Capitals

This guy is the first pitcher to reach 21 wins

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This guy is the first pitcher to reach 21 wins

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Hoping for a big team celebration soon, Gio Gonzalez checked off a few more individual accomplishments.Gonzalez became the first 21-game winner in the majors, Michael Morse hit two homers and the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 Thursday night to move closer to an NL East title.Bryce Harper also connected for the playoff-bound Nationals, who reduced their magic number to three. They have a four-game lead over Atlanta with six to play."We have to keep fighting," Gonzalez said. "It won't be easy. We just want to do what we've been doing all year."Gonzalez (21-8) settled down after a shaky start and lasted six innings, allowing three runs and six hits. He's the first NL lefty to win more than 20 games since Dontrelle Willis won 22 for the Florida Marlins in 2005. His 21 wins are a franchise best and the most by a pitcher in the nation's capital since Bob Porterfield had 22 for the Washington Senators in 1953.Gonzalez and Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (20-6) are considered the leading candidates for the NL Cy Young Award.The Phillies closed out their home schedule with a loss that left them on the brink of postseason elimination. They trail St. Louis by six games for the second wild-card spot with six games remaining. They finished 40-41 at home, their first losing record at 9-year-old Citizens Bank Park."We competed. We never gave up when people never thought we'd even be mentioned for a playoff spot," slugger Ryan Howard said.The Nationals already are the first major league team in D.C. to reach the postseason in 79 years. They're looking for their first division crown since moving to Washington and the second in franchise history. The Montreal Expos won the NL East in 1981, a strike-shortened season."We've got three more we've got to win," manager Davey Johnson said.Tyler Cloyd (2-2) got roughed up by an offense that feasted on his straight fastballs. Cloyd, who was 15-1 in the minors this season, allowed six runs and six hits in five-plus innings.Cloyd walked Danny Espinosa to start the fifth and Jayson Werth with two outs. Harper then hit a soft liner to left for a single, scoring Espinosa for a 4-3 lead.Morse crushed a two-run shot to right-center to give the Nationals a 6-3 lead in the sixth. The ball sailed over Philadelphia's bullpen and landed in front of Washington's relievers, traveling an estimated 448 feet."It felt real good coming off the bat," Morse said. "It's been a tough year for me, but the team's played great and everybody has been picking up for everybody."Harper ripped one out to right-center to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the first. He also homered in his first at-bat Wednesday to become the second teenager to hit 20 homers, joining Tony Conigliaro.Darin Ruf lined a three-run double over Harper's head to put the Phillies up 3-1 in the first."I was a little bit out of whack," Gonzalez said about walking two batters in front of Ruf. "I was like a split personality out there, talking to myself trying to figure it out. I really wanted to make a quality start."Ruf earned the nickname "Babe" by leading all minor leaguers with 38 homers this season, breaking Howard's single-season record at Double-A Reading. He hit his first homer Tuesday in his third at-bat and first start.Morse connected in the second to cut it to 3-2.The Phillies acquired Gonzalez from the Chicago White Sox along with Aaron Rowand and another minor leaguer in 2005. They traded him back to the White Sox with Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia in 2006 in what turned out to be the worst trade by Hall of Famer Pat Gillick in his three years as Phillies general manager.Gonzalez has won at least 15 games three straight years and is a two-time All-Star. Floyd has won double-digit games five consecutive seasons. Garcia won one game for Philadelphia.NOTES:Ross Grimsley was the only other pitcher in NationalsExpos history to win 20 games. He did it in 1978. ... Morse became the sixth player to hit 15 homers for the Nationals, most in franchise history. It was his second multihomer game of the season and fifth of his career. ... Harper is three homers shy of matching Conigliaro, who hit 24 for the Boston Red Sox in 1964. ... The Phillies lead the majors in attendance at 3,565,718. ... Cliff Lee (6-8) faces Mark Buehrle (13-13) when the Phillies start a three-game series at Miami on Friday night. ... Edwin Jackson (9-10) tries to become the fifth Washington starter to win 10 games when the Nationals visit St. Louis on Friday.

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4 reasons why the Caps beat the Senators

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps beat the Senators

The Capitals head into Thanksgiving on a high note after a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

Here's why they won.

Line changes

Barry Trotz surprised everyone by changing up the lines and reuniting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom despite coyly telling the media that he would use the same "group" just two hours before the game. The move worked, however, as an energized Caps team took the ice. The moves were not just felt on the top line, there was a boost all throughout the lineup to start the game and the energy the team played with was evident.

The Caps’ best offensive players looked like their best offensive players

Much has been written in recent days about the Caps’ top-six and its offensive struggles, but they seemed just fine against Ottawa. Ovechkin (1 goal), Backstrom (1 assist), T.J. Oshie (2 assists), Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 2 assists) and Jakub Vrana (2 goals) all had big nights.

