June 26, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Two extraordinary extra-inning games

I can't remember the last time I experienced such extreme mixed emotions from two sporting events taking place at the same time. Coming so soon after the emotional roller-coaster from the Washington Nationals' big comeback game on [Tuesday], I'm still quite dazed and exhausted by the University of Virginia's big disappointment and by the Nationals' incredible marathon triumph. I was trying my best to follow the action in the two games from early Friday evening up until the wee hours of Saturday morning.

U.Va. is eliminated from CWS

First, the bad news. After the heroic rally by the U.Va. Cavaliers at the NCAA super-regional final game in Charlottesville two weeks ago, I really thought this year was going to be different. They were "in control of their destiny," and all that. The Cavs did indeed win their first game in Omaha, beating the University of California, but then the University of South Carolina won in the winners' bracket game. On Thursday U.Va. beat California a second time, staving off elimination, but alas, only for one more day. On Friday evening, broadcast live nationwide on ESPN, the South Carolina Gamecocks survived in a marathon that lasted 13 grueling innings, and finally eliminated the Virginia Cavaliers from contention in the 2011 College World Series. Perhaps the deciding factor in the game was that starting pitcher Danny Hultzen had to leave after three innings due to illness, after having "struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced." What an amazing performance, and then it got cut short. See virginiasports.com.

It would be easy to lament the multiple opportunities that U.Va. wasted, including twice when they loaded the bases late in the game -- much like what happened two years ago -- failing to score either time. The important thing is that the team hung in there for so long, and refused to give up easily. So even though they fell short of Virginia fans' high hopes, it was not as much of a disappointment as in 2009, when they were a "Cinderella" team that was eliminated early on. This time, at least, they won two games in the double-elimination tournament. The Cavalier players have every right to be extremely proud of their 56-12 win-loss record for the 2011 season. See virginiasports.com.

Congratulations to the 2011 U.Va. baseball team!

College World Series: new home

Until this year, the College World Series had been played every year at historic Rosenblatt Stadium (see photo below), located about a mile south of downtown Omaha. Because of its inherent limitations in terms of generating revenue, however, Omaha was left with no choice but to build a new stadium if it wanted to keep that baseball tradition in their fair city. The brand-new double-decked facility, TD Ameritrade Field, is situated on the north side of downtown, near the Qwest Center basketball/hockey arena. It has the same dimensions as its predecessor (335 down the lines, 375 to the power alleys, and 408 to center), but those numbers are a little misleading. Whereas Rosenblatt Stadium was symmetrical, the left field fence in the new ballpark cuts straight across from the foul pole, perpendicular to the foul line, and intersects with a broad arc fence just to the right of center field. That outfield shape is reminiscent of Turner Field in Atlanta. Center field is oriented toward the southeast, which apparently caused some outfielders to have problems with the sun. One thing that stands out is the large foul territory, quite unusual for minor league stadiums. Attendance at the game in which Virginia eliminated California was 25,833, "the largest crowd to ever watch a Virginia baseball game." For some articles discussing the new home of the CWS, see wowt.com or thestate.com, which provides a South Carolina perspective.

One thing I learned is that TD Ameritrade Field will soon become home of the Omaha Nighthawks in the United Football League. Their season begins in mid-August. The straight fence in right field, where the scoreboard is located, suggests that the stadium design was influenced by its anticipated dual use.

The way it was:

Hey, maybe I'll do a diagram for Rosenblatt Stadium and/or TD Ameritrade Field some time...

Rosenblatt Stadium

Historic Rosenblatt Stadium, in August 2009; click to see a larger image.

Nationals win incredible marathon

Now, the good news. It took fourteen (14) innings, including three blown leads (the most by any team that ended up winning since 1996!), but the die-hard Washington Nationals finally got the job done, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Neither the Nats nor the White Sox scored for the first seven innings, but then that red hot slugger Mike Morse hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning. In the bottom of that inning Interim Manager John McLaren was ejected for arguing a reversed call at first base. (It didn't end up mattering, fortunately.) In the top of the ninth, Ian Desmond batted in an insurance run, and it looked like smooth sailing for another victory. NOT!!! Nats' closing pitcher [Drew Storen] allowed two runners to reach base on singles, and then gave up a home run to pinch hitter Mark Teahen. (Who?) All of a sudden, the game was tied, 3-3, and all the wind was gone from the Nationals' sails. frown At least Storen got the next two batters out, but that has to go down as one of the worst blown saves of his career.

