May 20, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nats fall into cellar, bounce back
Who knows, maybe it was the anger from the blown call at first base in Citi Field the night before. (See below.) Playing in Baltimore against the Orioles tonight -- the first interleague series of the season -- the Washington Nationals more than made up for their recent lack of hitting, getting as many runs (17) as in the previous six games combined. Five Nationals players got home runs, including two by Jayson Werth, and one each by Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Roger Bernadina. Both Espinosa and Ramos also had a triple and a single, almost going for the cycle. All of the starting lineup got either multiple hits or multiple runs, except for the "designated hitter" Matt Stairs, who is not used to that role. (Stupid AL rules.) In a weird twist, starting pitcher Jason Marquis did not get credit for the win because he was taken out after giving up five runs over four innings. His pitch count was already 89, and manager Jim Riggleman seemed to think he was not up to the task.
This was indeed a night to remember, if you're a Washington fan, that is. Prior to tonight, the most number of runs ever scored by the Nationals in a game was 15, which they did twice: on July 20, 2008 against the Atlanta Braves, and on August 25, 2009 against the Chicago Cubs. In terms of the margin of victory (12 runs), it tied their record set on July 25 last year, when they beat the San Diego Padres 13-1. This was the Nats' first double-digit score of the 2011 season; their highest run total previously was 8.
Fven so, the Nationals remain in sole possession of last place in the National League Eastern Division, as the Mets beat the Yankees tonight. The Nats had been clinging to fourth place for the last couple weeks (and were actually in third place for a while before that), but they fell into the proverbial cellar after the resurgent Mets beat them twice in New York. In fact, they were shut out in two consecutive games for the first time since July 17-18 last year. On Wednesday, they had nearly as many hits (8) as the Mets, but couldn't capitalize on any scoring opportunities, and on Thursday, they didn't even get a hit until the sixth inning, when the pitcher (!), Livan Hernandez, hit a hard ground ball up the middle. The Nats had a great chance to tie it in the ninth inning, with a runner on second and one out. Jayson Werth crushed a ball down the third base line, but Justin Turner somehow fielded it and threw it toward first base. Daniel Murphy had to stretch to catch it, and first-base umpire Phil Cuzzi called Werth out on a close play. As the text and video at MLB.com clearly indicate, however, Murphy's foot was off the base when he caught the ball, and in any case, Werth beat the throw!! Jim Riggleman argued the call, to no avail, and when the next batter was out, the game was over. Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo apparently let the umpire have it after the game, because the ump filed a grievance with MLB officials.
That situation reminds me of that blown call at first base last June when Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was robbed of a would-be perfect game. Granted the stakes weren't as high in this game, but it's still too bad that Mr. Cuzzi didn't have the grace to admit he made a mistake, the way the Jim Joyce did in Detroit. In any case, you can't blame the Nats' woes on bad calls by the umpire, it's their own fault they haven't been hitting. Occasionally, they do get hot, as when they got six runs in the first inning last Sunday, thereby averting being swept by the Florida Marlins. But for the most part, their batting performance is just plain mediocre. Time to kick some butt in the locker room!
Even though the Nationals remain the worst-hitting team in the National League (average of .229), their fielding is actually very good. Over the last seven days, they have only committed two errors, and only two teams in the majors have done better than that: the Phillies and the Royals. With a record of 21-23, which is better than eight other major league teams, the Nationals are only six games out of first place. Once Ryan Zimmerman is ready to play again, things will get a lot better!
RFK Stadium update
Prompted in part by a Washington Post article (see below), I went ahead and made some major (?) changes and enhancements to the RFK Stadium diagrams, along with text updates. Now, to the untrained eye, these changes may not appear too significant. Indeed, the position of the outfield fences and most elements of the stadium structure when viewed from above are almost identical to what they were before. But for the true connoisseur of baseball stadium architecture, these refinements will be greatly appreciated.
Most of the changes involve the profile. Upon examining my own high-resolution photos of the exterior of RFK Stadium, I realized that there are four main levels above the ground, except on the west side, which is one level higher. It also became clear that the roof of the top level of the peripheral concourse and ramps was nearly as high as the back side of the roof above the grandstand, at least in the outfield portion. I used my own photos, as well as the many excellent photos in the book by James R. Hartley, Baseball At RFK Stadium. (It was published by Corduroy Press in 2008; I highly recommend it.) Another excellent source of photographic information for RFK Stadium (and others) is the phanfare.com Web site. Some of the other changes I made include a slightly bigger roof (about three feet difference), a more accurate depiction of the dugouts, and the yellow marks to indicate stadium lights. An even bigger innovation, one which I think many fans will enjoy, is highlighted below...
One thing I figured out while finishing this task is that those big steel girders on the west side of RFK Stadium apparently serve as conduits for the cables that support the upper deck, via suspension. This marks the first time since July 2008 that the RFK Stadium diagrams have been revised. I am nearly done with updates to Arlington Stadium, and several others...
Is RFK Stadium obsolete?
A few days ago, I was startled to see a front-page article in the Washington Post, lamenting the sorry state of RFK Stadium and the desperation of the D.C. United soccer team which makes it their home. Part of the problem is lack of proper maintenance (obviously, Nationals Park gets priority from the D.C. government), but it's also a matter of excess size: soccer matches rarely attract more than 25,000 fans, which means there are usually at least 20,000 empty seats at RFK; the upper deck is usually closed. D.C. United front office people have been lobbying hard to get some kind of deal that would facilitate building a new soccer stadium, and have been noisily talking about looking elsewhere for a new home, but in these tough economic times, it's just not happening. So, like the rest of us, they will probably just have to make do with what we've got until conditions improve.
For a long, long time I have been thinking about a better way to visually convey in a two-dimensional medium the three-dimensional structures in which Our National Pastime is played. In many cases, there are unique features underneath the roof or upper deck of stadiums, and it so happens that that is the case with RFK Stadium. It is widely regarded as the prototypical bland, symmetrical "cookie-cutter" stadium, but if you look at the lower seating bowl, you will find out otherwise. So, I decided to make that easier to grasp by presenting a separate lower-deck diagram, which shows that there is an interesting quirk behind home plate, on the left side. I'll probably do likewise with other stadiums in which the upper decks or roofs conceal key features, such as Tiger Stadium and the Polo Grounds. Stay tuned, sports fans!