The official blog of WTOP Sports.

    Bryce Harper so upset he flied out, he doesn’t realize he’s homered

    WASHINGTON -- Wrigley Field is historic for many reasons. Just one of those is its famous winds, which have the tendency to make baseballs do unexpected things when hit high enough into the air. Notably, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was asked about those winds heading into the club’s current series with the Cubs on Chicago’s north side. His response was so very Bryce Harper.

    A Cubs reporter asked Bryce Harper if he's checked the flags to see what the wind's doing. "I don't need wind," he replied.

    — Dan Kolko (@masnKolko) May 25, 2015

    In general, Harper is probably correct in his assessment. He entered Tuesday evening leading the National League in home runs, with nine of those traveling 400 feet or more. And then this happened.

    Yes, that ball landed in the third row above the baskets. Yes, Harper flung his bat aside in disgust after hitting it, thinking it was a can of corn to left field. Yes, he and the rest of those unfamiliar with Wrigley’s ways uttered “wow” after he crossed home plate. Now he knows. Hopefully, he won’t rub it in to Ryan Zimmerman.
    FBI investigating St. Louis Cardinals for hacking Houston Astros

    WASHINGTON -- The St. Louis Cardinals are under investigation by the FBI for hacking the Houston Astros, according to a report from The New York Times Tuesday.

    Investigators uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials digitally accessed an Astros database including internal discussions on potential trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports. Subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball, per the Times.

    Jeff Luhnow, the Astros general manager, had formerly worked for the Cardinals before assuming his current post in 2011.

    Luhnow’s computer network called Ground Control was hacked last year with certain documents revealed on Deadspin. After that cyber attack, MLB notified the FBI to investigate. The bureau found that the Astros’ network had been accessed by a home computer at a residence where Cardinals officials lived.
    Paul Pierce goes dunking with Jimmy Kimmel

    WASHINGTON -- Paul Pierce seems to be enjoying the offseason.

    The Wizards swingman and 10-time NBA All-Star appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to play Sink it or Swim, a mano y mano competition where making a basket while seating on a dunk tank platform sinks one’s opponent, who is in the same precarious position.

    “You might win, I haven’t taken a shot in three weeks,” said Pierce right before they began.

    They layoff didn’t seem to affect him, as he nearly drained the first shot before getting the second one to go, sending a shirt-and-tie clad Kimmel into the tank.

    And Pierce almost got away with it splash free. Kimmel fires up a couple more after getting dunked, eventually seeming content conceding. But as he’s kicking to the break, Kimmel heaves up one last shot, knocking it down and sending Pierce into the frigid water.

    Happy offseason, everyone.
    Doug Fister loses game, but saves wedding ring

    WASHINGTON -- The Nationals lost the battle Thursday night, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays, but Doug Fister won the war.

    After a nasty changeup for a strikeout to end the first inning, Fister started off the mound toward the dugout, then stopped, realizing that he had left something behind. Somehow, during his delivery, Fister’s wedding ring fell off his glove hand and dropped onto the mound behind him.

    Fister picked the ring up like a pro, slipped it back on and resumed his walk to the dugout. While he eventually took the loss, he no doubt saved himself a lot more grief with his quick find on the mound.
    Josh Donaldson just made the catch of the year

    WASHINGTON -- Shut it down. No more entries are needed. Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson just made the catch of the year.

    In the bottom of the eighth inning of Marco Estrada’s perfect game bid, in a scoreless tie, on a 3-2 pitch, David DeJesus skied a foul ball down the third base line, a few rows out of play. Or, at least, it should have been out of play.

    That’s when Donaldson went into a headlong dive, with no regard for his (or anyone else’s) safety, risking life and limb to make one of the best catches your eyes will ever see. And while the perfect game was lost on the next batter, this catch will be the enduring image that will live in highlight reels for years to come.
    Mets, Phillies fans worst writers in MLB

    WASHINGTON -- It’s been a good week for the Nationals and a bad one for the Mets. In addition to grabbing the NL East division lead away, Washington fans can now also claim to be far more proficient writers than their New York counterparts, a fact that they will no doubt find unsurprising.

