Irish have to clear one final hurdle


Irish have to clear one final hurdle

LOS ANGELES -- Notre Dame's won a handful of big games this season, but none with the implications Saturday's showdown against USC will carry.
While Notre Dame has only played three true road games this season, they head to Los Angeles seasoned away from Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish went into a hostile environment in East Lansing and pasted Michigan State. An even more hostile environment yielded an even better result a month and a half later, with Notre Dame marching to a 30-13 win over Oklahoma in front of the largest crowd ever at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. And two weeks ago, Notre Dame dispatched a weak Boston College team while dealing with the knowledge of Alabama's stunning loss to Texas A&M that afternoon.
And those are just the road games. While there's plenty of luck to point to, Notre Dame learned what it takes to win close games, beating Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, BYU and Pittsburgh by an average of 4.6 points.
"We've been playing in big games all year and it's not like this is the first time we've had to go out and play a big opponent on a big stage," center Braxston Cave said. "We've been there, we've done that, and now it's just a matter of us going out, executing and playing our game."
While a chance to earn a title game bid accounts for plenty of motivation, there's an added bonus to beating USC for Notre Dame. It's a game that hasn't really been a rivalry in the last decade, with USC winning nine of the last 10 meetings.
"Well, it's not a great rivalry right now," coach Brian Kelly said. "We haven't won enough games. They've had the upper hand on this. We need to make this a rivalry."
Cave, who grew up a rabid Notre Dame fan, knows the history of the contest, and he'd rather be able to tell people he was part of the Notre Dame class that started to turn things around against USC.
"It's more of a self-pride thing," Cave explained. "Any time your name is associated with something, you want it to be in a positive way. You don't want be like yeah, I was part of that stretch where we only one one game or this or that."
Even a comment from Max Wittek -- Matt Barkley's replacement guaranteed a USC win -- won't be enough to reignite the Notre Dame-USC rivalry. That'll happen on the field.
"We're going to stay focused, we're going to stay poised, we're going to stay composed and that's what we need to be able to get our game plan in and get whatever we need to do in place before we get worked up about a comment," senior wide receiver John Goodman said.
No matter the outcome of Saturday's game, though, the rivalry will be at its highest pitch since the 2005 Bush Push game. But no matter how important it is to Notre Dame players, coaches and fans, it takes a seat far in the back to the team's title aspirations.
The light is on at Grace Hall for the first time in 19 years, reminding anyone near campus that the Irish are No. 1. Notre Dame graced the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. One win means a trip to Miami to play for the national championship, which would be the first time Notre would enter a game playing for a title for the first time in 24 years.
Notre Dame, though, has dealt with plenty of outside distractions this year, both positive and negative. They're a mature group, one that hasn't been through this kind of success but has acted like it since narrowly escaping with a win against Pittsburgh.
"We know we got one shot to get to 12-0," Cave said, "and if we don't stay focused and do our job then we have no chance of accomplishing that."

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

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Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

CLEVELAND — As the New York Yankees marketed Andrew Miller this summer and prepared for their first sell-off in a generation, their demands started at either Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez — and the Cubs still would have been forced to throw in more talent to get the All-Star reliever.

This could be the fascinating what-if for this World Series. The Cleveland Indians paid the price, giving up a four-player package headlined by outfielder Clint Frazier (the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft) and left-hander Justus Sheffield (the No. 31 pick in the 2014 draft) to get what turned out to be the American League Championship Series MVP.

The Cubs didn’t make Schwarber untouchable because they thought he would be ready in time for the World Series, but he’s preparing to be their Game 1 designated hitter on Tuesday night at Progressive Field after a remarkable recovery from major surgery on his left knee.

“It was impossible to avoid some of the names — particularly the Cubs — (with) the year they were having,” Miller said. “Whether I wanted to avoid it or not I heard it. Guys in the clubhouse, our media was certainly bringing it to us.”

Even in other possible deals for pitching, the Cubs never came close to selling low on Baez, who broke out as the National League Championship Series co-MVP for his offensive production and defensive wizardry. 

Instead of getting Miller’s late-game dominance for three pennant races — and giving up five potential 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with Schwarber — the Cubs closed a different blockbuster deal with the Yankees for a left-handed power arm.

The Cubs wanted Aroldis Chapman’s 100-mph fastball to get the last out of the World Series and would rationalize his 30-game suspension to begin this season under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. Already holding an age-22 All-Star shortstop in Addison Russell, the Cubs surrendered elite prospect Gleyber Torres.

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“Gleyber’s a good baseball player,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That kid’s going to be really good. So you have to give up something to get something. But also our guys felt if we got Aroldis this year, we’d have a chance to be sitting here and answering this question. And they were right.

“It’s an entirely different thing when you get a guy out there throwing 100 miles an hour. You feel pretty good about it, regardless of who is hitting. So he’s really a big part of why we’re doing this right now.”

Chapman has saved five playoff games — and become that reassuring ninth-inning presence at Wrigley Field — but he clearly responds better to a scripted role.

Miller has been untouchable during the postseason, throwing 11 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out 21 of the 41 batters he’s faced, giving Terry Francona even more freedom to manage a lights-out Cleveland bullpen.

“To be utilized like Miller,” Maddon said, “not everybody is cut from the same cloth mentally, either, or the ability to get loose and prepare. Andrew Miller — having done a variety of different things in the big leagues as a pitcher — is probably more suited to be able to be this guy that can get up in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth and warm up in a manner that gets him in the game both mentally and physically.

“Whereas Aroldis — if he wanted to do that — I think that would have had to be done from spring training. He’d have to differentiate his mindset. He’d have to have a different way to get ready. I do notice he throws a heavy baseball before he actually throws a regular baseball. That’s his routine.

“Whether you agree with it or not, that’s just the way it is. So with a guy like Aroldis — to ask him to attempt to dump his routine right now (and) do something else — I think you’re looking for failure right there.

“We stretched him to five outs the other night, which is a good thing, I thought. So now going forward he knows he can do that. But to just haphazardly throw him in the sixth, seventh or ninth, I think would be very difficult to do.”

Even in a World Series featuring historic droughts, Cy Young Award winners, MVP candidates and star managers, this October could come down to the bullpens shaped by deals with the Yankees.

“Both teams made aggressive trades,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Both teams are still standing. There’s something to that.”