Nationals

Romo closes out Game 2 for Giants in style

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Romo closes out Game 2 for Giants in style

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) There's a bearded and boisterous reliever pulling pranks in the dugout and closing out games for the San Francisco Giants in the World Series again.

No, it's not Brian Wilson - though it might be hard to tell.

Sergio Romo pitched a perfect ninth inning for his first World Series save Thursday night, stranding Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera - the potential tying run - on deck to finish off San Francisco's 2-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 2.

The sold-out crowd of 42,982 cheered Romo's every gyration.

``You don't feel alone out there. I'm 5-10. I don't feel 5-10 out there,'' said Romo, who helped the Giants take a 2-0 Series lead. ``I feel 6-10. I feel much bigger. I feel important. I feel like my teammates legitimately feel like I'm somebody.''

So does an entire city.

On the Fox broadcast earlier in the game, Romo teased teammates, popping up behind them for all the television cameras to catch - photobombing. The jokes helped him become a worldwide trend on Twitter and showed that Wilson, out since April recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery, might not be the only San Francisco closer with some personality.

``He's a little different than me,'' laid-back lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt said of Romo. ``And it works for him.''

For all his antics, Romo looks totally in control in the ninth.

Romo, a self-described ``fan for the first five innings,'' had the look in his eye as soon as he ran out to the bullpen in third-base foul territory to roaring cheers from the crowd. He got Quintin Berry to fly to left and struck out Austin Jackson swinging on 79 mph slider that energized the orange-and-black faithful even more.

The right-hander capped his 11-pitch inning by forcing Omar Infante to pop up to first. With the ball still in the air, Romo punched his glove and jumped, then hugged catcher Buster Posey in a rather casual celebration by his standards.

``It's just a way to show personality and just kind of show who I am,'' Romo said. ``And I appreciate that opportunity to do so. All in all, it's just fun to be on this stage and do so.''

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PANDAMONIUM: Pablo Sandoval had more than 300 text messages on his phone when he woke up Thursday morning. Players from around major league baseball, including the rival Dodgers' Matt Kemp, acknowledged his accomplishment on social media. Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tweeted in Spanish, ``There goes the third! Pablo makes history!''

Sandoval's three World Series swings truly were heard around the globe.

A day after joining Babe Ruth (who did it twice), Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only players to hit three home runs in a single World Series game, Sandoval soaked in the moment before Game 2. He said he was overwhelmed by the reaction his long balls created from San Francisco to the East Coast to Venezuela and beyond.

``I still can't believe it,'' Sandoval said. ``In the morning when I wake up, all the stuff, my friends keep texting me. But, you know, you have to realize what's going on right now in your life, so you have to keep your head up and keep focused.''

The Kung Fu Panda's pops highlighted his remarkable turnaround.

The portly third baseman was benched during San Francisco's 2010 World Series championship run. His production and confidence went down, and his went weight up. Even Giants general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy basically told Sandoval to shape up - or he might be out.

So Sandoval spent that winter running up desert hills in Arizona. He has made the All-Star team the last two season - starting for the first time this July - although his weight remains a testy topic even now, with more questions typically surfacing anytime he slumps.

``Right now we like where he's at,'' Bochy said, drawing laughs.

Pablo's brother, mentor and workout partner, Mike, was all smiles in AT&T Park's tunnel after Sandoval's homers. Sandoval connected twice against Detroit ace Justin Verlander and once off Al Alburquerque to power the Giants past the Tigers 8-3 in Wednesday night's opener.

``I've always been proud of him,'' Mike said. ``I haven't seen him have a big moment like this. This one is really special. It's a blessing and a dream come true.''

``Wow! That's all I can say,'' tweeted Kemp, who used the hash tag ``panda.'' Even Sandoval's fellow Venezuelan and former Giants infielder Omar Vizquel was in disbelief watching the third baseman's homers as a fan in the ballpark.

``Magnifico!'' Vizquel said. ``What did Pablo eat today? My God.''

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DESIGNATED PITCHER: Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been contemplating who to use as his designated hitter when the World Series shifts to Detroit for Game 3 on Saturday night - a pitcher has not been among them.

Maybe one should.

Entering Game 2 on Thursday night, San Francisco is the first team to have a pitcher with an RBI in four consecutive games in the same postseason. Barry Zito, who batted .075 with only two RBIs all season, has a pair during the current streak - including an opposite-field RBI single to left off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning of Game 1.

``It's been huge,'' Bochy said. ``Pitchers can just help themselves in different ways, whether it's hold runners, fielding their position or find a way to get a bunt down or even drive in a run. I mean, they're part of the offense, too.''

Bochy has been leaning toward backup catcher Hector Sanchez to DH for Game 3. He already has said he plans to have All-Star Buster Posey catch every game.

Bochy could also have Pablo Sandoval DH and shift slick-fielding Joaquin Arias to third. Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot are also options to DH.

Since interleague play began in 1997, the American League has a 2,081-1,883 record against the NL in the regular season. The last time the NL won the season series was in 2003. The AL is 8-7 in the World Series during that same span.

Through Game 1, the NL is 24-19 in its home parks during the World Series since 1997. The AL is 27-11 in its home park in the Series during that time.

Detroit has had to put designated hitter Delmon Young in left field in San Francisco. Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry split time in left most of the season.

``I think it's different for your pitcher not only in that he's pitching a game, but now that those moments that he takes underneath to sit and relax between innings, now he's hitting,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

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REFLECTING ON THE `62 SERIES: People ask Willie McCovey almost daily about the 1962 World Series the Giants lost in seven games to the New York Yankees. This week, the Hall of Famer has been the one reflecting on that heartbreaker.

Fifty years since San Francisco lost to the New York Yankees, McCovey admits he still thinks about the way it ended often. The Giants lost 1-0 in Game 7 when McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson with runners on second and third for the final out.

``I think about the line drive, yes,'' said McCovey, now 74 years old. ``Can't get away from it.''

Two years ago, when the Giants won the franchise's first World Series since moving from New York in 1958, it helped eased the pain for players such as McCovey, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays and Felipe Alou. Seeing San Francisco back in the Fall Classic again has brought those smiles back to McCovey's face even more.

``We're kind of getting spoiled,'' he said. ``This is two in three years. People don't realize how hard it is to get here. We've been pretty lucky.''

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this story.

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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