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Slide sparks Giants past Cardinals to even NLCS

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Slide sparks Giants past Cardinals to even NLCS

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Marco Scutaro stayed steady behind second base, absorbing Matt Holliday's hard takeout slide and tossing the ball to first for a possible double play.

As Scutaro squirmed in the infield, twisting in pain, fans at AT&T Park showered Holliday with boos. Giants players watched and worried, fearing the worst for a fallen teammate. Manager Bruce Bochy and trainer Dave Groeschner ran out of the dugout to attend to Scutaro, who finally dusted off the dirt and stood up strongly.

And just like that, so did San Francisco's offense.

Scutaro singled in two runs during a four-run fourth inning before leaving with a hip injury, sparking San Francisco's first home win this postseason, 7-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night to tie the NL championship series at one game apiece.

``We felt for him,'' center fielder Angel Pagan said. ``We felt a little bit of anger.''

All those feelings came crashing down on the Cardinals in a hurry.

Scutaro left after the fifth because of a left hip he injured on a play Giants manager Bruce Bochy felt was illegal. X-rays were negative, and Scutaro likely will get an MRI exam on Tuesday. There was no word on his status, but closer Sergio Romo said when Scutaro left, the second baseman ``had a little smile on his face that he'd be back. Definitely not really worried right now.''

``In my opinion,'' right fielder Hunter Pence said, ``it pumped us up a little bit.''

The series now shifts to St. Louis for three games, starting Wednesday when San Francisco ace Matt Cain takes on Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals, and the Giants are already rallying behind the slide against Scutaro.

Things got testy when Holliday barreled into Scutaro at second base to break up the potential double play in the first inning. The play riled up fans that had seen three straight losses by the Giants so far this postseason and still hold fresh - and sensitive - memories of the home-plate collision that sidelined All-Star catcher Buster Posey most of last season.

``In hindsight, I wish I would have started the slide a little earlier, but it happened so fast,'' Holliday said. ``I hope he's OK, he's a good guy. I was more interested in breaking up the double play.''

There was plenty to cheer all night for Giants supporters.

Ryan Vogelsong pitched seven strong innings, Pagan hit a leadoff homer to give San Francisco its first home lead this postseason and Scutaro stayed in until breaking the game open with his single off Chris Carpenter.

``That shows you how tough he is,'' Bochy said. ``I really think they got away with an illegal slide there. That rule was changed a while back. And he really didn't hit dirt until he was past the bag. Marco was behind the bag and got smoked. It's a shame somebody got hurt because of this. That's more of a roadblock.''

Making Scutaro's hit even sweeter for the Giants was the fact that Holliday misplayed the ball in left field, allowing a third run to score on the error and Scutaro to advance to second.

``There's baseball gods. There's definitely baseball gods,'' said former Giants first baseman and current special assistant Will Clark, whose takeout slide in July 2008 of St. Louis second baseman Jose Oquendo, now the Cardinals third base coach, set off a brawl. ``There's a reason why he hits a (single) and Holliday boots the ball he hit. Baseball gods shine in weird ways.''

The Giants also benefited from a missed call by an umpire in the eighth inning after St. Louis center fielder Jon Jay made a spectacular, diving catch to rob Brandon Crawford of a hit.

Jay threw toward first and the Cardinals should have gotten a double play, but first base umpire Bill Miller did not see Allen Craig tag Gregor Blanco's jersey as he raced back to first on the play.

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny argued the call and the umpires huddled to discuss it, but they kept the safe call even though replays showed Craig made the tag. The Giants capitalized when Ryan Theriot hit a two-run single to make it 7-1.

``I'm not going to take a hard stance one way or another on the replay,'' Matheny said.

``That really wasn't the game today,'' he said. ``But every once in a while there's a big play that does change the course of the game and I'm not against having something else to help get it right.''

Back at Busch Stadium, Holliday will be cheered after being the target of boos all night following his aggressive play on the basepaths.

With runners on first and second and one out in the first, Craig hit a bouncer to Crawford, and the shortstop quickly flipped to Scutaro for the forceout. Holliday, a former high school football star in Oklahoma, came tumbling in and slid late into Scutaro, buckling his left leg to prevent the double play.

``A lot of guys take pride in breaking up double plays. Holliday is one of them,'' Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso said. ``On slowly hit balls you're going to get hit. You don't want anyone to get hurt, but I'm all for playing the game hard.''

Vogelsong got out of the jam by retiring Yadier Molina on a groundout to short.

``I just really was trying to make the next pitch to get the guy out so we could get him in the dugout,'' Vogelsong said.

