A finish that baseball has never seen before


A finish that baseball has never seen before

From Comcast SportsNet
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Two innings after Nelson Cruz crumbled to the ground writhing in pain, the slugger provided a grand finish for the Texas Rangers. Cruz hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history, sending the defending AL champions to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the American League championship series after a 7-3 victory over the Tigers in 11 innings Monday. "That's the guy you want to see right now," Elvis Andrus said. "He's getting hot again. That's what we're looking for." The high drive to left off Ryan Perry was the second homer of the game for Cruz, and his third in the ALCS after struggling so badly in the first round of the playoffs (1 for 15 with only a single against Tampa Bay). He now has the Rangers on Cruz control in the ALCS. They are two wins away from their second consecutive World Series after having never won a postseason series before last year. "When Nellie gets going like he's going, he's tough to beat," Ian Kinsler said. "Hopefully he can continue that and carry us." Game 3 is Tuesday night in Detroit. Colby Lewis, 4-0 in five career postseason starts, pitches for Texas against Doug Fister. Lewis was on a flight ahead of the team, and was probably already in Detroit before the 4-hour, 25-minute marathon ended in Texas. Fister flew home with the rest of the Tigers. Cruz doubled early and chased Tigers starter Max Scherzer with a tying home run in the seventh. Then he was hit near the right wrist by a Jose Valverde fastball in the ninth, when the Rangers blew a bases-loaded chance -- same as Detroit had done in the top half of the inning. "When I got hit, I thought it was worse," Cruz said. "In that situation, you want to stay in the game. Thank God I got a chance to win the game." Manager Ron Washington said Cruz "was a little scared" because the area where he got hit was already black and blue. "But after the doctor checked him and told him he was fine, then Nelson got up," Washington said. "We certainly needed everything he gave us tonight. He tied the ballgame, and he won it." Michael Young, the Rangers' career hits leader, snapped an 0-for-15 postseason slide when he led off the 11th with a single off Perry, the fifth Detroit pitcher. Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli followed with singles, the latter on a liner to right-center that looked as though it would be caught. Instead, right fielder Andy Dirks let the ball glance off his glove as center fielder Austin Jackson ran behind him. "It was one of those balls that's a little between us, should have been caught," Dirks said, adding there was no miscommunication between him and Jackson. The ball dropped for a single that loaded the bases. That brought up Cruz, who also homered in Texas' 3-2 win in the series opener. Just before his game-ending blast, Cruz fouled a ball deep into the stands near the pole. He stood briefly and watched when he connected again before a trip around the bases that ended with him getting mobbed at the plate by the Rangers. "It was amazing," said Cruz, who is 4 for 7 with three homers, a double and six RBIs in the ALCS. "First two pitches, I was too aggressive. I hit the ball -- foul ball, foul ball. So after that, I told myself just slow down and try to hit a fly ball to the outfield." STATS LLC said Cruz's slam was the first to end a postseason game -- with a postscript. Robin Ventura sent a bases-loaded drive over the fence to finish a New York Mets victory against Atlanta in the 1999 NLCS, but was swarmed by teammates between first and second. Ventura never made it around the bases and was officially credited with an RBI single. His 15th-inning drive for a 4-3 Mets win in Game 5 came to be known as "the grand slam-single." Instead of the scheduled travel day Monday, the Tigers and Rangers played Game 2, which was postponed Sunday because of a forecast that called for more rain that never came a night after the twice-delayed series opener. Detroit left 13 runners on base, including five in the first two innings, and is now in an 0-2 hole that only three teams have overcome since the league championship series became a best-of-seven in 1985. "It's just been two close games and could have gone either way," said cleanup hitter Victor Martinez, who is 0 for 7 in the series. "Unfortunately, we end up on the losing side, but ... we're going home. We've been doing it the whole season: turn the page, come back tomorrow and keep on going." Mike Adams, the sixth Texas pitcher, got the win with a pair of strikeouts in a scoreless 11th inning. Scherzer bounced off the mound pumping his fist and glove after getting out of a two-on, none-out jam in the sixth with a 3-2 lead. There was a conversation with Leyland after he got to the dugout, and the right-hander went back out for the seventh. That was one batter too long because Cruz led off the inning by pulling a ball down the left-field line that ricocheted high off the pole. "If he got Cruz out, I was going to let him keep going," Leyland said. "I thought he was throwing great. He was throwing tremendous. ... He tried to elevate one in the strike zone, and he didn't get it there."

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.