We lost a great American, Jose Fernandez

Few people have ever played the game of baseball so passionately, enthusiastically, and genuinely as the late, great Jose Fernandez.

I’ve never seen anyone else so immensely talented, yet down-to-earth and childlike as Jose. From the stories of his tumultuous migration from Cuba to his day-to-day attention paid to the fans, Jose cared about people in a beautifully unconventional way.

He will be missed by those who hit home runs for him and failed to do so against him, alike. It’s a sad day for America, and for the game of baseball.

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“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Amending for the Expos: Capping summer with baseball

It’s a well-established fact that most of my family’s vacations include a significant element of professional sports. More specifically, Major League Baseball. Trips in 2012 and 2014 brought me to Dodger Stadium, PETCO Park, Me and Joe on Mont RealSafeco Field, and Nat Bailey Stadium (Vancouver). And two separate college visits to Georgia Tech allowed me to witness three games at Turner Field. This year, we ventured north of the border to Montreal, QC–a city whose professional baseball team departed in 2004.

Of course, I’m forever grateful that the Washington Nationals now exist, but the ghost of French Canadian baseball cast a slight shadow of disappointment over my enjoyment of our trip. Needless to say, we had a lovely time traversing and tasting the diverse city during its annual brief period of warmth.

We biked toured through some up-and-coming neighborhoods and picnic-ed in a luscious park. Lays manufactures a “Ketchup” flavor of potato chips that are quite popular in Quebec (apparently) so Joe and I snacked on some of those before taking in half an inning of a Little League-aged baseball game in the park. Yes, of course we found some level of baseball in Montreal.

One of the highlights was visiting Olympic Park, site of the 1976 Summer Olympic Games–the only Summer Inside Olympic StadiumOlympics ever held in Canada. The Montreal Expos occupied Olympic Park while they still existed, and I did get to go inside as part of a tour of some of the facilities. It’s rather decrepit, and if a professional baseball team were ever to exist again in Montreal, they would almost certainly have to find a new facility.

Our bike tour guide, Jeff, a jovial, hipstery socialite, said the baseball fans of the city are holding out for the Tampa Bay Rays to relocate to Montreal. The Rays play in a dismal Tropicana Field and have long been seeking out a new facility. But as always, politics find their way into the game when it comes to the funding of such a place. And who knows how long the franchise will put up with their dark dome?

Elise and Me in the BurghI soon made up for the lack of Major League Baseball on our Montreal trip when I visited Pittsburgh for the first time in my life and, naturally, PNC Park. Shout out to Elise for putting up with me traversing through the whole park just to see what’s what.

PNC Park, since its christening in 2001, has been regarded as one of the best venues in the game. Its impeccable backdrop and overall sleek aesthetics are the best attributes. Honestly, if you had to choose one of those fake city backdrops for a TV interview, Pittsburgh’s would pretty much be the view PNC Park gives its fans.

PNC Park 8.9.16

We saw the Pirates defeat the Padres on August 9 to the tune of rambunctions fans raising and waving their Jolly Rogers and one mammoth home run by Gregory Polanco.

Exactly a week later I had flown home to Virginia and driven myself, en route to college, to northern Kentucky where I met up with my friend Caroline and went to see the Marlins play at Great American Ball Park. Shout out to her for harboring me for a few hours and being the only Cincinnatian (*achem* Paul) available to see a game with me. It was also the first time I ever stepped foot in the state of Kentucky. Fun fact, I have now visited every state that borders Virginia.

We sat behind Miami’s dugout amidst the Sea of Japan who had come to witness Ichiro play in his waning years. It rained on and off throughout the game, but not enough to cause a delay or spoil our enjoyment. The Marlins lost, and dropped three of four in total in Cincinnati.

Great American Ball Park 8.16.16

And finally this past Friday Elise and I traversed back to Pittsburgh to watch the Marlins play at PNC Park. She physically stopped me from clapping nearly every inning and claimed it was for my own personal safety, but I was confident that I would not be assaulted by our surrounding game-goers. Miami pulled off a fun come-from-behind win thanks to some stellar play by Christian Yelich and Miguel Rojas’ first home run of the year.

After this last trip, I have seen the Marlins play in seven different MLB stadiums (Oriole Park, RFK Stadium, Nationals Park, Turner Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, and PNC Park). Add two more if you want to count Spring Training.