Scutaro stayed in the game with a limp until being replaced in the sixth by Theriot. By then, he had done his damage with the bat in the big fourth inning.

The rally started innocently enough with a bloop, opposite field double by Brandon Belt and a chopper over third baseman David Freese by Blanco. Crawford then hit a bouncer between the mound and first base that Carpenter fielded and threw short and left of first base, allowing Belt to score. It appeared Crawford may have impeded Carpenter by running slightly inside the baseline, but the Cardinals did not argue the play.

After Vogelsong's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third, Pagan walked to load the bases with two outs and Scutaro lined his single to left-center that Holliday misplayed to the delight of Giants fans, putting Carpenter and the Cardinals into a 5-1 hole.

``He's a clutch hitter, he always has been, I know that since he's been over here,'' Carpenter said. ``He's not going to miss those opportunities.''

Vogelsong made the lead hold up by becoming the first Giants starter to make it through six innings this postseason. He allowed four hits and one run for his first career postseason win.

These teams have a history of contentious meetings in the NLCS, from Jeffrey Leonard's one-flap down home run trot in 1987 that riled up the Cardinals to a benches-clearing dustup 10 years ago when St. Louis reliever Mike Crudale buzzed Kenny Lofton after he showboated on a home run.

San Francisco answered with the bats this time as Pagan led off the bottom of the first with a homer - matching his feat from Game 4 of the division series against Cincinnati. The Giants had been outscored 20-6 and never led in two home losses to the Reds and the Game 1 defeat to the Cardinals.

Pagan's shot came soon after Scutaro was wiped out.

``I haven't seen the replay, so I can't judge if it was dirty or not,'' Pagan said. ``Any time you see a teammate fall down like that, you really feel for him.''

The Cardinals tied it in the second inning when Pete Kozma drew a two-out walk and scored on Carpenter's RBI double, his third hit already this postseason.

But Carpenter, making his fifth appearance in 2012 after complicated surgery to remove a rib and two neck muscles, wasn't nearly as sharp on the mound or in the field. He allowed five runs - two earned - and six hits in four innings, failing to add to his 10 career postseason wins.

NOTES: Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins is the only other player with two leadoff homers in a single postseason, doing it in 2008. ... Cardinals OF Carlos Beltran reached base three times, doubling twice and walking once. ... Giants 3B coach Tim Flannery performed the national anthem with the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.

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

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Morrissey to have hearing for body slamming Oshie, here’s why a suspension is likely

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USA Today

Morrissey to have hearing for body slamming Oshie, here’s why a suspension is likely

In what was an injury-filled day for the Capitals, the exclamation point of the night on Wednesday was a vicious body slam by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey to T.J. Oshie.

Late in the game, Oshie skated to the corner of the offensive zone after the puck while locked in a physical battle with Morrissey. Morrissey checked Oshie into the boards, then, as he was falling back, Morrissey slammed Oshie down to the ice. Oshie appeared dazed after the play and now Morrissey may have to answer for the play.

The Department of Player Safety announced Thursday that Morrissey will have a hearing for what it calls interference/unsportsmanlike conduct on Oshie. A date and time for the hearing have not yet been determined.

Chances are, Morrissey is not going to walk away from that hearing unscathed.

The DPS already set precedent for a similar hit earlier in the season when Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson slammed Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson to the ice. Matheson was suspended two games for the play.

Matheson’s suspension was a matter of some debate within the hockey community. Some say Matheson was only finishing his check and the play looked worse than it was because Pettersson is only 176 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lighter than Matheson. Morrissey will not be able to make that argument considering both he and Oshie are listed at 195 pounds by their respective teams.

Also working against Morrissey is the fact that he is a repeat offender after he was suspended in the 2018 playoffs for a cross-check to Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal.

With no practice on Thursday, it is unclear if Oshie has suffered any injury from the play, something else the DPS takes into consideration when determining suspensions. Considering his concussion history, however, seeing him slammed to the ice in the manner he was on Wednesday was a troubling sight.

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Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

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USA Today Sports

Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

The Washington Wizards improved to 5-9 with Wednesday’s 119-95 enjoyable destruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their three-game winning streak pushed the Wizards within 1 ½ games of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Nobody should burn much energy on the postseason chase in mid-November. However, history suggests trouble brewing if they don’t crack the top-8 this season by Nov. 26.

The date doesn’t actually matter. It’s about where it falls on Washington’s schedule. There is no true line of demarcation to indicate when those analyzing a team’s season can forgo with the “it’s still early” caveat.

Many suggest 20 regular season games eclipse small sample size talk. The Wizards hosts reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden and the Houston Rockets on that post-Thanksgiving evening.

