Nats almost sweep the Cardinals
Or, you could say that the Cardinals almost swept the Nats. That might be more accurate, since the Redbirds were threatening to tie the game and had what would have been the winning run on first base with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning last night. After the previous two star-crossed nights, when the Nationals blew two-run leads late in the game, their fans were terrified of another hideous reversal of fortune. First things first.
In St. Louis on Tuesday, the Nationals took an early lead over the Cardinals. Ryan Zimmerman continued his recent hot streak with another home run, and the Nats were ahead 5-3 going into the seventh inning stretch. And then the bullpen came in and ruined everything. The decisive moment was when Casey Janssen took the mound and proceeded to give up a walk and multiple hits, and the Cardinals won it, 8-5.
In St. Louis on Wednesday, the Nationals took an early lead over the Cardinals. Ryan Zimmerman continued his recent hot streak with another home run, and the Nats were ahead 5-3 going into the seventh inning stretch. And then the bullpen came in and ruined everything. The decisive moment was when Casey Janssen took the mound and proceeded to give up a walk and multiple hits, and the Cardinals won it, 8-5.
Do you ever get that feeling of deja vu? I sure do.
Actually, there were a few key differences between those mirror-image games. On Tuesday, the Cardinals scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh, whereas on Wednesday, they scored three in the eighth and two in the ninth. On Tueday, Gio Gonzalez had a quality start, going six innings and giving up just three runs, while on Wednesday rookie Joe Ross had the first really bad outing of his brief (and superb!) career in the majors. He only lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up three runs and almost losing the lead. [Actually, the first four relief pitchers on Wednesday did just fine, allowing no runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings. Not until the seventh inning did "the bullpen blow it."] On Tuesday, Ryan Zimmerman homered with two runners on base in the seventh inning to take a 5-3 lead, while on Wednesday he hit a solo homer in the third inning to give the Nats a 4-0 lead. On Tuesday, Casey Janssen was the first relief pitcher, walking one batter and allowing four hits, all of whom scored, while on Wednesday he was the last relief pitcher, walking one batter and allowing two hits, the second of which was the walk-off home run by Brandon Moss. The Wednesday game was also marred by another letdown with Drew Storen on the mound. In the eighth inning, he gave up a leadoff single, then hit the next batter, and then was charged with an error on a bunt when he threw the ball to third base but Yunel Escobar couldn't handle it. I think Escobar deserved the error. In any case, the Cardinals tied it 5-5, setting up the disaster that ended the game one inning later.
In a crucial situation like that, why in the world was Janssen pitching instead of Jonathan Papelbon -- especially after Janssen's meltdown the night before!!?? On Facebook, many Washington fans are furious at Matt Williams for repeated dubious bullpen moves, thinking he ought to be fired. (NLDS Game 2 against the Giants last year was a perfect example.) Williams seems stubbornly attached to his pregame plans, and apparently just will not use Papelbon except as a closer in the ninth inning, no matter what.
Then last night, in contrast to the two previous games, the Cardinals were the first to score a run, as Brandon Moss hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning. But in the top of the third, Jayson Werth came right back with a home run of his own to tie the game. I'm glad he's recovering his old slugging form again. Ryan Zimmerman continued his recent hot streak with two (2) more home runs, but they were both solo shots. But the really decisive hit in the game was Zimmerman's RBI double down the right field line in the top of the eighth inning, as the Nats retook the lead, 4-3. Max Scherzer had his first quality start in some time, striking out ten and giving up just two runs in six innings, but got a no decision after the Cardinals scored a run in the bottom of the seventh. Drew Storen struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon held on to get the save in the ninth, after giving up two hits. The final out came on a close play at first base when Ryan Zimmerman fielded a hard ground ball, and Papelbon got to the base just in time to catch it for the force out. Otherwise, the tying run would have scored from third base. Whew!
Zimmerman has now hit seven home runs over the past nine games, including a grand slam, and has batted in several other runs as well. MLB.com: "Vintage Zimmerman on a tear for Nats." I think he's a shoo-in for NL Player of the Week. If the Nationals somehow manage to win the NL East Division, it will be thanks in large part to Zimmerman's clutch slugging performances. That second homer was the 200th one of Ryan Zimmerman's stellar career. It's too bad it had to happen while out of town. On the other hand, it was a nice coincidence in that it marked the tenth anniversary of his very first hit in his major league career. In fact, I was there on September 2, 2005, when Zimmerman hit a lead-off double in the fifth inning but was stranded after the next three batters flew out. (Man, if I had only taken a photo!)
I should have mentioned that at Nationals Park last Sunday, Ryan Zimmerman played a special role when they had a ceremony for the 2015 College World Series champion University of Virginia baseball team. (See my June 30 blog post.) Zimmerman was a U.Va. Cavalier when the Virginia baseball program was just getting going with a new stadium (Davenport Field) and a new coach (Brian O'Connor).
That photo (and a second one taken from the south side of the stadium) is now posted on the Busch Stadium III page. It now features a new diagram key that is only visible when you click or roll the mouse on the last of the "dynamic diagram" links. In part to help new fans get accustomed, it explains how some of the details such as entry portals, stairs, grandstand creases, etc. are rendered.