PNC Park 8.19.16

What’s next? I may be done witnessing professional baseball this season, but I will be in Virginia for game one of the NLDS October 7…just sayin’.

 

From Florida to Fame: Marlins enshrined in Cooperstown

Cooperstown, NY is a necessary pilgrimage in the life of a baseball fan, or so I am led to believe, so I was naturally buzzing about my recent opportunity to see the Baseball Hall of Fame on returning from a family vacation to Montreal.Doubleday Field

I was warned beforehand that Cooperstown was in the middle of nowhere, but that phrase is as overused as “be careful, your plate is really hot,” by waiters carrying mildly warm plates. As it turns out, Cooperstown is indeed in the middle of nowhere and the French Canadians actually serve scorching platters.

I wasn’t prepared to travel over a river, through some woods, between barns in Amish country, and around bends on a mountainside to be spat out on a main street belonging in the early 20th century. The whole thing felt as though I fell through a rabbit hole into a utopian town that has frozen baseball in time—from the 1800s to the present day.

I could sit here and write all about the awesome history of the game and the storied artifacts of the most important moments in baseball history, but if you really cared about that you would have already experienced it for yourself in Cooperstown.Mike Piazza locker

Instead, I present to you every last artifact of the Florida/Miami Marlins that I could find.

Mike Piazza

The longtime Mets and Dodgers catcher was a member of the Florida Marlins for approximately nine days in the 1998 season. He is, by my rudimentary count, just the second player in the Hall of Fame to ever play for the Marlins. Andre Dawson is the other, and he played two whole seasons in Florida!

Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. are the newest members of the Hall, so they have much appreciation currently. The only Marlins Piazza memorabilia I could find were baseball cards— one in the main Piazza case and dozens more upstairs. Apparently, over 120 different baseball card designs of Piazza as a Marlin were produced in his week with the team.

Dave Van Horne

The winner of the 2011 Ford C. Frick Award is honored in the “Scribes and Mikemen” exhibit on the first floor of the museum. Van Horne, as it turns out, started professional baseball broadcasting with the Richmond Braves in Virginia. He took the radio mic with the Marlins in 2001 and has been on the air in South Florida ever since.

Me at the Marlins lockerThe Clubhouse

I was more intrigued by the clubhouse room than any other. Each team has a locker dedicated to artifacts from the last decade or so. Inside the Marlins’ is a number 27 jersey that surprisingly does not belong to Mike/Giancarlo Stanton. It was Jeremy Hermida’s when he hit a grand slam in his first career at-bat.

Also encased are cleats from both Henderson Alvarez and Stanton during Alvarez’s closing day no-hitter in 2013. There are two hats–one Florida and one Miami–that were worn by the Marlins starting pitchers in the final game at Sun Life Stadium and the first game at Marlins Park. Chris Volstad and Josh Johnson, respectively, started those games.

And sitting on the bottom of the locker are four bats–one each belonging to Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, and Jorge Cantu. Those players comprised the starting infield of the 2008 Florida Marlins, who were the first ever infield to have each member hit 25 or more home runs in a single season. They would have all finished with 30 or more had Cantu knocked just one more dinger that season.

Livan Hernandez jerseyLivan Hernandez

One of my favorite players of all-time is honored in the Viva Baseball! exhibit, celebrating the Latin American stars of the game. The Marlins jersey was worn by Hernandez during the 1997 World Series, of which Livo won the Most Valuable Player award.

Tim Raines

The last ever flapless batting helmet was retired in 2002 when Tim Raines played the final game of his career for the Marlins. Raines was grandfathered in after a 1983 rule required batting helmets to be equipped with ear flaps.

Tim Raines flapless helmet

The Inaugural Year

A pennant commemorating the inaugural year of the Florida Marlins franchise sits next to a Colorado Rockies counterpart.

Kevin Brown

In an exhibit illustrating the quick success of expansion franchises sits the cap worn by Kevin Brown during his 1997 no-hitter.Christian Yelich cap

Christian Yelich at Fort Bragg

Perhaps the newest piece of memorabilia on display anywhere in the museum is the cap worn by Christian Yelich during Miami’s July 3 game at Fort Bragg, NC–the first ever MLB game played on an active military base.

The World Series

Signs from the 1997 World Series between the Marlins and Indians both cheer and jeer the Fish. In addition, rings and pins from both Florida World Series victories (1997 and 2003) are displayed.

