December 15, 2017

OPINION: Historic day in DC sports should be savored

The Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards (nor any previous combination of city and nickname) had never won a playoff game before on the same date. That is, until April 21, 2015. Add in a perfectly run-of-the-mill, ho-hum, boring, average 10th inning walk-off homer win by the Washington Nationals, and you’ve got yourself an historic day in the nation’s capital’s sports scene.

Obviously, the Caps and the Wizards are the big stories here. Both teams won road playoff games — the Caps evened their series with the New York Islanders at two games apiece, and the Wizards destroyed the Toronto Raptors to go up 2-0 in their series. The Nats walk-off, courtesy of a no-doubt homer by Yunel Escobar — punctuated by a head-first slide into the pigpile at home plate — was simply the cherry on top of the playoff sundae.

But all three victories are momentous in their own right.

Let’s start with the Caps, shall we? Nick Backstrom’s seeing-eye wrist shot from way downtown was a gift from the hockey gods. Even Backstrom will tell you he couldn’t have been trying to sneak that puck in the approximately four inches between Jaroslav Halak’s right shoulder and the crossbar. He was simply trying to get it on net, with the hopes that something good would happen, with Joel Ward camped in the crease and Alex Ovechkin lurking after the offensive zone faceoff win.

Something good, indeed, happened. Halak lost sight of the puck as it whizzed past Ward and Johnny Boychuk and it went right where Halak wasn’t. Goals like that often decide overtime games, and we saw it an hour later in the third overtime between Chicago and Nashville.

Make no mistake, out of the 14 periods the Caps and Islanders have played thus far in the four games of this series, the Caps have been soundly outplayed in 10 of them. Save for the final two periods in Game 2, the third in Game 3 and overtime Tuesday night, the Islanders have skated circles around the Caps. Yet, as a result of Backstrom’s wizardry and Braden Holtby’s superb play throughout, the Caps have regained home-ice and momentum heading into Game 5 Thursday. It’s a funny sport.

But how ’bout those Wizards?!? Losers of approximately 43 straight heading into the playoffs, they’ve come out like world-beaters  against a suddenly gagging Toronto squad, which after Tuesday’s loss have dropped their last four home playoff games. In Game 2, John Wall went for 26 and 17,  Bradley Beal dropped 28 and even Otto Porter added 15 as the Raptors had absolutely no answer for the Wizards’ guards.

The Wiz shot 53 percent from the floor and 47.6 from beyond the arc, and with Game 3 on Friday at Verizon Center, they’ve put themselves in a prime position to perhaps sweep the higher seed in the first round.

Then we come to the Nats, who pulled back to .500 with the 2-1 win over their new nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals had won seven of the last nine from the Nats entering Tuesday’s game, and that doesn’t count the 2013 NLDS debacle. So how much does an extra inning walk-off win mean in the 12th game of the season? Especially coming after Drew Storen managed to blow another save against those very same Cardinals? It’s huge.

I’m not the biggest believer in team psyche, but for some reason the Nats seem snake-bitten against the Cards. They’re just starting to get a little momentum, with the return of Jayson Werth and Denard Span to the lineup and the news that Anthony Rendon has begun playing simulated games in Florida in rehab of his left knee sprain, and could very well start a minor league rehab assignment as soon as Friday.

Had they lost to the Cards, especially in the manner and form it would have taken — with Storen the goat again — it would have cast yet another pall over the early season and reinforce all the bad “juju” that surrounds this team as far as the Cardinals go. If you believe in those things, just maybe Escobar’s homer exorcised some of those demons and will allow the Nats to perform against St. Louis much as they do against the rest of the National League.

Yeah, as far as April baseball games go, it was a big one.

So live it up today, all you DMV sports lovers. April 21, 2015 was about as good as it gets. It’s a reminder that while it may be 23 years since the city last had a champion, at least they’re still trying. Though disappointment may still be in store tomorrow, don’t let that diminish the accomplishments of yesterday.

Washington Nationals Game 119 Review: Strasburg cruises, Harper homers in win over Mets

LAROCHE, HARPER HOMER AS NATS EXTEND DIVISION LEAD TO SIX

Last time out against the Atlanta Braves, Stephen Strasburg wasn’t himself, allowing a career-high four home runs and seven total, driving his road ERA to 5.25.

