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Baseball playoffs full of momentum swings

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Baseball playoffs full of momentum swings

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Just ask the Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals how much momentum means in the postseason.

Poised to ride the wave from Game 4 walkoff wins in the division series, the A's and Nationals were promptly thrown under water - Oakland by a brilliant start by Justin Verlander, Washington by a bullpen meltdown.

It happens every October, or at least seems to. Just when one team appears to have seized momentum with a dramatic comeback or frantic finish that leaves the other side devastated, the roles get reversed.

``For me, I don't really believe in that kind of stuff,'' St. Louis infielder David Freese said. ``We're all professionals here and you wake up the next day no matter what happened previously and you grind it out. ... As far as momentum, I think both teams just battle and you just play it out. And then if it doesn't work out one night you get a good night's sleep and you show up the next day ready to go.''

If there's anyone who would be a believer, it could be Freese. He helped the Cardinals deny Texas a World Series title a year ago that seemed firmly in the Rangers' grasp.

With the Cardinals down to their final strike in Game 6, Freese hit a two-run triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against Neftali Feliz to tie the game. Josh Hamilton replied with a two-run homer in the 10th only to have St. Louis tie it in the bottom half. Freese then forced Game 7 when he led off the 11th with a homer against Mark Lowe.

The Cardinals then won it all the next night in Game 7, overcoming an early two-run deficit to win 6-2.

There are plenty of other examples l- from the New York Mets' improbable Game 6 rally that led to a World Series title in 1986 to Kirby Puckett's walkoff homer in Game 6 in the 1991 World Series that was followed by Jack Morris' 10-inning shutout that game the Minnesota Twins the title over Atlanta.

That was perhaps the best example of former Baltimore manager Earl Weaver's mantra that ``momentum is the next day's starter.'' That proved true again this year when Verlander beat Oakland 6-0 in Game 5 a night after the Tigers blew a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning.

``I don't want to sound casual about this kind of stuff, because don't get me wrong, the game broke our heart,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before the Game 5 win. ``But at the same time you learn over the years that, like I always use the expression, you can't chew yesterday's breakfast.''

CC Sabathia did the same for the Yankees when he threw a four-hitter to beat Baltimore 3-1 in Game 5 the day after New York lost in 13 innings.

St. Louis' Chris Carpenter, one of this era's most accomplished postseason pitchers with 10 career wins, doesn't buy into that theory. He points to his team's Game 5 win in the last round when Adam Wainright fell into a 6-0 hole before St. Louis rallied to win in the ninth.

``I think it's how you play each game,'' he said. ``Nobody expected Adam to go out and give up six runs in one inning or two, whatever. And we still won that game. There's no question it might set the tone a little bit. At this time of the year everything matters. It doesn't matter who's starting, what's going on. You need breaks, you need a little luck and you need to go out and do the things the right way. So I don't buy into anything.''

Since the start of the expanded playoffs in 1995, teams are 53-35 in the postseason in games following a victory when they scored the winning run in the ninth inning or later, according to STATS LLC.

But teams are just 2-6 so far this postseason in those situations. That includes San Francisco's Game 3 extra-inning win in Cincinnati that started the Giants' comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series.

``If you look at our series with Cincinnati, I mean we looked dead in the water here,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ``I don't think a lot of people had us going in there and winning three. You win one game and it can switch. We have one hit for nine innings, but we found a way to win that ballgame. You saw the confidence grow with the ballclub and they found a way to win the next two. You always want to try to build up momentum, and if it doesn't happen for you, you want to stop it.''

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Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

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USA TODAY Sports

Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

Defenseman Jakub Jerabek is really happy about the opportunity to play with the Washington Capitals, but it could have come at a better time. The trade came with his parents already on their way from the Czech Republic to visit him.

“It was crazy days past three days because I had my parents on the way to Montreal and they didn't know so it was a big surprise for them,” Jerabek told reporters Saturday after his first skate with the team.

A native of the Czech Republic, Jerabek signed his first NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens in May 2017. After spending some time in the AHL and struggling to consistently earn a spot in the Canadiens’ lineup, he knew a trade was possible.

“My family, maybe we expected some trade. When its come with Caps and it was Washington, I was really happy.”

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Jerabek said he came into the NHL with no expectations and was simply happy for the opportunity, but it is fair to wonder if he was not just the least bit frustrated with how he was utilized by Montreal.

For a player with experience playing for the national team, the Czech league and the KHL, getting only 25 games with a bad Montreal team seems a bit low.

“In first two weeks, I didn't know what's going on because the coaches just told me that I played well, but we just make some competition between the [defensemen] and that I have to wait for my next chance,” Jerabek said. “It was hard, but now I'm happy down here.”

Washington now offers a very different opportunity. In need of help on the blue line, Jeraebek has the chance to earn consistent playing time for a team on pace to reach the postseason.

Jerabek will not play in Saturday’s game against Buffalo, but he was hopeful he would be in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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For now, Jerabek and head coach Barry Trotz are unclear as to what his ultimate role on the team will be. With eight defensemen now on the roster, Trotz cautioned any lineup decision could not be rushed because of the trickle-down effect it will have on the other players.

“You always look at chemistry and all that with your group depending how high that player goes up the lineup, it affects different people,” Trotz said. “In a forward group, if you get a guy that you all of a sudden stick on the first line, there's four other guys that are bumped down and one guy's bumped out.”

The addition of Jerabek, however, offers the Caps another defenseman who can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone, something the team has struggled with immensely throughout the season. Though he shoots left, he also said he is comfortable playing on the right said and has played there regularly over the past few years. That provides the lineup with some flexibility on the third pair behind Matt Niskanen and John Carlson.

As for Jerabek’s parents, they will be arriving in Washington on Saturday.

“I tried to figure out the situation with them to get them to here and they will come today,” he said. “So I'm really happy.”

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

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The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

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Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

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