July 1, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Mets, widen NL East lead
I couldn't have picked a better day to see the Nats play! (Well, maybe I could have.) As my friend Dave Givens and I walked through the plaza behind left field, I heard a bunch of fans from New York chanting "Let's go Mets! Let's go Mets!" I thought it would be fitting to reply with a chant of my own: "We got Murphy! We got Murphy!" One of them told me just wait until Murphy starts making errors on defense (referring to the 2015 World Series), but what transpired in the game would seem to validate my position.
Nationals Park lower deck, scoreboard.
It was "College Rivalry Day" at Nationals Park, as the faithful boosters of the University of Virginia Cavaliers and the Virginia Tech Hokies got special seating and souvenir cups with the respective school colors. Guess which side I was on?
My friend Dave Givens and yours truly, wearing my U.Va. College World Series championship T-shirt.
In the top of the second inning, fans got nervous when the Mets got a hit and then a base on balls, but Max Scherzer struck out the next two batters and that was that. In the bottom of the inning, Daniel Murphy hit a lead-off home run into the middle deck in right field. I was sure it was "outta here" as soon as the ball left the bat, whereas I often have a hard time judging ball trajectories when I am sitting in the upper deck.
In the second inning, Daniel Murphy hits a solo home run, and got high-fives from the guys in the dugout.
In the bottom of the third inning, Danny Espinosa hit a lead-off double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Jayson Werth. Then the Nats' bats cooled off, and their only hit for the next four innings was a single by Ben Revere. We had a nice view of the action at Nationals Park from Section 134 in the lower deck, but I was disappointed that there was only one foul ball that came remotely close to us. Every time left-handed batters Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy were at bat, we got ready just in case.
Lower-deck view of Nationals Park, after dusk.
Max Scherzer was at his best, which was a great relief to us, since he has been inconsistent at times this year. From the third through the seventh inning, not a single Mets batter reached base: 15 consecutive outs!
In the eighth inning, Max Scherzer threw his 100th pitch, showing signs of fatigue.
Dusty Baker tells Max Scherzer it's time to take a rest. Max's smile suggests that he felt relieved, and in fact he was relieved -- by Oliver Perez.
In the outfield, meanwhile, Jayson Werth, Ben Revere, and Bryce Harper had a pleasant chat.
Scherzer received a standing ovation from the fans as he walked to the dugout. The next pitcher, Oliver Perez, inherited one base-runner and quickly gave up a single to pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson. So, he was immediately replaced by Blake Treinen, who in turn was replaced right after pinch-hitter Travis D'Arnaud grounded out to second. That allowed the runners to advance to second and third, putting the 2-0 lead in jeopardy. Dusty Baker wanted his best pitcher in that situation, so in came Shawn Kelley, who has been the closing pitcher since Jonathan Papelbon went on the DL. Fortunately, Kelley struck out De Aza to end the inning. The Nats dodged a bullet there, and in the bottom of the inning Bryce Harper smartly took a walk, putting the resurgent Daniel Murphy in excellent position to do more damage, which in fact he did:
In the eighth inning, Daniel Murphy hits a two-run home run into the right field bull pen, and did an encore celebration heading into the dugout.
"We got Murphy! We got Murphy!"
Shawn Kelley, preparing to pitch in the ninth inning.
The two "insurance runs" from Murphy's second homer proved to be decisive. In the top of the ninth, Kelley struck out the first batter, but gave up a single to Yoenis Cespedes (who had struck out in his previous three at-bats) and then a home run to James Loney. All of a sudden, it was a 4-2 ball game, and it really got to be too close for comfort when he gave up a double to Johnson. But Kelley hung in there and got a called third strike on Brandon Nimmo to end the game. Whew! That was a little more excitement than I had been expecting, but all's well that ends well.
Screech waves the "Nats Win!" banner as the players celebrate their 47th victory of the year.
During the first seven innings he pitched, Max Scherzer struck out ten batters altogether, while giving up only one walk and one hit. But thanks to their back-to-back hits in the eighth inning and their rally in the ninth inning, the Mets ended up with more hits (6) than the Nationals (5). Amazin'! The box score, etc. can be seen at MLB.com.
Nats clobber the Reds
As shaky starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez took the mound to begin the series against the Cincinnati Reds last night, the fans were as nervous as he was. It could hardly have started worse, as he loaded the bases with no outs, on one hit and two walks. He was lucky the Reds only got one runner across the plate, and he was even luckier that his team mates picked up the slack for him, staging a four-run rally in the bottom of the first, capped by Ryan Zimmerman's three-run homer. (That was gratifying, as Ryan has been in a prolonged slump.) In the third inning, Danny Espinosa hit a grand slam, as the ball sailed over the visitors' bullpen in left field. It was Danny's second career grand slam, the first being on Sept. 6, 2010. Coincidently, the score of that was almost identical: 13-3. That was against the Mets, however. Only one inning later, Danny came up to bat with two runners on base, and hit another home run, making it a 13-1 ball game. Seven RBIs by a guy batting in the #8 position? Unheard of. Danny leads all NL shortstops in most offensive categories (other than batting average), and with his defensive prowess he really deserves a spot on the All Star roster. All that run support helped Gio Gonzalez to settle down, and he made it into the sixth inning before giving up another run. He barely managed to finish the inning, as the Reds got three runs, and the score remained 13-4 until the end of the game.
Tonight Tanner Roark went seven innings, but only got a no-decision as the game remained tied 2-2 until the bottom of the 14th inning. That's when Danny Espinosa was hit by a pitch, and with two outs, Ben Revere hit a double off the wall in right field to bat in the winning run. That extends Washington's winning streak to six games. Roark's last three outings have been top-notch, but he only got credit for a win in the June 26 game against Milwaukee.
That was the sixth extra-inning game played by the Nationals this year, and they won four of them, including all three at home.
Speaking of extra-inning games, the Cleveland Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 in 19 innings this afternoon, thanks to a home run by Carlos Santana. (Not the rock star.) It wasn't a very happy Canada Day for our friends up north. That was the 14th consecutive victory for the Indians, who have not lost a single game since the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship.
And so, the Nats finish the first half of the 2016 season with a 49-32 (.605) record. That is one game better than their first-half record in 2012 (48-33), and one game under their first-half record in 2005 (50-31) -- Believe it or not! Interestingly, only 37 of those 81 games this year have been at home, the lowest percentage in the majors. So, with 44 of their second-half games at home, the Nats will have an added advantage in the race to October.
Since we're at the half-way mark, I have updated my Washington Nationals page. Aside from statistics (almost all of which are based on my own compiled records), it now includes miniature photos of three new Nationals (Murphy, Revere, and Ross), as well as improved photos of others such as Roark.
No divisional races?
With a five-game winning streak, the Nationals now enjoy a six-game lead in the National League East Division, but they are not the only team with a comfortable lead in their division. In fact, for the first time [...] since separate divisions within the two leagues were formed in 1969, all of the division leaders are ahead of the second place teams by at least five games [on July 1]. The above-mentioned Cleveland Indians are 7 games ahead of the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, while the Baltimore Orioles are 5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East, and the unbelievable Texas Rangers are 8.5 games ahead of the Houston Astros in the AL West. On the National League side, the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants are 6 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers, who were swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates last weekend, after they swept the Nationals. In the NL Central Division, the Chicago Cubs remain 10.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals, even though they have slumped recently. On the surface, the six divisional races seem to be no race at all, but much can still change over the next three months...
July 1, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Birding in Huntley "Meadows"
On my way back from Washington yesterday, I stopped at one of the real natural treasures of Northern Virginia: Huntley Meadows. It's actually a lush wetland, surrounded by woods, hence the quotation marks above, suggesting a misnomer. I had been there once before, back in the 1980s, and I distinctly recall seeing what I believe was an American Bittern. It was hiding in tall sedges (grass-like vegetation), pale brownish overall with dark vertical streaks and a long bill. So, I was hoping I might find either an American Bittern or a Least Bittern, but the lady at the desk said neither species nests there at present. It's possible that what I saw back then was just an immature Green Heron.
Anyway, I spent a couple hours walking along the boardwalk, and was enchanted by the beautiful surroundings, with all sorts of birds and wild animals -- all within a mile of heavily developed suburban real estate! I was happy to see a Great Egret, but sad that I couldn't get close enough for a good photo. An Osprey kept circling overhead close to the observation tower, which is also where I saw the Hummingbird and one of the Common Yellowthroats. At that tower I met a guy (last name Rieger?) who knows John Spahr and Allen Larner from birding encounters, and was pleased to find out that he is a big Washington Nationals fan, working at Nationals Park as an usher. (I had just seen a game there the night before.) The list below shows the more significant birds I saw:
- 8 Mallards (M, F, 5 juv.)
- 6 Wood Ducks (F, 5 juv.)
- 2 Hooded Mergansers (juv.)
- 5 Great Blue Herons
- 1 Great Egret
- 3 Green Herons
- 1 Osprey
- 1 Killdeer
- 1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
- 1 Eastern Kingbird
- 2 Great Crested Flycatchers
- 1 Acadian Flycatcher
- 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
- 2 Carolina Wrens
- 2 Red-eyed Vireos
- 4+ Common Yellowthroats
- 2 American Goldfinches
I also heard but did not see an Eastern Wood Pewee, Indigo Buntings, some kind of warbler (Prothonotary?), and a probable Red-tailed Hawk in the woods. I also saw a White-tailed Deer, Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, and a Bullfrog -- one of many that were making loud noises.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Osprey, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Egret, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron. To see larger-size images, go to the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
The boardwalk at Huntley Meadows, as seen from the observation tower. On the both the left and right sides, beaver lodges can be seen.
