Falcons emerge over Seahawks in classic style

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Falcons emerge over Seahawks in classic style

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Matt Bryant pumped his fist and celebrated atop the Falcons logo in the middle of the field. Tony Gonzalez broke down in tears. Matt Ryan relished the thought of not having to answer a familiar question.The Atlanta Falcons finally showed they could win a playoff game.And, wow, what a game it was!After a meltdown in the fourth quarter, the Falcons pulled off a comeback that will long be remembered in championship-starved Atlanta. Ryan completed two long passes and Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining, lifting the NFC's top seed to a stunning 30-28 victory over Russell Wilson and the gutty Seattle Seahawks in a divisional game Sunday."Wow!" said Falcons coach Mike Smith, summing up this classic as well as anyone could.Atlanta (14-3) squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, falling behind for the first time all day when Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left and Ryan Longwell knocked through the extra point for a 28-27 lead.No team has ever won a playoff game when facing such a daunting deficit in the final period.The Falcons, thanks to a pair of Matty Ices -- Ryan and Bryant -- didn't become the first.Ryan, shaking off his struggles in three previous playoff losses and two interceptions against the Seahawks, hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and Smith quickly signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the middle to his favorite target Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could've been his final game.Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the field goal try.The Seahawks called time just before the ball was snapped, and Bryant's kick sailed right of the upright. That turned out to be nothing more than practice. The next one was right down the middle as Bryant took off in the other direction, pumping his fist before he was mobbed by his teammates."Our quarterback is a special player," Smith said. "They call him Matty Ice, but I feel like we've got two Matty Ices. There's Matty Ice Ryan and Matty Ice Bryant."The Falcons overcame their reputation for choking in the playoffs, winning their first postseason game since the 2004 season. They'll host San Francisco in the NFC championship game next Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line."Nobody flinched," Ryan said. "We just kept battling, kept doing what we do. That's been the makeup of our team all season."Bryant knocked through his third game-winning kick of the season. But he'd never made one like this, with so much on the line."When they scored their touchdown, I walked down (the sideline)," he said. "I told the offensive line, I told Matt (Ryan), I told all the receivers, We've done this before.'"Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, doing all he could to pull off the most improbable of comebacks for the Seahawks (12-6). But the Seattle defense, which is one of the NFL's best and had totally stymied the Falcons in the fourth quarter, went to a softer coverage and got burned.Atlanta had just enough time to pull off a comeback of its own."We had high, high hopes for the rest of the season," Wilson said. "When the game was over, I was very disappointed. But walking back into the tunnel, I got so excited about next year. The resilience we showed was unbelievable."Wilson finished with 385 yards passing as the Seahawks wiped out a 27-7 deficit entering the final quarter. When Lynch powered over, the ball breaking the goal line just before it squirted from his arms, Seattle celebrated like it had won its second straight playoff game on the road, having already taken care of Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.According to STATS, it would've been the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history.Not so fast.Ryan led the Falcons back, wiping out his 0-3 mark in the playoffs, including a crushing loss to Green Bay two years ago when the Falcons were in the same position, the NFC's top-seeded team with home-field advantage in the playoffs."The one thing I've learned during my five years in the league, and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard," Ryan said.Now, he'll no longer be asked why he can't win in the playoffs."That's going to be nice," Ryan conceded. "But our goal is not to win one playoff game. Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has."Wilson's last throw, a desperation heave into the end zone, was intercepted by Falcons receiver Julio Jones.Gonzalez, who had never won a playoff game in his 16-year career, broke down in tears after Bryant's kick went through the uprights."I've never cried after a win," said Gonzalez, who has stated repeatedly that he's "95 percent" sure this is his final year. "I was thinking, Here we go again. I guess it wasn't meant to be.'"It was.The Falcons finally lived up to their excellence during the regular season since Smith, Ryan and general manager Thomas Dimitroff took over in 2008, instantly reviving a franchise that seemed down and out after Michael Vick's dogfighting case. Atlanta has won 56 regular-season games over the last five years, more than any team except New England, but had a reputation for choking in the postseason.Check that off the list. Atlanta is one win away from the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.Ryan threw three touchdown passes, tying a Falcons playoff record, and finished 24 of 35 for 250 yards -- the first time he's eclipsed 200 yards in the postseason. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez, a 47-yarder to Roddy White and a 5-yarder to Jason Snelling, the latter with 2:11 left in the third quarter to give the Falcons a seemingly commanding lead.Wilson took over from there, running 1 yard for a touchdown to make it 27-14, then going to Zach Miller on a 3-yard touchdown pass that closed the gap to 27-21.Finally, taking over at his own 39 after an Atlanta punt, Wilson completed three passes for 50 yards, the last of them a short throw to Lynch that the bruising runner took all the way to the Falcons 3. The rookie quarterback made it all possible, spinning away from blitzing Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to keep the play alive.The Seahawks, though, will spend the offseason kicking themselves for that last Falcons' drive, and for squandering two scoring chances in the first half.On fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 11, Seattle passed on a field goal and a chance to give the ball to Lynch, their beast of a back. Fullback Michael Robinson took the handoff and was stuffed for a 1-yard loss by safety William Moore.Then, with the clock winding down before halftime, Seattle used up all its timeouts and wound up regretting it when Wilson was sacked by Jonathan Babineaux at the Atlanta 20. Time ran out before the Seahawks could get off another play, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 20-0 lead.Bryant also connected on field goals of 37 and 39 yards in the first half."At halftime, we talked about how we can't get ahead right away. It's going to take a while," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It was an exquisite job of refocusing to a football game after being down like that."NOTES:The Falcons played the second half without defensive end John Abraham, who re-injured his ailing right ankle. No word whether he'll be able to play next week. ... The Falcons did a good job on Lynch, who was held to 46 yards on 16 carries. ... Atlanta got surprising production out of its maligned running game. Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards, Jacquizz Rodgers added 64 and the Falcons finished with a season-high 167 yards overall.

