavern. Then, we headed home, satisfied with another fun day.
The vineyards which are part of Carters Mountain Orchard. The lowlands to the left are northeast of Charlottesville.
To see more photos from those two trips, see the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.
October 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Beautiful day for hawks (and a warbler)
This morning was pickup day for folks who bought bird seeds in the Augusta Bird Club's annual bird seed sale, in nearby Verona. I took some photos for the website, and helped out a little. Unlike some past years, the weather was bright and beautiful. While there, Jo King and I noticed two Red-tailed Hawks circling overhead, so I took some photos of those too. On my way home I photographed an American Crow bathed in bright sunlight, and an hour or so later I noticed a hawk shrouded by bushes in the back yard. I carefully stepped onto the patio to get some photos, and could see that it had killed a Starling. Good! Even better, I saw a female Purple Finch at the feeder, the first of the season for me, and a Cape May Warbler hopping along nearby tree branches in search of insects to eat. Not a bad day of (casual) birding!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Purple Finch (female), Red-tailed Hawk, Cape May Warbler, Sharp-shinned Hawk (juv.), and in center, American Crow.
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. One of them is a Common Tern, which three of us saw in at the quarry pond in Fishersville on October 8. That unusal sighting was on the way back from an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Lofton Lake, in southern Augusta County. The highlights of that trip (which was very wet, with steady drizzle) included some Cape May Warblers and a couple Wild Turkeys. Speaking of warblers, I saw at least 15 Yellow-rumped Warblers on Bell's Lane on October 12, and several Palm Warblers a few days before that.
After going to the World War II air show in Weyer's Cave on Thursday (October 13), Jacqueline and I drove up to Dayton, where we went shopping at the mall and had a great barbecue sandwich at Hank's. Then I checked out Silver Lake, where I saw the usuals plus a Pied-billed Grebe, a Great Blue Heron, and over a dozen Killdeers foraging on the mud flats. For some reason, the water level was low. But my main destination that day was the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, where I hoped to see some American Golden Plovers. I saw them there for the first time on September 29; it is surprising that so many of them have lingered so long. After a few minutes of scanning the fields, I spotted them, about 80 altogether. Jacqueline noticed the golden tinge on their wing feathers, without me prompting her!
October 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]
World War II aircraft show (II)
On Thursday, Jacqueline and I drove up to the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyer's Cave, to see the World War II air show put on by the Collings Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving history. I had been there once before, almost seven years ago. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I was glad that Jacqueline did as well. It's a special privilege to be able to climb aboard those old war birds, and get a sense of what it must have been like to risk your life on a bombing mission over Germany, Italy, or enemy-held territory. Three of the aircraft were the very same ones I saw there before: a B-17 Flying Fortress (bomber), a B-24 Liberator (bomber), and a P-51 Mustang (fighter). For the first time, I saw a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, which was what they used in General Doolittle's surprise bombing raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Sixteen of those planes somehow took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet, but not all of them made it to China, where they were supposed to land. Eleven crew members were captured, and three were executed.
Most of the folks in attendance were older, including several veterans, and I had some nice conversations with some of them. One guy has been searching for the crash sites of old military aircraft, including several crashes in the Blue Ridge of which I was not aware. A guide gave us a "tour" of the B-24, explaining the ways in which it was better than the B-17. For example, the belly turret on the B-24 was retractable, unlike that on the B-17; that was safer and made landing easier. (The B-24 had modern "tricycle" landing gear, whereas the B-17 had two big wheels in front and a small "tail-dragging" wheel in back.) I was thrilled to get some video clips of the P-51 taking off, and plan to post it on YouTube soon. While we were driving toward Dayton later, I saw the B-25 Mitchell flying ahead of us, but couldn't get a good photo. Fortunately, it came back along the same flight path about 20 minutes later, and I got some nice, sunlit photos of it.
Friday was the last of the air show, and around noon I heard the distinctive deep rumble of those big piston engines, and raced outside just in time to catch a glimpse of one of the bombers passing Staunton as it left the Shenandoah Valley. The montage below is just a small sample of the photos that I will be posting soon on the the Chronological (2016) photo gallery page.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: B-25 Mitchell, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, P-51 Mustang, side machine gun on the B-17, bomb bay on the B-24, and cockpit of the B-17.