When it comes to projecting which teams will make the playoffs, that 20-game marker proves quite accurate. That is why the Wizards need to continue surging.

Each season 16-playoff spots are available, split evenly between the Eastern and Western Conference. The league-wide schedule doesn’t work out cleanly where all NBA teams reach 20 games at the exact same time so we’ll use the Wizards’ as the pivot point.

Over the last five seasons, teams that occupied a playoff berth at the point where the Wizards played their 20th game held on to one of those 16 annual slots 83.7 percent of the time.

2017-18

East -- At the point Washington played 20 games, 7 of 8 teams seated in a playoff berth held on over the course of 82 games. The Pistons fell from second to the lottery while the Heat moved from 9th place into the elite eight. (Wizards start 7th at 11-9, finish 8th at 43-39)

West – 7 of 8. Nuggets fall; Thunder rise.

2016-17

East -- 5 of 8. Hornets, Knicks, Pistons; Pacers, Hawks, Wizards. (Wizards start 12th at 7-13, finish 4th at 49-33)

West – 8 for 8


2015-16

East -- 7 of 8. Bulls; Pistons. (Wizards start 11th at 9-11, finish 10th at 41-41)

West -- 7 of 8. Jazz; Blazers

2014-15

East -- 7 of 8. Magic; Celtics. (Wizards start T-2 at 14-6, finish 5th at 46-36)

West -- 7 of 8; Suns; Pelicans

2013-14

East -- 6 of 8. Pistons, Celtics; Raptors, Nets. (Wizards start 7th at 9-11, finish 5th at 44-38)

West -- 6 of 8. Nuggets, Suns; Warriors, Grizzlies.

Within each situation, explanations exist. The 2015-16 Bulls began the season with core players available, but their top-4 scorers including Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose missed a combined 50 games. Most of those absences came after the 20-game mark.

The 2017-18 Thunder needed an extra beat to find a rhythm with newly added All-Star Paul George. From an 8-20 start, they finished fourth in the Western Conference.

These 5-9 Wizards have their own tale. Eight of their opening 12 games were on the road. Washington lost six of eight. It also began the season without starting center Dwight Howard for the first seven games and opened 1-6.

“I think it’s different for team to team,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of how and when to assess teams early in seasons. “I think for [the Wizards], they’ve played a brutal schedule and then when you have a guy (Howard) who is going to be a big part of your team but is injured and couldn’t practice, it’s going to be longer even though they have a core group that has played together. …No matter what, schedule and health are a big part of it.”

Those aren’t the only factors, of course. Sometimes teams start as they finish. The Wizards going from 3-9 to 49 wins is often mentioned as the potential for this season, which began 2-9. Few note the 2015-16 campaign, the final one before head coach Scott Brooks’ arrival. That Washington team, loaded with upcoming free agents just like the current squad, essentially remained outside the playoff picture throughout.

Will these Wizards follow one of those paths or forge another? We’ll find out over the months ahead. Of course, just making the playoffs was never the goal for a team that reached the postseason in four of the previous five seasons. That’s according to Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round then we didn’t meet our goals,” Leonsis said in September.

For the franchise’s first 50-win since the 1978-79 season, the Wizards need a 45-23 record over the final 68 games. That 66.2 winning percentage required would have placed Washington third in the Eastern or Western Conference last season.

To advance to the conference finals, the Wizards likely need homecourt advantage in at least the first round. History suggests there isn’t much change among the top-4 seeds either. Eighty percent (40 of 50) of the top-4 seeds at the point when the Wizards have played 20 regular season games maintain that status.

2017

East -- 3 of 4; 76ers 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Thunder T-9th to 4th

2016

East -- 3 of 4 (Wizards 12th to 4th)

West – 4 of 4

2015

East -- 3 of 4; Hawks rose from 8th to 4th, but their 58.5 winning percentage remained the same

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 4th

2014

East -- 3 of 4; Bulls 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

2013

East -- 2 of 4; Raptors 9th to 3rd, Bulls 8th to 4th

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

If this three-game winning streak shows what is possible, the Wizards could reach the top-8 by the 20-game mark, though the schedule difficulty increases beyond Friday’s home meeting with Brooklyn. They don’t need to fix all their ills over the next week either.

“They say it’s a marathon, and it is,” Brooks said after the Wizards fell to 1-6 on Oct. 30 following a loss in Memphis.

Brooks’ point was and is fair, but off-kilter starts can doom even Olympic runners over long distances. At some point along the journey, the pace must increase and assessments over what’s transpired kick in.