Elias Says: May 8, 2017

James caps unprecedented performance with another 35-point game

LeBron James scored 35 points in the Cavaliers’ 109–102 victory at Toronto, completing a four-game sweep of the Raptors. James, who scored 35, 39, and 35 points in the first three games of the series, became the first player in NBA history to score 35 or more points in every game of a four-game sweep. Three other players scored at least 30 points: Hakeem Olajuwon of the Rockets against the Magic in 1995, Shaquille O’Neal of the Lakers against the Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals, and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers against the Jazz in 2010.

Cleveland has won each of its last 12 potential series-clinching playoff games. That matched the longest such streak in NBA history, set by the Lakers from 2000 to 2004.

For second straight game, Wizards get on a roll that Celtics can’t stop

Washington went on a 26–0 run in the third quarter on Sunday, rolling to a 121–102 victory that evened its series with Boston at two games apiece. The Wizards also had a 22–0 run in Game 3 of the series. They are the first team since the Spurs in 2012 to score 20 consecutive points twice in the same postseason.

Prior to Game 3 on Thursday, no team had scored 20 consecutive points in an NBA playoff game since the Clippers went on a 23–0 run against the Rockets in 2015. A total of 173 postseason games were played in the interim.

Another big win for the Rockets over the Spurs

The Rockets defeated the Spurs, 125–104. Combined with Houston’s 126–99 victory in Game 1, this is the first playoff series in team history in which the Rockets posted a pair of wins by at least 20 points each. The Spurs hadn’t suffered two 20-point losses in the same playoff series since 2001, when the Lakers had a pair of big wins over the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

Stanton homers twice at his home away from home

Giancarlo Stanton hit a pair of homers and drove in four runs in the Marlins’ 7–0 win over the Mets. Stanton, who also homered on Saturday, has hit 20 home runs in 186 at-bats at Citi Field (one per 9.3 at-bats). No other active player has a home-run rate of one every 10 ABs or better at a stadium where he has hit at least 20 homers—nor has Stanton done so at any other ballpark.

For some historical context, the last player with at least 20 home runs at one stadium with a home-run rate as high as Stanton’s at Citi Field was Lance Berkman. Berkman hit 23 homers in 213 at-bats at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati (one per 9.3 ABs).

A milestone for Camden Yards

Speaking of ballparks, the Orioles’ 4–0 win over the White Sox on Sunday was the 2000th regular-season game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Three players whose career began in the 1960s played at Camden Yards: Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, and Rick Dempsey. It’s strange to think that Ryan played at stadiums that were longtime home fields for Manny Machado and Honus Wagner (Forbes Field).

Oddly, this was the ninth straight victory by teams hosting their venue’s 2000th game—a pure coincidence if ever there was one, considering those events were played with little or no fanfare. (Note that there was no mention of Game #2000 in the wire-service story for Sunday’s game.) That streak dates back to the 2000th game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati in 1995.

But here’s something that’s more than a coincidence: The average of 2.40 home runs per game at Oriole Park is the highest at any stadium that has hosted at least 2000 major-league games. That distinction probably won’t last too long; the 2000th game at Coors Field will be played late in the 2019 season. The average at Coors is 2.66 homers per game.

Sale’s strikeouts still making headlines

Chris Sale struck out 10 batters in 6 innings, improving to 3–2 in the Red Sox’ 17–6 win at Minnesota. Sale’s MLB-leading total of 73 strikeouts this season is the highest in a pitcher’s first seven appearances of a season since 2002, when Curt Schilling, pitching for the Diamondbacks, struck out 75 batters in his first seven starts.

Impressive as Sale’s achievement is, we don’t want to overlook the rarity of Boston’s 10-run ninth inning. It was the latest double-digit inning by the Red Sox or against the Twins in the history of either franchise. That includes 60 seasons by the Washington Senators before they moved to Minnesota.

A new prize for Judge

Aaron Judge may have failed to hit a home run on his first trip to Wrigley Field. But Judge left Chicago with a new bauble: With an RBI-triple in the seventh inning, he took over the AL lead in total bases (78). And if you think that’s not a big deal, consider this: No rookie has finished a season as his league’s leader in that category since 1964, when rookies led both leagues: Tony Oliva in the AL and Dick Allen in the NL.

Phillies spoil Werth’s big day with dramatic win

The Phillies overcame another two-homer game by Jayson Werth to deliver a stunning 6–5 10-inning win over the Nationals. It was a bitter ending for Werth, whose last three multiple-homer games have all come against the Phillies. (The others were in 2015.) Only three other players in major-league history had such a string—that is, each of three straight multi-HR games against the same team, having previously played for that club: Woodie Held against the Kansas City Athletics (1960), Graig Nettles against the Indians (1974), and Russell Martin against the Yankees (2015–16).

Reds cut Giants down to size in three-game romp

Cincinnati completed a devastating three-game sweep of San Francisco, following wins by scores of 13–3 and 14–2 with a 4–0 victory on Sunday. That was the Reds’ highest run total in a three-game series against the Giants since May 1898, when Cincinnati topped the New York Giants by scores of 12–6, 13–4, and 11–7 (scoring a total of 36 runs).

