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Giants' Zito to start World Series opener

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Giants' Zito to start World Series opener

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) From postseason bystander to starting the World Series opener. That's how far Barry Zito has come in two years to resurrect his career.

The resurgent left-hander will pitch Game 1 for the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

Manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday he will go with Zito, who has turned around his career this year - and Bochy was eager and proud to give the pitcher the news, once they finally connected that is.

``I tried to call him all day. He left his phone at the ballpark, so I couldn't get ahold of him,'' Bochy said. ``But he was ecstatic. He was proud, honored that we have the trust in him to start Game 1.''

Zito's stellar outing in a 5-0 victory on Friday night in Game 5 of the NL championship series at Busch Stadium helped San Francisco rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals to return to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Left off the postseason roster for all three rounds when the Giants won it all in 2010, Zito made a conscious decision to find his way by just plain having fun again - forgetting one bad start and moving on to the next. Whatever he has done to change his mental approach, it has certainly paid off on the mound.

``It's not important to reflect right now. There's work to do,'' Zito said. ``I'm going to be on the mound here in the next 24 hours, so that's where my focus is at.''

For Bochy, leaving Zito off the roster was among the toughest calls he has made as a manager. That made delivering the good news Tuesday so much sweeter.

``I couldn't be happier for him. It says a lot about his mental toughness, his makeup,'' Bochy said. ``I mentioned this in 2010, it wasn't easy not to put him on the postseason roster. He was struggling in September. But the way he handled it was so impressive. He went out, I think he threw a bullpen that day, and throughout the postseason he kept himself ready in case something happened. He didn't hang his head and he even threw to hitters.''

It doesn't hurt that Zito now has four pitches to baffle batters aside from just that nasty curveball that has defined his career since back in the early days of the Big Three - with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder - across the bay with the Oakland Athletics.

``He's been through a lot, obviously. He took the beatings,'' Giants general manager Brian Sabean said of Zito. ``He's always been a stand-up guy, he's never stopped working. In his own way he's never stopped believing and he's made changes. He's made changes when he had to. I actually don't think other than when he first came here that he was supposed to be the lead dog in the staff as it turned out the young guys were so good so fast. You look back in Oakland he was just one of the group. I don't think the money ever bothered him.''

Bochy credits the work Zito did with pitching coach Dave Righetti to constantly make adjustments and find what would work.

``It's hard to sum it up in one answer,'' Zito said after beating the Cardinals. ``It's just a plethora of things that I've done and gone through here with the Giants. But the most important thing was to come out and give everything I've got.''

The Giants have won Zito's last 13 starts, dating to Aug. 7. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland went 15-8 for his most wins since joining the Giants on a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.

And what ideal timing for Zito to shine in a season that two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum faltered. Lincecum will remain in the bullpen for now, giving Bochy ample options how to use him.

As Lincecum endured his own struggles this season, he learned from how Zito handled himself and couldn't be happier for his teammate.

``I've been really close with him, and he's been here since I've been here,'' Lincecum said. ``It's been great to watch him grow, on and off the field. Obviously he hasn't seen things go the way he wanted them to the last few years but this year has been a big year for him. What more can you say about a guy who has gone about the way he has professionally and still find a way to be positive about it?''

When Zito won Game 5 last week, he said how special it was to deliver in the most important start yet of his 13-year big league career.

Zito has been so good he's trending on Twitter with his own hashtag - and, now, (hashtag)RallyZito rolls on to the World Series. Not that he's paying a lot of attention.

``I tried Twitter a couple of years ago and it was a pretty devastating experience for me,'' Zito said the other day with a laugh. ``I learned to not check the inbox. So I got off Twitter. I'm excited that the fans are fired up.''

That support sure has meant a lot to Zito, who has always said the right thing even through the down times. Bochy praised his class in handling the 2010 situation. All those boos that came from every which way for so long have turned to cheers and thunderous standing ovations.

``For me personally, to look at the whole story and everything else doesn't really help me because I have a routine I have to stick to,'' Zito said. ``I'm excited to pitch every time I get on the mound. This is a more exciting opportunity than most.''

Bochy will go with back-to-back lefties as Madison Bumgarner is set to start Game 2 on Thursday, followed by right-handers Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain. That puts Vogelsong in line to pitch a possible Game 7.

Zito won his last five regular-season starts and seven decisions of the regular season since a loss Aug. 2 to the Mets.

