Dan Steinberg says this has been the best sports week in DC in years. The Caps victory last night was fantastic (goal winner by Joel Ward in overtime — game 7 — against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Bruins). Great photo by John McDonnell on our front page today (and what a shame that the haters emerge from their ratholes when an African American hockey player has such a spectacular moment). [Clarification: Ward is Canadian, and his family is from Barbados.] The Nats, meanwhile, keep winning, the lowly Wizards have had a late-season, feel-good burst of success. Tonight the Redskins will pick RG3 to quarterback the team for years to come, we hope. There’s joy in Mudville — mixed, as always, with appropriate levels of doubt, anxiety and anticipatory recrimination (it’s always good to cultivate in advance the outrage we’ll feel when things don’t work out as planned).
But a warning to anyone out there just now thinking of turning in to what’s happening on the DC sports scene: These teams don’t score.
Or, more precisely, they score like they’re playing soccer. There’s a lot of games that are 2-1.
The Caps have decided to forego offense in favor of defense, and basically they scrap and whack and kick and bite and chew on the opposition for three full periods and hope they can keep the score down and win on a sudden-death goal in overtime. The great Ovechkin seemed to be mostly absent from the ice last night. He’s an offense guy.
The Nats, meanwhile, are getting by on splendid pitching and the occasional bloop double to score a run. When you watch a Nats game you watch pitching, not hitting. You watch a lot of balls hitting the catcher’s mitt. You see a lot of swings and misses. You marvel at the way Strasburg’s curve seems to defy the laws of physics. If a fan of hitting, you satisfy yourself with the occasional well-hit foul ball.
You argue calls and strikes. You ponder the enigma that is the High Strike. You mull the mystery of the ball that is called a strike only because it has been nicely “framed” by the catcher. You wonder why it is that a pitch that is two fists within the parameters of the strike zone can somehow be perceived by the umpire as lacking that special something that is necessary to make it an actual, official strike.
Most of all you notice that the game goes by quickly, because it has been spared the delays caused by hits, running around the bases, pick-off moves, and all that other stuff that detracts from the purity of pitching, swinging, and striking-out.
Our guys don’t hit, but, fortunately, the other guys hit even less. Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Jackson-Detwiler is our Murderer’s Row of starting pitching. The entire pitching staff for the Nats has an ERA of 2.20, which is easily the best in baseball. Unfortunately we’ve scored only 68 runs in 18 games, which ranks 22nd out of 30 major league teams.
The steroid era peaked in 2000 and now seems long over. The Nats may represent the new baseball. Or maybe they’re just an unusual team built on strong, young arms. A 2-1 win is still a W — as the Caps, after last night, can attest.