Bears squeak by Lions, but miss playoffs

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Bears squeak by Lions, but miss playoffs

DETROIT (AP) Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears held on late against turnover-prone Detroit.

Then, the waiting began.

Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and helped seal the game with a late scramble, and Chicago kept its playoff hopes alive - for now - with a 26-24 win over the Lions on Sunday.

The Bears (10-6) still need a Minnesota loss to Green Bay to reach the postseason. The win by Chicago eliminated the defending champion New York Giants from the playoff picture.

"I don't usually say this, but Go Pack Go,'" Cutler said.

Minnesota played Green Bay started as part of the later session of Sunday afternoon games. There were some quiet groans in the Chicago locker room after the Vikings scored an early touchdown on TV.

The Lions (4-12) lost their last eight games and turned the ball over four times in the finale. Calvin Johnson fell short in his attempt to become the first player with 2,000 yards receiving in a season.

Detroit trailed 20-3 late in the first half but pulled within two in the fourth quarter and had the ball at its own 9-yard line before a three-and-out forced a punt.

The Bears ran out the last 3:40, with Cutler's 19-yard run on third down keeping the drive going.

"We did what we needed to do. The rest is out of our control," coach Lovie Smith said. "All we can do now is hold our breath and watch."

Johnson, who broke Jerry Rice's record of 1,848 yards receiving the previous weekend, finished at 1,964 after catching five passes for 72 yards.

"It's hard to shut down Calvin Johnson, but we just put as many guys as we possibly could on him," Smith said. "We doubled him a lot, and we were always rolling extra guys at him. We didn't want to get anything deep; we wanted him to earn everything he got underneath."

Detroit's Matthew Stafford went 24 of 42 for 272 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He finished the season with an NFL-record 727 pass attempts, surpassing Drew Bledsoe's mark of 691 from 1994.

Stafford fell short of a second consecutive 5,000-yard season, finishing at 4,967 through the air.

It was a surprising fall for the Lions, who made the playoffs last season for the first time in a dozen years. Coach Jim Schwartz wouldn't address speculation about his job status.

"The thing I'm most concerned with is getting this team back to where we all want it to be," he said. "I'm not proud at all of our record."

The Lions scored two straight touchdowns to make it 20-17 in the third quarter, but Chicago, which came into the game with a league-high 40 takeaways, forced another turnover.

Stafford's fumble gave the Bears the ball at the Detroit 13. It was the fourth time the Bears started a drive inside the Detroit 25, and they ended up kicking a field goal.

Olindo Mare added another field goal, a 20-yarder with 10:47 left in the fourth, to make it 26-17. Stafford's 9-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie pulled Detroit closer, but it wasn't enough.

Cutler threw a 55-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery to the Detroit 27 on Chicago's first play from scrimmage, delighting the many Chicago fans in attendance at Ford Field. But that drive stalled, and the Bears actually had to punt after Cutler fumbled on third down and the ball was recovered back at midfield.

After the Lions kicked a field goal, Chicago struck back when Cutler swung a pass out to Earl Bennett, who made the catch behind the line of scrimmage, got a block and outran the defense for a surprisingly easy 60-yard touchdown.

Joique Bell fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and the Bears kicked a field goal. In the second quarter, Stafford fumbled deep in his own territory. Julius Peppers recovered for Chicago, and his short return gave the Bears the ball at the 10.

Matt Forte scored on a 1-yard run to make it 17-3.

The Lions weren't done giving the ball away. Tim Jennings picked off Stafford's overthrown pass, and his 31-yard return to the Detroit 23 set up another field goal.

Stafford's 25-yard scoring pass to Kris Durham with 12 seconds left in the half made it 20-10, and he threw a 10-yarder in the third to Will Heller.

NOTES: Chicago TE Matt Spaeth left the game with a concussion. ... The Bears were without LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring). He hasn't played since Dec. 2.

After wild seventh, Carson Fulmer wants another big-time opportunity for White Sox

After wild seventh, Carson Fulmer wants another big-time opportunity for White Sox

The White Sox called up Carson Fulmer from Double-A Birmingham a week ago with the expectation he could add a strong, powerful arm to the back end of a bullpen that’s been taxed quite a bit this season. 

After he struggled in his first high-leverage appearance in the majors, though, the White Sox remain confident their 2015 first-round pick will be an important part of the team’s bullpen down the stretch this summer. 

Fulmer only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes and allowed three game-deciding runs in seventh inning of the White Sox 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers in front of 22,611 at U.S. Cellular Field Friday night. The leverage indexes of Fulmer’s first two appearances on the West Coast — which spanned 2 2/3 scoreless innings — were .01 and .05 (a leverage index of 1 is average), with those coming in a 8-1 loss and a 6-1 win. On Friday, Fulmer’s leverage index was 2.98. 

Fulmer said nerves weren’t behind his erratic outing, in which plenty of those 18 balls weren’t close to the strike zone. 

“I want to be in those situations,” the 22-year-old Fulmer said. “When you go out there and don’t do your job, it’s obviously frustrating. But you have to have a quick memory and throw it over your shoulder and prepare yourself for tomorrow.”

Fulmer’s electric mid-90’s fastball and wipeout curveball were rendered ineffective by his inability to command them in his two-thirds of an inning. He walked Justin Upton, gave up a single to Tyler Collins and walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia to load the bases with nobody out, and after a pair of groundouts brought a run in, he walked Cameron Maybin to re-load the bases.

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After that walk, Fulmer was pulled in favor of Nate Jones, who surrendered a go-ahead, ultimately game-winning two-run single to Tigers All-Star first baseman Miguel Cabrera. 

