Monday, April 30, 2007

One Great Quarter Isn't Enough for the Wiz
Saturday evening, I went to the Wizards game. I know, but I had made the commitment to go well before the whole injury thing. And, looking back, it was still a better option than going to a four-hour Nationals loss, complete with drunken Mets fans and a Chad Cordero blown save. And it sure beat driving out to Raljon to celebrate the drafting of LaRon Landry. Which I actually think is a pretty good pick, despite the fact that he's a duplicate of Sean Taylor. I can't figure out how long Sean Taylor's contract is, but there is absolutely no chance that he'll re-sign with the Redskins. His reaction to the fact that Landry is going to be making more money than him should be interesting. I was puzzled by early reports that the Redskins wanted to make a deal so they could draft wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Yeah, that's what they need, another high profile offensive player who will complain about not getting enough touches. Right.

But this post is about the Wizards. I have to say that the game was fun, the Wizards do a great job of making big games like this an event. (Of course, this is from a guy who went to many many Bullets games at the Capital Centre, which was like going to a game in somebody's basement.) It's fun to walk around the concourse before the game, and check everybody out. Unfortunately, we kept running into Danny Ferry. It's easy to get relatively good food, and you don't have to stand in crazy lines and wait for fancy extras, like hot dog buns.

After the warm-ups, the lights were turned down, and Caron Butler came out to get the crowd fired up. Then the players were introduced, and Gilbert came out to an ovation. He wasn't limping that badly, not as bad as the last time I saw Nick Johnson, actually.

Then the game started, and things quickly went downhill. Pretty quickly, the Wiz put themselves into a hole. LeBron James can be pretty deceptive, he looks like he's just standing around the three-point line, but he'll kind of lull you to sleep and suddenly make a ferocious drive to the basket, or a pass that catches everyone off guard. He's good, and at half-time the Cavs had a 17 point lead.

Things got crazy at the beginning of the second half. Led by an inspired Antawn Jamison, the Wizards closed a 17-point gap in less than six minutes. The crowd went nuts, momentum changed and it looked like the Wizards could win. But they couldn't keep it up. Faced with an opportunity to take a lead, inevitably they'd miss a shot, and someone like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was usually unguarded, would make a shot. The Wizards fought hard, but just didn't have enough juice. They scored 31 points in the third quarter, and 17 points in the fourth quarter, and they lost, 98-92.

What this play-off series has shown me is that someone on the Wizards has done a poor job with the bench. It's either that Ernie Grunfeld has not gotten players that are capable of contributing, or the players are fine, Eddie Jordan just can't get anything from them. Given that the Wizards are missing their two best players, I think it's logical to think that they'd have to go deeper on their bench in this series than usual, and deeper than other teams. I read a couple of articles where it was suggested that, hey, this is a lost cause, give some guys a chance to show what they've got. Guys like Andray Blatche, who played four minutes in game one, and hasn't gotten off the bench since. That, I don't understand.

In fact, compared to the vast majority of other teams in the play-offs, all of which are healthier than the Wizards, the Wizards get fewer minutes from their bench. On Saturday, Wizards subs logged 43 minutes, Cavs subs logged 51. Here are the other teams that played Saturday, and the minutes they got from their reserves: Denver - 41, Detroit - 50, Houston - 61, Orlando - 75, San Antonio - 84 and Utah - 87. That doesn't make sense to me. Either the Wizards don't have enough horses, or the coach doesn't know how to ride them. That's a problem, whether you've got Arenas and Butler or not, and the Wizards won't get much better until it's addressed.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Nice Week for O's MASN Crew
On Wednesday night, Orioles' MASN announcer Gary Thorne said that Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli told him that the "blood" on Curt Schilling's sock during Game 6 of the 2004 play-offs was fake, just "p.r." Since it's not true, and Mirabelli says he's never even spoken to Thorne, it generated a big controversy, which Schilling addresses in his blog (38 Pitches) this morning. Whether you like Curt Schilling or not, he was a huge pitcher for the Red Sox in 2004, and without him, they'd still be World Championship-less. And his blog is pretty cool. To suggest that before that particular game, someone with the Red Sox would have said, "Hey, you know what we should do? Put some fake blood on Curt's ankle," is just moronic. But there are people out there that think Bill Clinton has been a cocaine dealer, too, so what other people think is never too shocking to me.

