Nationals split series with Mets
The Washington Nationals had a chance to overtake the New York Mets in the standings during this weekend's 4-game series, but could only manage to win two of those games. On Friday the Nats took an early 2-run lead, but starting pitcher Mackenzie Gore only lasted 4 innings as his pitch count soared. In the top of the 6th inning the Mets loaded the bases, and on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, Francisco Lindor batted in three runs on a single to right-center field. A better throw from center fielder Alex Call would have held the runner at third base, but the Mets took the lead and kept it. Final score: Mets 3, Nats 2. On Saturday afternoon the Nats again took an early lead thanks to another RBI single by Joey Meneses, but the rain got worse and worse, so the game was suspended during the top of the 3rd inning. After play was resumed early Sunday afternoon, a solo home run by C.J. Abrams in the 7th inning proved to be the deciding play, and the final score was the reverse of Friday: Nats 3, Mets 2. Former National and future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer took the mound in the second game on Sunday, and believe it or not he was getting beat by the Nats' rookie pitcher Jake Irvin until the 5th inning. That's when Irvin started to lose control and gave up multiple hits; relief pitcher Mason Thompson gave up even more hits, and before you knew it, the Mets had scored 8 runs. That's all they would need in the 8-2 victory over the home team.
Max Scherzer missed a few games earlier this month because of tightness in his back muscles, and I suspected that he may have postponed his recovery in order to be able to pitch in Nationals Park, where he was bound to get a warm welcome. (Bryce Harper and Juan Soto, not so much.) As mentioned previously, Scherzer was ejected during a game against the Dodgers on April 19 and later given a -game suspension for using a sticky substance. MLB announced there would be more stringent scrutiny of such sneaky tactics prior to the 2021 season. Scherzer insisted that he was only using the rosin bag.
Today's game pitted two pitchers with lousy 1-5 records against each other: Patrick Corbin and David Peterson. Corbin showed that his recent improvement is a very real thing, going 6 full innings and only giving up 2 runs. Once again Joey Meneses got an RBI in the 1st inning, this time on a double, the first of 3 doubles he hit. Combined with a single (also an RBI), Meneses went 4 for 5 today, raising his batting average to an even .300!!! He is definitely the slugger that Nats fans were hoping he would be this year, but thus far he has only had two home runs. Later in the game, young shorttop C.J. Abrams homered once again, and the Nats won the series finale by a whopping 10-3 margin. Their record has risen to 18-23 (.439), hot on the heels of the Mets, Phillies, and Marlins. It is worth pointing out that at about this time four years ago, the Nats had a record of 19-31, and then rebounded in historical fashion to make it to the postseason and win the World Series. Expectations for this "rebuilding" team are obviously much lower than for the 2019 Nats, but anything is possible!
Are you ready for some football?
In non-baseball sports news, the XFL championship game took place Saturday night in San Antonio's Alamodome. The heavily-favored D.C. Defenders (11-1 record) failed to live up to their name, letting the Arlington Renegades (5-6) score multiple times and take a big lead in the first half. The "Defenders" mounted a counteroffensive in the second half, but kept making blunders, and the final score was 32 to 20. So much for Washington's hopes of winning its first football championship since the 1992 Super Bowl!
Actually, this news item is related to baseball because the Arlington Renegades make their home in Choctaw Stadium, which is the new name of the reconfigured version of the former home of the Texas Rangers, Globe Life Park. (They began playing in their new retractable-roof facility Globe Life Field in July 2020, but that was during the pandemic when no fans were allowed.) I should also mention that the Alamodome has hosted a few MLB exhibition games, and one of these days I'll probably get around to doing a diagram for it, just as I did for the Superdome, which has a similar MLB history. But wait! There's another stadium used by an XFL team in which MLB games have been used in the past: Cashman Field, in Las Vegas, Nevada! (The Oakland Athletics used it briefly in April 1996, while construction on the "Mount Davis" expansion of Oakland Coliseum was completed.)
The original XFL played for just one year (2001) before going out of business, and was resurrected in 2020 by professional wrestling promoter Vince McMahon. Just then, covid-19 struck, and the "new" XFL went bankrupt just like its predecessor. After some legal and financial wrangling, movie actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson led a group that acquired the XFL, and play began last year. Maybe it will actually last this time.
Believe it or not, there is yet another professional football league in opration this year: the United States Football League, USFL. There are also eight teams with nominal "home" cities, but in fact, all of the games are being played in one of two venues: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio and at the new (2021) Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama. It replaced the old Legion Field, where rival universities Alabama ("Crimson Tide") and Auburn ("Tigers") used to play their annual "Iron Bowl." In fact, most of Alabama's big games were played at Legion Field until Bryant-Denny Stadium (on the main campus in Tuscaloosa) was expanded to a capacity of 70,000 in 1989. There is another connection to baseball: Alabama used the minor league Rickwood Field as its home stadium 1912 to 1927! (I heard a rumor that MLB might hold a nostalgia-oriented game at Rickwood Field some day. If so, it would be similar to the "Field of Dreams" games in Dyersville, Iowa, which will not be held this year.)
How about some hockey, then?
Baseball season revs up into high gear just as the postseasons for the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League enter their middle phases. I have only the vaguest clue as to who is competing in these interminable playoffs this year, but I do know that the Washington Capitals were eliminated from contention a few days after I saw them play on April 2. Believe it or not, it was my very first time inside Capital One Arena, which used to be called Verizon Center. I was glad to see their star player Alex Ovechkin for the first time, but the home team was soundly defeated by the visiting New York Rangers, 5-2. It is worth noting that the Capitals won the Stanley Cup championship in 2018, just one year before the Nationals won the World Series. Various Capitals and Nationals players (including Ryan Zimmerman) made a point of attending each others' games in those glory years, creating mutually beneficial good vibes.