TOPPS NOW: Daniel Murphy Hits in All 19 Games vs. Mets in 2016 Season

Daniel Murphy tortured the New York Mets this season and the latest Topps Now card celebrates his 19-game hitting streak against his former team.
Daniel Murphy tortured the New York Mets this season and the latest Topps Now card celebrates his 19-game hit streak against his former team.

News broke on Christmas Eve that the Washington Nationals had finally come to a deal with a free agent. They had already missed out on big deals with Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward who signed with the Chicago Cubs, despite receiving more lucrative offers from the Nationals. This time, however, the Nationals got the man they wanted–Daniel Murphy–and they signed him to three-year $37.5 million contract.

Murphy rejected a one-year $15.8 million qualifying offer from the New York Mets after a miraculous postseason where he hit seven home runs in nine games and was named NLCS MVP. He hit just 14 home runs during the 2014 regular season and there were critics of the deal who thought the Nationals were paying for his hot postseason numbers.

Murphy began the season on a tear and entered the first game of a 19-game season series against the Mets on May 17 with a .400 AVG and 5 home runs. Fans gave him a warm ovation before the start of the game when a one-minute long video played on the videoboard. He was also cheered when he came up to bat in the second inning. 

The Nationals would explode on the Mets over the next two games. Boos replaced cheers almost immediately. Murphy drove in two runs on a single and a sacrifice fly in a 7-1 victory. Mets fans were even more critical the following night when Murphy hit a two-run home off, Mets “ace,” Matt Harvey and the Nationals bounced him from the game and the rotation with a 9-1 victory.

I was fortunate to witness this ownage at five of the 19 games this season including two games in New York. Perhaps my favorite exhibition of Murphy’s damage to the Mets came when the teams met in late June. Murphy had a monster solo home run into the second deck of Nationals Park above their bullpen to open the scoring for the day. Murphy made it a multi-home run affair in the eighth inning when he took Sean Gilmartin deep and drove in Bryce Harper to make it a 4-0 game.

The Nationals defeated the Mets 4-2 on June 29 thanks to a multi-homer game from Daniel Murphy.
The Nationals defeated the Mets 4-2 on June 29 thanks to a multi-homer game from Daniel Murphy.

Murphy has been the best player for the Nationals this season. He leads the major leagues with a .348 AVG. He is second to only Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz in other offensive metrics including .598 SLG and .991 OPS. Murphy also leads the National League in doubles (45)  is second to only Ortiz in the majors with 46.

Murphy, somehow, was able to save some of his best hitting for the matchups against the Mets. The Nationals won 12 of the games and Murphy made Mets fans regret their decision to let him walk by walking all over the Mets.

The latest Topps Now card commemorates Murphy’s success against the Mets. His historic 19-game hit streak is rivaled by only Lou Brock. Fans can purchase this limited edition card, that may as well be called the “Thanks for Murphy Card,” until 1pm on Friday.

The Moment:

With a first-inning single vs. the New York Mets on September 14th, Daniel Murphy capped off the first season of play vs. his former club by hitting in all 19 games played. The 19-game hit streak marks the longest single-season streak against any one team in the divisional era (1969), and also goes down as the longest streak by a player vs. his former club since Lou Brock’s 17-game streak in 1965 vs. the Chicago Cubs. All told, Murphy’s 2016 stats vs. the Mets round out to .413/.444/.567 with 7 HR and 21 RBIs.

Giveaway Review: Michael A. Taylor Fan Choice Bobblehead (Grade: B)

Friday night was the final bobblehead giveaway of the season. The first 25,000 fans received Michael A. Taylor fan choice bobbleheads.
Friday night was the final bobblehead giveaway of the season. The first 25,000 fans received Michael A. Taylor fan choice bobbleheads.

Friday night’s game between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies was the final bobblehead giveaway of the season. The first 25,000 fans at Nationals Park received a Michael A. Taylor fan choice bobblehead presented by MASN.

When the promotional schedule was announced, it was revealed that fans would have the opportunity to vote on which Nationals player would be featured as the September 9 bobblehead. The voting period went from Thursday, March 10 at 10 a.m. to Friday, March 11 at 10:00 a.m. and it was conducted on the Nationals website.

The ballot was long and allowed fans to choose from 31 players on the Nationals roster. Players who have been featured for a bobblehead or figurine giveaway were left off the ballot.

The fan choice bobblehead ballot listed 31 players with varying degrees of experience with the Nationals. (Washington Post)
The fan choice bobblehead ballot listed 31 players with varying degrees of experience with the Nationals. (Washington Post)

Some of the choices then seemed questionable. Were Phillies fans going to stuff the ballot box with votes for Jonathan Papelbon who, at the time, had an icy relationship with Nationals fans after choking Bryce Harper?

Should people vote for veterans Daniel Murphy or Oliver Perez even if they had not played a game for the Nationals?

It looked like Trea Turner would spend the season in the minor leagues. Was it worth voting for him?

