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After 79 years, playoff baseball back in D.C.

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After 79 years, playoff baseball back in D.C.

From Comcast SportsNet

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the Washington Nationals' first draft pick back in June 2005, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was there almost from the start, through the various last-place finishes and the consecutive 100-loss seasons.

He stuck around, signing a couple of long-term contracts, always convinced he would be a part of a winner one day.

That day finally arrived Monday night, when the Nationals clinched their first NL East title since moving from Montreal seven years ago.

And so, his gray championship T-shirt soaked with champagne and beer, white ski goggles dangling around his neck, Zimmerman -- low-key and straight-faced through the ups and downs (well, mostly downs) -- paused in front of the couple of thousand fans in the stands cheering and chanting during the players' on-field celebration. On his way to the home clubhouse at Nationals Park, Zimmerman raised both arms and bellowed.

"The odds were in my favor, that I was going to win at some point here, right?" Zimmerman said moments earlier, smiling as wide a smile as can be.

"For all the things we've been through, all the things this organization's been through," he added, "to be right here, right now, it's pretty impressive."

Despite being beaten 2-0 by the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night, the Nationals earned the division championship, because the second-place Atlanta Braves lost 2-1 at the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington, in first place since May 22, leads Atlanta by three games with two to play in the regular season. The Braves' loss finished as the top of the ninth inning ended in Washington, and the Nationals congratulated each other in their dugout with hugs, high-fives and spiked gloves.

"The way it happened tonight doesn't really matter," Zimmerman said. "We put ourselves in that position to have the luxury of having the other team have to play perfect baseball. We played a great 159, 160 games to get to that point, and we should be commended for that."

Amid the postgame delirium on the field, the crushed cans and strewn bottles collecting in the grass, pitcher Gio Gonzalez grabbed 86-year-old team owner Ted Lerner and steered him toward the gaggle of players.

"Ted, this is your party!" the effervescent left-hander yelled. Then, turning toward teammates, Gonzalez shouted: "Hey! Who's got the cooler? This is the man, right here!"

All in all, 21-game winner Gonzalez and the rest of the first team in 79 years to bring postseason baseball back to the nation's capital threw quite a victory party. Thanks to strong pitching from Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper's burst of energy and Adam LaRoche's slugging, the Nationals won enough from April through September that even a loss on the first day of October could not stop them from achieving the sort of success that seemed so far away only a few years ago.

"The puzzle came together," Lerner said, "a little earlier than we expected."

When Michael Morse led off the bottom of the ninth, the PA announcer informed the crowd that the home team was the champion, and when the game ended red fireworks lit the night sky with the Capitol building off in the distance beyond left field. The scoreboard declared "NL East Division Champions."

It was the second division crown in franchise history. The Montreal Expos won the NL East in 1981, a strike-shortened season, by beating the Phillies in a best-of-five playoff.

"This is incredible. The excitement. The joy. The fans. Smiles on everyone's faces, the excitement that's going on," Gonzalez said. "Everyone here just witnessed history. Hopefully we can try to continue that journey."

When the game ended, the Phillies -- winners of the previous five NL East titles; already eliminated from playoff contention this year -- gathered in the middle of the diamond for regular post-victory handshakes.

"Made me mad. Yes it did. Very much so. I'm a bad loser," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said about watching Washington clinch against his club. "Nobody should be a good loser. I'm a bad loser and I always will be."

The Nationals, meanwhile, collected in their home clubhouse for alcohol-spraying. They gathered around general manager Mike Rizzo and dumped bubbly over his shaved head. Harper, who has more homers (22) than years on earth (19), shared some apple cider with LaRoche's 9-year-old son, Drake.

"I'll remember being in the scrum in the middle of the clubhouse with all the guys, just elated and all together," Rizzo said later. "We live with each other for seven months a year. (This is the) culmination of all that emotion and such a successful season for us."

On Sept. 20, the Nationals assured themselves of no worse than an NL wild-card berth -- and guaranteed Washington a postseason game for the first time since the Senators lost the 1933 World Series to the New York Giants.

But even on that night of success, Washington manager Davey Johnson made clear he wasn't all that interested in merely getting a chance to play in a one-game, in-or-out, wild-card playoff. No, he wanted his team to focus on bigger prizes at hand.

