Nationals

Seattle finally solves playoff futility on road

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Seattle finally solves playoff futility on road

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Instead of reveling in shaking 29 years of postseason road futility and completely looking ahead to another cross-country trip, Pete Carroll was left waiting Monday for the results of an MRI that only confirmed what the Seattle Seahawks originally feared.

Seattle will go forward in the postseason without pass-rushing defensive end Chris Clemons, who suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus in his left knee in Sunday's 24-14 win at Washington.

Clemons was hurt when it appeared his cleat got stuck in the messy, dirty turf at FedEx Field early in the third quarter. Seattle was immediately concerned the injury could be serious and Monday's scan confirmed it.

``It's a big loss for us in a lot of ways,'' Carroll said. ``Chris has been a great football player and just a symbol of consistency in the years that we've had him, but he's been a great leader for us too and a tough dude and a guy we've become very comfortable playing with and we'll miss the heck out of him.''

The loss of Clemons and uncertainty about the availability of kicker Steven Hauschka, who suffered a calf strain, overshadowed what should have been a day of celebration after Seattle won its first road playoff game since beating Miami on Dec. 31, 1983.

Clemons was the most consistent pass rusher for the Seahawks since arriving in a trade from Philadelphia before the 2010 season. Clemons had 11 sacks in both 2010 and `11 and followed up a new contract over the summer with 11 1/2 sacks this season.

Rookie first-round pick Bruce Irvin, drafted to be a pass-rushing complement to Clemons, will get the first shot to start. Irvin set a franchise rookie record with eight sacks, but the real challenge will be whether he can hold up in the run game, an area where Clemons did well.

``This is Bruce's opportunity. This is what we drafted him to play and we'll see how he does,'' Carroll said. ``We expect him to do really well as he steps up.''

Players were not available at the Seahawks facility after arriving back in Seattle in the early hours of Monday morning. Clemons tweeted, ``I want to thank everyone for ... prayers. I will be ready for next season. We still got a Super Bowl to win!''

Even with Clemons going down, the Seahawks continued to display a level of resolve that has now carried them to six straight wins and eight of their last nine. Despite falling behind 14-0, Seattle solved the defensive problems that allowed Washington to roll down the field on its first two possessions. In turn, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks offense was given time to chip away at the two-touchdown deficit.

The 14-point hole was the largest deficit overcome in Seahawks playoff history and the largest of any game this season. Wilson directed Seattle back from a 23-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat New England 24-23 in Week 6. Being down 14 in the first quarter seemed easy compared to that.

``I think people take notice we've put together a lot of games together,'' Carroll said. ``When you look at our schedule you can misread the schedule a little bit if you just look at the W's and the L's. We've played really good solid football for a long time. It hasn't just sprung up at the end of the season.''

Seattle's sudden defensive change was helped by hobbling Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, but also by the Seahawks not overthinking. Carroll said he was concerned that with all the intricate details of learning how Washington runs its unique offense that his defenders could be thinking too much early in the game.

But instead of sticking with the zone-read plays Seattle was ready for, the Redskins simply used Alfred Morris to run right at the Seahawks. Washington had 129 total yards in the first quarter and just 74 the rest of the way.

The sticky defense allowed Wilson and Lynch time to get Seattle's offense clicking. After falling behind 14-0, the Seahawks had five drives of 60 or more yards, including a 68-yard drive to start the second half that ended without points after Lynch fumbled at the Washington 1. Lynch atoned for the mistake with his go-ahead 27-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Lynch carried 12 times for 99 yards after halftime. Seattle rushed for 224 yards as a team, the highest-total in franchise history for a playoff game, and third time during its six-game win streak they have topped 200 yards on the ground.

``We haven't been as solid as we are now,'' Carroll said. ``We're much more solid in our thinking and mentality and just the resolve about everything we're doing.''

Notes: Carroll said both offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are focused on the game at Atlanta even as both are courted by other teams for possible head coaching jobs. Seattle has granted permission for Bradley to speak with Philadelphia and Bevell with Chicago. ... Carroll said the team would have kickers in on Tuesday to try out because of the uncertainty about Hauschka's calf. ... The Seahawks may also look at linebackers Mike Morgan and K.J. Wright as pass-rush options with Clemons out and Irvin filling his role.

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Re-live the final out that sent that Nationals to the World Series

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Re-live the final out that sent that Nationals to the World Series

As the Nationals fan base collectively held their breath on Tuesday night in Washington, Victor Robles snagged the last out to send the Nationals to the World Series. Here's that moment: 

Here's the moment from a few more angles: 

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Nationals sweep Cardinal on their way to the World Series

Nationals sweep Cardinal on their way to the World Series

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday night appeared to end early, and in blistering fashion, ostensibly over just after the start.