July 3, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Kentucky Warblers, and more!
For the third time in the past two weeks, I went to the Hightop Mountain parking area in the Shenandoah National Park yesterday, in hopes of seeing and photographing a Kentucky Warbler. I did in fact see that bird on my previous two visits, but my efforts were frustrated by bad weather (June 23) and a dying camera battery (June 30). The site is located where the Appalachian Trail intersects Skyline Drive, about one mile south of the Route 33 intersection.
Kentucky Warbler, July 2.
Just like the first two times, I heard a Kentucky Warbler almost as soon as I stepped out of the car, and soon spotted one. Before long it became clear that there were at least three males singing in adjacent territorial units nearby. I witnessed a brief fight between two of them, in fact. I played their songs and calls on my iPod Touch to lure them into camera range, but it was difficult getting a good view in the thick vegetation. After getting a few photos, I started walking northbound on the Appalachian Trail, curious about how far from the road Kentucky Warblers might be found. The only ones that I identified were within 50 yards of Skyline Drive. That may reflect their particular habitat requirements (semi-open wooded areas near streams), or it may reflect that species' apparent tendency to breed in loose colonies, clustered in particular areas rather than spread out. That is just a conjecture on my part.
The trail gradually ascended, and I encountered a variety of birds along the way. The biggest surprises were the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) and Cerulean Warbler (male); I probably heard at least two of the latter singing at different places. I was able to lure one down from the tree tops, but he still stayed at least 20 feet above the ground, hence the poor quality of the photo. Cerulean Warblers are notoriously difficult to photograph, more easily heard than seen. After a few hundred yards, at a point where I saw my only Scarlet Tanager of the day, I turned back. I saw at least a dozen hikers during my approximate two-hour stay, most of whom were polite and deferential once they saw I was trying to take photos. Some of them asked what I was looking at, and I was happy to explain. It was toward the end of my visit that I got the best camera views of the Kentucky Warbler; it is a shy and elusive species.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Kentucky Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Wood Pewee, Hooded Warbler.
I posted five different Kentucky Warbler photos on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page, as well as separate photos of the other birds in that montage. Some are better quality than others, but each one shows a particular field mark, such as the slight crest that is sometimes raised. I can't think of any other warblers that have such a crest. I was pleased to get my best-ever photo of a Blue-headed Vireo. Other birds seen there yesterday include Eastern Towhee, Hairy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmice, and Red-eyed Vireo.
Kentucky Warblers are listed as "Uncommon" in the Augusta County bird checklist, which is based on Birds of Augusta County, edited by the late YuLee Larner. I would be inclined to classify it as "Rare," however. William Leigh and Jonathan Todd saw and heard a Kentucky Warbler at Hightop parking lot on June 12, which in fact is what prompted my visits there. (Thanks, guys!) Greg Moyers and Barbara Andes reported a Kentucky Warbler at Slate Lick Fields in Rockingham County on May 30. (I have yet to visit that location.) Otherwise, Kentucky Warblers seem to be a rarity in this part of Virginia. The last two times I saw one were in September 17, 2015 (on Shenandoah Mountain south of the Confederate Breastworks) and May 2014 (by the Falls Hollow trail head near Elliott's Knob), and before that it must have been several years.
July 4, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Brewers rain on Nats' July 4 parade
The weather forecast for today's game in Our Nation's Capital was bleak, but somehow they managed to get in a full nine innings. There were signs of drizzle by the middle innings, and the precipitation steadily got worse and worse. It's a good thing they started so early; the first pitch was at 11:05 AM. There was a hilarious snafu in the first inning soon after the Brewers' Ryan Braun hit a single up the middle. Dusty Baker noticed that the lineup card said that Jonathan Lucroy was supposed to bat third, and Braun was fourth. The umpires confirmed the goof, and Braun was called out. Oops! The only run in the game came in the 5th inning, when the Brewers' Martin Maldonado hit a home run over the left field bullpen. Max Scherzer did fairly well in pitching a full six innings, but got zero run support from his team mates; the Nats only got two hits, in fact. His record fell to 9-6. It was the first time the Nats have been shut out since May 25, when the Mets beat them 2-0. Quite a change from what happened the day before! (See below.)
4th of July in D.C. (cont.)
It was three years ago (July 4, 2013) that I summarized all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals. Other than 2008, they have all been at home at RFK Stadium or Nationals Park. Here is an update:
|End of Nats' 6-game winning streak, begin of decline.
|Ryan Zimmerman 3-run HR in 9th!
|Dmitri Young grand slam in 5th inning.
|The Nats' only 4th of July away from Washington.
|4-run rally in 8th inning.
|Ryan Zimmerman HR for nought.
|Winning run on Carlos Marmol's wild pitch in 10th inning. I was there!
|Nats hit four home runs.
|Wilson Ramos 3-run HR in 7th inning to retake lead.
|Tanner Roark pitched 7 innings; Jayson Werth HR.
|S. Strasburg pitched 3.2 innings; Michael Taylor & Bryce Harper HRs.
|Max Scherzer pitched 6 innings; Martin Maldonado HR in 5th.
The Nats' record in 4th of July games at home is now 7-4.
Nats clobber Reds again...
On Sunday, for the second time in three days, Danny Espinosa hit another grand slam, his second in that series with the Reds, and in fact he hit two home runs in both of those games. In both games, he hit one home run from each side of the plate, a feat which had not been accomplished by a Washington player since the 19th century. Perhaps just as significant was the performance by Stephen Strasburg, just back from the disabled list. He actually had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning, when his pitch count went over 100. Dusty Baker wisely gave him a rest, and the fans gave him an ovation. The Nats went on to beat the Reds 12-1, winning three of four games in the series, which is not bad.
Elsewhere in the majors on Sunday, the Mets clobbered the Cubs 14-3, thus completing a stunning four-game sweep of the Chicago team, while the Blue Jays clobbered the Indians 17-1, one day after they stopped the Indians' 14-game winning streak with a 9-6 victory.
The Nats' six-game winning streak was interrupted on Saturday night when Joe Ross gave up four early runs, much like when he faced the Mets on June 27, when he emerged victorious. But this time the bullpen crumpled under the pressure, wasting a heroic comeback sparked by Danny Espinosa, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning. Bryce Harper batted in another run to make it 4-4, and the game went into extra innings. Sammy Solis gave up the decisive go-ahead runs in the top of the tenth, and Matt Belisle allowed the gap to reach five runs, almost hopeless. And so, the Reds won in ten innings, 9-4. Joe Ross has been put on the disabled list, and evidently Lucas Giolito will remain part of the starting rotation for a while.
Danny Espinosa: WOW!
One of the nicest surprises for the Nationals this year is how Danny Espinosa has flourished ever since he was moved from second base to shortstop, replacing Ian Desmond.* In the four-game series against the Reds, he hit five (5) home runs, two of which were grand slams, and racked up 15 total RBIs. For most players, 15 RBIs would be a pretty good month! He now has 18 home runs for the year, which is one more than Bryce Harper has!!! Danny's batting average has climbed to a respectable .242, and he deserves serious consideration for inclusion in the All Star Game. In today's Washington Post, columnist Thomas Boswell wrote that Danny has finally "found himself" in his new (old) position at shortstop. After a thrilling major league debut in September 2010, when he hit his first grand slam, there followed six years of "baseball hell," during which he had a total career meltdown. I always admired Danny's hustle and team spirit, and now it appears that his latent talent has been unleashed at long last. It couldn't happen to a better guy.
Danny Espinosa, in preseason full-beard mode, answering questions at a Nats Fest panel in January 2013.
* After a slow start in Texas, Ian Desmond has flourished in his new role as center fielder. More on him and the other former Nationals star, Jordan Zimmermann, soon...
Grand slams correction
Prompted in part by Danny Espinosa's recent slugging feats, I made some corrections to my list of grand slams on my Washington Nationals page, based on the 2016 Official Media Guide, which I purchased at Nationals Park last Wednesday. It is chock full of tasty factoids, well worth the $20 price. (In their list they mistakenly identify Busch Stadium III as "Busch Stadium II," however.)
- June 4, 2006 -- Alfonso Soriano; WSH 8, MIL 4 @ +
- May 27, 2007 -- Ryan Langerhans; WSH 7, STL 2 @ +
- Sept. 11, 2007 -- Justin Maxwell; FLA 13, WSH 8 * @ +
- Aug. 22, 2008 -- Willie Harris; WSH 13, CHI 5 @ +
- Apr. 18, 2009 -- Austin Kearns; FLA 9, WSH 6 +
- Aug. 25, 2009 -- Elijah Dukes; WSH 15, CHC 6 @ +
- Sept. 29, 2012 -- Michael Morse; WSH 6, STL 4 @ +
The "+" (plus) symbols mean that the grand slam in question was added to the list based on the Nats Media Guide. I knew that my record-keeping in early years was not as detailed as it has been more recently, but I was nonetheless surprised that I had omitted seven grand slams. All but one of them were in road games. Elsewhere on that page, I also added to the list Nationals' walk-off home runs the game on May 23, 2010, when Josh Willingham was the deciding factor when the Nats beat the Orioles 4-3 in 10 innings.
