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Ask Boswell

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online to take all your questions about the Nats, pennant races, the Redskins and more.

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Tom Boswell: So, lets talk! No shoprtage of topics today.

*Roy Halladay's no-hitter yesterday for the Phils defines "unpredictable" post-season baseball. Also, the Rays are already in trouble after their one dominant pitcher, David Price, gets beaten at home in Game 1. And you can't keep the Yanks down, even for one game when you've got Liriano with a 3-0 lead in the middle innings.

*The Skins/McNabb win in Philly against the Eagles gets the season "back on track" with the good but hardly invincible Packers on tap for Sunday at FedEx. How does the Skins season look now after we've gotten four games into the NFL year and the whole league looks like it's made of 10-6 to 6-10 teams. Only the Chiefs (!???) undefeated and only the Bills, Lions, Panthers and 49ers going winless.

*Too bad the excellent finish on Monday to the Ryder Cup started before sunrise. (Too bad we can't move Cardiff, Wales to the Cardiff, N.Y. time zone.) But still a great ending for early risers with both Woods and Stricker contributing a quiet but helpful 3-1 record while Phil disappoints again.

*Clinton Portis 4-to-6 week injury and the arrival Ryan Torain.

*Wiz start their exhibition season with the "new" Gilbert speaking and the really new John Wall playing (21-9-4).

Lets get to it!

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El Segundo, CA: Tom,

How is it that Allen/Shanahan have three ex-Pro Bowl running backs in training camp but are starting a practice squad guy in week five, did they really have a plan for the running game? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: My take: They hoped that either Parker or Johnson still had enough left in the tank to form a duo or trio of vets with Portis. But they REALLY wanted to put pressure on Portis to get in shape and understand that he was no longer allowed to play the "star" after all his bad-influence antics last year. I think they were shocked that both Parker and Johnson fliopped.

However, Shanahan has clearly had his eye on Torain since he drafted him in '08 in Denver. He knows the system and, man, did he have an excellent game in Philly. When you run directly over safeties to get a 12-yard touchdown, teammates remember. The Skins have had big trouble in the red zone for years and a back who can create extra yards for himself inside the 10-yard line has been one of the weaknesses. The other obvious red-zone void has not been corretced: the complete lack of a big wide receiver who can go high in the EZ. Is there any other team that doesn't have at leat one such option on the roster? Of course, the infamous Vinnie draft tried to add two such WRs. Still surproised that Thomas seems to have no role except kick off returns.

So, the Skins had a plan, with Torain as a backup option. But things certainly haven't worked out as they expected/hoped! All three vets gone and Torain now the featured back w Mr. Nobody behind him.

Portis ran well last week and always is such a great pass blocker that I go back and rewind his hits on blitzing LBers. You could see teams bring more pressure on McNabb to test the blocking ability of the Skins inexperienced RBs.

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Long Island, NY: Tom, A thought on the Ryder Cup: The European victory did not bother me because the match was close and the golf was great. Steve Stricker had a great weekend and so did McDowell. I think the 10-15 year competition between Ricky Fowler and Rory McIlroy will be exciting to witness. Golf is truly a global sport.

Tom Boswell: Agreed. I was amazed that the Ryder Cup is the third-most-watched event in worldwide sports behind only the World Cup and Olympics and ahead of the Super Bowl. But the game is big, or at least has a sizeable following, in North America, Europe, Japan/Far East, South Africa, Australia, South America. The Ryder Cup as well as the Presidents Cup __which i never thought was much of an idea, but worked out well__ have been a big help.

McIlroy and Fowler show that there is a next generation that is already in place, or very close, in case Woods is never again more than "another" Top 10 or Top 20 player.

Mickelson's inability to step up after his Masters win and take over World No. 1 is a bad sign, in my book, about whether he has several more really elite years. I've sen so many huge stars in golf who got a big symbolic win and everybody said, "Now watch him take it even higher," and, in reality, that turned out to be the peak. Hope I'm wrong on that. He seemed so mature, ready to be No. 1, at Augusta.

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Roy Halladay: In 2001, the Blue Jays optioned Halladay to Single-A after he posted an ERA above 10 in 2000. What did he work on to become the pitcher that he is today?

