Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gotta Hand it to the Os -- Apparently, the Orioles don't want to repeat the Joe Girardi fiasco. Perhaps owner Peter Angelos fears that few top managerial candidates would agreee to take over the Orioles. So, instead, the Orioles gave next year's job to the current interim manager. The team celebrated this bit of news by surrendering more runs in one game than any other team in the modern era of Major League Baseball. The Texas Rangers pounded out thirty (30) runs on 29 hits. If ever there were a bad omen....

It's too bad, really, because the Os have some great young starting pitching. If they can put together a team around those young arms, they could find themseleves back in contention in the A.L. East. Orioles' fans are learning not to get their hopes up...but 30 runs??!??!??!?
Big Night -- for Jaime Moreno and D.C. United: Let's not dwell on the United States' tough loss to Sweden, because tonight we honor the new Sultan of Score, the Genie of Goals, Jaime Moreno. United's long-time scoring leader became the all-time goal-scoring leader in MLS history, with a penalty shot early in the second half of tonight's game against the New York Red Bulls.

It was an interesting game for some United stars, including Moreno. As a team, United really outplayed the Red Bulls. Most notably, Ben Olsen had a brilliant start to the game. First, he put away a rebound off a shot by Fred, who drove at the goal after taking a beautiful long clearance from goalie Troy Perkins. A few minutes later, Olsen's hustle again paid dividends, as he intercepted a pass on the wing. Olsen then executed a give-and-go combination with Moreno, and then Olsen crossed the ball to Christian Gomez, whose header gave United a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes.

The best play of the night came later in the half, as Moreno again played the middle in a give-and-go with Olsen. This time, however, Olsen was surprised the return pass, a nifty back heel pass by Moreno that was so creative and so well-executed that Olsen was as surprised as the defense and couldn't control it. Following his fast start in this game, Olsen's night took a turn for the worse. Later, he found himself behind the defense (the linesman appeared to have missed a clear offsides on Olsen), but Olsen chose to try to force a cross to the onrushing Luciano Emilio, despite having an excellent, wide-open shot at the goal himself, with only the goalie to beat.

Late in the first half, United gave back a goal, when Marc Burch, who was the last defender, fell down and lost control of the ball just outside the penalty area. Burch immediately took down the Red Bulls' Juan Pablo Angel. Burch deserved a red card, but the referee allowed play to continue, because another Red Bulls player took possession with a chance to score. Perkins took down Richards, and Angel scored on the ensuing penalty shot. Frankly, United was very fortunate that Burch was not ejected for his deliberate hand-tackle of Angel -- giving up a goal, and going down a man would have changed the character of this game. As it stood, it was a rare miscue by Burch, who made several standout plays on defense. Like some of the other United players, Burch's night was a mix of the great and not-so-great.

Finally, United put the game away with Moreno's record-setting penalty shot goal, which followed a take-down of a streaking Emilio in the Red Bulls' penalty area. The jubilant crowd celebrated by serenading Moreno, and the game ball was given to the Bolivian striker's young son. Perhaps that bit of history will be headed to the United States Soccer Hall of Fame in upstate N.Y. -- or maybe just a place of honor in the Moreno home. Either way, United fans will long remember the moment.

United has disappointed in other tournaments, but remains a strong contender for top honors in the MLS this year. This game was emblematic of so much of their season. One can see the quality of this squad, just as one can see how this team sometimes fails to put away inferior opponents with inexplicable misplays. All-in-all, though, this was a dominating performance that thrilled a big crowd of the faithful at RFK. Can you really ask for more?

With Gomez and Moreno starting together for the first time in months, United is getting healthy, and looking much more energetic and creative. Troy Perkins has looked shaky recently, but not so tonight. Aside from the penalty, Perkins was decisive, and made several acrobatic saves. While the offense could have done more, with more aggressive shots, Coach Tom Soehn has to be happy with the chances his team created. Of course, things can turn in an instant. Luciano Emilio had to be helped from the field, during the second half. Hopefully, this will not be a serious injury. Otherwise, it was a great, historic night for D.C. United.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Detwiler's D.C.-area Debut -- The Nats' ballyhooed first round pick, Ross Detwiler took the mound tonight for the Potomac Nationals in his Carolina League (and D.C. metro area) debut. I think it's safe to say there wasn't quite the same level of anticipation and excitement that attended David Beckham's MLS debut, across the river, at RFK, last night. Still, there were hundreds of fans who showed up to get a look at Detwiler, and maybe score a Randy Knorr bobblehead doll. Count me in their number.