Fort Bragg: "home" of the Braves
Last night, the "Atlanta" Braves were the hosts of a "home" game at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, part of a special tribute to America's armed forces. It was the first official MLB game ever played on a military installation, and in fact only service personnel and their families were allowed admittance. The Miami Marlins won the game, 5-2. The Braves' only two runs came in the bottom of the ninth. The greater part of the grandstand at Fort Bragg Field (which seated 12,500 fans) was only temporary bleachers, however, and most of it will be torn down before long. The outfield dimensions were symmetrical: 331 down the lines, 387 feet to the power alleys, and 405 to center field. HUGE! I updated the Anomalous stadiums page with that information, and have started work on a diagram for the Fort Bragg field. (I classified it as a "Neutral & special occasion" stadium, even though the Braves were supposedly the home team.)
Watch the birdie!
K.C. fan Chris Knight shared an amusing tale on Facebook: While the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright was throwing a pitch to Cheslor Cuthbert, a bird flew near home plate at Kauffman Stadium, and narrowly averted death. See kansascity.com. Not surprisingly, it was one of the Western Kingbirds which the team has adopted as a semi-official mascot, since they are "royal" (in name) and frequent the ballpark during evening hours when insects swarm around the lights. (See my January 31 blog post.)
July 6, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Four Nationals named All Stars
Four members of the Washington Nationals were selected to the 2016 All Star Game, which will be played at Petco Park in San Diego six days from now. Only one will be on the starting team, however: Bryce Harper. Daniel Murphy came in second to Ben Zobrist by a margin of less than a hundred votes. It will be Bryce Harper's fourth appearance in the Midsummer Classic, and the second for both Stephen Strasburg and Daniel Murphy. For Wilson Ramos, it will be the first-ever. They are all eminently worthy of this honor, and they make Washington fans proud! See MLB.com.
- Stephen Strasburg (2012)
- Bryce Harper (2012, 2013, 2015)
- Daniel Murphy (2014)
- Wilson Ramos (none)
(Previous years as an All Star.)
The Washington Nationals page will soon be updated with that information. It is the second time that four Nationals were chosen for the All Star Game: In 2012, pitcher Gio Gonzalez and shortstop Ian Desmond were chosen, in both 2013 and 2014, Jordan Zimmermann was chosen, but chose not to play for health reasons, and of course, Max Scherzer was chosen last year. Three Nationals relief pitchers played in earlier All Star Games: Chad Cordero (2005), Matt Capps (2010), and Tyler Clippard (2011 and 2014).
Last year there were complaints about too many Kansas City Royals being chosen as All Stars, and this year it looks the same way for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox:
2016 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
| National League
| American League
| Wilson Ramos
| Buster Posey
| Salvador Perez
| Salvador Perez
| Ryan Zimmerman
| Anthony Rizzo
| Miguel Cabrera
| Eric Hosmer
| Daniel Murphy
| Ben Zobrist
| Robinson Cano
| Jose Altuve
| Kris Bryant
| Kris Bryant
| Manny Machado
| Manny Machado
| Danny Espinosa
| Addison Russell
| Xander Bogaerts
| Xander Bogaerts
| Bryce Harper
| Bryce Harper
| Mike Trout
| Mookie Betts
| Andrew McCutchen
| Dexter Fowler
| Carlos Beltran
| Jackie Bradley Jr.
| Denard Span
| Yoenis Cespedes
| Ian Desmond
| Mike Trout
| David Ortiz
| David Ortiz
Unfortunately, I didn't cast my vote until after the deadline, so it didn't count -- an ironic side-effect of having been so tired after my busy day(s) traveling to Washington and back to see the June 29 game against the Mets.
Danny Espinosa should have been included among the "final selection" All-Star choices, in my opinion, but at least he was given due recognition for his recent hot streak by being named National League Player of the Week. Congratulations, Danny!
Nats beat Brewers, once
If the Fourth of July game against the Brewers (losing 1-0) was just one of those inexplicable quirks, there was no excuse for the loss in last night's game. Gio Gonzalez had a decent outing, but gave up a two-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Nats behind 3-2. Ryan Zimmerman made a rare error at first base, failing to catch a low throw and thus enabling Milwaukee to score two more runs on a second home run. The Nats actually out-hit the Brewers (12-10), but kept wasting run-scoring opportunities. Final score: 5-2.
I didn't realize that today's game was in the afternoon, so I missed it completely. Bryce Harper was batting cleanup (switching with Daniel Murphy) and hit a three-run homer in the first inning to get things rolling. Jose Lobaton and Ryan Zimmerman later homered as well. Tanner Roark went seven mostly solid innings, and the Nats finally won, 7-4.
Stadium proximity update
After a lot of hair-pulling, I finally figured out an efficient way to revamp the Stadium proximity page, replacing the map with a table. (I mentioned that impending task on June 16 and June 20.) The links are much easier to access than before, making for easier comparisons. You may notice that there are several new "combined" thumbnail diagrams, showing more clearly how new baseball stadiums were positioned relative to adjacent ones (or overlapping ones) that they replaced. In some cases, I included rough outlines (simple circles or rectangles in most cases) of adjacent or nearby football stadiums and basketball / hockey arenas. CAVEAT: Non-baseball stadium renderings are only crude approximations! This led a quite a jumbled mess in my rendition of the current and past sports facilities on the south side of Philadelphia:
Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wells Fargo Center, as well as the former Veterans Stadium, Spectrum, and John F. Kennedy Stadium, where the 1985 "Live Aid" concert was held.
Oakland Coliseum tweak
Prompted in part by the Stadium proximity update, I made some minor "repairs" to the Oakland Coliseum diagrams. The new "Mount Davis" grandstand in center field built in 1996 is slightly bigger than before, and a few other corrections were made.
Oakland Coliseum is adjacent to Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors, who came in a close second in the NBA championship series last month. I heard that some guy named Kevin Durant just signed with the Warriors, who already had MVP Stephen Curry, so this apparently means they will be even harder to beat next year -- at least during the regular season!
July 8, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Soras breeding in the Valley!
Prompted by some alerts from Ron Shearer and others about a family of Soras at the Nazarene Church Road wetlands (in Rockingham County) which I had read on the shenvalbirds e-mail list, I drove up to that location today, and boy was my patience sorely tested! I arrived before 10:00 A.M., and carefully checked out various likely spots, to no avail. A man was mowing his lawn with a self-propelled mower, and the noise was probably frightening the birds. Finally, he was done and it got quiet. At one point, a lady bus driver stopped, and I was afraid she was going to ask what the heck I was doing, but instead she asked "Did you see it?" Yes, she was one of the local people who had seen the Sora, and I was glad to know that I was looking in the right place. I saw a few Wood Ducks (female and juveniles), as well as a Green Heron and Kingfisher, so I took some photos. By 11:00, it was getting hot, and I had mixed feelings when dark clouds approached and light rain began to fall. The cool wind was a relief, but I feared that bad weather would cause my efforts to be wasted. I told myself, just a little more time...
And just when I was beginning to lose hope, the sun came back out and all of a sudden I saw two of the Sora fledglings, dark charcoal black in color. Finally! Of course, I started taking photos, but it was hard because they kept hiding in the marshes. I noticed that one of the juveniles had more brownish plumage than the other two, perhaps because it's a few days older. After a while, I caught a glimpse of the adult (presumably the mother), and was struck by the short, upturned tail, reminding me of a Winter Wren. No photos, though. A few times later on I heard the distinctive "whinnying" call of the Sora, so I knew it was close even if it was concealed. I took a break in my car, and when I came back, I had another clear view, and this time I was amazed by the bright yellow beak. I finally got some good photos of the adult, along with more photos of the juveniles. BINGO! I ended up with sunburns on the arms and neck, but it was worth it!
Sora, July 8. See the montage below for more Sora photos.
Soras are marsh-dwelling birds related to Rails, one of which I photographed in February. (See note at bottom.) In the eastern United States, Soras breed almost exclusively north of the Mason-Dixon line. Parts of the southwest U.S.A. are within their breeding range as well. According to Birds of Augusta County (2008), there is only one nesting record of Soras in this county, in 1973, and that nest was abandoned before the eggs hatched. I'll have to check to make sure this successful breeding has been duly recorded in the VABBA-2 system.
I first saw a Sora on July 28, 2012 near Utica, SD, during a birding expedition with my brother John and my (late) father, Alan Clem. (See my Life bird list.) It was in a muddy ditch along a highway, with many other birds, and I only had a brief view.
Ruffed Grouse encore
After I got satisfactory photos of the Soras, I headed northwest a few more miles toward Briery Branch, and ascended the mountains in the direction of Reddish Knob. I never made it to the summit parking lot, but I did accomplish my main goal, which was to see whether the Ruffed Grouse that we spotted during an Augusta Bird Club field trip on May 20 was still there. Sure enough, I spotted one almost as soon as I passed the intersection of Routes 257 and FS 85 at the gap summit. It was probably the same bird that we saw before, i.e. probably the mother, but this time there were no young ones with it / her. (That's where we saw the Red Crossbills on that trip, but they weren't there today.) Anyway, the Ruffed Grouse was just standing in the middle of the "road" (actually a rutted track), and stayed close enough to the side as I slowly passed by for me to get an excellent closeup "portrait"!
Ruffed Grouse, July 8. [This photo and caption were added subsequent to the original blog post.]
