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Disputed call takes spotlight in Cardinals' win

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Disputed call takes spotlight in Cardinals' win

ATLANTA (AP) Worried that more debris could fly out of the stands, St. Louis players scrambled off the field and launched a wild-card celebration in the safety of their clubhouse.

Players danced in a happy huddle. Champagne was sprayed. Then someone yelled ``Infield fly!''

Those were words that only the Cardinals could celebrate on this night.

Matt Holliday homered and St. Louis rallied from an early deficit, taking advantage of three Atlanta throwing errors - the most crucial of them by the retiring Chipper Jones - to beat Kris Medlen and the Braves 6-3 in a winner-take-all wild-card playoff Friday.

The defending World Series champion Cardinals will open their best-of-five division series against the Washington Nationals on Sunday in St. Louis. The Braves were one and done in this shortest of postseasons.

The Braves outhit the Cardinals 12-6 but stranded 10 baserunners, including three in a crazy eighth inning that included a disputed infield fly call by left field umpire Sam Holbrook.

Holbrook's call sparked immediate outrage from the sellout crowd of 52,631. As if given a go-ahead countdown to litter, fans tossed cans, bottles, cups and other debris from all corners of Turner Field.

The game was halted for 19 minutes while workers cleared up the mess.

``It was crazy,'' said St. Louis right-hander Kyle Lohse, who gave up two runs on six hits in 5 2-3 innings. ``You hate to see the fans lose control like that. Luckily nobody got hurt.''

The loss ended the Braves' record streak of 23 straight wins in games started by Medlen.

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said he decided during the delay if his team could close out the win, it should leave the field as quickly as possible. An on-field celebration before Braves fans would not be a good idea.

``So we made it very clear if we could finish that thing off, let's get inside the dugout as quick as we can, and go up to the clubhouse,'' Matheny said.

Braves manager Fred Gonzalez argued Holbrook's call on the field, but after the game he also spoke strongly against the fans' actions.

``I think we have very passionate fans here in Atlanta, and I think I'm a little disappointed with the reaction of throwing bottles and beer cans and you name it,'' Gonzalez said. ``For me, that's uncalled for.

``I understand the disappointment. But we can't do that. As Atlanta Braves and people from Georgia, it doesn't look good, and I'm a little disappointed in our fans from that point. You get people injured out there.''

The barrage left Holbrook fearing for his safety.

``When cans are flying past your head, yeah, a little bit,'' Holbrook said.

Braves president John Schuerholz apologized for the actions of the crowd, saying a ``small group of those fans acted in a manner that was uncharacteristic and unacceptable.''

The Braves played the game under protest. Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre said the protest was denied. Then Braves general manager Frank Wren withdrew the complaint.

It was another heartbreaking loss in the playoffs, especially for the 40-year-old Jones.

He managed an infield hit in his final at-bat but threw away a double play ball in the fourth, which led to a three-run inning that wiped out Atlanta's 2-0 lead behind Medlen.

``Ultimately, I feel I'm the one to blame,'' Jones said.

But this one-and-done game will be remembered for disputed call in the eighth.

The Braves thought they had the bases loaded with one out after the ball fell between two fielders. But Holbrook called Andrelton Simmons out under the infield fly rule - even though the ball landed at least 50 feet beyond the dirt.

Holbrook defended the call, even after he looked at the replay.

``Once that fielder established himself, he got ordinary effort,'' he said, referring to shortstop Pete Kozma calling for the ball, then veering away at the last moment as left fielder Holliday drifted in. ``That's when the call was made.''

The stoppage only delayed the inevitable. When play resumed, Brian McCann walked to load the bases but Michael Bourn struck out to end the threat. Dan Uggla grounded out with two aboard in the ninth to finish it, leading to one more wave of trash throwing as the umps scurried off the field.

The infield fly is a complicated rule, designed to prevent infielders from intentionally dropping a popup with more than one runner on base and perhaps get an extra out.

No one could ever remember it being applied like this. And, after past postseasons dotted by contested calls, this play will certainly lead to another slew of October cries for more instant replay.

``I was under it,'' Kozma said. ``I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it. I was camped under it.''