The Nats have been suggesting that Detwiler was on track to pitch in the majors come September. If that was ever true, the train derailed tonight. It wasn't that Detwiler was serving up batting practice quality pitches, but he was hit hard, and with regularity. Still, he wasn't totally ineffective. In fact, all of his troubles came with two outs.

In the second inning, Detwiler allowed his first run with a pair of two-out doubles -- the first being one of the strangest doubles I've ever seen. The ball was actually bounced off the hard dirt in front of home plate, but was driven hard enough that the bounce took it well over the head of the third baseman, and into left field. By the time Chris Marrero got the ball back into second base, the runner was in just ahead of the throw. Tonight wasn't really Chris Marrero's night either, but I'll get to that later.

In the third inning, Detwiler looked like he was going to escape a jam, but the Potomac catcher Devin Ivany couldn't handle a two-strike foul-tip. The batter stroked the next pitch for an RBI hit that made the score 2-0. Detwiler failed to cleanly field a dribbler towards first base to lead off the fourth, but he got a nice double play, and a strikeout that made the fourth inning his strongest of the night.

In the fifth inning, the wheels came off with two outs, again. Another double had a man in scoring position, but Detwiler looked poised to record another strikeout to close out the inning, Instead, he hit the batter with a 1-2 pitch, and that was the end of his night. It was a bit ironic, because I had just commented that Detwiler had, at least, shown good control, not having walked any batters. when he hit the batter, manager Randy Knorr came out to tell him he was done for the night.

Detwiler left to a standing ovation -- having surrendered 8 hits in 4 and 2'3 innings, but having given up only 2 runs at that point. Unfortunately, the bullpen was no relief, and the runners Detwiler had allowed came around to score. His final line included 4 runs allowed. Still, it wasn't even the numbers that tell the story. Most of the outs were hit sharply. If Detwiler had been throwing like that to major leaguers, he wouldn't have lasted through the second inning. Right now, he would be cannon fodder for big league hitters. Of course, that can change, and it could be that he just had an off night.

Chris Marrero certainly had an off night. He did show some potential, with a sweetly stroked double to the right field corner. His other at bats were disappointments. Weakly hit grounders, and a strikeout that came after he thought he got ball four on a 3-1 pitch. Marrero also missed a ball that was dipping down in front of him. He looked like he might make a great play on the ball. Instead, it got past him and went for a triple.

Overall, the two top prospects for the Nationals had some moments tonight, but they weren't good enough to outweigh their miscues. Potomac showed some life with a three-run homer in the ninth inning, but the team also came up short, losing 6-4. There will be better days and nights for both Chris Marrero and Ross Detwiler, but fans of the Washington Nationals should not expect to see either of them in the majors any time soon.

I continue to be impressed by the catcher Devin Ivany. Barring trades or injuries, I think he can be ticketed to arrive at RFK in the 2009 or 2010 season, possibly even before Marrero, though he lacks Marrero's sweet power stroke. Detwiler needs to find something other than a straight fastball, and he probably needs to add some muscle, especially in his legs, but there is clearly some potential there.

There were probably three future major leaguers in the lineup for Potomac tonight, and possibly a fourth. Marvin Lowrance turned in a nice game, with a beautiful running catch in right field, and he got the ninth inning rally going with a leadoff hit. Lowrance's batting average has been falling lately, but he's got some major ability. He and Marrero may both be patrolling the outfield in the new Nationals' Park in a few years.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another Game, Another 1-0 Win for United -- Of course, this was hardly just another game. This was Beckham's competitive debut for his MLS side, the Los Angeles Galaxy, and there was a sellout crowd in RFK. Still, while the former Galactico turned Galaxy superstar waited on the sidelines to make his debut, D.C. United relied on a now-familiar formula to take control of the game. Marc Burch continued his remarkable contributions, both on defense and as spark for the offense. It was Burch's pass that set up Emilio's decisive strike, but Burch also had a couple of good chances of his own. Troy Perkins' gutsy goalkeeping produced another clean sheet. Ben Olsen produced some good crosses and helped secure the midfield. Finally, Luciano Emilio was good enough to score the winning goal, again.