I also saw a [singing male] Yellow-rumped Warbler (see montage below) and Chipping Sparrow in that area, but nothing else. [The only other songs I heard up there were those of Juncos, Towhees, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler.] It's a sign that songbird breeding activity is quickly winding down for the season.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Belted Kingfisher (F), Ruffed Grouse, Green Heron, Sora (adult), Sora (fledgling), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wood Duck (F). All but the middle two were seen at the Nazarene Church Road wetlands. (For more photos, see my Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.)
My photo is published!
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) publishes a magazine called Virginia Wildlife, and every year they run a nature photography contest. Well, I decided to enter it this year for the first time, and lo and behold, when the July/August issue came in the mail last week, there was my photo of a Virginia Rail on page six, coming in third behind two others in the "Virginia Fauna" section. I was hoping just to get included, and I was astounded that it ranked so highly. So, I figured an "encore" presentation of that photo would be appropriate.
Virginia Rail, on Bell's Lane, February 20, 2016 (blog link).
July 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Murphy does it again! Nats edge Mets, climb back to .600
The pivotal four-game series with the Mets in New York started off with a wild slugfest on Thursday, not the way the Nationals wanted it to. Washington's rookie starting pitcher Lucas Giolito showed some good stuff but failed to hold an early lead, and was replaced during the fourth inning. Four Nationals hit home runs, including Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, but they ended up losing to the Mets, 9-7. Apparently Giolito needs more time sharpening his skills, as the hot prospect was sent back down to the minors.
But in the next three games, things went the Nats' way. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer both went seven full innings (on Friday and Saturday), and both times the Mets were held to one run. In the Friday game, Clint Robinson hit a two-run homer, providing all the offense Washington needed in a 3-1 victory. On Saturday, Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer, and got another RBI, accounting for most of Washington's six runs. On Sunday, Gio Gonzalez gave up two home runs to Jose Reyes, but managed to last nearly six innings without allowing any other runs to score. Once again, a home run from Daniel Murphy proved decisive in the 3-2 win.
I think it's fair to say that my rebuttal to Mets fans at Nationals Park on June 29 bears repeating:
We got Murphy! We got Murphy!
With a 3-1 series win, the Nationals thereby widened their lead in the NL East from 4 to 6 games. At 54-36 (.600), they are on track for a 98-64 season, which was what they accomplished in 2012. It ties the mark set in 1994 for the highest winning percentage for any team in the Montreal-Washington franchise. As F.P. Santangelo mentioned during the Sunday game, if Montreal had won the World Series in that strike-ruined year, the franchise might have thrived and never moved to Washington. Hmm-m....
Mets are really hurting
In some ways, the series in New York almost wasn't a fair fight, however. After surging only a week earlier, the Mets had a sudden string of bad luck. It was already known that third baseman David Wright would be out for the rest of this season after having neck surgery last month, but then came word that Matt Harvey would also miss the entire second half of the 2016 season because of "thoracic outlet syndrome." Also, first baseman Lucas Duda is on the 15-day DL with a stress fracture in his lower back. As for less-serious ailments, Noah Syndergaard is suffering arm fatigue (he exited early in the Friday game against the Nats), and Yoenis Cespedes is listed as day-to-day with a right quad muscle strain. See MLB.com
Regarding Harvey's departure, many analysts have wondered whether the Mets put too much pressure on him last year after having had Tommy John surgery. He was a key factor in the Mets' surge to the World Series, but the long-term damage to his body may greatly outweigh that moment of glory. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell compared how the Mets treated Harvey with how the Nationals treated Stephen Strasburg, who leads the majors with a 12-0 win-loss record.
Zimmerman on the DL
Ryan Zimmerman was placed on on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained rib cage, and was replaced on the active roster by Trea Turner. Outfielder Michael Taylor was also called back up from the minors, filling the roster spot vacated by Lucas Giolito. The usual fifth starting pitcher, Joe Ross, is on the DL with a sore shoulder. See MLB.com. Compared to other teams, and compared to last year, the Nationals have had pretty good luck with their players being healthy this year.
Scherzer is an All Star
Max Scherzer is replacing Stephen Strasburg on the NL All Star roster, as Strasburg is trying to rest his arm after a recent brief stint on the DL.
Stanton wins Home Run Derby
Miami Marlins star slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the Home Run Derby tonight, beating Todd Frazier (of the Cincinnati Reds) 20-13 in the third round. Frazier was the winner last year. In Round 1, Stanton out-homered Robinson Cano (of the Mariners) 24-7, and in Round 2, he out-homered Mark Trumbo (of the Orioles) 17-14. Stanton not only hit more homers, he hit them much farther than the others; some of them were measured at nearly 500 feet, in fact. Poor Chris Berman got tired of his "back, back, back" routine. (Frankly, I did too.)
New page: Fort Bragg Field
Being a simple, single-decked stadium, it wasn't too hard for me to do a diagram of Fort Bragg Field, where the Atlanta Braves hosted the Miami Marlins on July 3. (ICYMI, "Atlanta" lost, 5-2.) I estimate that it has 116,200 square feet of fair territory (pretty big) and 22,700 square feet of foul territory. If I understand correctly, all of the grandstand along the baselines and in the outfield will be removed soon, leaving just the small rectangular grandstand behind home plate.
There are two other stadiums at which official MLB games have been played in recent years for which I have not yet drawn diagrams: Champions Field (now called "Disney's Wonderful World of Sports") in Orlando, Florida, and Sydney Cricket Grounds, in Sydney, Australia.
Speaking of the Braves, Terry Wallace commented on Facebook that it's ironic that two stadiums of the same franchise -- Braves Field and Turner Field -- are meeting identical fates. Braves Field was "inherited" by Boston University for use as a football venue, and Turner Field will soon be "inherited" by Georgia State University, for exactly the same reason.
July 12, 2016 [LINK / comment]
ASG: American League wins again
For the fourth year in a row, the American League has won the All Star Game (the score was 4-2), this time in the beautiful and sunny Petco Park in San Diego. If the past is any indication, that will make it very hard for the National League pennant winner to win the World Series. In nine of the thirteen years since they gave World Series home field advantage to the league that won the All Star Game, the same league won in both contests. See the Chronology annual page.
In general, the game was well-played, and pretty exciting. The Cubs' Kris Bryant hit a solo homer in the first inning, but the AL came back with three runs in the bottom of the second, with homers by Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez. Hosmer got another RBI one inning later, and was named the MVP of the 2016 All Star Game. All four AL RBIs came from Royals players! The National League got more hits (10) than the American League (8), but kept leaving men on base. Johnny Cueto (the former Red, former Royal who plays for the Giants this year) took the loss after giving up the runs in the second inning.
The Nationals All Stars fared better than in past years: Bryce Harper went one for two with a double, while Daniel Murphy reached base on an error and then got two singles. On the other hand, Wilson Ramos struck out with the bases loaded in his only at-bat. Max Scherzer retired all three batters in the one inning he pitched, with a strikeout. Stephen Strasburg was introduced as part of the lineup at the beginning of the game, a special treat for the fans in San Diego, where he grew up, but he chose not to play because of physical issues.
Even though the game was played in a National League park this year, the American League was considered the home team, since the National League had home field advantage last year. For this game, that meant that the designated hitter rule was in effect. The 2017 All Star Game will be played in Marlins Park and in 2018 it will be played in Nationals Park -- presumably under American League rules?
Before the game began, it was announced that from now on, the annual awards for the highest batting average will be named for (respectively) Rod Carew in the American League and Tony Gwynn in the National League. That was a nice gesture to San Diego fans, since Gwynn played his entire career with the Padres.
Rogers Centre photos
Thanks to Mario Vara for sending some great photos of Rogers Centre showing the brand new "normal-dirt" infield, which he took in Toronto on July 2. The Blue Jays beat the red-hot Indians, 9-6 that day, thereby breaking Cleveland's 14-game winning streak. This panorama and one other photo have already been posted on that page:
Panorama of Rogers Centre on July 2, 2016, courtesy of Mario Vara. (Click on the image to see it full-size.)
July 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Redistricting reform movement is growing
Yesterday evening I attended a local meeting of the "OneVirginia 2021" movement (see Web site), which is dedicated to reforming the process by which redistricting is done here in the Old Dominion. I joined their Facebook page early this year, since it is an issue near and dear to my heart, and later made a modest contribution of money. The main speaker was Executive Director Brian Cannon, and he was joined by Angela Lynn, a Democrat who ran for the House of Delegates last fall, and a couple assistants. About 25 people attended, altogether.
Mr. Cannon began by outlining three central problems with the status quo of incumbent-protecting gerrymandering: 1) Both parties are guilty of it ("bad" bipartisanship); 2) Many of the resulting districts have a monstrous "Frankenstein" characteristic (encompassing multiple local communities, which are split up in the process); and 3) There are often woeful personal consequences, such as when the Democrats tried to redistrict State Sen. Bryce Reeves out of his district, but goofed by mixing up his house with that of a relative named Reeves. (For more on that case, which had largely escaped my notice last year, see bearingdrift.com.) It's a perfect example of how legislators use gerrymandering to reverse the principle of democratic accountability: Instead of voters choosing their representatives, the representatives choose their voters. Politicians make up some of the worst excuses you can imagine to justify this practice; basically, it comes down to "So what? Everybody does it."
Brian Cannon explains the grotesquely misshapen state legislative districts in northern Virginia at the OneVirginia 2021 meeting. On the right is Angela Lynn.
