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Congress looks into science of HGH test for NFL

Congress looks into science of HGH test for NFL

WASHINGTON (AP) Nearly two full seasons since signing a labor deal that paved the way for HGH testing in the NFL, the league and the players' union still haven't agreed to implement anything.

The NFL Players Association won't concede the validity of a test that's used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball, and the sides haven't been able to jointly pick a scientist to help resolve that impasse.

So now Congress steps in. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to take a look at the science behind tests for human growth hormone, a substance that is hard to detect and believed to be used by athletes for a variety of benefits, whether real or only perceived - such as increasing speed or improving vision.

``The players are claiming that the testing is questionable. What's bothering me about all of this is that the players made an agreement in 2011 ... that they would begin the human growth hormone testing, and it seems to me that they have thrown roadblocks and found excuses not to do it. And that concerns me. An agreement is an agreement,'' said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking committee Democrat, who noted that he expects there will be additional hearings.

``We also want to make sure that the players are treated fairly,'' Cummings said in a telephone interview. ``We want to hear the science, so we can make some valid judgments as to the players' allegations that this may not be valid.''

A memo sent by committee staff members last week to lawmakers says: ``Every week of football played without a test for HGH endangers the game and sends a message to young athletes that HGH is tolerated at the game's highest level.''

The memo closes by saying: ``This hearing will examine the science behind current HGH testing and highlight the fact that this testing is available to use in the NFL.''

In a statement issued Tuesday previewing the hearing, committee chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, sent something of a warning to the NFL and players.

``There has been a frustrating lack of progress on testing. The possibility that federal legislation could eventually be adopted to address this problem may be unlikely at this point, but the league and its players would be unwise to ignore it,'' Issa said.

The committee did not ask anyone from the league or union to testify Wednesday. Scheduled witnesses include Pro Football Hall of Fame member Dick Butkus, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Science Officer Larry Bowers, and National Institutes of Health Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.

In written testimony submitted to the committee, Bowers says ``there is a broad consensus among scientific experts who regularly work in the growth hormone field'' that the test is reliable and valid, and that ``the chances of an athlete who has not used synthetic growth hormone testing positive are comparable to the chance of that same athlete being struck by lightning during his or her lifetime.''

Bowers writes that World Anti-Doping Agency records show that as of late August, 12 positive results showed up from 12,764 HGH tests around the world.

``I would like to point out that the only people who are still questioning the methodology and validity of the ... test are lawyers, not scientists,'' his testimony reads.

Tabak's written testimony says many studies vouch for the reliability of HGH testing, even though the naturally occurring hormone and the artificial form are ``virtually indistinguishable.'' He adds: ``Questions can always be raised about whether a given test, even one whose reliability has been established under most circumstances, also has universal validity. ... In science, universal validity is almost never achievable. ...''

He also discusses the ``serious risks'' athletes who give themselves HGH are taking, and estimates some use doses 10 times higher than for medical purposes.

Even once scientific issues are resolved, there will be other matters the league and union need to figure out, including who administers the test and what the appeals process will be. The latter could be of particular import in the aftermath of the decision in the New Orleans Saints' bounty case Tuesday, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's suspensions of four players were tossed aside by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The collective bargaining agreement that ended the NFL lockout in August 2011 included a provision for HGH testing as soon as last season - but only once the NFLPA approved the process.

``The players agreed to HGH testing in the CBA because they believe in a clean game. They did not, however, agree to an artificial timeline to impose a testing protocol that has no transparency in the underlying science nor a fair due process that is outlined,'' union spokesman George Atallah said.

NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch, who oversees the league's drug program, said the sport has been ``trying to do whatever needed to be done to advance the ball'' on HGH testing.

``I am hopeful because, among other things, the hearing presumably will put to rest the questions of whether the test is safe, practical, reliable and appropriate for NFL players,'' Birch said. ``If that occurs, it may present an opportunity for the parties to resume serious discussions on how to implement it, rather than being sort of lost in the trenches discussing the questions about its reliability.''

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Connect with Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Capitals and Islanders have produced legendary Stanley Cup playoff moments

Capitals and Islanders have produced legendary Stanley Cup playoff moments

The Capitals and Islanders have played seven times in the Stanley Cup playoffs with the eighth on tap starting Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto in the midst of a pandemic.

This isn’t where we thought we’d be early in the 2019-20 NHL season. It still doesn’t seem real with neutral sites and empty buildings. But this matchup is one we thought would happen last spring. One goal was all that stood between a rematch between New York and coach Barry Trotz and the team he led to the Stanley Cup the year before. 

Alas, the Capitals gave up a goal in Game 7 at home to the Carolina Hurricanes and never got the chance. The Islanders were swept right out of the postseason and we were denied a fascinating matchup between Trotz and Todd Reirden, his assistant coach in Washington for four years.

