Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Home Run Derby

The contestants tonight: Our Washington Nationals and The San Diego Padres.

The contenders this evening: Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond and--for a moment--Josh Willingham reigning from The Nation's Capital. Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Denorfia and Matt Stairs representing the Southern California Friars.

The Game: Home Run Derby.

The Object: To slam out of the park as many home runs as possible in three or less swings per at-bat.

50 years ago, there was this fabulous television baseball program which became the forerunner to The Major League League All-Star Game Home Run Derby. The syndicated Home Run Derby ran for only one season in 1960, but left a lasting impression on the game of baseball. Each week, sluggers from that era would compete head to head at Old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles to see who could knock the most baseballs out the park over the course of nine innings. Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew and Willie Mays were just a few of the 19 players (nine of whom became Hall Of Famers) that participated.

Facing batting practice pitchers, each Major Leaguer was given three outs per frame. A called strike by the home plate umpire was an out. Any hit baseball not knocked over the fence was an out as well. The winner with the most home runs when the game was completed, returned the following week to take on a new challenger. How fitting that the overall champion of Home Run Derby in 1960 was none other than Henry Aaron--who eventually became The Major League Home Run Champion on April 8, 1974.

Fast forward to July 7th, 2010--a hot and humid night in which Our Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres used six of the eight combined pitchers that entered into this game for batting practice. Seven total home runs, 22 total hits. Most every hurler touched up on an evening where it took Washington's pitchers every last one of the 27 outs necessary to secure a victory. For the most part, it didn't matter who was sent to the mound, blast after blast off a bat was the result.

The Padres' Adrian Gonzalez took the very first pitch he saw from Washington's J.D.Martin and deposited it over the left field fence for a solo home run in the top of the 1st inning. Adam Dunn followed suit in the bottom half by taking ball one from San Diego's Jon Garland before launching a change up over the center field wall at Nationals Park.

In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Our Number 44 took the first pitch he saw in his second at-bat from Garland and lofted that into the Red Porch Seats. In the bottom of the 6th, Ian Desmond offered at the first pitch thrown to him by San Diego's starter and clubbed that pitch over the left field wall.

Battters for both Washington & San Diego making Nationals Park look like a band box park. Hitter friendly and slugger welcoming--much like Old Wrigley Field was in L.A. back in it's Hey Day as the home of The Pacific Coast League's Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars--and eventually Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Angels during their inaugural season of 1961.

Baseballs were being jacked out of the park all over. Even Josh Willingham had JUST MISSED sending one out on a scorcher drilled off the top of the outfield padded wall in left field in the bottom of the 1st inning. At the Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street during The Washington Senators days at RFK Stadium, the players of the 60's used to always say once the sweltering D.C. summer arrived--most any baseball well hit and up in the air would sail out of that park. Tonight on South Capitol Street, that same belief rang true.

Chris Denorfia would pinch hit for Jon Garland in the 7th and immediately take the first pitch he saw from his batting practice pitcher this evening, Joel Peralta, over the fence in left. The 5th round tripper of the evening. Everyone now getting into the Home Run Derby act. And because of it--no lead was safe.

Good thing Adam Dunn decided he wanted to win tonight's individual competition because Washington's bullpen kept giving back the lead in the overall competition. Peralta's given up gopher ball pulling The Friar's back within three runs. Drew Storen then coming out for the 8th frame and allowing two more runs. The Padres now within one. Surprising on Storen's behalf because they were only the 5th and 6th earned runs he's given up in 22 appearances since making his Major League Debut on May 17th at St. Louis.

Most everybody on the mound this evening throwing nothing but gas. Fueling a fire in the batter's box which no one took better control of than Our Number 44. With the score now 6-5 Washington in the bottom of the 8th, Dunn lead off and attempted to put both the Home Run Derby and this game away by lifting a baseball so high and deep into the night--for a moment--you had to believe it might bring needed rain down on the D.C. area. Instead, the baseball landed over the right field "Out Of Town" Scoreboard for Adam's 3rd Home Run of the night. The first time he's ever done so in a Major League Game. Eventually, providing just enough cushion to give D.C.'s Team the victory.

Few pitchers were immune tonight, Matt Capps also played Batting Practice pitcher in the 9th by giving up a solo home run. The 7th and final dinger hit tonight. San Diego's Matt Stairs taking on the first pitch he saw coming off the bench to pinch-hit over the left field wall. No lead was safe until that 27th out was recorded moments later and The Home Run Derby officially ended.

The Home Run Derby Final Totals: Adam Dunn 3, Ian Desmond 1, Adrian Gonzalez 1, Chris Denorfia 1 and Matt Stairs 1.

This evening's champion, Dunn, returning to face fresh challengers Thursday evening when the final game of the three game set begins between these two teams. With the heat still bearing down on The Nation's Capital--will the baseball's continue to be launched out of Nationals Park so Home Run Derby can continue as well?

Final Score from Nationals Park where baseball after baseball kept flying out of the park: Our Washington Nationals 7 and The San Diego Padres 6. Curly "W" Number 38 gave the impression of a long ago TV Show that still resonates throughout the game. Home Run Derby allowed Major League players 50 years ago to step up to the plate and just take their hacks. Just swing away, which is exactly what most every single player did for both teams tonight. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! not only sounding when the final out was recorded but four previous times after Washington home runs during this game. The last of which--Dunn's third and final trot around the bases for the evening--bringing the house down as everyone on hand wouldn't sit down in their seats again until Our Number 44 stepped out of the dugout, momentarily, for The Curtain Call Standing Ovation.

