April 1, 2019
There were a few surprises in the first regular season baseball games to be played in North America this year. The Baltimore Orioles took two of three games from the New York Yankees, to the surprise of many. They won again tonight, but remain in second place behind the Tampa Bay Rays. But thanks to their two-game head start in Japan, the Seattle Mariners (see diagram update below) have the best MLB record right now, 5-1.
In Our Nation's Capital, the Washington Nationals stumbled out of the starting gates against the visiting New York Mets. In typical fashion, Max Scherzer threw a brilliant game with a dozen strikouts and only two hits over 7 2/3 innings, but both of those hits resulted in runs scored. In the first inning, former Yankee and Mariner Robinson Cano homered in his very first at bat as a Met. Scherzer just refuses to back down from a challenge, and he paid for it once again. But facing Cy Young Award winner Jacob DeGrom, Scherzer's team failed to give him any run support, and he took the loss in a classic pitchers' duel. Mets 2, Nats 0. It was only the second time the Nats had been shut out on Opening Day, the first being in 2011 against the Braves. The only bright spot for the Nats was Trea Turner, who got two hits and stole three bases.
On Saturday, Stephen Strasburg had a shaky start, giving up three runs in the first inning, but then he got in command of the situation. He left after throwing eight strikeouts over six innings [virtually the same numbers as the Mets' pitcher Noah Syndergaard], and the Nats bailed him out by tying the game 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth. But then the Nats bullpen imploded, and dark memories of similar episodes in 2018 came to mind. In his first appearance since returning from Tommy John surgery, relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal gave up four runs without recording an out in the top of the eighth inning. In the ninth inning, Matt Grace and Wander Suero gave up three more runs, giving the Mets a seven-run lead. The Nats rallied with four runs in the ninth inning, as Ryan Zimmerman came within a few feet of hitting a grand slam to left field, but it was all for nought. Final score: 11-8. Worth noting is that Victor Robles hit the first home run of the year for the Nationals, in the third inning.
On Sunday, Patrick Corbin took the mound in his debut appearance as a National, and he pitched pretty well. (Whew!) He gave up just two runs over six innings and was in line for the win, thanks primarily to a three-run homer by Trea Turner in the third inning. But once again, the Nats' bullpen imploded in the eighth inning, as new Nats reliever Tony Sipp gave up two hits while only getting one out, and then Trevor Rosenthal immediately gave up an RBI single to Robinson Cano. Oh-oh. So then manager Dave Martinez sounds the alarm and brings in closing pitcher Sean Doolittle to put the fire out, but the move didn't work. Doolittle gave up three hits and two runs, blowing the save. He got through the top of the ninth with only one hit, and the game went into the bottom of the ninth tied 5-5. After Adam Eaton flied out, Trea Turner came up to bat and got to a full 3-2 count before swinging at a low pitch and just clearing the left field wall for a dramatic and desperately-needed walk-off home run. YES!!! I have already added that bit of information to the Washington Nationals page.
On a sad note, former National Daniel Murphy, who signed a contract as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies, broke his finger while making a diving catch. He'll be out of action for several weeks at least.
In other sports news, the University of Virginia Cavaliers have advanced to the NCAA Men's Final Four championship for the first time since 1984. They beat the Purdue Boilermakers 80-75 in a very tight game that went into overtime thanks to a miraculous last-second shot by Mamadi Diakite. (I knew he was from west Africa but just learned that he was born in Conakry, Guinea.) The Cavaliers were ranked #2 in the nation for much of the season, much like last year, when they were eliminated in the first round, and three years ago, when they only made it as far as the "Elite Eight" round. The Final Four will be played in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium, which occupies the same ground where the Metrodome once stood, so in a sense it will be the third Final Four played at that location.
I thought it might be useful to gather information on all the Final Four events held in stadiums that were home to MLB teams, or in which MLB teams have played. Later on, I may add this table to the Other sports use page, which I created last June.
|Venue||City, state||1st year||2nd year||3rd year||4th year||5th year|
|Louisiana Superdome *||New Orleans, LA||1982||1987||1993||2003||2012|
|HHH Metrodome||Minneapolis, MN||1992||2001|
|Alamodome *||San Antonio, TX||1998||2004||2008|
|[ Tropicana Field||St. Petersburg, FL||1999 ]|
* Including stadiums used by MLB teams in exhibition games.
I may eventually do a diagram of the Alamodome, since it can be (and has been) reconfigured for baseball games. While researching that in my World Almanac and on the often-reliable Wikipedia, I discovered that the "University of Phoenix Stadium" (home of the NFL Arizona Cardinals) is now called "State Farm Stadium."
To commemorate Virginia's last appearance in the Final Four, I decided to make a quick, minor diagram update to the venue where they played in 1984 -- the Kingdome, former home of the Seattle Mariners (and Seahawks, Supersonics, etc.). There is a new middle-deck diagram, since the second deck was entirely covered by the upper deck and therefore not otherwise visible. The only real change involved the position of the entry portals in the upper deck (moved back a couple feet), and showing details of the small stairs on either side of each upper-deck entry portal. In addition, there is now a dark line in back of the lateral walkway in the lower deck, since the grandstand pitch was relatively steep and there was a significant vertical discontinuity, along with a barrier. Those diagrams were last updated in January 2015. I need to find the original photo slide so I can make a better scanned image than the one which is posted on that page. (I passed by the Kingdome while I was in Seattle in 1987.)
One of the leading contenders seeking to purchase the Washington Nationals franchise 13 years ago, Fred Malek, passed away last week. The Washington Post article about him highlighted his role in the Nixon administration's "hunt" for Jewish officials in the Federal bureaucracy, which was indeed a sorry affair. Malek seemed to be a loyal party man first and foremost, the very epitome of the much-maligned "Washington Establishment," but he was also a big fan of baseball who strove for many years to get the National Pastime back to the Nation's Capital. As far back as March 2002 I was regularly commenting in my blog on his strong efforts to purchase the Montreal Expos in order to bring baseball back to Washington. In contrast, until September 2005 I wasn't even aware of Ted Lerner and his family, who ended up winning the bidding war for the franchise the following May. Here's hoping that Malek is remembered for his involvement in getting baseball back to D.C.