Nationals

First-year coaches ready for Arizona state rivalry

First-year coaches ready for Arizona state rivalry

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State's Todd Graham have had successful debuts in the desert, overcoming some adversity to get their teams bowl eligible.

All the success they've had so far sets them up for the most important goal of the season: beating each other.

The Territorial Cup takes on added significance Friday night at Arizona Stadium when the two first-year coaches try to establish a foothold in the heated rivalry.

``It's the biggest game of the year, every year,'' Graham said.

This year's matchup will feature new coaches on both sidelines for the sixth time in the series' 85-year history, and first since John Mackovic took over at Arizona and Dirk Koetter at Arizona State in 2001.

Those coaches had rough first seasons in the desert; the Wildcats won five games under Mackovic, the Sun Devils four as the teams finished eighth and ninth in the Pac-10.

Rodriguez and Graham have had better starts.

Coming off a disappointing stint at Michigan, Rodriguez took over an Arizona program that had plenty of offensive weapons, but not a lot of depth.

The combination led to some wild games for the Wildcats, who are among the most prolific offensive teams in the country - and need to be with the defense often giving up yards and points in bunches.

Arizona (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) opened the season with three victories, lost three straight to ranked opponents - two in shootouts - and has won four of five after beating Utah 34-24 last weekend.

``I enjoy coaching these guys,'' Rodriguez said. ``You never really know what you have until you start coaching them. We had a lot of concerns coming in and I still have those concerns. But I like the way that our players have responded.''

Graham has faced some adversity of his own.

Bolting Pittsburgh after one season to take over at Arizona State, Graham vowed to get the Sun Devils to play fast and add a level of discipline that had been missing in the program.

It worked early in the season, when Arizona State opened with five wins in six games. Starting with a 43-21 loss to then-No. 2 Oregon, the Sun Devils started bogging down on offense and lost four straight.

Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) finally broke through the bowl-eligibility barrier in its fifth try last weekend, sending its seniors off in style in their final home game with a 46-7 win over Washington State.

The Sun Devils have maintained their discipline for the most part all season and will need to dig down to keep their composure in what will be the most volatile road environment of the year.

``What I tell my players is, you are not going to remember what some person said to you hanging over the rail. You're not going to remember who had the best tweets or who talked the most trash. You are going to remember who won the game,'' Graham said. ``That is one of the things that is always a challenge when going on the road, especially in a rivalry game.''

Friday night's game will be a reunion of sorts for Rodriguez and Graham.

The two coaches crossed paths during the 1993 NAIA national championship game when East Central, with Graham as its defensive coordinator, beat Glenville State in its fourth season with Rodriguez as head coach.

The coaches crossed paths a few times on the recruiting trail after that when Graham was a high school coach, and when Rodriguez took over at West Virginia, he brought in Graham as an assistant.

Graham spent two seasons with Rodriguez, the second as co-defensive coordinator, before leaving in 2003 to become the defensive coordinator at Tulsa, where he later became head coach after a stint at Rice.

Once they became coaches at rival schools in Arizona, they remained cordial but haven't exactly been calling each other on the phone every week.

``I don't have a whole lot of interaction with a lot of people other than the people who I work with every day. It's just the way that the coaching profession is,'' Rodriguez said.

Friday night, they'll be on opposite sidelines as the two former co-workers try to get a head start in what will be the biggest game of the season every season they're in the desert.

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

NEW YORK -- Dealing with tomorrow has often become the only palatable way for the Nationals to forget yesterday.

They lose in eye-gouging fashion, roll in the next day to reset, and, at least in New York, find a topper. That formula has them on a train home from what could have been a series for re-emergence, but instead placed them in a worse place than they started. Washington is 19-31 following a sweep in Flushing. It would have to go 71-41 (a .634 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. If it’s not already, the season is on the verge of being over.

A slog-filled drive from midtown to Queens delivered the tired team back to its baseball quarters Thursday morning. Sean Doolittle changed then pulled his red hood up, sitting at his locker 10 hours after he stated he was “disgusted” with himself for Wednesday’s crash. Such a devastating night has been common for the 2019 Nationals. It was not for Doolittle. He hit a batter for the first time since May 29, 2018. He allowed four earned runs in an outing for the fifth time in 348 career appearances (1.4 percent of the time he pitches). In keeping with the season, the worst-possible outcome arrived at the worst-possible time, then another terrible one followed.

