July 29, 2019
If there was one absolute must-win game for the Nationals this year, yesterday's series finale against the L.A. Dodgers was it. Having lost the first two games of the series (see below), the Nats desperately needed to avoid losing a fourth consecutive game as the NL East division-leading Atlanta Braves headed to Washington. The daunting challenge weighed heavily on my mind as I drove north and east toward Washington yesterday morning, but I was confident that with Stephen Strasburg as the starting pitcher, the Nationals had a very good chance of prevailing. I went for the first time with a friend named Matthew and his son Julian, and we parked on the south side of Audi Field, which opened as the new home of the D.C. United soccer team about a year ago. (I previously saw it in the latter stages of construction.)
Since the temperatures were expected to reach the mid-90s, we chose seats based on proximity and shade: the back of the second deck on the first base side. The location suited us fine, but I forgot about the restricted visibility. Indeed, we missed seeing a couple extra-base hits into the right field corner. I noticed that they are adding an extra level to the roofs on top of the parking garages (right center in the photo below), which will probably further reduce the view of the Washington skyline. The new condo buildings across N Street from those parking garages are open.
Stephen Strasburg got off to a great start, striking out the first two batters and inducing a groundout by the third batter. The bottom of the first inning featured a dramatic moment in which Adam Eaton (the second batter) struck out and then complained to the umpire about the called second strike, which should have been ball four, and was promptly ejected from the game. Manager Dave Martinez then voiced his objection to the umpire, and he was ejected from the game as well! That probably helped boost the team's fighting spirit.
Neither team scored during the first four innings, and the Nats recorded the only two hits. In fact, Strasburg had a perfect game going until the fifth inning, when A.J. Pollock smashed a double into the left field corner. He later scored. But the Nationals bounced right back to take the lead in the bottom of the inning, with a hit by Gerardo Parra and a home run over the scoreboard in right field by Brian Dozier. [Each time Parra came up to bat, they played his theme song, the cute but intensely annoying "Baby Shark."] An inning later the Nationals unleashed a four-run rally on three singles, two walks, and an errant throw to home plate by the first baseman, Joc Pederson. I was amazed that Dave Martinez let Strasburg bat rather than put in a pinch hitter, since his pitch count was almost as high as the temperature -- in the nineties. But Strasburg hit an RBI single, validating the decision. The Nats scored four more runs in the eighth inning, giving them a ten-run lead, but the Dodgers made a token comeback in the ninth inning. Relief pitcher Michael Blazek gave up two walks, got two outs, and then a home run to Corey Seager. That made the final score slightly less lopsided: 11-4. In short, it was a wonderful afternoon of baseball in Our Nation's Capital.
Coincidentally, both starters threw exactly 100 pitches, but that is where the similarity ended. Strasburg got nine strikeouts [with no walks and just two hits] over seven innings, whereas Buehler struck out just three batters over five and a third innings. It's worth pointing out that Stephen Strasburg's superlative performance on the mound and in the batter's box yesterday was strikingly similar to the July 18 game, in which the Nats beat the Braves by the very same score: 11 to 4! It provides a nice margin of safety for the Nationals as their ace pitcher Max Scherzer deals with a lingering tight back.
I managed to get photos of a few of the new Nationals players, as well as Matt Adams, who played with the Nats for much of last year but was traded away before the game I saw in September. Miniature photos of them are now shown on the Washington Nationals page. I didn't get photos of others who did not play, however: Yan Gomes, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, or Fernando Rodney. And since Manager Dave Martinez was ejected early in the game, I never got a good photo of him.
Since the Atlanta Braves lost to the Phillies on Sunday, the Nationals regained one of the two games they had lost in the NL East standings, and are now 5 1/2 games in back.
On our way out of Nationals Park, I noticed a primitive-looking sign for a new craft brewery: Bardo's Beer Garden. Since it is located under the Frederick Douglass bridge, I assume the name Bardo is a play on the name of French actress Brigitte Bardeaux.
In the first game of the series (mentioned in my Friday blog post), the Nats rallied to tie in the seventh inning and almost took the lead. But the Dodgers came right back in the eighth inning, as Justin Turner hit a three-run homer off Kyle Barraclough, who had just recently returned to the active roster and was obviously not ready for prime time. Another managerial goof by Dave Martinez, I'd say. The Nats rallied in the ninth inning, but still lost, -2. [CORRECTED]
The outcome of Saturday's game almost seemed like a foregone conclusion, as relief pitcher Matt Grace took the mound as a starter for just the second time in his career, [facing the legendary Clayton Kershaw]. To my amazement, he went two innings without allowing any batter to reach base. But for some strange reason, Dave Martinez replaced him with Joe Ross in the third inning, and all hell broke loose. The first batter he faced, young catcher Will Smith (not the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"), hit a solo home run, and three more Dodger runs scored in the fourth inning. Smith ended up with six RBIs in that game, almost single-handedly winning it for the Dodgers. Final score: L.A. 9, D.C. 3.