From Comcast SportsNetDENVER (AP) -- Peyton Manning figured one one-handed catch deserved another.So, up the ladder he went -- throwing the ball high in the back of the end zone to Demaryius Thomas.Thomas leaped and brought it down with his right hand, then got both feet down inside the line for a touchdown. With that, he joined Eric Decker in Denver's one-handed-touchdown club Sunday and gave the Broncos another otherworldly highlight to go with their home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after a 38-3 runaway over the Kansas City Chiefs."They claim they can do that all the time," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who got to watch the replays of both catches about a half-dozen times on the scoreboard. "They say they practice that. I don't see it. But as long as they do it on Sunday, I'm all for it. Those are some great, hard-working boys and I expect nothing less."Manning, in search of his fifth MVP award and, yes, a second Super Bowl title, finished 23 for 29 for 304 yards, three scores and a 144.8 passer rating. One of his main competitors for the award, Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, ran for 199 yards to reach 2,097 for the season in a 37-34 win over Green Bay that secured a playoff berth.That one went down to the wire. Manning was out of his game by the fourth quarter.This was the second straight Sunday he used a grey-and-orange glove to prepare for the cold, playoff weather he could face at home the next two games."I threw it OK today, I guess," said Manning, who finished the season with 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and a 105.8 passer rating, all second best in his 15-year career.Thanks to Houston's 28-16 loss to Indianapolis before the Broncos kicked off, Denver (13-3) will be the top seed for the sixth time. The Broncos made the Super Bowl four of the previous five times they've had home-field advantage.Though the Chiefs (2-14) gave the Broncos as tough a tussle as anyone during their 11-game winning streak -- in a 17-9 loss last month -- this wasn't expected to be much of a game. It wasn't.Leave it to Manning, ever the perfectionist, to ramp up the degree of difficulty.On the 16-yard touchdown to Decker, Manning slightly overthrew the pass but Decker reached out with his left hand, brought the ball into his helmet, had it pinball against his facemask twice, then cradled it with both hands as he was falling to the ground."Peyton throws the ball up, giving us a chance to make a play. It's our job to catch it," Decker said.The 13-yard touchdown to the 6-foot-3 Thomas mirrored a TD pass Manning threw to Decker last week against Cleveland: high in the back of the end zone where only his receiver could catch it."That was probably the limit right there," Manning said. "But I've seen him in practice. He can jump. He can really elevate. It's hard to throw it over his head, I'll say that."The Thomas touchdown made it 28-3 and the celebration was on. The only trip the Broncos will have to make on their road to a championship would be to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. They'll open the playoffs at home Jan. 12 against Baltimore, Cincinnati or Manning's old team, the Colts.Coach John Fox, in search of his second trip to the Super Bowl, won his 100th career game. Thomas and linebacker Wesley Woodyard congratulated him with a big splash of orange Gatorade at the end."It's an accomplishment, but it's something that was a lot of people's work. It wasn't one guy," Fox said.Nor would Manning take all the credit for all he's accomplished in this, a comeback season in which he didn't know what to expect.This marked his 73rd three-touchdown game, surpassing the record held by Brett Favre. Manning closed the regular season only 41 yards short of his career high."It's been a gratifying regular season," Manning said. "I will admit that. It is certainly more than I expected. I'm grateful and humble for it."On the other end of the spectrum are the Chiefs, who, like the Broncos, had five Pro Bowlers on their roster, but finished with 119 yards of offense and wrapped up the first pick in next year's draft.Coach Romeo Crennel watched the game from the sideline, leaning on a crutch, after having his knee drained of fluid earlier in the week. Many in Kansas City expect him to be unemployed soon."I told him it's been a long one," Chiefs defensive lineman Shaun Smith said about his postgame conversation with Crennel. "Sorry it didn't turn out the way (we wanted). I have faith in you and that's all that matters."The Broncos swept their division games for the first time since 1998 -- the last time they won the Super Bowl.John Elway retired after that one. Now, he's back, running Denver's front office, and he signed Manning with only one goal in mind: a third Lombardi Trophy.For a brief glimmer, this could have been a game. The Broncos led 7-0 when Ronnie Hillman fumbled and Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers picked it up and was sprinting toward the end zone.Manning cut off the Flowers return, allowing tight end Joel Dreessen to drag down Flowers at the 12. The Chiefs settled for a field goal and the Broncos scored the next 31 points.Notes: Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles had 53 yards to finish the season with 1,509. ... Broncos FS Rahim Moore got his first career sack and Von Miller had one to bring his season total to 18. ... Hillman wasn't seen against after his fumble. Lance Ball replaced him as Knowshon Moreno's backup and led the team with 66 yards on 15 carries.
SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.
It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.
For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.
“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.
“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”
It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.
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This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.
But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.
“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”
At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.
The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.
But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).
“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’
“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.
“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”
SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.
But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.
Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.
“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”
Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.
Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.
Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.
“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”
Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.
“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”
Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.
“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.
“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”
The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.
Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff
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