Capitals

How sweep it is: Giants finish off Tigers

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How sweep it is: Giants finish off Tigers

DETROIT (AP) Kung Fu Panda, The Freak, The Beard and all their seed-throwing buddies are on top of baseball - again.

They may be under the radar, unappreciated and unexpected. But they're unassailable, the winner of two World Series titles in the last three years.

Their sweep of the Detroit Tigers, completed Sunday night with a 4-3, 10-inning win, was simply historic.

No National League team had swept a World Series since the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.

No NL team had won twice in a three-year span since the Big Red Machine in 1975-76.

``I'm numb, really, the fact that we've won two World Series in the last three years,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ``This will sink in, but right now, I'm kind of speechless on that.''

This happens in the NL only slightly more often than appearances of Haley's Comet. They are just the fifth NL team to accomplish the feat since the 1907-08 Chicago Cubs, joining the 1921-22 New York Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals of `44 and `46, the Los Angeles Dodgers of `63 and `65, and that Big Red Machine.

And these Giants did it with small ball, becoming only the fifth big league team - and the first since the 1982 Cardinals - to win the title after finishing dead last in home runs during the regular season.

``Our guys had a date with destiny,'' Giants general manager Brian Sabean said.

Marco Scutaro delivered one more key hit this October, a go-ahead single with two outs in the 10th inning against Phil Coke.

On a night of biting cold, stiff breezes and some rain, the Giants sealed the title when Sergio Romo got Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to look at strike three for the final out.

``Tonight was a battle,'' said Giants catcher Buster Posey, the NL batting champion. ``And I think tonight was a fitting way for us to end it because those guys played hard. They didn't stop, and it's an unbelievable feeling.''

Posey, the only player in the starting lineup when San Francisco win the 2010 clincher at Texas, celebrated with his teammates in the center of the Comerica Park diamond. In the clubhouse, they hoisted the trophy, passed it around and shouted the name of each player who held it.

``World Series champions!'' hollered outfielder Hunter Pence, who started the pregame seed-tossing ritual.

Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed Kung Fu Panda, was benched for most of the 2010 Series and then went 8 for 16 this year, including a three-homer performance in Game 1, to win MVP honors.

``I was ready for the moment,'' he said. ``I was waiting for the opportunity to be in the playoffs again.''

Cabrera delivered the first big hit for Detroit, interrupting San Francisco's run of dominant pitching with a two-run, wind-blown homer over the right-field wall in the third.

Posey put the Giants ahead 3-2 with a two-run homer in the sixth and Delmon Young hit a tying home run in the bottom half.

San Francisco then won a battle of bullpens.

Ryan Theriot led off the 10th with a single against Phil Coke, moved up on Brandon Crawford's sacrifice and scored on a shallow single by Scutaro, the MVP of the NL championship series. Center fielder Austin Jackson made a throw home, to no avail.

``We were very adamant that we have to step on their throats,'' Giants pitcher Barry Zito said. ``We saw what they did to New York.''

Santiago Casilla got one out in the ninth for the win. Romo struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th for his third save of the Series.

The Giants finished the month with seven straight wins and their seventh Series championship. They handed the Tigers their seventh straight World Series loss dating to 2006.

``Obviously, there was no doubt about it,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``It was freaky. I would have never guessed we would have swept the Yankees and I would have never guessed the Giants would have swept us.''

The Giants combined for a 1.42 ERA, outscored the Tigers 16-6 and held them to a .159 batting average - third-lowest in Series history ahead of only the 1966 Baltimore Orioles (.146) and 1966 Dodgers (.142).

``This was the worst day of my career,'' Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. ``They played great, and we didn't. It's that simple.''

The NL has won three in a row for the first time in 30 years. San Francisco won six elimination games en route to the title.

Once again, San Francisco took an early lead. Pence hit a one-hop drive over the center-field fence for a double and Brandon Belt tripled off the right-field wall on the next pitch for a 1-0 lead in the second.

The next inning, Cabrera gave the Tigers a reason to think this night might get them back on track to end a title drought dating to 1984.

With two outs and a runner on first, Cabrera lofted an opposite-field fly to right - off the bat, it looked like a routine out shy of the warning track. But with winds gusting over 25 mph, the ball kept carrying, Pence kept drifting toward the wall and the crowd kept getting louder.