Last night, I turned on the O's pre-game show, thinking they might address the issue. Maybe do something like make an apology, who knows. If that happened, I missed it. Apparently Thorne now says that he "overheard" Mirabelli saying this. Whatever. If that was the case, Mirabelli was kidding.

What I did hear last night was that Under Armour -- the company that makes clothes that just wick the sweat away from your body! -- had 900 people at the game. To celebrate this, O's sideline reporter Amber Theoharis got herself amidst the Under Armour folks, greeted them, and asked one of them if they were having a good time at the game. He replied that "We're having a great fuckin' time!" If Under Armour made a product that could wick the embarassment away from her face, Amber could have used it, as she strode swiftly away from the Under Armour folks. She tossed it back up to Jim Hunter and Rick Dempsey, and Jim Hunter said that he'd see us at the post-game show. If they were still around.

Nice week, MASN. Stay classy, B-town!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Driving While Completely Insane
Saturday night, I was walking to my car, parked in the West End area of DC. I heard a car hitting another car, and brakes screeching, when I looked in that direction I saw a driver doing what looked like a bad job of parallel parking. As I got closer, I saw that there was a guy in a car that was in the first spot on the block -- there was no car ahead of him, which made his parking problems particularly strange. I saw that he had backed into the car parked behind him -- a nice Volvo -- but there didn't seem to be much damage. But he wasn't through.

As I stood on the sidewalk watching this guy, he gunned the car forward, through the stoplight at the corner. Then he threw it in reverse, and slammed into the Volvo, which then hit the car behind it. Then the guy got out of the driver's seat, and hopped into the back seat of the car, never acknowledging that there was a guy there -- me -- watching this whole thing. I didn't have my cell phone with me (as usual, when something interesting happens), but by this time a couple of other guys had shown up, and a guy who turned out to be an off-duty Prince George's County police officer was on his cell phone talking to the police, who it seemed were asking him a million questions.

Next, a guy emerges from the darkness, looks at the car that's done all the damage, and exclaims "My car." I tell him what happened, he sees the guy in the back seat, who, it turns out, was his brother, who had been given the keys and told to sit in the car and wait for him. So he starts yelling at the driver brother, who then gets out of the car and utters some nonsense, and starts running. Non-driver brother chases after him. Still no police, it's been about 15 minutes since the incident, and the Prince George's County officer is still being interrogated on his cell phone. Finally a police car comes down the street and we flag it down. The off-duty officer explains things to the DC officers, who don't really seem to phased by the whole thing, and make no effort whatsoever to find the madman on the loose and/or his brother.

The DC police seem to have no interest in talking to me, which is fine with me. About the time the Prince George's County officer leaves, the driver of the Volvo shows up. He's just a kid, and he's with his friends. He's shocked, and he's even more shocked when I explain to him what happened. I give him my card, if he needs a witness or anything, and move on to my car, so that I can pick up my girlfriend, who's been waiting for me all this time. I pick her up and explain to her what happened, and we stop by the scene so that I can show her. By this time, some of the Volvo kid's friends are there, and I'm asked to tell them the whole story. The DC police are still on the scene, talking to each other, I'm not really sure what they're doing. Then up pulls the off-duty Prince George's County officer. He looks at me and says "Guess who I've got in the car?" Out steps the non-driving brother! The DC cops are very impressed. Non-driving brother is very apologetic to everyone, and then gets questioned by the DC police.