Of course, once again, United failed to finish off a number of excellent chances that could have put the game out of reach. In addition, some favorable refereeing was crucial in maintaining the goal advantage. Landon Donovan was pulled down, and surely deserved a penalty kick early in the second half, but none was given. Late in the game, Donovan had another chance, when the Galaxy striker slipped behind the defense to take a fine pass from Beckham. Although it seemed impossible that Perkins could avoid a penalty, or a handball call, his bold slide appeared to cleanly strip Donovan of possession, while the Galaxy striker flipped over the sliding goalie. Perkins gets credit for a game-saving play, but it would have been hardly surprising if the referee had awarded a penalty for the initial contact, or called handball on Perkins, after his momentum carried him outside the box.

Once again, Christian Gomez sat out. One wonders if this about his health, or if a signal is being sent by Coach Tom Soehn. Certainly, Gomez has seemed more interested in international matches than he has in MLS games. Still, I expect to see him next week, in the SuperLiga match with the Galaxy.

Much drama at RFK, but another slim victory for a United club that can do better. At least they're winning, right?


In "Yanks Abroad" news (you might have missed the report if you were at RFK -- ESPN mentioned it at halftime), Benny Feilhaber is headed for the E.P.L. Recently promoted Derby County has arranged for a work permit for the U.S.A. international, and has completed his transfer from Hamburg. Presumably, Benny will get much more playing time now, given his new team's investment in him. A couple of days ago, DaMarcus Beasley tallied in European competition, scoring the game-winner for his new club, Glasgow Rangers. Rangers, of course, was where Claudio Reyna made his real mark in European soccer. Danny Szetela appears to be on the verge of parlaying his strong performance at the U-20s World Cup into a transfer to AS Roma, one of the top clubs in Serie A. It still seems a bit silly for Landon Donovan to be plying his trade here in the U.S. Yet, with that one notable exception, we are starting to see, bit-by-bit, the emergence of a new class of Americans gaining top-flight foreign experience. Maybe, we can expect a more competitive effort in South Africa, three years hence.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

WooHoo! 3,000 Hits! Barry Bonds gets 756, (and 757, for that matter), and The Fisch Fry, at long last, notches 3,000 hits. Took a year and change (although I suspect that I might have made the total weeks ago, if I had the counter up during the first days), but the deed is done. Despite reaching this milestone, it's clear that readership has definitely dipped. Clearly, I need to sex this up to get the readers again. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Deed Is Done -- Despite the steroid scandal (and the virtual certainty of HGH use, too), one still has to respect Barry Bonds' achievement, and give credit where credit is due. However, you have to give credit to the Nationals, too -- for challenging Bonds. Most teams have just pitched around Bonds for years now -- whenever the situation allowed. Last night, pitching in only his third major league game, John Lannan kept going after Bonds. Of course, Lannan didn't have a lot of choice. Time after time, Bonds came up with men on base, in a low-scoring, closely-contested game. Lannan walked Bonds twice but he also retired him three times, including striking out the slugger to end the seventh inning. Lannan allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in almost every inning, but he kept pitching out of trouble. He even got Bonds to hit into a double play.

Tonight, Mike Bacsik kept challenging Bonds, even though he had much less success than Lannan had the hight before. The difference was that balls were flying out of the park. The Nationals had already hit three home runs, and Bengie Molina had hit one for the Giants. When he came to bat in the fifth inning, Bonds already had two hits, having slammed a double over Austin Kearns' head, and lacing a single to center. There was one out, and nobody on base, in a game that was tied 4-4. Bacsik could have pitched around Bonds, but he didn't fear being part of history -- being remembered as the guy who gave up #756. I think everyone felt that this was going to be the historic at-bat. Still, Bacsik nearly had Bonds, who grounded a 3-2 curveball to Dmitri Young. The ball was ruled a foul ball, but it was a close call -- even a questionable decision. Then, Brian Schneider called for a fastball on the outside corner. Bacsik's pitch, though, came over the inside of the plate, and Bonds smacked it to deep center.

The Nats, it must be said, didn't lay down. They came back to win this game, and make a little team history in the process. They've tied the Florida Marlins for fourth place. The night before, the Nats had the chance to catch the Marlins. When Dmitri Young came to bat in the 10th inning, I correctly predicted he would hit the third pitch for a home run. That run didn't hold up though. Felipe Lopez came on a s a defensive replacement, but came up just short of reaching a pair of grounders, giving the Giants men on the corners, and Chad Cordero couldn't prevent the run from scoring. The Giants won it in the 12th. On this historic night, the Nats overcame that disappointment, and the historic home run by Barry Bonds.

