August 7, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nats barely edge the Giants
What an incredible game that was today! In another pivotal matchup of presumed postseason-bound teams, the Washington Nationals managed to eke out a win over the visiting Giants, taking the series two games to one. Combined with the recent four-game series split in San Francisco, the Nats ended up with four wins to the Giants' three. That may prove to be decisive in getting home field advantage if those teams face each other in October.
Going up against Madison Bumgarner, the Giant's ace pitcher for the last two years (if not this year), Tanner Roark faced what was probably the biggest challenge of his big league career. The way he handled himself under repeated high-stress situations was magnificent, a good sign that Dusty Baker can count on him in the postseason. He was helped by fine defensive plays. In the sixth inning, second baseman Trea Turner executed a tag-toss double play. In the seventh inning, first baseman Daniel Murphy muffed a ground ball, allowing runners to reach second and third. The next batter, Brandon Belt, smashed a towering fly ball all the way to the corner in center field, and somehow Ben Revere managed to chase it down and catch it for the third out. Otherwise, the Giants would have had a 2-0 [lead] and most likely won the game. Revere's catch really changed the momentum of the game. Bumgarner held the Nats hitless until the fourth inning, when Anthony Rendon doubled. The only other hit he allowed was in the seventh inning, when Wilson Ramos hit a home run that just cleared the high scoreboard wall in right field. Shawn Kelley got three quick outs in the eighth inning, and in the ninth inning the Nats' new closing pitcher Mark Melancon faced his first big test. He came through with flying colors, getting a groundout and two strikeouts to end the game. That game will surely become a MASN "Nats Classic"; see MLB.com. Nats 1, Giants 0.
Last night, Stephen Strasburg suffered a rare lapse. The early innings went fine, but in the top of the fourth, Eduardo Nuñez hit a leadoff triple, and three other Giants hit singles to take a 2-0 lead. They got two more runs in the fifth inning, and Strasburg was taken out of the game. The Nats finally scored on an RBI single by Danny Espinosa in the eighth inning, but the Giants kept adding runs, and won the game easily, 7-1. It was a mirror image of the Nats' 5-1 win the night before. There was a scary incident when Hunter Pence hit a foul ball straight down, which then bounced back up and struck his cheek bone. That left him with a big contusion, and he still had a black eye today, when he came in to pinch hit in the ninth inning.
So, given the pitching matchups in that three-game series, the game results were almost the opposite of what one might have expected. Strasburg now has a 15-2 record, still the best in the majors, and still on track to exceed 20 wins by the end of the regular season.
A-Rod announces retirement
When the New York Yankees announced yesterday that Alex Rodriguez and General Manager Brian Cashman would hold a special news conference, most people had a pretty good idea what was coming. A-Rod has had a lousy year, and it just doesn't make sense to keep him on the roster when he is getting so little playing time. The Yankees are already rebuilding for future years, and the 41-year old is obviously not part of their plans. After playing his last game this Friday, he will become a "special advisor and instructor" for the Yankees until the end of 2017. See MLB.com.
A-Rod came up to the majors with the Seattle Mariners in 1995, the year they first made it to the postseason. Five years later he became a free agent, and I remember when the Texas Rangers signed him to a gargantuan long-term contract in December 2000, and whether the team could afford such a high payroll. Obviously not, as the Yankees acquired him in a mega-trade in February 2004. (I had forgotten that the Yankees sent Alfonso Soriano to Texas in exchange; Who's Who in Baseball is a very handy reference guide!) Rodriguez had been a shortstop, and had to move to third base because shortstop was Derek Jeter's position. This was the prime of his career, and A-Rod was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2003, 2005, and 2007. After filing for free agency that October, he then signed a new contract, lasting ten years.
But meanwhile, suspicions of dope usage were growing, and he was spending more and more time on the disabled list -- a tell-tale sign of steroids. (When I saw the Yankees play in Kansas City on August 16, 2011, he was on the DL.) In August 2013, A-Rod received a 211-game suspension, which was later extended to 162 games (the entire 2014 season) after he appealed the ruling and heatedly denied the charges. But nobody believed him. (Well, not many.) To his credit, once he returned to the Yankees lineup in 2015, he played hard and played well, showing a new, humbler attitude. He hit 33 home runs, his most since 2008. But this year, he has only hit nine homers, so he will retire with a total of 696* home runs, fourth on the all-time list, depending on how you count Barry Bonds... He's a tragic figure symbolic of our times -- like Icarus, the superhero who reached too high and was burned.
Stanton's moon shot
Speaking of home runs, at mile-high Coors Field in Denver yesterday, Giancarlo Stanton hit the first home run over 500 feet this year, but the Rockies still won (12-6), so the Nationals retained their 7-game lead in the NL East. Stanton's team mate Ichiro Suzuki hit his 2,999th career hit in that game. (More on him tomorrow!) The initial "official" measurement was 504 feet, but I'm dubious. If you watch that video and refer to my Stadiums superimposed page, you'll see that the ball traveled about 465 feet before landing, and the trajectory suggests that without any obstruction it might have gone another 15 or 20 feet.
According to hittrackeronline.com, the "true distance" of that homer was 495 feet, which is 10-15 feet more than my estimate. The list of his homers for this year includes the one on May 6 at Marlins Park, which I vividly recall. That ball he hit actually reached the open concourse area above and to the left of the big Art Deco feature in center field.