May 7, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Nats surge to first place, fall to last
In the evenly-matched National League East Division, only a small margin separates the best teams from the -- ahem -- others. The Washington Nationals swept the Miami Marlins at home last weekend, earning them a share of first place, and after the Mets lost on Monday (when the Nats were resting), they briefly held sole possession of first place. But then the Atlanta Braves came to town, beating the Nationals three times in a row. As a result, the Nats have fallen to fifth place, and the precious momentum they had built in recent weeks ground to a screeching halt.
In last Saturday's game, Patrick Corbin had his best outing of the year, giving up just two runs over seven innings. Yan Gomes homered, and Josh Bell finally broke out of his lengthy slump, batting in four runs. Final score: Nats 7, Marlines 2. On Sunday, Max Scherzer took the mound and soon laid to rest any fears that his previous outing (April 27 vs. the Blue Jays) might portend a trend. He pitched a full nine innings, with nine strikeouts, and did not allow a run until the final frame when Isan Diaz hit a leadoff homer. For the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman provided all of the offensive firepower, with a three-run homer in the third inning. Nats 3, Marlins 1. Sweep!
On Tuesday night, the Braves came to Washington, and the first five innings were a classic pitchers' duel between the Nats' Joe Ross and the Braves Huascar Ynoa. Ronald Acuñ hit a solo homer in the fifth inning, and Ross was relieved an inning later as the Braves got a rally going. But Tanner Rainey completely lost control, as the Braves' pitcher (Ynoa) hit a grand slam to take a 6-0 lead. The Nats scored once in the seventh inning, and that was it. On Wednesday, the Nats' young Erick Fedde gave up home runs in the third and fourth innings, and the Nats' attempts to catch up fell short, as the visitors won again, 5-3. In the Thursday afternoon series finale (broadcast by YouTube), Jon Lester had another decent outing (his second this year), but the Braves got clutch RBIs when they needed it, while the Nats let multiple run-scoring opportunities slip by. It didn't help when, with two outs and two runners on base, the umpire called Victor Robles out on a very low pitch to end the eighth inning. Manager Davey Martinez only objected briefly; he should have really let that umpire (Nick Mahrley) have it. Ryan Zimmerman led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive double to the left field corner, but he (or his pinch runner) never made it past third base as the next three batters were each out. Final score: Braves 3, Nationals 2. Sweep!
Two more no-hitters!!!
In Seattle on Wednesday, Baltimore Orioles' pitcher John Means threw a no-hitter to beat the Mariners 6-0, and it would have been a perfect game if a batter (Sam Haggerty) had not reached first base on a third strike wild pitch in the third inning. Means now has a 4-0 record, with an ERA of 1.37 -- fourth best in the majors!
And in Cleveland earlier this evening, Wade Miley went the full nine innings without allowing a hit as his team (the Cincinnati Reds) beat the Indians, 3-0. Miley is now 4-2 with a 2.00 ERA. It's a very odd trend that so many no-hitters are happening this year, even more than in recent years...
Superdome super-duper update
Prompted by having seen it with my own eyes two months ago, I made some major revisions to the (Mercedes Benz)* Superdome diagrams. While reading up on the history of the architectural marvel, I came across an important figure: the diameter of the dome is 680 feet. I realized that the existing diagram -- which I did in 2013 -- was too big (it indicated a dome diameter of 700 feet), so I set out to do some corrections. Along the way I realized that there were multiple seating configurations for football games in the pre-2011 era when the lower deck was movable. So, there is now a "standard" football diagram as well as a "modified" one, which seems to pertain to Super Bowls or perhaps other special games. There are now separate lower-deck diagrams for football and baseball, highlighting how the lower deck was shifted for the two sports, as well as an "opaque roof" diagram that shows the eight gates (A - H) and the adjacent streets. For a long time I was uncertain about the precise orientation of the football and baseball fields, but by using my Fodor's/USA Today Four Sport Stadium guide, some online sources, and my own photos, I was able to reach the proper deduction. Elementary!?
* The ten-year stadium naming rights contract with Mercedes Benz ends this year, and I am not aware if a renewal is expected. Given that Mercedes Benz has a stadium naming rights contract with another NFL team (the Atlanta Falcons), my guess is that they will let this one slide.
Stadiums in New Orleans
While not of great importance to baseball per se, my interest in the other stadiums was piqued by having visited New Orleans for the first time a few weeks ago. Almost all sports fans are familiar with the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl stadiums (as opposed to the events bearing those names), but I only had a vague idea about the traditional venue of the Sugar Bowl. Tulane Stadium, a massive oval with a small upper deck, hosted the Sugar Bowl from 1935 until 1974, after which the Superdome opened, and it also hosted the Super Bowl in 1970, 1972, and 1975. Tulane Stadium seated over 80,000 fans, which was far more than Tulane University's football team would ever need, so it was obviously expanded specifically for the Sugar Bowl. After the Superdome opened in 1976, it was abandoned and then demolished in 1980. Tulane's football team played in the Superdome from 1976 until Yulman Stadium was built (just north of where Tulane Stadium had previously been) in 1999.
What about baseball? Zephyr Field was built in the western suburb of Metairie, Louisiana, in 1997, and was home of the New Orleans Zephyrs until the team changed its name to the Baby Cakes in 2017. At the same time, the stadium was renamed "Shrine on Airline," its previous nickname. Unfortunately, New Orleans bore the brunt of the big contraction of minor league teams, and the franchise relocated to Wichita after 2019. As a result, that relatively new 10,000-seat stadium now is essentially abandoned.
Previously, New Orleans had a minor league team called the Pelicans from 1901-1959 (AA), and in 1977 (AAA). For whatever reason, baseball just never developed a strong presence in the Big Easy, which suggests that the whole idea of making the Superdome adaptable to baseball use was probably a Big Mistake.
Finally, the Tulane University baseball team has played at Turchin Stadium (subsequently appended with "Greer Field at"), just north of Yulman Stadium, since 1991.