September 25, 2012 [LINK / comment]
Nationals get back at Brewers, twice
Facing a talented and desperate opponent in the Milwaukee Brewers in the four-game series, the Washington Nationals twice found themselves on the losing end. And twice they came back on the next day to get sweet revenge, winning by lopsided margins. Those two victories were so similar it was almost like deja vu all over again.
I had the great pleasure to be at the game on Saturday afternoon, when the Nationals batters woke up. Just like last month, the game was sold out, in part because of the postgame concert. (See below.) So, I had to settle for standing room only tickets, which was just as well because I was unaccompanied and was therefore free to wander all over the place and take pictures. (The photos below and a few others will soon appear on the Nationals Park page.) It was also "Pups in the Park Day," when dog owners could bring their pooches to the game. Seeing all those varied canines added a lively atmosphere to the game. But wait, there's more! As part of "Fan Appreciation Month," each fan was given a free poster with a group photo of the Nationals team. The posters were bigger and of better quality than similar items from past years, and I was impressed.
Anyway, the home team got on the board first with three runs in the third inning, thanks to doubles by Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Adam LaRoche. In the fourth inning they scored six runs, capped by a three-run home run by Ryan Zimmerman, his 22nd of the year. Not to be outdone, Ian Desmond hit a three-run home run later that inning, his 23rd of the year. With a 9-0 lead, starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez had plenty of breathing room. Although he did face a couple jams in the early innings, the only two runs he gave up came in the sixth inning. Adam LaRoche contributed a home run of his own (#32) in the sixth inning. Michael Gonzalez (no relation) came in to pitch in the eighth inning, and Christian Garcia pitched in the ninth inning, giving up a two-run homer. Final score: Nats 10, Brewers 4. And thus, Gio Gonzalez became the first pitcher in the majors this year to reach the 20-win level. Cy Young Award??!
After circling the main concourse counterclockwise during the first inning, I spent the next few innings in the picnic table area behind the lower deck in right center field. (That's where the dogs were.) I made sure to bring the Washington Post coupons for one-dollar hot dogs and five-dollar beers, but the beer cups were only 12 ounces, not the usual 16-ounce size. (Bargain or ripoff?) I had a pretty good view of Ryan Zimmerman's no-doubt home run to the back of the visitors' bullpen, but couldn't see the high-trajectory ball hit by Ian Desmond until it landed in the seats, about sixty feet in front me. By the sixth inning, I had migrated to the main concourse on the third base side, and had a fine view of Adam LaRoche's homer into right field. By the end of the game, I was on the first base side. Aside from a brief stroll past the Red Loft, I never ascended to the upper decks.
For a complete game wrap-up, see MLB.com or the Washington Post.
It's what we like to call "NATITUDE"!
While peering with my binoculars from the Red Loft, I saw a guy with bushy white hair high up in the press box -- none other than "Mr. Baseball" himself, Bob Uecker!
And speaking of the Brewers, I didn't realize until recently that they adopted a new team logo with an outline of the state of Wisconsin in the background.
As if all the drama of the division race weren't enough, there was a "Nats Live" postgame concert featuring country music star Dierks Bentley. The number of cowboy boots I saw worn by fans suggests that that might have boosted attendance. Bentley was very friendly, played some good kick-ass tunes, and added a verse to one of his songs referring to Gio Gonzalez's 20th win. That was nice. Another song was all about cold beer, which probably raised the sales volume for malt beverages. For a country musician, however, he has an interesting background. According to the Washington Post, "He was president of his dorm and played varsity lacrosse at Lawrenceville Academy, a New Jersey boarding school that now charges $51,000 a year." (???)
After getting myself a "NATITUDE 2012 Postseason" T-shirt and other items at the team store, I exited the stadium from the Home Plate Gate on the southwest side. Just in case a photo or autograph opportunity arose, I waited along with other fans by the players' parking lot for a few minutes before heading home, with a big smile on my face.
Another loss, another win
I was back home on Sunday afternoon, a bright and sunny day -- a little too sunny, from the Nationals' point of view. Chien-Ming Wang was pitching, and did pretty well over four innings, but two bad-luck plays tipped the game in favor of the Brewers. In the fourth inning Ryan Braun hit a routine fly ball to center field, but Bryce Harper lost the ball in the sun, and the Brewers went on to put two runs on the board. The Nats came back to tie it an inning later, but in the seventh inning, the same thing happened to right fielder Jayson Werth, and three runs were scored. The visitors ended up on top, 6-2.
But then on Monday afternoon, the Nationals batters woke up once again. It was another bright and sunny day -- a little too sunny, from the Brewers' point of view. The home team got on the board first with a run in the first inning, thanks to some base-running hustle by Bryce Harper. Once again, in the fourth inning they scored six runs, capped by a three-run home run by Ryan Zimmerman, his 23rd of the year. The rally got started when center fielder Carlos Gomez lost a fly ball in the sun. (What comes around goes around.) After two more runs in the fifth, the Nats had a 9-0 lead, so starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann had plenty of breathing room. He had a great outing, put his team ahead with an RBI single in the fourth inning, and gave up only one run in 6 2/3 innings on the mound. The bullpen did their job, though Tyler Clippard was charged with an earned run in the eighth inning. But the Nats scored three more in the bottom of that inning. Final score: Nats 12, Brewers 2. (Deja vu paragraph!)
By splitting the four-game series, the Nats reduced their magic number to just five, with nine games left to play in the regular season. They play three games in Philadelphia, three games in St. Louis, and then three games back in D.C., against the Phillies again. Remember those ketchup ads from the 70s, with that Carly Simon song? "Anticipation, anticipa-a-tion is making me wait..."
Playoffs come into focus
Yes sports fans, the Washington Nationals continue to have the best record in the majors, 93-60. Believe it or not!!! The fact that they have clinched a postseason berth for the first time is a nice accomplishment, but of secondary importance in terms of their primary quest, which is to win a division title. The Cincinnati Reds (92-61) and San Francisco Giants (89-64) clinched the National League Central and Western Division titles. The Atlanta Braves have a virtual lock on the first wild card spot, and the St. Louis Cardinals are likely to get the second spot.
On the American League side, it's a wide-open free-for-all, with the Orioles hot on the heels of the Yankees, the Tigers chasing the White Sox, and the Athletics still within range of the Rangers. It's a certainty that five of those six teams will make it to the postseason, but nobody knows by which route. Because of their low winning percentages, either the White Sox or Tigers will fall by the wayside nine days from now.