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...but an even more unlikely hero lifts the Nats

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...but an even more unlikely hero lifts the Nats

From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday in an NL playoff opener.They have just four players with postseason experience on the roster. But they have the lead."Not many people have probably watched too many Nationals games, but we have a great starting rotation and a great bullpen," said Ian Desmond, who singled for his third hit in the go-ahead rally. "They keep us in the ballgame and some timely hits from this kid, and the rest of the guys coming off the bench, that's really been the formula."The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez. They limited the Cardinals to just three hits."All the credit in the world goes to the bullpen," Gonzalez said. "I've been saying it all year. The reason why we've been so successful is these guys come in and shut it down."Rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Moore, another rookie, put them ahead soon after that, Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia."This team is not hanging our heads," St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said. "We can come back and win this easily."The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Wainwright, failing to capitalize enough on Gonzalez's career high-tying seven walks and frustrating its towel-waving fans.Mattheus diffused a bases-loaded, none-out threat in the seventh, getting cleanup man Allen Craig to ground into a forceout at the plate and then inducing a double-play grounder from Yadier Molina. Craig led the National League with a .400 average with runners in scoring position and Molina batted .321 in those situations."It was a big moment," Mattheus said. "It gave us life. The guys said, Hey, we can win this ballgame.'"A standing room crowd of 47,078, among the largest at 7-year-old Busch Stadium, bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled hitters for several innings."It was pretty bad, but you have to make adjustments and that's what I did," Molina said. "But what are you going to do? Quit? No."Third-place hitter Matt Holliday chimed in his complaints about facing Gonzalez: "He's hard to hit when you can see well and even harder when you can't."Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma misplayed Michael Morse's grounder for an error to open the eighth and set up the Nationals' go-ahead rally. Desmond followed with a single off Mitchell Boggs, putting runners at the corners.Danny Espinsoa sacrificed, leaving runners at second and third, and Kurt Suzuki struck out. In a series of moves, the Nationals sent up Chad Tracy to pinch hit, the Cardinals switched to lefty Marc Rzepczynski and Washington subbed in Moore, who had two of their three pinch homers this season.Rzepczynski pretty much hit his location but Moore poked it to right field and both runners scored easily."I was just trying to calm myself down and try to make some things happen and not strike out up there," Moore said. "I wanted to at least put something into play."Nationals manager Davey Johnson doesn't usually play small ball but opted for the bunt because Espinosa had been having a tough game."I'm kind of from the Earl Weaver school, just keep swinging," Johnson said. "Don't like to steal that much, either. I don't like to give up outs."Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in strikeouts since Bob Gibson also fanned 10 to beat the Tigers in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series.Wainwright was a 14-game winner coming off reconstructive elbow surgery that sidelined him all of 2011, with 10 of the wins coming at home. He's been a postseason ace with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.He fanned Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman twice each and seventh-place hitter Espinosa all three times."My fastball command kind of left me at the end," Wainwright said. "For the most part I felt like I went out there and competed my tail off. Gave it everything I had."Gonzalez allowed just one hit in five innings, on David Freese's full-count bouncer between third and short to start the fourth. But he had trouble finding catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove and keeping warm."I kept blowing in my hand, kept looking to do whatever I could to throw a strike," Gonzalez said.The second inning was Gonzalez' shakiest when he allowed the Cardinals to score twice and take the lead without a hit. Gonzalez walked four of the first five hitters, putting St. Louis in position to score one run on a wild pitch and a second on Jon Jay's bases-loaded sacrifice fly."The whole time I was just saying minimize the damage because things were spinning out of control. I just wanted to match everything Wainwright did. I was trying to keep up with him."Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a two-run homer off with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh, ranging far to his left to glove Harper's grounder and then throwing him out by a few steps.NOTES:The Cardinals went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. ... Garcia was 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts at home. The lefty has a 2.48 career ERA at Busch. ... Gonzalez also walked seven on June 11, 2011, when he was with Oakland against the White Sox. ... Kozma committed one error in 26 games after taking over as the regular SS in September for injured Rafael Furcal.

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John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not

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John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not

A lower-body injury kept defenseman John Carlson out of the first few days of training camp and has thus far kept him out of preseason action. On Tuesday, however, as the Capitals head to St. Louis to take on the Blues, Carlson will be in the lineup for his preseason debut.

Carlson was held out of Friday’s game as a precaution, but head coach Todd Reirden said he was “really close” at that point to returning. He will play with his normal partner Michal Kempny.