At some point, the White Sox were going to have to test Fulmer. With starter Jacob Turner only lasting 3 1/3 innings, and Fulmer looking comfortable in his first two appearances in the majors, manager Robin Ventura calculated that the seventh inning Friday was a prime opportunity. 

“He’s going to have to have it sooner or later,” Ventura said. “From the way the first (two) went, we felt comfortable he was going to come in there and be able to do that. But tonight, that doesn’t happen. But you have the confidence he can come back from this and be very effective in that spot.”

Morneau, who’s provided offense for bullpens over 14 major league seasons, agreed with his manager’s confidence in Fulmer. 

“We see a lot of good things in him,” Morneau said. “It’s obviously not up to me, but hopefully we get him back out there quick and let him settle back down and get comfortable, because he can really help this team.” 

White Sox relievers entered Friday with the fifth-highest leverage index in baseball, a product of the high volume of one-, two- and three-run games this team has found itself in this season. All those stressful innings — as well as Jake Petricka’s season-ending injury and Zach Putnam’s elbow issue from which he isn’t likely to return anytime soon — have put a considerable strain on Jones, Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and David Robertson.

Fulmer, by virtue of being in the White Sox bullpen, will get another opportunity at a high-leverage inning. And while his first foray into a pressure-packed relief appearance didn’t go well, he hopes to quickly get a chance to put Friday in the rearview mirror. 

“I can’t ever use the excuse of it being my first big-time experience, especially for me being put in that situation,” Fulmer said. “Hopefully I get the opportunity to do it again. I’ll continue to stay prepared, just like I was tonight, and hopefully the odds turn in my favor. That’s all I can control.” 

Sky see winning streak snapped in loss to Connecticut Sun

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Associated Press

Sky see winning streak snapped in loss to Connecticut Sun

ROSEMONT, ILL. 

Jonquel Jones had her first-career double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds — both career highs — and Alex Bentley scored 21 points to help the Connecticut Sun beat the Chicago Sky 94-89 on Friday night.

Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas added 16 points apiece and Chiney Ogwumike had 10 for the Sun (8-16).

Jones scored five consecutive points to cap a 13-4 run that gave Connecticut a 78-74 lead with 4 minutes left and the Sun led the rest of the way. Connecticut hit all eight of its free-throw attempts in the final 42 seconds to seal it.

Elena Delle Donne led Chicago (11-13) with 20 points. Cappie Pondexter added 16 points, and Tamera Young had 14.

The Sun, ranked 11th in the AP WNBA power poll, made 26 of 32 free-throw attempts — both season highs and committed a season-low seven turnovers.

The fifth-ranked Sky shot 52.3 percent (34 of 65) from the field.

Game changer: Dexter Fowler’s return fuels Cubs in Milwaukee

Game changer: Dexter Fowler’s return fuels Cubs in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE – Cubs fans, Dexter Fowler feels your pain: “It sucks being on the couch and watching your team struggle.”

It only took five pitches on Friday night at Miller Park before Fowler answered the questions about how much this lineup missed his presence and how long it would take him to get back into a rhythm.

“You go, we go” is what manager Joe Maddon tells Fowler, and a sellout crowd of 42,243 roared when the All-Star leadoff guy hammered a 94-mph Jimmy Nelson fastball off the black batter’s eye in center field, setting the first-inning tone in a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I was just happy to be back around the boys,” Fowler said after going 3-for-4 with a walk, three RBI and two runs scored in his return. “It’s like being back home.”

Fowler’s strained right hamstring alone doesn’t begin to explain all this, because he had been hitting .207 in June, the rotation cooled off, the bullpen became unreliable and a 24-games-in-24-days stretch wore this team out before the All-Star break. But the Cubs were 27 games over .500 and had a 12.5-game lead in the division on June 19, the night Fowler went on the disabled list with what sounded like a minor injury.

If panic didn’t completely set in around a first-place team, underlying issues kept bubbling to the surface, the Cubs losing 15 of their last 21 games before that summer vacation.

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But the second-half Cubs (58-37) now look energized, beating the American League’s best first-half team (Texas Rangers) and the defending National League champs (New York Mets) at Wrigley Field before rolling up Interstate 94 for a virtual home game.

Now here comes Fowler, who jumpstarted the offense again with the bases loaded in the second inning, lining a two-run double down the left-field line and saying postgame that he felt no lingering issues with the hamstring.

“He’s an asset at the top of the lineup,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel said. “Tough at-bat. And he can get you. It was nice to see him run around out there again.”

Yes, Hammel (9-5, 3.35 ERA) ate a handful of potato chips to help prevent cramping in the 86-degree heat, lasting five innings before five relievers combined to hold the Brewers (40-54) scoreless the rest of the night. For all the buzz about Theo Epstein’s front office upgrading the bullpen by the Aug. 1 trade deadline, Maddon may already have a shiny new toy in Carl Edwards Jr.

The skinny right-hander entered the game in the sixth inning, with a runner on second, and cut through the heart of Milwaukee’s order, forcing Ryan Braun to ground out and striking out Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter on six pitches combined.    

Just like that, the Cubs are getting answers from within, after all the outside noise screamed: Do something! The fans chanted “Let’s go, Cubbies!” before closer Hector Rondon got the final out and his 17th save. This is again looking like the team Fowler envisioned when he turned down the Baltimore Orioles for a one-year, $13 million guarantee, shocking the industry by showing up in Arizona in late February.     

“It’s really apparent how important he is to us,” Maddon said. “It just looked right.”