Yours truly, wearing my "Witchcraft" B-24 T-shirt (which I bought during my last visit in 2009) in front of the namesake B-24 Liberator.
October 17, 2016 [LINK / comment]
NLCS: Dodgers & Cubs split, 1-1
After a dramatic and ultimately jubilant (for the home fans) Game 1 in Wrigley Field on Saturday night (see next paragraph), the Los Angeles Dodgers prevailed in yet another tense pitchers' duel in Game 2 last night. On just two days' rest, their ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw kept his pitch count low enough to last for a full seven innings, confounding the expectations of critics. How did he do that? The red-hot Cubs sluggers could only manage two hits over the course of nine innings, while the Dodgers had three -- one of which was a solo home run by Adrian Gonzalez in the second inning. One slight lapse by the Cubs' starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks was all it took. Final score: Dodgers 1, Cubs 0.
In Game 1, the Cubs took an early lead and had a 3-1 lead going into the eighth inning. The the Dodgers loaded the bases with nobody out on two hits and a single, and manager Joe Maddon decided to send in closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman to the mound. The next two Dodgers struck out, making Cubs fans feel a little better, but then Adrian Gonzalez hit a single that tied the game, 3-3. Cubs fans groaned nervously, but their spirits rose in the bottom of the ninth when Ben Zobrist hit a leadoff double. Two outs and two intentional walks later, the bases were loaded as pinch-hitter Miguel Montero stepped up to the plate. When the count when to 0-2, hopes dim. And then a miracle happened: a grand slam that almost went over the bleachers in right field!! As Harry Caray would say, "Holy cow!" But wait, there's more: Dexter Fowler hit a solo homer, and then Kris Bryant doubled. Joe Blanton was replaced as pitcher, but with the Cubs 5 runs ahead, it didn't seem to matter. In the top of the ninth, however, the Dodgers scored a run, and threatened to get more, raising nerves a little once again. Nevertheless, the Cubs got the third out to win it, 8-4.
Joe Maddon later defended his decision to remove starting pitcher Jon Lester after six innings in Game 1; he had only thrown 77 pitches. Maddon did regret having Aroldis Chapman try to rescue the Cubs from a precarious situation in the eighth inning, however. That's not his usual job. See chicagotribune.com
That continues the pattern in which the Dodgers have won all four of their games this postseason by exactly one run, including their three wins against the Nationals last week. It was somewhat similar in the regular season against the Nats: the Dodgers won five out of six games, even though the cumulative score in those games was only 26-21.
The last time the Cubs faced the Dodgers in the postseason was the 2008 NLDS, which the Dodgers won in three straight games. By amazing coincidence, I paid a visit to Wrigley Field exactly one day after Game 2 was played there on October 3, 2008.
It's the second consecutive year in which both the Cubs and the Blue Jays have reached their respective league championship series. The last time in the NLCS before 2015 for the Cubs was 2003, which many of us would just as soon forget. The last time in the ALCS before 2015 for the Blue Jays was 1993, when they went on to win the World Series.
FUN FACT: Even though my dad was a huge Cubs fan, he didn't care much for Harry Caray, the jovial, bespectacled play-by-play announcer.
Old Wrigley Field photo
Speaking of the Cubs, just yesterday a guy named Stew Thornley posted on Facebook this photo of a game he saw at Wrigley Field in June 1972, with Roberto Clemente at bat. (That was about a year and a half before the heroic slugger tragically died.) The photo had special meaning for me, as I too saw Clemente in the same place in the first major league game I ever saw, in August 1963 (see My ballpark visits), with my dad and younger brother Chris. So, I asked if I could use it, and Stew graciously said yes.
Wrigley Field with the great Roberto Clemente at bat, in June 1972. (Courtesy of Stew Thornley.)
ALCS: Indians take 2-0 lead
About 340 miles to the east on the shores of Lake Erie, meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians edged the Toronto Blue Jays in the first two games of the American League Championship series, by scores of 2-0 and 2-1. In Game 1, Francisco Lindor's home run provided the only runs the Indians needed, and in Game 2, his RBI single in the third inning gave his team a 2-1 lead it would not relinquish.
