The Cubs have Sorianos back

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The Cubs have Sorianos back

Alfonso Soriano is one of the few remaining players who remembers what it was like in 2008, when the Cubs won 97 games and turned every day at Wrigley Field into a huge block party.

Now, of course, that might as well be ancient history, as far away as 1908, because there are people thinking that the big-market Cubs are incapable of competing until 2015.

Theo Epstein has promised to avoid the huge spending spree the Cubs made after a last-place finish in 2006, while the Tribune Co. positioned the team for a sale. The new Cubs president has also distanced himself from some of the bad contracts on the Red Sox payroll, highlighting Bostons homegrown core.

While the Cubs wait for the future, Soriano tries to get his aching knees ready, puts in extra work on his defense and never turns down optional hitting.

But as these two last-place teams came together on Saturday night in front a national television audience, there was another flashpoint in a game the Red Sox hung on to win 4-3.

There were two runners on and two outs in the sixth inning when Soriano hit a rocket line drive at Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who appeared to have secured it in his glove. Soriano stood at home plate with the bat in his hands before Middlebrooks dropped the ball and threw to first.

That set off a very loud chorus of boos from the 40,766 fans inside Wrigley Field and an equally strong and opposite reaction from those inside the clubhouse.

They dont understand the game, Soriano said. Its a line drive. Theres nothing you can do about it. If its groundball and I dont run, they can do whatever they want. But a hard line drive, right off the glove? I dont know what they want.

When Dale Sveum took this job last fall, outsiders expected a showdown between the new manager and the aging star with an eight-year, 136 million contract.

But Sveum quickly recognized Sorianos energy and warmth and the 36-year-old slugger is tied for the team lead in homers (12) and no Cub has driven in more runs (41). Sveum had no problem with Sorianos split-second reaction.

Thats one of those things where 100 percent of every player in the history of baseball would do the same thing, Sveum said. Youre mad because you just crushed the ball and the guy should have caught (it) and you take your eye off it.

Obviously, that contract comes into play sometimes with that kind of reaction, but the fact of the matter is everybody in this clubhouse knows how hard Sori works and how hard hes played this year.

Jeff Samardzija who took the loss after giving up three runs in 5.1 innings spoke for everyone in the room.

Anybody that hits that ball does the same thing, Samardzija said. Alfonso Soriano is one of the best teammates you can ever have. He plays the game the right way. Every day, he prepares to play.

Anything Alfonso does when hes playing with me in my lineup, I got no problems with. I hope hes in there every day when I pitch.

Sori takes a lot of heat for a lot of things (but) theres not a guy in that locker room that has anything bad to say about him. Hes a great player and we love him in the lineup and we love him in the locker room.

You heard the boos again after Soriano struck out to end the eighth inning and cap an 0-for-4 night. The Cubs are 22-43 and there are going to be more ugly moments like this.

Soriano still had his weightlifting gloves on when he walked into the postgame clubhouse and walked straight to his locker and answered questions from the media. He understands that this is the way it works with Cubs fans.

They always come to the game waiting for something negative or something positive, Soriano said. They come here to root for something, good or bad. Its nothing that bothers me. Im just going to keep doing my job and working hard to get better.

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

The College Football Playoff selection committee will reveal the four-team Playoff field shortly, but in the AP poll, Big Ten champion Penn State did vault ahead of Michigan.

The Nittany Lions, fresh off their instant-classic comeback win in Saturday night's Big Ten title game, jumped up three spots, from No. 8 to No. 5, passing the Wolverines, who dropped from No. 5 to No. 6 with no game to play this weekend.

Who knows if that will be the thinking of the committee or if Penn State's performance Saturday was impressive enough to get it above Washington or Clemson and into the final four.

In the AP poll Sunday, Ohio State checked in at No. 2 behind No. 1 Alabama. The Buckeyes didn't play Saturday either, but those top two spots figure to be how the top two spots of the Playoff field will look. Clemson and Washington stayed the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the poll, which seems to be a likely possibility in the Playoff, as well.

Wisconsin, defeated by Penn State on Saturday night, dropped just two spots from No. 6 to No. 8, jumped by Penn State and Oklahoma, which was victorious in its regular-season finale against Oklahoma State, claiming the Big 12 championship in the process.

Iowa moved up one spot from No. 22 to No. 21, while Nebraska dropped a spot from No. 23 to No. 24. Neither team played this weekend.

For at least one Badger, loss to Penn State hurts more than 59-0 blowout vs. Buckeyes

For at least one Badger, loss to Penn State hurts more than 59-0 blowout vs. Buckeyes

INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin's last two trips to Indy have not gone well.

Back in 2014, the Badgers were favored heading into their Big Ten Championship Game showdown with Ohio State only to get absolutely destroyed, 59-0.

Saturday night, ranked one spot ahead of opposing Penn State, Wisconsin blew a three-touchdown lead and lost the Big Ten title to the Nittany Lions, 38-31.

It's hard to imagine anything being worse than a 59-0 blowout, but for at least one Badger in the immediate aftermath of this latest loss, this time around hurts more.

"I think it hurt me a little bit more because this is it for me," Wisconsin defensive back Sojourn Shelton said after the game Saturday night. "And I know a lot of guys in that locker room, it’s what we’ve been through. We came back after the bowl game (at the end of last season), we accepted the task of everything that we did, the schedule and everything. This one hurt."

They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, though the opposite might be true for leads in a football game. Perhaps it is better to never have led at all than to have a three-touchdown advantage cleared away by an unstoppable juggernaut of an offense that was Penn State on Saturday night.

It was the Badgers who were in complete control early. Corey Clement had a 67-yard touchdown run, the defense was forcing turnovers and scored a touchdown, and it looked like Wisconsin would avenge its 59-0 defeat the last time it was here in similar blowout fashion. But then the Lions turned it on, quarterback Trace McSorley and his bevy of pass-catchers made one highlight-reel play after another and cashed in on four straight touchdown drives.

The Wisconsin lead was gone, and the Badgers looked shell-shocked.

"This one’s tough. Especially just the way that we were rolling in the first half," Shelton said. "It’s tough right now. I can’t go back or anything. Time is going to keep moving. Let it hurt, just move on. It’s the only thing you can do."

Much like Penn State, Wisconsin wasn't supposed to make it this far. The Badgers had a seemingly impossible schedule when the season started, opening against LSU and staring down a stretch of games against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska to open conference play. But Wisconsin survived it, losing just twice to two top-five teams in Ohio State and Michigan and only by a combined 14 points. The Badgers were hands down one of the best defenses in the country, and had they won Saturday night, we might be talking about them as a potential College Football Playoff team.

Instead, it's all what could've been, just like in 2014.

"I think it just hurt so much because I know the work we’ve put in behind the closed doors, the weight room, all the early morning workouts. For us to come up short like this, that’s where it really stings," Shelton said. "I’m not going to say 'bump the Playoff,' but I just think we worked too hard to come up short.

"For the group behind us, let it be a lesson. They’ll be ready."

An awful lot happened after losing to Ohio State two years ago. Head coach Gary Andersen left for Oregon State, athletics director Barry Alvarez coached the team to a big win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl, and Paul Chryst returned as the team's new head coach.

The questions always come after a loss like this about "getting up" for the bowl game. Shelton doesn't think that will be a problem. Why? Because these Badgers have done it before.

"We’ve been here before. Same stadium, worse loss. We’ll bounce back."