Ultimately, it was revealed during an April 4 Opening Day TV broadcast that Taylor won the vote. Some fans were skeptical about the counting, but his victory may have had something to do with his hot spring training stats.

The Nationals (or Syracuse Chiefs) outfielder is portrayed in a home white uniform with a red cap running down a fly ball. This bobblehead, like the other bobbleheads this season, is extremely detailed. Fans can see the logos painted onto his black cleats and even see the black shoe laces.

The bobblehead designers also gets credit for including the single red arm sleeve that Taylor wears on his right arm. Fans will also notice that the cap is much more detailed than the caps from either of the Max Scherzer bobbleheads. The panels of the cap and button are both pronounced this bobblehead. The corrugated polyester texture is also visible on the cap.

The Washington Nationals had a sponsorship activation at the main team store which generated some enthusiasm for the promotion. Taylor, who did not play on Friday night but dressed for the game, signed autographs for about thirty minutes near the store’s entrance.

Many fans posted photos of their bobbleheads on social media. Our favorite is this post game video taken by a fan during the Trea Turner walk-off home run.

The prevailing buzz surrounding the bobblehead, despite its craftsmanship, was Taylor’s forgettable season where his low batting average (.218) and high strikeout number (73) in just 68 games left him out of a job.

Grade: B

TOPPS NOW: Trea Turner Caps off 2-HR Game With First Career Walk-Off Blast

 

Trea Turner's first multi-homer game was capped off with a walk-off home run that cleared the center field wall and traveled 440 feet.
Trea Turner’s first multi-homer game was capped off with a walk-off home run that cleared the center field wall and traveled 440 feet.

Extra innings were seemingly on the horizon when Trea Turner stepped up to the plate with two outs in the ninth. It was a 4-4 game and the momentum seemingly rested with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies, after all, roared back in the eighth inning to tie the game courtesy of a three-run homer from Cameron Rupp that soared over the visitors’ bullpen in left field.

Trea Turner had other plans. With a 1-2 count, Turner connected with a 91 mph fastball that was left over the plate by Frank Herrmann and absolutely crushed a home run to the right of the batter’s eye. Statcast projected Turner’s game-winning home run traveled 440 feet.

The stadium roared and the team ran out of the dugout to greet Turner at home plate. The energy in the stadium was high as they watched the 23-year-old phenom, acquired in a trade from the Padres in 2015, round the bases and get swarmed at the plate.

Turner is the hottest hitter in the Washington Nationals lineup right now. He has a slash line of .345 AVG / .365 OBP / .925 OPS. He also leads the Nationals with 21 stolen bases and is second on the team with six triples in just 52 games.

Turner also flashed some power earlier in the evening in the seventh inning when he cracked his seventh home run of the season into the left field seats. His two-run home run gave the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

His post game interview with Dan Kolko was interrupted by a Gatorade bath courtesy of Anthony Rendon. Turner reluctantly agreed to the soaking telling Rendon, “Only because you’re my favorite player.”

Turner said, during the postgame interview, that with two strikes, he was trying to put the ball in play for Jayson Werth and that he has surprised himself with the power that he has flashed since getting called up to The Show.
Nationals fans can commemorate Turner’s performance and last night’s victory with a limited edition Topps Now rookie card. The latest card will be available online only until Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.

The Moment:

The Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies were tied at four runs apiece when Trea Turner came up to face Frank Herrmann with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the ninth. Turner rocketed one to deep straightaway center, clearing the fence for a walk-off home run. It was the second homer of the game for Turner and the first of the walk-off variety for his career.

Nationals Magazine Digest: September 2016

 

Daniel Murphy is featured on the cover of the third issue of Nationals Magazine this season.
Daniel Murphy is featured on the cover of the third issue of Nationals Magazine this season.

The third issue of this season’s Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park and features Daniel Murphy on the cover along with an accompanying story by Mike Feigen highlighting Murphy’s success at the plate over the last year.

Feigen describes the specific changes Murphy made to his mechanics last season which resulted in his breakout 2015 postseason that carried over into the 2016 regular season. He also highlights how Murphy’s performance, like his clutch game-tying home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 17, can be a “leverage point” that can tilt the scale for the Washington Nationals as they play into October.

Danny Espinosa is also featured in an article by David Driver. In “The Switch,” Driver presents the highlights of Espinosa’s season through the prism of his playing career as a college student in the Cape Cod League–the premier summer wooden bat league. The article has quotations from his coach with the Chatham Anglers and his coach from Long Beach State University which contextualize how Espinosa developed athletically and rose to finally become a starter for the Nationals.

The final feature story in the magazine is written by Charlie Slowes and highlights the work of the groundskeepers and grounds crew who maintain the field at Nationals Park. The story describes the decision making that went into deciding to delay the start of a game against the New York Mets and the subsequent decisions that went into delaying the game. Fans will come away from the story with an understanding that taking care of the field is a 365-day-a-year job. The article also features five photographs of the grounds crew in action.

