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Giants getting good rolls so far this World Series

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Giants getting good rolls so far this World Series

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Gregor Blanco is chasing down line drives in left field, laying down perfect bunts and making run-saving relay throws.

He has had a hand, glove and bat in just about everything so far in his first World Series to give the San Francisco Giants a commanding 2-0 lead against the Tigers as the Series shifts to the Motor City.

Blanco surprised himself when his bunt single dribbled about halfway down the third base line and stopped next to the white chalk, inches fair. It helped get the Giants on the board in the seventh inning of Thursday's 2-0 victory - and all he meant to do was move the runner over.

Several Detroit players stood over the ball, almost in disbelief.

``I don't know about baseball gods, but I'll tell you one thing: I hope the ball keeps bouncing our way,'' reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. ``It's been huge for us.''

Blanco has been a beneficiary of all that good fortune, all right. And even a scary moment, when his line drive struck Tigers starter Doug Fister just above the right ear in the second inning but the pitcher stayed in the game.

The 28-year-old Blanco reached on that perfect bunt in the seventh inning, then the Giants went ahead moments later on Brandon Crawford's bases-loaded double-play grounder.

No arguing, the best bunt of his career.

``It has to be,'' Blanco said, ``and I think the best at-bat of my career, too.''

He sure has helped this city move on from Melky Cabrera, suspended 50 games in August for a positive testosterone test and left off the postseason roster once he was eligible to return.

Blanco ran to first as third baseman and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, catcher Gerald Laird and pitcher Drew Smyly converged on the ball but it settled on the dirt - a space of maybe six inches - between the chalk and the grass.

As soon as he hit it he told himself it had to be headed foul. The ball cooperated, though he's not sure how.

``I was joking with Roberto Kelly when I got to first base, `We practiced that today,''' Blanco said. ``That was a perfect bunt. I wasn't really trying to do that. I think it was just meant to be and I'm thankful that I did it.''

Now, because of plays like that, the Giants go into Game 3 on Saturday ahead for a change. They rallied from behind in both the division series against Cincinnati and NL championship series with the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals.

``You hate to say it, but sometimes you need some luck,'' said Ryan Vogelsong, who will start Game 3 at Comerica Park. ``I used to be one of those guys who said you create your own luck, but sometimes in this game that's not the case and the ball has to bounce your way.''

San Francisco also made a great play at the plate to save a run in the second. Had Prince Fielder scored then Detroit might have grabbed some early momentum on the heels of an 8-3 loss in Wednesday's opener.

After Fielder was hit by a pitch from Madison Bumgarner leading off the second, Blanco - who made a pair of pretty diving catches in left field during Wednesday's win - chased down Delmon Young's double but overthrew the first cutoff man. Second baseman Marco Scutaro wisely hustled over to third base, however, and caught Blanco's throw before making a perfect relay home to catcher Buster Posey just in time to nail a sliding Fielder at the plate.

``I don't know what Scutaro was doing there, but I'm thankful that he was there,'' Blanco said. ``The ball took kind of a funny hop and I said, `I've got to throw to the cutoff man the quickest way I can.'''

Scutaro insists he was just doing his job to back up on the play.

``To cut off relays, always you have to do that,'' Scutaro said.

Manager Bruce Bochy figured Fielder would score when the ball hit the wall.

``It was a bang-bang play,'' Bochy said. ``That's not an easy call there. He was out, and good quick tag by Buster. It took a perfect relay to get it done.''

Omar Infante hit a leadoff single in the fourth but Pablo Sandoval made a nice play to snare Cabrera's sharp liner. Infante was later thrown out trying to steal second.

Sure, the Giants made it this far with sparkling defense down the stretch. But a few good hops never hurt.

Bochy has acknowledged that getting some breaks along the way can make a huge difference in October, on the big stage when the stakes are high. And he would know, he took San Francisco to a championship two years ago.

``Baseball's so hard, this game's about having luck,'' Blanco said. ``You can hit the ball 10 times with a line drive to center field and go 0 for 10.''

On Wednesday in the Series opener, Angel Pagan had a double that bounced off the bag at third and shot into left field.

In Game 5 of the NL championship series last Friday at St. Louis, Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn fielded an easy comebacker in the fourth inning and quickly turned to try to start a double play at second base. Instead, his throw caromed off the bag and the throwing error allowed a run to score in the Giants' four-run inning.

Barry Zito - the Game 1 World Series winner - wound up pitching his team to a 5-0, season-saving victory.

``We're definitely not going to complain about them,'' Vogelsong said. ``It's been crazy, but it's good. You hate to say luck becomes present in a game, but obviously it does.''

San Francisco flew home to the Bay Area trailing the defending champions 3-2 and won two more to reach its second World Series in three years - with help from another bizarre ball in Game 7, of course.

Hunter Pence broke his bat making contact in the third inning. The ball then hit the broken barrel two more times on the follow through, sending a slicing liner toward shortstop that fooled St. Louis' Pete Kozma and went through for a double. Two runs scored and a third crossed the plate when center fielder Jon Jay made an error, breaking the game open.

So, is there any question who has the best bunting skills on the Giants?

