This guy is the first pitcher to reach 21 wins

898935.jpg

This guy is the first pitcher to reach 21 wins

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Hoping for a big team celebration soon, Gio Gonzalez checked off a few more individual accomplishments.Gonzalez became the first 21-game winner in the majors, Michael Morse hit two homers and the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 Thursday night to move closer to an NL East title.Bryce Harper also connected for the playoff-bound Nationals, who reduced their magic number to three. They have a four-game lead over Atlanta with six to play."We have to keep fighting," Gonzalez said. "It won't be easy. We just want to do what we've been doing all year."Gonzalez (21-8) settled down after a shaky start and lasted six innings, allowing three runs and six hits. He's the first NL lefty to win more than 20 games since Dontrelle Willis won 22 for the Florida Marlins in 2005. His 21 wins are a franchise best and the most by a pitcher in the nation's capital since Bob Porterfield had 22 for the Washington Senators in 1953.Gonzalez and Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (20-6) are considered the leading candidates for the NL Cy Young Award.The Phillies closed out their home schedule with a loss that left them on the brink of postseason elimination. They trail St. Louis by six games for the second wild-card spot with six games remaining. They finished 40-41 at home, their first losing record at 9-year-old Citizens Bank Park."We competed. We never gave up when people never thought we'd even be mentioned for a playoff spot," slugger Ryan Howard said.The Nationals already are the first major league team in D.C. to reach the postseason in 79 years. They're looking for their first division crown since moving to Washington and the second in franchise history. The Montreal Expos won the NL East in 1981, a strike-shortened season."We've got three more we've got to win," manager Davey Johnson said.Tyler Cloyd (2-2) got roughed up by an offense that feasted on his straight fastballs. Cloyd, who was 15-1 in the minors this season, allowed six runs and six hits in five-plus innings.Cloyd walked Danny Espinosa to start the fifth and Jayson Werth with two outs. Harper then hit a soft liner to left for a single, scoring Espinosa for a 4-3 lead.Morse crushed a two-run shot to right-center to give the Nationals a 6-3 lead in the sixth. The ball sailed over Philadelphia's bullpen and landed in front of Washington's relievers, traveling an estimated 448 feet."It felt real good coming off the bat," Morse said. "It's been a tough year for me, but the team's played great and everybody has been picking up for everybody."Harper ripped one out to right-center to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the first. He also homered in his first at-bat Wednesday to become the second teenager to hit 20 homers, joining Tony Conigliaro.Darin Ruf lined a three-run double over Harper's head to put the Phillies up 3-1 in the first."I was a little bit out of whack," Gonzalez said about walking two batters in front of Ruf. "I was like a split personality out there, talking to myself trying to figure it out. I really wanted to make a quality start."Ruf earned the nickname "Babe" by leading all minor leaguers with 38 homers this season, breaking Howard's single-season record at Double-A Reading. He hit his first homer Tuesday in his third at-bat and first start.Morse connected in the second to cut it to 3-2.The Phillies acquired Gonzalez from the Chicago White Sox along with Aaron Rowand and another minor leaguer in 2005. They traded him back to the White Sox with Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia in 2006 in what turned out to be the worst trade by Hall of Famer Pat Gillick in his three years as Phillies general manager.Gonzalez has won at least 15 games three straight years and is a two-time All-Star. Floyd has won double-digit games five consecutive seasons. Garcia won one game for Philadelphia.NOTES:Ross Grimsley was the only other pitcher in NationalsExpos history to win 20 games. He did it in 1978. ... Morse became the sixth player to hit 15 homers for the Nationals, most in franchise history. It was his second multihomer game of the season and fifth of his career. ... Harper is three homers shy of matching Conigliaro, who hit 24 for the Boston Red Sox in 1964. ... The Phillies lead the majors in attendance at 3,565,718. ... Cliff Lee (6-8) faces Mark Buehrle (13-13) when the Phillies start a three-game series at Miami on Friday night. ... Edwin Jackson (9-10) tries to become the fifth Washington starter to win 10 games when the Nationals visit St. Louis on Friday.

Quick Links

Jay Beagle capitalizes on rare overtime opportunity

Jay Beagle capitalizes on rare overtime opportunity

Jay Beagle wears a lot of hats for the Capitals, such as No. 1 penalty killing forward and face-off specialist.

On Saturday night, he added ‘overtime hero’ to his list of roles.

Beagle scored the game-winner 19 seconds into extra session to lift the Capitals to a 4-3 victory in Dallas—their first win over the Stars since 2008.    

As big as the goal was for the Caps, it was just as significant for Beagle.

His 10th goal of the season, it matched the career-high he established in 2014-15. The fourth line center now has 36 games left to set a new personal best. (He’s already equaled his career high for assists with 10).