Added Matheny: ``Guys could have made the whole thing a lot easier if we made the play.''

Holliday homered in the sixth off Medlen, who had been baseball's most dominant starter over the final two months. The Braves had not lost a start by the diminutive right-hander since May 23, 2010 at Pittsburgh.

The Braves haven't won a playoff round since 2001. Since then, they've gone 0 for 7 - including six decisive losses at Turner Field.

David Ross, starting in place of the slumping, ailing McCann hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Lohse.

On the 1-2 pitch before the homer, Ross asked for time just before Lohse's delivery. Ross then swung and missed, but umpire Jeff Kellog granted the timeout.

That call worked out for the Braves. Ross homered on the next pitch.

Carlos Beltran led off the fourth with the first hit of the game off Medlen, a bloop single to right. Holliday followed with a hard shot to third base. Jones made a nice backhanded scoop before making a wild throw over the head of Uggla, winding up in right field. The error put runners on second and third with no outs.

Allen Craig lined a double off the left-field wall, cutting Atlanta's lead to 2-1. Molina followed with a groundout that brought home another run and moved to Craig over to third. He trotted home on a sacrifice fly by David Freese, the hero of last year's postseason.

The Braves totally fell apart in the seventh, and Freese was right in the middle of things again. He led off with a routine grounder to Uggla, who bobbled it briefly, then unnecessarily rushed his throw to first. It wasn't close, the ball sailing off behind home plate while Freese took second. Daniel Descalso bunted pinch-runner Adron Chambers over to third, and Chad Durbin replaced Medlen.

Durbin got what he wanted from Kozma - a grounder to the drawn-in infield. But Simmons bobbled the ball and hurriedly threw it all the way to the backstop as Chambers slid across head first to make it 5-2. Kozma took second on the miscue, and he came all the way around to score on another ball that didn't get out of the infield. Matt Carpenter's bunt down the first-base line was fielded by the third pitcher of the inning, Jonny Venters, who missed a swipe tag and, with his back turned, failed to notice that Kozma kept right on running to make it 6-2.

``We played to win the game,'' Molina said. ``They played to lose the game.''

Medlen, who went 10-1 during the regular season, surrendered just three hits and give runs, only two earned, in 6 1-3 innings.

Jason Motte earned a save by getting the final four outs, taking over after the delay.

NOTES: The Braves outhit the Cardinals 12-6 but left 10 runners on base. St. Louis stranded only two. ... Lohse (16-3) and Medlen had a combined record of 26-4 during the regular season. The cumulative win percentage of .867 was the highest ever for opposing postseason starters, edging the .850 mark of California's John Candelaria (10-2) and Boston's Roger Clemens (24-4) in the 1986 AL championship series.

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How to celebrate the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

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How to celebrate the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

Summertime; the time of year when you only look at your calendar to make sure you haven’t double-booked yourself for your ritual weekend brunches, or the time of year you exhaust every vacation day you’ve stored up over the course of the year to get the kids somewhere near their grandparents so you can continue to work on that ever-elusive summer dad-bod. Either one is a win in my book.

Summer also gives birth to one of the rare occasions when there can be three to four different DC-sports related activities all occurring within the same 24-hour timeframe. Thursday, June 20, is THAT day!

Who’s playing? Is there a chance I can attend the game? If not, how do you watch them all? These burning questions are about to be answered faster than you can ride down the escalator at the Pentagon City Metro Station…I think. So, let’s hurry and get started.

We’ll run through these one at a time, in chronological order!

Event 1: Soccer: 3 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

The US Women’s National Team takes the pitch against Sweden as they look to continue their international dominance in the Women’s World Cup. And yes, it’s DC team because we’re the nation’s Capital.

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

These women are the best Soccer players on the planet; having showcased their proficiency for many years on the world stage. Remember they put up 13 against Thailand in their first match! Don’t miss an opportunity to witness history in the making.  

3.       How to watch/attend?

You can either pull up to Dulles and jump on the next flight to France, or you can be like the rest of us Super-geniuses and tune in at 3 p.m. to watch it from the comfort of your favorite Soccer bar. Make sure to buy a round for anyone rocking a USWNT jersey; #OneNationOneTeam. USA, USA, USA!!!