ALCS Game 3 begins very soon...
October 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Chimney Hollow
Yesterday morning I "led" an Augusta Bird Club field trip to one of my favorite places, Chimney Hollow. Unfortunately, nobody else showed up, probably due to the fact that it was rescheduled from last Saturday, to avoid a conflict with the club's bird seed sale. So, just like the last time I "led" a field trip there (March 26), though for a different reason, it was a solo venture, hence the quotation marks around led. Just like the last time, I heard a Pine Warbler as soon as stepped out of my car, and heard a number of different birds soon thereafter, including a Blue-headed Vireo and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. But quite unlike the last time, I never did see any of those birds. Not until I reached the part of the trail that begins to climb steeply uphill (where I usually turn around and head back) did I get a good view of any birds, in fact. Overall, it was a disappointing day, but at least I spotted (and photographed) a Black-throated Blue Warbler. On the way back I heard and saw what was almost certainly a Winter Wren along the banks of the stream. I definitely heard the slow-cadenced call of Black-capped Chickadees, and probably Carolina Chickadees as well. Western Augusta County marks the approximate border between the ranges of those two closely-related species, and there may be some inter-breeding. Finally, I heard the loud scream of Pileated Woodpeckers at two different locations. I ended up with very few bird photos, but I took plenty of mushroom photos, which will be posted in the near future.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-throated Blue Warbler (male), White-breasted Nuthatch*, Red-bellied Woodpecker*, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Hairy Woodpecker (male).
* photographed a day earlier, in Staunton.
Chimney Hollow, October 18.
Chimney Hollow Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
Oct 18, 2016 9:10 AM - 11:50 AM
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
19 species (+1 other taxa)
- Turkey Vulture -- 1
- Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 2 (H)
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- 1 (H)
- Downy Woodpecker -- 1
- Hairy Woodpecker -- 3
- Northern Flicker -- 2 (H)
- Pileated Woodpecker -- 2 (H)
- Blue-headed Vireo -- 1 (H)
- Blue Jay -- 5
- American Crow -- 2
- Black-capped Chickadee -- 3
- Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee -- 4
- Tufted Titmouse -- 3
- Red-breasted Nuthatch -- 1 (H)
- White-breasted Nuthatch -- 4
- Winter Wren -- 1
- Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 8
- American Robin -- 2 (H)
- Black-throated Blue Warbler -- 1
- Pine Warbler -- 1 (H)
NOTE: "(H)" = heard but not seen. View this checklist online at ebird.org
Backyard fall birds
While looking out back on Sunday afternoon (October 16), I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male) -- in each case, the first of the fall season for me as far as the Staunton area. A photo of the latter, as well as the montage above, be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. Also, a Sharp-shinned Hawk (probably the same one I photographed on Saturday) has been shrieking in the neighborhood, eliciting alarm calls from Blue Jays and forcing smaller birds (including our canaries inside!) to take cover. Finally, I noticed that one of the recently-arrived White-throated Sparrows out back has a single white feather in its left wing, just like a bird we have seen here for the past two winters, and I strongly suspect it is the very same bird!
October 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Waynesboro "Greenway"
This morning I joined Allen Larner on a field trip along the Greenway Trail which parallels the South River in Waynesboro. In contrast to most Augusta Bird Club field trips, this was a public event, in coordination with the Waynesboro Dept. of Parks and Recreation. Three non-club members attended, and we tutored them on identifying species by sound, and so on. The weather was fine early on, sunny (except for fog along the Blue Ridge) with cool breezes. There were plenty of birds both at the beginning and the end of the trail, but not much in between. A total of 32 species of birds were identified by sight or sound, including the ones in the photo montage below. (NOTE: I saw the Double-crested Cormorant at a nearby pond after the field trip had ended.)