Finally, the cleats worn by Craig Counsell as he scored the winning run in game seven of the 1997 Fall Classic remember that the chicken does indeed run at midnight.

 

 

Ichiro triples for 3000th MLB hit

Starting in center field Sunday for Miami, Ichiro was the focal point of attention sitting on 2,999 career hits in Major League Baseball. And with a seventh-inning triple off the right field wall, Ichiro became the 30th member of the 3,000 hit club.Ichiro batting

The longtime Seattle Mariner and brief New York Yankee has collected well over 4,000 hits in his professional career between MLB and Japan But for Major League records only his American hits count.

Ichiro debuted in 2001 at 27 years, 162 days old. The average age of the other 29 members of the 3,000 hit club is 20 years, 215 days.

Ichiro is just the second player ever to triple for his 3,000th hit–the other is Paul Molitor. He is also just the 4th player born outside the United States to attain 3,000 hits, and the first from Japan. Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, and Rafael Palmeiro are the other three.

At 42 years old, Ichiro has not hinted at retirement and shows no signs of slowing down. So here’s to 4,000!

Marlins unveil 2017 All-Star Game logo

The Miami Marlins unveiled the logo to be used for the 2017 All-Star Game prior to Wednesday’s matinee matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies. 2017’s MLB All-Star Game will take place in Miami on Tuesday, July 11.

Marlins all star logo

This logo differs a little bit from All-Star logos of recent years since it doesn’t resemble a seal or shield. Instead, a star sporting Miami’s colors frames the words “2017 Miami All-Star Game.” And the leaping Marlin seen on Miami’s caps tops off the nifty logo.

It’s simple, and I’m a big fan of it.

I’ve actually been unable to watch any of the All-Star Games since 2013 due to a variety of reasons. But I’m going to ensure that I have next year’s game blocked off on my calendar well in advance. And if Giancarlo Stanton’s performance at the 2016 Home Run Derby is any precursor, I will make sure to have the night of July 10 free as well.

Minding Mascots: True stories of furry foes from my young life as a sports fan

Hidden underneath a heap of fake fur, pounds of plastic, and presumably a whole waterfall of sweat stands a person above the law—a character only a miser would despise and everyone else must adore, or at least accept, as the jovial personification of the home team. I’m talking about mascots…cute from afar, creepy when close.

I attended my first big time sporting events as a young child, and was originally excited by the concept of lively team Family with Buzznicknames perusing the stands to celebrate with fans. But then at a University of Virginia football game, I witnessed my little brother break down at the sight of Buzz, the mascot of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. And I couldn’t blame him. Buzz is a perfect example of the inherently conflicted nature of sports mascots. On the one hand, he’s supposed to be a lovable, colorful animal and take pictures with families. But on the other, he represents the ferocity of an animal chosen specifically for its lethal fighting qualities as a moniker for a group of 11 large men poised to hit 11 other large men.

As an eight year old, I attended a football festival prior to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. As a proud St. Louis Rams supporter, I donned my Marshall Faulk jersey and was excited at the day’s possibilities. Yet, nearly every time I approached a beckoning NFL mascot I was met with the same cold, sometimes physical, rejection of my fandom. It’s the PRO BOWL! Back then, the NFL season was already over by the time the Pro Bowl was played. At that point, there’s no excuse for animosity towards an eight year old football fan—not as though there ever is. After my head was bitten by a Bengal and my neck choked by a Buccaneer’s bicep, I found solace in the Buffalo Bill’s mascot. First, he was the closest thing to a Ram I could find, and he also welcomed me with the Aloha attitude I was expecting from everyone else.

Even as an eight year old kid, what could I do? I couldn’t punch a Patriot or kick a Colt, then I would look like the sour aggressor. If you’re in a cute and colorful costume, aggression is just part of the game, but retaliation by a non-costumed kid would likely be a misdemeanor.

Aside from one quarter of a Titans game (accidentally), I have not been to an NFL event since I was ten years old. But mascots extend far beyond the football world.The Bird

When I was nine, I went to the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards to see my Florida Marlins in interleague action. Before 2013, interleague play in baseball was a once-a-summer ordeal that pitted teams in opposite leagues against each other just once every three years…translation: the Marlins and Orioles are farther from rivals than anyone. A cheap Marlins hat was my only team regalia as I stood along the railing next to Florida’s dugout in an effort to be close to the players before the game.