Just a regular Saturday night in DC.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Nats Win, I Think

This evening, I was multitasking. I watched some of the Red Sox/Yankees game, and some of the Nats/Marlins game. Then I was driving around, and scanning between several games on XM Radio. I got disgusted with the Nats when Chad Cordero blew another save, and gave up on them. I listened to the Red Sox come back against the Yankees. I got home, and checked the good old Washington Post website for the Nats score, fearing the worst, and saw the box to the left. Damn. There was no article, but I linked to the summary, which said that Jason Wood hit a home run in the bottom of the 12th to win it for the Marlins.

A little bit later, I was on CBS Sportsline, checking my fantasy team. The guys at CBS said the Nats won! Hmm. According to CBS,Chris Snelling drove in a run in the top of the 14th, and the Marlins didn't score in their half. Jason Wood's supposed game winning home run was a fly out.

I'm not complaining, really, I know the folks at the Post have had a busy week. Besides, it made the victory that much sweeter.

I'm going to bed, and I hope, in the morning, that the Nats are still the winners.
Thursday Afternoon at RFK
I took the afternoon off yesterday, and went to the Nationals/Phillies game. Despite the less than ideal weather, and the Nats' less than ideal hitting, it was a much better way to spend a weekday afternoon than usual.

Staff "ace" John Patterson took the mound, and struggled again. He consistently let the first batter of the inning on base. By the fifth inning, when he was removed, he had absolutely nothing. His fast balls don't seem as fast as they did back when he was good. He topped out at 88 mph on the scoreboard gun. I think he's hurt. He was relieved by Levale Speigner and Saul Rivera, who both pitched well, as pretty much all of the relievers do these days, with the exception of Chad Cordero (now that Ray King is on the DL). I hope Cordero turns things around soon.

I got to the game a little early, and decided to grab some lunch on the Terrace, which was pretty unpopulated about 45 minutes before game time. That's too bad. I felt bad for the guys in the chicken stand, who didn't even look like they anticipated enough business to fire up their deep fryers. I scouted around, and chose to get something from the hot dog stand, which is called something like DC Dawgs. They'll sell you two corndogs, doused with nacho cheese and chilli sauce, with a bag of chips, for $12. Considering plain old hot dogs cost $5.50 from Aramark, this is actually a decent deal. And it covers all of the basic ballpark food groups: hot dogs/sausages, nacho cheese, fried stuff. Jackpot! I was a little wary when I saw how the thing looked, and it was a little messy. But it was damn good. And, unlike everything else that has to do with the Nationals, it was something that I hadn't seen at a million ball games before. So, whatever this is called (and I'll be able to tell you after the next game I go to), I hereby deem that this is the Nationals' signature food. Forget half smokes.

The crowd was about 16,000, most of whom were sitting right behind me, chatting away and not paying attention to the game at all. I guess you can't expect much more for a weekday afternoon game when the weather is not so great. It was truly a dull game, until the ninth inning when the Nationals mounted a comeback. That was about the time that they decided to do that thing where they show no originality whatsoever, and play Sweet Caroline over the PA, with a cheesy Neil Diamond video and everything. That sucked. Sweet Caroline ended and, shortly thereafter, so did the comeback, when Chris Snelling watched strike three with the tying runs in scoring position. At least they made it interesting.

It would have been a nice game to win, before going to Florida with a reasonable possibility of overtaking the Marlins for third place. Which still could happen, especially since Patterson won't be pitching in that series.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Experience
Yesterday afternoon, I somehow convinced my girlfriend that it would be a good idea to go see Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. She hadn't been feeling well, so I think I got her at a moment when she was loopy from medication.

Given the nature of Washington, and the fact that it was the first weekend of this important film, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised about the celebrity sightings at the theater. Someone that looked like Tony Kornheiser was in front of us in line, surrounded by what I presume were Washington Post interns with notebooks and recording devices, poised to record their subject's every utterance, I guess so they could maybe cobble together a column. The guy behind me said that earlier there was a little incident at the ticket booth, where a guy claiming to be King of Homeland Security for Prince George's County pulled a gun on the ticket taker, who he accused of making fun of his mustache. Scary, I'm glad I missed that.