``I guess, Gregor,'' Scutaro said with a smile. ``What do you think? See that bunt?''

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It's time to start regarding Quinton Dunbar as a top cornerback in the NFL

It's time to start regarding Quinton Dunbar as a top cornerback in the NFL

Many features of the Redskins' defense has disappointed in 2019. Quinton Dunbar's performance isn't one of them, though.

The 27-year-old's effort on Sunday against the Dolphins included an interception and ended with him receiving the second-best single-game grade of his career, according to Pro Football Focus.

Any idea which contest was the only one to top his afternoon in Miami? Oh, it came just a few weeks ago versus the Giants, where he picked off two Daniel Jones passes and shut down whatever pass-catcher lined up across from him.

Overall, Pro Football Focus rates Dunbar as the NFL's third most effective cornerback this year. He's missed two matchups due to injuries, but when he's active, he's active in the secondary.

"He was tremendous in so many areas," interim coach Bill Callahan said on Monday when looking back at what Dunbar did in Week 6. "He was relentless versus their screens — he came up, he supported, he filled the alley, really impressive — and the play he made on the slant on the pick, really great anticipation, awareness, instinct, intuitiveness."

Those four qualities that Callahan mentioned are what really stand out from the former-receiver-turned-corner (whenever writing about No. 23, it's necessary to point out he didn't even play on defense until 2015, illustrating just how incredible his development at DB has been). His pick of Josh Rosen happened thanks to his ability to read and then react to the route:

Dunny's other two thefts this season were much like that one: he shadowed the opponent step-for-step then ran through his body to force a turnover. He's not nabbing overthrows or getting lucky off deflections; he's stealing balls from the offense.

As mentioned, leg issues have kept Dunbar on the sidelines this campaign as well as the last one for some extended periods. He's also lining up on a unit that's been nothing more than mediocre for a while, which is another factor preventing him from getting the recognition he deserves. 

But with the way he's stepping up as of late, his name should stop popping up more when running down the list of the sport's best at his position.

Redskins fans have long lamented what Josh Norman has done and how the team doesn't have a special CB. It's beginning to look like they do, however — it's just the guy on the other side of the field.

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Holtby's early exit leaves Caps pondering their goalie situation

Holtby's early exit leaves Caps pondering their goalie situation

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby faced three shots in Monday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. All three went in.
 

That’s no way to start a game. Before the contest was eight minutes old Washington was down 3-0. Holtby knew what was coming. His day was done before it really even started. The frustration was evident as he skated off the ice to be replaced by rookie Ilya Samsonov. 
 
“You need to fight harder to find that first one and find a way to make a save on either of the second ones,” Holtby said. “It's unacceptable on my half and the last few games here, I feel like I've put a lot of that weight on my shoulders and it's something I really need to get better at. Because we fought hard and I just need to be better."
 
Holtby took the blame. Hard to make him shoulder all of it given that his teammates started slowly against a very good team. Colorado is now 5-0-0 after its 6-3 win at Capital One Arena.
 
Holtby probably could have stopped Erik Johnson’s slap shot from just inside the blueline 3:42 into the game. A nice screen in front by former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky made the puck hard to see. Still, it’s one Holtby would like back. 
 
At 6:00 of the first period Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen beat Capitals defenseman John Carlson to a clearing attempt and found defenseman Nikita Zadorov in front of the goal with a nice pass. Jonas Siegenthaler was nowhere to be found to cover for Carlson. Holtby was left out to dry. 
 
Just 1:54 later, Washington defenseman Tyler Lewington failed to read a cross-ice pass on a rush up ice by Jonas Donskoi. He hit Nazem Kadri in stride entering the offensive zone. Lewington was already beat by the time he realized what had happened. So was Holtby, who was faced with an oncoming skater on the left wing with no one in front to stop him
 
"I just gotta find a way. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."
 
No one is suggesting Holtby’s job status is in jeopardy. He is 14 months removed from a brilliant two months that helped Washington win the Stanley Cup in 2018 and he’s been a mainstay in net since 2012. But the numbers are rough through five games. Holtby has an .846 save percentage, 45thin the NHL. He has stopped 99 of 117 shots. 
 
“It's a team. We're a team. Our players are accountable to themselves, to one another,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That's good that Braden said that and I'm sure there are some things that he would like to have done different. But there are some things that a lot of us will like to have done different. We're in this together and that's something that hasn't been a problem to start and it was tonight.”
 
Reirden did acknowledge, though, that Samsonov was playing well enough to give the coaching staff something to think about. He’s been solid. Expect Holtby to start Wednesday against the talented, skilled Toronto Maple Leafs as Washington looks for its first home win. But it’s a situation to monitor with Holtby in the final year of his contract and Samsonov the organization’s top prospect.  
 
Samsonov has 68 saves on 72 shots (.951 save percentage). But he is a rookie and that number is unsustainable for any goalie. He also showed his youth in the third period with a bad giveaway behind the net that Colorado easily converted into a goal. It didn’t seem to matter much at the time. The Avalanche took a 5-2 lead. It mattered a lot when Washington scored a late goal to cut the deficit to 5-3 and had another wiped away on video review. 
 
“Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."

 

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