Event 2: Baseball: 7 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

 The Washington Nationals are wrapping up a 4-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

This is the last day of Bryce Harper in THIS city until September. HALLELUJAH! 

3.       How to watch/attend?

First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. so you can either slide by the park and enjoy the smorgasbord of delicacies offered at Nats park, or you can tune in on the tube. I suggest hitting the park and booing Harper until you lose your voice! Tell your boss it’s my fault you’re hoarse. It won’t be the first time someone did that.

Event 3:  Football: 7 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

The Washington Valor are back home in Capital One Arena for another chapter in their I-95 battle with their rivals the Baltimore Brigade.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

 The Valor won the AFL XXXI crown against the Brigade, on their home field. Baltimore hasn’t forgotten that sting in the least bit. Plus, COA has a wicked Bud Light Party Zone where you can catch unlimited beer and perhaps a football from the field. If you haven't seen and AFL game in person, then you're missing out on some really fun action. They even let you down on the field after the game for autographs and pics with the players.

3.       How to watch/attend?

 Kickoff is at 7 p.m. whether you’re at the Arena or not. Since the Nats game is at the same time, you may have to decide which game to see in person and which one to stream on your phone. Hint: the Valor game is on NBC Sports Washington so there’s that. And, if the Nats game gets rained out, then problem solved and see you in the party zone! 

Event 4: Basketball(NBA): 8 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

 NOBODY, derp! But, it’s the NBA draft and frankly put, I couldn’t be more excited it’s finally here.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

 This is the first official activation in the post-Grunfeld era for the Wizards. More importantly, this will be the first chance for Wiz fans to wrap their minds around the new direction the team will be taking. Optimism starts here!

3.       How to watch/attend?

Unless you feel like traveling to see the Draft in person, I highly suggest you tune in to NBC Sports Washington for full draft coverage on ‘Wizards on the Clock’ starting at 6:30 p.m.  In my humble opinion, you won’t find better comprehensive coverage. You can watch on TV or via the MyTeams App while you’re at the Nats game booing Bryce if you’re slick with multi-tasking.

Event 4: Basketball(WNBA): 10 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

 Your Washington Mystics are out in Sin City to take on the Las Vegas Aces. Note: Bill Laimbeer sighting!

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

 The Aces sit atop the Western Conference with Australian native Liz Cambage (she can BALL) holding down the paint. It’s going to be a good test for the Mystics and you’ll get a chance to see how unrelentingly talented Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and crew really are. Buckets, the Mystics get buckets!

3.       How to watch/attend?

I know the temptation to hit Vegas is rising by the moment but fret not. You can save a ton of money and possibly help your best bud save his fragile relationship by staying in DC and catching the game at 10 p.m. on Monumental Sports Network/NBC Sports Washington.

Now you know how to do it while maintaining some semblance of sanity, and you can even keep a running tab on who’s been the most DC among your friends. I’m certain we’ll have another opportunity for this phenomenon when Fall comes back around, but for now, let’s all enjoy the summer and all the games therein!

 

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Max Scherzer loses a round, but wins the fight

Max Scherzer loses a round, but wins the fight

WASHINGTON -- Everything outside the damage framing his right eye was standard when Max Scherzer walked toward right field around 6:40 p.m. Wednesday. He went through his usual running routine before graduating to long toss with bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez then moving into the bullpen, where Kurt Suzuki waited.

As Scherzer warmed, fans lined up against the silver rail in section 127. The second bullpen catcher, Nilson Robledo, sat on a folding chair. Martinez stood and moved his head left to right as warmup pitches sizzled past. Pitching coach Paul Menhart flanked Scherzer with a towel over his right shoulder. When Scherzer took a water break during warmups, Menhart took his towel, wrapped it around Scherzer’s neck then scrubbed the sweat from his head and bruised eye while looking every bit the part of corner man. Only the Q-tip and vaseline were absent.

At question when the day began was if Scherzer would even make it this far. Scherzer was still asleep when manager Davey Martinez met with reporters in the morning before the doubleheader against Philadelphia began. Martinez was under the impression then Scherzer would pitch later in the evening, but did not know that for sure until Scherzer woke up, called trainer Paul Lessard and said he was ready to go. Not long after he confirmed himself ready, Scherzer arrived at the park where he practiced bunting in the batting cage. He finished his session with swings and a shout of “Let’s go!”

