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Nats Down The Halos In A Walk Off

Thursday, April 24th, 2014


In a season of improbable come-from-behind wins, the Nationals come from behind 5-4 walk off victory over the Los Angeles Angels has to count as the most improbable of all. Down by a score of 4-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Nats rallied to shock the Angels, sealing a triumph that salvaged a victory in a difficult three game series.

The Nats march to victory, in frigid Nationals Park, began when the normally light hitting Jose Lobaton (.239 on the year) homered off of Angels’ reliever Ernesto Frieri to left field, bringing the Nationals to within two. Zach Walters then struck out swinging, but Denard Span kept the Nationals in the game with a single to center.

With only two outs to get, Angels’ skipper Mike Scioscia stuck with Frieri, hoping he could work the same magic with Anthony Rendon that he had with Walters. But with Span dancing off first, Frieri walked Rendon, with Jayson Werth coming to the plate. Werth, with a reputation as a clutch hitter, tied the game — stroking a double to left on a 3-0 count, with Span and Rendon scampering home.

“I can’t imagine anybody thinking that J-Dub’s going to swing,” Adam LaRoche said of his teammates clutch double. “Surprised all of us.”

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The Nationals might have settled for extra innings, particularly considering their game-long futility at being unable to score runs off of Angels’ pitching. That’s certainly what Scioscia hoped — bringing in reliever Fernando Salas to keep the game at four apiece. But Adam LaRoche, who’d already had a good night against Halo arms, won the game — scoring Werth with the winning run with a single to left center.

“He left a fastball up over the plate,” first sacker Adam LaRoche said of his game winning single off of Salas. “In that situation, just trying to hit something hard.”

The Nationals triumphant last inning made goats of the Angels bullpen, denied L.A. a much needed series sweep, and sent the Belinskys record back to below .500. The narrative was quite different for the Nationals, who’ve been struggling in the field and needed a lift. “The spark we needed,” Werth said of the victory.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected from New York’s tilt with Boston after throwing just 1.2 innings on Thursday night — for using pine tar (which was smeared on his neck) on the ball. This morning the baseball press hooted derisively . . .

“It’s like a small-time crook robbing the neighborhood convenience store one day, getting away with it, and returning the next week to rob the same joint again,” USA Today said. Jon Heyman described Pineda as “the pine tar pinhead.” But the best comment came from former K.C. great George Brett: “you gotta hide the pine tar better than that,” he said . . .


Nats Fall In Home Opener, 2-1

Saturday, April 5th, 2014


A sellout crowd of over 42,000 rabid Nationals’ fans watched as Washington dropped its home opener to the Atlanta Braves, 2-1 on Friday afternoon at Nationals Park. The game was marred by a controversy involving a replay and three questionable Nationals’ base running gaffes.

The controversy erupted in the bottom of the 5th inning, when Washington’s Ian Desmond hit a ball down the left field line that skittered to the base of the outfield wall. Atlanta left fielder Justin Upton threw up his hands, claiming the ball had become lodged under the tarp as Desmond circled the bases.

Adding to the controversy was the fact that Upton threw up his hands (here is the video of the play) to indicate his inability to get to the ball, then picked it up and winged it back into the infield — but too late to nab Desmond. As the crowd chanted “home run, home run,” the umpires decided to review the play and, after consulting with replay officials in New York, awarded Desmond second base on a ground rule double. The decision took a Washington run off the board.

“One of the reasons we have replay is to make sure that we get the calls right. I have a question with that one, though, because of what happened after the fact,” Washington manager Matt Williams said after the game. “The fact that when he had to, he reached down and threw it in.”

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The reversal of the Desmond home run kept the Nationals from tying the Braves, who went on to score the winning run on a Chris Johnson sacrifice fly in the top of the 8th. The Nationals were also victimized by over-aggressiveness on the bases: Bryce Harper was caught between first and second and tagged out in the bottom of the second, Adam LaRoche was sent home and tagged out at the plate in the 4th and Desmond was caught between second and third after his ground rule double in the 5th.

Williams, who has said he will bring a more aggressive approach to the team, admitted that Desmond was probably over-anxious when he broke for third and was caught stealing in the 5th. “We want to take advantage of it when it’s there for us, but we also want to make sure that we are sure in that situation, so it was little overaggressive,” he confirmed.

