Nationals

Bama must come back to earth with Aggies coming

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Bama must come back to earth with Aggies coming

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Nick Saban doesn't waive his 24-hour celebration rule even after dramatic, last-minute wins that rescue No. 1 Alabama's hopes for a national title.

Maybe especially after them.

The Crimson Tide coach quickly cautioned his players not to let the emotions of that 21-17 victory overshadow the next big challenge. There's little time to celebrate when No. 15 Texas A&M's high-flying offense is coming to town.

``We've got to forget about this last game,'' Saban said on Monday. ``We've got to move on. I told the players that right after the game. I think they have a lot of respect for this team. It'd be pretty difficult not to respect this team based on their body of work and what they've accomplished this season.''

The Aggies (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) appear to represent the last real obstacle between the Tide and a perfect regular season, barring a gargantuan upset. A win sends Alabama (9-0, 6-0) into the SEC championship game against either No. 5 Georgia or No. 7 Florida.

After this one, Bama faces FCS Western Carolina (1-9) and struggling rival Auburn (2-7). To win the West, Saban's team needs only to win one more SEC game. To compete for the national title, it probably needs to win out.

The Tide offense was sputtering badly until AJ McCarron led the team down the field before lofting a screen pass that T.J. Yeldon turned into a 28-yard touchdown with 51 seconds left. And Alabama had survived its first significant threat of the season.

Saban said games like that LSU ``can bring out either the best in you or the worst in you. It's all your choice.''

Linebacker C.J. Mosley said sticking to the rule of one day to savor a wins before moving on was no big deal.

``It wasn't hard at all,'' Mosley said. ``We have a goal, we have a mission that we have to do every week and it's our job to get past that game and move on to the next team.''

Saban makes it easier to refocus by pointedly declaring it ``by far'' the team's worst defensive performance of the season. Alabama allowed 475 yards, the most since Saban's first season in 2007.

The Tide also pulled out a game that seemed to be slipping away during the 2009 national title run.

Massive nosetackle Terrence Cody blocked two low fourth-quarter field goal attempts to preserve a 12-10 win over Tennessee and keep the perfect season going. Last season, the Tide won every game by at least 16 points except for a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU.

Defensive end Damion Square was asked if Alabama needed such a test after trailing for all of 15 seconds in the first eight games.

``I don't think you ever need a game like that, but you know they come,'' Square said. ``I've been playing college football for a while and every year we have one like that. You never know when it's going to show up, but coach always says to practice your best so when your best is needed, you can bring it out. And our best was needed and we brought it out.''

The challenge is far different this week. Texas A&M brings quarterback Johnny Manziel and a no-huddle offense of the sort that Saban wondered aloud in October: ``Is this what we want football to be?''

That came after the Tide had played Mississippi, which also employs a fast-paced style. Saban's reasoning was that it limited substitution by a defense and created potential safety issues for players.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin later retorted that he was just playing by the rules.

Asked about the comments Monday, Saban bristled.

``I think everybody misinterpreted what I said about no-huddle,'' he said. ``I don't mind playing against no-huddle. We don't mind that at all. That wasn't what I said, it's what you all interpreted it to be. I just asked the question, Is this what we want the game to become? That's for you to answer. But that doesn't mean we don't like playing against it. We don't mind playing against it. It is what it is.''

The Tide appears healthy going into the game.

Saban said tailback Eddie Lacy would miss a day of practice to rest an ankle injury sustained against LSU.

He said wide receiver Amari Cooper didn't reinjure an ankle in the game but was ``just a little sore'' and shouldn't miss practice. Cooper didn't play in the second half.

``He's going to be able to practice and be ready to go this week,'' Saban said.

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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