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This pitcher set an AL record Thursday

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This pitcher set an AL record Thursday

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).

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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

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Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed. 

Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work. 

“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season. 

“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”

Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs. 

“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked. 

The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs. 

Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information. 

“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”

The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges. 

“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.

The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs. 

The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

 

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How the Caps upset the Lightning to win the conference championship

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Caps upset the Lightning to win the conference championship

It wasn't supposed to happen.

The Capitals celebrated too hard after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The Tampa Bay Lightning had been here before. Tampa Bay's roster was deeper. Their goalie was hotter. They had home ice advantage. They had easily won their first two series. Nicklas Backstrom was still injured. Washington wouldn't be able to stop the Lightning's power play.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.

For all of those reasons, many did not even give the Caps a chance. Washington overcame every obstacle in their way and was, for the most part, the better team through seven games defeating Tampa Bay to win the Eastern Conference for just the second time in franchise history.

The Capitals showed in their second-round win over the Penguins that these weren't the "same old Caps." They continued to prove that in the conference final when they stunned the Lightning to win Game 1 and Game 2 both on the road.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.

When Washington lost the next three, many thought that meant the real Lightning had awoken, but it was the Caps who rose to the occasion in Game 6 and Game 7 where they face elimination as they completely dominated Tampa Bay by a combined score of 7-0.

The Caps now advance to take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. The Knights have lost only three games this entire postseason and will hope to carry that momentum with them into Game 1.

If there is one thing this Washington team has proven, however, it's that you should never count them out.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.