Hopes rose once again in the top of the tenth inning, when Laynce Nix hit a solo homer, but the White Sox evened it up at the bottom of the frame, thanks to a wild pitch by Todd Coffey. frown Two innings later, virtually the same thing happened: Brian Bixler hit an RBI double to take the lead once again, but the White Sox responded by a solo home run by A.J. Pierzynski. Tied, 5-5. frown I had a grim forboding feeling that the same fate just suffered by U.Va. (losing in the 13th inning) was about to befall the Nationals, but they survived until the 14th. That's when things really got strange: Brian Bixler singled, stole second, and then scored on a throwing error on what should have been the third out, as Ian Desmond hit a hard ground ball to shortstop. Then Roger Bernadina singled in another run, and Ryan Zimmerman finally got his first hit of the game, a two-run double to seal the game's outcome for good. The White Sox were totally flummoxed by this outburst, and the game finally ended with a 9-5 victory for the Nationals. smile It's a good thing, because the Nats had used their very last bullpen pitcher, Collin Ballester, and he couldn't have lasted much longer. See MLB.com.

In my delirious, exultant state of mind immediately thereafter, I made the following Facebook comment:

Absolutely amazing! And I thought the big come-from-behind win against Seattle was a big deal. This triumphant, gut-wrenching game will be remembered for years to come as what defines the new WINNING Washington Nationals. What a great way to get national exposure as FOX broadcasts the game tomorrow.

Was that reaction over the top, or is it understandable in light of the Nats' long string of disappointing performances? You be the judge! Or what about this?

"The Nats (players) just refuse to quit!"

I wouldn't have imagined that I would [already] need to update the table which I did just three days ago, but here is a new line based on that historic game:

Washington Nationals' 9th (+) inning comebacks smile and/or blown leads frown

Date Winner Loser Nationals'
runs in 9th
runs in 9th
Extra innings, notes
6-24-11 smile WSH 9 CWS 5 1 3 BOTH 1 in 10th & 12th; WSH 4 in 14th

(I'll put a permanent -- subject to updating -- version of that table on my Washington Nationals page some time soon.) UPDATE: I just noticed that in the line for the May 11 game, the home team was wrongly indicated. That game was played in Atlanta, not Washington.

Over the weekend, the White Sox beat the Nats 3-0 on Saturday, and then blew a small lead late in the game today, losing 2-1. That brings the Nationals up to 40 wins and 38 losses for the season, still 8.5 games behind the NL East-leading Phillies and 3.5 games behind the current Wild Card race leader, the Atlanta Braves. Things are looking good, in spite of all the managerial chaos! The Nationals won four straight games after the Oriole beat them last week, or 12 of the previous 13 games, but the White Sox interrupted that streak on Saturday. With today's win over the White Sox, they have now won 13 out of their last 15 games, tying the record set in June 2005. They can break that record with a win against the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) tomorrow night, which would give them a 14-2 record over the past 16 games.

Nationals: under new management

In the wake of the stunningly abrupt departure of Jim Riggleman, Washington Nationals bench coach John McLaren was named as interim manager. Late on Friday, there were reports that Davey Johnson would get the job. Today, the front office announced that will serve as manager at least through the rest of this season. McLaren will get a new position as a team scout, rather than be demoted back to his old job. That would have been a bit awkward. Johnson will begin managing the Nationals on Monday night in Anaheim. See MLB.com. My preliminary reaction is very favorable, based solely on Johnson's career accomplishments. The fact that there is still nothing definite about his status next year makes me wonder if he lacks commitment. We'll see soon enough. I'll have more to say about that in the near future.

Marlins at "home" in Seattle

I got a hot tip from Facebook friend Matt Ereth and long-time fan Steven Poppe. This weekend's interleague series between the Seattle Mariners and the Florida Marlins was played in Seattle, getting displaced by a U-2 Concert held at Sun Life Stadium. The teams split the first two games, and the rubber match game is still in progress as of now. As Matt pointed out, they were using National League rules (i.e., no designated hitter), and the Marlins were considered the home team. The fact that the Marlins had to make room for a musical event highlights their humble "tenant" status at the home of the Miami Dolphins. Fortunately, that embarrassing situation will be rectified next year when the Marlins' new home is completed. See MLB.com.