There’s never been much doubt about Juan Soto’s greatness as a baseball player, but yesterday he did something that I found impressive and further convinced me he will one day finish his career – barring injury – as one of the best of all time.
I’m not talking about the boneheaded play he made, standing at home plate staring up at a towering foul ball he had just hit as if it were a UFO getting ready to land on South Capital Street. He thought it was going to end up in the stands, and when the wind blew it back into the field of play, the surprised Soto then took off for first, was thrown out, and a run that would have scored had he run from the first second he made contact, ended up not being added to the Nats run total.
But while social media was blistering him for his mistake (I even said it was a Bryce Harper moment on Twitter), I couldn’t help but notice Soto’s reaction to the play. No coach could have beat up on Soto more than Soto was beating himself up. He was angry and disappointed with himself, and it was not a simple “well, crap” kind of moment. It went on for a while, and a coach stopped and told him to let it go and make it a learning experience.
Of all the videos produced by the NHL and the Washington Capitals, this one by the Caps may easily be the best. Watch it now....and 6 months from now when you're having a bad day, come back and watch it again. It won't disappoint...
As sports weekends go in the Nation's Capital, local teams may have just finished a rare great one.
Think about it. The Capitals won an opening-round Stanley Cup playoff game. The Wizards rallied to win and clinch an 8th-seed in the NBA playoffs. The Nationals won a series on the road. Plus the Mystics opened their season, DC United took to the pitch, and even the Washington Football Team and Hokies down in Blacksburg had an eventful last few days.
Not bad. Not bad at all. Here are the details:
Capitals Win A Postseason Thriller
Caps fans had their hearts in their throats early when starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek left in the first quarter due to injury, leaving the game in Craig Anderson’s hands. Anderson only had two starts this season, his last win was in May of 2017, and while they said he was 39, it was just barely. He'll be 40 this week. So on top of concerns for injuries to TJ Oshie and the return of Alexander Ovechkin from injury, Caps fans had plenty to worry about.
But soon after realizing Anderson was even on the team, Caps fans realized they were seeing a calm, experienced goaltender who kept the Boston Bruins in check. Tom Wilson scored the game’s opening goal, showing he can score AND fight, then Jake DeBrusk responded – which was also the play on which Vanecek left with an injury. The call-and-respond action continued in the second period, when Brendan Dillon and Nick Ritchie traded goals, and the teams held each other scoreless throughout the rest of regulation.
It’s been three years since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, yet in all the celebration afterward, one moment was permanently etched in my memory.
It involved TJ Oshie, holding the Stanley Cup over his head, then handing it to his father to do the same. They locked eyes like they were really trying to make it a memory they would never forget. Only afterward, when a tearful Oshie told the media his Dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s, did I understand.
I lost a father-in-law to Alzheimer’s 15 years ago, and if you’ve never had to deal with it affecting a loved one, you’re lucky. They call it “the long goodbye,” but it’s just an awful disease. None of us can escape the circle of life, as at some point we all know our days on earth will come to an end.
But when that happens, there are certain things everyone should get to experience. Like the ability to say goodbye to that loved one. To share old memories. To be able to tell that person how much they meant to them. To thank them for the help they gave, or ask forgiveness to lift the weight of some deed in the past. To squeeze the hand of someone who has long been a mentor and tour guide in this thing called life, and gently let go.
Whether it’s the blink of an eye, a squeeze of a hand in return, or just a nod, all give closure. Only with Alzheimer’s it doesn’t happen, as the person returns your stare…and doesn’t know who you are.
As they say in the stock market, past performance is not indicative of future results, so this is not a prediction. But there is something eerily similar about the road the Washington Nationals are traveling versus the roadmap used by the Washington Capitals last year in winning the Stanley Cup.
The Nats, as much as I love them, are a flawed team. They have excellent talent at certain positions, but they’ve invested in that talent at the expense of the bullpen. Manager Davey Martinez – the kind of guy you pull for because he seems to be such a genuinely good guy – hasn’t been the greatest at pushing the right buttons with that flawed bullpen and the regular season reflected that with the team at one point being 19-31.
Even as they started winning, that trend never totally went away. Every 10 to 14 days, you’d turn off the television and think “there’s another one they should have won but blew in the last two innings.” Because of that, I think most Nats fans being honest with themselves would admit at one point during the season they didn’t think the team would make the playoffs. And if they did, they’d get beat in the wildcard game.