Baltimore’s Bird came over to rile up the O’s fans in the section. He spotted my Marlins hat and pointed at me in an effort to conjure up boos and heckles from the nearby Orioles fans. I was NINE! He then, without asking, removed the cap from my head and used it to wipe certain crevices of his bird body. Now, I understand that the inanimate mascot suit does not sweat and defecate like an actual living creature, but I would still prefer my headwear not to be defiled in such a way.

Five years later, I was walking up Half Street outside Nationals Park with my family. The Marlins were in town for Racing Presidentsone of their three series each year, which makes this aggression slightly more understandable but no less egregious. Teddy Roosevelt, the most beloved of Washington’s racing presidents, approached to high five the other three members of my family who were wearing Nationals garb. He then denied me a high five before taking the beautiful teal cap off my head and flinging it frisbee-style down the road. It was a damp day and the hat landed a good ways away from us. Luckily, it didn’t get too dirty, otherwise it would have been veritable property destruction. I take my head fashion very seriously—though not as seriously as those ignorant twits that are adamant a sizing sticker must be left on the bill of a cap in order to make it fashionable, but I digress.

People have had it far worse than me and my brother, though. The Vanderbilt Commodore punched a student’s nose as he was crowd surfing. And the Kansas City Royals’ mascot once launched a hot dog into a man’s eye, damaging his retina.

And corporate mascots? Even worse!

Dancing mascots on JumbotronAt a Chick-fil-A one day, what must have been a mascot-in-training repeatedly came to stand at the end of my table, just staring at me and my brother while we ate. He or she couldn’t talk, and didn’t really attempt to interact. They just stood there, and it was an unbelievably uncomfortable situation.

I’m fairly certain that the sole purpose of a mascots is to make introverts feel uncomfortable and unnecessarily raise the blood pressure of random people as they hide behind their mask of anonymity and the unwavering shell of silence. And as soon as that silence is broken, I believe the person should lose their mascot privileges.

Just a few weeks ago, I went to pick up a free pizza from a newly-opened restaurant here in Fredericksburg. While in line, I was approached by a teenager wearing a flimsy pizza slice suit. He high-fived the other customers, but I guess my hand wasn’t going to cut it for him. With both of his hands, covered in Mickey Mouse-style mitts, he started pawing for my face. And then he SAID “I want to touch your face!” If someone outside of a suit says that, police involvement is permitted. Instead, the other customers laughed as I swatted his hands away. The same thing happened again when I was further up in line. And then as I walked out of the restaurant, he spotted me and pawed for my face one last time as I ducked out of his way and scampered through the door.

This guy was by far the worst mascot I’ve encountered, simply for breaking the ONE rule of mascots (staying silent) if for nothing else.

Tommy LaSorda, I wish I had your gusto:

Tommy LaSorda-Mascot Fight

 

 

 

Nats bobble to a beatdown: Mets at Nationals 5.23.16

It was hardly a traditional Beanstalk Baseball game, and the sky wept due to Paul’s new life in Cincinnati. But Ben, Jack, and I made a Monday excursion to D.C. to witness the Nationals get clobbered by the Mets.

Apparently Ben’s work schedule at George Mason takes precedence over getting together with his friends—Me, Jack, and Ben 5.23.16something I really don’t understand since his girlfriend pretty much supports his whole livelihood—so at this juncture our only opportunity for a Nats game hangout was Max Scherzer’s bobble head night. It was an event I knew would be crowded, and resulted in us having to settle for tickets in the 400 level. But with rain in the forecast during this gloomy May, I figured BP was questionable anyway, so the crowd volume (with respect to the rain) wouldn’t end up dampening our trip all that much.

Per usual, Jack and I met Ben at the Springfield metro station. And much to Jack’s chagrin, it was not Ben’s girlfriend who dropped him off. Jack spent the rest of the day moping about that, and the fact that we had to get to D.C. at the “break of dawn” (aka 3:30 p.m.), and tried to convince Ben’s better half to pick him up at the end of the evening because apparently she’s an important part of his social life.

We rode the metro up to the Archives station because there’s a burger joint there of which Ben approved. He takes View of Capitol from Nats Parkhis food very seriously, so I entrusted him with the task of finding the best culinary delights to satisfy our mid-afternoon desires. The place is called “Plan B,” and I warned him that the Catholic Church is against such a thing, but he insisted that these hamburgers were far from sinful—apart from the moral code of my wallet, as I later learned.