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs studied all the MRIs and analyzed every pitch Wade Davis threw last season, poring over the information on the All-Star closer. During the winter meetings, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore even took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to give Davis a physical exam.  

The Jorge Soler trade wouldn’t be announced until athletic trainer PJ Mainville met with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Cubs got another read on the flexor strain in his right forearm that twice put Davis on the disabled list last season.

Davis now has a 19.64 ERA through five Cactus League appearances – and the complete confidence of a manager who isn’t connecting those dots.

“The injury’s really not an issue,” Joe Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “He feels really good right now. He kind of thought that whole thing was a little bit overblown last year, according to (what he told) me. Because even in talking to him in the offseason: ‘I’m fine. I’m good. I feel really good.’”

Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays while Davis broke into the big leagues as a starter and began the transition to reliever. Everything clicked in Kansas City’s bullpen, with Davis blowing away hitters and notching the last out of the 2015 World Series.

“I’m watching him,” Maddon said. “He’s throwing the ball really well easily. That’s what’s really encouraging to me. From the side, there’s no bumping and grinding and…” Maddon made a grunting noise to illustrate his point: “There’s none of that. It’s easy. I look up at the gun and I’m seeing 94, 95 and sometimes 96 (mph). It’s like: Wow, I have never seen him do that in camp.”

Across the last three seasons, Davis allowed three home runs while piling up 234 strikeouts in almost 183 innings. This spring, he has twice gotten only one out, like Saturday’s 29-pitch, four-run appearance against the Colorado Rockies. Overall in March, he’s given up eight earned runs, nine hits and five walks in 3.2 innings.  

“Honestly, I’ve know him long enough that it’s not” a concern, Maddon said. “You’re not going to believe this, but he’s actually throwing better than he normally does in spring training. The biggest problem he’s having right now is command.

“Velocity looks good. The break on the breaking ball looks good. He’s just not throwing the ball where he wants it. And this guy is normally the kind of pitcher that can dot it up really well.

“But everything else looks really good to me, (because) I had him back with the Rays and in spring training you always saw him throwing like 86, 87, 88 (mph). I’m seeing easy 94-95. I’m seeing sharp break on some breaking stuff. It’s just bad counts and bad command right now.”