    In a recent Grammarly study, Mets supporters came in dead last among MLB fans in terms of grammar mistakes made on team comment boards. Only adding to Nats fans’ joy, Phillies fans were close on their heels. Those two fan bases were the only ones to average more than 13 mistakes per 100 words.

    Conversely, Nationals fans rated the 10th-best in the league, clocking in under six errors per 100 words. That’s good enough to lead the NL East off the field as well, with Miami (16th, 7.0) and Atlanta (22nd, 10.2) well back in the field. This is especially impressive, considering that Redskins fans rated the worst in the NFL according to a similar study conducted in April.

    Cleveland Indians fans displayed the cleanest use of the English language, making only 3.6 errors per 100 words. For the full study, see Grammarly.com.
    Conor Doyle’s rocket leads D.C. United past Chicago

    WASHINGTON -- Road wins are road wins in MLS, and any time you can get out of another city with three points it’s a good night. So while Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United may have been hoping for a win against the last place Chicago Fire, they were only in position for a scoreless draw as the game began to wear thin Wednesday night.

    That’s when, in the 73rd minute, Conor Doyle collected a rebound of a blocked shot several yards outside the box and unleashed an absolute rocket past disbelieving Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the lone strike of the game.

    The win gave United 34 points through 19 matches, putting them a full 10 points clear of second place New England as they begin a five-game road swing that will culminate July 18 in Dallas.
    Mets rookie’s grandfather is the best baseball fan

    Rookie Mets pitcher Steven Matz made his Major League debut on Sunday, where he got off to an inauspicious start by surrendering a home run to the very first batter he faced. But he settled in after that, and delivered an historic day at the plate, collecting three hits and four RBI to lead New York to a 7-2 victory and doubleheader sweep over the Cincinnati Reds.

    Matz doubled home a pair to give the Mets a 2-1 lead in his first-at bat, then singled through the open hole at shortstop on a hit-and-run his second time up. But it was his third hit, a two-run, bases-loaded single over a drawn-in Brandon Phillips at second base, that sent his grandfather into a state of pure joy and disbelief.

    (GIF from Amazin' Avenue/SB Nation)

    Sitting with other family members in a box watching his grandson make his debut, Grandpa Matz couldn’t believe his eyes. For a family from Suffolk County on Long Island chalk full of Mets fans, it was simply too much for the patriarch to handle. And it gave us one of the best sporting moments of 2015 so far.

    Two huge crashes force suspension of Tour de France

    WASHINGTON -- The world’s premiere cycling event, Le Tour de France, kicked off this weekend. But on Monday, Stage 3 grinded to a halt after a pair of horrific crashes involving dozens of riders prompted race officials to suspend the race for 18 minutes to allow the crashed riders to recover.

    Included in the second crash was the wearer of the yellow jersey, race leader Fabian Cancellara. At least four riders were forced to abandon the race as a result of their injuries, according got Sky Sports.

    The crash was particularly gruesome due to the speed of the tightly packed crew of riders. According to data from the Tour, the average speed during the fall was over 42 kilometers per hour, or better than 26 miles per hour.
    It’s a tarp!

    WASHINGTON -- Tarp-pulling can be dangerous business.

    Sure, we like to boo the grounds crew, in their matching uniforms, as they job out to cover the field, signaling an impending weather delay. But when strong winds rip through, it takes a team effort to keep the tarp flat on the field, doing its job. In Pittsburgh Tuesday night, it took actual members of the Pirates to make it so.

    Players are used to pulling tarp, as it’s standard in both high school and college for them to do it themselves. That doesn’t make the impulse of Andrew McCutchen, Sean Rodriguez and teammates any less impressive, coming to the rescue of the poor grounds crew member swallowed whole by the rolling tarp.
    Sports Illustrated honors USWNT with cover for each player

    WASHINGTON -- It was tough to choose just one player to represent the U.S. Women's National Team's World Cup victory. So Sports Illustrated didn't choose. Instead, they gave each member of the team her own cover.