A chunk of tension, modest doubt, and, eventually, a surplus of joy followed. The Nationals scored seven runs in the first inning to define their cushion for the night about 15 minutes into it. Ceremony -- and hanging on late -- remained.

Washington is going to the World Series. Read it again to absorb and believe it, and don’t feel alone in your challenge to consume that sentence. Managing principal owner Mark Lerner labeled the entire situation “surreal” -- from 19-31, to the Wild-Card Game resurrection, to beating the Dodgers in five, to the NLCS romp -- pregame Tuesday. He joked this is how they planned the whole thing. 

“Mike [Rizzo] talked about it before the season: let's have a real bad start, turn it around, make it really fun for everybody,” Lerner said with a smile.

No team has done this before, recovering from such a dismal 50-game start to advance to the final round of the postseason. The Nationals’ unlikely entrance into the 2019 World Series stands as a first for the organization and Major League Baseball. They bounced off the iceberg back to safe shores. Starting Oct. 22, they will open the best-of-seven World Series in the American League champion’s home thanks to Tuesday night’s 7-4 win. A flight to Houston or train ride to New York is in the offing.

The recovery was so long -- and slow to be believed -- it’s a well-worn tale. May 23 in a tight visitor’s office at Citi Field, Davey Martinez was adamant the season would turn around. Nothing but his voice indicated the idea was believable. Not math. Not the team’s play. Not the available roster. 

“I mean we're not out of it that's for sure, I can tell you that right now," Martinez said after the May 23 loss. “Like I said, everyday we're close, we compete, we're in every game. Now we just got to finish games.”

Martinez was thrown out of the game that night. Wander Suero gave up a three-homer to lose the lead. The morning trip to the stadium was a fiasco after the charter bus driver took the most traffic-filled route. At the end, players were irritated a train ride was on the horizon instead of a flight. The worst-possible outcome remained a daily achievement only to be outdone by the next day’s misery. 

The season pivoted behind hi-jinks, a healthier roster and cleaned-up play. Gerardo Parra introduced uncommon vitality. The starting rotation maintained. Key players -- Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner -- trickled back into the lineup. The bullpen -- nevermind.

Fixing the groups was enough to push the Nationals into a narrow lane for the postseason. As would-be contenders in the division fell off, Washington lasted long enough to host the Wild-Card Game. A late rally launched them to Los Angeles. Down 2-1 in the series, they found a path to consecutive wins. The four-game NLCS stampede against St. Louis followed.

Seven runs, six hits and one of the most truncated starts in postseason history filled the bottom of the first inning Tuesday, paving a path to wrap up the outcome. St. Louis starter Dakota Hudson threw 15 pitches to seven hitters before his removal. Washington turned the game into a romp before St. Louis recorded two outs. 

Patrick Corbin moved along swiftly with the lead until a stall in the fifth inning. Three St. Louis runs temporarily squelched the stadium’s party atmosphere. The Cardinals were down 7-4, a gap modest enough to restrict blood flow through the middle of the game. 

Tanner Rainey pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning. Nine outs remained for Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson to divide.

Doolittle arrived first via the bullpen cart. Only nine pitches were necessary to move through the seventh inning. He faced the steel of St. Louis’ order, such as it was in the series, in the eighth: José Martínez and Paul Goldschmidt made outs. Marcell Ozuna singled, prompting Doolittle’s removal. Hudson was summoned, assigned four outs, beginning with Yadier Molina, a preeminent face of St. Louis baseball.

Hudson hit Molina with a fastball. He walked Paul DeJong after being ahead 0-2 in the count. With the bases loaded, Matt Carpenter pinch-hit. He rolled a 2-2 pitch to defensive replacement Brian Dozier, just into the game at the same time as Hudson, which Dozier initially knocked down before gathering and throwing. The inning ended. Everyone exhaled.

Hudson returned for the ninth. No one warmed in the bullpen. The entire crowd stood before the inning started. Kolten Wong flew out to left. Pinch-hitter Matt Wieters popped out to catcher Yan Gomes. Tommy Edman flew out to center.

When it was over, a bit after 11 p.m., Hudson threw his hands up and screamed. Everyone streamed out of the dugout and in from the bullpen. The 43,976 in attendance stayed to bask instead of zoom to the Metro. A presentation of the National League championship was to come, one which seemed a million-to-one shot in late May, before so much turned out to be right. Sleeping quietly were 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. A new era started Tuesday night, the one in which the Nationals are National League champions. 

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