The Caps sort of did the same thing. From early January to early March in 2018, they were 10-10 over a 20-game stretch and didn’t look good. They’d lose 3 in a row, win two in a row, then lose two more in a row. Four of the losses during that stretch were in overtime, blowing leads in the final minute, then losing in OT (substitute bullpen for goalie and you’ve got the same deal). Since the team could never seem to get past the second round, many were saying on Twitter that the good news was this year, that wouldn’t happen. They’d just get eliminated in the first round and save us all the aggravation.
It’s the Sunday after the final Washington Capitals regular-season game.
I have a decision to make.
Do I come to my senses, realize this relationship with the Caps is only going to get my hopes up every year, then crush my heart like a grape the minute it gets to the second round of the playoffs? Or do I lie to myself, saying what’s happened in the past doesn’t mean anything, and this is the season they go deep into the playoffs.
Yeah, I know. I’m going to lie to myself. Again.
I have scanned several newspapers in search of stories that would help me with the decision. But after reading the online versions of the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Columbus Dispatch, Richmond Times-Dispatch, New York Post and Philadelphia Inquirer in search of comforting information, I could find none.
In any other sport, if you knock over the person in front of you like an anxious Mom at a Black Friday sale trying to get the last big-screen television, a whistle blows and some sort of penalty is called.
But apparently not in the NHL.
As you can see in the video here, Ryan Reaves cross-checks John Carlson to the ice like a snowplow clearing a road. With that road cleared, he easily took a nine-iron to the puck, launching it on an upward trajectory and scored what would turn out to be the winning goal.
Imagine if this happened in football: A tight end is in the end zone, pushes the safety in the back to the ground, then catches the ball for a touchdown.
Penalty every time.
Imagine in basketball. Two players are jostling for position and while the ball caroms off the rim, one pushes the other in the back to the floor. Left alone, the other player gets the rebound and easily scores a layup.
Foul every time. Maybe even a flagrant foul.
How about baseball? Runner is caught in a rundown between first and second. A fielder gets in his way and the runner gives a two-handed shove to the fielder, driving his nose into the dirt before making it safely to the bag.
He’s out. Probably ejected from the game too.
So how could this happen in the National Hockey League? I mean, I know I’m a casual fan who does not know every minute rule of the league. But this was not subtle. A dog with a note in his mouth would have called it. And before you think that yes, it’s obvious now with the benefit of instant replay, NHL officials had that benefit during the game too.
Many a time officials will huddle, consult league headquarters, and ask them to look at all the angles when a goal is scored. They look at everything from a possible goaltender interference penalty, to whether the puck actually moved across the line. This one didn’t take a lot of looks. Reaves knocked Carlson down like a starving man on his way to an all you can eat buffet, then used that advantage to score on a clear path for a goal.
It just occurred to me that I may have to stop writing stuff for this site for another week or two.
It's because I am extremely superstitious when it comes to sports (don’t laugh, you know you are too). Around mid-April, the Caps were down 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs, every time I mentioned them something bad happened to them, and I stopped. They rebounded, won the series with Columbus, then Pittsburgh, then Tampa Bay.
So Friday, believing the curse was over, I started posting regularly again.
Then the Caps lost Monday night.
I realize the actions of one old man in Ashburn Farm should not have any effect on the play of a dozen or more professional athletes from all over the world who are doing battle 2,000 miles away. But sports fans are not always given to rational thought.
And I’m not alone in this regard.
I, for example, know whether my favorite team won or lost when I was wearing just about every shirt or jersey I own. If I eat a particular meal and one of my teams has a big win, I eat the same meal before the next big game. If I get up and go in the kitchen for a particular soft drink or snack and I come back and my team has hit a home run, scored a touchdown, gotten a goal, etc….I go back and get another when that teams needs a big play.
It is a peaceful, quiet, rainy Sunday morning. The Nationals and Caps both had big wins last night.
And I don’t know how to act.
As a life-long Washington sports fan, I was told at a young age that area teams would give you a few bright spots, but by and large, in the end they will break your heart. Aside from an NBA championship when I was in college and 3 Super Bowls, that advice has proven true.