The Giants hadn’t been outscored by 26 runs in a series of any length since 1922, when the Pirates scored 37 runs to New York’s 10 in a four-game sweep at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. The only other three-game series in which the Giants were outscored by a margin that wide was against Boston in July 1894.

Almonte’s sac bunt sets up the only run in Indians’ win

Carlos Santana followed a double by Yan Gomes and a sacrifice by Abraham Almonte with an RBI-single in the fifth inning of the Indians’ 1–0 victory at Kansas City. That was the 373rd 1–0 win since 2010, but only the 35th in which the run was set up by a sacrifice bunt (9.4%). That’s about half the corresponding rate during the 1970s: 523 wins by a 1–0 score, with 95 of them following a sac bunt (18.2%).

Healy’s got a knack for game-enders

Ryon Healy hit a game-ending home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the A’s an 8–6 win over the Tigers. That was the first time Healy batted in a potential walkoff situation since July 23 last season, when he hit a two-out, ninth-inning home run off Alex Colome of the Rays. Healy is the fourth player to hit walkoff home runs for the A’s as both a rookie and second-year player. The others were Mule Haas (1928–29), Woodie Held (1957–58), and Kurt Suzuki (2007–08).

Pham’s homer ends a long game at a new ballpark

Tommy Pham’s second home run of the game was a 14th-inning blast that gave the Cardinals a 5–4 win at Sun Trust Park, the new home of the Braves. During the 20 seasons that Atlanta played its home games at Turner Field (1997–2016), only one visiting player hit a game-winning homer that far into extra innings: Adam LaRoche for the Nationals in the 15th inning on August 17, 2013.

Astros top Angels with Trout on the sideline

Mike Trout missed his second straight game with an injured left hamstring, and this time the Astros were able to take advantage, defeating the Angels, 5–3, on Sunday. Over the last six seasons, the Angels have a 15–27 record in games that Trout missed (.357), compared to a .531 winning percentage in the games he played.

Reynolds hits 3 HR in 3 days against his former team

Mark Reynolds opened the scoring with a solo home run in the second inning, and the Rockies were never caught, eventually opening a 5–0 lead en route to a 5–2 win over the Diamondbacks. Reynolds, who homered in all three games of the series, had hit a home run in every game of a series that long only once before: in 2009 while playing for the D-backs.

Thames finds his home-run stroke

It was only an ultimately unneeded tack-on run. But Milwaukee’s final tally in the top of the ninth in a 6–2 win at Pittsburgh was scored on Eric Thames’ first home run since April 25. Thames’ streak of 37 at-bats in the interim was by far his longest without a homer this season; prior to that, he hadn’t gone more than 17 ABs homerless. For sake of contrast, during two previous seasons in the majors (2011–12), Thames had 10 separate streaks of at least 40 at-bats without a homer.

Osuna sweats one out, but closes the deal

Roberto Osuna made things interesting, allowing a walk and a single with two outs in the ninth before nailing down the Blue Jays’ 2–1 victory over the Rays. Osuna came into the game with as many blown saves as saves (3), and Sunday marked the first time this season that he earned a “quality save”—those in which a pitcher entered with the tying run in scoring position or protected a one-run lead for at least one inning. Over two previous seasons in the majors, Osuna was charged with nearly as many blown saves (9) as he was credited with quality saves (12).

Incidentally, the ninth-inning single by Colby Rasmus off Osuna was the only one allowed by Toronto’s bullpen in five scoreless innings of work on Sunday. It was the first time that the Jays’ relievers won a game by pitching at least five shutout innings allowing fewer than two hits since June 7, 2013 against the Rangers.

Oilers start fast, leave little doubt they’re coming back for Game 7

The Oilers were facing elimination in Game 6 of their series against the Ducks but they outscored Anaheim 5–0 in the first period and went to post a series-tying 7–1 victory. They tied the NHL record for most first-period goals by a team in a playoff game in which they could have been elminated. It’s been done three other times: by the Bruins in Game 4 of their best-of-five first-round series against the Penguins in 1980 (5–0), the Flyers in Game 5 of their second-round matchup with the Flames in 1981 (5–1), and the Red Wings in Game 4 of their second-round series versus the Sharks in 2010 (5–0). Of those three teams only the 1980 Bruins went on to win the series.

Another standout performance by Draisaitl

Leon Draisaitl, who had a goal and three assists in Game 1 of the Oilers-Ducks series, scored three goals and assisted on two on Sunday night. Draisaitl is the first player with two games of four or more points in the same NHL playoff series since 1995, when Theo Fluery of the Flames and Ron Francis of the Penguins both did it, against the Sharks and Capitals, respectively.

Halfway to the Cup, the Predators have already made team history

The Predators clinched their first berth in a Conference Final with a 3–1 win over the Blues in Game 6 of their second-round series. Nashville, which entered the NHL in the 1998–99 season, is one of the three current NHL teams that has never played in a Conference Final series. The others are also recent expansion franchises: the Jets, who entered the league as the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999–2000 and moved to Winnipeg in 2011, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, whose first season was 2000–01.

But the Islanders remain the NHL team that’s gone the longest since it last played in a Conference Final. The Islanders’ last reached the third round in 1993, when they lost the Wales Conference Final to the Canadiens in five games.