Despite the loss, the Nationals continued to show that they have a more potent offense this year than last, outhitting the Braves 8-6. The team also got a solid start from Jordan Zimmermann, who threw five solid innings of four hit ball. The only Zimmermann hiccup was a home run off of the bat of Evan Gattis, subduing the sell-out crowd.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There wasn’t anything particularly memorable about the Yankees’ Thursday tilt against the Astros in Houston, excepting for the 26,000-plus Houston fans who came to the ballpark expecting to see former free agent and Yankee newbie Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. Instead, he was on the bench because (as Yankee manager Joe Girardi noted) “he needed a rest . . .”

The decision brought derisive comments from baseball analysts, who questioned whether signing a player like Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million) and then sitting him makes any sense. Ever. Don’t teams sign players in order to play them? MLB Radio’s Jim Bowden, the former Nationals’ G.M., hooted the Ellsbury decision during his Sirius XM talk show yesterday . . .


Harper’s Blast Leads The Nats

Friday, September 20th, 2013


Bryce Harper’s first inning three run home run was enough to push the Nationals past the Marlins, as Washington downed Miami 3-2 on Thursday night at Nationals’ Park. Harper’s blast with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth on base kept the Nats slim hopes of a playoff spot alive, with the home towners five games behind Cincinnati in the Wild Card hunt.

Harper’s home run provided the only scoring for Washington, leaving the game in the hands of southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez and three relievers. Harper was all smiles in the dugout after his dinger as he joined four other Nationals (Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche) in hitting twenty home runs on the year.

“He’s only going to get better,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said of his young slugger. “I think when you go through a period where you have all this attention and you try to live up to hype you try to do too much. I think he’s getting over that. I think he’s back to enjoying the game, and that’s great to see.”

Harper’s three RBIs might not have been enough against the Marlins line-up, but Gio Gonzalez provided a steady outing (two earned runs in six complete innings, while scattering seven hits) in notching his 11th win on the season. A trio of Nationals’ relievers (Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano) then shut down Miami in the last three frames.

The two Marlins’ runs came off an Ed Lucas single that scored Donovan Solano in the first and a Justin Ruggiano double that scored Giancarlo Stanton in the 6th. The Washington win slapped righty Henderson Alvarez with the loss, his fifth on the season.

The Washington victory came at a small personal price for Denard Span, who went 0-4, thus ending his 29 game hitting streak, the longest in the major leagues this year. The crowd of nearly 26,000 fans, realizing the Nationals center fielder would not extend his streak, gave Span a standing ovation after his fourth at bat. He was greeted by his teammates in the dugout with high-fives.

“You gotta tip your cap to Joe DiMaggio because that’s a record that I don’t think will ever be broke,” left fielder Bryce Harper said of Span’s streak after the game. “Denard made a good run at it. I tip my cap to him and I think everyone in baseball did.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Back in March, new ESPN analyst Alex Cora questioned whether the Red Sox had made the right decision in signing former Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, saying that Boston should have gone after someone younger and more athletic . . .


Done And Done? Nats Fall Hard To New York

Sunday, September 1st, 2013


It might have been possible for the Washington Nationals to survive the 3-2 squeaker against the Mets on Friday, but it is going to be harder for Washington to keep its hope for a post-season slot alive after the Nats were routed by New York, 11-3 on Saturday. The Nationals now trail Cincinnati by 7.5 games in the N.L. Wild Card Race.

The hero for the New Yorkers on Saturday was Zack Wheeler, the young right handed hurler that has teamed with the now-injured Matt Harvey to give the Madoffs hope for the future. Wheeler tamed the suddenly hot Washington line-up by pitching into the 7th inning while holding the Nationals to five hits and two earned runs.

While the Nationals couldn’t get on track against New York’s rookie, Dan Haren had his worst outing of the year. Haren gave up nine hits and seven earned runs before being relieved in the third. Nearly everyone in the Mets’ line-up teed off against Washington’s pitching: Eric Young, Daniel Murphy, Josh Satin and Juan Lagares each had three hits in the game.

“We know that we’re running out of time,” center fielder Denard Span, who was 3-5 on the night, said. “Each game that goes by, it’s getting even more and more [important] for us to win. Tonight, just a terrible game. The type of loss like this came at the wrong time.”

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Despite the Mets’ seventeen hit barrage, there was little praise for Washington’s in-division competitors. Haren claimed that he had good stuff and Denard Span pointed out that the Mets were lucky to have some hits fall in. But it’s also true that the Nationals didn’t hit when they needed to, spraying eleven hits but leaving fourteen on base.

“We know what we’re up against,” Haren said following the loss. “Everyone is pretty down in here right now. We’ll go home and get sleep and come back and try to win tomorrow and go from there. There’s no use being down about it too long.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The 2003 Seattle Mariners were a heck of a team. Jamie Moyer won 21 games for the Navigators, while Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro anchored a sold staff, including a steady bullpen. But Seattle’s greatest asset was its defense: the team committed just 65 errors in 162 games, an MLB record . . .


