Nats split series with Braves
The first two games in Atlanta were discouraging -- a 2-0 loss and a 10-5 blowout (they narrowed the gap late in the game) -- but the Nationals found a way to scrounge out victories against the Braves in the two weekend games, earning a 2-2 series split. Both of the wins were achieved in extra innings, though the respective stories were quite different. In Saturday's game, Elijah Dukes hit two home runs, and Willie Harris and Ryan Zimmerman hit one each. Nats' starter Tim Redding went six innings and deserved the win, but the relievers let him down again as the Nats blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning. (If the ball hit by Kelly Johnson with the bases loaded had not bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double, the Braves would have won the game.) Then Ryan Langerhans (a former Brave) hit a three-run homer in the tenth inning that ended up winning the game, 8-5.
In Sunday's game, the Nats came from behind with a home run and a two-run double by Alberto Gonzalez (not the former attorney general) late in the game, and the score stayed 4-4 through the thirteenth inning. A nerve-wracking marathon! Finally, Elijah Dukes came through with a three-run double down the left field line in the fourteenth inning.
Back-to-back extra-inning games are quite a rarity. It has happened to the Nationals exactly three times in their (almost) four-year history, but in each case it was against two different teams. June 29-30 this year (win vs. Baltimore, loss vs. Florida), September 12-14, 2007 (loss vs. Florida, loss vs. Atlanta), and August 31-September 2, 2006 (win vs. Philadelphia, win vs. Arizona).
Now that Elijah Dukes is healthy again, he is looking very good as a slugger. The same thing goes for Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge as well, and the future looks bright for the Nationals. Zimmerman's consecutive-game hitting streak came to an end today at 12 games. Cristian Guzman had an eight-game multi-hit streak going until a few days ago. For most of the first half of the season, he was leading the National League in number of hits, but missed several games in August. With 163 hits for the season, he is currently 30 behind the Major League hit leader, Dustin Pedroia.
Too many empty seats
Attendance at Turner Field looked pretty measly on TV, and the 30,000+ official figures for the weekend games were apparently inflated by a high proportion of "phantom fans." Turner Field usually has a large excess capacity, like most of the early-phase retro / "neo-classical" stadiums: Camden Yards, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Coors Field, Chase Field, and Safeco Field each have nearly 50,000 seats, about 10,000 more than is normally needed. The lone exception among the "late-20th Century" ballparks is "Progressive Field" (formerly known as Jacobs Field), with a capacity of about 43,000. The Indians, who made their home at gargantuan Cleveland Stadium for several long decades, knew better than anyone else how depressing excess capacity can be... Almost all of the early 21st-Century stadiums have fewer than 43,000 seats, which is much more appropriate for baseball games.