    To see a slideshow of each cover and see a behind-the-scenes video of the photo shoot, visit si.com.
    Maryland men's basketball announces 2015-16 non-conference schedule

    WASHINGTON -- The Maryland men’s basketball team announced its 2015-16 non-conference schedule today. Maryland begins competition with an exhibition on Nov. 6 versus Southern New Hampshire.

    The Terps will officially open the 2015-16 campaign on Nov. 13 at XFINITY Center against Mount Saint Mary’s.

    The Terps then welcome Georgetown to College Park for the first time in 42 years as part of the inaugural Gavitt Games on Nov. 17.

    An old rivalry will be renewed Dec. 1 as Maryland makes the trek to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina in the ACC/B1G Challenge. Maryland is tied for the second-most wins all-time in the Challenge, collecting 10 victories since its inception in 1999. Maryland and North Carolina will meet for the 180th time in school history in a series that dates back to 1924.

    Maryland wraps up its non-conference schedule with a home contest versus Marshall Dec. 27.

    2015-16 Non-Conference Schedule
    Fri., Nov. 6 Southern New Hampshire (Exhibition)
    Fri., Nov. 13 Mount Saint Mary’s
    Tue., Nov. 17 Georgetown
    Fri., Nov. 20 Rider
    Tue., Nov. 24 vs. Illinois State (Cancun Classic)
    Wed., Nov. 25 vs. Rhode Island/TCU (Cancun Classic)
    Sat., Nov. 28 Cleveland State
    Tue., Dec. 1 at North Carolina (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
    Fri., Dec. 4 St. Francis (PA)
    Tue., Dec. 8 vs. UConn (Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden - NYC)
    Sat., Dec. 12 Maryland-Eastern Shore
    Sat., Dec. 19 Princeton (at Royal Farms Arena - Baltimore)
    Sun., Dec. 27 Marshall

    Indiana Pacers to wear ‘Hoosiers’ themed jerseys

    WASHINGTON -- Basketball is life in Indiana. That’s true to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine a professional team in any other state wearing a special theme jersey with a high school basketball team’s colors, much less a fictional one.

    But that’s exactly what the Indiana Pacers will do for select games in the 2015-16 NBA season, as they rock red and gold Hickory jerseys, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the release of the movie Hoosiers

    Now, if only the Pacers can actually make a spirited, miracle run through the Eastern Conference Playoffs…

    Nationals unveil team-specific emojis

    WASHINGTON -- While their National League rival Los Angeles Dodgers were busy adding strength to their starting rotation and bench -- and possibly setting themselves up for even bigger deals -- the Washington Nationals unveiled a set of roughly 10 team-specific emojis on Wednesday.

    An early look at the emojis, via the Nationals and The Washington Post. 

    As Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post first reported, the club will reveal the emojis over their social media accounts. Generic images include versions of the Curly W logo, while others include Racing President Teddy Roosevelt, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and the chocolate syrup bottle that has become a part of the team’s postgame celebrations this season.

    The Nationals are not the first MLB team to create their own emoji set, as the New York Yankees have had theirs available for download since the beginning of the season.

    As of press time, the four horsemen of the apocalypse had not yet appeared in the skies above Washington.

  • Motor vehicles destroy bike race

    WASHINGTON -- When watching major bike races like Le Tour de France, it’s always impressive how the motorbikes and team cars are able to weave through the packs of cyclists without disturbing the race, much less making contact with the riders. With all the narrow roads along with the steep ascents and declines, it’s a wonder they aren’t constantly colliding.

    Well, welcome to the Tour of Utah this weekend. On a sharp descent into a hairpin left-hand turn, everything goes horribly wrong.

    Irish rider Matt Brammeier is the unfortunate soul who T-bones the team car at the 0:21 mark. And as brutal as the collision is, it may have kept him from careening straight off the mountain. But the absurdity is just getting started.