After some strangely, nonchalantly slow service, as well as witnessing the tourists outside get poured upon, we finished up around 4:15. I figured BP’s likelihood of existence was minimal, but at the same time I knew we’d still need to get the park decently early to ensure our bobble head acquisitions.

With a bit of time to kill, we wandered over to the Archives because Ben insisted that the incredibly dim light in the rotunda was a spectacle to behold. If you’ve never been, the lighting in the main rotunda of the Archives is far duller than what you’ve seen in National Treasure to protect the quality of the documents (also, you can’t just waltz up the main steps into the building the way Nicholas Cage did).

We wandered over to the metro station and hopped on the green line for a hot few stops before we found ourselves on Half Street at about 5:10. With the bobble heads secure and BP sufficiently rained out, we took a jaunt around the Park and settled down under the cover in section 111 as an overwhelmed and clueless young usher tried to continently come to grips with the hordes of fans huddled in the concourse as the atmosphere again bawled over Paul’s absence.

Tarp over the field at Nats ParkThe game was rain delayed until 8:10 p.m., and a relentless chill settled over the ballpark. Ben and Jack both had long sleeves, but I had packed light because my trip to Nats Park 10 days prior hadn’t required a sweatshirt. So as my Floridian genes commenced an allergic reaction and sprouted raised follicles named for waterfowl, Ben and Jack may have been legitimately concerned for my health, so I assured them that despite my apparent discomfort nothing was in fact wrong with me.

As the game began, we ascended towards our actual ticketed seats (preposterous, I know!) only to find that they were positioned directly under the end of the upper deck’s roof. That’s no problem because the rain was over, right? Well, all the water from the storm had dripped off the roof and pooled on the ground in our row. So we had to hold our bags on our laps and watch like peasants from the rafters.Red Porch 5.23.16

A half inning of discomfort later, we descended back down to the field level to go eat at the Red Porch. Ever since last August when Ben and Jack somehow attained the Holy Grail at the Red Porch—a waiter that was either high on life or drugs (or both), who undercharged them—Ben has wanted to return to find out if he could attain the same fortune.

Since it was only the second inning, the escalators were still going up, so we had to take the system of ramps down. These ramps are a torture device for drunk people, according to Ben.

“I am sure if you tried to roll something down the ramp it would be as if it were on a level-plane,” Ben eloquently said later. These ramps were also our “escape route” in case of emergency, leading me to believe the Nationals’ administration cares so little about the well-being of the upper deck riff-raff since they’ve given us the slowest possible way to exit the stadium.

Luck would not be on our side as our waitress was fully sober. She informed me that hot chocolate was the only soft beverage without free refills, and I knew at that point we had lost Ben’s luck from the year prior. They stopped serving food after the fifth inning or so, which Bartolo Colon at Nats Parkmeant that we were allowed to stay in the Red Porch as long as we wanted (normally, there is a one-hour time limit).

As for the game, I made a classic Steve move and missed a three-run homer by David Wright while I was in the latrine. I was back at the Red Porch, though, for when Yoenis Cespedes launched a homer to the right-center field seats. Neil Walker then went back-to-back with a homer to left field. Gio Gonzalez saw his ERA increase by an entire point, and the Nationals’ offense couldn’t scratch a run across after the first inning. The Mets won 7-1 in a game that lasted just over two and a half hours after it finally started.

One bright spot of the evening was Bartolo Colon. He literally didn’t swing the bat, but he’s a joy to watch nonetheless.Right field at Nats Park 5.23.16

Washington bench bests Miami bullpen: Marlins at Nationals 5.13.16

A complete lackage of lefty relievers and a trio of home runs from the Nationals sunk the Marlins in game one of the four-game weekend series at Nationals Park. While it was tough to see the Marlins go down in such a way, I had a great evening for my first game of 2016 in D.C.

Joe and I hung out at the Red Porch for the entirety of batting practice, free from most of the chorus of children realizing for the first time they can get free baseballs by yelling at players.Nationals Park jumbotron

Joe pointed this out later on, but the amount of dropped toss-ups was absolutely bewildering. Two of the balls I picked up Friday were just mishandled by other people, so I gave them back.

