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Blanco helps Giants grab Game 1 vs. Tigers

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Blanco helps Giants grab Game 1 vs. Tigers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Gregor Blanco began sprinting in before he even heard the crack of Miguel Cabrera's bat.

With speedy Austin Jackson running from first base and San Francisco only up a run in the third inning, the left fielder committed all the way. He sprinted forward, then cut to his left, and stretched out to make a diving grab that robbed the Triple Crown winner of a hit. Blanco's elastic catch kept the Giants in the lead at a critical point in San Francisco's 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

``I just said to myself, `We cannot let them start a rally,''' Blanco said. ``They have great hitters. If you let them have confidence with their offense, it's going to be trouble for us.''

Thanks to Blanco, the Giants never let that happen.

The same man who made a diving catch on the warning track in right-center field to rob Jordan Schafer and save Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13 against Houston came through in the biggest moments again.

In the sixth, Prince Fielder flipped his bat as soon as his slicing line drive zipped off his bat - then stopped his sprint when Blanco made another diving grab. Blanco, sprawled out on the grass, raised his right glove hand and brought the home fans roaring to their feet, a familiar site at AT&T Park.

``I had some funky spin on it, and that was so impressive because not only did he dive, but he had to stay with the path of that ball,'' said Giants starter Barry Zito, who shut out the Tigers until Cabrera's RBI single in the sixth. ``Blanco is just such a huge part of this team in every way.''

Has been all season.

The 28-year-old from Venezuela, who got most of the playing time in left field when Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games, also ran down a hard-hit ball by Allen Craig in left-center in the third inning against St. Louis in Game 7 of the NL championship series. But no matter how many spectacular snags he makes, Blanco - and just about everybody else in San Francisco - will always remember his perfect-game saving catch.

``Any ball that is close to him, I've got a good feeling he's going to dive and catch it,'' said Cain, the Game 4 starter. ``He makes a lot of diving catches and, maybe most importantly, knows when to do it.''

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Madison Bumgarner joked before his last World Series start that the pressure of pitching on baseball's biggest stage felt similar to his high school championship. After all, he was only 21.

Two years later, the lefty has little room for laughs.

That tends to happened after two terrible postseason starts, getting passed over in the rotation and having his mechanics and fatigue questioned. Bumgarner will get another chance - and perhaps his last this postseason - at redemption when he tries to pitch the Giants to a 2-0 Series lead starting opposite Detroit Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Thursday night.

``That wasn't fun at all,'' Bumgarner said of his previous start. ``But watching everybody fight back and then pick me up, and everybody is picking everybody up right now, that's what's special about our team.''

The North Carolina native finished 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in the 2010 postseason, including a Game 4 win at Texas in the World Series when he allowed only three hits in eight innings. He struck out 18 and walked only five in four appearances - three starts - to help the Giants to their first World Series since moving from New York in 1958.

This season, the southpaw won 16 games for the NL West champions but has struggled mightily in the playoffs with an 11.25 ERA. He lasted just 3 2-3 innings in his last start, giving up six earned runs in a 6-4 loss to St. Louis in Game 1 of the NL championship series. Barry Zito took Bumgarner's spot in Game 5 for the first of three straight San Francisco victories.

Bumgarner's velocity has decreased slightly in both starts, making his off-speed pitches less deceptive. He spent the extra time working on his mechanics with pitching coach Dave Righetti before games.

Even with his starter's struggles, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he is confident Bumgarner - who signed a $35.56 million, six-year contract through the 2017 earlier this year - can turn things around against the hard-hitting Tigers.

``He's done well, and he's dealt with the adversity that you have to deal with as a player,'' Bochy said. ``The good ones bounce back. They're resilient. We certainly feel that way with Madison. I don't care how good you are, occasionally, you're going to have to deal with some adversity. But he's a tough kid. We forget sometimes, he's only 23 years old, and he's already done a lot in his career. But he can handle things thrown at him, and he's a guy that doesn't get his confidence shaken.

``It may not go well, but he still wants to be out there on the mound,'' Bochy said.

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SECRET HANDSHAKE: Don't dare try to talk Detroit slugger Prince Fielder into offering any specifics about his signature handshake with Tigers Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

It's not going to happen - even though he knows everybody is clamoring to learn it from the leader himself.

``It doesn't have a name but it definitely is awkward when I see a grown man wanting to do it while I'm walking down the street,'' Fielder said. ``It's just something me and Miguel do, and it's top secret. It's borderline weird, `Hey, come on,' and I'm like, `Hey, come on, I'm an adult.' It's cool, it's funny. It just feels weird sometimes.''

The complicated move features the two players reaching out their right hands for a low handshake, then another backward slap before a high-five that's followed by them bringing both of their arms out as if to form a `W' above their heads. Next, they move their right hands together as if sprinkling dust - then come together in a warm embrace. Cabrera might pat Fielder's head just to punctuate things.