Tom Boswell: Among other things, he went from a straight overhand delivery to a more crouched stance on the rubber and a 3/4-arm delivery slot. That increased the movement on all his pitchers. And if anybody in my lifetime exemplifies the value of movement, command and multiple pitches, it is Halladay who didn't touch 95 m.p.h. last night but was completely overpowering. His 92-94 is complimented by an insane variety of late-moving pitches. He has all FOUR kinds of fastballs. 1) The 4-seamer that seems to rise. 2) The two-seam sinker that going down and in to RH hitters (or serves as a "swing-back" fastball on the outside corner). 3) The hard cutter that bends away from RH hiters. 4) The "split-finer fastball" that drops. He also, in a sense, has the fifth kind of fastball __the straight changeup, which you throw with full arm speed but simply deaden with a different grip (like the "circle" changeup). He also has a curve that's 15 m.p.h. slower than his fastball and I suspect he'd say he has a slider, too.

When you can throw them all to every quandant of the plate, it seems almost unfair.

I wanted to praise HP ump John Hirschbeck for his remarkable work last night. He was at the center of the awful Alomoar spitting episode many years ago. I went back to the MLB pitch-track on "Gameday" which shows the speed of every pitch at delivery, it's speed as it crosses the plate, its vertical and lateral movement and whether it hums a tune as it comes to the plate. Hirschbeck only

"missed" two pitchjes of any important all night. That's an A+ to me. He called Rolen out on strikes on a pitch that was outside. And it's possible that "ball one" to Bruce, the Red who walked and spoiled a perfect game MAY have been a knee-high strike. That might have resulted in a three-pitch strikeout. Talk about hypothetical on top of hypothetical. The point is that he was as near-perfect as Halladay. If anything, early in the game, he may have called 2-3-4 "balls" on pitches that were actually strikes. Maybe he didn't think that anybody could hit that many edges.

Halladay got the umping performance he deserved.

Maybe there's some cosmic payback at work here. Hirschbeck was also the home plate ump when Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run to pass Aaron. Now he's got two of the most famous moments in history to balance one infamous moment.

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Sec 114, Row E: Dunn is "unoffically" going to be a Type B free agent. How do those ratings work?

With the Type B classification, how much worse is it now that Rizzo didn't deal Dunn at the deadline?

Tom Boswell: In the most recent "A" and "B" listings, Dunn appears to be at the very top of the "B" list. I hate to trust "unofficial."

Here's a quick definition pulled from Google: "The deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their own free agents is November 23rd. Prior to that date this list will shrink quite a bit, as certain players have options that will obviously be exercised, others will sign extensions, and Wagner and Lowell will retire. If recent history is any indication, 23-24 free agents will ultimately be offered arbitration. Keep in mind that unless a player is offered arbitration and turns it down to sign a Major League deal with another club, there is no draft pick compensation."

For now, lets focus on the Trade Dunn aspect. According to my sources, Rizzo wanted to trade Dunn and had a deal worked out for Edwin Jackson, who ended up with the White Sox. So, yes, the runmors at the time were correct. However, Kasten and the Lerners didn't want to do the deal and killed it. Partly bad PR. In Kasten's case, he really believed, and still does, that it's cazy not to resign Dunn.

A perfect example of different parts of the front office being on different pagesfor different reasons.

Jackson did well with the White Sox __4-2, 3.24 ERA in 11 starts. But his full year was typical of his 48-51, 4.62 ERA career. He ended '10 with 10-12 record and 4.47.

The Nats already have plenty of those 4.25-4.60 ERA guys: Marquis, Livan, Olsen (when healthy). Jackson has a big fastball, but who cares? The results are the results. Jackson is only 27 and certainly could be part of a rotation, but he's shown little evidence of top-of-the-rottion ability yet (except one good year).

I'd rather have resigbned Dunn then. I'd still rather resign him now. Kasten is still fighting for it at both ends __telling Dunn that Washington is the place for him and telling thge Nats, I suspect, that their current 3-year offer isn't close enough to low-market-value to get a deal Dunn. Adam isn't going to sign for $10-million a year. You can sign somewhat below sensible market value to stay in a town you like and the union, and other players, won't hate you forever. But if you go 20-30-maybe-40 per cent below market value, then you've made a decision that hurts many other players. Yeah, yeah, they're all rich. If you woke up in Dunn's shoes, you wouldn't take $10 X 3 = $30 when the market is saying that $12-13-14 X 3 = $36-to-$42M is what you can get. And some think he'll get four years.

