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Longoria's three bombs send O's to play-in game

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Longoria's three bombs send O's to play-in game

From Comcast SportsNet

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Evan Longoria's flair for the dramatic on the final night of the season ended Baltimore's bid to force a one-game tiebreaker for the AL East title.

Instead, the Orioles were left to begin their first playoff appearance in 15 years on the road against two-time defending league champion Texas.

Longoria homered three times and the Tampa Bay Rays shut down the Orioles 4-1 Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, where Longoria also ended last season with a bang.

Baltimore began the day one game behind the New York Yankees in the division. The Orioles needed a win, plus a loss by the Yankees to Boston, to pull even.

New York cruised to a 14-2 rout of the Red Sox and finished two games ahead of the Orioles, earning its 13th division crown in 17 years. The Yankees had a 10-game lead on July 18 but Baltimore caught up Sept. 4 and the teams were tied 10 times in September.

"We knew it was a long shot, but we ran into some really good pitching," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I've got to tip my hat to them, and what is really kind of amazing is that you look over there with what they've been able to do this year, win 90 games, and that tells you what a fine line there is in all those extra-inning games and one-run losses, and we could be in the same position they are."

The loss sent the Orioles to Texas, where they'll play the Rangers on Friday night, with the winner advancing to the best-of-five division series against the New York Yankees.

"We're going to take it one game at a time. Obviously if you lose, you're done," said Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who had homered in six straight games. "We're going to try to do everything we can to beat Texas and get back home."

Longoria finished the season in dramatic fashion for the second straight year, hitting solo shots off Chris Tillman in the first and fourth innings and adding another solo drive off Jake Arrieta in the sixth.

With a chance to tie the major league record of four homers in a game, the three-time All-Star who missed 85 games this year with a strained left hamstring grounded out in the eighth.

"It was cool," Longoria said. "That's about as fun a night as you can have in a ballgame."

Longoria's second career three-homer game came a year after he hit two of them of the final night of last season, including a 12th-inning, game-ending shot that clinched a postseason berth. The area beyond a short wall in the left-field corner where the biggest homer in franchise history landed is now called 162 Landing.

"I just think it highlights how well we play in games 162," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It was a very dramatic game, the way it all unfolded. I just like the idea that we played the last game of the season with that kind of effort and intensity."

Ryan Roberts also homered for the Rays in the fourth against Tillman (9-3).

Jeremy Hellickson (10-11) allowed one hit -- Adam Jones' fourth-inning single -- in 5 1-3 innings. Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney teamed up to hold the Orioles to two hits -- J.J. Hardy's double and Matt Wieters' single, both in the ninth inning -- the rest of the way.

Jones ruined Tampa Bay's shot at a 16th shutout with a sacrifice fly off Peralta. After Wieters singled, Rodney was summoned to get the final out for his 48th save in 50 opportunities.

Davis, who tied an Orioles record when he homered for the sixth straight game in a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

Baltimore had five hits in the final two games of the regular season, but Jones is confident the offense will bounce back for the club's first postseason game since 1997.

"We ain't got no choice. You don't hit, you go home," Jones said. "It's no ifs, buts or maybes. Both teams know that."

Longoria has homered in five of his last seven plate appearances in the final game of the season. In four career Game 162s, he is 8 for 15 with six homers and nine RBIs.

"Sometimes you've got to give credit where credit is due. He put some good swings on some pitches, but I should have been better," Tillman said. "I knew what I needed to do. I just didn't get it done."

Longoria is 6 for 12 with three homers against Tillman, who lasted five innings and allowed three runs on four hits in his first loss since Kansas City beat him on Aug. 11. The right-hander who had gone 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA over his previous five starts also allowed three homers in that game, matching his career high.

The Rays (90-72) won 12 of 14 down the stretch, remaining in contention for the second AL wild card until the 160th game and finished with at least 90 wins for the third straight season.

Hellickson allowed three baserunners, two of them in the fourth inning when Jones singled to right-center after Davis struck out on a wild pitch that allowed him to reach first. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year walked Manny Machado leading off the sixth and was replaced by McGee after getting the next batter, Nate McLouth, to pop out.

"The big tip of the cap goes to Joe Maddon and the Rays. They played 162," Jones said. "Their players went out every game to the last one and gave it all they've got."

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2017 NFL Power Rankings: The NFC is much better than the AFC through 11 weeks

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USA TODAY Sports

2017 NFL Power Rankings: The NFC is much better than the AFC through 11 weeks

Through 11 weeks, the NFL's playoff picture is far from clear. But one thing is: The NFC is the superior conference. 

And that's not just because Nathan Peterman plays in the AFC.

NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S NEW POWER RANKINGS CAN BE FOUND RIGHT HERE

In this week's rankings, seven teams in the top 10 come from the NFC. The middle and back-end of the rankings even out, but at the top, one side of the league is stronger than the other.

The bottom line is that a few deserving squads in the NFC will miss out on the postseason. Meanwhile, in the opposite conference, a couple of mediocre ones will be playing in January.

To see who lands where overall in the post-Week 11 breakdown, click the link above or below. You know who No. 32 is, but there was plenty of movement in the other 31 spots.

NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S NEW POWER RANKINGS CAN BE FOUND RIGHT HERE

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4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Flames

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Flames

After winning five straight at home a confident Capitals team was dealt a tough blow in a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. Lars Eller scored 62 seconds into the game, but the Flames scored the next four straight goals for the win.

Here's why the Caps lost.

Calgary's quick response to the first goal

The Capitals took the lead just 1:02 into the game, but it lasted only 3:47. The Caps are a team that seems to thrive off early energy. They looked lethargic in the first period in both Nashville and Colorado and they lost because of it. The quick response by the Flames did not allow Washington to take advantage of the energy, the momentum or the crowd after taking the early lead.

RELATED: SEE TARIK'S THREE STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-FLAMES

A bad defensive lapse in the first period

Covering only half of the ice is an inadvisable defensive strategy. In the first period, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik were both caught on the right side of the ice leaving nothing but open ice for Johnny Gaudreau to work with.

From the replay, it did not appear the Caps’ defensemen were caught on a bad line change, it was just a bad defensive lapse. Unfortunately for Washington, Gaudreau is the wrong player to leave wide open and he was able to score Calgary’s first goal.

The second period

The Caps were outshot 13-6 in the middle frame and three of Washington’s six shots came in the final three minutes of the period. Calgary completely dictated the play in the second and took the 2-1 lead on a power play goal by Sean Monahan.

MORE CAPITALS: SEE THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Special teams

Calgary had the worst penalty kill in the NHL coming into Monday’s game with a kill rate of just 70.6-percent. Advantage Washington, right? Not so much. Washington had three power play opportunities and did not score on any of them. The Caps were also called for five minor penalties of their own. Of Calgary’s four goals, two of them came on the power play and another came one second after a penalty had expired. What should have been an advantage for Washington turned into a disadvantage as the Flames outscored the Caps 2-0 on special teams.