Later in the morning, three other club members and I went with Stephanie Seltzer (who works in Parks and Recreation) to inspect the proposed Sunset Park, which will occupy the hill on the east side of town where the landfill was formerly located. Aside from providing a spectacular view of the city, the area features a combination of woodlands and open areas that seem to be ideal habitat for various kinds of birds. Along the way, we came across a Box Turtle, a species I had not seen in over a year. Highlights over there included a probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a Palm Warbler, and a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Late in the morning, the skies grew very dark, and it soon started to rain. I strained to cover my camera and binoculars as we hurried back to the truck in the rain. Nevertheless, it was a successful day of birding.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing (juv.), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warbler, and Northern Mockingbird.
Box Turtle, on the woodland trail east of the proposed Sunset Park.
View of Waynesboro from the proposed Sunset Park on the east side of town.
October 25, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Holy cow: Cubs beat Dodgers, win NL pennant!
For the first time in my entire life, the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series. The words in that sentence seem so outlandish and exotic to me that it's hard to believe that it is really true. On an emotional level, I am filled with joy mixed with sadness that my father, a lifelong Cubs fan, could not live long enough to see his team become world champions. (See the obituary blog post I wrote for him in April and the blog post from August 2009 when he, my sister Connie, and I saw a Cubs-Rockies game in Denver.)
The Dodgers won NLCS Game 3 by a score of 6-0, as veteran pitcher Rich Hill outperformed the Cubs' ace Jake Arrieta. Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner both homered, and presumptive NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager went 3 for 5 at the plate. The Cubs' sluggers could only muster four hits, two of which were hit by Kris Bryant. Cubs fans started getting nervous after that one.
But in Game 4, the Cubs took back the momentum in a decisive way. They scored first with a four-run rally in the fourth inning, capped by a two-run homer by Addison Russell. That knocked the Dodgers' young starting pitcher Julio Urias out of the game, but the Cubs just kept piling on more runs. They had a 10-2 lead by the middle of the sixth inning, and that turned out to be the final score. That evened the NLCS, 2-2.
In Game 5, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI double by Anthony Rizzo. The Dodgers tied it two innings later, and in the sixth inning, the Cubs' shortstop Addison Russell hit a two-run homer (his second in two days) to take a 3-1 lead. The Cubs added five more runs in the eighth inning, putting the game out of reach, so it didn't really matter that the Dodgers scored in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: Cubs 8, Dodgers 4. Taking two out of three games in Dodger Stadium provided a huge psychological boost to Chicago. Nonetheless, it is of some concern to the Cubs that Aroldis Chapman has not been his usual dominant self in this postseason, with an ERA of nearly 4.
Back in Chicago for Game 6 after a day of travel and rest, the daunting Clayton Kershaw again pitched for the Dodgers, but this time his human weaknesses finally caught up with him. The Cubs jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and added another run in the second. Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo hit solo homers, while Kyle Hendricks pitched the game of his life, allowing only two hits in 7-plus innings. The Cubs got the final out on a double play, a fitting punctuation to a flawless game that sent Chicago fans into euphoria. Final score: Cubs 5, Dodgers 0.
So how would I have coped with a Cubs vs. Nationals NLCS, if that matchup had occurred? I suppose I would have been happy either way, but obviously with mixed emotions.
Go Cubs, Go!
By the way, I learned that song "Go Cubs, Go" on the guitar today, after discovering to my astonishment that it was written by Steve Goodman, the very same guy who wrote "City of New Orleans." Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, mere days before the Cubs advanced to postseason play for the first time since 1945. What a tragedy. (The Cubs lost to the Padres in the 1984 NLCS.)
Indians beat Blue Jays, win AL pennant
When the Cleveland Indians beat the Blue Jays 4-2 in ALCS Game 3 in Toronto, the series was just about decided. (Hardly any team -- other than the 2004 Boston Red Sox, of course -- has won a seven-game series after losing the first three games.) The Blue Jays staged a brave comeback attempt in Game 4, sparked by a solo homer by Josh Donaldson, eventually winning 5-1. So at least there was no sweep. But in Game 5 the Indians scored single runs in the first, third, and fourth innings, putting the Blue Jays in a terrible bind. The unexpected hero of that game was 24-year old Indians pitcher Ryan Merritt, who did not allow any runs and only two hits during 4 1/3 innings. With Andrew Miller on the mound for two innings, there wasn't much hope for the Blue Jays, and the final score was Indians 3, Blue Jays 0. And that is how the Indians won the American League pennant for the first time since 1997.