    With Brammeier down in the road on the back half of the turn, the team cars slow to avoid him as onlookers rush to help. Then there are the motorbikes, particularly the one with the rider rocking the orange vest. Stopping in the middle of the turn to gawk at the scene, he takes out not one, but TWO other riders simultaneously, glances at the wreckage he’s wreaked, then just moseys his way on down the mountain.

    His fellow rider ambles through the scene afterward, clipping a fallen rider’s water bottle and firing it back into his broken body, adding literal insult to injury. Good try, guys, good effort.

    While he was hospitalized with multiple fractures, Brammeier is listed in stable condition and may avoid surgery altogether.

    All good in the hood guys. Thanks for the messages. pic.twitter.com/SGB8NEssCF

    — Matt Brammeier (@Mattbrammeier85) August 9, 2015

    Golfer, caddie murdered by kraken in new GEICO ad

    WASHINGTON -- Is it just us, or are GEICO ads getting awful dark these days?

    Just in time for the PGA Championship comes a new spot, in which a giant squid inexplicably emerges from a lake on the course and grabs hold of a golfer and his caddy, sending terrified spectators fleeing for their lives. Meanwhile, the monster uses other tentacles to wreak havoc on a television tower as it decides, presumably, the order in which to eat its prey.

    It’s all a bit morbid, especially for a supposedly comedic ad, in which the punchline (as it were) is that the golf announcers remain in a heartless whisper despite the murderous destruction going on around them.

    But hey, anything to lighten it up on HUMP DAY, amirite GEICO?
  • Minor leaguer places trash can lid on head, ends up saving his own neck

    WASHINGTON -- File this under things-you-could-try-again-a-thousand-times-and-never-repeat.

    During Wednesday night’s minor league game between the El Paso Chihuahuas and the Las Vegas 51s, Chihuahuas second baseman Ramiro Pena lined a foul ball into the Las Vegas dugout, sending a plastic trashcan spilling down the steps and dislodging the lid.

    51s catcher Johnny Monell, after scrambling out of the way, grabbed both the can and the lid, using the latter as a makeshift helmet as he had himself a laugh. But as it turned out, that helmet would get some immediate use.

    Pena pulled the very next pitch foul again into the dugout, striking Monell in his makeshift helmet. The catcher celebrated his stroke of ingenuitive genius with his teammates before restoring it to its rightful place.

    Catchers, man.

    New Madden NFL 16 ad is five minutes of hot, flaming nonsense

    WASHINGTON -- What?

    Madden NFL 16 | Madden: The Movie
    by EASPORTS via YouTube

    The one thing we can say about this is that it sure is something. Don’t expect any actual football from it, unless you consider whatever Rob Gronkowski is doing to be football.

    If there was any way to distill this to the entertainment value of Julio Jones (excuse me -- Trick Montalban) continuously karate chopping a goon for 20 seconds while breaking the fourth wall into the entire thing, maybe we’d have something here.

    Impossible to un-watch, indeed.

    Dan Snyder, Joe Theismann surprise Washington couple vacationing
    in Greece with gifts

    Joe Theismann (center) with newly-engaged couple Zach Gordon and Stacy Kaufman in Greece over Labor Day weekend. (Courtesy of Stacy Kaufman)

    WASHINGTON --Everyone sing along with me: "It's a small world after all…" 

    A local couple, Stacy Kaufman (who works in the WTOP Sales Department) and her fiancée Zach Gordon, were vacationing in Greece over Labor Day weekend. After getting engaged on the second to last night of their trip they decided to dine at Selene, a restaurant in Santorini. As they were enjoying their meal, they noticed Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his wife Tanya, along with former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, his wife and others sitting at a table next to them.  

    Waiting for the right moment, Zach approached Theismann once he got up from the table, explained that they were from Washington, and asked if he would take a picture with them.

    Theismann agreed, and once the couple told the Redskins contingent that they were from the area and had just gotten engaged the night before, the group started talking and spent a good amount of time together. Upon leaving Tanya Snyder asked for a business card and for shirt sizes of the couple. 

