Cubs

Ovechkin sends Caps into Game 7 with Rangers

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Ovechkin sends Caps into Game 7 with Rangers

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lose one game, win the next. No matter how seemingly devastating a defeat, in overtime or otherwise, the Washington Capitals -- from two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin to playoff rookie goalie Braden Holtby -- simply do not allow setbacks to bother them. They regroup, get back out there and follow a loss with a victory, each time by the slimmest of margins. Ovechkin rebounded from a rare zero-shot performance by scoring after 88 seconds Wednesday night, Holtby made 30 saves, and the Capitals recovered the way they always seem to, beating the top-seeded New York Rangers 2-1 to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. "We're resilient," Washington defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We have that thick skin. We know when to battle back when we need to and have to." Never moreso than after Game 5 on Monday night, when No. 7-seeded Washington managed to blow a lead in the last 10 seconds of regulation. New York scored a power-play goal with 7.6 seconds left in the third period to tie it, and another 1 12 minutes into overtime to win it. The Capitals could have folded. Instead, they staved off elimination, and the teams will meet in New York on Saturday night to determine who will face the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals. "It's where we want to be," Holtby said. "We didn't expect a short series." He improved to 6-0 in games immediately after losses this postseason. That's why the Capitals are 4-0 in games that follow overtime losses in the playoffs. One other bit of proof that they know how to bounce back: They haven't lost consecutive games since March 22-23. "Everyone, I think, counted us out," said Jason Chimera, who scored in the second period to make it 2-0, Washington's second two-goal lead of the series. "This is the way we are. ... We don't really crack." Ovechkin's reduced role became a major talking point throughout these playoffs: Usually a 20-minute-a-game guy, he played as few as 13 12 minutes in Game 2 against New York. He also came up quiet in Game 5 on Monday night, with no shots on goal, only the second time in 49 career playoff games that had happened to the man they call Alex the Great. Before Wednesday's game, Ovechkin told reporters: "We just can't go home right now." He helped make sure they didn't yet. About 1 12 minutes after the opening faceoff, Ovechkin dropped to a knee as he powered a slap shot just inside the right post from about 30 feet in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was Ovechkin's 30th career playoff goal, tying the franchise record held by Peter Bondra, and came 15 seconds after Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman was sent to the penalty box for tripping Chimera. Another miscue followed: Defenseman Ryan McDonagh wasted a chance to clear the puck, instead sending it along the boards right to a Capitals player. That giveaway led to a series of crisp passes by the Capitals -- Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were credited with assists -- and an animated earful for McDonagh from Rangers coach John Tortorella. That early edge proved to be a good omen for the Capitals, who are 7-1 this postseason when scoring first -- and 0-5 when their opponent scores first. In this series, all six games were won by whichever team led 1-0. "Obviously, we talked about coming out and starting well, and they get a goal right away on the power play. It kind of set the tone for the game," Lundqvist said. "From there, it was just hard for us to get going." Later in the first period, Ovechkin nearly scored one of his YouTube-ready, "How did he do that?" goals, somehow managing to lift the puck past Lundqvist while belly-flopping onto the ice. But the puck hit the crossbar. Then, at the opposite end of the rink, Ovechkin used his back to block a shot by McDonagh, preventing the puck from even approaching Holtby -- the sort of thing the Russian wing is not known for, but his teammates have turned into an art form this postseason. The Capitals rank No. 1 in blocked shots during these playoffs -- the Rangers are No. 2 -- and Washington put together a 24-6 edge Wednesday. Ovechkin contributed three blocks. "He had a lot of energy," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "He's ready to go when he's called upon, and he played a good game tonight." A little more than a minute after Chimera made it 2-0, the Rangers got a good chance to change the tenor of Game 6, when Capitals forward Jeff Halpern -- playing for the first time in more than six weeks -- was called for high-sticking John Mitchell, a 4-minute double minor. That was the same penalty called on Washington's Joel Ward in the final 30 seconds of regulation in Game 5, while the Capitals nursed a 2-1 lead. And, well, we know how that turned out. This time, though, the Capitals' penalty killers were up to the task, allowing the Rangers only three shots and no goals. When Halpern skated out of the box, the lead intact, the red-clad Capitals fans gave their team a standing ovation. "It kills you," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. There was one final moment of trepidation for the Capitals and their supporters. With his mom covering her eyes in the stands, Holtby gave up a goal with 50.5 seconds left -- a score that was credited to Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, whose shot deflected off Capitals forward Matt Hendricks' skate and defenseman John Carlson's hip in the crease. Said Ward: "You kind of think, Oh, no. Not again!' But we're a confident group." NOTES: Game 7 starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT. ... The Rangers haven't reached the conference finals since 1997; the Capitals haven't since 1998. ... Capitals F Jay Beagle was scratched because of what the team said was a lower-body injury and replaced by Halpern, who hadn't played since March 23.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

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USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.