Riding the D.C. sports rollercoaster

WASHINGTON — There’s been a song running through my head the last few weeks, as the Wizards and Caps have both toyed with the emotions of D.C.’s fragile sports psyche, swinging from exuberance and elation to fatalistic dread and back again. Its head-boppy melody is evocative of the good times, belying the darker lyrics depicting the thrill and out-of-control adrenaline rush of a tumultuous relationship. If you’re a Wizards or Caps fan, you get it. You got it before Wednesday night. Fittingly, the song is called “Rollercoaster.” If the entire postseason stretch has been a day at the amusement park, a sensory overload of experiences, Wednesday night was the Big Dipper, the Cyclone; the crest of the steep incline giving way to the fear and thrill of the fall. As Clinton Yates pointed out Wednesday morning, this was the seventh time that the Capitals, Nationals, United and Wizards all played on the same day, but the first time that at least two of those games were of the postseason variety, including a Game 7. Never had all four teams won on the same day. The Nats had the opportunity to set the tone, playing perhaps the least relevant game of the day, and one with a high chance of victory. A regular season game against the bottom-feeding Arizona Diamondbacks doesn’t move the needle too much, even if it is a rubber match. A Gio Gonzalez-Jeremy Hellickson pitcher’s duel isn’t exactly appointment television. But it was a nice appetizer, an amuse-bouche to whet the palate before the real feast began.
It’s 3:57 p.m. and Bryce Harper leads off the second with a double, but is stranded. It’s nothing, really. In the grand scope of a baseball season, not even a drop in the bucket. And yet, it’s the type of thing the Nationals have struggled with in their own failures over the past few years, a symbolic act endemic of their big losses. Then Jayson Werth comes along the next inning and buries such thoughts with a thunderous, three-run home run. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
The lead is short-lived. The Dbacks strike right back for three runs to retake the lead, the last in part thanks to an Ian Desmond error. In the seventh, Tyler Moore clanks a pinch-hit, game-tying home run off the foul pole. Then Bryce Harper is ejected for arguing a check-swing third strike. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Another Desmond error is absolved in the eight, but the bullpen falters and Arizona pushes in front with three outs left. As the Nationals try to mount a rally, word comes down that John Wall — he of the five broken bones in his hand and wrist — will, in fact, play in Game 5 in Atlanta. The Wizards had not lost this postseason in five games with Wall in the lineup. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Of course Harper’s spot comes up in the ninth, with the bases loaded, no less. All the team’s faults look to have combined to cost them a series they should win, until, out of nowhere, at 7:08, Harper’s replacement, Michael Taylor crushes a game-winning grand slam. Drew Storen locks down the save 10 minutes later. It was a trifecta of cracks in the armor, but they had all been overcome. Could it be a good omen for the night ahead? The puck would drop in just minutes at Madison Square Garden. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
At 8:09 p.m., just after the Wizards tip in Atlanta, Alex Ovechkin breaks his scoring drought to put Washington ahead early. And he does it off a beautiful backhand fed from Marcus Johansson. In order to shed history as a team, number 8 needed to lead the way. The Caps led the NHL, winning 86 percent of the time when scoring first in the regular season. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
At 8:19 p.m., in the 11th minute, Orlando City strikes first, putting D.C. United’s 17-game unbeaten streak at RFK in jeopardy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington kills off one penalty that wrapped from the end of the first period, but Mike Green gets two minutes for tripping, then almost immediately another two minutes for cross-checking once he’s out. The Rangers capitalize at 8:51, and the game is tied. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
But over on TNT, John Wall is not dead, not reduced to a cheerleader in a suit. He is playing, playing well, doing things like throwing three quarter court, blind, over-the-head granny-style passes for fast break transition baskets. Washington heads to the half up by six at 9:01 p.m. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
United trails into the second half when, in the 70th minute, at 9:35 p.m. Kofi Opare heads home Taylor Kemp’s free kick to level the score. Just nine minutes later, substitution Chris Rolfe picks a Davy Arnaud cross out of mid-air and buries it for what turns out to be the game-winner. With the victory, D.C. United jumps three points clear in first place in the Eastern Conference. Two results for D.C. teams, two victories. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
The Wizards trail by a point headed to the fourth quarter, but score the first nine points to take control. Meanwhile, with 1:13 left in the third period, Braden Holtby makes a terrific save on puck that pops out for a moment on an initial shot, snagging it out of mid-air as he gets slashed across the mask by a stick. The Caps weather the late storm. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
At 10:16 p.m., the Caps go to overtime, just as the Hawks have awaken from their game- (series?) long slumber. Wall gets blocked at one end, Atlanta spaces the floor in transition, and Dennis Schroder knocks down a jumper. Another turnover, another floater. It’s a 14-0 run, the Hawks suddenly up five. Of course Pierce ends the run with a triple. After the teams trade empty possessions, Washington gets another stop and a Gortat bucket to tie it up. The Wizards get a stop, but cough it up with the chance to retake the lead. The Hawks push in front, up two with just 14 seconds to play. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Pierce somehow, posted up like a sign-twirler on a street corner for what seems like an eternity, entirely unguarded, does what Paul Pierce does, burying another monstrous three. It looks like the game-winner, both when it goes down, and when Schroder’s ensuing layup falls off the rim. Except Nene forgets the most basic rebounding fundamental, boxing out, leaving Al Horford so wide open under the hoop for a layup he could scarcely believe it. The ball floats in. There are no timeouts to advance the basketball. A final, off-balance, half-court heave from Wall never has a chance. The ride isn’t over, but the post-adrenaline queasiness sets in. Yet, there’s no time to rest and reflect. It’s 10:37 p.m. In New York, overtime has begun. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
The clock never has a chance to strike midnight. At 10:50 p.m., the Caps can’t clear a faceoff in the offensive zone. The defense scrambles. A shot comes in, one Holtby can’t hold. He’s sprawled, sitting on the ice, composure gone for the first time. Time slows down as he stares his unguarded enemy in the face. Derek Stepan loads and fires, and like that, it’s all over. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Every game was tied late. The Nats were level in the eighth, before falling behind, then forging ahead. D.C. United trailed their game early, tied it up as time wore thin, then won it late. The Wizards were tied with 14 seconds left, then fell behind, only to take the lead, only to then lose. And the Caps were tied all the way into the overtime that would bring their sudden death. You can argue about the results, but you can’t deny the ride was worth the price of admission. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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