Ovechkin's late first period goal

Multi-goal leads have been hard to come by for the Caps of late. Despite a strong first period, Washington held only a 1-0 lead as the first frame drew to a close. Instead of having a chance to regroup in the locker room, Ottawa found itself suddenly down by two as Ovechkin scored with just five seconds left. That goal set the tone for the start of the second period where Washington was able to tack on another two goals to take the 4-0 lead. Does that momentum carry over to the second without Ovechkin's late tally? I'm not so sure.

Killing a 5-on-3 power play in the second period

Despite the 4-0 deficit, the Senators hung around and scored in the second period to make it 4-1. Then Ovechkin was called for a high-stick and Backstrom got into a bit of a tussle with Ben Harpur after getting a high-stick from him. The ref sent Ovechkin, Backstrom and Harpur to the box. Just 44 seconds later, Tom Wilson joined them after getting called for a slash giving the Senators 1:16 of a two-man advantage power play. One goal would have pulled them within two with over a period left to play. This game was not over. This was a critical moment for Washington and the penalty kill delivered by killing off both penalties. After that, the game really was no longer in doubt.

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Wizards have letdown on defense, fall to Hornets in overtime

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Wizards have letdown on defense, fall to Hornets in overtime

The Washington Wizards lost the Charlotte Hornets 129-124 in overtime on Wednesday night at the Spectrum Center. Here's analysis of what went down...

Frustrating loss: The Wizards will not head into the Thanksgiving holiday a happy bunch. After an impressive road win at the Milwaukee Bucks, they let a winnable game slip away against the Hornets. They were up nine points with 3:32 left in the fourth, yet allowed the Hornets to force overtime and then dominate the extra period.

Defense was the problem for Washington. After holding opponents to 95 points or less in six of their last seven games, the Wizards gave up 129 points to an average offensive team. Yes, 15 of those points came in overtime, but the Wizards won't be happy with their defense after this one. They will probably regret the 53 bench points they gave up more than anything.

Beal, Wall heated up late: Neither John Wall or Bradley Beal had a rhythm in the first half, but both woke up later on for the Wizards. Wall had eight points in the first half, but on 3-for-11 shooting. Beal had seven points, but also on 3-for-11 from the field.

Stars can only be held in check for so long and Wall and Beal broke ultimately broke through. Wall had 11 points in the third quarter and Beal had seven. 

For a while it looked like Wall and Beal had taken the game over, but the Wizards couldn't take advantage despite Wall ending up with 31 points and 11 assists and Beal having 22 points, four rebounds and two steals.

Beal's night was highlighted by a series of dunks in the first half, including this one with two hands:

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Howard was a beast: The Wizards did a good job limiting Dwight Howard this past spring when they faced the Hawks in the playoffs, but they had no such luck on Wednesday in their first meeting with Howard's Hornets. Howard was dominant down low with 26 points and 13 rebounds. The Hornets did a good job feeding him in the post and when he has position there are little options beyond sending him to the free throw line. 

Marcin Gortat (eight points, 11 rebounds) is a good match for Howard on most nights. They know each other well as former teammates with the Orlando Magic. Gortat had a fine game, but Howard was at his best on Wednesday. He was coming off of a 25-point, 20-rebound performance and he kept it going against the Wizards.

Howard also blocked Beal's buzzer-beater at the end of regulation. Beal got the ball with two seconds left and tried driving to his left down the baseline. Howard read the move and swatted the ball out of bounds. Howard then had a big bucket with less than a minute to go. He had a putback on an airballed three that was a backbreaker for the Wizards, who needed a stop.

Meeks and Scott were a plus: The Wizards got a nice boost from their bench from Jodie Meeks (nine points) and Mike Scott (13 points), two guys who have proven this season to be instant offense when they're at their best. Scott came in and hit a three with a pair of midrange jumpers in the first half. Meeks was getting it down in the paint with floaters and layups on nice cuts to the basket. 

Scott hit three threes and is now shooting 44.8 percent for the season. It's only on 29 attempts, but that's not bad at all.

Lamb was a problem: The Wizards had a lot of trouble with Hornets reserve Jeremy Lamb, who has been Charlotte's most improved player so far this season. He was a force off the bench with 24 points in 37 minutes. Lamb has always had a lot of potential as a freak athlete with a sweet jumper. He may be starting to truly put it all together.

The Wizards even tried Kelly Oubre, Jr., one of their best defenders, on him. But Lamb kept getting buckets and added seven rebounds and five assists. 

Up next: The Wizards are off for Thanksgiving and Friday. They pick back up on Saturday with the Portland Trail Blazers in town. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

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