World Series "droughts"
Much has been said about the long "droughts" suffered by the Cubs and Indians since the last time they were in a World Series (1945 and 1997, respectively) and since the last time they won a World Series (1908 and 1948, respectively). No doubt about it, this is definitely a "feel good" year for baseball fans everywhere, as one of those cities is going to experience once-in-a-lifetime jubilation over the next week or so. But since professional sports are tied to cities, it is worth pointing out (as the Washington Post did yesterday) that the city of Washington has suffered a longer drought than any of the other MLB cities: the Washington Senators were last in the World Series in 1933, and the last time they won it was 1925. The Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. Likewise, it is worth mentioning that the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship in June. (Tonight was the first game of the 2016-2017 NBA season, with baseball and basketball games being played simultaneously in Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena, right next door.)
World Series stadia
Just like last year, and several years before that, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. Just roll over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams. Fortunately, my diagrams for both those stadiums are fully up to standard, requiring no updates.
Wrigley Field has about 107,800 square feet of fair territory, and about 18,600 square feet of foul territory, according to my best estimates. Progressive Field has about 105,400 square feet of fair territory, and about 21,900 square feet of foul territory. But the high left field wall in Progressive Field makes it less hitter-friendly than those area data might suggest. (See the Stadium statistics page.)
October 27, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Three more Open Mic appearances!
Last night (Wednesday), I had yet another Open Mic appearance with the Staunton Music Guild at Queen City Brewery. It marked the third consecutive month (see September 30) that I have made three such appearances. I was grateful that one of my friends from the Augusta Bird Club, Peter Van Acker, came to watch. As often happens, not until after things got underway at 7:00 were there a substantial number of people there. I was the first to play (after Fritz Horisk did his introductory songs), the first time I had the "leadoff" spot. I played:
- "Heartache Tonight" -- Eagles
- "Guitar Man" -- Bread
- "Piano Man" -- Billy Joel
I only learned that first song ("Heartache Tonight") two weeks ago, on the day after the Washington Nationals lost Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series to the Dodgers. I explained that it was my way of getting the grief out of my system, and I even added a third verse relating to baseball:
One team is gonna lose this game, before the night is through
Some batter's gonna strike out swinging, with the bases loaded
Every player tries his best to win, if it takes all night
Every fan wants a championship, or wait till next year!
As it happened, Game 2 of the World Series was taking place as we played, and after I finished, I would go up to the bar every ten minutes or so to check the score on the TV set. The next two songs I had been working on for weeks, and my preparation paid off. The theme was musical instruments, and my original plan was include Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" (rather than "Heartache Tonight") to complete the instrumental trio. On "Guitar Man," the harmonica takes the place of the slide guitar, and on "Piano Man" (which prominently features the harmonica), the guitar takes the place of the piano. I got a couple lines of lyrics mixed up on the first one, but "Piano Man" came across very well, and I got some nice applause.
Two weeks earlier, on October 12, I focused on the Eagles, my favorite group but one whose songs I had not done since July. It was the first time since my first appearance (March 9) that I did not use harmonicas at all.
- "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" -- Linda Ronstadt
- "Lyin' Eyes" -- Eagles
- "I Can't Tell You Why" -- Eagles
For the first song, I explained that Don Henley and Glenn Frey (co-founders of the Eagles) started out as backup musicians for Linda Ronstadt. Playing it involves some unusual finger picking, and ordinarily I can do it very well, but just didn't execute cleanly enough this time. For "Lyin' Eyes" I got some of the lyrics mixed up (they are rather lengthy), but otherwise did OK. I did the last song ("I Can't Tell You Why") very well except for one part in the lead guitar sequence where I missed a couple notes.
And three weeks ago, on October 5, I had to improvise in my selection of songs because I had been too busy on church-related and bird club-related tasks that day to practice any songs.