Martinez remained upbeat, sipping a morning drink concoction common in his native Puerto Rico. He rewatched Wednesday's game -- a masochist’s errand this season -- as he regularly does, went to sleep around 2 a.m., awoke at 7, arrived at Citi Field around 9:45. The leash on his future has been shortened greatly by the four failing days in New York.  

The Nationals wandered out for stretch and light throwing in front of an oddball scene. Thursday was “Weather Day” at Citi Field with the Big Apple-famous Mr. G hosting in his Mets jersey. Mr. G  -- known to his friends as Irv Gikofsy, New York City’s most popular weatherman -- kicked up a “Let’s go Mets!” chant down the third base line while the Nationals relievers ran routes and caught a foam football to get loose in the same part of the park. The recently re-emerged Mrs. Met, who popped back up in 2013 after decades of dormancy, used her giant noggin to nod along.

The game was another compilation of missed opportunities, bullpen disasters and bad luck. Washington left eight runners on base through the first six innings alone. The Mets’ path to runs was aided by slop and basics. Carlos Gomez single in the fifth. He ran to steal second, Yan Gomes’ throw went into center field, Gomez went on to third base. A sacrifice fly scored him.

J.D. Davis singled in the sixth. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch. Stephen Strasburg’s wild pitch moved them both over. Another sacrifice fly scored one, a Wilson Ramos infield single scored the other. The Mets led, 3-1.

The Nationals didn’t score with runners on first and third and one out in the first. They did not score after Juan Soto’s leadoff triple in the second inning. They did not score after a one-out double in the third. They did not score with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth. They did not score with a runner on second and one out in the fifth. This is not hyperbole for effect. It’s facts. Sigh-worthy ones.

The only effective offseason signings are Kurt Suzuki and Patrick Corbin. The others have not just resided below expectations, they have been among the worst in the league at their position.

Gomes, acquired in a trade, leads the league in passed balls. He’s committed three errors in his 29 starts. Coming into Thursday, he had a 65 OPS-plus (100 is average).

Brian Dozier started the afternoon with a 73 OPS-plus and -0.5 WAR. Those two numbers would be worse if not for a recent uptick both in the field and plate from him.

And, the most egregious failure of the offseason has been Trevor Rosenthal’s saga. Martinez was asked directly Wednesday if Rosenthal simply has the “yips”. He said they still believe Rosenthal’s problems are mechanics, not thoughts, despite him throwing baseballs to the backstop in central Pennsylvania. The luxury-tax averse Nationals are paying him $6 million to do so.

Finally, Thursday was enough for Martinez to shed his tranquility. After Howie Kendrick was ejected in the top of the eighth, Martinez ran to home plate to start an argument of his own. He half-circled home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, yelled, pointed and carried on in a manner that begged Dreckman to throw him out. He did. Martinez went from rankled to furious. He spiked his hat, kicked the dirt, and yelled some more. The event provided his third career ejection and looked to be among the final moves of a manager on the verge of returning to private life.

A strange thing followed: his team rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. No matter. There’s no goodness Washington’s bullpen can’t undermine. Wander Suero gave up a three-run homer in the eighth to Gomez. New day, different reliever, same ear-bleeding outcome.

Which again made talking about tomorrow the only way to deal with the grotesqueness of today. Trouble now is tomorrow may not matter any more.

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

Perhaps Davey Martinez senses his job security is in serious jeopardy as the team continues to underperform and slip its way down the competitive NL East division. 

The second-year Nationals manager, who's gone 101-111 since accepting the job, reached a boiling point Thursday when he was ejected in the 8th for arguing a called strike three on a Howie Kendrick check swing. 

Martinez, typically mild-mannered in the dugout, tied Matt Williams on the all-time career ejections as a manager list with his third today. 

The Nationals' 6-4 loss to New York marked the team's fifth straight as it falls to 19-31 on the season. 

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