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The D.C.-Pittsburgh sports doubleheader did not go well for Washington

The D.C.-Pittsburgh sports doubleheader did not go well for Washington

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

The schedule was set up perfectly for a glorious D.C. sports doubleheader on Thursday, and I planned to take full advantage of the opportunity. At 4 p.m., I would watch Josiah Gray and the Nationals go for their second straight win against the Pirates at Nationals Park and then take Metro to Capital One Arena, where the Capitals could squash the Penguins’ faint playoff hopes and bolster their own postseason prospects with a win in the 69th regular season showdown between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

Mother Nature and the hockey gods had other ideas.

I emerged from the Navy Yard-Ballpark Metro station at 3:30 and immediately chatted up Jake of Gainesville, Va., who wore an Ovechkin jersey and a Capitals hat. The 23-year-old had gotten off work early and decided to do the double dip on a whim, despite the less than ideal forecast.

“It might be a little too cold for some people,” he said as he made his way toward the center field gate. “And now the Nats game is delayed.”

This was not the start to the evening I had envisioned as sideways rain began to fall and I grabbed a beer inside Nationals Park a few minutes later. There were far more Penguins jerseys than Capitals jerseys among the sparse crowd, which made sense. Between the Nationals, Spirit, D.C. United, Capitals, Wizards, Mystics, Commanders and Defenders, there are several opportunities every year for D.C. sports fans to do a DMV double dip, but two Washington teams hosting two other teams from the same city in back-to-back games on the same day is exceedingly rare.

While waiting for my friend, I made a loop around the concourse and met Pennsylvania transplants Kelly Flynn and Curtis Newman, who were decked out in Pirates and Penguins gear. Flynn had bought Newman tickets to Thursday’s Nationals game for his birthday.

“Then a couple days ago, I realized, ‘Holy s—, the Pens are playing in a really important game against the Caps the same day,” said Newman, who wore a Kevin Newman Pirates jersey over a Penguins sweater. “We said, ‘Why not?’”

“We didn’t realize it was a thing, but people are calling it the Yinzer Doubleheader on Twitter,” Flynn said.

Pittsburgh fan Thomas Kirsch, who lives in Baltimore and took the Metro in from Greenbelt, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the Pirates before taking his 5-year-old son, who was rocking a tiny Tom Barrasso Penguins sweater, to his first hockey game.

“Honestly, I was kind of hoping both the Pens and the Caps would be out of the playoff race by now and I’d get tickets for cheap, but the Caps started winning and the Pens came on strong,” Kirsch said while waiting out the rain delay. “I’m not sad about seeing a meaningful game. It lined up nicely.”

As the Nationals grounds crew began removing the tarp ahead of the delayed first pitch at 5:15, I chatted with John Kelley and his son, Shaun, who were enjoying a couple of beers in the left field plaza while monitoring Capitals-Penguins ticket prices on the secondary market.

“We’ll see how fast this game rolls,” John, who was wearing a Jaromir Jagr sweater, said. “We might have to scoot by the eighth inning.”

Try the fourth, by which point the Pirates had a 5-1 lead, thanks to a four-run first inning against Gray.

Thursday’s schedule created a dilemma for Mike Ploger, who serves as the in-game host for both the Nationals and Capitals. Ploger has worked two games in the same day before, including last week, when the Nationals held their Futures Game exhibition at noon and the Capitals hosted the Red Wings later that night, but never two games scheduled to start three hours apart.

“I knew it would be really tight,” Ploger said. “The rain made it a little more stressful than it needed to be.”

After hosting a lucky row giveaway in the fourth inning at Nationals Park, Ploger got in his car around 6:35. He had been monitoring Waze throughout the game and figured he’d arrive in Chinatown in plenty of time for puck drop.

“I’m 500 feet away from my garage at Capital One Arena and sit there for 20 minutes,” he said. “Some people said I should’ve mounted a GoPro around my head and rode a scooter to the arena. That may be an idea for future games.”

Ploger arrived 13 seconds into the first period and was in position for his first in-game activation during the first media timeout.

My friend and I enjoyed a more pleasant commute between venues on Metro’s Green Line, which took all of 10 minutes. I was standing in line waiting for a spicy chicken sandwich when Ryan Shea gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game on Pittsburgh’s first shot on goal. After P.O. Joseph’s shot deflected off Nick Jensen’s skate and past goalie Charlie Lindgren nine minutes later, it was apparent that this would not be the Capitals’ night.

As doubleheaders involving two D.C. teams playing two other teams from the same city in two different sports on the same day go, the excitement of May 9, 2015 may never be surpassed. That Saturday, Bryce Harper delivered a walk-off home run to beat the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park at 7:19 before being doused with chocolate syrup. Thirty minutes later, Wizards legend Paul Pierce “called game” before banking in a 21-footer in Washington’s 103-101 playoff win over the Hawks at what was then known as Verizon Center. (If there’s a fan who somehow witnessed both moments in person, it’s a more impressive feat than Deion Sanders playing cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons in Miami and suiting up for the Braves in the National League Championship Series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh on the same day in 1992.)

Thursday’s doubleheader — which featured the Nationals’ rain-delayed 7-4 loss and a 4-1 Penguins rout — was at the opposite end of the spectrum for D.C. sports fans and a delight for Pittsburgh fans such as Rob Joswiak, who wasn’t aware of the Yinzer Doubleheader until his sister texted him about it earlier this week.

“Who thinks to cross check an MLB schedule with an NHL schedule?” said Joswiak, a Pittsburgh native who lives and works in D.C. “I could not miss today and it could not have gone any better.”

Joswiak wore a Crosby sweater and a 1970s-style Pirates hat to both games, and enjoyed the bag of peanuts he purchased at Nationals Park while watching the Penguins extend Washington’s winless streak to four. He ended the night with a large group of fellow Penguins fans on the National Portrait Gallery steps, chanting “Let’s go Pens!” and “Cros-by’s bet-ter!” On my short walk to Metro Center, I overheard a couple of Capitals fans lamenting the missed opportunity in a game that had a playoff feel.

“The sellout crowd at Capital One Arena was awesome, and I was drained,” Ploger said Friday morning. “I left everything out there trying to get the crowd going for ‘Unleash the Fury.’ It was a cool day and I’m looking forward to some more like it.”

Ploger and D.C. sports fans won’t have to wait long for the next one. On Sunday, the Nationals host the Phillies at 1:35 p.m. and the Capitals host the Ottawa Senators at 6. (The Defenders’ home opener kicks off at 4 at Audi Field for anyone looking to get really crazy.) The forecast looks great. D.C. sports fans can only hope the results will be better, too.



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