Thursday night, Strasburg conquered those demons, pitching seven innings without giving up an earned run to lead the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the New York Mets, sweeping their division rival at Citifield.

Washington moves to 66-53. Coupled with the Braves loss to Los Angeles earlier in the evening, the Nats now hold a six-game lead in the N.L. East. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 59 Recap: Capitals shut out Devils 3-0; Erat scores his first of the season

The Washington Capitals have five Olympians on their roster, but before they set off for Sochi they had one more task to complete. After sacking the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, the Capitals finished off their four game homestand with another victory, a 3-0 decision over the New Jersey Devils.

The Caps enter the Olympic break on a 5-2-1 tear.

Braden Holtby got his second start of the week, and earned his third shutout of the season.

Julien Brouillete, called up from Hershey this week to aid an ailing Caps defense, scored the first goal of the game in the third period and the first of his career, with his parents in attendance as well.

“I’m sure he’s flying high right now. Big goal,” said Adam Oates. “But you know what, Backy [Nicklas Backstrom] won a draw. That’s what it’s about. You win a draw, we get it across the blue line, you throw it to the net with a little bit of a screen and you’ve got a chance to get a goal.”

Martin Erat experienced a milestone of sorts himself, as well. The Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra man to try to tie the game with two minutes left, but Erat fired a wrister at the empty net, finally scoring his first goal of the season, just before his trip to the Olympics as a member of the Czech team.

Troy Brouwer scored his 100th career goal just a few seconds later to cap off the win.

Adam Oates was impressed with the patience of his players during a game that was sleepy at times.

“Obviously the Devils play that kind of game. They are willing to play it every night, and it’s a frustrating team to play. They don’t give you much. I looked up with nine minutes left in the third period, and I think it was 20 each in shots. Both teams played stingy. It was good.”

Washington Capitals Game 58 Recap: Capitals kick past Jets 4-2, Ovechkin nets 40th goal of the season

Photo courtesy of Monumental Network

Photo courtesy of Monumental Network

 

Last year, a matchup between the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets would have been an intradivisional game in the Southeast Division. Now, Winnipeg is in the Western Conference, and were missing a key part of their offense, Evander Kane, in this meeting with the Capitals. The Capitals rallied during the third period, and notched just their 15th regulation win, by a score of 4-2.

Michal Neuvirth was announced as starter Thursday morning, but it became clear around noon that he was feeling ill and was too sick to play, so Braden Holtby got the call. He was stellar in the unexpected outing, stopping 34 of 36 shots in the win.

Down 2-1 going into the third after a sleepy second period where the Jets scored twice, the Capitals put on the afterburners and scored three goals, including Alex Ovechkin’s go-ahead goal, his 40th of the season. Ovechkin now has six 40-goal seasons, a Capitals franchise record.

Troy Brouwer scored two goals in the 4-2 win, his first multipoint game of the season, and his fourth goal in three games. Casey Wellman earned his first NHL assist of the season on Brouwer’s first period goal.

Tom Wilson notched his second goal of the year, and fresh AHL call-ups Julien Brouillette and Patrick Wey both recorded their first NHL points. The last time two Capitals players scored their first NHL point in the same game was when Brooks Laich and Owen Fussey scored vs. Chicago on March 12, 2004.

“The play [Julien Brouillette] made, banking it off the boards perfectly like that–that was a great play, and obviously it worked,” said Adam Oates. “The bounce was right; it popped in the right spot. Brooksy [Brooks Laich] went to the net, took everybody, and put Willy [Tom Wilson] in the right spot and got rewarded. It was a great play. It gave us a lot of life.”

Adam Oates wasn’t worried one bit about how Brouillette and Wey would fare as the Capital’s third defensive pairing against the Jets.

“I told them both, ‘Enjoy the moment. It can be overwhelming. Try and do the best you can [and play] as simple as you can.’ I thought they played with good confidence and as the game went along, I thought [assistant coach Calle Johansson] put them out in the right situations to get a little bit of confidence. I thought they played really solid, very reliable, and they moved the puck well,” he said.