The Worst Baseball Card . . . Ever?

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013


If there’s one thing that baseball card collectors enjoy doing, it’s going on and on about the worst baseball card in their collection. Actually, the word card should be plural: cards — for in every collection of tens of thousands of baseball cards (that’s not a large number for some), there are hundreds (and maybe hundreds of hundreds) of worst cards possible.

So it’s no wonder that every once in awhile a writer pens his own opinion about the worst baseball card — as happened yesterday in the pages of Slate, when Josh Levin identified the 1996 Pinnacle Foil No. 289 as the worst card he’s ever seen. “First, Bob Hamelin’s enormous head takes up most of the frame,” Levin writes. “Second, the small portion of the card that is not consumed by Hamelin’s melon is filled by a placard.”

Levin makes the point that a “bad” baseball cards isn’t a card that we don’t like: those are easy to come by. Rather, a “bad baseball card is one in which errors of composition, design, or production conspire to turn a 2.5-by-3.5-inch piece of cardboard into a memorabilia crime scene.”

Levin goes on to argue that while the Pinnacle Foil No. 289 is bad, the worst cards come from the 1970s, when Topps had a monopoly on the “industry.” In true free market fashion, when Topps got competition their cards got better. They had to, particularly when Upper Deck started putting out beautiful collectables.


The problem with competition, particularly among baseball card aficianados, was that those who bought the cards could never keep up with the sheer number of cards available. The market was flooded with cards, diminishing their overall value. Then too, who the hell wants a flashy “hologram-and-foil-bedecked‘ pic of (say) Derek Bell?


Cowboy Down: The New, Slimmer Red Sox

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

It’s hard to define, but it’s true nevertheless — a little of the strut has gone out of Red Sox Nation, despite their 47-33 record and their 3.5 game lead over the struggling Yankees. The Red Sox have the best record in the American League (and are 25-25 at home), but don’t tell Red Sox fans — who actually seem disinterested.

Last night’s game might serve as an example: 34,632 fans showed up to watch the Sox snatch a 5-3 victory from the Colorado Rockies, their opponents in the 2007 World Series. This was as solid a victory as any the Red Sox have had: Boston banged out ten hits and starter John Lackey struck out twelve.

Once upon a time, Sox fans would have killed to get a seat for such a match-up, now they don’t even have to stand in line. There were empty seats at Fenway last night, which would have been unthinkable not that long ago.

Red Sox attendance is significantly off from last year (by some 162,000 fans), when the team stunk. Now, seats are selling at a discount. There’s no good explanation. “Attendance lags performance, sometimes by a lot,” experts say and they may be right — but this is the Nation. So what’s going on?

Our view is that these Red Sox, good as they are, are not perceived by the Boston faithful as nearly as exciting as the fiery “cowboy up” personalities of recent years (when the Sawx were not just good, but great), or as controversial as the beer swilling overweight Fenway bad boys of 2011. That is to say, the Red Sox are good, but they’re not interesting.

On second thought, the “820 straight sellouts streak” might have been a bit exaggerated. Baseball pundits laughed when it was announced earlier this year that the streak had ended, as it had been dependent for quite some time (they claimed) on giveaways of upwards of 800 seats per game.


Nats Bust Out, Then Hang On

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Gio Gonzalez won for the first time since May 5 — and the Nationals supported him with an avalanche of runs, sparked by an Adam LaRoche three run home run, and Washington hung on to win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-5. Gonzalez notched his fourth win of the season.

Gonzalez was not at his most effective, giving up nine hits over 6.1 innings of work, but a five run third inning marked one of the few times that the lefty had the run support he needed to set down the opposition without too many problems. Washington’s runs came off of Arizona starter Trevor Cahill, who recorded his ninth loss on the year.

“To get up early like that, that’s really how our offense should operate,” right fielder Jayson Werth said after the victory. “That’s something we haven’t done this year and hopefully we can keep it going and play like that more often.” Werth was 2-2 on the night, which included two walks.

The Nationals offensive attack was led by Adam LaRoche, whose third inning three run home run just over the fence in left center field, seemed to give the home towners an insurmountable lead. It was LaRoche’s eleventh home run of the year, but his first in a month.

“As a team, I think we’re looking better,” LaRoche said. “We get 11 hits tonight and score some runs, so we’re slowly getting closer to what this offense can do.” After a terrible start to the season, LaRoche is now hitting .259 on the year.