Just like that, it was gone.

Cabrera's homer gave Detroit its first lead of the Series, ended its 20-inning scoreless streak. Trailing for the first time since Game 4 of the NL championship series, Posey and the Giants put a dent in Detroit's optimism. Scutaro led off the sixth with a single and clapped all the way around the bases when Posey sent a shot that sailed just inside the left-field foul pole for a 3-2 lead.

Young, the ALCS MVP against the Yankees, made it 3-all with another opposite-field homer to right, this one a no-doubt drive.

But other Tigers disappointed. Prince Fielder, signed to a $214 million deal last winter, finished 1 for 14 (.071) against the Giants without an RBI. Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, was 3 for 13 (.231) with three RBIs.

``You just don't get to write your own script,'' Fielder said.

San Francisco did. The Giants overcame a 2-0 deficit against Cincinnati in the best-of-division series by winning three straight on the road. They overcame a 3-1 hole against defending champion St. Louis in the league championship. And then they became the first champion that hit the fewest home runs in the majors since St. Louis in 1982.

Brian Wilson - aka The Beard - missed nearly the entire season. Tim Lincecum - aka The Freak, was ace of the staff during the 2010 title run. He morphed into a middle reliever who held the Tigers hitless in a pair of outings.

Sandoval said ``heart'' was the critical ingredient.

``It's amazing what they accomplished,'' Bochy said. ``I think when you look at this club, the terms `teamwork,' `team play,' and `play as a team,' that's used loosely, but these guys truly did. They set aside their own agenda and asked what's best for the club. And we put guys in different roles, nobody ever said a word, complained or anything, and that's the only way it got done.''

NOTES: Detroit 2B Omar Infante broke his left hand when he was hit by a pitch from Casilla in the ninth. ... Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was at the game. ... In addition to the bat Sandoval used for his first two homers in the opener, the Hall of Fame received Ryan Vogelsong's jersey from his Game 3 win, Bochy's warm-up jacket, Gregor Blanco's glove, Pence's bat - named ``Tim'' - Scutaro's spikes, Brandon Crawford's cap and Matt Cain's spikes.

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Bruce Cassidy’s chaotic time as Capitals coach began a winding path to Stanley Cup Final with Boston.

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USATSI

Bruce Cassidy’s chaotic time as Capitals coach began a winding path to Stanley Cup Final with Boston.

BOSTON --The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday and while the Capitals did not make it back to defend their title, two former members of the organization, Bruce Cassidy and Craig Berube, are coaching the two teams that did. 

 Cassidy, now the head coach of the Boston Bruins, held that position in Washington for two seasons early last decade and failed spectacularly before a long, slow rise back to the NHL. 

 Berube is now the head coach of the St. Louis Blues, dead last in the entire league on Jan. 3 and now four wins away from their first Stanley Cup. A fan favorite with the Capitals for seven years over two stints, Berube was a no-nonsense tough guy and key role player on the 1998 Eastern Conference championship team. The seeds of both men’s success were planted a long time ago in Washington. 

 The Bruins and Blues play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC. 

 Cassidy, just 37 when he was hired in 2002 by former Capitals general manager George McPhee, battled personal issues off the ice and too often lacked the professionalism and organization expected of an NHL head coach, according to several of his former players. At least twice during road trips in his first season, he was the last to arrive for the team bus.  

 Cassidy, now 54, knew the game, according to those same players, but struggled to connect with a roster laden with big-name players and healthy egos. He led Washington to the playoffs in 2002-03 but was fired 28 games into his second season thanks to a terrible start and internal fissures. Many of his players just didn’t respect him. 

 It’s hard to square that image with the Cassidy of today, who gets high marks from his Bruins players and plaudits around the league for juggling a talented roster comprised of veterans and rising young stars to reach the Cup Final. It’s a pretty good comeback story.

“[Cassidy] took his demons head on and built himself back up to a point now where he’s four wins away from winning a Stanley Cup,” said former Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig, who played for Cassidy along with stars Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra, among others. “You’ve got to take your hat off to him. Despite what he did in the past he’s become the opposite of what he was.”