One marked difference between Thursday’s game against the Jets and the last several games was how the Capitals stayed out of the penalty box. Nick Backstrom had the only Capitals penalty, an interference call in the first period. The Jets seemed frustrated at times, and gave the Capitals four power plays.

The Capitals didn’t score on the power play all night, but the fact that they scored all four of their goals at even strength is certainly encouraging. Perhaps they are figuring out other ways to score when it doesn’t happen on the man advantage, and that’s a good thing, but they still have a ways to go and a lot of work to do before playoffs are a sure thing.

The New Jersey Devils are the Capitals’ final opponent before the long Olympic break. Puck drop is Saturday at 8:00 pm Eastern.

Caps Quick Takes: Game 10 vs. Oilers

The Washington Capitals evened their season record, recovering from a bit of a shaky start to overcome an injured and overmatched Edmonton Oilers squad, 4-1. The Caps’ top and third lines both accounted for two goals and Braden Holtby recorded 30 saves to lead the Caps to their third straight win, and second on their five-game road trip. The Caps now head to Calgary for a roundup at the Stampede Saturday night.

1) Braden Holtby was tested early and often in the first period and was up to the task. It took the Caps a little bit to find their legs, especially on defense against the Oilers fast-skating forwards, and it was up to Holtby to keep the Caps in this one early until the Caps got warmed up. 30 saves, and a couple of lucky posts, and the Caps get out of Edmonton with two more big points. [Read more…]

Washington Redskins Week 4 Review: Skins outlast Raiders 24-14

Entering play Sunday, having traveled across three time zones and staring 0-4 in the face with their bye week coming up, the Washington Redskins faced as much of a “must-win” situation as a team could against the Oakland Raiders. When they fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, you couldn’t help but think, “Oh, no. Here we go again.”

But the Redskins rebounded from the terrible start to get within four points at halftime, then imposed their will a little bit on the terrible Raiders, winning 24-14 to avoid the ignominy of being winless going into their bye week.

Robert Griffin III still did not look much like his old self, but did enough, passing for 227 yards, one touchdown and — most importantly — no interceptions as Washington (1-3) won for the first time this season.

Even better, the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all lost in Week 4 as well, keeping the worst division in football right now a tight race.

Things didn’t get off on the good foot. After their second straight three-and-out to start the game, Sav Rocca’s punt was blocked by Rashad Jennings and recovered by Jeremy Stewart in the end zone to give Oakland a quick 7-0 lead.

The Raiders extended that lead to 14-0 as a 10-play, 81 yard drive culminated in an 18-yard strike from Matt Flynn, playing for the injured Tyrelle Prior, to Mychal Rivera, who was wide open in a seam.

But that ended Oakland’s scoring for the day.

After the ensuing kickoff, the Skins marched on an 11-play, 73-yard drive which stalled at the eight yard line, where John Potter made good for a 25-yard field goal.

On the next series, Flynn tried to find Denarius Moore on a slant route, but cornerback David Amerson jumped the route, stepped in front of Moore for the pick, and raced 45 yards for his first NFL interception and touchdown to cut the score to 14-10.

Finally playing with a lead, the Redskins defense did some good things in the second half against Flynn and the Raiders offense. They applied a lot of pressure on the backup quarterback, disrupting him on just about every throw.

But the Skins offense still couldn’t get into a good rhythm. On their second possession of the half, Griffin found backup tight end Logan Paulsen for a short pass the Paulsen turned into a 33 yard gain while breaking tackles left and right. Unfortunately, he was double-teamed at the end and stripped of the ball to end the series.

But the next time the Skins had the ball they ground out an eight-play, 58 yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon on a slant play that upped the Redskins lead to 17-14.

The bad news on the drive was that Alfred Morris got banged up and left the game with a injury in his rib cage. After the game, head coach Mike Shanahan didn’t think it was broken, but Morris would be reevaluated when the team returns to D.C.