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Centreville VA: I beg to differ about the famous vs infamous moments for Hirschbeck. Bonds's 756th homer was an infamous moment.

Tom Boswell: Point taken.

But it should get ex-Nat Mike Bascik a lot of public speaking gigs for the rest of his life.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Speaking of next generations in golf, why didn't we see Anthony Kim last week?

Tom Boswell: Pretty sure Kim's had injuries. If anybody has info, lemme know and I'll post it. I wondered, too. He's still ranked much higher in world rankings __about 11th-or-12th from memory__ than many on both teams. He's had a lot of nagging injury problems. Hope he gets past that. A great colorful talent.

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Dusty Baker: So I'm thinking, hey my bullpen shut these guys down for 7 innings and everyone gets to rest today. The Phils got 4 runs off Volquez, but I'm calling that a fluke. Oswalt's gonna sit for two days on this hoopla and I bet he comes out hopped up and overthrowing.

We're gonna steal game 2 on the road!

Tom Boswell: You better hope so!

Game One in the division series is enormously important. But it's not ALL important. When teams are closely matched, there tends to be one momentum swing. When you see it happen, that usually turns the whole series. But I doubt Oswalt is going to provide that swiung with a bad outting. His record in five post-season series in Houston is 4-0 with a 3.66 ERA. Getting no-hit, then having three off days in four days by the time they face Roy II, usually doesn't help a team like the Reds with their hitting.

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Halladay: How did Halladay lose 10 games during the regular season?!?

Tom Boswell: Good question! Especially with the Phils behind him.

The actual reason? He had 11 starts when the Phils scored two-runs-or-less for him and, even though his ERA was 1.72 in those games, he still went 4-6.

How could Livan hernandez go 10-12 when he had 20 starts in which he went at least five innings and his ERA FOR THAT GAME was 3.00-or-less. That would usually lead to an 18+ win season.

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Steve S. from San Diego: With Kasten headed out the door, will the Lerners hire a full time President or will they split the duties between Rizzo and a COO?

Tom Boswell: Doubt they'll hire anybody. Let everybody work harder. Save money. Don't run the risk of trying to find anybody who can "fill Kasten's shoes" because it would be so hard.

Welcome to Natstown. I'd like to be wrong. But you'd need high energy and somebody who'd let Rizzo run the baseball side. Kasten's legacy, such as it is, is Rizzo.

But, believe me, there are execs who are curious about the job. I've heard from a couple. ("Why did Stan really leave?")

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C-A-P-S CAPS! CAPS! CAPS!: Tom, The Caps play their first game of the season tonight and I cannot wait. With the Nats on the decline and the NFL and NBA facing labor problems, this is hockey's time to shine. Am I wrong to believe the Caps, and hockey in general, are about to make a move back into relevance?

Tom Boswell: I think you're correct. I assume that last year's huge flop will be excellent motivation for the Caps. Though I still think McPhee and Boudreau are, to a degree, in denial about what a "choke" actually is and whether they experienced one last year. I'd say there's no doubt they had a classic squeeze-the-stick-too-tight scoring draught that, if it happened to a great hitting team in baseball or a great shooting team in the NBA, would be classified as a choke. But hockey, and the "hot goalie," is somewhat different than other sports. And they buy into that explanation,at least in public.

Anyway, really looking forward to watching how this season unfolds and expect there will be a LOT more Cap happiness this spring.

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Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Interesting that two of the teams in the A.L. playoffs were once called the Washington Senators. Any predictions as to when the Nats or Orioles might find their way to the post-season?

Tom Boswell: The O's young pitching is way ahead of the Nats. If the O's got a 40-homer cleanup hitter and Tillman came along as well as Arrieta, Matusz, Bergesen and Guthrie, and the Rays lose Crawford to free agency and the Red Sox fold despite their vast budget and the Yankees stop spending....