With Washington back home from a six-game road trip and on the verge of a big accomplishment, the first roar of the night from the crowd came a few minutes before the first pitch, when a booming voice over the loudspeakers let everyone know that the home team's "magic number is down to one!"

In the end, Kyle Kendrick (11-12) pitched seven scoreless innings for the win. John Lannan (4-1) gave up two runs in five innings for Washington. That the Nationals lost did not matter, of course.

The spectators often rose at key moments, whether their team was at the plate or in the field. Fans also reacted with applause and cheers when the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field showed that Pittsburgh had taken a lead against Atlanta in the fifth inning.

All in all, quite a contrast from the mostly silent, mostly empty ballparks that were home to Nationals teams that lost 100 games apiece in 2008 and 2009. Then again, those worst-in-baseball clubs earned No. 1 overall picks in the amateur draft that turned into Strasburg and Harper.

Rizzo also oversaw a rebuilding of a farm system and two very key additions from outside the organization: Gonzalez, acquired from Oakland for four prospects last offseason; and Jayson Werth, signed away from Philadelphia with a 126 million free-agent deal in December 2010.

He was right in the middle of all the celebrating, twirling a shirt overhead in the middle of a circle of bouncing, fist-pumping, alcohol-dumping teammates.

Werth was brought to Washington, in part, to show the club how to win, having been a part of the Phillies' perennial division champions and 2008 World Series winners. And so it was somehow fitting that the Nationals' title came on a night when they were facing the Phillies.

"These guys have been through a lot. That just goes to show you it's not easy. It's not easy getting to this point," Werth said. "Luck plays into it a lot. You've got to be on good teams -- and I'm on a good team."

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Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

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Associated Press

Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

The sudden resignation of Barry Trotz as the coach of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals is the most stunning Washington coaching departure since Joe Gibbs retired from the Redskins about 13 months after the team won its third Super Bowl in a 10-year span. 

In the years leading up to Gibbs’ departure, there were some rumblings that he might leave. As early as 1986, John Madden said that Gibbs was a candidate to burn out of the profession early. During the 1989 season, Gibbs said that he was contemplating retirement, but he retracted his words the next day. In 1990, columnist and TV pregame panelist Will McDonough reported that Gibbs would retire after the season. Retirement rumors popped up again in early 1992, just two days before Super Bowl XXVI. Again, Gibbs denied them. The Redskins easily beat the Bills to claim their third championship in 10 years and there was no apparent reason why such a successful coach would think about leaving. 

Redskins fans had become so used to hearing the Gibbs retirement reports that many just started to tune them out. So on the morning of March 5, 1993, when reports of Gibbs’ resignation as coach started to circulate, many were in a state of denial.

That turned out to be wishful thinking. The fans were given a hard jolt of reality when the team announced a noon press conference. 

There the coach was on TV, as promised, confirming the news. He said it was a family decision. 

“Every year, we get away and talk about it,” Gibbs said. “We always reach the same conclusion. This year, it was different. The boys didn’t encourage me one way or another, but they understood when I told them what I was thinking. I think Pat’s happier than anyone. This isn’t an easy lifestyle for a coach’s wife. The coach is the guy who stands up and hears everyone tell him how great he is. The wife is the one waiting at home alone while the coach is spending every night at the office. 

“I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time with my sons. I look at this as a window of opportunity with them and I couldn’t let it pass.” 

Although he has been diagnosed with a condition that has caused some pain and some difficulty in sleeping, Gibbs said that health was not a factor in his decision. 

Richie Petitbon, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, was named the team’s new head coach. It had to be one of the shortest job interviews ever. 

“I get a call from Mr. Cooke who tells me Joe has retired and that he wants me to coach the Redskins,” Petitbon said. “After I picked myself up off the floor, I said yes.” 

After hearing the news, most Redskins fans had to pick themselves up as well.  

Petitbon lasted only one season as the head coach and the other eight head coaches who followed, including Gibbs himself in a four-year second stint, have been unable to get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Caps’ head coaching job is widely expected to go to Todd Reirden, who was Trotz’s top assistant just as Pettitbon was Gibbs’. 

Washington fans hope that the Caps have better fortune with Trotz’s successors. 

More Redskins

- 53-man roster: Roster projection--Offense
- 53-man roster: Best players 25 or younger

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

 

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 


Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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