Washington capped the scoring a few series later. Ryan Kerrigan sacked Flynn and forced a fumble that gave the Skins the ball on the Oakland 42. Griffin escaped containment and connected on a check-down pass to Roy Helu, Jr. for 28 yards, then on the next play Helu burst up the middle untouched for a 14-yard touchdown run.

Flynn led the Raiders on one last chance to get back into the game, but he fumbled attempting a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one and lost the ball, sealing the Redskins’ first win of the season.

SKINS NOTES: Morris finished with 71 yards on 16 carries before leaving the game. Helu ran 13 times for 41 yards.

Garcon caught six balls for 59 yards. Leonard Hankerson grabbed four catches for 49 yards.

Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and Barry Cofield all finished with two sacks apiece.

Washington Nationals Game 146 Review: Nats complete sweep of Mets; 5 1/2 out of Wild Card

SPAN DOUBLES TO EXTEND STREAK TO 23 GAMES, SECOND LONGEST IN MAJORS THIS SEASON

Every single game matters for the Washington Nationals at this point as they valiantly try to keep their scant playoff hopes alive. In a Thursday matinee, the Nats beat the Mets 7-2, sweeping the four-game set. It was the Nats sixth win in a row overall, their longest winning streak of the season.

The Nats (77-69) out-homered the Mets in the series 13-0, the second-most homers the Nats have hit in any single series. They are now 5 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card standings with 16 games to play and one game yet in hand.

Tanner Roark, making his second start since his recall, gave the Nats six solid innings wrapped around an hour-long rain delay for his sixth win of the season against no losses. He allowed two earned runs on six hits and one walk, striking out three.

The Nats got started early in this one. After Denard Span struck out to lead off the game, Ryan Zimmerman delivered a bomb to straightaway center off the Mets’ recently acquired starter Aaron Harang for his 23rd of the season and his eighth home run in his last 10 games to put the Nats up 1-0.

The Mets got that run right back against Nats’ starter Tanner Roark. Eric Young, Jr. led off with a single and went to second on a sacrifice by Juan Lagares. Daniel Murphy then doubled to bring home Young to tie the game at one.

Then the rains came.

An hour-plus rain delay ensued, and when play resumed, Harang came back in to pitch for the Mets. Maybe he wished he hadn’t.

The first batter back, Ian Desmond took one to the wall that was caught. The following batter, Adam LaRoche, then rocked one that appeared off the top of the wall and he cruised into second base with a double. But upon video review, the ball struck a railing above the home run line and bounced back into play off center fielder Young’s glove and the umpires ruled it a home run to make it 2-1 Nats.

The Mets tied it in the fourth. Lucas Duda led off with a single to right field. With one out, Mike Baxter singled to left to move Duda up one base. Catcher Anthony Recker followed with another single which plated Duda easily, but Harper threw out Baxter trying to advance to third on the play.

Wilson Ramos delivered the lead back to Washington in the fifth inning with a solo home run, his 13th of the season.

The Nats added insurances run in the seventh and eighth.

LaRoche led off the seventh with a double to center. After a pitching change, Ramos grounded out to the pitcher. But because Mets third baseman Josh Satin came in on the slow infield grounder, LaRoche snuck behind him and advanced to third. Anthony Rendon then lifted a fly ball to medium center field that plated LaRoche without a throw.

Span led off the eighth inning with a double to extend his hitting streak to 23 games and Zimmerman plated him with a double of his own to make it 5-2.

Reliever Frank Francisco then hit Jayson Werth with a 3-0 pitch. Bryce Harper’s grounder to the right side forced Werth at second but moved Zimmerman over to third and he scored on Ian Desmond’s grounder to short when Harper’s hard slide forced a bad throw by Ruben Tejada on the relay.

Anthony Rendon added to the hit parade in the ninth with a line drive home run to left field, his seventh of the season.

THE GOOD: Tanner Roark. The swingman put together another impressive starting performance, perhaps tossing his hat into the ring with the other candidates that could be considered for the fifth starter spot next season.

Also, props to reliever Xavier Cedeno, who struck out lefties Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda on six pitches in a scoreless eighth inning.

THE BAD: Jayson Werth. 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Average dips to .324 in his chase for the batting title.