If you ask the average American, they are not likely to grasp what gerrymandering is all about or why it matters. Indeed, as I tried to say during the meeting, that is the whole point. Gerrymandering is deliberately used by lawmakers not just to keep themselves in power, but also to foster a sense of cynical hopelessness about bringing about any real change. As but one illustration of how bad things have gotten, six State Senators told a judge that they were willing to rack up $51,000 in legal fines (at taxpayers' expense) for contempt of court after refusing to turn over documents related to their redistricting action. Mr. Cannon summarized the legal history of redistricting and gerrymandering, including the 1962 Supreme Court case Baker v. Carr, which required states to draw districts with approximately equal populations.
It is worth citing once again Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia, which is routinely and blatantly ignored by our elected representatives in Richmond:
Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory* and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.
This controversy came before the court system last year, and this past January Federal judges issued a ruling which imposed new lines, affecting the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Seventh Congressional Districts in Virginia. (See the Richmond Times-Dispatch.) I was aware of this forced redistricting, but did not realize just how extensive the changes were. Accordingly, I have updated the maps on the Virginia Politics page.
Roll your mouse over this map to compare the newly-redrawn congressional district lines to the ones that were originally drawn in 2011. Before the court-ordered changes, the Third Congressional District was an absurdly stretched-out and non-contiguous, except by boat.
The Third Congressional District was originally intended as a "minority-majority district," a means to ensure that African-Americans get a fair chance at electing a member of their own race to Congress. (Indeed, Supreme Court rulings have required a number of states to do just that.) But "racial gerrymandering" got out of hand in some states, and Virginia is a perfect example. The Republicans in the House of Delegates "packed" so many blacks into the 3rd C.D. that the Democrats ended up with thousand of "surplus votes" that went to waste.
So what is to be done? Mr. Cannon laid out the best-case outcome of the reform movement, which is passing a state constitutional amendment to have special independent commissions handle the task or redistricting, and the second-best outcome, which would be to pass a statute with strict criteria by which legislators must draw the district lines. In my mind, the latter option would change very little. If there is one thing that I learned from my years of political involvement, the political establishment in Virginia is solid as a rock, almost impervious to the popular will. It's been that way ever since Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. ran Virginia almost as a despot. (He died in 1965, after more than three decades in the U.S. Senate, and his son Harry F. Byrd Jr. "inherited" the position.)
After the meeting, I called attention to my past involvement in this issue (predating "OneVirginia 2021"), such as when I spoke up at a public meeting with state legislators in Verona, in April 2011. In recent years, I have placed a heavy emphasis on this topic in my American Government classes at Central Virginia Community College. I talked with Mr. Cannon about various issues related to redistricting, such as the alternatives of a congressional election based on proportional representation, either statewide or in multi-member districts. The latter approach (MMD) reduces the number of districts that need to be drawn, making the process simpler and presumably more transparent, but it often works to the disadvantage of various minority factions that might not get any representatives. The bottom line is that no system is without flaws, and realism dictates that any reforms not stray too far from long-established practices. For better or worse, we are probably stuck with the single-member district system and the two-party system that it tends to foster. In political science, that is known as Duverger's Law.
I expect to become active with OneVirginia 2021 in the weeks and months to come. I should mention that I became familiar with their work through Facebook friend Bob Gibson, who runs the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Like me, Bob is a big Washington Nationals fan.
This is the first political blog post I have made since early May. That may seem odd, given that it's an election year. On Facebook, I have made clear my utter refusal to consider voting for Donald Trump, regardless of who he picks as a vice presidential candidate. At this point I'm leaning toward voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico. More on all that soon...
July 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals' starting rotation
NOTE: The analysis below pertains strictly to the 90 games played before the All-Star break. I'll discuss the ongoing series against the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow.
A major reason for the success of the Washington Nationals' during the first half of the 2016 season has been the remarkably consistent performance of the five pitchers who comprise their starting rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and Joe Ross. (Scherzer was slated to be the team's ace pitcher this year, but Strasburg has outperformed him in most categories.)
Nationals' starting pitchers before All-Star break
|Avg. IP per game
| Tanner Roark
NOTE: The above figures do not include the two games started by Lucas Giolito (4 IP, 3 2/3 IP) and the one game started by Yusmeiro Petit (6 IP).
SOURCE: MLB.com, plus my own daily tabulations of game results.
Those grades take into account the expectations for the individual pitchers, and are almost identical to those published in the Washington Post Kids Post section on Thursday. They gave Gio Gonzalez a D, which is a bit harsh.
In particular, the endurance of the Nationals starting pitchers -- as measured by number of innings pitched per game -- has been simply amazing, as I discussed on June 7. This chart compares that factor to the run differential in each game; positive = win, negative = loss.
How much does innings pitched matter, statistically speaking? The correlation coefficient r between that variable and the margin of victory (or defeat) variable is 0.261, which yields an R2 value of 0.0676 -- not very high, but far from negligible. (That means that 6.76% of the variation in the run differential can be explained by the number of innings pitched by the starter.) Multiple regression analysis might help to sort out the relative importance of pitching, batting, fielding, etc., but that is beyond my scope for now.
The only complete game pitched by a National this year was on May 11 (see May 23 blog post), when Max Scherzer struck out 20 Detroit Tigers batters, and yet barely held on in the ninth inning to win the game, 3-2. (It almost happened again tonight...)
Of the 90 games they played this year before All-Star break, in only 20 has the starting pitcher not lasted at least six innings. Among the notable lapses by Nats starting pitchers:
| Tanner Roark
| MIA 6
| WSH 4
| MIA 1
| Gio Gonzalez
Otherwise, with few exceptions, Washington's starting pitchers had "quality starts," i.e. at least six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs.
As the (symbolic) second half of the season begins, things are looking very good for the pitching staff, subjectively speaking. Stephen Strasburg shows occasional signs of fatigue and stress toward the middle of games, especially on the hot and muggy days for which Washington is famous, but he seems to have matured enough to know when he has had it. Max Scherzer has not let the occasional disappointments affect his positive outlook, and he has a solid psychological core to "go the distance" into October. Likewise, Tanner Roark is a veritable bulldog on the mound, with good pitching "stuff" and usually a steady temperament. Joe Ross was superb for a rookie pitcher late last season, effectively replacing Doug Fister, and he was excellent for the first several weeks of this year. Time will tell whether he gets over his injury and resumes performing at a top-notch level. His temporary replacement, Lucas Giolito, is touted as the Nats' ace of the future, but still needs polishing at the minor league level. He will probably play in more games after the September 1 roster expansion, perhaps earlier. The big question mark is Gio Gonzalez, the archetypical "head case." One or two things go wrong in the early innings, and he's a mess. It may be the fact that this is the last year of his contract, much like the "final year" pressure evidently ruined Ian Desmond's performance at shortstop last year. But he was the first National to win 20 games in a season (in 2012), and he has at least a few more good years in him -- either in D.C. or elsewhere.
ASG 2016 gripe
In my post about the All Star Game, I neglected to mention something that I wrote on Facebook. In the top of the eighth inning, the National League had the bases loaded, and Aledmys Diaz came up to bat. He took ball one, and then the second pitch which was clearly outside, but the umpire called it a strike. So Diaz felt obliged to swing at the third pitch, which was low, and then he struck out. On that one at-bat hinged the outcome of the whole game, and that umpire's call was a real shame.
July 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Great Egrets pay brief visit
A pair of Great Egrets visited Verona on Thursday, presumably juveniles which fledged in breeding grounds closer to the Atlantic coast. It was only by happenstance that I made this discovery, and otherwise the news might never have circulated in the local birding community. After "shopping" at the Antique Mall in Verona, I drove to the other side of the highway and took a look at the pond in back of the Hardees, at the entrance of the Mill Place industrial park. I hardly ever see any interesting birds there, and I was astonished when I saw a very tall white bird. Unfortunately, it had been raining, or else I would have brought my camera, so I had to hurry home and get my optical gear. When I returned, I saw that there were two Great Egrets, one of which was standing only about 30 yards from the road. CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! It later rejoined its companion on the other side of the pond, and I took some more photos. The breeding range of Great Egrets covers the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, extending upwards into the central Mississippi basin as far north as Illinois.
Great Egret, in Verona, July 14. Roll your mouse over the image to see a closeup of the head. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
More encounters with nature
When I went back to Verona the next day, workers were cutting the grass around the pond, and the Great Egrets were already gone. So I took a leisurely drive through north-central Augusta County, looking for other wetlands and meadows in case something interesting should appear. Bird-wise, it was just "the usual suspects."
So then I headed farther west toward Jennings Gap, through which Route 250 passes, and then went for a short walk along the Chimney Hollow trail. I wasn't really expecting to see much in the way of birds, but mainly wanted to get some peace and quiet. Indeed, the forest was almost silent, in contrast to the countryside fields and meadows I passed on the way there. I heard a couple Acadian Flycatchers, and saw one, and I also heard some odd squeaks in the bushes and finally saw a family of Worm-eating Warblers. Other than that, just a couple of Ravens passing far overhead, the (muted) songs of some Red-eyed Vireos, and the loud call of a Pileated Woodpecker. With overcast skies, it was very dark, and there was a brief sprinkle of rain. But the abundance of colorful fungus in the moist soil more than made up for the lack of birds:
Among the mushrooms in the montage above are Clavulina cristata (top right) and Amanita abrupta (bottom left). Other species are yet uncertain... Once identified, the photos will be posted on the Mushrooms photo gallery page, which I just realized is extremely outdated.