    After returning to Washington, Zach received a big package delivered to his office. He took it home and opened it with Stacy. Inside was a large amount of Redskins gear and a note from the Snyders congratulating them on their engagement.

    All that is fine and good, but we have another question: What were the Snyders and Joe Theismann doing vacationing in Greece together?

    The contents of the package. (Courtesy of Stacy Kaufman)

    Taylor Swift has cursed Major League Baseball

    Surely baseball fans would never believe in curses, right? (AP Photo/John G. Mabanglo) 

    WASHINGTON -- Taylor Swift is popular enough that the most logical venues for her shows are the largest ones available. Those tend to be sports stadiums, so the fact that her summer tour in support of her 1989 album included a number of Major League Baseball parks was no surprise.

    But some believe the tour has cast a dark pall over the sport. As ESPNW reported, when Tay Tay visits your ballpark, something wicked this way comes.

    Two nights after Swift’s second of two concerts at Nationals Park this summer, a bank of lights went out. The Nats had a 2-game NL East lead at the time, coming out of the All-Star break. They have gone just 32-39 since, tumbling out of playoff contention as they were eliminated over the weekend.

    When the Houston Astros unexpectedly charged out to first place in the AL West, they moved Swift’s tour date at Minute Maid Park from October 13 to September 9 to avoid any potential conflict with a home playoff game. When Swift played her show, the Astros held a two-game lead in the division. But they have gone just 8-11 since, clinging by a half-game to the final Wild Card spot as of Thursday.

    The last time Houston collapsed with a great chance of making the postseason? Oh. Oh no.

    As baseball fans are (begin sarcasm font) entirely reasonable people who would never believe in silly things like superstitions (end sarcasm font), surely there is no connection to be drawn between the two. Right?

    Swift performs at Rogers Centre in Toronto this weekend, home of the Blue Jays. GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN, TORONTO!
  • Breaking Madden has RG3 destroy Washington

    WASHINGTON -- For those unfamiliar with it, Breaking Madden is a web series produced for SB Nation by Jon Bois. Over the past few years, Bois has taken a number of different scenarios into the game to expose its programming flaws and attempt to deliver entertaining results. This week, he exacted Robert Griffin III’s revenge on Washington.

    If you are a Washington football fan, you will either find it hilarious or infuriating, depending on your perspective. Either way, you will probably laugh at the Kirk Cousisn GIF.

    Whether you are familiar with Breaking Madden or not, you should read the entire setup to fully understand what is happening.

    Texas Governor drops massive jinx on both state baseball teams

    WASHINGTON -- Don’t try telling Astros and Rangers fans that sports jinxes aren’t real.

    At 3:02 p.m. local time in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott dropped the kind of massive tweet jinx usually reserved for Washington Nationals beat writers. Not only did he prematurely call out a result that was still six outs from being final, with Houston leading Kansas City 6-2 in the top of the eighth, he called out the Rangers, only leading 2-1 in their best-of-five series, about to start Game 4.

    The Astros immediately surrendered four runs before recording an out, allowing five in all in a disastrous eighth inning. The Royals tacked on two more in the ninth to swipe a 9-6 win and push the series back to Kansas City for Game 5.

    Meanwhile, Rangers starting pitcher Derek Holland was tattooed for three home runs his first time through the Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup, eventually leaving after two innings of work with six earned runs on his ledger. The Blue Jays had a 7-1 lead through three innings.

    Abbott tried to enact some damage control, but the baseball gods cared little for the effort.

    ESPN ranks Redskins third-worst professional sports franchise

    Dan Snyder's team was the lowest-ranked in the NFL. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) 

    WASHINGTON -- ESPN released its annual Ultimate Standings Tuesday, ranking all big four professional North American sports franchises based on a combination of competitiveness, management and fan experience. The Washington Redskins ranked 120th of the 122 teams, and dead last in the NFL.