THE UGLY: Frank Francisco. The pitch he hit Werth with was definitely intentional. There was simply no reason for Francisco to bean Werth there except being mad at himself for stinking up the joint. Mets television commenter and former MLB pitcher Ron Darling called Francisco “a fool.”

THE STATS: 8 hits, 1 BB, 11 Ks. 1-for-4 with RISP, 3 LOB. No errors, no DPs.

NEXT GAME: Friday at the Philadelphia Phillies at 7:05 pm. Stephen Strasburg (7-9, 2.96) faces Kyle Kendrick (10-12, 4.51).

Washington Nationals Game 144 Review: Werth continues to power Nats late surge

JORDAN ZIMMERMANN BECOMES N.L.’S FIRST 17-GAME WINNER

The Washington Nationals hit three home runs, including Jayson Werth’s 23rd of the season, and Jordan Zimmermann gutted out five innings when he wasn’t his best, to defeat the New York Mets 6-3 before 20,307 at Citi Field.

The Nats have won four in a row to move six games over .500 for the first time all season, and with Cincinnati’s 9-1 loss to the Cubs, they pull within five games in the loss column behind the Reds for the final wild card spot in the N.L. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 133 Review: Gio, homers pace 9-0 win over Marlins to complete sweep

They still have quite a bit of work to do, but it’s starting to look like the Washington Nationals might actually make a run at the final wild card spot.

In defeating the Miami Marlins 9-0, sweeping the bottom feeders of the N.L. East, the Nats have now won eight of their last nine games and 14 of their last 19 to raise their record to three games over .500 and cut their deficit in the wild card race behind idle Cincinnati to 6 1/2 games with one game still in hand over the Reds.

Scoring nine runs, including three home runs, might make it easy to overlook the masterful work starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez put in. The lefty went seven scoreless, allowing just three hits and three walks, striking out eight along the way. The first couple of innings were his toughest, needing 43 pitches to record six outs, while allowing all three walks and two hits. But Gonzalez (W, 8-6, 3.56) was resilient, gutting out the first couple frames to cruise through the next five without incident.

The Nats offense broke out in the fourth inning against Marlins starter Tom Koehler (L, 3-9, 4.72). Ryan Zimmerman (3-for-3, two runs) drew a lead-off walk before Bryce Harper’s 19th home run of the season, which came on a first-pitch changeup.

They broke things open in the sixth. Zimmerman led off with a single and went to second on Harper’s walk. Jayson Werth then continued his assault on N.L. pitchers, crushing his 21st home run of the season to make it 5-0. The Nats tacked on another later in the inning. Ian Desmond singled and Adam LaRoche walked. After Wilson Ramos flew out to deep right, Anthony Rendon came through with a ground ball through the left side to score Desmond easily.

Desmond capped the scoring in the bottom of the seventh, smacking his 20th home run of the year on a 1-2 changeup, a three-run shot that sealed the deal.

Tanner Roark relieved Gonzalez in the eighth and the rookie gave another strong outing, retiring six of the seven batters he faced, allowing one hit and throwing 12 of this 13 pitches for strikes.

THE GOOD: POWER! When your 2-5 hitters combine to go 10-for-14 with three home runs you’ve got a pretty good chance to win that game. Also, props to Gio for figuring out what troubled him in the first two innings and dominate the rest of the game.

Also: Denard Span singled to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. In the Nats’ last 19 games, in which they’ve won 14, Span has hit .333/.390/.467. Coincidence? I think not.

THE BAD: Wilson Ramos went o-for-4.

THE UGLY: Adam LaRoche. 0-for-3 with a walk, lowers his slash to .237/.336/.476. Just kind of a lost year for a guy who had his career year just last season.

THE STATS: 12 hits, 4 BBs, 2 Ks. 4-for-9 with RISP, 3 LOB. No errors, no DPs.

NEXT GAME: Friday at 7:05 pm against the New York Mets. Jordan Zimmermann (15-7, 3.32) hosts Dillin Gee (9-9, 3.69).