Tomorrow night, Tim Redding may be pitching with the chance to move the Nats past Florida, and out of the cellar. Props to Bonds, but props also go out to the Nats, who continue to play really good baseball. At this rate, a winning record ir a s real possibility.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tomorrow A Red Letter Day for the Nats? -- There's no denying it. The Nats are, quite simply, hot. The Nats won their season-high fifth game in a row, with a 12-1 thrashing of the St. Louis Cardinals (who bear no resemblance to last year's World Series winning team). Once again, it was the Ryan Zimmerman show, as the second-year star had his first multi-homer game -- one night after he hit a ninth inning, (walk-off) game-winning single. OK -- so he's not going to challenge Barry Bonds' record (Bonds tied Aaron tonight), or Alex Rodriguez, who may surpass Bonds' home-run total someday (A-Rod hit his 500th today). Still, Zimmerman is a pretty special player -- the kind any franchise is fortunate to develop.

While Zimmerman is the cornerstone of the team's future, it's OK tonight to mention that the present isn't so bad, either. The Bonds and A-Rod milestone home runs made Saturday a red letter day in baseball history, but the Nats can make a little team history on Sunday. The Nationals are on the verge of a series sweep of the Cardinals. If they can win tomorrow, they would move out of the National League East cellar, provided the Florida Marlins lose to the Astros. It's that close.

The Nats are now one-half game behind the Marlins. With the injuries the Marlins' pitchers have suffered, and the way the Nats makeshift rotation has overcome the Nats' own pitching injury woes, it seems inevitable that the Nats will move past the Marlins, into fourth place. That really is far better than I predicted at the start of the season -- and better than anyone had a right to expect.

The truly amazing thing has been the contributions by Mike Bacsik, Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan. Since the All-Star break, this threesome has outpitched any other three pitchers on any team in the National League. What makes this truly remarkable is these guys lost in the Nats' vast spring training auditions. They were the last pitchers to be sent to the minor league camp, but failing to make the Nats' staff is not the kind of thing to put on one's pitching resume. One of those three, or young John Lannan, is likely to be the one to surrender Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run next week, but they should be remembered for more this season than that ignominy. Amazingly, since the All-Star break, Redding, Bacsik and Hanrahan have each allowed fewer than 3 runs per game -- actually, they've each put up an E.R.A. of less than 3.00.

On top of that, the Nats' hitters are producing as they never have before. Zimmerman and Kearns are finally in good grooves, while Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young keep plugging along, hitting over .300. For the first time in memory, even pinch-hitters are delivering. D'Angelo Jimenez one night, Tony Batista another. I wrote that the Nats would win more games the second half than they did the first, but I'm positively giddy over how well the team is playing.

The Nats' management will have some tough decisions sorting out the rotation for the remainder of the year, and trying to figure out which of these pitchers will belong in next year's rotation. I don't envy them for having to make those calls. If they're on the horns of a dilemma, at least they're enjoying the ride.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

United Goes Down, But Moves On -- If you didn't stick around to see the second game in tonight's SuperLiga action, you missed an exciting finish. D.C. United fell to the Houston Dynamo once again, by a very familiar 1-0 score. That result meant United would not advance to the next round if Monarcas Morelia could beat Club America. It got pretty hairy in the second half. America squandered a 2-0 lead, and Morelia was peppering their opponents' goal with a number of difficult shots and near misses.

Finally, a Club America counter-attack resulted in a third goal, giving America the win, and sending United through to the next round. The game-winner came when the Uruguayan striker, Hernan Rodrigo Lopez, delivered a ball up the middle to America's Argentine midfielder, Frederico Insua. Insua got behind the defense, and knocked his first touch to the right, beyond the reach on the oncoming Morelia goalie. Actually, the goal was very reminiscent of the goal that Houston's Brian Ching scored, in simliar fashion, to beat United just two hour earlier.

