...but an even more unlikely hero lifts the Nats

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...but an even more unlikely hero lifts the Nats

From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday in an NL playoff opener.They have just four players with postseason experience on the roster. But they have the lead."Not many people have probably watched too many Nationals games, but we have a great starting rotation and a great bullpen," said Ian Desmond, who singled for his third hit in the go-ahead rally. "They keep us in the ballgame and some timely hits from this kid, and the rest of the guys coming off the bench, that's really been the formula."The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez. They limited the Cardinals to just three hits."All the credit in the world goes to the bullpen," Gonzalez said. "I've been saying it all year. The reason why we've been so successful is these guys come in and shut it down."Rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Moore, another rookie, put them ahead soon after that, Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia."This team is not hanging our heads," St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said. "We can come back and win this easily."The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Wainwright, failing to capitalize enough on Gonzalez's career high-tying seven walks and frustrating its towel-waving fans.Mattheus diffused a bases-loaded, none-out threat in the seventh, getting cleanup man Allen Craig to ground into a forceout at the plate and then inducing a double-play grounder from Yadier Molina. Craig led the National League with a .400 average with runners in scoring position and Molina batted .321 in those situations."It was a big moment," Mattheus said. "It gave us life. The guys said, Hey, we can win this ballgame.'"A standing room crowd of 47,078, among the largest at 7-year-old Busch Stadium, bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled hitters for several innings."It was pretty bad, but you have to make adjustments and that's what I did," Molina said. "But what are you going to do? Quit? No."Third-place hitter Matt Holliday chimed in his complaints about facing Gonzalez: "He's hard to hit when you can see well and even harder when you can't."Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma misplayed Michael Morse's grounder for an error to open the eighth and set up the Nationals' go-ahead rally. Desmond followed with a single off Mitchell Boggs, putting runners at the corners.Danny Espinsoa sacrificed, leaving runners at second and third, and Kurt Suzuki struck out. In a series of moves, the Nationals sent up Chad Tracy to pinch hit, the Cardinals switched to lefty Marc Rzepczynski and Washington subbed in Moore, who had two of their three pinch homers this season.Rzepczynski pretty much hit his location but Moore poked it to right field and both runners scored easily."I was just trying to calm myself down and try to make some things happen and not strike out up there," Moore said. "I wanted to at least put something into play."Nationals manager Davey Johnson doesn't usually play small ball but opted for the bunt because Espinosa had been having a tough game."I'm kind of from the Earl Weaver school, just keep swinging," Johnson said. "Don't like to steal that much, either. I don't like to give up outs."Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in strikeouts since Bob Gibson also fanned 10 to beat the Tigers in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series.Wainwright was a 14-game winner coming off reconstructive elbow surgery that sidelined him all of 2011, with 10 of the wins coming at home. He's been a postseason ace with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.He fanned Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman twice each and seventh-place hitter Espinosa all three times."My fastball command kind of left me at the end," Wainwright said. "For the most part I felt like I went out there and competed my tail off. Gave it everything I had."Gonzalez allowed just one hit in five innings, on David Freese's full-count bouncer between third and short to start the fourth. But he had trouble finding catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove and keeping warm."I kept blowing in my hand, kept looking to do whatever I could to throw a strike," Gonzalez said.The second inning was Gonzalez' shakiest when he allowed the Cardinals to score twice and take the lead without a hit. Gonzalez walked four of the first five hitters, putting St. Louis in position to score one run on a wild pitch and a second on Jon Jay's bases-loaded sacrifice fly."The whole time I was just saying minimize the damage because things were spinning out of control. I just wanted to match everything Wainwright did. I was trying to keep up with him."Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a two-run homer off with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh, ranging far to his left to glove Harper's grounder and then throwing him out by a few steps.NOTES:The Cardinals went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. ... Garcia was 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts at home. The lefty has a 2.48 career ERA at Busch. ... Gonzalez also walked seven on June 11, 2011, when he was with Oakland against the White Sox. ... Kozma committed one error in 26 games after taking over as the regular SS in September for injured Rafael Furcal.

Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

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Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

BOSTON – Success comes in many shapes and sizes, and is not always seen the same by NBA players – not even teammates.

That was certainly the case following Boston’s 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks which ended the Celtics season.