Carlson enters the season on a new eight-year contract that he signed in the offseason. This is a big year for him to prove to the team that his career year in 2017-18 (15 goals, 53 assists, 68 points, all career highs) was a reflection of his true value and not simply the result of a motivated player playing for his next contract.

While Carlson is set to make his debut, forward Devante Smith-Pelly still will be held from the lineup.

Tuesday’s game will be Washington’s fifth preseason game out of seven and Smith-Pelly has yet to play in any of them.

Reirden would not go into specifics as to why Smith-Pelly is not in the lineup. When asked Friday, Smith-Pelly called it a “coach’s decision” and said he was not dealing with any injury.

Reirden had no real update to offer on Monday regarding the winger’s status.

“It’s something that we’re going to continue to monitor every day and get him close to playing,” Reirden said.

While no one is expected to play every preseason game, Smith-Pelly is rapidly running out of time to get any playing time in before the start of the regular season. If he is not ready to play yet in the preseason, it is fair to wonder just how far away he may be from suiting up when the games actually start to matter.

Missing Tuesday’s game means there are only two chances left to get Smith-Pelly into the lineup with games on Friday and Sunday.

When asked how many games Smith-Pelly would need to prepare for the season, Reirden said, “Ideally, I'd like to have him ready for as many as possible. As soon as he's ready to play, he'll play.”

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Wizards players believe winning as a team will take care of individuals with contract uncertainty

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Wizards players believe winning as a team will take care of individuals with contract uncertainty

The Washington Wizards are set to play the 2018-19 season with seven players on expiring contracts, or in other words half of 14 spots currently held on their roster. That does not include Dwight Howard, who has a player option for next season worth just $5.6 million, so low for his standards that he might as well be entering a contract year.

That dynamic could make things interesting for the Wizards, as some guys will likely thrive with the chance to earn themselves a lot of money, while others may struggle under the pressure of an unknown financial future. The players themselves seem to be in agreement on one thing, that as long as the team wins, they won't have to worry about their own contract situation.

"I'm more focused on winning. If we win, we all gonna eat. If we don't win, it will be a tough year," forward Markieff Morris said.

"Team-first, honestly. We have to win," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "It's not about me at all. It's about this team, it's about the name on the front of my jersey. I'm not putting any weight on whatever contractual situations are going on right now."

That was the message from Morris and Oubre, both of whom have not been in this situation before. Morris had a second contract signed with the Phoenix Suns before his first one was up,  while Oubre is currently entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.

Veteran newcomers Austin Rivers and Jeff Green are also entering contract years, but have been through it before. Rivers acknowledged that there are some difficulties that come with the process.

"It's tough, you know what I mean? People don't realize on the outside that this is our life, this is how we feed our families," Rivers explained. 

"What I try to do is focus on the things that I can control. The only thing that I can control is how I perform and how I play. If you focus on how much you get paid or how much this guy gets paid, it messes you up in the head, honestly. It's all about timing. Some guys get lucky, some guys are liked by different teams. I think if you just go out there and hoop, then everything takes care of itself."

Green has played through a contract year in each of the past four seasons. Each time, he has done enough to earn another contract in a good situation for him.

"Honestly, [the key is] to really not think about your contract. It's something that at this moment, you can't control," Green said. "So, really you just have to focus on basketball. That's the main priority and all the rest will take care of itself when it's said and done."

Point guard John Wall has his future safe and sound with his second max contract extension still a year away from kicking in. He has never really had to worry about his next contract as a perennial All-Star.

That, however, doesn't mean Wall can't speak to the effects too many expiring contracts can have on a team. Back in the 2015-16 season, the Wizards missed the playoffs and many feel too many guys in contract years was partially to blame.

Wall brought it up quickly when asked about this year's contracts.

"This is probably the second most we’ve had. I’ve been on a team where we had about nine guys and I know what it feels like when everybody is trying to get off, get their shots and do whatever," he said. 

Wall, though, believes this year can be different because of the types of guys who are playing in contract years.

"I think with those guys they kind of understand what we are as a team. What we stand for. Keef has been here for years. Kelly has been here for years. Those guys understand what we’re trying to do. There’s no point in trying to go out there and prove a point," he said.

Wall may not be able to relate to the uncertainty of a contract year, but he can speak to the individual benefits that come from a team winning. He believes the Wizards becoming a constant in the playoffs is a big reason for the accolades he has collected over the years.

"You don’t get paid if we don’t win. You don’t become an All-Star, you don’t get accolades if you’re not winning. So it doesn’t matter what you do by yourself," he said. "I think those guys understand that.”

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