But yesterday’s games have me on the edge of the unthinkable: The title drought may not only end soon with the Caps, there may be another one by year end. The mere act of thinking this is like going into a crowded room in a Harry Potter movie and yelling “Voldemort.” Several times, in fact.
With the Caps, it all starts and ends with Alex Ovechkin. He is so hungry to get a ring that he gives every ounce of energy and passion he has on every play, and it has infected the rest of the team. What was once a club that could unexplainably be all-world one night and passive resistive the next has caught fire. All four lines are going at it in overdrive, and they now only need two more wins and we’re all hoisting the Stanley Cup.
This is where I don’t know how to act. You can’t help but notice the weaknesses in Las Vegas’ game through the first three contests. If a cross-checking penalty on Ryan Reaves is properly called, the Caps are probably up 3-0 and on the verge of a sweep Monday night at home. We would have people climbing street lights in downtown DC until Thursday. It would be bedlam (and still might but just at a later date).
Years from now, all anyone will remember is the Capitals – if they win one more game – won the Stanley Cup. They’ll remember Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin among others. They’ll remember the city absolutely losing its mind, turning city streets in D.C. into Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
But they may not remember just what a crazy emotional roller coaster ride these playoffs have been. I’ve never seen a team be declared dead so often, then get up off the mat and charge the hill one more time.
I will admit that back in March I had a feeling the Caps would win the Stanley Cup (I also had the same feeling that the Nationals will be up and down all year and then win the World Series in the fall). Such thoughts are best kept to yourself, because if true you’ll curse the team, and if false, you’ve set yourself up for a deserved round of mocking.
My reasoning was simple: no one expected the Caps to win. After really good teams the last two years (and really big disappointments in the playoffs) this team was not supposed to be as good. They’d be lucky, some experts said, to even get to the second round and then lose like they always do. They weren’t even extending coach Barry Trotz’s contract because there was no confidence he’d get past the second round. Again.
It would be so Cap-ish, I thought, if this was the year they won it all.
So in round one, just to give my prediction the middle finger, they do the unthinkable. Lose game 1 in overtime. At home. Then follow it up by losing game 2. In overtime. At home. “Just get it over and lose the next two so we can be done with all this” was a popular sentiment. I was already planning my yearly trip to sporting goods stores to buy their Caps merchandise marked 50 percent off now that the season was over, only this would mark my earlier excursion ever.
But they won game 3 in double overtime and won 4 straight to win the series. I don’t care how big a fan you are, nobody saw that coming. Even with that flair for the dramatic, however, it wasn't like a booster shot of optimism for long-time observers. It just qualified the Caps, many thought, for their annual beating by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After 4 games, it was tied 2-2. The Penguins weren’t their normal selves either, so there was hope. But decades of crushing playoff losses, usually in multiple overtimes, dictated each team would win at home and set up another nerve-testing Game 7 that the Caps would undoubtedly lose. Because that’s what they do.
The Caps won their home game. Then the Penguins kept their end of the deal by tying the game at the end of regulation. “Here it comes,” I thought, but instead Kuznetsov scored 5 minutes into the first overtime, and an old man was doing Kuzy’s bird dance throughout my house seconds later.
If you have followed the antics of Alex Ovechkin, his teammates and the Stanley Cup since they all landed at Dulles Friday, you’d have to think this group is Dan Snyder’s worst nightmare.
I’m not saying everyone is now going to stop following pro football and embrace hockey. The fanbase for that franchise is deep and isn’t going anywhere immediately.
But that fanbase is old. It’s my generation that has a closet filled with Redskins jerseys and will follow them until they die. The younger generation that has just gotten out of college does not have that loyalty. They don’t seem to be going to live sporting events as evidenced by more and more empty seats around the country. The value for high-priced tickets to any team’s games, much less one that isn’t all that much fun to follow come playoff time, just doesn’t seem to be there.
Then these guys come along. Watching Ovi and company is like watching a bunch of modern-day Beatles remaking “A Hard Day’s Night.” Heck, as hard as these guys are going at it, they could call it “A Hard Day’s WEEK.”
They are becoming folk heroes in front of our very eyes. First, they win the Stanley Cup. Then they take the Cup all over Las Vegas like a group of guys who are maniacs on a mission. They make the movie “The Hangover” look tame, and I figured no one can go at that pace two days in a row. They’ll calm down when they get home, logic dictated.