Little did we know we just had to wait a little longer. The Capitals and Islanders have history far beyond just their coaches. Some of the NHL’s most memorable moments took place in the Stanley Cup playoffs between these Metropolitan Division rivals. Here is a look back at some of the best:

April 10, 1983
The Capitals were just happy to be here. Two years after the desperate “Save the Caps” campaign kept hockey in Washington, their first playoff series came against the three-time defending champions. The Islanders kept their crown.

The plucky Caps weren’t quite ready. But they took Game 2 at famed Nassau Coliseum and were tied 1-1 at Capital Centre in Game 4 when New York, led by Mike Bossy, scored three straight times. Washington kept fighting with a Kent Houston goal at 11:34 of the third period to make it 4-3 before the champs put them away with a second Bossy goal with 2:46 to play.  

April 16, 1985
The first true Caps playoff collapse. The two teams met in the second round of the 1984 playoffs after Washington won its first playoff series. And while the Islanders’ dynasty came to an end that year, it wouldn’t be until they were dethroned by Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.

The old crew still had enough to dispatch the Capitals in five games. But in 1985? No that was different. An aging New York fell behind 2-0 in a best-of-five series with overtime losses at a rocking Capital Centre. This felt different. Washington was the better team during the regular season – third-best in the NHL. 

But a pair of losses at Nassau set the stage for Game 5 at Capital Centre. For the third year in a row, the Capitals fell short. A goal in the first, a goal in the second and New York was up 2-0, the crowd was tight. That’s familiar. It all started back then and took Washington another 33 years to shake the demons. A Bobby Carpenter goal 29 seconds into the third period gave the Capitals life, but veteran goalie Billy Smith stopped 39 of 40 shots. New York only had 22. The first of many shocking playoff collapses. 

RELATED: CAPS VS. ISLANDERS GAME 1 - WHAT TO EXPECT NOW THAT THE GAMES MATTER

April 18, 1987
The Easter Epic. One of the great games in NHL history. The Capitals finally beat the Islanders in the first round in 1986 in a three-game sweep. This time they were up 3-1 in a best-of-seven first-round series and headed home to finish it off. Uh oh. “3-1” and the Caps never have mixed. They have blown that lead five times now. It’s only happened 28 times in league history.

But this was the very first. A game that began on a Saturday evening, ended at 1:56 a.m. on Easter morning. It is now the 11th longest game in league history after Tuesday night's five-overtime fiasco between Tampa Bay and Columbus. They played 68:47 of overtime into Easter morning before Pat LaFontaine’s spinning shot from just inside the blueline beat Washington goalie Bob Mason, who stood in shock in the crease for 10 seconds before dropping exhausted to a knee while the Islanders celebrated. It remains one of the sport's iconic moments. 

April 28, 1993
The Capitals and Islanders needed a break from each other after playing five years in a row in the postseason. Six years later they met again under different circumstances. The 1992 Capitals had blown their second 3-1 series lead to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. But they returned a solid team that finished second in the Patrick Division, a slight favorite over New York, hoping for another shot at Pittsburgh. 

Instead, an insanely frustrating series followed. The Islanders won Games 2 and 4 in double overtime and Game 3 in regular old overtime. Just like that they were up 3-1. Washington staved off elimination at home in Game 5. But Nassau Coliseum was a House of Horrors. There would be no Game 7. 

Dale Hunter opened the scoring for the Capitals in the first period. But the Islanders were up 3-1 after the second period and the old barn was roaring. Another goal made it 4-1 and with 8:31 to play, Pierre Turgeon put Washington away with a fifth goal. The crowd had been chanting “Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah, Hey-Hey-Hey, Goodbye!” The season had slipped away again. Hunter then lost his mind.

 After a Hunter turnover, Turgeon deked on goal and scored, skating with his arms raised looking up into the crowd. He never saw Hunter following him like a shark for three seconds. He never sensed the check that was about to come well after the goal that buried him into the boards. The Islanders won the series. But Turgeon missed the ensuing series against the Penguins with a separated right shoulder. New York won that anyway before its Cinderella run ended in the Eastern Conference Final against eventual champion Montreal. 

Hunter was hit with a 21-game suspension to start the following year and it’s still considered among the dirtiest hits in NHL history. 

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April 28, 2015

The Islanders and Capitals took another long break from each other but that was mostly because New York stunk. It made the playoffs just six times in the next 20 years and didn’t win a series.

That looked to change in 2015 – Trotz’s first with Washington – when a back-and-forth series with an overtime win for each team went to a Game 7. Given the Alex Ovechkin-led Caps had lost a Game 7 at home in 2008 (Flyers), 2009 (Penguins), 2010 (Canadiens) and 2013 (Rangers), the home crowd was a little tense.

 A 1-1 game for most of the third period became unbearable. It took a young Russian with a flair for the dramatic to make the difference. No, not Ovechkin. Evgeny Kuznetsov had his back to the play near the right circle against the boards, baited Frans Nielson to skate up behind him and then turned on a dime and blew toward the center of the ice. 