So, United lives to play another day. They are still struggling to score goals, but they still have a shot at the million dollar prize. United will have to take on the L.A. Galaxy, who dispatched FC Dallas with a flurry of goals last night, in a wild 6-5 affair...and that was without David Beckham. It seems United may get two looks at Beckham, in the span of six days. First, the Galaxy will come to a sold-out RFK for an MLS match next Thursday, and then the SuperLiga match at the Home Depot Center in Carson, for the SuperLiga semifinal. Great stuff.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Baseball Trading Deadline Special: Among contending teams, the big winner is clearly the Atlanta Braves, having brought in Mark Teixiera and Octavio Dotel. While the Braves gave up a real talent in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, they got more than they gave. This will be especially true, if they can re-sign the Georgia native, Teixeira.

Of course, the Braves are focused on catching the Mets right now. The Mets added Luis Castillo to play second. Presumably, this trade makes the Mets a better team than they were. While Castillo's defense isn't what it once was, Castillo is still a better fielder than Ruben Gotay. On the other hand, Gotay was putting up great numbers at the plate, and Castillo will be hard pressed to match them. I guess the real explanation here is that the Mets just didn't have faith in Gotay, didn't believe he could keep up that level of production. So, they jumped at the chance to add a good veteran like Castillo. The key for the Mets, however, will not be the addition of Castillo, but the healthy return of Pedro Martinez. The Mets' starting pitching has been very inconsistent lately. Getting Martinez back into the game might be the difference in this race.

The team that was most improved with the recent trades, though, is likely to be the Texas Rangers. For once, this misbegotten franchise seems to have gotten it right. I think they fleeced the Red Sox' pockets in the Eric Gagne trade. As a Red Sox fan, I have to hope this doesn't turn out like the infamous Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell deal of yore. Kason Gabbard had the best debut of any Red Sox' rookie pitcher since Roger Clemens. The Red Sox don't really need Gagne. The trade makes some sense for the team in that it keeps Gagne out of the Yankees' hands. The Yankees coveted Gagne, and had greater need for him.

In the long run, having Gagne (assuming they re-sign him), may allow the Red Sox to move Jonathan Papelbon into the rotation, but I thought that wiser heads prevailed a few months ago, when that experiment was abandoned during spring training. I think the Red Sox would be a better team with Papelbon as the closer, and Gabbard in the rotation. Only time will tell if the Red Sox made the right move here, but I'm inclined to think they did not.

The Red Sox are turning into another version of the Yankees, and this is not a good thing. They seem to believe they can deal their best young prospects because there will always be another top veteran they can bring in, regardless of cost. Even the Yankees no longer believe that, as they have made a commitment to hold on to young Phil Hughes, no matter what offer they have to reject because it would include Hughes. The Red Sox have struggled to find a shortstop ever since they dealt Garciaparra, but they had the shortstop of the future in their own ranks, when they had Hanley Ramirez. This is not to dismiss what Josh Beckett can bring to the team, but I think that trade was misguided. They may have made another unnecessary, shortsighted deal today.

The local team? The Nationals made two interesting moves in re-signing Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young. Once again, Jim Bowden chose to stay pat, unmoved by any offers he might have received for Nationals' players. Keeping Belliard was a no-brainer, but keeping Young is an interesting move. It only increases speculation about Nick Johnson's future. It's always possible that Young could return to the outfield, but he'd have to drop 20-30 pounds to make that a realistic option. Will Young be willing or able to do that? For his own health (he has diabetes), he ought to, but it's an open question as to whether Young will be in shape to play the outfield next year. Even a more svelte Dmitri would be a defensive liability in the outfield, but if he hits as well next year, as he has done this year, it would be an acceptable liability. If the Nationals could add Andruw Jones in center field, during the off-season, having Young and Kearns as the corner outfielders wouldn't be such a bad thing, and that lineup might finally have the ability to score some runs.
Freddy's Excellent Adventure Begins -- The much ballyhooed career of young Freddy Adu has taken another turn, the most interesting yet. He's headed to Benfica, the historic powerhouse of Portuguese soccer. I think the Portuguese game may be especially well-suited to Adu's size and skills. No doubt, Freddy's agent, Bethesda's own Richard Motzkin deserves some credit for making this happen. If Freddy cracks into Benfica's regular lineup, he will certainly deserve a long look for U.S. national team play. Even though Peter Nowak, his former D.C. United coach, is the top assistant with the team, if Freddy can prove his worth as a playmaker in Portugal, he'll have to be considered for that role with the U.S. senior squad. Bon voyage, Freddy.