While I was departing to attend the OneVirginia 2021 meeting on Tuesday evening, I saw an enormous moth on the hood of a neighbor's car, and ran back inside to get my camera. It was bigger than my fist, almost five inches across. I determined the species from butterfliesandmoths.org.
Imperial Moth, in Staunton, July 12. A top-view photo can be seen on the Butterflies photo gallery page, which also includes moths -- at least for the time being.
July 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nats almost sweep the Pirates
The Washington Nationals came very close to sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend, with two straight lopsided victories and a marathon 18-inning game that ended up going the other way. Max Scherzer pitched well, giving up only one run over seven innings, but the Nats failed to score at all, leaving him in line for a possible loss. But then with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats' new superstar Daniel Murphy pulled off a feat that defied belief, smashing a home run into the middle deck above the right field bullpen. Yes, he did it!!! It was the kind of storybook narrative that makes you expect destiny to be on your side, but in spite of a superb performance by the bullpen, somehow the Nats just couldn't follow through with an extra-inning win. In the top of the 18th inning, Starling Marte hit a solo homer way up into left field seats, and the Pirates won it, 2-1.
That game bore a haunting similarity to NLDS Game 2 on October 4, 2014, which the Giants won by the same score in the same number of innings. The difference was that in that other game, it was the Giants who tied the game 1-1 in the ninth inning. (That was when then-manager Matt Williams pulled Jordan Zimmermann, who was just one out from winning the game.)
In the first two games of that series, the Nats combined superb pitching with clutch hitting, and the outcome was never really in doubt. On Friday, Stephen Strasburg went eight full innings, getting his 13th win of the season; Nats 5, Pirates 1. The last time a National League pitcher had a 13-0 record was 1912 (Rube Marquard of the New York Giants); see masnsports.com. That's pretty damn impressive! On Saturday, Tanner Roark did even better, pitching into the ninth inning without giving up a run. But he was replaced after giving up a walk and a single, and there went his chance at a first complete-game shutout. Anthony Rendon homered, but the biggest offensive display in that game was by Steven Drew, who hit three doubles. Final score: 6-0.
So the upshot of that series is that the top three pitchers in the Nationals' starting rotation kept up the astounding pattern of many innings with few runs allowed, as I discussed recently. If only it weren't for the mental and physical frailties of the other two starters...
Dodgers torment rookie
In the first of three games against the Dodgers last night, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez took the mound and was immediately subjected to a baptism by fire as the very first batter (Yasmani Grandal -- Who? Oh yeah) hit a home run. Then came a single and a double, putting two runners in scoring position. Then Lopez got two quick outs, almost escaping peril, but Joc Pederson hit a two-run single. That put the Nats in an early hole from which they would not recover. Lopez was just called up from the minors to replace Joe Ross, who is still healing on the DL. (Lucas Giolito had been filling in for Ross, but he was sent back down to the minors after a rough outing against the Mets on July 7.) Lopez managed to strike out nine batters during the four and two-thirds innings he pitched, at least showing some future promise. You have to give him credit for keeping his cool, but I really take issue with the decision to have him start. About the only bright spots for the Nationals were a solo home run by Jose Lobaton in the fifth inning and a two-run triple by Trea Turner in the eighth inning; he then scored on a double by Daniel Murphy. Final score: L.A. 8, D.C. 4. See MLB.com.
The Nats had a day off on Monday, which was good because their bullpen was worn out from the marathon on Sunday. But meanwhile, both their division rivals won their games, and so the Nats' lead in the NL East has fallen from seven games (as of Saturday night) to just 4.5 games over the Marlins and 5.5 games over the Mets.
Finally: Metrodome update
Whew! I recently got started on some minor "repair" work on the Metrodome diagrams, concentrating on the precise position and orientation of the entry portals in the upper deck, but by the time I was finished there were some rather big changes. (Have you heard that one before? Yes.) I made some significant "discoveries" along the way: First, the upper deck actually hung over right field by a couple feet, slightly more in the corner. [I always wondered whether there might have been some overhang there, and then I came across some excellent panoramic photos at cookandsonbats.com, erasing any doubt. The "foul pole" on that side (actually a strip of yelllow fabric, like in Rogers Centre) angled slightly inward.] In that respect, the Metrodome was the opposite of old Comiskey Park, where the foul poles angled slightly outward. In order to illustrate the overhang more clearly, I created a lower-deck diagram for the first time, but it lacks detail. Also, in two of the diagram variants both the top- and bottom-level outlines are shown.
Second, the upper deck is slightly bigger than in the previous rendition (Dec. 17, 2012); it had 31 rows, almost as many as in the lower deck (35 rows). But because the upper-deck overhang is greater than I had thought (about four rows), the net effect of these two changes is that the overall stadium "footprint" is slightly smaller than before. Note that the support columns in the upper deck are easier to see than before, when they were just tiny dots.
Third, my previous diagram indicated a backstop distance of 63 feet, where it should have been 60 feet, so I corrected that. As a result, foul territory decreased slightly, from 34,300 to 33,900 square feet, while fair territory stayed the same, at 107,500 square feet. The new diagrams show that the grandstand quickly transitions from a gradual curve to a sharp bend behind home plate and in the left field corner. (This applies to all four corners in the football diagram variant.) Note that in the "combined" diagram variant, the two extra rows of seats installed between the dugouts in the early 2000s are shown; the foul territory measurement does not pertain to that configuration.
July 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Dodgers get the best of the Nats
Just when you think the Washington Nationals have gotten themselves into a winning groove, they fall back into a slump again. But at least when they do win, they win big! In their only win since last weekend, on Wednesday, they charged out of the starting gate with a colossal first-inning home run by Bryce Harper. (See below.) After that, Ben Revere, Jayson Werth, and Anthony Rendon all had homers for the Nationals, while Gio Gonzalez kept his cool on the mound for once, going six innings. Final score: Nats 8, Dodgers 1.
But the Dodgers bounced back on Thursday, as Stephen Strasburg suffered his very first loss of the year. [He is now 13-1.] It was all thanks to the home runs hit by Justin Turner, in the first and third innings. Strasburg pitched well, getting ten strikeouts, but just two errant pitches was all it took for the visiting team to prevail, 6-3. And thus the Nationals lost the series to the Dodgers, two games to one.
The Nats lost to the Padres in the first of a three-game series yesterday, their fourth loss in the last five games. Hopefully Max Scherzer will do better tonight; I'll deal with that later...
Harper's moon shot
Speaking of slumps, Bryce Harper has had a rough two months now. However, he does occasionally show his latent super powers with a tape-measure home run, such as the one on Wednesday, estimated to have traveled 451 feet without the obstructing grandstand. If you look at page 18 of Robert Adair's book The Physics of Baseball, you'll see that [estimate] is consistent with the longest of the five alternative ball trajectories. MASN's F.P. Santangelo said the ball would have reached the Navy Yard if the upper deck weren't in the way. Well, not quite, but it probably would have left the ballpark and landed on First Street, S.E. I estimate that the ball landed 395 feet horizontally from home plate, and 86 feet vertically. You can see for yourself on the Stadiums superimposed page, by selecting the first line ("distances") from the upper scrolling menu ("Reference stadium") and then selecting Nationals Park, or indeed any stadium, from the lower scrolling menu ("Comparison stadium").
[UPDATE: hittrackeronline.com estimates that ball would have gone 449 feet; hat tip to Bruce Orser. From looking at the freeze-frame video, I could see that the ball landed in the 13th row of Section 236, in the third deck "Terrace" level in right field. (There are 21 rows total, so that was nearly two-thirds the way up.) I noticed that of the four people in the group, one was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, and one was wearing an L.A. Dodgers cap. They were later given Nationals caps, perhaps in exchange for that ball. The Washington Post reported that it "landed in the lap of Rev. Dr. Susan Moore of D.C.'s All Souls Church..." The seat where it landed will probably be marked with red paint, as other tape-measure homers in Nationals Park have been.]
Cleveland Stadium update
I just made some revisions to the Cleveland Stadium diagrams, and as usual the difficulty of the task turned out to exceed my expectations. Since the last such update on Sept. 8, 2012, I made some important discoveries, and not surprisingly, Bruce Orser deserves almost all the credit for research. Most significantly, he sent me an article from 1931 which provides rich detail on the exact overall dimensions of the stadium (800 feet long, and 725 feet wide), as well as number of rows in each deck, both in front of and behind the support beams. It also states very clearly something I suspected before: the roof actually extended several feet beyond the front edge of the upper deck! Another significant change was the center-field bleachers, which are bigger than before. Of course, I included those architectural details, along with the entry portals, etc. Finally, I realized that center field was oriented toward the northeast, not straight east as I previously thought. For some reason I had thought that the Lake Erie shore (to which the stadium was parallel) runs more or less east to west.
One of the photographic resources I consulted was phanfare.com. It shows the support beams and entry portals of Cleveland Stadium more clearly than any other places I have seen.
As followers of this Web site know, one of the detail enhancements every time I make a diagram update is the the bullpen, showing the pitching rubbers and plates and relief pitcher "dugouts," if any. In this case, that task was made much easier by the photos contained in the book Strike Three: My Years in the 'Pen, by Dr. Thomas Tomsick. He discusses, among many other things, the effect of moving the bullpen from beyond the center field fence to the spaces near the foul poles. In my diagrams of Cleveland Stadium, the bullpen pitching mounds are rendered in dark brown to distinguish them from the warning tracks.