Washington Nationals Game 132 Review: Nats win battle of attrition over Marlins after rain delay

STAMMEN’S THREE STRONG INNINGS IN RELIEF OF STRASBURG KEY

What started out as a matchup of Stephen Strasburg against Henderson Alvarez turned into a battle of attrition in the bullpens thanks to a hour-plus rain delay in the bottom of the second inning. But the Washington Nationals were able to overtake the Miami Marlins, then hang on to squish the Fish 4-3, before 24,394 at a soggy Nationals Park.

The Nats rode effective pitching by Craig Stammen, a homer by Jayson Werth and a clutch hit by Ian Desmond to beat the Marlins for the second night in a row and secure their seventh win in eight games and eighth out of their last 11 to up their record to 67-65. Unfortunately, due to Cincinnati’s 10-0 beat-down of Adam Wainright and the Cardinals, the Nats didn’t make up any ground on the last Wild Card spot.

Stammen didn’t figure in the decision, but he did pitch three mostly terrific innings of work in relief of Strasburg (2 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K), who did not return after the rain delay. Stammen allowed one run — a solo home run — and five hits, striking out three without walking a batter.

The Nats jumped out on top in the second inning before the rains came. Desmond led off with a single off Alvarez’ leg and after two strikeouts came around to score on Steve Lombardozzi’s big two-out double.

When play resumed, the Nats doubled their lead in the fourth. Ryan Zimmerman’s one-out single preceded Bryce Harper’s double to left on a 3-0 count that brought Zimmerman all the way around to score. Harper showed good judgment to hit the pitch where it was and drove the ball the opposite way to drive in the Nats’ second run.

Marlins’ catcher Jeff Mathis led off the fifth against Stammen with a solo hot, his fourth of the year, but Stammen escaped the frame without further damage, despite giving up a double with one out.

Ryan Mattheus replaced Stammen as the bridge to the back of the bullpen, but unfortunately for the young reliever, he just set that bridge ablaze. The first batter he faced, notorious Nats-killer Giancarlo Stanton, crushed a 3-2 slider that hung in the zone for a massive homer to straight-away center field to tie the game at two. Mattheus then allowed consecutive singles to Logan Morrison and Donovan Solano to put runners at the corners.

The Marlins helped out a little bit on the next play. Adeiny Hechavarria grounded to  third, and Zimmerman went home after Morrison foolishly broke for the plate. The ensuing rundown ended with Morrison out at third, but still with runners on the corners for Miami. Unfortunately, Mattheus couldn’t benefit from the break and allowed a single to Mathis that scored Solano to make it 3-2.

But the Nats tied it right back up in the bottom of the sixth, as Jayson Werth slammed an 0-1 fastball from Arquemedes Caminero to center for his 20th home run of the season to knot things at three apiece.

Washington took the lead for good in the seventh. Denard Span led off with a walk from lefty Mike Dunn (L, 3-4). Then Dunn tried to pick off Span at first and threw one away, allowing the Nats center fielder to move up a base. After striking out Harper, Dunn then intentionally walked Werth to face Desmond. Big mistake.

Desmond went up looking for something to work with on the first pitch, and handled Dunn’s 85-MPH slider for a line drive to left field that plated Span easily to make the score 4-3.

All that was left was for Tyler Clippard to pitch a perfect eighth inning, and Rafael Soriano to do the same in the ninth, to earn his 35th save and secure the victory for reliever Drew Storen (W, 4-2, 5.47), who worked around a hit and a walk in the seventh to get the win.

THE GOOD: Desmond. 3-for-4, run and RBI. Stud.

THE BAD: Adam LaRoche. 0-for-4, 2 Ks.

THE UGLY: Mattheus. He just hasn’t been the same pitcher since returning from the D.L. after breaking his hand punching his locker back in May. He’s a big part of this bullpen though so the Nats hope he can figure out why he’s been so ineffective, because apparently the short stint in Syracuse didn’t help any.

THE STATS: 10 hits, 5 BBs, 9 Ks. 1-for-12 with RISP, 10 LOB. E: Harper (5, fielding).

NEXT GAME: Thursday against the Marlins at 7:05 pm. Gio Gonzalez (7-6, 3.72) hosts Tom Kohler (3-8, 4.45)

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