- "Simple Man" -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- "Within Without" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "The Story In Your Eyes" -- Moody Blues
The first one was a plaintive love song with a lead harmonica part that I did fairly well. I realized, to my surprise, that it was the first Crosby, Stills, & Nash song that I have played in public. On the next song ("Within Without") I used the harmonica in place of the lead guitar, and I was pleased by how it turned out. I closed with a fast-paced rock tune by the Moody Blues, and I thought I did OK on it, but didn't get as much audience reaction as I was hoping for. You never know.
Music page update
I updated my Music page with a brand-new tabular list of all the songs (41 altogether) that I have played in the Open Mic events since last March. The last two columns of the table indicate the songs on which I used a harmonica, and how I rated myself in playing each song, on an "A - B - C - D" scale.
October 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]
World Series: Indians take a commanding 3-1 lead
World Series 2016 got off to a jubilant start for fans in Cleveland on Tuesday night, as the Indians used home field advantage and their ace pitcher Corey Kluber to shut out the Chicago Cubs, 6-0. The combination of Kluber as starter with Andrew Miller as relief pitcher proved to be overwhelming, both in Game 1 on Tuesday and in Game 4 tonight. (See below.)
Corey Kluber pitching in an interleague game between the Indians and Diamondbacks at Chase Field in June 2014. As I noted in November 2014, after he won the American League Cy Young Award, I hardly knew anything about him before mid-summer, or else I would have taken a closeup photo.
But perhaps a more significant development in Game 1 was the return of Cubs young slugger Kyle Schwarber to the lineup. After spending virtually the entire 2016 season on the disabled list, he was recently given medical clearance to pinch hit or serve as designated hitter, but not to play on defense in the field. The lack of any recent playing time affected him not the least, as he belted a towering double to right field, almost clearing the fence. He wasn't able to score, but his slugging really charged up the Cubs' morale.
In Game 2 on Wednesday night the Cubs took an early lead thanks to a single by Kris Bryant and a double by Anthony Rizzo. They might have had a play at the plate, but the throw went to second, to no avail. The Indians' pitcher Trevor Bauer* did better than his last appearance, but could not contain the Cubs, who scored again in the third inning, and took a 5-0 lead in the fifth. Kyle Schwarber led the Cubs with two RBI singles. On the offensive side, the Indians did not get their first hit until the sixth inning -- the longest no-hit bid in a World Series game since 1969, when the Mets' Jerry Koosman went six innings. Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta was cruising, but his pitch count had reached 98, so manager Joe Maddon replaced him with Mike Montgomery. The Cubs won that one, 5-1.
* Bauer grabbed attention in the ALCS when he was removed from the game before completing the first inning, as blood from a finger wound was dripping steadily. That was appalling! MLB rules prohibit the use of bandaids or any other attachments to the throwing hand. Bauer had cut his finger while repairing a miniature drone aircraft, which is apparently one of his hobbies. Not smart.
The bleachers and scoreboard at Wrigley Field, after the Cubs-Marlins game on July 19, 2012.
Having split the first two games, the Cubs were feeling pretty confident returning home to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Their starter in Game 3 on Friday night was Kyle Hendricks, and he had the lowest ERA (2.13) in the major leagues this year. But for whatever reason, he just wasn't up to his usual level of performance, giving up six hits in 4 1/3 innings, while the Indians' pitcher Josh Tomlin held the Cubs to only two hits over 4 2/3 innings. Not many people expected Tomlin to go toe-to-toe with Hendrick in such a pitchers' duel, albeit an abbreviated one. Relief pitcher Andrew Miller (acquired from the Yankees in July and usually the closer) got the final out in the fifth inning, snuffing out a Cubs rally. In the top of the seventh, the Indians' Roberto Perez hit a lead-off single, then reached second base on a sacrifice bunt, and then reached third on a wild pitch by Carl Edwards. When the pitcher was due up to bat, Indians manager Terry Francona had to decide whether to have Andrew Miller bat or have somebody pinch hit. The fact that there was only one out and a runner on first made him opt for the latter. Up to the plate came diminuitive veteran Coco Crisp, who swung at the first pitch and put the ball into right field for a single, thus batting in the only run of the game. Final score: Indians 1, Cubs 0.