Would Fielder just walk everybody through it already? It's the World Series, after all.

``I can't do it,'' Fielder said, grinning. ``It's top secret.''

Even grizzled manager Jim Leyland said he's fine with the playful antics.

``They say I'm old school. I'm really not. I'm old, but I'm not necessarily old school,'' Leyland said. ``But I don't really get into that, whether it's our team or the other team. I kind of don't really look, to be honest with you. But it's kind of a new wave of baseball and entertaining to some people. ``

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CATCH `EM ALL: Buster Posey can get comfortable in his squat behind home plate in the World Series.

Unlike in the last two series and several games down the stretch, Giants manager Bruce Bochy plans to keep the All-Star catcher in his usual spot for every game - even though he has the option of a designated hitter in Detroit.

Hector Sanchez caught Barry Zito in Game 4 in Cincinnati in the division series. He also started behind the plate of the Game 4 loss against St. Louis for Tim Lincecum, with Posey shifting to first base in each.

Sanchez caught 25 of Zito's starts this season, while Posey was behind the plate for eight. Zito had a 4.08 when Sanchez caught him in the regular season and a 4.39 ERA when Posey did.

Sanchez caught Lincecum 16 times (4.37 ERA), Posey 15 (5.46 ERA) and Eli Whiteside two games (5.40 ERA) this season.

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TIGERS' GIANT: Starting on the road in the World Series is even more special for Doug Fister than taking the mound in Detroit this October.

Fister, Detroit's Game 2 starter, grew up about 130 miles southeast in Merced. While he may be pitching for the Tigers now, Fister always cheered for the Giants growing up.

``Don't tell anybody,'' he joked.

Fister has a 1.35 ERA and two no-decisions this postseason, with Detroit winning both games. In 13 1-3 innings, he has struck out 13 and walked six, although none ever came against his favorite childhood team.

``It's definitely special being able to come into the ballpark and play in a World Series is something that obviously is a moment that will never be forgotten. It holds a little bit more special place in my heart, I would say, but it doesn't change what we do on the field.

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

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Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 25, 31 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Fan questions—The secondary

To be sure, there are reasons to be concerned about the secondary and we’ll get into those in a bit. But the popular notion that the secondary struggled last year is not accurate.

Do you want to go standard stats? They were ninth in the league in passing yards allowed and 10th in opponent passer rating last year.

Do you prefer more advanced analytics? They were sixth in defensive passing DVOA and 11th in adjusted net yards per attempt.

That’s not a great pass defense but it was a pretty good one. It should be noted that they also benefited from a solid pass rush; they were seventh in the league in sack percentage. Still, you don’t finish in the top third of the league in pass defense without at least a competent secondary.

The question is, will it remain competent? Kendall Fuller was indeed a key player, one of the best slot corners in the league. Bashaud Breeland was inconsistent, but he did shine on occasion. But the fact that he is still available as a free agent indicates what the league thinks of him, problems passing the physical notwithstanding. Those two will have to be replaced.

It is likely that Quinton Dunbar will take Breeland’s spot on the outside. That is at worst a lateral exchange if not an improvement. Dunbar has been working for three years to get this opportunity and there is confidence among the coaches and, perhaps more importantly, the players that he is ready.

Orlando Scandrick is the probable starter at slot. He is a downgrade from Fuller, no question about it. If he is healthy—a big if—Scandrick is good enough to get the job done. Don’t let the star he wore on the side of his helmet for so many years blind you to the fact that he’s a solid player.

The depth at slot consists of second-year player Josh Holsey, who played all of nine snaps on defense last year, and rookie Greg Stroman. That’s not ideal but most of the other teams in the NFL have a similar depth chart.

The wild card who could be the difference between this secondary being better than last year or worse is Fabian Moreau. He played only 59 defensive snaps as a rookie but he did show off his speed and hard-hitting style on some of his 349 special teams snaps. During the offseason practices that were open to the media, Moreau was mostly Josh Norman’s backup at left cornerback. The feeling is that he won’t remain a reserve. We will have to see how things sort out during training camp.

There should be some improvement at safety if Montae Nicholson figures out how to stay on the field in his second year. If he struggles with injuries again and Deshazor Everett has to line up alongside D.J. Swearinger for a good chunk of the season, the safeties are no worse off because that's what happened last year. 

The bottom line is that a secondary that was good last year may take a step down in 2018 but the decline should not be steep. And if Moreau can be the player the organization thought he could be when they used a third-round pick for him, it could be just as good if not better.

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

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I tweeted this in response to a discussion about the relative popularity of the NFL and NBA. Albert Breer’s tweet on the TV ratings for the leagues’ respective drafts was the nexus of the discussion.

Timeline  

Redskins cornerback Josh Holsey was born on this date in 1994.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 31
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 45
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 59

The Redskins last played a game 176 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 76 days.

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.