Speaking of which, many thanks to Dr. Tomsick for once again sponsoring the Cleveland Stadium page; that is where he used to serve as the bullpen catcher for the Indians. He wrote a wonderful book about his experiences in Cleveland and other American League cities during the mid-1960s. The Indians had a superior pitching rotation in 1966, consisting of Luis Tiant, Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, Steve Hargan, and Gary Bell. They were in first place until June, but then steadily fell back, finishing the season in fifth place (out of ten), with an 81-81 record.
Speaking of Cleveland, Donald Trump was there this week, speaking at a political gathering in Quicken Loans Arena. I bet he would have loved Cleveland Stadium. Why? Because it was HYU-U-UGE! During their convention, the Republicans rented out next-door Progressive Field as a display venue for all sorts of political vendors. FUN FACT: Even thought Progressive Field is named after a company, not an ideology, the company's long-time president Peter Lewis indeed was a progressive, or as the Washington Post called him, a "liberal mega-donor." He passed away three years ago.
July 24, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Green Heron family on Bell's Lane
Until last Thursday, I had seen only one Green Heron on Bell's Lane all year, though I did see some elsewhere: at Huntley Meadows in Fairfax County (June 30) and at the Nazarene Church Road wetlands in Rockingham County (July 8). Penny Warren (see note below*) has reported seeing more than one such bird in the Bell's Lane area on a few occasions, and last week she reported seeing several Green Heron fledglings -- proof that they had successfully bred within the Staunton city limits! On Thursday afternoon I decided to take a look at the location she identified: the ravine near the north end of Bell's Lane, next to the entrance to the Days Inn motel. It has become flooded over the last several months thanks to a beaver dam. Anyway, I did spot the fledgling Green Herons not long after I arrived at the ravine. On the way there, I also saw and photographed an adult Green Heron perched near a Belted Kingfisher on a wire above a pond. Plus, I took a nice photo of a male Goldfinch.
Green Heron juveniles, on Bell's Lane, July 21. They appear to have fuzz around their heads, causing a sort of "halo" effect. Other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
In other local bird news, we have had further reports of Sandhill Cranes north of Fishersville, a possible indication that it may be a breeding pair. (See my June 7 blog post; scroll down.) If so, that would be HUGE news!
* ABC leadership transition
Penny Warren has served as president of the Augusta Bird Club for the last five years, a period during which the club embarked on several big new initiatives. The club logo was redesigned, and now features a stylized rendition of a Meadowlark, which members felt was a more suitable symbol of a typical bird that distinguishes Augusta County from other parts of Virginia. (Previously, it was a House Finch.) Second, hats featuring the new club logo were manufactured and sold to members, who now proudly display them on birding ventures. Third, new efforts at community outreach have been made, including the monthly "Beer and Brews, Wine and Wings" social hour at the Yelping Dog in downtown Staunton. Fourth, the club "adopted" Bell's Lane as part of Staunton's community cleanup program, and some of us have made the effort to remove trash and beverage containers from the side of the road there. Finally, a new display kiosk was built and installed on Bell's Lane, with a chalkboard that allows people to share observations of birds and other wildlife in that precious natural haven. It all adds up to a HUGE record of accomplishment for Penny, and she deserves hearty praise and recognition for it.
Understandably, Penny needed a rest from all her efforts, and Peter Van Acker was elected to replace her at the club meeting in April. That was the same month that I assumed responsibility as editor of the club newsletter, on top of my existing responsibilities as Web site editor.
July 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Padres get the best of the Nats
It's one thing to lose a series with the Dodgers, but losing a series with the fourth-place Padres -- especially during a crucial home stand -- is just not tolerable. There is little doubt that the Washington Nationals are in a slump. The question is, how bad is it?
In the Friday night game, Matt Kemp hit a solo homer in the first inning, but then Jayson Werth did likewise in the bottom of the inning. Wilson Ramos quickly gave the Nats a 2-1 lead by batting in Bryce Harper, who had walked and then stolen second base. But in the fifth inning, Kemp hit another home run, this time with two runners on base, and the Padres took the lead. Starting pitcher Tanner Roark was just not as sharp as he had been against the Pirates on July 16. Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer in the eighth inning, but the Nats still lost the game, 5-3.
On Saturday, Max Scherzer pitched seven full innings and struck out ten batters, a splendid performance marred only when he gave up a two-run homer to rookie Ryan Schmipf in the second inning. The stakes were high in a game that the Nationals absolutely had to win, and the score remained tied 2-2 until the bottom of the ninth inning. Steven Drew came in as a pinch-hitter, and launched a line drive off the wall to the right of center field, allowing Anthony Rendon to score the winning run in dramatic walk-off fashion. That was a HUGE relief for Nats fans.
On Sunday afternoon, it was a tense back-and-forth affair. Leadoff batter Trea Turner started things on a good note by hitting a triple to the right field corner, later scoring on a sac fly. It was the youngster's third triple of the year, and he may end up being called "Triple" Turner as a nickname. In the third inning, the Padres loaded the bases and then scored three runs on a single, because of center fielder Michael Taylor's poorly-judged throw toward home that was mishandled. He should have thrown it to third base and gotten an easy out. The Nats came right back with a four-run rally in the bottom of the third, sparked by starting pitcher Lucas Giolito. But Giolito failed to get outs and was relieved in the top of the fourth. After that, things settled down until the Padres hit two solo homers off Shawn Kelley in the eighth inning, thus tying the game. In the top of the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon took the mound and got two outs. But then he proceeded to give up three consecutive singles and then a double, a meltdown of epic proportions. He was booed off the mound by the home crowd, and Yusmeiro Petit came in to get the final out. Apparently, Papelbon was tired after pitching the previous two nights. The Nats went down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the ninth, a most disheartening conclusion to the game, and to the home stand. Final score: Padres 10, Nats 6. For the first time this year, an opposing team scored in the double digits against the Nationals.
That was the Nationals' final home game of the month, and they really haven't made much of home field advantage lately. Of the 15 home games in July, the Nats only won seven. Now they embark on a brutal road trip through [Cleveland], San Francisco, and Phoenix. With both the Marlins and the Mets only five games behind , the Nats will need a bit of luck to hang on to sole possession of first place through the end of July.
In sum, the Nats show plenty of positive signs, and they clearly have the right combination of spirit, talent, and desire to win. What they lack is consistency. The slump is only a passing thing, I think, but they still have much to prove if they expect to get far into October. As the trade deadline approaches, much depends on the front office; see below. Tonight Ryan Zimmerman returns from the DL, as the Nats begin a long road trip playing the first of two games against the first-place Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland. I guess that means I'd better hurry with a diagram update...
Cubs get Chapman
Hopes that the Nationals might make a deal to get Aroldis Chapman as a closing pitcher were dashed yesterday when it was announced that the Chicago Cubs acquired the Cuban superstar in a mega-trade with the New York Yankees. See MLB.com. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell recently urged the Nats to go all-out in pursuit of Chapman, and you have to wonder how hard the team's General Manager Mike Rizzo tried.
Talk about stadium proximity!
One of my old friends from South Dakota, Greg Merrigan, has been visiting the Great Northwest, and posted on Facebook a fantastic photo that was taken from a high-rise building, showing both Seattle stadiums: Century Link Field, home of the Seahawks, and Safeco Field, home of the Mariners.
Century Link Field (foreground), and Safeco Field, courtesy of Greg Merrigan. (This is a cropped version; you can see the uncropped original by clicking on it.)
Of course, I added that photo to the Safeco Field page. I may eventually add another thumbnail diagram depicting an outline Century Link Field along with Safeco Field, as I have done with other football stadiums adjacent to MLB stadiums. (The one below merely shows Safeco Field with the Kingdome, in 1999 or early 2000. I have already updated some of the new thumbnail diagrams on the Stadium proximity page.
While browsing my collection of baseball books recently, looking for photos of Cleveland Stadium, I came across an interesting photo in the book Fantography, by Andy Strasberg, of a spring training game in the late 1940s being played right next to the Orange Bowl. So I did some research, and learned all about Miami Field (which predated Miami Stadium, built in 1949 ) at the Baseball Researcher blog. It's so obscure that it doesn't even have its own Wikipedia page! So I added a crude preliminary rendering of Miami Field to the thumbnail diagram showing how the Orange Bowl overlapped Marlins Park.
It may be worth recalling (at least from my biased point of view) that on, in the University of Miami's final game at the Orange Bowl nearly nine years ago, the University of Virginia Cavaliers trounced the Hurricanes 48-0. That's gotta hurt! See my November 11, 2007
brag blog post.
Speaking of Miami, I learned a few more details about the recent changes to the outfield walls at Marlins Park from Mike Zurawski. We already knew that a new fence was built in center field, reducing the distance there by as much as 11 feet, and that parts of the outfield fences were reduced in height. In particular, it will henceforth be 7 feet tall between the digital display in the left field corner and the out-of-town scoreboard, and 8.5 feet tall between the Home Run Sculpture and the Marlins bullpen in right field. Portions of the outfield wall with a scoreboard or digital display will remain at 11.5 feet tall. (I round up to the nearest foot.) Previously the walls were 11.5 feet across the outfield, except for center field, where it gradually tapered up to about 15 feet. (The article does not mention that, however.) For photos and a video, see the On Cloud Conine blog.
