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Buster Posey leads Giants back to World Series

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Buster Posey leads Giants back to World Series

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) On a team known for stellar pitching, bushy beards and quirky personalities, the unquestioned leader of the San Francisco Giants is their understated catcher, Buster Posey.

From his prowess behind the plate, shepherding the staff through its ups and downs, to the bat that won the National League batting title, Posey is the biggest reason the Giants are back in the World Series for the second time in his three big league seasons.

``I'd hate to think where we would be without him,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ``The numbers, they speak for themselves. But also his leadership on this club. We saw what life was without him last year. ... I don't know a player that's made a bigger impact on a club than what he has on our club. He's just a tremendous talent. We're lucky to have him.''

Posey has returned from a horrific, season-ending injury in 2011 to the top of the sport this year: starting All-Star catcher, batting champion, likely NL Most Valuable Player and World Series trip.

It's a remarkable story that Posey even made it back on the field this year, much less performed the way he did. It was his devastating injury that derailed the Giants' repeat hopes a year ago and led many to question whether Posey should ever catch again.

In May 2011, Posey broke a bone in his left leg and tore three ankle ligaments when bowled over at the plate by the Florida Marlins' Scott Cousins.

``I was excited just to be back on the field at the start of the season,'' Posey said Tuesday. ``I definitely appreciate this year just as much if not more. When I was here in 2010 it seemed like everything happened really, really fast. This year I had the chance to understand the difficulty of a long season and the ups and downs you have over the course of the year. It's something you want to enjoy while you're doing it and soak up every minute of it.''

Sam Francisco never really recovered from that blow and was unable to make it back to the postseason last year without its star catcher.

But his presence at the start of spring training this year set the tone for the entire season in San Francisco. He batted .336 to become the first catcher to win the NL batting title since the Boston Braves' Ernie Lombardi in 1942.

``For what he has been doing behind the plate for us has been tremendous all year,'' ace Matt Cain said. ``He has done such a great job from coming back from last year's injury to doing what he's doing this year. I don't think you can really put it into words what he's done. Not a lot of guys could do what he's done. That's a special talent.''

Posey added 24 homers, 39 doubles and 103 RBIs while managing the pitching staff and dealing with the wear and tear of crouching each night behind the plate and absorbing the foul tips and balls in the dirt that making catching such an arduous chore.

Bochy spelled Posey a bit by giving him 29 starts at first base, but both the Giants and Posey are adamant his future is behind the plate.

``We really treated him with kid gloves there early, and as we got deeper into the spring training I got more and more comfortable with how much he could catch,'' Bochy said. ``This game is not that easy, especially when you miss as much time as he did last year and yet it didn't take him long to get into the flow of the game, get his timing at the plate and get back to handling the pitching staff.''

Posey has been far from his best this postseason as teams have often tried to pitch around him in key spots to face his less dangerous teammates. He batted .178 the first two rounds with two homers and six RBIs, but it was his grand slam that broke open the clinching Game 5 of the division series.

And now he's back in the World Series.

With his boyish looks and supreme talent, Posey is almost a Bay Area version of New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, both heralded first-round picks who helped restore tradition-rich franchises to greatness.

They both won Rookies of the Year and World Series titles in their first seasons, quickly earning the respect of their veteran teammates. Both made it back to the Fall Classic in year three. Each manage to avoid controversy while being his team spokesman.

``Buster is so professional about how he goes about his business,'' Bochy said. ``There is a calmness about him, about the way he plays, very well prepared. He has the ability to slow down the game, and I think he leads by example on how he prepares and how he plays, and how he handles himself. So he's definitely a leader in this ballclub and guys feed off him.''

Posey is the face of the franchise and far different from the last position player to hold that title in San Francisco. He is quintessential anti-Barry Bonds, quickly turning any praise toward him to his teammates even if they may be less deserving. He was even one of the most outspoken Giants criticizing teammate Melky Cabrera this summer when the outfielder got suspended for testing positive for testosterone.

``The more you've played it's a little bit easier to be a leader,'' Posey said. ``I try to help guys any way I can. I want to contribute whether it's pointing something out you might see that somebody is doing or whatever.''

When he was called up as a rookie, there were questions about how he called a game compared to veteran Bengie Molina. But he quickly earned the trust of most of the staff, although Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito threw primarily to backup Hector Sanchez this season.

``We work really well together,'' starter Ryan Vogelsong said. ``He's real easy to work with. He's got a good idea of what he wants to do back there, and he's got a pretty good idea what I want to do on my end. He's great. He's one of the best I've ever thrown to.''

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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