RELATED: Caps snap Dallas curse with overtime thriller

“Obviously, it’s something I’ve been trying to do,” Beagle told reporters when asked about the improvements he’s made to his game each year. “But I’m playing with great players. Something like [the winner] where [Evgeny Kuznetsov] gives me a pass like that. And [Daniel] Winnik and [Tom] Wilson; I’ve been with them almost all year. We have great chemistry and the line’s rolling. It’s unreal playing with them. I can just jump on board.”

Beagle's goal at American Airlines Center was arguably his biggest of the year as it helped the Caps complete their comeback from a 3-1 deficit against a team they rarely beat.

It was also interesting that he even got the chance to score it.

Beagle helped the Caps beat Toronto in overtime earlier this month by winning the all-important opening faceoff and then heading to the bench to change for Alex Ovechkin. This time, however, Coach Barry Trotz instructed Beagle to stay on the ice.

“He kept us in the game early” with his penalty killing, Trotz explained. “He won a lot of big draws. I felt like he deserved that opportunity.”

The result was a dramatic game winner.

“I haven’t played much 3 on 3, but Coach told me go out there and stay out there,” Beagle said. “Kuzy called it right off the hop—he said we’re scoring. He made an unbelievable play, put it right on my tape in front. With his speed you just have to go to the dirty area and he’ll get you the puck.”

Indeed, Beagle made a bee line for the net, where he stopped and snapped Kuznetsov's slick pass from behind the net past Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen.

Of Beagle’s 10 goals this season, seven have come against Central Division opponents (four vs. the Blackhawks and one apiece vs. Jets, Blues and Stars).

“I can’t, no,” Beagle cracked, asked if he could explain why he’s so successful against the Central. “I didn’t know that stat.”

Beagle, however, didn’t have any trouble explaining the Caps’ comeback in Big D.

“Our power play got some chances and got two big goals,” he said, referring to Washington’s second and third tallies, both scored on the man advantage early in the third period. “It was never in doubt. We’re playing good right now. We’re playing confident. We came in here in the second intermission and said, ‘We’re taking this game over and we’re going to win.’”

The Caps are now 11-0-2 in their last 13 games and 31-1-5 all-time when Beagle scores a goal.

MORE CAPITALS: Bloody Brett Ritchie leaves ice after fight with Tom Wilson

Quick Links

Capitals snap curse of the Dallas Stars with overtime thriller

Capitals snap curse of the Dallas Stars with overtime thriller

It took a two-goal comeback and overtime, but the Caps walk away the 4-3 winners over the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

How it happened: Andre Burakovsky and Adam Cracknell traded goals in the first period, but things seemed to get away from the Caps in the second. Patrik Nemeth backhanded an innocent looking shot on net, but Phillip Grubauer fumbled it leaving a juicy rebound at the top of the crease which Patrick Eaves roofed. Jamie Benn then put the Stars up by two with a controversial goal that was reviewed for goalie interference. Washington responded in the third period, however, as both Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie struck on the power play to force overtime. Jay Beagle finished the game off just 19 seconds into overtime with his 10th goal of the season.

What it means: The win was Washington’s first over Dallas since 2008, snapping a nine-game losing streak to Dallas. The Caps have now won 11 in their past 12 games. Washington also maitained their two-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets after Columbus' win over Carolina earlier Saturday.

Starting strong: It should come as no surprise that Burakovsky got the scoring started on Saturday since he’s made a habit of that lately. Since getting scratched three games for his lack of production, Burakovsky has scored seven goals. Five of those were the first goal of the game. Burakovsky now has scored the first goal in four straight games and the Caps have scored first in 10 straight.

First period fisticuffs: Things got chippy in the first period as Tom Wilson dropped the gloves with Brett Ritchie and just three seconds later, Daniel Winnik was locked in a fight with Dallas agitator Antoine Roussell.

Goal or no goal?: Dallas' third goal came in controversial fashion. As Grubauer shifted to his right, his left skate was clipped by the skate of Benn that appeared to briefly knock Grubauer off balance. Grubauer recovered to make a save on an Eaves deflection, but the puck bounced to Benn for the easy tap in. The goal was waved off immediately, but after a review, the goal was awarded to Dallas. The issue is whether Grubauer had enough time to reset after the initial contact from Benn. At least, that's what we thought the issue was. The NHL's explanation of the review stated, "After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line."

Clutch save: Locked in a tie game in the third period, Tyler Seguin had what looked like an easy goal, but Grubauer got over just in time for the incredible blocker save. Watch it here.

The curse continues: Despite the win, Washington still has not won in regulation in Dallas since Oct. 17, 1995. They will have to wait until next season to get another shot.

Look ahead: Washington returns home for a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday before heading out on another road trip starting Tuesday. On that trip, the Caps will visit the Ottawa Senators and  New Jersey Devils before breaking for the All-Star break.