Nationals

Bucks slip past Celtics in OT 99-94

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Bucks slip past Celtics in OT 99-94

BOSTON (AP) Monta Ellis scored five of his 27 points in overtime and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Boston Celtics in the teams' final meeting this season 99-94 on Friday night despite blowing a seven-point lead late in regulation.

The Bucks won for the sixth time in eight games, taking three of four against the Celtics, who had a five-game home winning streak snapped despite 35 points by Paul Pierce.

Luc Mbah a Moute scored 20 points and Larry Sanders had 17 and 20 rebounds for Milwaukee.

Jeff Green scored 14 points, Kevin Garnett 12 and Courtney Lee 11 for the Celtics.

Pierce, who scored a season-high 40 points in Boston's previous game, sent the game to OT by hitting a 3 with 2.5 seconds left.

Green had to leave with a towel over his left eye in the closing seconds of OT.

Ellis' consecutive baskets, coming nearly two minutes apart, had given the Bucks a 94-90 lead with just over a minute to play. But, like in regulation, Pierce made a jumper and Garnett hit a long jumper, tying it with 37 seconds left.

After a timeout, Ellis was fouled by Lee and hit the first of two, making it 95-94. Milwaukee came up with the ball after a scramble on the missed free throw and Boston's Pierce was forced to foul Brandon Jennings with 18.5 seconds left. Jennings hit both free throws.

Pierce's 3 from the left wing was blocked and Sanders had a breakaway dunk to seal it.

The Celtics had trailed 88-81 with under a minute to play before Pierce scored five points, tying it on a 3 from the top with 2.5 seconds to play. Sanders airballed a foul-line jumper at the horn, sending the game to OT.

The basket came after a steal by Rondo after Jason Terry missed a wide open 3 and Green batted the rebound out to Pierce.

Jennings' 3-pointer right in front of Boston's bench with 7:56 to play moved the Bucks ahead 74-72, their first lead since the game's opening basket. Boston tied it on Green's two free throws on the ensuing possession, but Milwaukee scored seven of the next nine, making it 81-76 on Sanders' left-handed hook with 4:39 to play.

Pierce's 3-pointer from the left wing - after he let two defenders go flying by - cut it to 83-81 with 2:45 to go. After he got a steal on the other end, he back-rimmed a 3 before the Bucks had a 24-second violation, giving the ball back to Boston with 1:46 left.

But Pierce's jumper rolled out on the next possession and Ellis hit a driving floater from the right side of the lane, making it 85-81 with 1:11 to go.

Sanders then had an alley-oop off Ellis' pass to give the Bucks a six-point edge with just under a minute to play.

Boston, which led by three at halftime, pushed it to 50-43 when Garnett hit consecutive jumpers. The Bucks then scored the next six points, closing it to one, and the score remained tight until the Celtics finished the third quarter by scoring 10 of the last 12 points.

Rondo had a steal in the closing seconds and passed to Lee for a breakaway layup with 1.3 seconds remaining to give Boston a 70-62 edge at the break.

The Bucks answered with Mike Dunleavy scoring the first five points of the fourth in a 9-2 run that narrowed it to 72-71 on Sanders' reverse layup with 9 1/2 minutes left.

Coming off his hot shooting night in Wednesday's win over Cleveland, Pierce looked sharp again. He missed his initial shot then hit seven straight, scoring 17 points until missing a pair of open 3s late in the second quarter.

NOTES: The Bucks' usual starting guards were in there despite suffering recent injuries. Jennings had twisted his right ankle during Wednesday's game in Memphis and Ellis missed the morning shootaround with a sore back. ``We've got to have our guards in the game, so it's good they'll be able to go,'' coach Scott Skiles said. ... Boston coach Doc Rivers didn't feel either team had an advantage even though they've already met three times in a short time. ``It's amazing,'' he said. ``This is the fourth time. It's funny. I don't think any of the lineups have been the same on either team, so it's four new times every time we play them.'' ... Rondo was given a technical in the opening quarter. ... The Celtics next play on Christmas Day in Brooklyn against the Nets, opening a four-game road trip that has them on the West Coast for the final three. ... Milwaukee hosts Cleveland on Saturday night, the opener of three straight at home. ... Pierce and Jason Collins were part of a strange 3-point play when Pierce hit a jumper and Collins was fouled, hitting the free throw.

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Will Juan Soto follow the same path as Mookie Betts?

Will Juan Soto follow the same path as Mookie Betts?

The gasps came again in New York on Wednesday, this time when Juan Soto ripped his hands in and then through a slider which meandered up and inside. The resulting fly ball went 466 feet to right field, confusing camera operators and announcers alike. Nationals play-by-play man Bob Carpenter, calling road games from Nationals Park, wasn’t quite sure where the ball went or landed because it left camera view. The Mets’ broadcasting crew had a better view in Citi Field. Ron Darling uttered a precise summary while the ball traveled: “Whoa.”

Soto hit a 463-foot home run two days earlier which drew similar awe. Darling said then he had never seen a ball hit to that part of Citi Field -- dead center beyond the iconic rising apple. And, what Soto is doing overall is rarely seen. He’s hit two of the five longest home runs in Citi Field since 2015 (Nos. 3 and 5, respectively) in three days. He tied Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson with 60 home runs before turning 22 years old thanks to the two he hit Wednesday night. Only four players -- Mel Ott, Tony Conigliaro, Eddie Matthews and Ronald Acuña Jr. -- have more before that age. Soto turns 22 on Oct. 25. He is being shorted 109 games this season because of the abbreviated schedule and his late start in it. Yet, he’s still chasing down history.

