Digressing slightly to other sporting cycles, if not cycles of sport, we Washington DC sports fans are watching a strange convergence. It is on the score of 3-2. The Nationals, the Capitols, DC United, and even the Redskins seem to be stuck on this number. Only the Wizards, adrift in their own universe of hapless ineptitude, seem outside the black hole that pulls all local results inexorably into the sharp focus of that score.
The Capitols fiercely fought for it yesterday, since they were on the verge of winning a key hockey game, something that seems alien to the core of their nature. With about 30 seconds left and leading 2-1, the Caps set up for a faceoff in their own zone. Joel Ward was being crowded by his Ranger counterpart at the edge of the faceoff circle, so just as the puck was dropped Ward, who scored the Bruin-killing winner in the seventh game of the first round, swung his stick high and sharp, right across the Ranger’s face. Slashed him and drew blood—a double minor. One of the dumbest, most undisciplined, unnecessary penalties I have seen taken in a long time. And at such a crucial moment.
The Rangers had pulled their goalie, something a team does in the desperate last moments to get an extra skater on the ice, a virtual man advantage. But with the risk that if their attackers lose control of the puck, the Caps dump it into an empty net and break their collective back. So now, with the penalty, New York has a two-man advantage in skaters in the offensive zone. You know what’s coming, don’t you? The Rangers do not lose control of the puck. In fact, they tenaciously hold possession, hammer it closer to the goal, and one of their two uncovered men is able to skate in on the left side almost to the crease (a small area in front of the goal demarked by a red perimeter line). The Caps goalie makes the stop but can’t control the rebound, and in the scrum in front of the net the puck slips across the goal line with 6.6 seconds left in the game.
So the Caps move the score closer to the 3-2 paradigm. They could have done it another way, of course, when midway through the 3rd period Jason Chimera skated in alone on a breakaway rush. But he hit the post, and as we all know that metallic “clink” betokens a point only in horseshoes. Besides, a goal would have made the score 3-1, and the Caps are always uncomfortable with such a big lead.
Now comes the richness of Joel Ward’s double minor penalty. When a team is penalized by having a skater in the penalty box and the other team scores a goal, the felonious skater can return to the ice. (Didn’t used to be that way. I once witnessed the Bruins score 3 times on the Rangers during one two-minute penalty in the Bahstun Gahden, circa 1956. But Montreal got so good at man advantage scoring that they changed the rules. This is still known as the Montreal Canadiens Rule.) But a double minor is served consecutively. So when the first minor ends, the second begins. The Rangers hold their man advantage for the remaining 6.6 seconds of regulation time, and carry it over for 1 minute and 53.4 seconds of the first overtime period.
The Rangers needed only 1:35 of that to score the winning goal. Final score: 3-2.
As for the Nationals, their staff earned run average (ERA) after 28 ball games is 2.59, almost half a run better than the next best staff’s. And their starters are even better than that. But with two of their best four hitters out for the last two weeks, and another of those just now going on the DL until August, their run production is tight; near the bottom of the league, they produce fewer than 3.5 runs per game. Compare that with the Red Sox’ 5.5 runs a game. (However, the Sox need all the runs they can get, as their appalling pitching staff is yielding 5.31 earned runs a game.)
The Nats play National League small ball to perfection, taking the extra base, hitting to the opposite field, sacrificing, and making every offensive feint count for something. They have won games this year on a walk-off wild pitch, a couple of walk-off sacrifice flies, and the like. The gem of gems happened the other night, as they faced the Phillies’ lefty Cole Hammels. The Nats’ brash and much-talented rookie Bryce Harper came to bat in the first inning, two out and none on, and Hammels promptly plunked him in the back with a fastball. (Hammels later boasted that he did it on purpose and was suspended for 5 games [one start].) You could tell the pitch was intentional; it was thrown straight and true to the center of the number on his back, as Harper spun around. But Harper got even. Werth hit a soft liner that dropped for a single and Harper, running hard all the way, got to third. Then when Hammels threw to first to keep Werth close, Harper stole home! Better than shouting at him, better than a shoving match. Harper gave him the message “you put me on first, buddy, and I’m going to hurt your ERA.” Can’t say they won that game, but overall they’re scoring 3.5 and yielding 2.6 runs per game, close to the magical 3-2.
As for the other teams, the case is admittedly iffier. DC United wishes they were scoring 3 goals on average. The ‘Skins, given the relatively weak talent around RGIII, are likely to win and lose a lot of games by around the 3-2 level, if you count that in scores per game. Translating to football points, that would be like 13-6 or 21-13. But you get the point. Here in DC, contests are low-scoring, tight, and interesting. But would it just kill the hockey gods to make the next one low-scoring, tight, interesting, and also victorious?
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.