 Cassidy does appear a different man than he was in Washington. Married again now, he was dealing with multiple personal issues then, including a nasty, complicated divorce, while coaching the Capitals. The road back included one year as an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks, a two-year stop as head coach of a junior hockey team in Kingston, Ontario, and an eight-year apprenticeship with AHL Providence, Boston’s top minor-league affiliate. 

 The final five seasons there Cassidy was Providence’s head coach, developing some of the same players who have helped get him to the Cup Final with the Bruins. In 2016 Cassidy earned an NHL promotion of his own as an assistant coach under Boston’s Claude Julien and then took over on an interim basis when his boss was fired.

 “All I’ve learned is I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I was [in Washington],” Cassidy said. “I was young. I had really no NHL experience. I was in Chicago for bits and pieces. So you walk into an NHL locker room and there’s still a little bit of awe in that, ‘Oh, there’s (Jaromir) Jagr,’ there’s so many of these guys that have been around. So, it probably took me a while to just walk in there and say ‘This is what we’re doing’…and be a good communicator when you’re doing that.”

 A lot of those problems were of Cassidy’s own making, however. According to reporting by the Washington Post at the time - and confirmed by several of his old players this week - Cassidy showed up to his first meeting with his new team at training camp in 2002 and pulled a napkin out of his pocket with notes scribbled on it. It was not a good first impression. 

 Cassidy was a first-round draft pick in 1983 by the Chicago Blackhawks, No. 18 overall, but his NHL playing career consisted of 36 games. He had never been an NHL assistant when hired by McPhee. He spent two years as head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, first in the IHL and then, when that league folded, in the AHL, which absorbed the franchise. 

 “The thing that I think would probably be the bigger challenge for Bruce when he first arrived was that he hadn't played that long as a player,” said NBC analyst Keith Jones, another former Capitals player, but not one who played for Cassidy. “You wouldn't have the same cache when you first walked into the locker room as you would, say, if you were a Craig Berube or a Dale Hunter.” 

 The Capitals had reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1998 and were still a competitive, if aging, team. They finished second in the Southeast Division in Cassidy’s first season and went up 2-0 on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But they lost the next four games, including a triple-overtime crusher on an Easter Sunday that ended their season and arguably began what became the Alex Ovechkin era.

“You could tell Butch was a smart hockey guy. He was a smart hockey guy,” Kolzig said using Cassidy’s nickname. “He understood the game. Maybe too much so that he took for granted that other guys understood the same thing. He’d get frustrated if Joe Schmo didn’t know a certain breakout or a certain play. What came easy to him didn’t come easy to other players.”   

Tired of paying big money for an old team that couldn’t get out of the first round, owner Ted Leonsis green-lit moves the following season that gutted the roster. Long-time forward and team captain Steve Konowalchuk was traded in October after a slow start. 

Later, Jagr, Robert Lang, Michael Nylander, defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Bondra, a franchise icon, were dealt, too. The team finished with the third-worst record in the NHL but won the draft lottery that got them the No. 1 pick and Ovechkin. Cassidy was long gone by then, but his failure led to the rebuild that ultimately brought Washington its greatest player, a Stanley Cup and, eventually, his own redemption. 

“Butch was I don’t want to say in an impossible situation, but he was in a very tough situation,” said Capitals defenseman Ken Klee, who played nine seasons for the team, including Cassidy’s first. “We had so much success before he got there. We had some big stars on our team. You look at Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Calle Johansson, Olie. You figure out quick that coaching in the NHL is not just coaching, it’s management of players and personalities.”

The Capitals lost six games in a row in October of 2003 during Cassidy’s second season and things only got worse from there. After a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 4 left them 8-16-1-1, Cassidy ripped into his team during a closed-door meeting. He’d given them rest. He allowed them to be home with their sick kids - or even pregnant wives when necessary. 

But, according to players in the room, he told them issues at home shouldn’t have any impact on their play. They were no excuse. That message, born of legitimate frustration, but tone deaf to what his players had gone through, spelled Cassidy’s doom. 

Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt’s wife, Salima, had almost died after a difficult childbirth in 2002, according to Kolzig. The room froze. Veteran players were appalled. Cassidy later apologized, but the damage was done. Washington was outscored 11-4 its next two games and Cassidy was fired on Dec. 10, 2003. His next chance to be an NHL head coach wouldn’t come for another 13 years. 