This isn’t the Cubs saying Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras is our closer. A guy with a 0.84 ERA in 23 career playoff appearances doesn’t care about Cactus League stats. As long as Davis is healthy, there should be no doubts about the ninth inning. Check back next week amid the sea of red at Busch Stadium.

“A lot of it’s just an adrenaline rush sometimes,” Maddon said. “A lot it’s just a moment that you can’t recreate here. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Given he was almost out of baseball just two years ago, White Sox farmhand Nick Delmonico never imagined he’d be where he is now.

But the former Baltimore Orioles/Milwaukee Brewers prospect feels like he has rid himself of the off-the-field issues that stunted development early in his career.

In 2014, Delmonico served a suspension for unauthorized use of Adderall and later asked for and was granted his release by Milwaukee. Now with a fresh start with the White Sox, he heads into the final week of camp with an outside shot at the roster. Though he’s likely to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, Delmonico knows he has made tremendous progress both on and off the field the past two years.

“I definitely did not see this,” Delmonico said. “I’m very blessed to be here.

“It feels awesome. It feels like I’ve accomplished a lot just in my life to get here. Just being around my teammates is one of the biggest things I enjoy every day, just coming to the ballpark. I’m very happy and honored to be able to come here everyday.”

The White Sox weren’t sure what to expect when they signed Delmonico, 24, to a minor league deal on Feb. 11, 2015. A sixth-round pick by the Orioles in 2011, Delmonico received a $1.525 million signing bonus. He was traded to Milwaukee in July 2013 in exchange for closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Delmonico received a 50-game suspension for Adderall in 2014, which he told the Charlotte News Observer he’d used since high school for attention deficit disorder (ADD). Delmonico told the Observer he informed Milwaukee that he no longer wanted to play baseball, changed his phone number and asked for his release. He was placed on the restricted list on July 28 and never played in the Brewers farm system again.

The White Sox signed Delmonico seven months after his final game with Milwaukee and he returned to the field that June.

Delmonico requested privacy when asked about switching teams but acknowledged, “I had some past issues with some stuff that I’d like to keep to myself,” he said.

Delmonico started the 2015 season at Single-A Kannapolis and was promoted a week later to Double-A Birmingham. He finished the season with a .733 OPS and made an additional 76 plate appearances at the Arizona Fall League.

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Last season, Delmonico combined to hit .279/.347/.490 with 17 homers between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte in 110 games. That earned him an invite to big league camp, where Delmonico has displayed a swing refined the past two seasons.

Current third-base coach and former director of player development Nick Capra said Delmonico has worked hard to go from a pull hitter to one who uses the entire field. He entered Sunday hitting .268/.328/.589 with nine extra-base hits this spring in a team-high 61 plate appearance this spring.

“This kid has made a complete turnaround from when we first got him in camp,” Capra said. “He’s done everything. He’s done probably more than we expected him to do. He’s in a really great place. He has a personality that people kind of gravitate to and it’s been a blessing to have him around and see the smile on his face when he comes to work every day.”

Originally a third baseman, the White Sox have moved Delmonico around this spring. He’s logged time at first base and also in the outfield as they try to improve his versatility. If Delmonico performs well at Charlotte, there’s no reason he couldn’t eventually find his way to Chicago and succeed in the big leagues.

“We’re continuing to try to explore his ability to play third base,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He can obviously play first. We’ve started using him in left field. He’s a young man that has a bat to carry. Can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Gives you good at-bats. There’s something to him about his personality and the way he carries himself, which is infectious, which we like.”

Delmonico praised the family-feel that has been prominent in the White Sox clubhouse this spring. He had some jitters coming into his first big league camp but hasn’t allowed them to hinder anything.

He likes how Renteria and his staff have brought a young group of players together. And best of all, he’s happy to be in the right place to enjoy the experience.

“It definitely gives you confidence what you do here,” Delmonico said. “You’ve got to keep moving forward. The biggest thing for big league camp for me is learning as much as I can from everybody. And learning from myself, I’ve been able to handle things and try to pick up as much as I can.”