August 14, 2010
It was a dark and rainy day (Bulwer-Lytton!), and the calendar date only added to the foreboding sense of doom and futility. But for long-suffering (and long-deprived) fans of baseball in Washington, the mere hope of seeing an actual ball game is reason enough to make the trip, bad weather or not. Besides, the Nationals are hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks (another last-place team) this weekend, so at least there was a better-than-even chance for a win, after five consecutive losses. ¡Vamonos!
Fortunately, the rain stopped long before we reached Washington, but the skies remained very cloudy all day and into the evening. We arrived at Nationals Park two hours early, wanting to experience the special Friday afternoon party that takes place at the "Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk." It was a fun time as more and more people showed up, and the band was quite good as well: White Ford Bronco, "D.C.'s premier 90s cover band." (Remember O.J. Simpson's farcical car chase on the streets of L.A. in 1994? It serves an apt symbol of the absurdities and excesses of that decade.)
Another reason for trepidation was that John Lannan was the starting pitcher, just back from a stint in the minors after a very disappointing 3-5 record during the first half of the 2010 season. It must have helped him out, because he had one of the best outings of his career. He got the first six batters out, and gave up just two runs and four hits over seven innings, with five strikeouts and just one walk. He was one of the Nationals' best pitchers last year, and it is relieving that the pitching rotation may yet stabilize, with Lannan as a key part.
Meanwhile, the Nationals got wood on the ball with great consistency. In the first inning, Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run single, reached second, and later scored on a hit by Mike Morse. In the second inning, backup catcher Wil Nieves surprised everyone by hitting a lead-off solo home run into the Red Porch in deep left-center field. It was only the fourth home run of his career, and during a post-game interview he said the fact that his wife (who is expecting a baby) was at the game may have helped. Wil isn't having a very good year in the batter's box, but he is steadfastly upbeat and hard-working. Nationals fans will long remember his game-winning home run against the Chicago Cubs in April 2008.
After the home run by Nieves, the Nationals loaded the bases, but nobody scored. Not much happened in the next two innings, but in the fifth inning the Diamondbacks put together a rally, aided by a walk and an error, and only a double play prevented more than two runs from scoring. To my surprise, Jim Riggleman kept Lannan in the game for two more innings, and to my even greater surprise, Lannan didn't allow any more batters to reach base. In the seventh inning, the Nats had runners on first and third, but neither of them reached home. Leaving eight men on base was the only negative aspect of the game for the Nationals. Sean Burnett came in as a relief pitcher in the eighth inning and stayed through the ninth, striking out four of the six batters he faced. He got his second save of the season, and he is pitching better than his win-loss record of 0-6 would indicate. And that's how the Nationals ended their losing streak ... on Friday the 13th!
I'm not taking credit or anything, but I should point out that when I attended the August 2, 2009 Nationals-Pirates game in Pittsburgh, the Nats snapped a four-game winning streak and began an eight-game winning streak. Unfortunately, the D-backs got revenge earlier this evening, beating the Nationals 9-2. They had four home runs, including two by Miguel Montero. As for the Nats, Ryan Zimmerman had his 23rd home run.
On thing I noticed at Nationals Park is that there is a new set of names on the front edge of the second deck behind home plate, the newly-created "Nationals Park Hall of Fame." Reflecting the tortured history of baseball in Washington, it encompasses three separate franchises, and potentially four, counting the second Senators team. There are ten players from the Washington Senators, six from the Homestead Grays, and two from the Montreal Expos. The newest member is Andre Dawson, the former Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs player who was just inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Here is the complete list:
* Asterisks denote players who are memorialized by statues in the plaza beyond left field. One of the three players so honored has not yet joined the Hall of Fame: Frank Howard.
While at the game gazing out at the Anacostia River, I noticed a boat at the dock across the street from Nationals Park, with a banner: "baseballboat.com." That redirects you to www.potomacriverboatco.com. I knew this was planned for the future, but to my surprise the boat taxi service recently began operations, ferrying fans from Old Town Alexandria to the stadium and back. It runs for most evening games and costs only $20 for a round trip -- a great way to beat the traffic!
On Thursday MLB owners unanimously approved the sale of the Texas Rangers from Tom Hicks, who is bankrupt, to a partnership led by attorney Chuck Greenberg and former Rangers' pitcher Nolan Ryan. The leading investors are Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, and the sale price was $593 million. The new owners pledged to install a new scoreboard at the Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. The situation is similar to that of the Chicago Cubs, who were purchased last year by the Ricketts family for about $900 million, after the Tribune Company, owned by Sam Zell, declared bankruptcy. See MLB.com. The Rangers are currently 7 1/2 games ahead of the Angels in the AL West.
A fan named Bill reminded me about the exhibition soccer match held at Fenway Park on July 21. a seating chart at tickets.com, but it misleadingly shows that the soccer field is aligned parallel to the right foul line. I came across some photos that indicated that the soccer field was actually skewed by about four degrees clockwise.