As we got into the theater, there was a couple that could have been Paul Wolfowitz and his girlfriend, Ali Riza, you know, the one who works for the State Department and makes more money than the Secretary of State. If it was them, they certainly prove the line about Washington being Hollywood for, uh, not so pretty people. The man's hair was a mess, and he was on his cell phone, yelling something about changing the name of the World Bank to the Wolfowitz Bank. Thankfully, he piped down as the movie started.

Things began with what looked to be the usual old-timey cartoon characters in a little conga line, reminding us to be good movie viewers, and not to disturb our neighbors. Soon, these lovable characters were shouted off the screen by an animated heavy metal band, singing/shouting a song about what they'll do with our cell phones or crying babies if either were to go off during the movie. This was very funny. In fact, it was the highlight of the movie.

Once the movie started, the regular characters -- Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad -- appeared, and then went on a mission to, I think, get some kind of exercise machine repaired. They were joined in this pursuit by all of the usual characters -- Carl, their neighbor; Dr. Weird and Steve; Emory and Ogelthorpe, and, of course, Ignignokt and Err, who famously held Boston hostage earlier in the year.

Eventually, they get the exercise machine rolling, and Carl gives it a test spin, which results in the machine morphing into a bigger machine that then threatens all of civilization. I think.

After they get the machine under control, and save civilization, the ATHF-ers go on a quest for Frylock's parents. Or all of their parents. Something like that. Then an eight layer bean burrito appears, and the movie is over.

Sadly, I had been looking forward to this movie for a while. While it was great to see the ATHF gang on the big screen, I was otherwise disappointed. Too much of Dr. Weird, Steve, Emory and Ogelthorpe, and that robot character with the mohawk, and not enough Ignignokt and Err.

As we walked out of the theater, I noticed the Post interns collecting the discarded snack wrappers from Mr. Tony's row. So look for some kind of collage in a future edition.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Chicken on Board
I left my apartment this morning about 9:00AM to run some errands, at the shopping center at Spout Run and Lee Highway. I had a relatively efficient trip to CVS, and returned to my car to drive over to the Giant. As I was loading my car up, I glanced at the car parked next to me, and noticed what looked like a snow white chicken hopping around in the passenger's seat. I looked away, gathered myself, gave myself a sobriety test (I passed!) and looked again. Indeed it was a chicken, who by this time had noticed me, and was hopping around excitedly just like a puppy dog.

It was a pretty chicken, I guess. It was clean and bright white with red trim around it's face, and seemed very friendly. I looked in the car, and there was chicken feed spread around, though it wasn't really messy. The car looked as neat as a car containing a live chicken and chicken feed could be. I, of course, fumbled to take a picture with my cell phone, which, of course, didn't work, or you'd be looking at it by now. As I was fumbling with the phone, I noticed a guy walking towards the car. He was looking at me, not in an unfriendly way, but I did feel kind of odd thinking it was probably his car, and what would his reaction be to a guy taking a picture of the chicken inside.

His reaction was a friendly: "Chicken pictures, huh?"
Me, articulate as usual: "Yeah, uh, it seems like a nice chicken!"

I put the phone back in my pocket, and we both got in our cars. I noticed that the chicken jumped in his owner's lap as soon as he got in. Just like a puppy!
Nats Win! TV Announcers Lose!
It was nice to see the Nats break out of their losing streak last night. Jason Bergmann pitched pretty well, saving himself a trip to the minors. There was some nice clutch hitting and major league level fielding. And Cardiac Chad Cordero worked his magic, and provided the drama, in the ninth inning as he got his first save.