I ended up giving away two more that were home runs I didn’t catch. The second of which, from Ryan Zimmerman, was an absolute tater that ended up back in the Red Porch restaurant. I wasn’t thinking on my toes when a little twerp came up and expected me to give it to him. I did because I’m a lightweight pushover. But I shouldn’t have respected his ingratitude and either kept it for myself or given it to someone else.

I did successfully catch three home runs during Marlins BP, though, so that’s what made this whole thing worthwhile. The first was from Adeiny Hechavarria, I believe. It was a simply fly ball near the center field end that made me lean over a row.

I had never caught a Giancarlo Stanton homer on the fly before, so I was really antsy to get one. Unfortunately, BP for him is not just a dinger derby. He methodically works to the opposite field before he unleashes the beast, significantly reducing the number of home runs he actually hits from the number he potentially could.Giancarlo Stanton batting

Nevertheless, he hit a blistering line drive that may have been the fastest ball I’ve ever seen hit, I wouldn’t know. Before I could really even get my bearings it smacked a seat across the aisle from me and plopped down. I picked that one up, but I was a tad salty since I could have caught it had I been more on my toes. Luckily, he came through again with a high drive to the center field end. I scampered across a row and a half to make a drifting catch. I figured as a Marlins fan it’s more or less a rite of passage to catch a Stanton dinger. Now six years into his career I was glad I had finally done just that.

He hit another homer during BP that ended up a good three rows back into the restaurant—probably a 450-footer. So the next time he got up, I figured I’d play back. The steps up to the restaurant are much too steep to conquer while tracking a home run, so if one lands up there, it’s probably going uncaught by anyone down below. So I played in the aisle behind the first set of tables and much to my delight, he launched one to that exact latitude. It was a majestic behemoth that smacked right in my pocket.

I feel very unathletic while tracking and catching home runs during BP. For one thing, I bruise my thighs while running through the seats just because I inadvertently hit so many of them. Also, since you can’t exactly circle around a ball and catch it while moving forward, I end up just drifting and more often than not leaning while I catch it. It ends up being a sprawling activity that puts the former outfielder inside of me to shame.

So I think I “snagged” eight balls during BP. All I can really tell you for sure is that I caught three, and kept one other that I picked up.

Joe cleaned up as well, since he’s still at an acceptable toss-up age. He ended up with four as far as I know.

Restaurant and Lounge behind Red Porch seats

Restaurant and Lounge behind Red Porch seats

The four balls I kept from the game

The four balls I kept from the game

And we met this kid and his father who had half-season tickets at the Red Porch. This kid, lemme tell ya, was a master at the art of being a child at a baseball game. He must have snagged a dozen—all toss ups I think—from pretty much every player who ended up catching a ball in center field throughout the course of BP’s two hours. We also saw him get a warm-up ball from Ben Revere during the game. It was ludicrous. A smart kid who is young and cute enough could probably make Zack Hample look like an amateur.

As for the game itself, we sat in the left field corner, section 108. Nothing really came our way during the game.

 

I was delighted to see the Nationals were wearing their navy blue stars and stripes jerseys–the first time I’d seen them in person.

After a brisk first four innings, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez ran into some trouble in the fifth when two Daniel Murphy errors allowed the Marlins to score two runs.

In the top of the sixth, three straight singles loaded the bases for the Marlins with no outs. Here come some runs! Except not.

Manager Dusty Baker removed Gonzalez from the game and inserted Yusmeiro Petit, traditionally a long or middle reliever. Petit struck out Adeiny Hechavarria and was then replaced by lefty Oliver Perez. This was the first of Baker’s impeccable managerial decisions.

Perez came in and induced a double play from the hot-hitting lefty Derek Dietrich. The Fish were left with a goose egg for an inning they started with three consecutive hits.Dusty Baker in the Nats dugout

In the bottom of the sixth, Marlins starter Tom Koehler exited the game with two outs after surrendering a single to Jose Lobaton. The Nationals were still scoreless at the time. But Stephen Drew pinch hit for Perez and lifted a two-run homer to right field off reliever Bryan Morris, tying the game.

Blake Treinen entered the game to pitch for Washington and kept the Marlins scoreless in the seventh.