No one stopped him. Kuznetsov took the puck across the middle and almost down to the opposite goaline, waiting for Jaroslav Halak to sprawl to the ice – the man who stunned Washington in goal for Montreal in that crushing 2010 series. The lead held for the final 7:18 and for once a Game 7 didn’t end in tears for Capitals fans. That would happen in the second round when the Rangers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit and won Game 7 in overtime. You can’t win them all. 

Kuznetsov insisted to NBC Sports Washington's Rob Carlin this past spring that it is that Game 7 goal against New York that remains his favorite and not the Game 6 OT winner against Pittsburgh during the Stanley Cup run in 2018. Whether that's just kuzy being Kuzy, who knows? They're both epic and wonderful moments in franchise history. 

Playoff series No. 8 between the Capitals and Islanders has enough storylines to fit in a Stanley Cup Final. Let's see if they can add another memorable chapter to 37 years of history starting Wednesday afternoon. 

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Orioles win wild extra inning game 10-9 in Philadelphia

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Orioles win wild extra inning game 10-9 in Philadelphia

The Orioles’ season has been a rollercoaster of emotions on the field, from the Opening Day blowout loss against the Red Sox, to the series sweep over the Nationals held up by a malfunctioning tarp.

Tuesday in Philadelphia, the Orioles played their craziest game of the season. At least, as it related to in-game activities. 

The Orioles trailed early, rallied to tie it and later took the lead, blew the lead, took the lead again, let the Phillies tie it, then won the game off an inside-the-park home run from Austin Hays in the top of the 10th inning.

Somehow, the Orioles earned a 10-9 win over the Phillies in extra innings in a game that put the Orioles over .500 on the season.

“It felt like a boxing match, honestly, from the eighth inning on,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Felt like we gave a blow, took a blow, who could get that last out? That was the feeling. Travis Lakins came in and got the last out. This has been a very unusual year, it’s been an unusual season so far — we’ve seen some things we haven’t seen in a while. Probably won’t be the last time.”

Hyde was right when he said things happened that they, frankly, wouldn’t see for a long time again.

Hays’ inside-the-park home run gave the Orioles a 10-8 lead in the top of the 10th inning, the first team inside-the-park home run since Sept. 2011, when Robert Andino accomplished the feat.

With a runner on second base to start extra innings as part of the league’s new extra innings rule, Hays hit a sharp line drive to centerfield. There, Phillies centerfielder Roman Quinn made an aggressive play on the ball and tried to make a diving catch to prevent Andrew Velazquez, on second base, from scoring. 

Quinn’s diving attempt missed, as the ball went all the way to the wall.

“I actually didn’t think that he had any chance at all to catch it when I first hit it,” Hays said. “I thought it was going to be just a one-hop line drive to him. And I saw him start to lay out and I thought he was going to catch it. It was actually really close...I saw the ball go by him and it was off to the races after that. I was just sniffing an inside-the-parker the whole way.”

Inside the clubhouse, Orioles starting pitcher Alex Cobb reacted just as a fan would.

“When that pop-up dropped, I was banging on lockers,” Cobb said. “We were all screaming. We had a good group of guys in there, players that had been out of the game, and we turned into fanboys. It was awesome. Rooting hard for your guys. It’s a lot of fun to be able to watch Lakins finish it off and go high-five everybody afterward.”

Cobb threw well in 5 ⅓ innings with just three hits and two earned runs allowed, but left the game in-line for the loss after 71 pitches. The Orioles offense bailed him out in the sixth inning with three runs to tie the game. From there, it looked like the Orioles had things in order as a Hanser Alberto double and Anthony Santander single gave the Orioles a 5-3 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning. 

But home runs by Bryce Harper and Jean Segura gave the Phillies a 6-5 lead in the ninth.

The Orioles tied the game on a single from Renato Nunez, and the inning appeared to be over when Pedro Severino hit an infield pop up into the dark Philadelphia night. 

The Phillies infield, however, botched it, as a hit ball with an expected batting average of .000 according to statcast, dropped to give the Orioles a 8-6 lead.

“Probably the most up and down game I’ve been a part of in a long time,” Cobb said.

The Phillies tied the game in the ninth inning, which only seemed fair, as Hays’ inside-the-park home run an inning later lifted the Orioles to a one-run win in what was, admittedly, a game not likely to be replicated for a long time. 

But if there were a year for even crazier things to happen, it’s 2020.

“I think that game had a little bit of everything,” Hyde said. “I just told Cobb that was a great job. It feels like it was five hours ago when he pitched. I just felt like it was a gutsy performance by our club. I thought it was just a grind out mentality. I thought we had great at-bats...Just a great team win. Just a persevering, gutsy, grind out team win.”