April 30, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Harper has great debut, but Nats get swept

This first month has far surpassed what Washington Nationals fans could possibly have hoped for, and after reaching a record of 14-4, they were bound to get a reality check.

In a surprise move made necessary by an injury to Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper was called up to the majors. I have to say, he really put aside doubts of naysayers (or skeptics like me), rising to the occasion in a superb debut in the major leagues. Playing in L.A. against the Dodgers on Saturday night, Harper crushed a double that landed right at the foot of the center field fence, and the way he was running, he could probably have stretched it into a triple. His team mates didn't get him across the plate, unfortunately, but in the top of the ninth he hit a sacrifice fly that gave the Nats a 2-1 lead. A single by Wilson Ramos added an insurance run, which proved crucial in the bottom of that inning. The often-shaky reliever Henry Rodriguez came in and proceeded to give up two singles and a double to the first three batters he faced. For some incomprehensible reason, manager Davey Johnson kept him in there. It looked like his judgment would be proven correct, as the Dodgers had two men out and two strikes, whereupon Rodriguez threw a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score. Argh-h-h-h!!! That's when Tom Gorzelanny was called in from the bullpen to get the third out. In the tenth inning, however, Gorzelanny gave up a home run to the phenomenal Matt Kemp, his 11th of the year. (!) And thus, Bryce Harper's chance at a triumphant, Hollywood-scripted debut game in the major leagues was ruined. frown See MLB.com.

The next day Harper got another hit, and made a spectacular leaping catch at the center field wall. In the top of the ninth, with the score 2-0 against them, he was up to bat with a runner on first base. I was amazed when he took ball four and walked to first; I figured he would be eagerly swatting away, but he showed real patience. That left it up to catcher Jesus Flores, who unfortunately struck out. And so, the Nationals were swept by the Dodgers -- the very first series loss of the year for the "D.C. 9."

As a result of the Nats' four-game losing streak, the Atlanta Braves pulled even with the Nationals, sharing first place in the National League Eastern Division. The Nats had held onto sole possesion of first place since April 12. The Braves lost to the Pirates at home in Atlanta tonight, thereby slipping a half game behind the Nationals, who were resting on their way back home to Washington. They will host the Diamondbacks this week, and then the Phillies this coming weekend.

Harper is filling in for Ryan Zimmerman, who hurt his shoulder last week and is on the 15-day disabled list. When Zim comes back, will Harper stay? I hope so. After some early strong performances by Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady, their reserve position players have been very weak at the plate. Sadly, journeyman reservist Mark DeRosa is batting under .100, and his time in D.C. may be running short.

The Nationals' 14-8 record (.636) for April is the highest percentage they have amassed for any month since June 2005, when they were 20-6: Believe it or not! I probably shouldn't complain, especially since many of their victories have been by one-run margins, but the Nats really should have won at least one of those last four games. Henry Rodriguez choked badly more than once last year (see May 27 and July 24, 2011), and he he committed an error on April 9 this year that handed the game to the Mets. (Can we trade him for Matt Capps? smile) Well, just wait until Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Michael Morse are back in the lineup. With those sluggers and one of the best pitching rotations in the majors, the Nationals will be very hard to beat!

Happy 100th Birthday, Fenway Park!

Was Willard Scott on the "Today Show" when they celebrated Fenway Park's 100th Birthday two weeks ago? If not, he should have been. If Mildred Abernathy from Poughkeepsie, New York and all those other good-lookin' centenarians from across the land can get their 15 seconds of fame, then why not the oldest major league ballpark still in existence?? "With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good!" smile

Boston fans were less than thrilled about the way the game at which the centennial was celebrated (April 20) ended up: The hated Yankees beat the Red Sox 6-2. The next day, broadcast nationally in living color, the ferocious, vengeance-minded Red Sox took a 9-0 lead going into the sixth inning. Yankee manager Joe Girardi was interviewed by the FOX reporters, and he said anything can happen in Fenway Park. (Yeah, right.) Actually, he was right, as the Yankees came charging back with seven runs in both the seventh and eighth innings to beat the Red Sox again, 15-9. That was one of the most amazing comebacks that I can ever remember. The Yankees are slowly climbing toward first place in the AL East, behind the Rays and the Orioles, while the Red Sox are stuck in the cellar.

I realized I had neglected to include the new video scoreboards that were installed behind the bleachers in center field in 2011. So, I made a minor tweak to the Fenway Park diagram.

Braves Field update

More significantly, speaking of Beantown, I made some major improvements to the diagrams for Braves Field Braves Field, home of the Boston Braves (1915-1952) and also home of the football team by the same name that would eventually become known as the Washington Redskins (1932). This was prompted by a tip from Bruce Orser about some great new photos on BaseballFever.com. They cleared up several key questions that had been bothering me, so I went ahead and feverishly (!) made the necessary corrections and detail enhancements. There are still some questions about exactly when (and whether) and outfield fence was moved during the 1930s and 1940s, and I decided to remain "agnostic" on that whole issue for the time being.

Note that there are two football diagrams: one corresponding to the configuration when the Boston Patriots played at what came to be called "Nickerson Field" (1960-1962), and one for the Boston University Terriers, whose football program ended after 1997. I have seen conflicting information on exactly when the main grandstand was torn down, however, so I may need to revise that 1960 version diagram again.

Tiger Stadium centennial

If Tiger Stadium were still standing, the fans in Detroit would be celebrating its centennial as well. But because the people running the city government don't care much for civic heritage, it was torn down in 2009 in the face of strong protests from preservationists and Tiger fans. As a result, the occasion was barely even noticed in Motown. See yahoo.com; link from John Clem. That's a real pity. Navin Field (as it was originally called) opened for business on the same day that Fenway Park did, just a few days after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank.

Tiger Stadium

Is that a great photo, or what? August 2004, just before a Tigers game at Comerica Park.

R.I.P "Moose" Skowron

One of the most reliable infielders for the New York Yankees during the late 1950s and early 1960s passed away over the weekend. Bill "Moose" Skowron was 81, and had been suffering heart problems and lung cancer. In his career, he had a .282 batting average, hit 211 home runs, made the All-Star Game six times, and played in seven World Series with the Yankees -- and one with the Dodgers, after he was traded in 1963. (That was the year of the ignominious sweep: Dodgers 4, Yankees 0.) See the Washington Post.

Is it just me, or does his menacing grin remind you of a certain very young Washington Nationals slugger?