July 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Colorful birds in the mountains
After searching in vain for the Sandhill Cranes that have been reported north of Fishersville this afternoon, I kept going east through Waynesboro and then decided to pay a brief visit to the nearby Shenandoah National Park. (Gotta get my money's worth for that annual pass!) It was very cloudy, not well-suited for photography, and started to rain as I was leaving. Within a mile of the entry station I saw a Black Bear in the bushes along the road, my first one of the year! At Jarman's Gap I saw an American Redstart or two, plus some Chickadees, a Titmouse, and a White-breasted Nuthatch. I also heard a Cuckoo -- sounding like a Black-billed, but probably a Yellow-billed. I got as far north as the Moorman's River Overlook and caught a glimpse of a hawk (probably Broad-winged) before turning back. I saw families of Red-eyed Vireos and Indigo Buntings at nearby Wildcat Ridge, and another family of Indigo Buntings at McCormick's Gap Overlook. I also saw a Baltimore Oriole there, either female or juvenile. On my way out I saw a bear crossing the road, but it got away before I could take a photo. It appeared to be a yearling, probably the same one as before.
Goldfinch (foreground), Indigo Bunting (background), at Moorman's River Overlook, SNP. Roll your mouse over this image to see one bird in focus, roll away to see the other one in focus, and click on it to see both in focus again -- thanks to some digital trickery!
You can see more of today's photos on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
July 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals bounce back vs. Indians
After another disaster of epic proportions starring Jonathan Papelbon on Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals managed to beat the Cleveland Indians, splitting the two-game series. On Tuesday evening, the Nats scored twice in the first inning, but then the Indians came right back and tied it in the bottom of the inning. Gio Gonzalez had a shaky start, but settled down and went six and a third innings giving up just three runs (two earned), his second consecutive quality start. Anthony Rendon put the Nats ahead again with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Wilson Ramos had a solo homer in the sixth inning. Jonathan Papelbon took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, enjoying a 6-4 lead, and promptly gave up a walk and a double to put the Indians within one run. Then came a bunt toward first base, which Ryan Zimmerman grabbed and threw the ball well to the right of Daniel Murphy, who was covering first, and the tying run scored. That was hard to believe.; apparently, Zimmerman is still getting adjusted after coming off the DL. Then came an intentional walk and a freak badly-executed pop bunt that went over the head of Anthony Rendon, who was charging to get the expected ground ball bunt. Bases loaded, with nobody out! Dusty Baker decided Papelbon was done, and put in Oliver Perez, an impossible task. He did get one out, but then came the inevitable RBI single to win the game, 7-6. That broke the Indians' three-game losing streak.
So how would the Nats react to a second straight punch in the gut? Very well, actually. Rookie Trea Turner hit a double as leadoff batter in the first inning, but the next three batters failed to advance him any further. In the second inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, Turner hit a single that got two runners across the plate. In the sixth inning, Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer to right field, Turner batted in another run with his second double of the evening. On the mound, Stephen Strasburg pitched seven complete innings without giving up a run, and only allowing three hits. He was his usual spectacular self, and got his 14th win of the year, bouncing back from a disappointing loss against the Dodgers the week before. With a four-run lead, Felipe Rivero took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, and gave up a walk plus two singles, making it a 4-1 game. Dusty Baker yanked him, and put Blake Treinen in. The game quickly ended on a double play, and Nats fans drew a HUGE collective sigh of relief. Another blown lead would have crippled the team's morale as they head to San Francisco for a four-game series with the Giants.
Bullpen crisis again?
So, the Nationals have a major bullpen issue just as the season enters a critical phase -- eearily reminiscent of one year ago, when they acquired Papelbon. (In retrospect, a huge mistake.) The Nats lost the bidding war with the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, and apparently the Yankees are demanding multiple hot minor league prospects as the price for their other ace relief pitchers, Andrew Miller or Wade Davis. It's a tough predicament for G.M. Mike Rizzo to handle. Meanwhile, two of the Nats' former top relief pitchers aren't doing very well: Tyler Clippard signed as a free agent with Diamondbacks* this year, but his ERA is 4.30, with 2 wins and 3 losses. Drew Storen was just traded to the Mariners soon after being "designated for assignment" by the Blue Jays; see MLB.com. I wish him all the luck in the world; he really needs it.
* The Nats may face him when they play three games in Phoenix next week.
Leadoff batter: Turner!
But at least one major weak spot in the Nats roster seems to have been fixed. In yesterday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell wrote that the Nationals should reward Trea Turner for his stellar offensive performance by making him the regular leadoff hitter, in lieu of Ben Revere, who simply has not lived up to expectations. I heartily agree. Turner batted in three of the Nats' four runs yesterday, and his speed and defensive prowess make him a valuable addition to the lineup. Earlier today, the Nationals announced that Turner will be the leadoff batter in tonight's game against the Giants. (I hope I can stay awake!)
Trea Turner, at shortstop, in his very first major league game last August.
Nationals Park gripe
Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that Joe Starkey, a Pittsburgh writer and radio host, complained about Nationals Park in very stark terms: "Who's the idiot who built that place?" For one thing, the parking garage in left field bugs him. I readily acknowledge that the home of the Pirates, PNC Park, is one of if not the finest of the "neoclassical" MLB ballparks, so perhaps his standards are unrealistically high. Or else he just likes to whine.
Progressive Field update
Seeing those games in Cleveland on TV prompted me to make some long-overdue revisions to the Progressive Field (formerly known as Jacobs Field) diagrams, and there is a new variant that shows the major renovations that were done in 2015. As explained on that page, the upper portions of the upper deck in right field were covered with new "party decks," a thinly veiled downsizing so as to eliminate excess capacity and thus generate more ticket revenue. (Just like what was done at Coors Field.) In addition, the second deck in right field was reduced in size, the bullpens were relocated, new table-top seating and drink rail seating replaced traditional seats in several sections, and the pedestrian bridge over the plaza beyond center field was removed. I made a few minor corrections to the diagrams as well, and enhanced the bullpen detail, as usual. The profiles are the same as before.
Whenever a stadium undergoes major renovations such as this, I try to make an appropriate diagram revision within a few weeks of Opening Day. In this case, I'm over a year behind schedule...
July 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nats barely beat the Giants, twice
The Washington Nationals sure know how to make their games exciting! With the bullpen situation in utter disarray, no lead is safe in the late innings. Fortunately, their starting pitchers have done superbly in the last three games, each going seven innings while give up no more than one run. On Thursday evening, Tanner Roark went up against Giants' ace pitcher Johnny Cueto, a daunting challenge. But the Nats staged a three-run rally in the third inning, and Cueto was visibly flustered. Relief pitcher Sammy Solis got through the eighth inning unscathed, allowing just a walk, but the ninth inning was a classic "Maalox Moment." Having learned from the previous disasters on the mound, Dusty Baker had clearly lost patience with the erstwhile closing pitcher Jonathan Paplebon, who was yanked after giving up a walk and a single, with just one out. But the next pitcher Oliver Perez was almost as shaky, and it didn't help that the Giants scored on a weird infield ground ball that Danny Espinosa flubbed. Shawn Kelley then came in and struck out Denard Span to end the game. Whew! Final score: Nats 4, Giants 2.
Johnny Cueto, who joined the San Francisco Giants this year. (Photo digitally altered, using a photo I took on July 7, 2015 when he played for the Cincinnati Reds, just before he was traded to the Kansas City Royals. Roll your mouse over the image, and then click it to see the original and previously-altered versions.)
Last night (Friday), the Giants scored a run on two hits in the second inning, but Max Scherzer hung in there and finished seven innings only giving up three more hits. He got six strikeouts, taking the #1 spot in the major leagues at least for the time being. The Nats got lots of clutch hits in the middle innings, scoring once in the fourth, twice in the fifth, and once in the sixth inning.
The Giants were threatening in the bottom of the eighth inning, having loaded the bases with nobody out, when the whole game changed course in a sudden twist of fate. Brandon Crawford smashed a low line drive right that seemed certain to score at least one run, except that it landed into the glove of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He trotted to first to force out the base runner and then lobbed the ball to third base, thereby turning the very first triple play in Nationals history! See MLB.com. Not only that, it the very first 3-3-5 triple play in MLB history. For a list of all previous MLB triple plays, see baseball-almanac.com. There has been one triple play in Nationals Park, on May 19, 2010. Ironically, the Nationals beat the Mets in that game 5-3, even though the other team executed the triple play before, and in both games Angel Pagan was on the other team.
The ninth inning had plenty of drama, as Felipe Rivero got two quick outs but was then yanked after giving up a single. The next pitcher Shawn Kelley likewise gave up a single, and Nats' nerves were fraying badly. But he finally struck out Eduardo Nuñez to end the game. Whew again! Final score: Nats 4, Giants 1.
Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins lost, so the Nationals' lead in the NL East is now six games. This afternoon's game in San Francisco is a tight one, 3-3 in the middle of the fifth inning.
Nats get Melancon in trade
Kudos to General Manager Mike Rizzo for getting a top-notch closing pitcher, two days before the non-waiver trading deadline. It was announced this afternoon that the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to trade Mark Melancon for two left-handed Nats pitchers: Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn, a rookie prospect. It's strange that the Pirates have pretty much given up hope for the postseason this year. Melancon (pronounced "Mel-AN-son," suggesting French ancestry) was an All-Star this year, and had 51 saves for the Pirates last year. [He came up with the New York Yankees in 2009, and later played for Houston and Boston. During his three years in Pittsburgh, he logged at least 71 innings pitched each year, and had a cumulative ERA of under 2.00, which is pretty impressive. He could be the guy who makes the difference for the Nationals as this season heads toward a climax.] He should be available to pitch in the series finale in San Francisco on Sunday. See MLB.com.