I've watched several games on MASN by now, enough to have some thoughts on the broadcast. Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton do absolutely nothing for me. They are boring and humorless and they never shut up. I've had the MLB Extra Innings package for the past five seasons or so, so I've heard all kinds of announcers. Some of them actually have personalities. These two do not. Some of them are funny. I'm not talking Dave Chappelle funny, and I'm sure not asking for Bob Uecker, but there are some announcers out there (Jerry Remy, even Daron Sutton) who are able to enhance the enjoyment of watching the game with some humor. These guys are dry, dry, dry.

Some examples of the wit of Bob Carpenter: During one of the slumping Brian Schneider's at bats last night, Carpenter noted that Schneider was "due." He was so "due," that if this was a library, he'd owe us some money. Ha. He also suggested, during a ridiculous conversation about how dark it was in the catcher's, uh, crotch area, making it difficult for the pitcher to pick up signs, that maybe they should add some runway lights. Good one, Bob.

Sutton, who I was shocked to see still sporting that Mark Moseley-esque perm, takes himself altogether too seriously, it's like he's giving a lesson on Baseball 101. One of the things I liked about Ron Darling two years ago was that he was able to express his insight and opinions, as a former high level player, in a low-key and interesting manner. Don Sutton seems to think he invented baseball. He's so smart that he has the ability to foresee where players will hit balls, as last night he implored us all to watch Brian McCann drive a ball to right to advance a runner. McCann hit a hot shot to Ryan Zimmerman, which, Sutton said, was a result of great pitching by Bergmann. Alrighty. I guess it didn't have anything to do with that big hole on the left side of the infield.

Also, they just never shut up. Via Extra Innings, I get to listen to Vin Scully sometimes. He has the great ability to let the game speak for itself. I know these early games haven't been saying much, but these guys seem to have had way to much coffee. There's a feature where you can send them a question through the MASN website. Look for "Tadcranky from Arlington asks 'Can you guys shut up for 30 seconds?'" I listened to the end of last night's game on the radio last night, and the radio guys (who are great) talk less than Carpenter and Sutton.

I've seen bits and pieces of the pre- and post-game shows with Ray Knight and Johnny Holliday up until last night, when I saw all of the post-game show. Ray Knight seems to not know what to do with his hands. Johnny Holliday, with all due respect, seems to not be at his best. Last night he stumbled over whether John Smoltz (who it sounded like he was calling Schmoltz a couple of times) was the losing pitcher of record. Once he determined that he was, he made a big thing about how the Nationals had handed him his first loss of the season. Uh, Johnny, it's April 12. Smoltz is now 1-1. Settle down.

The weirdest thing about the post-game show is when they go to what seems to be called Ray's Roundtable, which involves Knight going to the other side of the set. Then we get a camera angle from behind Knight, where we see mostly his back, and we see a wee Johnny Holliday across the set. Then they talk to each other, just like they did before when they were standing next to each other. I pray that one day Johnny will cup his hands around his mouth and yell "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Ray Knight over."

I know it's early and everything, and at least we can actually watch the games. But, as with everything else Nats-related these days, there's a lot of room for improvement.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What The Nats Need
I picked up the Post this morning, and a headline across the top of Sports said Nats Need a Leader With a Powerful Bat. That was good news to me, as I figured it must signify that they've solved their pitching woes. Not quite the case, as it turned out.

Barry Svrluga admits that, yeah, the pitching sucks, but "Moreover, observers wonder who is the real threat, the man who will make pitchers cower each time up." Uh, Ryan Zimmerman? Maybe Austin Kearns? Who else would it be? If you tell me Kory Casto, I'm going to take a leap right out of this blog.

He says that "the offensive struggles -- and, indeed, the overall performance -- is putting focus on the club's young leadership group of catcher Brian Schneider, Zimmerman, Kearns and infielder Felipe Lopex, the players singled out to help hold things together in the clubhouse. Will that group be able to convey how to handle these struggles?" Dude, they're the ones that are struggling! There's no one else, unless, like Frank Robinson, you're going to blame Ryan Church for this. Soriano is gone, remember? Stan the Plan gave him up, and decided to spend the money on cherry trees, which will result in tens of thousands of previously disinterested Washingtonians becoming avid baseball fans and spending their evenings and their cash in Southeast DC, gazing at cherry trees and a fancy scoreboard.

