Perfect game by Dallas Braden
Not in Dallas (or Fort Worth or Arlington), but rather by Dallas. The game was played in Oakland, and the home team's starting pitcher, Dallas Braden, went a full nine innings without allowing any opponent batter to reach base: 27 up, 27 down. It was the 19th perfect game in major league history. The last such feat was accomplished by Mark Buehrle (of the Chicago White Sox) in July 2009. The article at MLB.com notes that the game was on Mother's Day, and Braden's grandmother was there to witness the event. Braden's own mother passed away when he was in high school, and perhaps somewhere up in the Great Beyond, a maternal spirit is beaming with pride.
Coincidentally, Tampa Bay was the losing team in both those perfect games, but this year the Rays are vying with the Yankees for the lead in the American League Eastern Division. (Right now, they're in first, in fact.) Thanks to Buehrle, the A's won by a score of 4-0, and remain in a neck-and-neck race with the Texas Rangers for the top spot in the AL West.
Nats keep winning close games
The Washington Nationals clung to a thin lead and beat the New York Mets at Citi Field this evening, thereby claiming sole possession of second place in the NL East, a game and a half behind the Phillies. Adam Kennedy and Ryan Zimmerman had back-to-back home runs in the third inning, and the Nats threatened with more base runners later in the inning, without scoring. They wasted a couple other scoring opportunities later on, which is not a good sign. Young starting pitcher Luis Atilano had a quality outing, however, and he was credited with his third win. For once, Brian Bruney didn't falter in his role as relief pitcher. Miguel Batista filled in as closer, and gave up a home run, but got the job done anyway. Final score: 3-2.
Likewise, in the weekend series at home against the Florida Marlins, all three games were decided by one or two runs. The hero in Sunday's game, Josh Willingham, hit a solo home run in the eighth inning to retake the lead. The team has a new custom of making the player of the game wear a plastic silver "Elvis" costume hairpiece. It looks great on TV interviews. Josh hit two homers on Mother's Day last year, and his wife wanted to know if he was going to do it again this year. Yep! In the Nationals' only loss to the Marlins, on Friday, Brian Bruney gave up two runs in the eighth inning. He has been a weak spot in the Nats' bullpen, but manager Jim Riggleman seems to want to give him a chance to prove himself.
The Nationals have scored 132 total runs so far this year, against 148 by their opponents. How is that possible, with a record of 18-14? Eight of their 18 victories have been by one-run margins, while only three of their 14 losses have been by one-run margins -- and all three of those were in extra-inning games! The Nats have won four of their last five games, and yet they only scored more than three runs in one of those games. The Nats sluggers are starting to come alive, as Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, and Josh Willingham now have six homers each. Ivan Rodriguez still has the lead in the major league batting average among regular players, at .393. The Nats were unbelievably lucky to get him in the off-season.
Obviously, the key difference compared to last year is that the Nats' pitching staff is vastly improved. The pitching staff as a whole isn't that remarkable, ranking 20th out of 30 teams with a collective ERA of 4.45, but what is special is their ability to perform in clutch situations. Matt Capps leads the majors with 13 saves. Livan Hernandez is steady as a rock in tense situations, and gave up just one run on Sunday. His ERA is 1.04, second best in the majors. Credit for the win went to Tyler Clippard, who joined Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jimenez in reaching the six-win mark, the most in the majors right now. Not to disparage Clippard's great achievements, but to me, this illustrates the shortcomings of the win-loss standard for judging pitching performance. My own personal yardstick is Innings Pitched Minus Earned Runs (IPMER), which highlights cumulative performance -- "going the distance," which is what Livan is famous for. Here are the current rankings:
|Pitcher||Team||Innings pitched||Earned runs||"IPMER"|
R.I.P. Ernie Harwell
Long-time announcer for the Detroit Tigers, Ernie Harwell, passed away on May 4 after battling cancer. He was 92. Like Jack Buck, Harry Carey, and others of his generation, he was loved by millions of fans in his home team's region. They had a special tribute to him before the game in Detroit on Sunday; see MLB.com. When I saw a game at Comerica Park in August, 2004, I took a photo of the gate with Harwell's image on it.