The short season makes comparison points for his future fluid. However, he is running steady with the early days of one player in particular: Mookie Betts. The far-away question for the Nationals is whether their paths when no longer under team control will go the same.

First, to now. Soto’s first home run Wednesday prompted a response from the official NASA Twitter account when it was asked to locate the launch to right field (“We'll look for it when we get back to the Moon in 2024. Cool?”). But, there was a detail attached to his second home run which may be more telling of his actual ability.

Left-handed Mets reliever Chasen Shreve was able to get Soto to rollover a fastball away for a double play in the third inning. Left-handed pitchers typically try for this precise outcome from Soto by pitching him outside. He often foils it by not taking the bait and instead taking a walk or pushing the ball the other way. Against Shreve, Soto left his principles: he swung at a pitch outside of the strike zone and did so with more of a hook swing than one designed to drive the ball somewhere between left-center field and right-center field. Stay through the middle and good things will happen. It’s a mantra for him. He vacated the idea, then pulled his helmet off at first base and bounced it off the ground following the double play.

He faced another left-handed pitcher in his next at-bat. Justin Wilson tried the same approach as Shreve. He was throwing away, but not far enough. A fastball caught the outside portion of the plate. Soto had cleared his head, drove through the pitch, and hit an opposite-field home run. That, more than distance, shows mental genius at 21 years old.

“He makes in-game adjustments better than any young hitter I’ve ever seen,” Davey Martinez said.

RELATED: SOTO BLASTS LONGEST HOME RUN OF HIS CAREER AGAIN

Now, to the future, via the past. Betts came up as a 21-year-old in Boston. Soto is 21. Betts played half a season at that age, moved to 19th in American League MVP voting the following year, then put his name among the elite his third season when he finished second in MVP voting. He also won a Gold Glove and went to the All-Star Game. Betts pulled together a 9.5 bWAR season in 2016 as a 23-year-old outfielder.

Soto finished second to Acuña Jr. in National League Rookie of the Year voting in his first season. He ascended to ninth in NL MVP voting as a 20-year-old via a 4.6 bWAR season. His current OPS is 1.444. It won’t last. And, this is not a full season to chase Betts’ MVP-runner-up numbers. It does indicate further ascension.

It is also another year of Soto’s service-time clock. The Nationals hold team control of Soto until 2025. Next year he will again make a pittance relative to his peers, when he receives a slight raise from the $629,400 he is making this year. The following year, 2022, he can start to cash in  via arbitration. His salary will progressively climb year after year from there -- with several chances to set a record for arbitration pay should his play be maintained.

The rub arrives in 2025. Soto can become a free agent that year. So can Victor Robles. And, Soto is represented by Scott Boras, who is loathe to do anything other than enter free agency with his clients.

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So, the Nationals will eventually be faced with a similar decision the Boston Red Sox needed to make with Betts: can they afford their star? If not, should he be traded?

Boston was in a bind. It dumped current cash (David Price) and future cash (Betts) in exchange for three prospects. In essence, it was an organizational reboot.

The Nationals don’t tend to operate that way. They have not been forced to rebuild since the initial buildup from franchise newbie to contender was completed. They also do not want to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax whenever possible, pick singular spots for big contracts and are yet to approach Soto about an extension. Needing to choose between him and Robles complicates the process further.

So, for now, maybe it’s best to watch the mammoth homers, listen to out-of-town announcers react with shock, then giggle at tweets from NASA. Four more years of Soto in Washington are guaranteed. Nothing beyond that is.

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Three home runs, Rio Ruiz flip, power Orioles to series victory and sweep opportunity vs. Phillies

Three home runs, Rio Ruiz flip, power Orioles to series victory and sweep opportunity vs. Phillies

With two outs in the eight inning and the Phillies threatening to tie the score, Andrew McCutchen hit a sharp ground ball to the left side of the infield. 

Orioles third baseman Rio Ruiz dove to his left, corralled the ball, and as he was falling, flipped a backhand shovel that rolled to second base just in time for the final out of the inning. It was one of the Orioles' best plays, on offense or defense, all season long. 

The standout defensive play kept the Orioles ahead 5-4, a score they’d win by, in their second straight win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. It was the team's second-straight series win.

“That was a huge play,” Chance Sisco said. “It was crazy. Just going into the hole, obviously, is a tough play. And then I don’t know what happened, he stumbled a little bit and fell to the ground. I don’t know what it takes just to get that ball out of his glove. Just a great play.”

Ruiz’s defensive play assuredly prevented a run, and with a bullpen that had to work big innings, that play’s significance cannot be overstated.

“He’s just reading the ball really well, his feet are great, he’s just playing outstanding defense at third base,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That play that he made in the hole, that was game-saving and really won us the game.”

Ruiz had a good night at the plate as well, as he hit a solo home run — as did Anthony Santander and Sisco, to lead the way offensively for the red-hot Orioles.

RELATED: HOW SOON IS TOO SOON FOR THE O'S TO START THINKING ABOUT THE DEADLINE?

After falling down 3-1, they rallied to tie the game in the fourth inning then took the lead in the fifth. An insurance run, by way of Sisco’s home run, gave the Orioles a two-run lead entering the eighth inning. 

Then, they held on — aided by Ruiz’s absurd defensive play — to push their record to 9-7 with a chance for a sweep over the Phillies on Thursday.

Through 16 games of the 2020 season, the Orioles have already surpassed some people’s expectations of what figured to be a year without any notable or exciting games. 

Now, they’re just riding the wave.

“It seems like good teams have different guys on different nights,” Hyde said. “And right now, that’s what we have. We had some big hits tonight. Chance Sisco, Smitty. Middle relief is what won us the game, to me. We pitched well and we got enough runs to hold on.”

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