Yeah, there was more to this affair than the seven home runs. The pitching was not the best. The sweltering heat was nearly unbearable. And the game was in doubt until the final out was recorded. But all anyone will ever remember who attended this game will be The Home Run Derby that took place. Another televised competition that when it was all over and done--was all about Adam Dunn.

Game Notes & Highlights

There is just something odd about J.D. Martin. There is nothing special about anything he does. Then you look up on the scoreboard and he's finished nearly six innings, given up just two runs--and at least for tonight--recorded his first personal victory of 2010. Martin is definitely a survivor. He's in the Big Leagues because Our Washington Nationals don't have anyone better at this time to be in their starting rotation. J.D.'s making the most of given opportunity. But it's still unclear whether he has a future.

Except for Sean Burnett, everyone struggled a little bit out of the bullpen. Joel Peralta allowed his first run in a Nationals Uniform when Chris Denorfia pinch hit in the top of the 6th inning and took Peralta deep. Drew Storen was shaky during his 8th inning setup appearance--allowing three hits and two runs. He wasn't sharp. The same could be said about Matt Capps. "Cardiac" Capps returned tonight and allowed a pinch hit homer to Matt Stairs. The Matt Stairs now 40 pounds lighter than the bulky guy seen in a Phillies Uniform over the past two seasons. Capps was in serious trouble in the top of the 9th. Adam Kennedy saved him at 1st base by knocking down a bullet of a shot off the bat of Scott Hairston that forced Adrian Gonzalez out at second. Then Capps recovered from a 1st and 3rd, two out situation--with the go ahead runs on the bases--to record his 23rd save of 2010. Chase Headley grounding to Kennedy to end this game.

After a fast start to his career as a San Diego Padre, Jon Garland has slowed down over the past month. Tonight, he was hit hard by Washington--allowing eight hits, two walks and three home runs (two by Dunn). Garland looked nothing like the top free agent acquisition he was for The Friars this past winter.

Adam Dunn, three home runs, all of them slammed out of the park--no doubters. The first three home run game for a National in Nationals Park's History. The only other three homer game coming on April 21, 2006 at RFK Stadium. Alfonso Soriano hit two of his three home runs that night off sure to be Hall Of Famer--John Smoltz of The Atlanta Braves--after a rather lengthy rain delay at The Old Ballyard On East Capitol Street.

Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot bat with a 2-4 night. The Z-Man knocked in Washington's first run of the evening in the first inning on a single--moments before Dunn crushed to left-center a three run homer to get his career night started. Ian Desmond sent his rocket off Jon Garland out of the park in the bottom of the sixth with two outs. The first time in Desmond's career he has homered in back to back games.

There was a reflex only Defensive Play of This Game that everyone in attendance had to appreciate. With one out in the bottom of the 8th and Ryan Webb on the mound for San Diego, Josh Willingham ran on Webb's pitch to Pudge Rodriguez. A 94 MPH fasteball that Pudge sent back to the pitching box at least two times harder than thrown. With only a fraction of a second to react--Ryan Webb somehow got his face out of the way of this bullet ball, caught it in his glove, then recovered and softly threw the baseball to Adrian Gonzalez at 1st Base to double off Willingham. If that ball off Rodriguez's bat projects a few inches directly over the mound--Webb is seriously injured. He was lucky he made the play and he was luckier he wasn't hurt. The Defensive Play Of This Game to Ryan Webb for bravery. To Washington's fans' credit, he got a nice ovation for his recovery.

The attendance tonight at Nationals Park: 13,762. Only three home games all season have had fewer fans on the premises. Two Colorado Rockies games in April and the first of three games on South Capitol Street versus The Kansas City Royals back on June 21st.

And finally, as Sohna and I were driving home after the game, we couldn't think and wonder over the very fact that Our Washington Nationals got swept by the worst team in the American League--The Baltimore Orioles--a few short weeks ago. Now, as July 8th is upon us, D.C.'s Team is on the verge of sweeping one of the best teams in the National League--The San Diego Padres.

Baseball can be a very strange game sometimes.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Susan Walsh (AP)
Other Game Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved
Wrigley Field, RFK Stadium, Home Run Derby Photos--Wikipedia


Edward J. Cunningham said...

Wasn't L.A.'s Wrigley Field used as a stand-in for Griffith Stadium for the film "Damn Yankees"?

Screech's Best Friend said...

Eddie: Yes, Wrigley Field in L.A. was used for Damn Yankees and also used for the movie Pride Of The Yankees.

paul said...

Martin's breaking pitch can be unhittable. Doesn't he seem to be pitching as well if not better than all the other starters? (except, well, you know. . . .)

Really interesting about L.A.'s Wrigley Field. I always thought the homerun derby was incredibly hokey, but it is quite the time capsule.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Paul: That's what so interesting about Martin. He's steadier than most of the others currently on the staff. He doesn't overwhelm anyone, but he's consistent in getting outs and keeping the team in the game.

And I love watching replays of that Home Run Derby show. The players needed the money at that time and most aren't too comfortable talking on TV. Like you said, it's a great time capsule--especially the episodes with Harmon Killebrew and Bobby Allison both wearing Washington Senators uniforms. The last season the Original Senators/Nationals played in D.C. before moving to Minnesota. Great stuff.