September 22, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Dodgers (almost)
Well, they almost certainly would have swept the Dodgers if an umpire had been paying attention at a critical moment in the game. The Nationals won 3-1 in the afternoon game,* thanks largely to a solid outing by starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (now 11-8), but the evening game was much different. Starting pitcher John Lannan gave up six runs and was replaced by Chien-Ming Wang after only 3 2/3 innings. Actually, it should have been only five runs. In the fourth inning, with runners on second and third, Ryan Zimmerman snagged a hard-hit ground ball and tagged Adrian Gonzalez for the third out while Matt Kemp was at least ten feet from home plate, but the umpire allowed the run anyway. Highway robbery! The Nats couldn't get anything going until the eighth inning, when Michael Morse hit a solo home run, which sparked a huge rally. A total of six singles, an error, and a home run by Steve Lombardozzi yielded six runs, thus tying the game. Historic comeback, right? Not quite. Tyler Clippard came to the mound in the ninth inning, and almost immediately gave up a home run to Matt Kemp, putting the Dodgers back on top, 7-6. The Nats went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, a huge let down after that stirring comeback effort. Fortunately, they regrouped and won the rubber match game on Thursday, 4-1.
By the way, does that headline above sound familiar? Then, as now, I firmly believe, "umpires have to be held accountable somehow." At least the umpire in question, home-plate umpire Alan Porter, apologized to Nationals Manager Davey Johnson for the blown call; see MLB.com. You can see for yourself the play wasn't even close, and that officiating error definitely affected the outcome of the game. Hopefully, it won't matter in the divisional race.
* The first game of that series, scheduled for Tuesday, was rained out as a nasty storm front passed through the Mid-Atlantic region. Both games in New York (Yankees and Mets) were also rained out.
Brewers beat the Nats
The Milwaukee Brewers arrived in Washington on Friday, and Adam LaRoche gave the Nats an early lead with a two-run homer in the first inning. But the Nats couldn't do much else, and barely clung to a 2-1 lead going into the ninth inning. That's when Tyler Clippard took the mound and promptly gave up three singles and a double, as the Brew Crew rallied to take a 4-2 lead. There was also a passed ball charged to catcher Jesus Flores. The Nats had the heart of their batting order up in the bottom of the ninth, but could only manage a walk. That was an especially bitter defeat to swallow.
[CORRECTION: Even with that loss, the Nationals still have the best record in baseball, but just barely. The Nats are 91-59, and the Cincinnati Reds are 91-60.]
Because of that loss, the Nationals no long hold sole possession of the best record in baseball; they now share that honor with the Cincinnati Reds (also 91-59). But at least the Braves lost last night, so the Nationals' magic number goes down to just seven, with twelve games left to play. The Nationals rose to the top of the majors on August 7, the memorable day they beat the Houston Astros in extra innings. Since then, with the exception of August 27-28, they have had the highest winning percentage among all 30 major league teams.
I'm sorry to say, but Tyler Clippard has been less and less reliable as closing pitcher in recent months. He lost two games this week, and was at fault for three or four losses by the Nationals in July as well. Manager Davey Johnson said on Friday that Clippard and Drew Storen will be sharing duties as closing pitcher for the ress of the season, which is fitting.
I'm heading up to Washington to watch Gio Gonzalez go for his 20th win of the season, in his second attempt.
The mail bag
The new owners of the Houston Astros are considering changes to Minute Maid Park, either moving back the wall in left field (currently only 315 feet from home plate) or moving the center-field fence closer to home, thereby taking "Tal's Hill" out of play, or even eliminating it. I'm strongly in favor of the former modification, and strongly opposed to the latter. See the Climbing Tal's Hill blog; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The Astros are leaving the National League after this season, with the worst record in the major leagues. I still think they should have kept them in the NL and moved the Arizona Diamondbacks to the AL instead.
AT&T Park minor update
I have updated the AT&T Park diagrams, with several detail enhancements and minor corrections. The lateral walkway / platform in the upper deck is now shown, and there is a new lower-deck version. As usual, the profile is now more accurate.
The San Francisco Giants have a ten-game lead over the L.A. Dodgers in the National League Western Division, and can clinch the title either today or tomorrow. Once again, we'll be seeing more postseason play in the prettiest ballpark on the west coast this October.