Oh, sorry. I guess you don't mean which team will be playoff-worthy first, but which will actually make it sometime, maybe, in the next 5 years.

The Nats have a better chance: Strasburg, Zimmermann, Storen, Zimmerman, Espinoza, Desmond, Ramos, Harper, Lannan, plus three significant free agents in the next two winters plus a N.L. that is not as strong as the A.L. East. They have a long way to go __further than they think. And they need to get started this winter. But there is a "Harper and Strasburg window" that is conceivable.

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South of Nowhere: The Skins are thin at most positions. When compared with other teams, we seem woefully thin. Is this a product of neglect attributable to years of trading draft picks for high priced vets, bad draft strategy or something intangible? Or, a combination of everything? I just hate it when the Steelers, for example, have some one go down, and a capable replacement steps right in and executes with poise, precision, and competence (i.e. "the standard is the standard") while our Skins have to replace a first round draft pick with Stephen Heyer.

Tom Boswell: "A combination of everything." But all those points are true. And they are still thin on draft picks in the near future. After Heyer jumped off sides in Philly, on top of two holding penalties, I said in the press box, "Heyer is one of the most consistent players I have ever seen."

Rueful laiughter.

I'd hate to see Jason Campbell, the prototypical pocket passer who never did anything quite quickly enough, trying to survive behind this line with Portis now out, too. Another reason McNabb is so valuable. He's hiding a lot of Redskins flaws with his reads at the line, quick drops, knack for getting short passes out quickly.

I watched the Eagles game again just to see how that O line gained 169 yards. I still can't figure it out. Lichtensteiuger and Hicks are upgrades. McNabb certainly loves those play-action bootlegs after faking the stretch play in the other direction. It puts him out in space where he can see the field clearly, outrun slower defenders to buy time. He's always loved to throw deep and those boots let him look back across the field, like the near TD to TE Davis last week.

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Blacksburg, VA: Arenas now says the Wizards are Wall's team. Do teams full of professionals always have to "belong" to one player? Didn't basketball used to be a team sport?

Tom Boswell: Love it.

But it's always been that way in the NBA. The Celtics were Bill Russell's team, then Bird's, then Garnett's. Maybe they just didn't say it as much years ago. When you have multiple stars and you don't know "whose team it is," you have problems. You usually need three stars in the NBA to contend for a title, as well as 4-5 players who compliment them. But they have to agree about who does what and when they do it.

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Salt Lake City, UT: I know there are more pressing things going on, but PLEASE give me your take on the narrative emerging around Donovan McNabb. The consensus seems to be that, though his stats have not for the most part been impressive, his experience and veteran leadership make all the difference. So much so, apparently, that Mike Wise wants to give him five years at 15 million per!

Well, would this narrative be sustainable if the Cowboys hadn't held on the last play of the game and the Eagles' receiver had caught a pass that hit him in the hands? If the Eagles' game had been lost, then surely the unbelievably rookie mistake that saw McNabb run out of bounds when trying to kill the clock would have had to been given more weight.

Can you make sense of this all for me?

Tom Boswell: Nothing wrong with letting the season play out more so Shanahan can evaluate __fairly__ how well McNabb grasps his system and how much he's likely to improve in it if you extend him. It's Shanny's offense, it's Shanny's system with his son calling plays and, to tell the truth, it's his team. For now. He has no bigger decision than who his QB will be and for how long. So, it's his timetable, too. If things work out well for McNabb and the Shanahan system, he'll probably want to stay, so the delay in getting a deal done won't be a problem. If it's not a match of skill set and system, vets like Shanahan and McNabb will probably both sense it.

I think it'll work out and McNabb will be here for several years.

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Cary, NC: In the wake of another near-perfect game this season, I'm wondering: how many other sports have similar accomplishments to a perfect game? Something that's equal parts skill and good fortune over the course of game, but is so rare that it's actually a major feat to pull off. The only one I can think of is (perhaps fittingly) cricket, with the stat being one bowler taking all ten wickets (outs) in an innings. It's even rarer than a perfect game: in about the same time as covered by modern baseball, only twice has it happened at the highest level of competition.

Tom Boswell: Nice points. No, I can't think of anything comparable __a purely individual accomplishment within a team game where luck also plays a part.

