Nats bullpen shines in win over Cardinals

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Nats bullpen shines in win over Cardinals

From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, pinch hitter Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday in an NL playoff opener.The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez.Reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Adam Wainwright, failing to capitalize enough on Gonzalez's career high-tying seven walks and frustrating its towel-waving fans.A standing room crowd of 47,078, among the largest at 7-year-old Busch Stadium, bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled hitters for several innings.Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma misplayed Michael Morse's grounder for an error to open the eighth and set up the Nationals' go-ahead rally. Ian Desmond followed with a single off Mitchell Boggs for his third hit of the game, putting runners at the corners.Danny Espinsoa sacrificed, leaving runners at second and third, and Kurt Suzuki struck out. In a series of moves, the Nationals sent up Chad Tracy to pinch hit, the Cardinals switched to lefty Marc Rzepczynski and Washington subbed in Moore, who had two of their three pinch homers this season.Moore poked an outside pitch to right field and both runners scored easily.Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in strikeouts since Bob Gibson also fanned 10 to beat the Tigers in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series.Wainwright was a 14-game winner coming off reconstructive elbow surgery that sidelined him all of 2011, with 10 of the wins coming at home. He's been a postseason ace with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.He fanned Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman twice each and seventh-place hitter Espinosa all three times.Gonzalez allowed just one hit in five innings, on David Freese's full-count bouncer between third and short to start the fourth. But he had trouble finding catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove.The second inning was Gonzalez' shakiest when he allowed the Cardinals to score twice and take the lead without a hit. Gonzalez walked four of the first five hitters, putting St. Louis in position to score one run on a wild pitch and a second on Jon Jay's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a two-run homer off with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh, ranging far to his left to glove Harper's grounder and then throwing him out by a few steps.

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Takeaways from Wizards' win over Atlanta Hawks behind big fourth quarter from John Wall and Bradley Beal

Takeaways from Wizards' win over Atlanta Hawks behind big fourth quarter from John Wall and Bradley Beal

The Wizards and Atlanta Hawks are slumping, and Wednesday they didn’t do anything to cure their woes on the offensive end.

Somebody, however, had to win and in the final six minutes the team with the superior talent -- the Wizards -- finally created the separation needed behind their defense and backcourt play with a 14-4 run to pull out a 104-1oo victory at Verizon Center in front of 18,137.

Bradley Beal (28 points, nine rebounds) led Washington to end a two-game skid followed by John Wall (22 points, 10 assists), Otto Porter (10 points, eight rebounds) and Markieff Morris (13 points, seven rebounds).

The Wizards (43-28) trailed for most of the game and took the lead in the fourth quarter on a three-pointer from Kelly Oubre (five points, four rebounds).

Both sides traded baskets but the tone of the game changed when Morris went at Ersan Ilyasova to exploit his matchup advantage in the fourth. In between, Wall and Beal had dunks off of steals and Morris had an and-1 of his own when going at Ilyasova in the paint.

The Wizards pushed their lead quickly to double digits but it was trimmed to three in the final minute.  Wall’s pullup jumper pushed the advantage to 101-96 to stop Atlanta’s momentum and then had a steal to seal the outcome.

Tim Hardaway (29 points) led the Hawks who lost their fifth game in a row and were playing without two starters, Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore because of knee soreness. Dwight Howard (14 points, 16 rebounds) and Dennis Schroder (18 points, six assists) contributed but the Hawks lost their fifth game in a row and continue to slide down the East standings.

[RELATED: No early-season panic for Leonsis; he trusted the analytics]

--The second unit trimmed the deficit to 30-28 early in the second quarter, but when the Wizards went back to their starters it quickly climbed to 39-30. Open shots didn’t fall and they allowed the Hawks to get easy looks in transition. On one possession, Wall posted up Schroder and four teammates watched it. He threw the ball away because he had no passing angle when a double-team came from Taurean Prince. At least Prince’s man has to move without the ball to make himself available for the kickout and a high-percentage look.