While Boston won more regular season games (48) than they did a year ago and put up a much better fight than last season's four-game sweep at the hands of Cleveland, having the season end the way it did at home on Thursday clearly left a bitter taste in the mouths of most players.

Whether this was a successful season is open to debate.

But what’s abundantly clear for the Celtics is this team did indeed make progress from where they were a year ago when they were swept out of the playoffs by Cleveland in the first round.

“You go from 40 (wins) – under .500 and barely making the playoffs and kind of eeking  in at the end by winning six straight to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the East,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And so yes, there’s progress.”

But as far as this being a successful season, that’s not nearly as cut and dry.

“Of course it’s only going to be one team to have a successful year and that’s’ when you hold that trophy up,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “So, until we do that, it’s not a successful season. We are going to keep building, keep working.”

Celtics guard Marcus Smart had a slightly different opinion on the matter.

“I don’t look at it as a failure, for sure,” Smart said. “We did a lot of great things this season. We’re a young team. That’s good for us coming back. We have a lot of work to do obviously, but I don’t look at the season as a failure. So I guess you can say it was a success for us.”

But looking at how this season ended, while disappointing, serves as a reminder as to how Boston remains a team with talent but plenty of room to grow.

“People have told me all along there’s two really tough tasks, right?” Stevens said. “One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we’re in right now. And that’s been a path in the last three years to get there. And the next one is tough. And that’s been communicated before to me and we’re learning a lot. We learned a lot through this playoff series, but one of the things that I’ve learned is we’ve got to get better. And you know what? That starts with me. I’ve got to get better, and then I think each of our players will look at that accountably as well and we’re all going to be better the next time we take the court.”

And in doing so, look to build off the progress made this season and inch closer towards having a successful season which around here more often than not, means competing for an NBA title.

That’s why for Jared Sullinger, one of the few remaining players from the Big Three era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen when deep postseason runs were an expectation and not a goal, he doesn’t see this season as being a successful one for the Green team.

“If we’re thinking making it to the playoffs is a successful season, then we’re going in the wrong direction,” Sullinger said. “If you look in this locker room, you see everybody’s down. We didn’t want it to end like that; we wanted to make a run. It’s tough losing like that.”

Sullinger added, “last year we were glad to make the playoffs. This year, we wanted to make a run, we wanted to make some noise. Unfortunately, our noise got cut short.”

C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

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C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

BOSTON – There are few guarantees when it comes to the NBA and the Boston Celtics, but one thing’s for certain: change is going to come next season.

This is especially true for the Celtics whose season ended with a 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, sending the C’s home for the season with a second straight first round exit.

“That’s just the business of the NBA,” said Isaiah Thomas who had a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists which were both game highs on Thursday. “One thing I do know, I ride with these guys until the wheels fall off; I mean this was a special group.”

But whether they stay together remains to be seen.

Among those who could be on the move is Evan Turner, an unrestricted free agent this summer.

He will be among the more heavily pursued Celtics this summer, in large part because of his versatility as both a playmaker and scoring guard off the bench.

Several teams will come hard after Turner, among them being the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic who are desperate to add talented, proven veterans to their young rosters.

The second year of Jonas Jerebko’s contract becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster after July 3. Considering the way he played in the postseason as well as his steady presence during the regular season, the Celtics are more than likely to keep him around for next season.

Boston has a pair of restricted free agents in Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger. It is unclear what the Celtics will do with them because it remains to be seen what type of offers (if any) they receive from another team.

“This season didn’t go exactly how I would have wanted it to,” Zeller told CSNNE.com. “But I like it here, I like the coaching staff and the players. So we’ll see what happens this summer. But yeah, I’m definitely open to the idea of coming back next season.”

There’s a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding Amir Johnson who could potentially become a free agent this summer if the Celtics decline to pick up the second year on his contract which is worth $12 million.

When I asked Johnson if he felt he had done enough to have to his second year picked up by the Celtics he told CSNNE.com, “I hope so.”

Johnson added, “We never quit even when we were down big at the end of the game. I feel there’s stuff we can clean up and be better, from the coaching staff to the players to the front office. But there’s something about this team, we don’t have no quit in us. I feel like we can definitely go far if we just put the right pieces together.”

And as far as his future in Boston, “I definitely want to here.”

Only time will tell just how many of Boston’s potential free agents will be riding with the Green Team next season, or be swept away and wind up on another roster in what will surely be an offseason of change.