Of course, I'd probably have come up with the cricket comparison. If you'd given me 1,000 years to think about it. (Thanks. "One bowler taking all ten wickets in an innings." Pretty cool.)

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It was a month of Sundays . . .: How cool was that? I know it's about the teams, but I'd love to have a World Series with Roy Halliday and Cliff Lee.

Tom Boswell: CC Sabathia certainly looked mortal last night. You look for dominant pitchers that can take a team to the World Series. Halladay and Lee fit the bill. I still doubt the Rangers have enough.

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Charlottesville, Va: Tommy, Where were you when Larson threw his perfect game? How did the reaction of the public then differ from now? Has there ever been a pitcher more unhittable than Halladay when he is "on"?

Tom Boswell: I walked home from Peabody Elementary public school in N.E. and came into the living room just as, or after, the game ended. My mom and my godfather (who had been Hoyt Wilhelm's roommate in the minors) had been watching the game on a small black-and-white TV and were cheering. So, I "saw" it, but didn't see it.

That's my childhood memory. Anything, or everything about it could be incorrect. When you become a newspaper reporter, an odd thing happens after a few years. You divide your experience into two categories __before you were a journalist and after. You are suspicious of your memory for anything that happened, evenm in your own life, after you got the job. But you are COMPLETELY skeptical of any memory you had before your got into newspapers. People mythologize, or forget or "re-write" their own experiences to a degree I'd never have believed __including me. I thought, for decades, that the first baseball game I ever saw was between the White Sox and Indians. It was just in my mind that way. But it obviously was the Senators against EITHER the White Sox or Indians in Washington. I thought, for decades, that the first Redskins game I'd seen at 10 with my dad on my birthday had been won by a Sam Baker field goal over the Colts in the last seconds. I looked it up a few years ago. The Skins LOST late-and-close to the Colts on my 10th brthday!

There is an insight into human behavior here. (Or mine.) But I'm not sure I want to find it.

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Montclair, N.J.: In looking at Jason Werth's situation (some situation!!), I was wondering if there are any players in the modern era who forgo the big money or agree to a club-friendly salary structure in order to remain with the team they are playing for? Is there any team loyalty, or do you just follow the Benjamins?

Tom Boswell: I covered the Oriole team from '76-to-'83 that epitomized that trend. The team was dominated by players represented by agent Ron Shapiro __Flanagan, McGregor and many others. They got toether and worked with the O's __dividing up the Orioles limted budget among themseves and in every case taking less than they could have gotten by going FA__ so they could stay together, play together and beat the damn Yankees. Wonderful thing to watch up close.

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London UK: Thomas, I think it's a healthy sign that the Redskins aren't (once again) leveraging their future by dealing for WRs Jackson or Moss. I know a 3rd round pick isn't much, and Moss is a unique talent, but maybe...just maybe....we're starting to think long-term. You agree?

Tom Boswell: You've already got two guys in Haynesworth and Portis who couldn't keep their mouths shut last year and, within the last month, have both shown again that they have no judgment in their comments. "My mouth, my feelings, my lack of self-discipline come first, because I'm a star __or usedf to be." When Haynesworth put the tape over Portis mouth, now THAT was irony.

You don't want to add Randy Moss __no matter how great and how smart he is__ to that mix. He's just too volatile, too much the star, for a team which isn't close to a title.

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Woodley Park: Did you talk to Sheinen last night? How pumped was he to see a no-no? Hate the Phillies but congrats to Doc (and his new best friend John Hirschbeck)

Tom Boswell: I'm deeply jealous. I have never seen a no-hitter in person. Which seems statistically impossible. Lucky dog.

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Asbhurn Va: Boz,

What are the odds that the Nats would actually be able to land a Carl Crawford? Would he even consider coming from a contender to a rebuilding project?

Tom Boswell: You've got a better chance at Werth. Not as good or as young a player as Crawford and represented by Boras.

That's it. See you next week.

Tom Boswell: Tom Boswell: You've got a better chance at Werth. Not as good or as young a player as Crawford and represented by Boras.

That's it. Getting ready for another division series triple-header. Thank again. See you next week.

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