A final exultant spin and slap of the glove followed an 86-mph slider that closed Scherzer’s night -- forever the “Blackeye game” -- and sent it into lore three hours after he warmed up. A day after becoming national news, and being laughed at by his wife, Erica, for bloodying himself in BP, Scherzer threw seven scoreless innings for an ascending Nationals team which swept a doubleheader from Philadelphia. The opener was a 6-2 win. The nightcap a 2-0 victory anchored by Scherzer’s ornery performance while the swelling under his eye jiggled.

Before he arrived Wednesday, Martinez decided to dispatch fresh black T-shirts which said, “Stay in the fight” on the front and “162+” on the back -- a creation from him and director of mental conditioning, Mark Campbell. “I thought it was perfect timing to get them out,” Martinez said.

Asked about the “plus” on the back, Martinez added, “That’s what you play for.”

Such swagger would prompt eye-rolls three weeks ago when the Nationals staggered home from New York. Martinez’s job was in jeopardy -- to a degree. The season was in severe jeopardy. They are 15-7 since, a run good enough to push them three games under .500 for the first time since April 29. The spiraling Mets lost, so Washington hopped them into third place. The Nationals had not held that position since April 19.

Pitch 117 from Scherzer is one of the reasons they arrived in such a spot. He was tiring, J.T. Realmuto was up, and the tying run was on second. It was at-bat number 40 for Realmuto against Scherzer. General familiarity is one thing. To have faced an astute catcher that many times was another, which is why the final strike provided Scherzer so much sizzle when he left the mound.

“When Realmuto gets in the box, we've had a ton of history and we've faced each other so much, I just know it comes down to execution,” Scherzer said. “I was able to get ahead in the count and execute a good slider. That's where [Kurt Suzuki] and I, that just shows you where Zuk and I are at. I was praying for him to throw down a 1-2 slider and he called it. I was on the mound, just hey, just execute this, execute this, stay through this, don’t' get too far ahead of yourself, and was able to throw the pitch exactly the way I wanted to and get out of a jam and keep that a 1-0 ballgame.”

Realmuto became Scherzer’s 10th strikeout. Jean Segura made it to third base in the first inning. No other Phillies runner made it past second against Scherzer. His ERA has dropped to 2.62. He leads the National League in strikeouts. He doesn’t miss starts -- makes his “posts” as he calls them in old-time fashion -- whenever they come up. “Competitiveness” is always referenced when speaking reverently of Scherzer. Perhaps “reliability” is a more rewarding word. The first, presumably, leads to the latter.

“It’s probably one of the most impressive things -- I can’t let him hear me, I can’t toot Max too much to his face,” Brian Dozier said when looking for clearance in the clubhouse. “It really is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in awhile. He’s probably the best pitcher in our generation and you don’t get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day no matter if you’re doing good, doing bad, got a broken nose, you always want the ball.”

“I was kind of joking with him, ‘Oh you’re throwing today?’ He kind of gave me the go-to-hell look. ‘Of course, I’m throwing today, what do you mean?’ That’s Max. It showed up today. He had really good stuff. Some of the best stuff I’ve seen.“

It was a visceral drama. Scherzer said the pain was limited, which left his pride likely more damaged than his face. Years of needling circled back at him following his viral gaffe in batting practice. Jokes about his appearance following a broken nose were made in the clubhouse. An NC State football helmet Trea Turner typically keeps in his locker was on the floor in front of Scherzer’s chair. A hand-written note was taped to a corner wall next to Scherzer’s locker with advice: “If you try bunting tonight, please do us all a favor and wear this.” The line to razz an incessant needler filled deep and quick.

“My phone's been blowing up, everybody calling and giving me flak,” Scherzer said. “I love it. If you can't talk trash on me right now, you never will.”

With that, he smiled, and the blood-filled pocket under his eye was raised. He could laugh 36 hours later after becoming a national punchline because showing up and getting it done is always a way to have the final say. He did both Wednesday.

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