In Game 4 tonight (Saturday), Corey Kluber was back on the mound for the Indians, after only three days' rest. It was a lot like how the Dodgers used their ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, pushing him to the limit of his physical endurance out of desperation. But in this case, Terry Francona was not desperate but seemed rather to be making a strategic calculation. The gamble paid off, as the Cubs failed to follow up their early success after Dexter Fowler scored on an RBI single by Anthony Rizzo in the first inning. The Indians answered that with a lead-off home run by Carlos Santana in the second inning. Then followed a weird sequence of events including two throwing errors by third baseman Kris Bryant. Pitcher Corey Kluber, who only had four at bats all season, singled and Lonnie Chisenhall scored as the Indians took a 2-1 lead. They added five more runs over the next five innings, capped by a three-run homer by Jason Kipnis, who grew up in the Chicago area as a Cubs fan. How ironic. In the bottom of the eighth Dexter Fowler hit a solo homer, but that was it. Indians 7, Cubs 2.
In tomorrow night's game at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will be under heavy psychological pressure to avoid not just elimination but outright disgrace. After waiting 71 years for the World Series to return, Chicago Cubs fans have a right to expect at least one victory at home. The last time a World Series champion team came back from a 3-1 series deficit was in 1985, when the Kansas City Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the last three games. In other words, it's an uphill climb. Nothing against the Indians, but ...
Go Cubs, Go!
October 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Sandhill Cranes still lingering
On Wednesday afternoon, I drove over to Fishersville to see if the pair of Sandhill Cranes that was first seen in that area in early June was still there. I parked across from the pond where I took the photos back then, and scanned the surrounding fields for a few minutes. Then I spotted them, about 200 yards to the southeast, walking slowly toward the pond. I started snapping photos and couldn't believe my good luck when they approached to within 50 feet of where I was parked. The fact that they are still in the same location for such an extended period suggests that they may have taken up permanent residence. If so, that would be abnormal, because this species winters in Florida, Texas, and other southern states.
Sandhill Crane, extreme closeup. Roll your mouse over the image to see it along with the other one foraging next to the pond. Also see the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
After seeing the Sandhill Cranes, I drove over to Bell's Lane to see if any newly arrived migrants were there. I was hoping in particular to get a better view of a Palm Warbler, one of which I photographed on the previous Saturday. (See below.) I didn't see any of those, but I did get some very good photos of a White-throated Sparrow and a Dark-eyed Junco, shown in this montage:
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker*, Northern Flicker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco. (Bell's Lane, October 26. * In our back yard.)
Two days later I went back to Bell's Lane, and saw three different kinds of raptors -- most notably, a Bald Eagle. It might have been one of the same birds that Penny Warren saw there a few days earlier. Otherwise, not much was going on.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel (female), Eastern Bluebird, American Kestrel (the same one), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-tailed Hawk, Song Sparrow, and Bald Eagle. (Bell's Lane, October 28.)
Madison Run field trip
On Saturday October 22, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Madison Run, a fire road providing access to the Shenandoah National Park east of the town of Grottoes. Unlike my previous field trip (to Chimney Hollow on October 18), this time four other members showed up! Skies were mostly clear, but it was chilly and quite windy. That no doubt is why we didn't see as many birds as expected: only 13 species total, one of which was heard only. The highlights of the day were Blue-headed Vireos, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and two groups of Dark-eyed Juncos -- the first of that species I had seen in the (relative) lowlands this fall. Here is the eBird report I submitted just yesterday:
Shenandoah NP--Madison Run Fire Road, Rockingham, Virginia, US
Oct 22, 2016 9:10 AM - 11:40 AM
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
- Turkey Vulture -- 1
- Red-headed Woodpecker -- 2
- Downy Woodpecker -- 3
- Blue-headed Vireo -- 3
- Carolina Chickadee -- 6
- Tufted Titmouse -- 5
- White-breasted Nuthatch -- 3
- Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 5
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- 5
- Dark-eyed Junco -- 12
- White-throated Sparrow -- 2
- Eastern Towhee -- 1 (heard)
- Northern Cardinal -- 4
View this checklist online at ebird.org
While returning to Staunton from the field trip, Penny Warren and I saw a Palm Warbler next to the road very close by, but the lighting conditions were less than ideal.