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A Beltway Battle that finally matters

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A Beltway Battle that finally matters

There's a bit of a misnomer circulating around the region that this weekend's Battle of the Beltways marks the first time winning baseball teams from Washington and Baltimore have ever faced each other.

Not true. On April 16, 1970, the 4-3 Washington Senators traveled up the road to Memorial Stadium and beat the 5-2 Baltimore Orioles before a rabid throng of 4,674. Frank Howard homered off Jim Palmer. Davey Johnson went 0-for-3 with a walk.

It was a rare, shining moment for baseball in the District against its rivals from Charm City, a perennial American League contender in the 1960s and early 1970s while the Senators languished at or near the bottom of the junior circuit.

"It never was much of a rivalry, because the Orioles used to do a little whupping up on people over here," Johnson said yesterday. "But right now, I think we're evenly matched ballclubs, pretty good, young clubs. So I'm excited about it, and hopefully the fans around will be excited."

Indeed, there's plenty of reason for fans of both local baseball teams to be excited about the latest interleague matchup between the Nats (23-15) and O's (25-14), who for the first time in more than four decades find themselves squaring off while sporting winning records.

Actually, tonight's series opener would have pitted a pair of first-place clubs if not for the Nationals' 5-3 loss to the Pirates last night, which coupled with the Braves' win dropped Washington to 12-game back in the NL East.

Nevertheless, this weekend perhaps offers a glimpse into what many around baseball hoped could be the case when the Expos relocated to the District eight years ago: Two successful franchises in these two, connected markets.

There's been precious little on-field success for either the Nationals or Orioles since then. Though each did surprisingly find themselves in contention early during the summer of 2005, each wound up fading down the stretch and finishing well back of the pack.

The Nats franchise hasn't posted a winning record since it won 83 games in Montreal in 2003 (managed by former Orioles great Frank Robinson). Baltimore hasn't finished above .500 since the 1997 club (managed by Johnson) captured the AL East crown with 98 wins.

There's a strong sense around South Capitol Street that this Nationals squad will finally get over the hump this season, led by the majors' best pitching staff. There's still some skepticism over the Orioles' chances of maintaining this pace, though with each passing day they're winning over more supporters.

"I follow them," Johnson said. "I watch them on TV. I know what kind of a lineup they have. It's pretty potent. They've got some great young pitchers."

Whether this ever develops into a true rivalry remains to be seen, especially with realignment next year shaking up the way interleague games are scheduled.

For now, both sides can simply enjoy this new, winning component to an annual series that to date has meant far more to fans than to the men in uniform.

"I just hope I don't hear during the National Anthem the 'O's' too loud," Johnson said.

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Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

When it comes to sports, we sometimes forget that the athletes we look up to are just normal people.  Normal people who have a lot to prove to millions of people on a weekly basis.  Former Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel has discussed one his human moments in an interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis.

Ankiel admitted to drinking vodka during his plight as a pitcher. He referenced his first two starts of the 2001 season, in particular against the his opener Arizona Diamondbacks where he allowed his anxiety to giving in to alcohol to soothe him. In the previous postseason, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to throw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

It may have worked for a couple of games but Ankiel eventually realized it was only making matters worse.

Ankiel began playing in the MLB at the age of 19 and has had a fluctuating career through six teams.  All the while, he has keep a “never give up” mentality.

Why the sudden need to vent? The St. Louis baseball pitcher is getting up close and personal with his upcoming book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life” which is co-written with sports writer, Tim Brown will be released on April 18.  

His two seasons with the Nationals, resulted in 127 hits and 52 RBIs as an outfielder. 

MORE NATS: Can't miss Nationals promotional schedule

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Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

The Washington Nationals have signed former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters to a one-year deal with a player option for a second year, according to multiple reports. 

Wieters spent the first eight years in the Majors with the Baltimore Orioles, being named to the AL All-Star team four times and winning two gold glove awards. Last season the switch-hitting catcher posted a .243 average with 17 homers and 66 RBI.  

The Nationals have been in the market for catchers all offseason after Wilson Ramos left for Tampa Bay in free agency. The team traded for former Padres catcher Derek Norris, whose role is now in question. The Nationals still have Jose Lobaton on the roster as a strong defensive backup catcher who has a proven rapport with many of the pitchers in the Nationals rotation. Wieters had been linked to the Nationals all offseason because of the team's need a the position and because of the Nationals close relationship with Wieters' agent Scott Boras. 

The only significant time that Wieters has missed due to injury in his career came in 2014-15 when he had Tommy John surgury. Prior to that surgury, however, Wieters had played in at least 130 games for four straight seasons and became a large part of the Orioles' identity. 

The 30-year-old backstop will give the Nationals lineup more depth and power. Wieters had three consecutive 20-homer seasons from 2011-13 and since 2009 when his career began, he ranks fifth among catchers in all of baseball in home runs with 117. 

Related: Nationals 2017 promotional schedule includes snow globes and fedoras