From Comcast SportsNetDETROIT (AP) -- Doug Fister was breezing along after striking out nine straight batters and setting an American League record.Detroit led by four runs in the eighth inning -- but for the 2012 Tigers, nothing has come easy.The Tigers nearly wasted Fister's dazzling streak, blowing a big lead late before beating Kansas City 5-4 on Thursday when Alex Avila drove home the winning run in the ninth with a bases-loaded grounder.Detroit's lead in the AL Central grew to two games when the slumping Chicago White Sox lost to Tampa Bay 3-2."Getting a win is big," Avila said. "We have to be able to win tight games like this. It's the only way we're going to be able to get in the playoffs and go far in the playoffs."Detroit finished 50-31 at home this season -- and will now try to wrap up the division on the road. The Tigers play three games at Minnesota, followed by a season-ending three-game series at Kansas City.Fister came within one strikeout of matching Tom Seaver's major league record of 10 in a row. He struck out Salvador Perez to end the top of the fourth, starting a streak that didn't end until Perez grounded out to the shortstop on a two-strike pitch in the seventh."It's crazy, to go through a whole lineup and strike everybody out," Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "And I don't think he threw more than four pitches to any of the batters."The AL record of eight consecutive strikeouts had been accomplished several times, most recently by Kansas City's Blake Stein on June 17, 2001.After Perez grounded out for the third out of the seventh, first baseman Prince Fielder put his arm around Fister as they headed back to the dugout."I said, Congratulations, man. You made history.' He was like, What are you doing?'" Fielder said. "He was locked in so it was kind of like, Get away from me.' I was like, All right, they'll tell you."At that point, Fister had retired 16 straight hitters and Detroit led 4-0 -- but he was oblivious to the strikeout record."Honestly, I had no idea," Fister said. "(Fielder) was yelling at me to step off during the inning, and I kind of looked at him. Normally, he'll do that, to slow me down, if I'm getting too quick. ... I thought that was kind of what he was doing there. He just said, Hey, step off.' I look at him, and he kept looking at me, and he said, Aw, I'll tell you later.'"Fister's performance almost went for naught. The Royals scored three runs in the eighth, and Billy Butler tied it in the ninth with a solo homer off Joaquin Benoit (5-3).Fielder led off the Detroit ninth with a chopper that went past the mound and charging shortstop Tony Abreu. The hefty slugger made it all the way to second for a double on a ball that only ended up a few feet beyond the infield.Delmon Young was intentionally walked, and pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago bunted into a forceout at third, leaving runners at first and second. Kelvin Herrera replaced Tim Collins (5-4) on the mound and got Jhonny Peralta to hit what looked like a potential double play grounder to third, but Mike Moustakas misplayed it for his third error of the game -- and Kansas City's fifth.Avila hit a full-count pitch to first baseman Brayan Pena, who made a diving stop and touched the bag, but had no play at home."Pena still made a great play on that one," Fielder said. "Baseball is really hard because even if you're good, you have to be a little lucky, too."Fister finished with 10 strikeouts in 7 2-3 innings. He allowed two earned runs and five hits.Kansas City's Luis Mendoza allowed two earned runs in seven innings.Francoeur hit an RBI double in the eighth, Johnny Giavotella added an RBI groundout, and Abreu, pinch-hitting, drove in a run with a single to make it 4-3.Detroit took a 4-0 lead thanks in part to four Kansas City errors in the first two innings.Moustakas was charged with two errors on one grounder by Quintin Berry -- one for mishandling it and another for a bad throw. Fielder drove in a run later in the first with a single, advancing to second on an error by left fielder Alex Gordon.Young hit a sacrifice fly, and Gordon threw Fielder out at home on a single by Andy Dirks to end the inning.Berry's two-run triple in the second made it 4-0.NOTES:Detroit closer Jose Valverde was sick and unavailable. ... Royals 1B Eric Hosmer left the game with a strained right shoulder. ... The Tigers play at Minnesota on Friday night. LHP Drew Smyly (4-3) will start because of an injury to Max Scherzer. Minnesota will counter with LHP Scott Diamond (12-8).
Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.
For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.
They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.
But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.
Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.
This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.
So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.
Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.
If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.
But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.
It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.
You have to seek out hockey
Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.
So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.
One day, it will all be worth it.
That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.
We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.
When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.
But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.
Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?
Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.
But that’s not all of it.
This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.
When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.
That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.
This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.
A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.
Let’s go Caps!
MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:
Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name.
The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.
The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence?
We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.
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