I think the offense will get better. They've been playing from behind in, literally, every at bat. And it's been like 30 degrees out there most of the time, unfortunately their opponents have the huge advantage of getting to hit against Nationals' pitchers. Mark Zuckerman, in the Washington Times, points out that the Nats "became the first team in the modern era to trail at least 4-0 in each of its first six games." That's a problem.

Here's what I'd like to see this week: Cory Kasto hitting a cut-off man, Jason Bergmann walking fewer than one batter per inning, something positive for us to cling to from Matt Chico, and a quality start by Jerome Williams. And I'd like to see Dmitri Young go another week without the inevitable injury that will result in Robert Fick ending up playing first base. While all that may seem wildly optimistic, I think it's a little more realistic that waiting for the second coming of Cal Ripken to suddenly appear in a Nationals' uniform.

Friday, April 06, 2007

SI Version of Red Sox Nats Trade Talks
The Nationals get a substantial amount of attention in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. In the SI Players section, Nook Logan gets The Questions. Nothing really interesting, though. If he wasn't playing baseball, he'd be playing basketball, he says. And if he were commissioner for the day, he'd let kids come to games free. Which, you know, they pretty much do, in that kids at games aren't generally paying for their tickets. But I know what he's saying. Maybe he can establish Nook's Nook, and buy some tickets for kids. He can actually sit up there with them, too, for the time being at least.

The big photo leading off Inside This Week in Sports is Ryan Zimmerman sliding into third on Opening Day. It's a great shot, you see the ball, and him on his way to beating the ball. But it also makes you realize that one of these days Ryan's going to suffer a hand injury sliding like that. And the way things have been going in Washington these days, it could be pretty soon.

But the most interesting Nats mention, in Inside Baseball by John Heyman, is that, before the Sox decided to return Jonathan Papelbon to the bullpen, Chad Cordero was their "best trade option." Except, in exchange, the Nats wanted Clay Buchholz, Craig Hansen (both 2005 first round picks) and Jon Lester (a 2002 second round pick). Right. Maybe they would have thrown Manny in, too. I love Chad Cordero and everything, but that seems a little steep. Not too many players have started out in the bullpen and had long, successful careers as closers. Gregg Olson had about four good years for the O's, if I remember correctly. Needless to say, Boston deemed the move "ridiculous." Apparently they're not completely sold on "The Plan" either.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Nats Play Down to Their Potential
The Nats are two games into their season, and things look pretty scary. Going into the season, two of the biggest question marks, from a non-pitching standpoint, were Nook Logan and Christian Guzman, who both immediately got hurt in Game #1. That's bad luck. After the game, when it was suggested to him that he might be moving back to shortstop, Felipe Lopez, the ultimate team guy, said, as reported by Barry Svrugla in the Washington Post, that "I'm playing second. I don't want to switch. I don't want to start all over again. My mind is set for second base." By game time yesterday, Lopez had apparently changed his story. On the MASN broadcast, Bob Carpenter (maybe it was Don Sutton) said that Lopez had misunderstood the question, and he'd be happily playing shortstop starting on Wednesday. Which is good, because I don't really want to ever see Josh Wilson play shortstop again, after yesterday's debacle.

As far as replacing Nook, Kory Casto was called up, and even had a hit yesterday. Casto had a good spring, and now he has a chance to show off his stuff. Let's hope that he does better than previous young Nationals outfielders.

It was difficult to fully guage Shawn Hill's performance last night, as he got no help from his fielders, and had a very long first inning. After that, he settled down somewhat, and I suppose there is some room to be hopeful, although maybe not quite as hopeful as Carpenter and Sutton were, who seem to be unable to utter anything negative.

In an hour or so, Matt Chico toes the mound for his major league debut. I hope that he doesn't get discouraged, and that he, uh, "can lend a helping hand."