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Barry Zito's gem cuts Giants' NLCS deficit to 3-2

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Barry Zito's gem cuts Giants' NLCS deficit to 3-2

ST. LOUIS (AP) Offense has a lot to do with San Francisco's streak of 13 consecutive victories when Barry Zito is on the mound, given they're averaging more than six runs.

In Game 5 of the NL championship series Friday night, with their season on the line, they didn't need all that production. Not with the pitcher they thought they signed a half-dozen years ago showing up in shutdown form.

Zito dominated into the eighth inning of a 5-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that sent the best-of-seven series back to San Francisco. The Giants cut their series deficit to 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday night, with Ryan Vogelsong set to face Chris Carpenter for the second time in the series.

``We needed that kind of performance from him because there is no tomorrow for us,'' second baseman Marco Scutaro said. ``We just needed to get back home.''

The defending-champion Cardinals still have two chances to make it to back-to-back World Series as a wild card.

``It should be another battle,'' St. Louis third baseman David Freese said. ``San Francisco is a great city, but I wish we weren't going back.''

The 34-year-old Zito looked like the pitcher who won 23 games and the 2002 AL Cy Young with the Athletics. He retired 11 batters in a row at one stretch while scattering six hits with six strikeouts in 7 2-3 innings.

Giants catcher Buster Posey twice tapped Zito on the chest when he was pulled in the eighth. It was Zito's fifth postseason win but first since 2006, shortly before he left the A's and signed a $126 million, seven-year contract with San Francisco.

``This is definitely it for me,'' Zito said. ``Coming here, really doing it in a Giants uniform. A lot of people were saying stuff about my A's days. And for me, the most important thing is doing everything for San Francisco right now.''

Zito was left off the postseason roster when the Giants won the 2010 World Series because he had pitched so ineffectively.

``Well, you know, it was certainly a huge blow just personally to be left off that roster,'' Zito said. ``But you've got to be professional, you can't pout and such like that.

``I worked on a lot of things that offseason, came back stronger for it, I think.''

Zito's 15-8 record this year was his first winning mark since joining the Giants. He started Game 4 of the division series against the Reds earlier in this year's playoffs and lasted only 2 2-3 innings.

``He's been through a lot, I know,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ``But this guy, he is some kind of tough. He put on quite a show.''

The Cardinals might have thrown away a chance to clinch a second straight World Series trip. Pitcher Lance Lynn's toss on a possible forceout deflected off the second base bag, paving the way for the Giants' four-run fourth.

Lynn was trying to turn the front end of a double play.

``I turned to throw it and I just threw it in the ground,'' Lynn said. ``Just a bad play. You make a good throw there and we are out of the inning. It was one of those times where I just short-armed it a little bit.''

Pablo Sandoval homered for the second straight night and Zito made an extremely rare offensive contribution with a perfectly executed bunt for an RBI single.

Giants defenders made several nice plays behind Zito, including a juggling catch in right by Hunter Pence and a spectacular sliding stop by Scutaro to rob pinch hitter Shane Robinson on consecutive at-bats.

``They were all huge,'' Zito said.

Once again this postseason, the Giants benefited from a big error.

Needing three straight wins at Cincinnati to avoid elimination in the division series, San Francisco began its comeback on a bobble by third baseman Scott Rolen in the 10th inning that gave the Giants the go-ahead run in Game 3.

The Giants improved to 4-2 on the road this postseason and have won Zito's last 13 starts, with the last setback on Aug. 2. They're averaging more than six runs during the streak, although the lefty didn't need much help in this one.

Lynn, an 18-game winner in his first year in the rotation, failed to make it out of the fourth for the second time in the series.

The Cardinals are seeking consecutive pennants for the first time since 1967-68, and trying to advance for the second year in a row as a wild-card entry. One more win would set up a rematch of the 2006 World Series against the Tigers, which the Cardinals took in five games.

Lynn struck out five of the first 10 batters, sailing through the first three innings with no balls hit out of the infield. His wild throw to second proved his undoing.

The Giants had runners on first and second with one out when Lynn gloved a tapper by Pence, wheeled and threw while Kozma hustled to second. Lynn's throw wound up in shallow right field and Scutaro scored without a play from second.

Eighth-place hitter Brandon Crawford singled up the middle with the bases loaded on a full count with two outs as Lynn just missed with a kick save for two more runs. Zito, who has just 30 hits in 310 at-bats in the regular season with no extra-base hits and nine RBIs, laid down a perfect bunt for a fourth run.

Lynn has allowed four runs in both of his NLCS starts, although all four were unearned in Game 5.

NOTES: Standing room attendance for Game 5 was 47,075, a franchise-best for league championship play, topping the previous best in Game 4 by 13. ... Longtime Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon bounced a ceremonial first pitch from in front of the mound to Lou Brock, teammates on the last St. Louis team to go to consecutive World Series in 1967 and `68. ... Cardinals rookie RHP Trevor Rosenthal struck out four in two scoreless innings. He has fanned 11 in 6 2-3 scoreless innings in the postseason while allowing just one hit. ... The Cardinals were shut out for the first time since Game 4 of the 2011 World Series, a 4-0 loss at Texas. ... Freese doubled in the second and has gotten at least one hit in all of his 14 postseason starts at home. It's the third-longest home hitting streak to start a postseason career.

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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