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Nationals sweep Cardinals to reach first World Series

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WASHINGTON — The game was essentially over in the first inning. With chants of “Let’s go Nats!” echoing from the first pitch, and then chants of “Let’s go Corbin!” as Nationals starter Patrick Corbin mowed down the Cardinals with three strikeouts to begin the game, and then “M-V-P!” chants as Anthony Rendon stepped up with two runners on, the Nationals never let the Cardinals breathe. They never let them breathe the entire series.

The Nationals ambushed the Cardinals with a seven-run first inning — a ridiculous amount of action packed into 21 pitches that included six hits, a sacrifice fly, a sacrifice bunt and two horrific defensive miscues — and held on for a 7-4 victory to complete a sweep in the National League Championship Series and reach the first World Series in franchise history. The Cardinals got the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth inning, but never led for a single inning in the four games.

It was complete domination, with the vaunted Nationals rotation leading the way as the Cardinals hit just .130. The four Nationals starters — Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin — allowed five runs in 26.2 innings, three of those in the fifth inning off Corbin in the clinching game. It means for the first time since 1933, when the Washington Senators played the New York Giants at old Griffith Stadium, the World Series will be played in the nation’s capital. The Nationals, born as the Montreal Expos in 1969 and residents of D.C. since 2005, become the 29th franchise to reach the World Series. Only the Seattle Mariners have never reached one.

Back in May, the odds of that happening were long. The Nationals stumbled to a 19-31 start through May 23 and owned the second-worst record in the National League.

“I don’t think we paid too much attention to our record,” Rendon said after the game. “We knew where we were at one point, but we knew where we wanted to go. The season wasn’t over and back then we were upset, but it was still the first half of the season. You don’t win the division or the World Series in the first half of the season.”

There were rumors that manager Dave Martinez could lose his job and even that Scherzer could go on the trade block if the Nationals didn’t turn things around. According to FanGraphs, their playoff odds on that date were 22.2%. Their odds of reaching the World Series: 3.9%.

“It wasn’t by design to get 12 games under .500 and try and battle ourselves back, but we earned 12 games under .500,” president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said. “But then we also earned about .720 ball the rest of the way.”

The Nationals didn’t fire Martinez. They kept Scherzer. The rotation got on a roll and the offense started clicking. Trea Turner was out from April 3 to May 17. Rendon had played just one game between April 21 and May 7 (and still ended up leading the majors in RBIs). Juan Soto was hitting .246/.358/.435 on May 20, but the 20-year-old super sophomore hit .295/.414/.587 the rest of the way.

To a man, the players stressed the importance of the veteran leadership on the team.

“We knew we were going to be the oldest team in the league,” Scherzer said. “Everyone said that was a negative. We looked at it as a positive. I’m one of the old guys. Us old guys can still play. I think the older guys bring a lot of value to the clubhouse. The experience we bring, the emotions we bring, all that helps.”

After May 23, the Nationals went 74-38, tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the NL (the Astros went 74-37). That was their first comeback. They won 93 games and hosted the wild-card game against the Brewers. That was the setting for comeback No. 2: Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, they rallied for three runs against Brewers closer Josh Hader to win 4-3. That led to comeback No. 3: They trailed 2-1 in the division series to the Dodgers before Scherzer won Game 4 and then trailed 3-1 in the eighth inning in Game 5 when Rendon and Soto smacked home runs on consecutive pitches off Clayton Kershaw to tie the game. Howie Kendrick’s grand slam in the 10th would win it.

The Nationals, tough-luck losers in several playoff series in recent years, were finally over that hump of winning a playoff series. Rizzo, the team’s general manager since August 2009, has guided the franchise for more than 10 years and eight consecutive winning seasons.

“I think every year we’re going to the World Series,” he said on the field after the trophy presentation. “We’ve been in the playoffs five times in eight years. We’ve won more games than any team in the majors except the Dodgers in that time. So every year we head to spring training expecting to win the World Series. Get to the playoffs and you’ve got a puncher’s chance.”

The Nationals didn’t give much of a chance to the Cardinals in the NLCS. Sanchez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Game 1. Scherzer took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Game 2. Strasburg struck out 12 with no walks in Game 3. Corbin struck out 12 in just five innings in Game 4. The Cardinals did fight back and loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but Daniel Hudson got Matt Carpenter on a hard grounder to second base. Hudson then closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Only three teams previously had been 12 games under .500 and reached the World Series: the 1914 “Miracle” Boston Braves, the 1973 Mets and the 2005 Astros.