    The FedEx Field stadium experience was the worst individual ranking, coming in at 119. The highest rank was for the team’s title track, tied for 68th. Overall, the team dropped 11 spots from last year’s rankings.

    Of the other D.C. sports teams, the Washington Nationals ranked highest (41), followed by the Capitals (55) and Wizards (63).

    The NFC East: Where you’re always still in it

    WASHINGTON -- A Monday Night Football matchup between a 3-8 team and a 5-6 one doesn’t sound like one worth watching, much less one with major playoff implications. But here we are. As Dallas and Washington prepare to battle at FedEx Field, the NFC East is still entirely up in the air, thanks to division-wide mediocrity.

    That was the subject of this Rob Riggle faux ad over the weekend.

    Dr. Rob Riggle diagnoses the NFC East with his Week 13 Picks!
    via YouTube

    This isn’t the first time Riggle has spoofed the awfulness of the division. In case you missed it, he joined with Ken Jeong earlier in the season for this Adele-themed duet.

    Ken Jeong and Rob Riggle parody 'Hello' by Adele | FOX NFL Sunday
    by FoxSports via YouTube

    Woo-hoo! Race for the playoffs!

    Bryce Harper’s new Gatorade ad is…an ad

    WASHINGTON -- Remember Bryce Harper’s Gatorade ad last year? The EXTREME, “Welcome to the Jungle” scored, in-your-face, home run-launched baseball morphing into Harper’s screaming face as it flies out of the ballpark nightmare fuel?

    His new Gatorade spot is perhaps the exact opposite.

    Alright, then. Go team.
    Caps celebrate holidays ‘A Christmas Story’ style

    WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals are wishing you a Happy Holidays by appearing in roles of the classic film “A Christmas Story.” Behold.

    We think Ovi looks more like a technicolor Donnie Darko, but “deranged Easter Bunny” works too. But hey -- 44 points in 29 games earns you plenty of holiday video leeway.

    Steelers fans thank Bills for helping team into playoffs

    WASHINGTON -- The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Sunday in a tough spot, needing both a win over Cleveland and a New York Jets loss to the Buffalo Bills to sneak into the playoffs. Pittsburgh took care of the Browns, and the Bills upset the Jets, thwarting New York’s comeback attempt with a trio of fourth-quarter interceptions.

    As thanks for the aid into the postseason, a special thank you package showed up in Buffalo Tuesday morning.

    The enemy of my enemy is the guy I buy sandwiches for. That’s how that saying goes, right?

    Bernie Sanders moves to right wing, relies on banks for success

    WASHINGTON -- As he waited for results to come in from the New Hampshire Primary Tuesday night, America’s grandfather and Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders moved to the right wing and repeatedly used banks to lift himself to success on camera. Just look at this.

    Megyn Kelly Impressed with Bernie Sanders' Basketball Skills
    via YouTube

    Now that’s a political machine if I’ve ever seen one. Squaring up to the basket from the low block, Sanders hits shot after shot, reducing his sons to shagging for him. That’s truly change we can believe in. No, really -- give your dad his change.

    Vanderbilt player defies physics, fires 70-foot chest pass into basket

    WASHINGTON -- We’ve seen some low percentage, long-distance shots go in at various levels of basketball this year. While each one is a prayer, most at least have some arc, following a trajectory that, in theory, could possibly lead to a made basket.

    Then you have this.

    Vandy's Henderson surprised by his own 80-foot shot
    via YouTube

    Did you stay and watch all five replays? You should have.

    Vanderbilt center Josh Henderson watches a teammate block a potential game-tying layup seconds before the first-half buzzer, corrals the rebound at the opposite free throw line and just fires a 70-foot rocket to the other end of the court. In no rational universe does this “shot” go in. Its very existence seems merely for show, a living testament that one should always play out any opportunity for points until the final buzzer.

    And then it goes in. Vanderbilt, clinging to fading NCAA Tournament hopes, went up by five heading into the locker room en route to a much-needed 13-point road victory. Take that, rational universe.

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