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Felix Hernandez tosses MLB's 23rd perfecto

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Felix Hernandez tosses MLB's 23rd perfecto

From Comcast SportsNet
SEATTLE (AP) -- As he rode down in the crowded elevator wearing a wide grin after watching Felix Hernandez twirl baseball history, Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik felt like having a little fun. He pulled out his cellphone, held it to his ear and listened for a moment. "No, we're not trading Felix Hernandez," Zduriencik jokingly said into his phone. Not after Wednesday. Not anytime soon. Hernandez pitched the Seattle Mariners' first perfect game and the 23rd in baseball history, overpowering the Tampa Bay Rays in a brilliant 1-0 victory Wednesday. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner has never hid his desire for pitching perfection. For a franchise on its way to an 11th straight season without a playoff appearance, Hernandez is the one constant keeping fans interested in Mariners baseball. Hernandez (11-5) rewarded those fans with a 12-strikeout gem on Wednesday afternoon. He baffled the Rays using his sharp curve and blistering fastball to keep the Rays guessing all day. It finally culminated in the ninth inning when Hernandez struck out pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings, got pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger to ground out and closed out the perfecto by falling behind Sean Rodriguez 2-0 and then throwing three perfect pitches. His teammates had spent most of the game leaving Hernandez to himself, but after the right-hander was done pointing at the sky, he was engulfed in celebration. "It was always in my mind, every game. I need to throw a perfect game.' For every pitcher I think it's in their mind," Hernandez said. "Today it happened and it's something special. I don't have any words to explain this. This is pretty amazing. It doesn't happen every day." It was the third perfect game in baseball this season -- a first -- joining gems by Chicago's Philip Humber against the Mariners in April and San Francisco's Matt Cain versus Houston in June. More than half of all perfectos -- 12 -- have come in the last 25 seasons. This also was the sixth no-hitter in the majors this season, three of them at Safeco Field. Humber threw his gem in Seattle, then six Mariners pitchers combined to hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless at the park on June 8. There have been seven no-hitters in a season twice since 1900. It happened in 1990 and again in 1991, with Nolan Ryan throwing one in each of those years. For the Rays, it was an all-too-familiar feeling. This was the third time in four seasons they had a perfect game pitched against them, following efforts by Dallas Braden in 2010 and Mark Buehrle in 2009. "The one thing I've learned is that no-hitters and perfect games don't mean anything about tomorrow, anyway," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. Hernandez's dominance got stronger as the game progressed. He cruised for five innings, then pitched through tough at-bats, delay tactics and the mounting pressure of perfection to close out the gem. Hernandez struck out 12, including eight in the final four innings. He struck out the side in the sixth, did it again in the eighth and hit as high as 95 mph in the ninth. Two starts earlier against the New York Yankees, Hernandez tossed a two-hit shutout, leading Seattle manager Eric Wedge to call it the finest outing he's seen from Hernandez. Suffice to say, Wednesday was better. "It was special. He had special stuff," Wedge said. "But Felix is so consistently good that when he does take it up to another level, which we've seen him do through the course of the year, you never know how it's going to turn out." It was the seventh perfect game won 1-0, thanks largely to the hustle of shortstop Brendan Ryan. He led off the third with his first hit in 10 at-bats against Jeremy Hellickson (7-8), a sharp single to left. He was still at first with two outs when he got a great jump on a curveball that bounced in the dirt and escaped catcher Jose Lobaton. Ryan never hesitated at second and made it all the way to third. He then jogged home when Jesus Montero followed with a single to left. Ryan also had a defensive hand in keeping Hernandez perfect. B.J. Upton hit a grounder in the seventh that third baseman Kyle Seager dived toward but let go past. Ryan was there in the hole to field the bouncer and threw out Upton. The other impressive defensive play came on the first batter of the game when Eric Thames tracked down Sam Fuld's drive in deep right-center field. That's how strong Hernandez was. Only five of the 27 outs were recorded by the outfield. "You could throw any lineup out there today," Seattle catcher John Jaso said, "and it's close to the same result." Tampa Bay seemed to try another technique to disrupt Hernandez, and that also failed. With two outs in the seventh, Maddon came out to argue after plate umpire Rob Drake called strike one on a borderline pitch to Matt Joyce. Maddon stuck around for a minute or so to argue, finally getting ejected. When he left, Hernandez was still right in rhythm. "I was yelling at Joe to get ... out of there," Wedge said. It was the second no-hitter this season for the Mariners -- doubling the franchise's total entering the year -- and third total at Safeco Field after the park went more than a dozen years without one. After Humber's perfect game, a six-pack of Seattle pitchers tossed a combined no-hitter against the Dodgers in June. The six no-hitters is two shy of the record set in 1884, one short of the total in each of the 1990 and 1991 seasons. "Hard to believe. It's hard to believe," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Struck out five of the last six hitters. That's pretty good." NOTES: Seattle's last individual no-hitter came when Chris Bosio shut down Boston on April 22, 1993. Seattle's other no-hitter was thrown by Randy Johnson against Detroit on June 2, 1990. ... Tampa Bay was no-hit for the fifth time in franchise history. ... Maddon's ejection was his second of the season. ... Maddon said the team plans to keep INF Luke Scott on his rehab assignment in the minors through the weekend. Scott has been on the DL with an oblique strain.

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

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USA TODAY Sports

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted the line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home in Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to www.capfiendly.com. Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s also signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.

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