He has tweaked his delivery, added a cut fastball and learned to make adjustments right away when things go wrong. Working tirelessly with Righetti has helped, too.

Detroit's Delmon Young knows just how much this means to Zito. They worked out together in the offseason following San Francisco's 2010 title run.

``He was still happy to be a Giant,'' Young said. ``He was happy that he won a World Series and everything but he wanted to make sure that he was going to actually contribute. He worked his butt off. Now he's earned what he wanted.''

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Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

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NBC Sports Washington

Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

I haven’t felt this way since my father passed last April. I’m not comparing the two, at all, but there were some similarities.

Rich Tandler had life experience. Few people accomplish what he did; total life reinvention. 

Think about that. 

After raising his two successful children and a lifetime in the restaurant business, Tandler created a blog. That blog became big enough to eventually become a full-time job, and over time, put him on television and send him all over the world. 

That’s wild. 

We get so caught up in the “startups” and “disruptors” from Silicon Valley that we missed a true internet success story in Rich Tandler. Our world has become extra cynical. The loudest snark wins, especially on the internet. 

Tandler didn’t trade in those currencies. 

He provided good, quality information. He provided insight and analysis from six decades of obsessing over a football team. 

And fans loved him for it. 

The outpouring from folks that read "Need to Know" or listened to the podcast has been incredible. I’ve been flooded with messages from people, and one overwhelming response is that while they didn’t really know Tandler, they feel like they did.

Well, I was lucky to know him pretty well. And his persona on air was the same way off air. 

Tandler helped me a in a lot of ways. I can be impulsive and have a temper, Tandler would calm me down. Whenever I had something important to say, news to break or a sharp angle of criticism, I would run it by Tandler first. Sometimes, maybe often, I would say too much, and he would reign me in. 

Tandler loved pointing out mistakes. If the universe gave honorary degrees for pointing out minor math errors in salary cap blog posts, Tandler would have a Ph.D. 

He was smart and he was sharp. Good natured but feisty. 

He could dish it out plenty in a media room full of alphas. And he literally dished it out; Tandler controlled all the plastic utensils and paper plates that every media member used at Redskins Park. When we were running low on forks, Tandler would put out some not too subtle calls to action. 

I think for a while he considered the podcast an annoyance, but somewhere along the way, we had a breakthrough. He realized its potential, and everywhere we went, listeners came up and told us how much they enjoyed it. 

That made an impact on RT. And seemingly overnight, he was all in. That’s when things really started to gain steam. Wherever I am in my career, Tandler played a huge role in it. 

But that kind of doesn’t matter now. We will keep the pod going but it will never be the same. Not better, not worse, but way, way different. Same thing with writing and TV. The show will go on, but it won't be the same. It will never be the same. 

In the hours since I learned of Tandler’s passing, I’ve done some reading. I drank a bunch. And I ended up landing on some YouTube videos. 

The one I kept going back to was Jimmy V’s famous ESPY speech. Before he died, Jimmy V implored us all to think, laugh and cry every day, and that would lead to a good, full life. 

If there was ever a dude that laughed, it was Rich Tandler. 

His belly laugh was contagious, and his wit was superior. There were the wacky Tandler’s Got Jokes, and the sly one liners about players, plays and our road antics. 

It wasn’t all laughter either. Tandler was smart as hell, and he was always thinking about new ways to present content for Redskins fans. 

Seriously, our organization employs an army of young and talented digital-first thinkers. And Tandler generated more web traffic than all of them. He constantly tried to figure out why people would read something, or the optimal time for us to drop a new podcast. 

Where I’m an idea guy, Tandler was all execution. I’m a terrible planner and constantly late. Tandler would be on time and busting my chops about our lack of schedule. It’s just how we operated. 

As for crying, Tandler wasn’t much of one. I did see him tear up from laughing a few times, and once because it was real windy when we were taping a segment and something got in his eye. 

I’m not much of a crier either. I’m glad that Jimmy V was, but it’s just not me. 

Thinking about Tandler though in the last 36 hours, there have been some truly hard moments. He was kind and gracious. A true gentleman. 

He never took personal shots at the team we cover, or their front office. Plenty do. He would certainly say when things were bad, and say it loudly. He was binary in a world full of context. 

He was a good dude. He was my coworker, my partner and my friend. 

And damn if it isn’t getting dusty in here all of a sudden. 

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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