This photo of Mark Melancon is just one of the "Easter eggs" Nationals fans will find in the latest issue of Nationals Magazine.
This photo of Mark Melancon is just one of the “Easter eggs” Nationals fans will find in the latest issue of Nationals Magazine.

The issue contains two “Easter eggs” for Nationals fans. The first is a public service announcement for TobaccoFreeBaseball.org on page 23. The second is on page 76 where a headshot of Mark Melancon features him in his uniform from his days with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Nationals Magazine can be purchased at the Nationals team store and most clubhouse stores in Nationals Park.

TOPPS NOW: Wilson Ramos Walk Off Single Caps Off Comeback Win

A limited edition TOPPS NOW card commemorating The Buffalo's walk-off single at 12:41 a.m. is available until Friday afternoon.
A limited edition TOPPS NOW card commemorating The Buffalo’s walk-off single at 12:41 a.m. is available until Friday afternoon.

The Washington Nationals had to wait almost an hour before their series finale with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night because of light rainfall which ended up creating some late night drama.

Stephen Strasburg looked like an ace in his first start since a stint on the 15-day disabled list striking out four batters and allowing just two hits. His night came to an unexpected end when he was removed from the game during the top of the third inning after just 42 pitches with a flexor mass strain.

The Braves tied and took the lead off of relievers Trevor Gott and Lucas Giolito, but the Nationals battled back and then battled back again.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Nationals trailing 3-1, Daniel Murphy started the comeback by hammering a single to left field to plate his 99th and 100th RBIs of the season.

The game headed to extra innings and reliever Trevor Gott gave up a run, and the lead, in the the top of the 10th inning. Anthony Rendon picked up his teammate in the bottom half of the inning by hitting a slow rolling ground ball to third base that scored Danny Espinosa and tied the game 4-4.

With only a tiny fraction of the 19,894 fans left in the stadium at 12:41 a.m., Wilson Ramos sent us home happy with a bases loaded walk off single to give the Nationals a Curly W and a series sweep.

Nationals fans can purchase a limited edition Topps Now Baseball card until 1 p.m. on Friday.

The Moment:

The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves entered the 10th inning tied at three runs apiece. Jace Peterson put the Braves on top, 4-3, with an RBI single that scored Nick Markakis. The Washington Nationals, however, came right back with a run of their own thanks to an RBI single from Anthony Rendon. The game pushed onward with the score tied, 4-4, but Wilson Ramos put an end to things just one inning later with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th.

Book Review: Baseball in Blue and Gray

 

I learned more about the orgins of our national pastime when I stopped at Fort Pulaski--the site of the only photograph of baseball during the Civil War.
I learned more about the orgins of our national pastime when I stopped at Fort Pulaski–the site of the only photograph of baseball during the Civil War.

I came across George B. Kirsch’s Baseball in Blue and Gray under unusual circumstances this summer when my girlfriend and I visited Fort Pulaski as part of our summer road trip.

We walked around the National Park Service visitor center when we arrived at the fort, located on Cockspur Island, and we watched a film produced by the National Park Service about the history of the site. The 20 minute film was informative, but my attention was grabbed sometime during the last few minutes of the film when the narrator mentioned that the only known photograph of a baseball game being played during the Civil War was taken at Fort Pulaski in 1862 or 1863.

I left the film energized and headed to the closest park ranger to ask for more information about the history of baseball at the fort and she directed me to a Kirsch’s book in the gift shop, as she spoke about how soldiers from New York played baseball there during the nineteenth century.

I breezed through the six chapters in the book while I was on vacation because its contents challenged my understanding of the origins of baseball and it described how the popularity of the game was affected by the Civil War.

Readers will be surprised to learn that baseball was likely formed as a variation to another sport called town ball in 1831, rather than having been created by Abner Doubleday. The book explains how there were three different sets of rules for baseball in the three areas where it was most popular. Kirsch describes some of the nuances of the game. Pitches were thrown underhanded to batters under the New York rules. The rules in Massachusetts dictated that games were played to 25 runs. In Philadelphia, all batters batted in the two or 11 inning games.

Kirsch explains how the New York rules evolved during the Antebellum period and the sport began to increase in popularity and become increasingly associated in reporting alongside symbols of patriotism like politicians and American flags as it developed.

Readers may also find it surprising to learn about how the sport flourished during the Civil War at both Union and Confederate camps. Kirsch also describes the types of intercity tournaments that took place during the second half of the war among civilians that led to the sport’s increased popularity.

The final chapter of the book is designated to the war’s legacy especially as it relates to the nationalism. Washington Nationals fans will appreciate a story about how the owner of the Nationals invited President Andrew Johnson to be an honorary member of the club in 1866 when the Mutuals of New York traveled to Washington.

The Nationals and other teams from New York would also help grow the game by playing games beyond the Alleghenies.

(Photo used from Amazon.com)
(Photo used from Amazon.com)

Baseball in Blue and Gray was published in 2003 and is available on Amazon.com at bargain prices. Pick up a copy to learn more about how baseball became our national pastime.