Martinez had a heart procedure in mid-September — a cardiac catheterization — after feeling chest pains. Before the game he mentioned that doctors had told him to sit a little more during games. “It’s tough to do, but I’m doing it, and it’s helped a lot,” he said.

As the National League championship trophy was presented, Martinez looked to his team behind him: “These guys right here cured my heart. The heart feels great.”

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Ex-Dodgers star Carl Crawford arrested on assault charge

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HOUSTON — Former Los Angeles Dodgers star Carl Crawford has been arrested after his former girlfriend accused him of assaulting her during an argument over a man she had begun dating.

An arrest affidavit filed Wednesday by Houston police states that Crawford went to the home of Gabriele Washington on May 8, produced a handgun from which he unloaded the ammunition in her presence, then demanded information on her latest dating relationship.

Washington told investigators Crawford pushed her to the floor, slammed her head against a wall and choked her. Crawford is free on $50,000 bond.

When her year-old daughter walked up, she distracted Crawford, who is her father, and Washington ran to call police. Crawford then fled but followed up with threatening cellphone texts to Washington, according to the affidavit.

A message to his attorney, Rusty Hardin, seeking comment was not returned immediately.

The incident happened a week before a 5-year-old boy and a woman drowned in the backyard pool at Crawford’s Houston home.

From Houston, the 38-year-old Crawford was a four-time All-Star outfielder. He last played in the major leagues in 2016 with the Dodgers.

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MLBPA stands firm against additional pay cuts, ‘resoundingly’ rejects league’s plan

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Baseball players reaffirmed their stance for full prorated pay, leaving a huge gap with teams that could scuttle plans to start the coronavirus-delayed season around the Fourth of July and may leave owners focusing on a schedule as short as 50 games.

More than 100 players, including the union’s executive board, held a two-hour digital meeting with officials of the Major League Baseball Players Association on Thursday, a day after their offer was rejected by Major League Baseball.

“Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless players negotiate salary concessions,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon. This threat came in response to an association proposal aimed at charting a path forward.”

“Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless players agree to further salary reductions,” Clark added.

MLB last week proposed an 82-game season with an additional sliding scale of pay cuts that would leave a player at the $563,500 minimum with 47% of his original salary and top stars Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole at less than 22% of the $36 million they had been set to earn.

Players countered Sunday with a plan for a 114-game regular season with no pay cuts beyond the prorated salaries they agreed to on March 26. That would leave each player with about 70% of his original pay.

MLB rejected that Wednesday, when Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer informing him “we do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible.”

“Nonetheless, the commissioner is committed to playing baseball in 2020,” Halem said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “He has started discussions with ownership about staging a shorter season without fans.”

Management officials have threatened proposing a shortened slate of perhaps 50 games or fewer. There has not been a schedule averaging fewer than 82 games per team since 1879.

“The overwhelming consensus of the board is that players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well,” Clark said in a statement. “The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”

While baseball has reverted to the economic bickering that led to eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the NBA, NHL and MLS have moved ahead with plans to resume their seasons.

“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, players want nothing more than to get back to work,” Clark said. “But we cannot do this alone.”

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Ranking every No. 1 overall pick in MLB draft history

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On June 10, the evening of the 56th MLB first-year player draft, some happy amateur baseball star — probably Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson — will become the 55th player to be picked first overall. Yes, there have been more drafts than players picked first. We’ll get to that.

Assuming he eventually reaches the majors, Torkelson will become the third Torkelson to play at the highest level of his sport. There was Red, a pitcher who won two games for the 1917 Cleveland Indians. There was Eric, who was a running back for the Green Bay Packers in the 1970s. I bring up the history of Torkelsons for two reasons. First, when I was a kid, one of my favorite nuggets of trivia was that Eric Torkelson was the brother of Peter Tork of The Monkees. The second reason I bring it up is that the trivia nugget was wrong: It traced back to an on-air gaffe by Howard Cosell.

Whether it’s Torkelson or someone else whose name is called first, we know a couple of things about that player, whoever it will be. One, he’s talented. He is viewed by people in the know as the best draft-eligible ballplayer in the country. Two, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what kind of career he is going to have.

The career outcomes of top overall picks have been wildly disparate. There have been Hall of Famers. There have been All-Stars. There have been average players who lasted a long time. There have been average players who didn’t last very long at all. There have been a few players who never even played in the big leagues. Let’s rank them.

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