September 23, 2010
Having lost ten of the last twelves games, including one of the worst heartbreakers in recent memory,* the Washington Nationals were desperate for a win at home in D.C. [Tuesday] night. The game started off on an ominous note, as the Houston Astros scored three runs in the top of the first inning. Fortunately, John Lannan regained his composure and went six more innings without giving up another run. He has been one of the Nats' most reliable pitchers since his return from the minors in August, and it was a big relief that he got past the first inning intact. But the Nationals' batters failed to come through in the clutch for most of the game, leaving men in scoring position several times.
Then, a runner on base and with two outs in the eighth inning, Ivan Rodriguez swung at a low slider and connected perfectly. The ball sailed high to the left field corner and struck the foul pole for a home run (his fourth of the year), tying the game, 3-3. Yes! In an instant, the whole dynamic of the game was reversed, and suddenly the Nationals figured out how to hit the ball. The next four batters reached base, sending five (5) more runners across the plate. Adam Kennedy put the Nats one run ahead with an RBI single, while Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman added to their ample RBI totals, as well. It was the Nats' biggest comeback victory since May 31, when they scored nine runs in the seventh inning to beat ... the Astros! The same inning, and the same opponent!
In the top of the ninth, Drew Storen came on in relief, but he quickly gave up a home run and then walked a batter. Remembering Sunday afternoon,* no doubt, manager Jim Riggleman pulled Storen and let Sean Burnett close the game, which took only one pitch to do. Final score: Nats 8, Astros 4.
The momentum from Tuesday's big win continued through Wednesday, as the Nats edged the Astros, 4-3. The clutch situation offensive power was provided by Mike Morse and Danny Espinosa, each of whom hit home runs. Espinosa started his major league career with a blast, but then hit a "speed bump," as his batting average fell to the lower .200s. Not only does he show great slugging potential for the future, he is performing splendidly on defense at second base, being part of three double plays last night. See MLB.com.
So, the Nats have managed at least a tie with Houston in the four-game series, a rare bit of good news lately. The final game is underway right now...
UPDATE: The Nats had another big rally in the sixth inning, capped by another home run by Danny Espinosa, with two more runs an inning later, yielding a final score of 7-2. The Washington team has thereby won a home series for the first time since they played the Cardinals in late August, another four-game series. Mike Morse had another homer today, as did Roger Bernadina. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn both had the day off, the latter having been dinged by a pitch on Wednesday. The Nats are now back in the winning column at home this year, 38-37, whereas their record on the road is an awful 27-51.
When facing a postseason-bound team like the Phillies on their own home field, about the best thing you can hope for is to avoid getting swept. It was no surprise that the Phillies dominated the Nats in the Friday and Saturday games, but in last Sunday's game it looked like the "D.C. 9" were going to salvage some respectability out of this road trip. (They took two of three games in Atlanta last week.) In the sixth inning, Mike Morse hit a three-run home run to take the lead, 4-3, and the Nats added an insurance run in [each of] the next two innings. So, Drew Storen comes on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, and promptly gives up a single, a double, another single, and then ... a walk-off home run to Jayson Werth, turning a 6-3 lead into a 7-6 loss. Storen failed to get a single batter out. He is supposed to be the Nats' closer of the future, but he is still a rookie, and probably should not have been put into that situation, facing batters like Polanco, Utley, and Howard. Anyway, that was how the Phillies swept the Nationals, adding to their lead in the NL Eastern Division.
For Washington sports fans, things only got worse after that. In Landover, Maryland, the Redskins gave up a huge lead over the Houston Texans, who somehow managed to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, and then went on to win in overtime. Two near-certain victories by Washington teams squandered at the last minute. Gr-r-r-rrr!
I've been hearing conflicting reports on whether Adam Dunn is likely to be offered a renewal contract by the end of the season, when he becomes a free agent. Some people complain that he strikes out too often when runners are in scoring position, but how can you argue about a guy [who not so long ago had] the second most RBIs in the National League? Until recently, he was also in contention for the lead in home runs as well. His batting average climbed to about .290 in August, but since then he has fallen back to about .260. Dunn has been appearing on MASN promotional advertisements along with Manager Jim Riggleman and General Manager Phil Rizzo, a possible hint that they expect him to stay with the club. Dunn is a first-rate slugger, a genuine crowd-pleaser, and has learned to play first base very well. He is a huge asset to the team, and has stated clearly that he wants to stay in Washington. You put all those factors together, and it's obvious: Dunn deserves a decent contract offer. Plus, we Nats fans deserve to see somebody like Dunn wearing a Nationals uniform. According to the Washington Post, Dunn said "We're going to work something out, I think." I certainly hope so!
Over the past few months, a group of history-conscious citizens from the Detroit area has been keeping the grass mowed in the vacant lot where Tiger Stadium once stood. Last weekend, they raised the American flag up the old flagpole which has been re-erected. Three cheers for good old-fashioned volunteer civic spirit! See some inspiring photos at baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
Regarding the "Mystery of Miller Park Right Field" (a good title for a Hardy Boys book!), Mark London got first-hand confirmation from a guy he knows who used to work at Miller Park. (Mark is the Sponsor of that page, by the way.) It turns out that the right field distance has been 345 feet all along, not 355 feet in the earlier years, as indicated by Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals. Prior to the installation of the picnic area in right field in 2006, there was a manual scoreboard there, and it was positioned diagonally, from the corner of the bullpen to the foul pole, leaving a triangular empty space in back. Minor diagram correction pending...
Brian Hughes was kind enough to share a link to a photo gallery of (mostly) extinct baseball stadiums, taken in 1988-1990 by major league pitcher Jerry Reuss, who is now retired. He used a very consistent approach, taking the pictures several hours before game time, when the stadiums were empty. They are of excellent quality, showing Reuss to be a skilled photographer, and some of them show details I have not seen anywhere else. Included are the Kingdome, Exhibition Stadium, Arlington Stadium, and a host of other long-gone MLB venues. Take a look at flickr.com. Reuss pitched for eight different teams between 1969 and 1990, amassing a superb career win-loss record of 220-191.
My apologies for the sparse posts of late, but my Internet service has been quite balky (!), forcing me to reboot over and over again. The technician is on the way...