 “I know Brendan wasn’t very quiet about it. That was probably the nail in the coffin. It was a tumultuous time.” Kolzig said. “But having said all that you see how [Cassidy has] gone back to square one. His personal life is in order. He did a fantastic job in Providence for a number of years, continued being a good soldier in the Bruins organization. And then the opportunity was there for him and he took advantage of it. He’s done a fantastic job. There’s no other way to put it.”

Cassidy took over a Boston team that had lost its way under longtime coach Claude Julien. The Bruins had missed the playoffs two years in a row and were scuffling at 26-23-6 when Julien was fired on Feb. 7, 2017. Cassidy paid immediate dividends as an interim coach leading Boston to an 18-8-1 record to finish that season. 

It lost in the first round of the playoffs, but he earned the job full time. Last year the Bruins were 50-20-12 and reached the second round. This year they were second in the Atlantic Division at 49-24-9. It is Boston’s third Cup Final in nine seasons, but first since 2013. Many of those hard lessons Cassidy learned with the Capitals have served him well in his long-awaited second act.

 “If you’re around the game for an extra 15 years you’re going to learn stuff,” Cassidy said. “Different ways to communicate. Different ways to see the game. How you delegate, how you use your staff. How do you talk to the players to help you find that common goal? I think that was the biggest difference. A lot of newness back then. This time around it was a little more experience at this level.”

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Dmitrij Jaskin's year goes from bad to worse as his former team prepares to play in Stanley Cup Final

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Dmitrij Jaskin's year goes from bad to worse as his former team prepares to play in Stanley Cup Final

Dmitrij Jaskin had a tough year. He played in only 37 games for the Capitals and scored only two goals and six assists. He seemed to struggle to earn the trust of head coach Todd Reirden and did not play a single game in the playoffs.

A tough year just got a little bit worse for Jaskin as now he will watch his former team, the St. Louis Blues, play in the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday.

Jaskin was a member of the Blues through training camp, but was a surprise addition to the Caps’ roster just one day before the start of the regular season. Frustrated with his lack of opportunities in St. Louis, Jaskin requested a trade and the Blues placed him on waivers. With Tom Wilson still awaiting word on how long his suspension would be for his hit to Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason, Washington claimed Jaskin off waivers for more forward depth.

Though Jaskin was an established NHL player with over 250 games of experience and 25 goals, he was used sparingly by Reirden. Jaskin seemed to play well when given the opportunity, but showed a lack of finish offensively that earned him the ire of the coaches. Any mistakes would see him taken out of the lineup completely.

“Obviously it was disappointing,” Jaskin said of his season. “I thought it would be better, but you always gain some experience from another season. It's over with and there's nothing I can do about it, just can get ready for next season and look forward to it.”

Though his individual situation was challenging, Jaskin looked like he was in a much better position for a deep playoff run than his former squad. The Caps were the defending Stanley Cup champions and would go on to win the Metropolitan Division while the Blues were in last place in the entire NHL as late in the season as Jan. 3. The two teams suffered a reversal in fortune in the postseason as Washington was bounced out of the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes. St. Louis eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in six games, won a Game 7 thriller in double overtime against the Dallas Stars and closed out the San Jose Sharks with three straight wins in the conference finals.

“I wish them all the best,” Jaskin said following the first round. “I think it's pretty impressive that they won against Winnipeg. Now, as you see, everybody's got the same chances. A lot of upsets this year and I think they have a pretty good chance to go far.”

Luckily for Jaskin, he did manage to find some playing time this summer in the World Championship tournament playing with the Czech Republic.  He has scored two goals and two assists in nine games and will play for the bronze medal on Sunday.

After that, his future remains unclear. Jaskin is a restricted free agent meaning the Caps will have a chance to retain his rights and his playing in Worlds seems to indicate he is secure in his position. At the same time, he was used sparingly enough throughout the season that whether the team will offer him a qualifying offer remains a question.

“I'll love to stay,” Jaskin said. “I love it here, guys are great and the organization and the city, everything's good. I would like to stay, but we'll see.”

For now, however, Jaskin will have to sit and watch to see whether his old team, the team he requested a trade from, will hoist the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously it's frustrating to not keep on playing and watch them play,” Jaskin said, “But as I said I wish them all the best and I think they have a pretty good chance.”

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