Pujols makes choice... and it's not St. Louis

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Pujols makes choice... and it's not St. Louis

From Comcast SportsNet

DALLAS (AP)Three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols agreed Thursday to a 254 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels, leaving the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals after more than a decade for a new baseball life in southern California.

Pujols contract, which is subject to a physical, is the second-highest in baseball history and only the third to break the 200 million barrier, following Alex Rodriguezs 252 million, 10-year deal with Texas before the 2001 season and A-Rods 275 million, 10-year contract with the Yankees before the 2008 season.

This is a monumental day for Angel fans and I could not be more excited, Angels owner Arte Moreno said.

In addition to the Pujols signing, the Angels agreed to a five-year contract with left-hander C.J. Wilson, a deal worth 77.5 million that raised their spending for the day to 331.5 million.

People familiar with the deals told The Associated Press the terms of each contract, speaking on condition of anonymity because those details were not made public.

Pujols had spent all 11 of his major league seasons with the Cardinals, hitting .338 with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBIs to become a franchise icon second only to Stan Musial. He is fourth in career slugging percentage at .617, trailing only Hall of Famers Babe Ruth (.690), Ted Williams (.634) and Lou Gehrig (.632).

Pujols numbers in nearly every major offensive category are on a three-year decline. He had his poorest season in 2011 and at 31 is likely to spend the majority of his career with the Angels at designated hitter rather than first base.

We understand that players will go through peaks and valleys of sort, new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. Albert has spent many years operating at peak, and if we want to call a decline going from superhuman to just great, I dont think weve seen the last great days of Albert Pujols, obviously, or we wouldnt be sitting here today.

Some have speculated he is older than his listed age. Albert Pujols age to me is not a concern, Dipoto said. Im not a scientist. I cant where he is, but I can tell you he hits like hes 27.

St. Louis also offered the slugger a 10-year deal, but he chose to leave the Gateway City for the freeway life.

We are disappointed, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen.

The Angels, who finished 10 games behind pennant-winning Texas in the AL West, made the move as the financially troubled Los Angeles Dodgers are in the process of being sold by Frank McCourt in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, a deal that could give the regions NL team a new, wealthy owner. The Dodgers could aggressively bid for talent a year from now, giving them a boost in the regional competition for fans attention.

Winning breeds interest, and we are setting ourselves up to start next season with an opportunity to get good, Dipoto said.

Pujols led the Cardinals to a seven-game World Series victory over Wilsons Rangers, his second title with the team in the last six seasons. He also had been pursued by the Miami Marlins, but they dropped out Wednesday after agreeing to a deal with left-hander Mark Buehrle that raised their free agent-spending to 191 million for three players following deals with closer Heath Bell and shortstop Jose Reyes. The Angels and Marlins committed 522.5 million to just five free agents.

I think baseball needs to have a steroid-testing policy for owners, said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economics professor at Smith College.

Pujols agreed in 2004 to a 100 million, seven-year contract, a deal that with a 2011 option and bonuseswound up paying him 112.55 million over eight years.

He left a pretty good impact over there. I dont think fans will soon forget what his contributions were, said former Cardinals manager and star Joe Torre, now an executive with Major League Baseball. I still think the St. Louis fans are going to be more appreciative than angry.

Pujols agent, Dan Lozano, split off last year from the Beverly Hills Sports Council to form his own agency, and Pujols negotiations seemed like an attempt to surpass A-Rods landmark 252 million contract, agreed to at the same hotel 11 years earlier.

Pujols rejected a multiyear extension last offseason that was said to include a small percentage of the franchise. He cut off negotiations on the first day of spring training.

This is a footprint contract, because it follows the footprint laid by other great players, said agent Scott Boras, who negotiated Rodriguezs deals. Putting a hitter like Albert Pujols in a big market, where he can be a DH, I think its a win-win for everybody.

Pujols hit 37 home runs last season, running his 30-homer streak to 11 years, and batted .299 with 99 RBIs. He led the Cardinals improbable late-season surge and became only the third player to hit three home runs in a World Series game following Ruth and Reggie Jackson.

Reaction around the major leagues was swift.

For 2012, two wilds cards and no Albert Pujols. Im happy, said Sandy Alderson, general manager of the Cardinals NL rival New York Mets.

Said former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty, now GM of the NL Central rival Cincinnati Reds: Im a little surprised, I guess. I really thought hed go back to St. Louis. Its certainly good for our division.

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

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USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”