--The Hawks are a top-10 team when it comes to isolation offense, which is surprising because they’re not talented enough to be one. They repeatedly went into Howard in clearouts vs. Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi (four points, 10 rebounds) without much success. The only good iso heavy teams in the NBA in the top 10 are Cleveland and Toronto and that’s because they have superior 1-on-1 players in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan. The Hawks? Not so much. The Wizards were better off when Atlanta, which flourished in recent years because of ball movement with the now-departed Kyle Korver and Al Horford, used this strategy.

--Wall missed all eight of his shots in the first half and didn’t score. He finally made his first shot on a three-pointer at 10:58 of the third quarter and compensated for his poor shooting by forcing whistles. Wall appeared to make a more concerted effort to draw whistles and it worked. He got into the paint and appeared about to pass the ball but instead threw up a difficult shot and got a foul called. Schroder was too hands-on attempting to defend Wall on a screen and Wall immediately launched a shot. The whistle came shortly after and he was awarded three foul shots.

--Foul trouble again impacted Morris who picked up his third 37 seconds into the third quarter. He was only 2-for-7 shooting and had missed both of his three-point attempts at the time. His production coupled with Marcin Gortat (four points, six rebounds) has leveled off as a result. Gortat avoided fouls but focused more on defending Howard than looking for his offense.

--The rebounding issues the Wizards had in a loss to Boston, when they allowed 20 offensive, was flipped. They had a 55-44 edge in overall rebounding and 18-11 offensively.

[RELATED: Wizards' Brooks has little sympathy in NBA rest debate]

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Wizards coach Scott Brooks has little sympathy for NBA players who rest just to rest

Wizards coach Scott Brooks has little sympathy for NBA players who rest just to rest

With the playoffs right around the corner and the regular season winding down, the NBA has lately been dominated by the debate around resting superstar players. The Warriors did it recently in a nationally televised game against the Spurs. Then, the Cavs rested Lebron James and then Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on other occasions.

Former players like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley have weighed in. John Wall even said the league has gotten softer. And since league commissioner Adam Silver has vowed to fix what he sees as a major problem for the sport.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks comes from Malone and Barkley's era, as a 10-year NBA player who entered the league in 1988. Now he is a coach, so he can relate to both generations.

On Wednesday he shared his thoughts in depth on the issue and, though he understands the practice, has little sympathy for players who want to rest just to rest.

"There's certain cases and certain examples and certain players that probably need it. But that's very rare in my opinion," he said. "You're talking basketball. It's 32 minutes a night. This is not hard work. This is fun. Rest, to me rest is a good night sleep. I've seen coaches and players do it in the beginning of the season or after the All-Star break. To me, rest is a good night's rest and taking care of your body and being prepared to play. Hard work is a lot of things that a lot of other people do that are not athletes and coaches. It's hard to do and we're all blessed and privileged. But the rest thing is blown out of proportion, in my opinion. You're talking about a game that we love."

For Brooks, it is simple. He wants players to do their job.

"I think we're all obligated to earn our keep. We all sign contracts to play games and play as many minutes as the coach wants you to play. I think it's important. I don't know what has changed. Obviously, when I played you didn't sit out games. You didn't even sit out practices. There was a lot of trash talking if you sat out a practice. You didn't want to be called those names. So, you took pride. You can imagine some of the names: soft and Charmin, there's all kinds of [names]. I'm going to keep it PG. I've read comments on how much [technology and training methods] have these days and you want rest on top of that? Some players need it. There's no question."

All of this even inspired Brooks to bring up a 'back in my day' story from his playing career. And it's a good one.

"I wouldn't say that players were tougher. They weren't given options. We weren't given options. We weren't given the option to take practice off. Our practices were long," he said. "I'm pretty good [these days]. My knees are hurting, my back is aching and my elbows hurt, my ankles hurt. But I wouldn't change anything. I loved what I did. I loved to compete. I had toothaches twice and I wanted to play the game, so I told the dentist to take them out. He said 'you're going to have trouble when you're 75 and trying to chew.' I said 'I'll worry about that then. I did do that. But that was nothing."

[RELATED: BTR: To rest or not to rest? NBA's issue is bigger than that]