After a walk to Anthony Rendon in the bottom of the inning, Bryce Harper launched a two-run shot to right field. I was texting Paul during the game and he mentioned that he doesn’t think he’d seen a Harper homer in person. And I don’t know if I had either until Friday.Jonathan Paplebon saved the game for the Nats

Giancarlo Stanton just missed a solo home run leading off the eighth, but settled for a double off the right field wall. He later scored on a ground out by Chris Johnson.

Baker got another pinch hit home run from Chris Heisey in the bottom of the eighth, the fifth and final run for the Nationals.

Jonathan Paplebon sealed the deal with his tenth save of the season, and the Nats took home the curly W.

Photo Gallery: Marlins at Nationals 5.13.16

The Nationals won the series opener in Washington, D.C. Friday night, 5-3. Here are some pictures from my evening at Nationals Park.

Marlins’ Monday resilience proves turned corner

Marlins sculpture at the new parkMiami tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory Monday night, but the Brewers were having none of it. In a game where things went stereotypically wrong for the Fish, Jose Fernandez saved the team by pitching seven scoreless innings to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers at Marlins Park.

The ridiculousness started in the second inning when J.T. Realmuto blasted a home run onto the sculpture with Marcell Ozuna at first. 2-0 Marlins, right? Wrong. As center fielder Kirk Nieuwenheuis drew back on the fly ball, Ozuna thought it was in his best interest to tag at first base and reach second in case of it being caught. But Realmuto, watching his drive, touched first and rounded, stopping in his tracks when he saw Ozuna. The brief overlap of the runners was immediately recognized by Milwaukee’s bench. Upon review, Realmuto was called out for surpassing Ozuna on the bases. Ozuna’s run counted and Realmuto was rewarded with an RBI single…a 410-foot one at that.

I can see where Ozuna was coming from on that play, and I guess technically Realmuto should have paid more attention to the runner. But on a fly ball that deep, unless Nieuwenheuis has a play in front of the wall, Ozuna should be rounding second. For him, it’s more important that he score in the likely event that the ball hits off the wall and stays in the park than advance to second in the unlikely event Nieuwenheuis makes a leaping catch.

Ozuna’s trouble for the night wasn’t over. With the Fish leading 1-0 in the sixth, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun hit a lined shot out to him in center field. Ozuna got spun around and completely whiffed as the ball momentarily nestled in his glove, but then popped down to the grass. Braun ended up with a two-out double. Fernandez induced the next batter to fly out, ending the threat and keeping the Marlins on top.

As clumsy as the Marlins are, the Brewers are the Brewers and trump the Marlins in that category. They surrendered a Little League home run to Derek Dietrich in the seventh inning. Dietrich lined a ball down the right field line and scampered towards third for a triple. The relay from the outfield hit him as he approached the base and bounded away, allowing Miami’s second baseman to score.Derek Dietrich

In one final attempt to allow the Brewers to win the game, closer A.J. Ramos entered to pitch with a 4-0 lead in the ninth. He walked the first two batters. After a coaching visit to the mound, Ramos struck out the next two. All is well. Except he walked the next one. After five batters, no one had put a ball in play and the Brewers had the tying run at the plate.

Manager Don Mattingly summoned Bryan Morris from the bullpen and presumably told him to throw any sort of strike that didn’t surrender a home run. He failed on the first batter and walked in a run. Suddenly, Milwaukee had the go-ahead run at the plate in an inning they began down 4-0 and had not hit a fair ball. Luckily for Miami fans, the final Brewer batter, Jonathan Villar, solidified Milwaukee’s supremacy as the team least willing to win. He struck out and the Marlins escaped an inning that they themselves made thrilling by failing to throw strikes.

After a game like that, it’s a wonder that this team won 11 of 12 over the last two weeks. Thankfully, strong pitching performances, like Fernandez’s Monday night, have kept the Marlins successfully piling up wins.

Also, if Derek Dietrich continues performing at a high level–the infielder is hitting .333 with 13 RBI in 26 games–Dee Gordon’s suspension can be overcome.

This is a good team with talented players around Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. Last year–and certainly two years ago–the Marlins would not have won this game. The bullpen would have failed sooner, or the errors would have haunted more, or the team wouldn’t have scored a run after having one taken off the board.

But now in 2016, this team plays nine full innings, and they’ve won some competitive games. Holding their own in the NL East, this isn’t the same Miami Marlins team in perpetual rebuild mode. It’s their time to play ball.

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